Episode 11: Gold Fever in Vein Mountain

John Samuel Dysart was born in McDowell County on 30 June 1855 (son of John Dysart, who was the son of William, who was the son of James YSD, Sr). In March of 1878, he married Lucy Ann Queen who taught at the free public school at Rain Hill in the Silver Creek Township off Hiway 64 in Burke County. Lucy Ann had a pair of earrings made out of the first gold her husband mined in Dysartsville, according to their granddaughter Nancy Scott Oxford, The Heritage of Burke County, Volume 1, 1981, page 164. And gold mining was big business then.

John Samuel and his brothers helped cut the logs that built the first permanent structure, featuring a practical dirt floor, for a congregation that had met since 1826 on Bridgewater Road (old Dysartville Rd) across from the Duval place on Mack Laughridge property. In 1784, the Church founded by John Wesley in the United States was opposed to slavery. According to Sandra Warren, who wrote “Trinity United Methodist Church 150th  Anniversary” for a contemporary congregation, the “cultural differences over slavery that were dividing the nation in the mid-19th century were also dividing the Methodist Episcopal Church. A decision to remove a Bishop for owning two slaves caused the churches in the south to break off to form a separate denomination, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (MEC-S).” William and Mary Taylor later sold the group two acres of wooded land for $100, and a log building became the Methodist Episcopal (ME) Church South of Burke and McDowell County Charge.

My neighbor Richard Buchanan was the first to tell me the story of a weary traveler headed through our neighborhood in 1828 when Dysartsville was still in Burke County. (See Brackett Town Saga in my blogs) Sam Martin was a disappointed gold miner who had given up on finding riche$ in South America and caught a ship that docked in the Gulf. Walking home to Connecticut on what was called the Old Colonial Road, he saw a rough board with crude letters of charcoal and tallow advertising a service he desperately needed, a cobbler near Brindletown. The generous North Carolinian offered him dinner in addition to his shoe repair. How could he turn that down? Inside the cobbler’s cabin, Sam noticed in the chinking between the logs the gleam of gold that he had $ought half a world away. He was told the mud came from the creek out behind the house, and he asked permission to stay the night. The next day he became partner$ with the cobbler, and six months later, he continued his journey to Connecticut as a pro$perou$ miner. The news travelled fast, and folks looking for riche$ came to this area. Richard also told me the rest of the story. The cobbler had received his half of the gold, which was $19 an ounce, but ten years later he and his wife were buried in unmarked graves. His children squandered the money on fancy art, jewelry, race horses, and gambling until they were destitute. Sounds like lottery winners although I wouldn’t refuse an opportunity to see if I could do better.

I requote an article from esteemed local historian Mary Greenlee in Gold Mining In McDowell County which is shared by Anne Landis Swann. She is a contemporary historian who wrote Heart Pine, Memories of Mountain Valley, an area in McDowell County that now encompasses two old townships Higgins and Glenwood, protected on the SE by Polk Mountain and on the NW by Smith Mountain. (See her page 448) I cannot hope to improve on this most excellent description of those days.

Buchanan’s Liveable Replica of Miner’s Cabin

“The price of land and mineral rights skyrocketed. Newspapers such as The North Carolina Spectator and the Western Appraiser reported, in the 1820s, sales or leases for small acreages on mountain lands in the neighborhood for $6,000 to $45,000.”

“It has been estimated by several gentlemen who are engaged in gold mining in Burke {McDowell} County, and whose sound judgment and experience enable them to make the most accurate calculations, that the daily production of gold mines in that county amounts to 3,000 pennyweights per day, worth about $2,400 to $14,400 per week and nearly $60,000 per month.”

And on page 450 of Heart Pine: “Living conditions were crude. The shelters were the flimsiest wooden shanties or one-room lean-tos which were little more than sheds.”

“Wagon trains which operated from the sources of supply provided only the commonest staples at high prices and were usually paid with grains of gold. There were pathetic  incidences of diseases, illness and death; inadequate food and shelter; exposure to the rigors of winter’s ferocity and summer’s scorching heat. Lack of medicine and medical care and a gross lack of sanitary conditions persisted.”

The following are quotes on Heart Pine’s page 450 from Miles P. Flack whose letter of 1908 is found in the Carson House Library in Marion. “Transportation through the area was so poor that whenever a miner died, he was buried in the vicinity.”

“In many instances, a family never learned of the miner’s fate or the whereabouts of his resting place. Some times miners who realized the certainty of their impending demise, yet who still had the strength to manage it, would simply bury their gold where they fell. And there it remains.”

Richard Buchanan repeated these stories recently at a September meeting of the McDowell Historical Society. The topic was Gold Mining, and four local experts were invited to share their knowledge with a large crowd. In addition to Buchanan, was Lloyd Nanney, owner of Thermal City Gold Mine (See Nanney Saga in my blogs), Doug McCormick, owner of Lucky Strike Gold Mine on Polly Spout Road at the end of Vein Mountain Rd, and John Dysart from Pleasant Gardens, now working for Reed Gold Mine in Cabarrus Co, slightly east of Charlotte. Mr. Dysart left McDowell County to attend college in Raleigh and stayed there as a professor for 25 years. When Dr. H.G. Jones, Director of Archive and History bought John Reed’s mine, all 825 acres, Dysart went to work for him. http://www.nchistoricsites.org/reed/main.htm

Mining Leftovers in Tailing Piles

Reed’s mine was the first one to put North Carolina in the spotlight as a source of treasure. In 1779, a twelve year old boy, searching for an arrow that missed the target found fame and fortune and didn’t recognize it. He thought the 17# rock was beautiful and lugged it home. His Dad thought it was pretty enough to be used as a door stop, where it stayed until 1803 when Dad thought it worthwhile to show to an assayer who identified it as gold. To the Reeds’ amazement, the assayer bought it for $3.50, (about $3,600 now) which was more than enough for supplies and a dress for the wife. A good year’s work. This story is slightly different than the one at http://www.nchistoricsites.org/reed/history.htm but I have to go with a Dysart on this one.

Note: John Dysart also mentioned the Mecklenburg Pipe Foundry off Hiway 70 known as Ironworks. It is still in business. It used to make the amalgamate trays for rocker boxes that divided the gold from lighter material. Lloyd Nanney has part of a stamp mill from this Ironworks. Not all gold was caught by mercury as it proved to be lethal for those who handled it regularly.

Thermal City Gold Mine

Lloyd Nanney lived on the property where generations of Nanneys put deep roots. His wife Page was a Nanney and married a Nanney from a different branch of the family. (She is the one to contact if you want to attend the Nanney reunion on the third Sunday in August.)

When asked by Don Markham who works on the Gold Festival held every spring in Old Fort, N.C., how he got started in the gold business, Lloyd responded that “forty years ago a couple from California settled about two miles from a power pole near the upper edge of our property. They had been hunting gold in CA.” Lloyd had known that there had been mining on their family property on Second Broad but assumed it was mica mining “because that was the last thing done in this area. I didn’t have sense to know you don’t dig mica out of a placer deposit on a river bank.” This new neighbor taught Lloyd how to use his first gold pan. The fever grew, and Lloyd built a dredge with a friend, and the hobby became a nationally known campground for recreational gold mining. http://www.thermalcitygoldmine.com/

Doug McCormick also has a recreational mining company and currently does business with Lost Dutchman Mining Association on Vein Mountain Road. I hope to track them down for an article, when we are Back to the Future.


Copyright@2018 Georgia Wilson

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