Stibnite MineThe Stibnite Mine is located about 13 miles from Yellow Pine. Stibnite was a “company” town of several thousand people, with its own hospital and school. There was also a bowling alley, a theater, a ski team and a high school football team! Because of the discovery of tungsten, Stibnite’s importance to the war effort in the 1940’s vastly overshadowed that of other mining communities in Idaho.
“Yellow Pine is in existence as a result of the activity up at Stibnite,” says geologist Nancy Richter. “The miners came from Warren, over the mountain to Thunder Mountain, where they heard there was a gold rush, and eventually made their way to this area where they did find gold. Yellow Pine was a staging stop for supplies, as well as a night time activity spot for the guys.”
According to geologist Richter, the Stibnite mine went through three phases of operation. First, it was a gold mine; then during World War Two it was a supplier of tungsten, which is an alloy of steel; and then in the 1980’s, when the price of gold skyrocketed, it was a gold mine again.
The most important phase of Stibnite’s mining activity was during the 1940’s and early 1950’s, when Stibnite produced nearly 80% of America’s tungsten. Tungsten is a hardener of steel and therefore important in a country’s war efforts. The reason tungsten was found at Stibnite, according to Richter, is because of the Idaho batholith.
“This mine produced in excess of 80% of the tungsten that was used during World War Two,” says Richter. “Tungsten is used as an alloy of steel. Stibnite produced in excess of 90% of the antimony. They used antimony in munitions.
“Gold, arsenic, antimony and mercury typically occur together, and that was a much younger mineralizing event. The tungsten mineralization, in concert with the gold, is the odd-ball occurrence.
“During World War Two you could conduct your military service here at Stibnite mine. It was the only mine in the United States where you could do that. This was not an insignificant operation.”
But Sandy McRae remembers those glory years. He spent his childhood there. His father was the chief metallurgist. “It was an idyllic place for a youngster to grow up. Everybody supported everybody else. If anybody had any hard times, it was immediately addressed. You don’t find that now. Extended families don’t exist much anymore. I think people looked at that community as an extended family. That’s one of the reasons people were so very loyal.”
“You didn’t have television, but you had radio and movies and school, where you had plays during Christmas and Easter, so the community kind of guided your efforts as a child. There were not really any tragedies that I remember.
“It was just an interesting place to be. It was a relatively highly educated community because of the nature of the work, although not everybody had college degrees. But you had to have a native talent about how to do things and how to fix things, how to get the job done. That community spirit continues on even though those folks have not lived there for almost 50 years.”
Little remains of those glory years of Stibnite. The most recent operator of Stibnite Mine, Dakota Mining Corporation, forfeited their reclamation bonds to the state and federal regulatory agencies in July 1998. The company filed for bankruptcy protection a year later. According to James Egnew of the Payette National Forest, reclamation efforts began in 1998 to ensure that the years of mining activity at Stibnite will not endanger the health of people downstream from this historic mine.