Sterling Borax Mine
Looking south down Tick Canyon at the Sterling Borax Mine, c. 1914-1918, from "The Story of the Sterling Borax Company", by A.B. Perkins, Part II, Newhall Signal, October 12, 1961
The story of the Sterling Borax Company is a little more complicated then the standard "Shepherd and Ebbenger sold their claim to Thorkildsen and Mather". In fact, they didn't sell their claim to Thorkildsen and Mather. And Ebbenger should be Ebinger.
The main source for the following short account is "Lang – The Sterling Borax Company" by Ruth Woodman. The other sources are "The Tincal Trail - A History of Borax" by N.J. Travis and E.J. Cocks, "Happenings" by W.P. Bartlett, and the Los Angeles Times of November 7, 1907. The sources for Travis and Cocks were the archives of the US Borax Company. Bartlett's source was William Washington ("Wash") Cahill of the Pacific Coast Borax Company (owned by Francis Marion "Borax" Smith). The source for LA Times story was Henry Blumenberg, manager of the American Borax Company (owned by E.L. Dawes and W.A. Myler).
Both Shepherd and Ebinger can be tied to Tick Canyon. At one time, Shepherd was the claim name for one of the gold mines in Tick Canyon (see geology page - other claim names for that mine were Utopia, Champion, Dietman, and Enterprise). The Los Angeles Herald of September 15, 1897, states that "L. Ebinger was sold a 1/4 interest in the Lottie and Sousa Mines in Tick Canyon." Lewis Ebinger's name has been misspelled in more recent sources.
In August of 1907 prospector Shepherd and Ebinger were working a gold mine in the upper reaches of Tick Canyon about 12 miles northeast of Newhall, California, north of Lang Station. Below the mine, they found some white crystals and sent samples to chemist Henry Blumenberg (American Borax Company), to Wash Cahill (Pacific Coast Borax Company), and to the Stauffer Chemical Company (a refiner of borax and owner of the Frazier Mountain colemanite deposits). Due to the number of worthless samples being sent by miners, the samples were ignored by all three. It took Blumenberg four days before he decided to look at his sample, the first of the three. He immediately recognized the best colemanite (a calcium borate mineral and ore of borax named after William Coleman owner of the Harmony Borax Works in Death Valley) he had ever seen.
Blumenberg jumped on the next train to Los Angeles in hopes of beating out the others. At the station, he met "Wash" Cahill who had not yet looked at his sample and was actually travelling with his family. He hadn't even looked at the sample yet. Panicking, and missing the train to Lang, Blumenberg found a driver to take him directly to the claim by car.
Blumenberg got there first and bought out Shepherd and Ebinger. Lode claims were staked out. Lode claims include veins or lodes having well-defined boundaries, which is what this deposit had. However, by congressional acts and judicial interpretations, many nonmetallic layered deposits, like borax, are also considered placer deposits. Placer claims include deposits of unconsolidated materials, like sand and gravel, containing free minerals.
In "The Mineral Resources of the United States for the Calendar Year 1906" for Los Angeles County:
"Another deposit of importance found since the close of 1906 is that acquired by Mr. Henry Blumenberg, of the American Borax Company, near Lang, in the Soledad canyon, Los Angeles County. It is a vein of colemanite about 10 feet thick near the surface, but sufficient development has not been made on the property to prove its exact extent. The deposit is near a railroad line."
In Ebinger's biography from 1915, it says:
"In addition he developed a borax mine at Lang's Station which he sold to the Stallings [Sterling] Borax Company. The mine produces an average of two hundred tons daily and runs as high as sixty-eight per cent. It is the intention of Mr. Ebinger to ultimately develop other borax property which he still owns."
Thomas Thorkildsen (of the Thorkildsen & Mather Company, a disgruntled ex-employee of "Borax" Smith) also happened to be in Los Angeles and read about the new colemanite discovery from the Los Angeles Times article. He visited the claim and discovered earlier placer claims of two other prospectors named Cook and Hopkins. Blumenberg had overlooked these claims. Thorkildsen then bought Cook and Hopkins claims. Now there was a cloud over Blumenberg's lode claims.
A battle between Blumenberg and Thorkildsen then ensued for some months, but finally, on January 15, 1908, there was an agreement to form the Sterling Borax Company. Incorporation papers were filed on February 17, 1908 in Nevada and incorporation happened on October 12, 1908. The ownership was 40% for Stauffer Chemical Company (a refiner of borax used by Thorkildsen and owner of the Frazier Mountain colemanite deposits), 40% for the American Borax Company (Dawes, Myler and Blumenberg), and 20% for the Thorkildsen & Mather Company (Thomas Thorkildsen and Steve Mather). The Pacific Coast Borax Company of "Borax" Smith had missed out. In fact, if Blumenberg had keep quiet and not talked to the LA Times, Thorkildsen probably would not have heard about the discovery until it was too late.
Thorkildsen was elected president and general manager in charge of the mine. In October of 1908, Dawes and Myler sold their 40% interest to Thorkildsen and Mather, giving them a 60% ownership. Sterling Borax had become a serious threat to Smith's larger Pacific Coast Borax Company, the U.S. division of Borax Consolidated, Limited, which was also owned by Smith.
In 1909, the narrow gauge railroad from Lang station to the mine was constructed.
By 1910, output reached 12,500 tons a year of colemanite, which represented 30% of the American borax market. An active mining camp, called Sterling, grew up beneath the mine in Tick Canyon with as many as a hundred miners at its peak.
The borax market dropped in 1910, and at the end of 1911 both Stauffer Chemical and Thorkildsen & Mather sold out to Borax Consolidated (Smith). Thorkildsen remained the president of Sterling Borax, which remained a company. The Sterling Borax Company remained until 1920, when it was disincorporated by Borax Consolidated.
Meanwhile, better borax sources were discovered elsewhere and the ore at Lang was giving out. The last year of production was 1921. Total production for the life of the mine was estimated at 100,000 tons at a value of $3 million (Gay and Hoffman, 1954). In 1926, the plant was dismantled (Ver Planck, 1956).
In 1956, Pacific Coast Borax merged with US Potash to become US Borax & Chemical Co. In 1968, Rio Tinto acquired US Borax & Chemical, US Borax becoming a subsidiary. In 2006, US Borax sold the land containing the Sterling Borax mine to developer Monterey Homes LLC.
Los Angeles Times, November 7, 1907. Here Shepherd is the discover and he sells to Henry Blumenberg, not to Thomas Thorkildsen.
San Francisco Chronicle, November 17, 1907
Perry, Iowa, Daily Chief, November 23, 1907
Engineering and Mining Journal, November 23, 1907
Marshfield, Oregon, Daily Coos Bay Times, November 26, 1907
Bakersfield Morning Echo, November 28, 1907
Daily Democrat, Shelby, Indiana, December 7, 1907
San Francisco Call, December 13, 1907
Mineral Resources of the United States, Calendar Year 1907, Part II - Nonmetallic Products, Department of the Interior, United States Geological Survey, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1908, "Borax" by Charles G. Yale, p. 635
State of Nevada, Biennial Report of the Secretary of State for the Two Years Ending December 31, 1908, Domestic Incorporations 1907-1908, Page 101
"When Filed: February 17, 1908
Name of Incorporation: Sterling Borax Company
Place of Business: Las Vegas
Period of Existence: Unlimited
Amount to Commence Business: $2,000
Capital Stock: $2,000,000"
California State Library, News Notes of California Libraries, Vol 4. Nos 1-4, January - October 1909, California Current Events Index, No. 2, Fourth Quarter 1908, p.18
"Sterling Borax Co.
Incorporated October 12, 1908"
Oakland Tribune, March 20, 1908
San Francisco Call, October 13, 1908
Mineral Resources of the United States 1908, Part II - Nonmetals, Washington, Government Printing office, 1909
The only other productive mine in the State in 1908 was that of the Sterling Borax Company, near Lang Station, in Los Angeles County. This is a new mine, which only became productive in 1908. Its product is colemanite, which is shipped crude to refineries in New Jersey. This company is virtually a combination which includes not only the productive mine named, but the Ventura County mines of the Frazier Borate Company, or Stauffer Chemical Company, the Lang and Death Valley deposits of the American Borax Company, and the refining companies at Chicago, San Francisco, and the New Brighton. The property near Lang Station is in a favorable situation for labor, transportation, etc. A number of mining claims in that section are mined by this company.
From the Engineering and Mining Journal, January 9, 1909
Mineral Resources of the United States, 1909, Part II - Nonmetals, Washington, Government Printing office, 1911
The other productive mine [besides the Lila C] is that of the Sterling Borax Company, near Lang station, in Los Angeles County. This property first became productive in 1908. Its product is colemanite, which is shipped to refineries as mined without previous concentration or other treatment [which would change in the near future].
The Mineral Industry Its Statistics, Technology, and Trade During 1909, Volume XVIII, The Engineering and Mining Journal, 1910, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York. p. 78
"At the Lang mine of the Sterling Borax Company, two veins of colemanite, one 16 ft. wide and 1000 ft. long and the other, 30 ft. distant, 7 ft. wide and 500 ft. long, are being developed. In 1909 a branch railroad was built connecting this mine with the Southern Pacific system."
From Nard (National Association of Retail Druggists) Notes, July 28, 1910, p. 1062
Mining and Scientific Press, September 24, 1910
Los Angeles Herald, October 1, 1910
Sausalito News, December 10, 1910
The Mineral Industry Its Statistics, Technology, and Trade During 1910, Volume XIX, The Engineering and Mining Journal, 1911, McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York. p. 86
"About 12,000 tons were produced in the Lang district by the Sterling Borax Company, an increase of 4000 tons over the production of 1909. The Sterling Borax Company devoted all its attention in 1910 to its mines at Lang, Los Angeles county. This company owns rich borate deposits in Ventura and Los Angeles counties. Its position was materially strengthened by the construction of a narrow-gage road from the railway station at Lang direct to the mouth of the mine. The veins of colemanite are beneath a narrow canyon and the mining is carried on by both shafts and tunnels. Shipments are made to the company's eastern refineries in Pennsylvania and Illinois."
Death of James Gilchrist on March 30, 1914. From the Report of Decisions of the Industrial Accident Board and Industrial Accident Commission of the State of California, Volume I, Part II, Report of Decisions. January 1, 1914, to December 31, 1914; California State Printing Office, 1915, p. 342
Metallurgical and Chemical Engineering, September, 1915, Vol. XIII, No. 9, p. 564
"The Sterling Borax Company, whose mines are located 6 miles from Lang, in Los Angeles County, ranks as the second largest producer in California. During 1914 this company is reported to have mined about 15,000 tons of borate ore. This is divided into two grades, the first containing about 31 per cent anhydrous boracic acid; the second about 20 per cent. All of the ore is roasted at the mine before shipment, thereby eliminating imparities which consist of clay, pandermite and water. On roasting, the colemanite content disintegrates into a fine powder, while the pandermite and clay retain their original form. This makes it possible to separate the valuable portion very easily by screening. A branch railroad connects the mine with the Southern Pacific Railroad."
Mineral Resources of the United States 1914, Part II - Nonmetals, Washington, Government Printing office, 1916
The Sterling Borax Co., operating colemanite deposits 6 miles from Lang, in Los Angeles County, maintained a production second in importance to that of the Pacific Coast Borax Co. Two grades of ore are mined, which vary in percentage of anhydrous boric acid, and both are roasted at the mine, thereby eliminating impurities which consist mainly of pandermite [howlite], clay, and water. Upon calcination the colemanite content of the ore is dehydrated and becomes a fine powder which is easily screened from the pandermite [howlite] and clay, the latter substances retaining their coherence.
Mines and Mineral Resources of Los Angeles County, Orange County, Riverside County, California State Mining Bureau, Chapters of State Mineralogist's Report Biennial Period 1915-1916,
California State Printing Office, 1917, p. 20
"The production of this mineral (borax) in Los Angeles County amounted in 1914 to nearly $500,000. This was chiefly the output of the Sterling Borax Company of 320 Trust and Savings Bldg., Los Angeles, Thos. Thorkildsen, president, of which the mine is five miles north of Lang in Tick Canyon. This corporation controls some 1,200 acres and mines a large deposit of colemanite. In a mill on the property, the crude material is separated from such impurities as clay and shale, and calcium borate is shipped to Pittsburgh and Chicago to be refined into commercial borax. The deposit is probably a tilted lake bed and is of great interest but the management request that no details be published."
1915 accident of T.J. Mahoney sets law precedent. From Negligence and Compensation Cases Annotated, By The Publishers' Editorial Staff, Volume XII, Chicago, Callaghan and Company, 1917, p. 668
The Spatula, An Illustrated Magazine for Pharmacists, Vol. XXI. No. 11, Boston, August 1915
The Sterling Borax Co., near the border of Los Angeles county, was second in production [of borax]. Two grades of ore are mined and are roasted to remove impurities. On calcination the colemanite content of the ore is dehydrated and becomes a fine powder.
Mineral Resources of the United States 1915, Part II - Nonmetals, Washington, Government Printing office, 1917
At the Lang property of the Sterling Borax Co., in Los Angeles County, the calcining plant has been enlarged and new deposits have been opened. New rotary wedge furnaces have also been put in.
Mining and Scientific Press, San Francisco, December 30, 1916, Volume 113, Number 27, p. 957
"At the Lang property of the Sterling Borax Co., in Los Angeles county, the calcining plant has been enlarged and new deposits have been opened. New rotary wedge furnaces have also been put in."
Mineral Resources of the United States 1917, Part II-Nonmetals, Washington Printing Office, 1920, p. 339
"Most of the boron ore mined in California is concentrated before being shipped to the refinery. At the Lang property of the Sterling Borax Co., this treatment includes heating, which drives off most of the water, disintegrates the colemanite, and causes the adminxed clay to gather into balls that are easily separated. The concentrated ore runs from 30 to 45 percent of boric oxide."
Men Who Received Bureau of Mines Certificates of Mine Rescue Training, July 1, 1916, To June 30, 1918, Compiled by Dorsey J. Parker Department of the Interior, Bureau of Mines, Technical Paper 226, March, 1919, p. 11
American Mining Manual, 1919, The Mining Manual Company, Chicago, p. 128
"Office, Trust & Savings Building, Los Angeles, California
Refineries: Chicago, Illinois and Pittsburgh, Pa.
Thomas Thorkildsen, Los Angeles, General Manager.
Edgar McC. Steward, General Superintendent.
Sterling Mine. Colemanite. 400' Shaft and 4200' Adit.
Wedge Roasters. 100-ton Calcining Furnace.
Electric Power and Compressor. 2 Steam Locomotives. 175 Men."
American Mining Manual, 1920, The Mining Manual Company, Chicago, p. 114
"Office, 215 W. Sixth St., Los Angeles. Stock, $2,000,000.
Refineries: Chicago, Illinois and Pittsburgh, Pa.
Thomas Thorkildsen, Los Angeles, General Manager.
LeRoy D. Osborne, Lang, California, General Superintendent.
Sterling Borax Mines. Shaft and Adit. 2 Steam Locomotives.
4 Wedge Roasters, Electric Power and Compresssor. 200 Men."
Report XVII of the State Mineralogist, Mining in California During 1920, California State Mining Bureau, 1921, p. 317
"The Sterling Borax Company of 320 Trust and Savings Building, Los Angeles; Thos. Thorkildson, president. Operated mine and mill to capacity during the past year. Fifty men are employed. The mine is 5 miles north of Lang in Tick Canyon."
Mining and Oil Bulletin, September, 1921, p. 594. Ebinger's name is finally correct. It was not Ebbinger.
"Considerable interest was also taken in the original discovery specimen of borax, found about eight years ago by Shepherd and Ebinger at Lang, near Newhall, California. Although only about a foot wide on the surface, the workings developed at the 400-foot level to a vein 140 feet wide, and proved to be one of the most productive borax mines of the coast."
A Review of Mining in California During 1921, California State Mining Bureau, Preliminary Report No. 8, January, 1922, p. 62
"The Sterling Borax Company closed its plant during the latter part of the year but will resume operations shortly, it is reported."
Monthly Chapter of Report XIX of the State Mineralogist covering Mining in California, Vol. 19, January 1923, No. 1, California State Printing Office, Sacramento, 1923, p. 31 (For the year 1922)
"The Sterling Borax Co., at Lang, did not operate during the year."
...And would never operate again
The last headquarters of the Sterling Borax Company was in the Los Angeles Trust & Savings Bank Building, corner of Sixth and Spring Streets, Los Angeles (from an old postcard)