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The Hercules Silver Mine

It is always interesting to read how many of these old mines were found. Most old mines were discovered by a prospectors or natives who lived in an area and let others to the source. The Hercules mine was also discovered by a prospector but in this case his partner was a book keeper. It was in 1889 that book keeper Harry Day and prospector Fred Harper staked claims in a valley between the towns of Burke and Murray. The two claims were the Firefly and the Hercules.

Almost from the start the claims saw their share of ups and downs. Both Harry and Fred worked these claims but of course money problems occured and Fred ended up selling half his share out. Soon Day and his partner sold a quarter of their share out and by 1899 Day's partner had sold his share out. There would still be more dealings here and there as up till this time no minerals of any kind had been found so investors were kind of fickle and always wanted out. One of the partners was a fellow named August Paulsen and he had a quarter share in the claims. He worked hard at prospecting them and then in 1901 he struck a vein in one of the tunnels they had dug. It wasn't long before the first shipments of ore went out and by the end of the following year 1903, all the partners received their first payment. By this time the mine was shipping out over $40,000 worth of ore a month.

The high grade rich ore from Hercules mine went straight to the smelter until 1905. Then the Hercules mine built their own milling facility in the town of Burke. This allowed the company to get away from what was a "smelter trust" which was a company called the American Smelting & Refining Company. This company had a way of manipulating prices as they controlled all the smelters in the area. The owner of the Hercules had to ship their ore as far away as New Jersey to get away from this "smelter trust" situation so building their own mill was the answer. This worked well until 1909 when the mill burned down. A new mill was built right away.

By 1911 the mine would become one of the third richest mines in Idaho and by 1916 it was the most profitable mine going paying huge dividends to all its shareholders. In fact in 1917 the mine paid out $3,800,000 just in dividends alone. (imagine that today) By 1919 however the metals market had fallen and the mine only worked part time or as the market dictated by price.

The mine had it's share of shady partners also. One of the early owners of the Hercules Mine was Harry Orchard, who would later became a convicted assassin. Orchard assassinated former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg over losing his one-sixteenth share of the Hercules Mine. The mine also saw disruptions during the 1892 Western Federation of Miners union fight with the companies. Several men lost their lives as there was there even gun fights between miners and company guards.

Today the mine is just a skeleton of what it once was and the town of Burke is mostly a ghost town. From several thousand people to maybe a few hundred that live in the valley today, the mine is almost forgotten. I say almost forgotten because the Hecla mining company is working in the area today with new technology and suggest that there still could be as much as 25 million ounces of silver.

Burke in 1888