|Last Update: December 3, 2005
|One of the most significant mines and ghost towns in the Ochoco Mountains of Eastern Oregon is the Horse Heaven mines. After reading and
hearing about Horse Heaven for a number of years, I decided to set out and find it for myself. This would not be a difficult task as Horse Heaven is
easily accessible, but we discovered a few other interesting things along the way.
I visited the area in August, 2005 while visiting family in Terrabonne. My brother in law and I made the relatively short trip to the area. Our first
destination off of the paved road would be the semi-ghost town of Ashwood. The turn off toward Ashwood is off of Hwy 97, about 15 miles north of
Madras. The road to Ashwood is now paved, but it’s an extremely windy, narrow and sometimes steep road that is fairly scenic and an interesting
drive. After 15 more miles, we reached Ashwood.
Today, Ashwood is a sleepy town of just a few residents. It’s history dates to the late 1800s, when it was established for several mines and
prospects in the area. One mine that Ashwood presumably served early on was the Oregon King and Ruby Mines, located just 3 miles by road,
northeast of town. At one point, the Oregon King Mine employed some 70 men who actually lived on site in a rather large bunk house. Sources
indicate this mine was mainly for copper, silver and lead, but some 3000 ounces of gold was mined byproduct.
By the 1890s, Ashwood had about 300 residents. However, by 1900, that number would dwindle significantly as the local mines played out and
residents move north toward Antelope in seek of other work.
In 1925, mining in the area briefly increased and Ashwood had a slight revival. But it was the 1930s that placed Ashwood back on the map, when the
Horse Heaven mines were discovered.
By the 1960s, Ashwood has only 4 permanent residents and the remaining stores were long closed. When we visited the town, we noticed a
collection of ranch houses along with a few old abandoned buildings. The number Ashwood residents is still probably not much more than a dozen
As we headed east out of Ashwood, we tried to access the King Mine area, but it was gated off and clearly not accessible. USGS maps indicate that a
number of cabins, buildings and mine shafts appear to exist at the site.
The next major mine was the Axehandle Mines about 5 miles from Ashwood. It’s not clear when this mine was operated, but a few buildings existed
on the site according to 1968 USGS maps. The mine and buildings are located about a ½ mile south of the road on private property and not
accessible, so I’m not sure what remains exist.
The ghost town of Donnybrook exists just a short distance east of the Axehandle mine. Little remains of Donnybrook except the old abandoned
schoolhouse and a ranch house. The school likely served workers of the Axehandle mine and other smaller prospects of the area. Its not clear when
it closed, it looks to have been abandoned for many, many decades.
About 1.8 miles east of Donnybrook is an interest set of mines called the Queen Oregon Mines. I know very little about these mines, but we were
interested to find that of the 4 mines shafts that existed, several were still partly open. Another mine shaft was found about a ½ mile down the road as
well. Buildings probably existed here at one point, but none were found, nor any signs of buildings found when we were there.
Roughly 8 miles east of the Queen Oregon Mines is the biggest mining operation of the area, and the most famous. The Horse Heaven Mine and
The Horse Heaven mine dates back to 1933, when two old prospectors named Champion and Kenton first located valuable cinnabar in the area.
Cinnabar is used to make mercury. It’s fairly rare and extremely valuable. However, the men originally believed that because the find was located on
a divide, it was float and was not worth prospecting further. But two teenage boys, Ray R Whiting Jr, and Harry Hoy believed otherwise and spent the
summer of 1933 camping and digging for cinnabar in the area. Finding promising outcrops, they spent 60 days tunneling and were about to give up
when Ray stumbled on a rock of nearly solid cinnabar. Starting a new tunnel, they soon hit the jackpot. The teenagers' fathers soon started a
company and the mine was established for the first time that summer.
Soon afterwards, the mine was sold and both Ray and Hoy got 11 percent of the sale price and set about starting new lives in California. The mine
was originally named the Crystal Syndicate and was in full production within a few years. The name would later be changed to Horse Heaven. In
1936, the Sun Oil Company purchased the mine and operated it until 1944 when the load panned out.
100,000 tons of ore was removed from the mine. 1400 feet of tunnels were dug on 10 different levels, with one level being 300 feet below the
surface. A 20 ton mill and reduction furnace turned out 15,000 flasks of mercury, that weighed 75lbs each. Total take was 7 million dollars at the
The mill burned in 1946. The actual town of Horse Heaven, which was located across the street from the mine also burned, but it’s not clear when. I
assume at the same time. However, many other buildings on site survive in various states of disrepair to this day.
Apparently, in 1954 some mining was attempted, but little was found. Ray R Whiting Jr, who originally discovered the mine would come full circle.
With his newfound wealth he built a restaurant, but that apparently failed and he later return to Horse Heaven. In the 1960s he was still prospecting
the area, looking for yet another undiscovered load. It doesn’t appear that he found it.
The mine is now owned by what was described by a local to me as the Grand Daughters of the original owner. I can only assume this must mean the
Grand Daughters of Ray Whiting. While the mine is visited on occasion by the owners, no one lives there permanently today.
When I arrived at the site, I found that the area was fenced off and marked no trespassing. While taking photos from the road a local rancher towing a
horse trailer stopped by and said that he knew the owners and gave me permission to walk the property and take photos. Which I gladly did.
|Maps of Ashwood and area
|The town of Ashwood was established in the late 1800s to serve local mines. It was never huge, but did serve the Oregon King and Ruby Mines for a period.
By the 1890s, Ashwood had about 300 residents. However, by 1900, that number would dwindle significantly as the local mines played out and residents move north toward
Antelope in seek of other work. In 1925, mining in the area briefly increased and Ashwood had a slight revival. But it was the 1930s that placed Ashwood back on the map,
when the Horse Heaven mines were discovered.
By the 1960s, Ashwood has only 4 permanent residents and the remaining stores were long closed. When we visited the town, we noticed a collection of newer houses
along with older, some appearing abandoned, buildings. Ashwood appears to be a basic residential community, but still has no major services, store or gas station.
|Map of Donnybrook and area
|Located about 5.5 miles east of Ashwood, Donnybrook is the site of a modern day ranch and a very old abandoned school house. It's not known when the school house was
built and for how long it was used, but it's obviously it hasn't seen children in many decades. It likely served the local mines and ranching community for a period of time. A
major mine, the Axehandle, was located nearby and probably was served by this school house.
|The road out of Ashwood all the way to the Horse Heaven Mine and beyond is a combination of dirt and gravel. In fair weather, the road is easily passable by a 2WD car.
But poor weather, a high clearance vehicle and possibly 4WD might be required. The picture on the right shows one of several small ranch/farms that exist out here. These
are fairly remote homestead/farms to say the least.
|Queen Oregon Mines
|Map of the Queen Oregon mines
|The Queen Oregon Mines are approximately 1.8 miles east of Donnybrook. Exactly what they mined here is a mystery, since the general area seems to have mined to some
small degree, everything from gold, silver, but especially cinnabar. USGS maps indicate that at least 5 mine adits existed here at one time. We were only able to find two
still partly open shafts. The three photos on the left shows the area of the main cluster about 4 mine shafts, with only one being partly open, but mostly flooded.
The three right photos shows a single mine shaft located to the east of the main Queen Oregon Mine cluster that is also partly open while not flooded, does have some spring
feed water inside. Interestingly, the USGS maps mark this shaft as a "cave", which is usually reserved for ice caves or other natural formations. But this is clearly an
abandoned mine shaft. No other remains of any kind, could be found at the sites. It's not clear when these mines were active.
|On the way to Horse Heaven we took in the sites, noticed a few more remote ranches and carefully avoided the cattle, which somehow manage to survive grazing out
in this inhospitable land.
|Horse Heaven Mine and ghost town
|Map of the Horse Heaven Mine and surrounding area
|Note: The mine and buildings having no trespassing signs all around. A local rancher who noticed us taking pictures from outside the fence,
stopped and talked with us and gave us permission to walk around the complex and take additional photos.
|From Ashwood, after driving about 15.5 miles on dirt roads, we finally reached the Horse Heaven Mine and Ghost town. The first things we saw on the site, was the main
cabin, a very old out building and an old truck. I'm not sure when the main cabin was built, but I surmise it was probably erected either in the 1950s when some mining was
attempted or in the 1960s when Mr. Whiting returned to continue to prospect the mine I say this, because the building looked newer than the other buildings on the site that
were falling apart. Note the old truck. I assume this too was probably Mr. Whiting's truck that he used in the 1960s and possibly into the 1970s.
|At one time a huge mill, a number of houses a school and other buildings existed on the site. But today, the surviving buildings have dwindled significantly. But that
doesn't mean there isn't stuff to see. Several extremely old buildings still exist, but are clearly on their last leg of standing.
|It was hard to figure out what the different buildings were used for. But this one had one partly collapsed wall and a very old built in
shelf that is now lying on the ground. The shelf almost looked like what you might find at a post office.
|One of the advantages of the Eastern Oregon desert is the ability preserve very old things, including this old newspaper clipping that was essentially exposed to the weather
and appeared to have been nailed to the interior wall of this building at one time. I'm not sure of the date, but it's a newspaper ad for a Nash automobile. The photo
matches what appears to be a mid 1930s model Nash, which is consistent with the time period the mine was most active. Why was it hanging up on the wall? Maybe the
person who occupied this building or worked here back then had dreams of someday buying one.
|Several more buildings on site. What this building was used for is not clear, but note the cook stove hood remains. What this the cook house?
Unfortunately, some building have collapsed.
|The three photos on the left show one of the buildings that's in better condition. This almost looks like it might have been a dining hall. In the photos on the right, we
found a huge pile of mostly broken test tubes. What they were used for is not clear, but probably testing the purity or content of the cinibar.
|Above the abandoned buildings is a huge tailings pile, which shows that the mine was very substantial in it's heyday. About halfway up the tailings pile was the remains of
this furnace. This furnace appears to be what's left of a mill complex that burned down in 1946, 2 years after the mine first shut down.
|From near the top of the tailings pile, looking down, it becomes obvious how much waste tailings this mine produced.
|The three left photos show one of the adits near the top of the tailings pile. The adit appeared to be collasped. In the three right photos, we see some of the debris and
remains scattered about the tailings pile. Most of these are likely remains that came from the mill complex that burned down in 1946.
|This mine head is the most interesting part of the mine complex. When it was built is not clear, but photos taken in the 1960s that I've seen indicate that was rather old back
then, suggesting that it was built back in the 1930s when mine was most active. Note the neat rock wall used to shore up one side. The head appears to be designed to
haul ore out of a very deep shaft, then dump it in a truck, bucket or another ore cart to take it elsewhere. Note the mine ore tracks that are still mounted more than 45
degrees. A winch of some kind was used to haul the loaded ore carts out of the mine.
|Somewhat near the old mine head is this complex of homemade mining and processing equipment. I think this might be what Mr. Whiting might have built and used in the
in the 1960s, when he returned to the mine to continue to prospect.
|Just east of the mine off of the local dirt road is this old dump. Literally thousands of old cans were scattered about. It looked like a stream had run through here at one
time, washing away much of the dump contents over the years.
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