The Tragedies Of The Blue Bird And Miller Mines

In the late 19th century the United States was the world’s largest producer of silver, with the miners of Colorado , Montana , Nevada and Utah gloriously extracting 40% of the global total. It was a dangerous, capital intensive business fraught with mine collapses, constant litigation and declining profitability due to the unceasing decline of the market price of silver. However, mining was still financially rewarding and drew British and American entrepreneurs and adventurers like magnets due to the spectacular fortunes that had been made by the Silver Barons in Nevada ‘s Comstock Lode and later in Leadville , Colorado . It was a Gilded Age rage! George Tyng, the astute manager of White Deer Lands, one of the Texas panhandle’s greatest cattle pastures, was no stranger to mining as he reputedly held interests in mines in Mexico (second in silver only to the US), Arizona, Honduras and Canada. Similarly, the principal owner of White Deer Lands , the great Scottish statesman and nobleman, the 5th Earl of Rosebery, had a significant silver mining investment in the Blue Bird Mine in Burlington , Montana , just outside of Butte . George Tyng would become involved-very involved.

Photo of Eloise Lane

Eloise Lane

In 1878 Lord Rosebery married the heiress Hannah de Rothschild, and with the combined fortunes of both families invested heavily in the United States . He had selected Andrew Kingsmill in 1878 to become manager of the London branch of Edinburgh based British Linen Company Bank of which Lord Rosebery was Governor. Kingsmill had formerly been the “Senior Deputy Principal of the Private Drawing Office” of Great Britain ‘s central bank, the Bank of England. With the addition of attorneys in London and New York , Lord Rosebery was well placed to proceed with his financial interests. However, he needed someone to essentially be his roving eyes and ears in the United States , and he found just the right man-the debonair and cultured American, Ferdinand Suydam Van Zandt a very close young friend of Lord Rosebery.

Van Zandt had been born into an established Knickerbocker family in New York City and in 1878 spent three years in Leadville where he worked for the noted mining engineer, Arthur D. Foote, Superintendent of the Adelaide Mining Company. Back in New York City he became a protege of influential Washington lobbyist, Sam Ward, and through him established valuable social and financial contacts in Great Britain .

A strikingly good looking man, described by some as an “Adonis”, Ferdinand Van Zandt became extremely close to Lord Rosebery and during his periodic trips to Great Britain found an English wife, the young widowed Amy Lubbock Mulholland, the eldest daughter of Sir John Lubbock, the eminent banker and Member of Parliament. In the early 1880’s Van Zandt traveled throughout the United States for Lord Rosebery including visits to the White Deer pasture in Texas to help monitor the increasingly difficult position of the Francklyn Land & Cattle Company and its Diamond F Ranch. However, in 1885 he became totally preoccupied by a new investment of Lord Rosebery, the Blue Bird mine in Burlington , Montana , which became one of the territory’s greatest silver mines. By 1888 Van Zandt had put in a 90 stamp mill (to crush the ore), and the tiny community of Burlington had begun to flourish, particularly after 1.4 million ounces of silver had been produced in that one year alone. The prestigious Engineering and Mining Journal commented that the Blue Bird was “one of the most perfect mills of the west.” The journal publicly congratulated Van Zandt on his hard work stating that, “His success has been the more wonderful from the fact that it was won while he was still so young a man. It is due, of course, in part to rare good luck, but more to the remarkable foresight and quickness of perception, which enabled him to grasp the opportunities when they offered.” His luck, unfortunately, was going to change quickly.

In 1889 litigation lightening struck the Blue Bird Mine on conflicting claims-a highly serious matter. Undoubtedly exhausted, Ferdinand and Amy Van Zandt headed to California in late 1890 where they acquired a new estate ” Burke Place ” in Menlo Park , taking a much deserved break. However, with Van Zandt away, William Keller the General Manager ill, and the legal situation worsening the situation prompted the New York attorney for the mine, Frederic de P. Foster, to ask George Tyng to come up to Burlington, Montana from White Deer to try to contain the highly volatile legal actions and take on the role of Acting General Manager. While living in Montana Tyng continued his responsibility for White Deer Lands, which demanded a great deal of his time due to the complexities of the lease of the pasture to the Niedringhaus family’s Home Land & Cattle Company, which used White Deer as its southern headquarters for the immense N-N Ranch. At the same time he was trying to develop a strategy for White Deer in terms of land sales after the N-N lease expired. But the Blue Bird was more than demanding. Claims, counterclaims and attorneys all demanded the best out of George Tyng, and he gave it. Tyng finally returned to White Deer in early 1891, and an appreciative Ferdinand Van Zandt wrote Frederic Foster, glowingly remarking that, “I wish to thank you for the great service Mr. Tyng has been to us ever since his coming to us and to say that my admiration for his extraordinary ability and my affection for him continues to grow.”

In spite of the hard work of Van Zandt and Tyng the clouds continued to darken over the mine. In June of 1891 a $2 million suit was filed against the Blue Bird for claim encroachment, and a meeting was called in London for early March to review a dire predicament for both owners and managers. Ferdinand Van Zandt set out first for the meeting, first stopping in Cannes on the French Riviera for some mental rest-it did not help. Leaving Cannes by train followed by a crossing of the English Channel, he became seriously ill with influenza and made it only as far as the port of Dover on the English coast. George Tyng had already arrived in London for the meeting, but was urgently called by Van Zandt to assist him in coming up to London . Tyng rushed to Dover , collected his friend and brought him to the elegant Brown’s Hotel in London ‘s exclusive Mayfair district. Van Zandt had disastrous news-he had received a telegram from Butte stating that the Blue Bird had been “attached” by the legal authorities. He stood to lose everything, and late into the night the two comrades desperately tried to come up with solutions. They broke off around 1 A.M. and went to bed. The next morning the hall porter of Brown’s came up to Ferdinand Van Zandt’s room and knocked on his door. Not being any response, he came into the room. Lying on the bed was Ferdinand Van Zandt, dead with a bullet hole in his head. Scotland Yard ruled it suicide.

Undoubtedly devastated by the loss of his friend, George Tyng returned to White Deer, a shaken man. The great Blue Bird mine closed down, filled with water and was auctioned off in pieces never to regain its former glory. Amy Van Zandt wrote George Tyng her most private thoughts on this unendurable tragedy to which Tyng, in writing to Frederic Foster, quietly commented, “I received Mrs. Van Zandt’s letter forwarded by you, enclosing a little memento of Van Zandt. I sent you the letter, which you can tear up after reading. There is pathos in this dear woman’s idea that having been employed by poor Van Zandt commends a man for being entrusted with other men’s business.” This chapter in George Tyng’s life then came to a close. It should be noted that the family and friends of Ferdinand Van Zandt were adamant in their belief that Ferdinand, in spite of business pressure, would never take his own life and strongly disagreed with the Scotland Yard ruling.

In 1903 George Tyng closed out his land and cattle days at the Pampa , Texas headquarters of White Deer Lands and headed for the Rocky Mountains and the silver mines of Utah along with his son, Francis. George the previous year had purchased the Kalamazoo claims in the American Fork Canyon about 20 miles southeast of Salt Lake City . Additionally, he leased the neighboring Miller Mine, located high in the Wasatch Mountains on 10,000′ Miller Hill and originally developed by Jacob and William Miller of the mining center of Alta during the summer of 1871. They had formed the Miller Mining and Smelting Company to own the mine, constructed a narrow gauge railroad and added the necessary mining infrastructure as well as a smelter. By 1903, however, there was little hope for the Miller Mine and its Wyoming Tunnel as many years had transpired since its productive days.

The lease of the Miller Mine was due to expire at the end of 1904, and a dejected George Tyng had concluded that enough capital had been plowed into the bleak hillsides of Utah . But just at the end of 1904 one of his miners, Jack Howe, while excavating a site for mining car tracks, made an incredible discovery-a highly rich vein or silver and lead. The bonanza was on! George Tyng hustled to New York City to obtain a lease extension for the Miller Mine, keeping the news of the discovery absolutely clandestine. He and his son quickly recruited new miners, erected a new boarding house, brought in a team of 20 horses, and Francis enrolled at the Colorado School of Mines to pick up greater technical mining and engineering expertise.

During 1905 the prosperity of George Tyng was dramatically increasing. Another son, Charles, joined in the mining effort, his wife, Elena, preferring the safer and warmer atmosphere of their home in Victoria , Texas . Toward the end of the year snowfall had been exceptionally high, but the Tyng camp among the pines was set away from the conventional paths of snowslides. However, on January 14 of the following year it was reported that “fourteen teams hauling Tyng ore were trapped high in the canyon by avalanches.” Five days later Tyng heard a “deep rushing roar that could only mean one thing-an avalanche.” Fifteen feet of snow covered George Tyng and snuffed out the life of one of the most intriguing men of the west. He was buried on the shoulder of Miller Hill.

As historian Laurance P. James wrote, “In the spring, the enclosure around George Tyng’s grave fill with tall grass and wildflowers. Most people have forgotten who is buried up on that hillside, accessible only by jeep or on foot. Still, every few years someone mends and paints the little picket fence.” George Tyng is not likely to be forgotten.

Over 200 Articles, written by Eloise Lane, were published in the Pampa News. These articles may be accessed by clicking on each section below. A list of articles will be revealed that are linked to a page containing the text of the article.

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