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Location DB > United States > Texas > Big Bend > Mariscal Mine
Mariscal Mine
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 Database Info
created by Urban Caver on 9/13/2005 3:00 AM
last modified by scourge on 2/20/2006 6:08 AM
Publically Viewable Publically Viewable
This location has been labeled by its creator as Public, and therefore can be viewed by anyone.
Cinnabar clay architecture, functional but not the best looking. Old cinnabar clay cndenser pipes that are deep redfrom mercry ore, old bricks, old equipment... just a generally nice place to visit
 Basic Information
Type: Building
Status: Abandoned
Accessibility: Moderate
Recommendation: worth the trip
 Physical Information
Big Bend National Park / Southeast
Big Bend, Texas
United States
Owner: National Park Service
  • See a map of this location
  •  Hazards
  • Mercury residue, 4wd recommended
  •  Interesting Features
    Mercury soaked bricks, bat habitat, collapsed and grated mine shafts, very nice architecture if you like functionality; can lay down on a mine grate, drop a rock, and wait 6 - 10 seconds before it hits anything, old mining remnants and an old chevy.. very nice day trip
     Security Measures
  • welded doors
  • welded doors are on the mine shafts
  •  Historical Dates
    Built: 1900
    Closed: 1943
     Required Equipment
  • binoculars
  • long pants / sleeves
  •  Recommended Equipment
    gloves, breathing equipment if you try to penetrate a mineshaft
    The Mariscal Mine once bustled as the center of the Big Bend quicksilver mining economy. Between 1900 and 1943, Mariscal Mine produced 1,400 seventy-six pound flasks of mercury--nearly one-quarter of the total produced in the United States! Now deserted, the mine and its surroundings once provided the people who lived here an income, a community, and a home.

    A visit to Mariscal Mine conjures up images of hard-working men, women, and machines. With a little imagination, you can get a feeling for the work of these early pioneers, their kinship with the land and its resources, and their contributions to Big Bend's rich human history. The remains of the mine stand today as a symbol of a time when "quicksilver was king" and as a vivid reminder of the cycle of human activities and nature's reclamation.

    Reaching the Mine

    Mariscal Mine, a National Register Historic District, is located on the northern end of Mariscal Mountain, deep in the interior of Big Bend National Park. Easiest access to the area is via the River Road east, which begins just five miles west of Rio Grande Village. High clearance or four-wheel-drive vehicles are recommended for traveling this dirt road; check with a ranger for current road conditions before setting out. Allow at least one-half day for the excursion

    Safety Precautions And Regulations

    While exploring the area, remember to leave all objects in place in the park; collecting is prohibited. Because they are old, fragile, and unsafe, please stay off the structures. Avoid handling the bricks of the Scott Furnace and condensers or handling mine tailings as they may contain poisonous concentrations of mercury. Finally, be careful around the mine shafts; although most are fenced, they are vertical and deep, and other unfenced shafts may exist in the area.


    The Owners

    Farmer Martin Solis discovered the bright red mercury-bearing ore called cinnabar near his farm in 1900, and set the history of Mariscal Mine in motion. Shortly thereafter, a local U.S. customs agent and Boquillas, Texas, store owner, Ed Lindsey, filed the first mining claim on Mariscal Mountain. The Lindsey Mine produced some ore between 1900 and 1905, but Lindsey encountered some difficulties. Transporting the cinnabar ore 30 miles by mule to Terlingua for processing was costly. Lindsey also became involved in a lawsuit challenging his ownership of the ore-producing property. Subsequently, Lindsey sold his interests to Isaac Sanger of Dallas in November 1905. Only four years later, Sanger's Texas Almaden Mining Company closed due to a worldwide economic depression.

    In full operationWorld War I created demand for mercury because it was required in the manufacture blasting caps and bomb detonators. Subsequently, W.K. Ellis, a midwestern inventor, purchased the mine in 1917. He built a four compartment ore bin that fed into three stationary retorts, or glazed tubes. The Ellis Mine produced 894 flasks of mercury, but when prices plummeted at the end of the war, Ellis wisely sold the mine to William "Billy" Burcham. Structures from this early phase of cinnabar ore processing are partially visible at the lowest level of the Mariscal Mine complex.

    In the summer of 1919, Burcham and several New York financiers formed the Mariscal Mining Company. Naming the company after the mountain it rests on, Burcham opened the mine and invested in modern equipment and refining methods to increase efficiency and production. The large Scott Furnace and elaborate concrete condenser system that stands above it are the remains of the Mariscal Mining Company. Unfortunately, the system proved to be not so modern or as efficient as Burcham had hoped. The declining mercury market thus doomed the mine to failure, and it closed in 1923.

    At the beginning of World War II, Burcham reopened Mariscal Mine under the name of the Vivianna Mining Company. He installed a 30-ton Gould-type rotary furnace. The high prices he anticipated for mercury, however, did not materialize, and the mine closed for the final time in 1943, just a year before the establishment of Big Bend National Park. All items of value were sold at auction. Ironically, some of the mercury-soaked bricks from the Scott Furnace were processed, yielding a considerable quantity of mercury.

    Life At The Mine

    Between 1919 and 1923, Mariscal Mine employed 20 to 40 people. The miners were Mexican citizens who had walked into Texas to escape the Mexican Revolution. Only the manager, foreman, and brick-kiln specialist were U.S. citizens.

    House ruins at Mariscal MineNewly-arrived miners usually lived in brush shelters at the foot of Mariscal Mountain. As time permitted, they gathered rocks and built houses. Their wives planted and cared for small vegetable gardens near Fresno Creek. Most of the ruins you can see today were one to three room houses, built between 1919 and 1923. During 1942-43, the Vivianna Mining Company built ten concrete and stucco homes for the miners. Ironically, they were probably never occupied as the mine never realized its potential.

    Working six days per week, experienced miners were paid up to $1.50 per 10-hour shift while less-skilled laborers earned $1 to $1.25. Most of the miners' earnings returned to the mine owners via the company store, which provided supplies. Each employee also contributed $1 per paycheck to support the mine's resident doctor in return for medical care.

    Water for the community was obtained from shallow, hand-dug wells along Fresno Creek about a mile north of the mine. Mexican freighters also hauled large quantities of water to the mine from Glenn Spring, ten miles north of Mariscal Mine, probably over the present day Black Gap Road.

    Buildings and tailings at Mariscal MineMariscal Mine and its community depended on the Mexican freighters for all their supplies, including firewood for the Scott Furnace. The freighters hauled extracted mercury from the Mine to the railhead at Marfa for $1 per flask.

    The work of digging cinnabar ore by pick and shovel from the depths of Mariscal Mountain and then heating it to render mercury was both difficult and unhealthy. Many miners succumbed to mercury poisoning from handling the ore. Those who worked around the Scott Furnace often became "salivated," meaning they produced abnormal amounts of saliva. Most veteran furnace men had no teeth and developed chronic respiratory problems from breathing mercury fumes.

    Mercury Processing

    Cinnabar, the ore containing mercury, must be heated to release elemental mercury from the compound mercury sulfide. To do this, the Mariscal Mining Company built the large Scott Furnace, the remains of which you can see below three large condensers on the hillside. Built of bricks made from local Pen clay, the furnace originally stood 20 feet square and 40 feet tall. Almost a year of steady burning was required before the porous bricks were adequately saturated with liquid mercury to allow commercial production to begin.

    During the Mariscal Mining Company period, the ore burned in the 360°F furnace, where the mercury vaporized. Workers tended the furnace from a scaffold where they periodically inspected its interior by looking through peepholes covered by removable iron plugs. Each hour of the day and night, a furnace man at the bottom withdrew a quantity of burned ore, or slag, while a second man at the top quickly replaced it with a like quantity of unprocessed ore.

    A system of several condensers was used to recover the mercury. Mercury rich exhaust from the Scott Furnace was carefully routed through each condenser by way of iron pipes. These chambers trapped the mercury fumes until the temperature dropped sufficiently for the mercury to condense to liquid.

    Little mercury was recovered in the first two condensers due to the high temperature of the vapor. But by the time the gas reached the third and fourth chambers, it had cooled adequately for the mercury to condense. Less recovery took place in the remaining structures and only a trace of mercury was lost out the 30-foot-tall smoke stack beyond the final condenser. The liquid mercury settled into the wells of the slanted condenser floors, dripped out a pipe into a three-quart iron flask, and was ready for market.
     Media Coverage

     Future Plans
    abandoned, it will slowly fall prey to the desert storms

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     Photo Galleries
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    First Visit
    Tue, Sep 13th, 2005
    posted by Urban Caver
    41 pictures

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     Moderator Rating
    The moderator rating is a neutral rating of the content quality, photography, and coolness of this location.

    Category Rating
    Photography 7 / 10
    Coolness 8 / 10
    Content Quality 9 / 10
    This location's validation is current. It was last validated by Emperor Wang on 8/14/2007 12:06 AM.

     Latest Changes
  • on Aug 14 07 at 0:06, Emperor Wang validated this location
  • on Feb 20 06 at 6:08, scourge changed the following: Prefer Satellite
  • on Feb 20 06 at 6:08, scourge changed the following: Owner, City, Latitude, Longitude, Co-ordinate Accuracy, Hazards
  • on Sep 14 05 at 1:35, Urban Caver updated gallery picture GoogleEarth_Image.jpg
  • on Sep 13 05 at 23:48, Urban Caver changed the following: Future Plans
  • on Sep 13 05 at 3:38, Urban Caver made this location available
  • on Sep 13 05 at 3:35, Urban Caver updated gallery picture IM000405.JPG
  • on Sep 13 05 at 3:34, Urban Caver updated gallery picture IM000404.JPG
  • on Sep 13 05 at 3:34, Urban Caver updated gallery picture IM000400.JPG
  • on Sep 13 05 at 3:34, Urban Caver updated gallery picture IM000398.JPG
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