Willoughby: J.J. Yeckle — mine investor/operator and interesting character | AspenTimes.com

Willoughby: J.J. Yeckle — mine investor/operator and interesting character

Tim Willoughby
Legends & Legacies

J.E. Spurr 1895 photo of a Lenado mine. U.S. Geological Survey/Courtesy photo

My father was the last assayer in Aspen. At one time there were many, but it dwindled to one and when that one died in 1944 the Midnight Mine discovered it was too expensive and took too long to send out its assays. This was during WWII and the war effort created special training programs to replace strategic positions vacated when men joined the military. Father went through the training and reopened assaying in Aspen.

He operated his assay office in the evenings after his work at the Midnight mostly doing Midnight assays, but what he hadn’t expected was that it would be a hangout establishment. Older miners and mine investors would stop in to gab. This was also a way to find out what other mines were doing since the assayer knew who was working a claim and what they were finding.

Jacob Yeckle, also known as Jake, was a frequent visitor. Yeckle’s Aspen years dated back to 1890 so Father enjoyed learning about his local mining activities, but mostly Yeckle was entertaining, the kind of talker you might enjoy sharing a beer with at the Jerome.

Yeckle’s first successful Aspen mine was his lease of the Leadville Mine in Lenado, the far northern end of Aspen’s mineral lode. He also may have had interest in Breckenridge mines at the same time. He partnered with J.H. Waters an agent for the Midland Railroad. They named their company the Woody and Silver Creek Mining Company.

1892 was quite a year for Yeckle. He found ore high in lead and with sufficient silver. His company sunk a shaft down about 370 feet and produced $250,000 of ore ($6,700,000 in today’s dollars).

Also in 1892 he was appointed a Pitkin County Commissioner by Governor Routt. In those days when someone vacated a position the governor appointed the replacement. On the downside, Yeckle was, in a rare Aspen occurrence, robbed at gunpoint by two men while walking along Hallam Street. It is not clear when, but likely when silver dropped in value, he stopped working the Leadville and its lower levels filled with water. (It reopened under different ownership in 1900)

Yeckle had investments in Leadville and seems to have lived in Denver making many trips to Aspen for business where he stayed in the Jerome. In the 1920s he found partners and organized the Lincoln Gulch Metals Mines Company. Beginning in 1925 he reopened an old mine seven mines up the gulch. The first assays showed promise, 3.5 ounces of gold and around 10 ounces of silver per ton and with at least 400 pounds lead. Since it was at such a high elevation it was mostly a summer enterprise. One year he and his partners open the wagon road at the beginning of June and reported they had to plow snow four feet deep from Grizzly Gulch on up to their mine. They worked the claim until 1930, at times with two shifts of four miners on each shift. It appears the company sold to investors from Cripple Creek and California around that time for $100,000 ($1,200,000 in today’s dollars), quite a Depression windfall.

His last mining effort was in 1936. He formed Porphyry Mountain Gold Mines Company and completed a 700-foot tunnel near Leadville and mined copper, gold and zinc. He toyed with reopening mining in Lincoln Gulch then too, but that did not pan out.

Father’s assay office was in the building across the street to the Jerome where Yeckle would stay on his trips. They would trade stories. Father suggested once that Yeckle was spending too much of his limited income on whiskey. Jake replied, “yes, I have consumed at least a pint of whiskey a day for fifty years or more, but one compensation, I pay no doctor bills.” Yeckle died at the age of 86.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching at Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.



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