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The following essay won honorable mention in the Oklahoma Heritage Week Essay Contest. Cathy Cesar, daughter of Mr & Mrs Stephen Cesar is in Mrs. Joyce Wikoff's Ninth Grade History at Altus Junior High School. The essay is reprinted here minus the bibliography. This essay also appeared in the Altus Times Newspaper column courtesy of the Museum of the Western Prairie

The Creta Copper Mines were very helpful to Southwest Oklahoma and Jackson County during the ten years they were in operation which is from 1965 to 1975. These mines gave jobs to ninety workers who lived in the surrounding area and brought money to Jackson County. These mines also drew tourists to Jackson County, because they were the only copper mines discovered in Oklahoma. The enormous machinery used by the miners also amazed and fascinated the visitors to our region of the state.

The Creta Cooper Mines are located about twelve miles southwest of Olustee, Oklahoma. The terrain is mostly pasture land that is basically unsuitable for farming. The mines cover approximately 9,200 acres, but only 1,000 acres were mined. This land is partly owned by Don Moody. He owns the south half of the mines and has owned it since 1934. The cooper gets a lot deeper as it gets south, so now they are currently mining some gypsum from that location.

All of the structures on the land where the mines are located were torn down during reclamation, but there used to be a little shack where the materials were kept and the miners checked in or out on one of the three daily shifts of eight hours. There was also a mill a couple of miles north where the copper ore was processed. The other structure was an overpass dividing the north land from Don Moody's southern land. The overpass was made of arched tin with concrete layer poured on top. This structure, as the others, was torn down, and the tin from the overpass was recycled by providing a barn wall. There were never any structures specifically designed for the miner housing units. The miners mainly lived in either Eldorado, Olustee, or Altus, Oklahoma, or in Quanah, Texas, and they traveled daily to the mining location.

The mines were discovered in 1852 by Captain Marcy who was exploring for traces of gold. When he found several copper outcroppings, he noted about the evidence in his journal, but continued his quest for gold. Several years later, the Eagle-Picher Mining Company verified this discovery, leased the land, and began operations. The mines opened in March of 1965 and were in use steadily for ten years and thirty days before the closed in May of 1975.

The miners did not just dig for the copper ore layer. First, they had to level the ground. Then, a small hole was drilled every ten to fifteen feet. A bundle of dynamite was then put in each hole. When the miners shot the dynamite, they tried their best not to entirely destroy the land, but some unavoidable damage was done such as the dirt layer rising up to four feet during the explosion. A drag line was brought in to level off the land again. The drag line also threw the dirt backwards in a location where the miners had just finished mining which created enormous dirt piles. The miners drilled further down being extremely careful not to abuse the eight inch thick layer of copper ore located under 100 feet of dirt. When the copper ore was dug up, it was carried by truckload about two miles north the mill to be processed. At the mill the ore body was melted in acid, and the copper floated to the top. Then, the copper was divided and loaded on trucks to take to the railroad for one of the three daily shipments to the smelter in El Paso, Texas. The ore that was reprocessed there was 85% pure copper and contained only one ounce of silver.

How did the miners get all this work done? They used three huge machines called drag lines. The most important was the Page Drag Line. The Page Drag Line was a forty yard machine weighing in at 1,976,000 pounds. It was built in 1941 and was owned by the Eagle-Picher Mining Company, which was the company in charge of the Creta Copper Mine operation. The house, or room where the operator was, was the size of a forty room house and was the size of a six story building in height. It had a thirteen cubic foot bucket that was large enough to drive a car in. The bucket could lift more than forty yards of dirt at a time which eventually led to digging pits 50 to 100 feet deep and at least 100 feet wide. The Page Drag Line was known as the world's largest diesel machine, and in Don Moody's words, "I guess it was a pretty large machine."

Even though mining was becoming a successful business in Jackson County providing the highest paying jobs in drag line work at the time, the mines were eventually forced to shut down in May of `1975. The mines closed down when the miners realized it would be cheaper to import copper than to spend all of the time and money in mining and processing the copper ore. It was also becoming a problem that the copper kept getting deeper and harder to mine as the miners headed closer to the Red River. After the mines closed, most of the miners moved away, but some stayed causing Jackson County's population and knowledge of our heritage to increase.

During the time when the mines were in operation, a 1971 law was passed stating that miners were to reclaim and conserve land subjected to disturbance by mining and were to have its natural resources preserved. The miners were also encouraged to make productive use of land after mining. This law was called "The Mining Lands Reclamation Act." The miners tried their hardest to restore the land, but a drought in 1967 hurt their efforts to try to plant trees and grass. Now, the old mining lands are used in some parts for mining gypsum. In other areas the pits were either filled with dirt or water for local farmers. Some of the land was restored enough to put cattle on the pastures during seasons with some rain.

The mines were very helpful to many people. Not only did they provide jobs, but they also introduced tourists to how fascinating our area of the state can be and provided a look into our county's past. When I interviewed Don Moody he said, "There was nothing more interesting than just looking at the size of the enormous mining pits." Mr. Moody was there everyday the mines were in operation and never got tired of them. The mines not only affected our economy, landscape, and heritage, but also Southwestern Oklahoma hearts and minds.

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Web Page by Ethel Taylor
March 4, 1999


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