Monday, May 18, 2020

Mica, Mountains, and Murder - Big Reef Mill

Big Reef Mill Site
So Sunday late afternoon - I had to work until 4 - but Paul and I had plans to go check out the Big Reef Mill after work - a location I discovered on Google Earth and then considered checking out on my Easter drive on the Castle Hot Springs Road - but didn't.  The Big Reef Mill (also called the Green Dragon Mine) was a mica and beryllium mine.  Not mica like the lovely large slabs - but mica that could be crushed for commercial purposes.   They crushed it into mica dust and sold it for quite a bit of money.  This mine was prosperous - until misfortune befell the owner...

So Paul and I left the house - we were hungry and wanted to grab some In-n-Out before we did the Castle Hot Springs loop.  We left the house without my Nikon, without extra water, and without a gun.  Basically unprepared.  Not really like us, but oh well...  

We stopped at In-n-Out, had cheeseburgers while maintaining social distance from all the other patrons, jumped back in Calamity Jane and we were off! 

The trail to Castle Hot Springs was uneventful, except this picture, which struck me as incredibly funny.  I had to jump out to take a photo of it.  Note the sign, which reads:  

"No Fishing or Cliff Divin'"

Someone has a good sense of humor...
After having a good laugh the sign and the tiny little stream, we pressed onwards.  We passed Castle Hot Springs, the JL Bar Ranch and barn, and continued on through the roughly 15 miles or so of Castle Hot Springs road - it was beautiful - the canyon you drive through was absolutely stunning and it was tempting to stop and poke around a bit, but we were also chasing the sunset, and wanted to get to the Mill site.  

As we approached the first turn off from the East, I explained to Paul that I wasn't sure the road was passable because it didn't look so good on Google Earth - although it looked awesome from where we were sitting in the truck.  We drove down the road to the point where it turns to go down in to the river bed, and we stopped - Paul got out to see what the road looked like and he said it was about an 8 foot drop straight down (ie - Calamity Jane would be nose first in the river bed).  So, we backed out, retraced our steps to Castle Hot Springs Road, and turned into the river bed.  This route proved to be successful!  We put Calamity Jane in Low to get her up a little bit of an obstacle - spun the tires for a bit (found out later we were only on 3 tires!), caught hold, and up we bumped.  

Chute of some kind

We parked up by the large concrete pad in front of the Mill ruins, and both of us were exclaiming "look at that" or "look over there" - and we both took off.  In different directions!  Paul beelined for the old twisted, shot up, burned up car ruins, and I took off up the road to see where it went.  

Old Jeep

As Paul and I independently hiked around looking for things, and trying to shoo off the flies (they were horrible out there), Paul discovered that the vehicle was a Jeep - and it had been burned and shot all up.  I couldn't even recognize it for anything except some sort of vehicle - but Paul figured out relatively quickly that it was a Jeep.  

From the top of the chute, overlooking Big Reef Mill and the Bradshaw Foothills
The Crow
I ended up on the top of the Mill site overlooking the Bradshaw Mountain Foothills (yes, again...I know).  Stunning vistas, and the sun was starting to go down which made all the colors just pop.  Paul joined me up top and as we were taking picture and looking around at various roads and paths heading off into the mountains, a large crow came and landed on the tower.  The crow didn't move again the entire time we were there.  

Paul and I walked the road back down as the sun began to set, and as usual in the Bradshaws, all the colors began to change and turn to hues of purple and pink.  
Panoramic Shot from the Top of Big Reef Mill

As we walked back to Calamity Jane, we wondered about the history - as we always do - of this cool old site. Well, thanks to some early morning digging on Paul's part, and diligent reading on mine, we discovered some odd things about this awesome site just rusting away in the mountains.

The crow is still on the tower
In 1959, Doc M. ("Dee") Cantwell purchased 21 claims and the surrounding land and began to test the area for mica and beryl crystals.  By 1964, Cantwell is actively mining his claims, and is producing and selling plenty of mica and beryl.

In 1965, Cantwell starts considering selling or leasing his claims to anyone else...numerous other companies and people express interest, and in 1966, Cantwell has a mining examiner out to review the claims due to a potential lucrative deal with a California group. Cantwell continues to work the property until mid-1966, when the gates are locked and nothing appears to be going on any longer.  

At this point in the research, I can't figure out exactly what happened, except that in 1967, Joe Wong and some associates claim they have taken over the Big Reef Mill and begin to work it.  At this point, I have no idea what happened to Mr. Cantwell - there is no indication that he sold his rights - but now Wong Associated Enterprises appears to be mining the claims and building on the plant.    It is at this time that I find the small note at the bottom of one of the mining examiner's pages that Mr. Cantwell, manager and owner of Big Reef Mill, is in the County jail on three counts of attempted murder at Big Reef Mill.  This is in October of 1967.  

The mill changes hands a number of times, and as recently as 1988, mining was still consider to be a possible lucrative endeavor at Big Reef.  No other mention of Cantwell, and I can find absolutely nothing about him online anywhere.  I'm sure the public court records in Yavapai County don't go back that far, but I did look - nothing.  This will be an ongoing project for me - as I'd really like to know what happened to Mr. Cantwell.  He did not get put in the State Prison System, as those historical records came up with nothing.  

So with nothing else to think about except the beauty of the Bradshaws, Paul and I head back out towards Castle Hot Springs Road.  I took a video of the "rough" spot we hit going up.  Doesn't look so nasty coming back down (just let gravity bring you down....).  But its fun to see Calamity Jane doing her thing.  

So until next time, stay cool my Phoenix friends - it's hot out there!

Paul at the base of the Mill terraces

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