By Elaine Rohse • Columnist • 

Donkey finds fame, fortune

For many years, Paul Harvey closed his radio show with “And now — you know the rest of the story.”

And now — you Yamhill Valley residents shall know the “rest of a story” — an incredible story about a jackass that discovered the largest of the Coeur d’Alene mines, a world famous mine — and then came to live at Yamhill County.

I learned the rest of this story not from Paul Harvey, but from Barry Lilly, a McMinnvillan since 1973. And what a story it is.

The tale came to light before Memorial Day. I was researching the little cemetery up on High Heaven Road, known also as Happy Valley and/or Baker Creek Cemetery. In the Yamhill County Historical Society Museum, in Lafayette, a file clipping told of a burial at High Heaven: Orange Kellogg, May 28, 1832 - March 22, 1918. The clipping also contained a wild story about a Spanish jackass that in 1885 discovered the famed Bunker Hill mine in Idaho. That happened when the burro was with prospector Noah Kellogg, a brother or Orange Kellogg. And then Yamhill County came into the picture because the burro was said to have arrived in Yamhill County about November 1892, where it lived the rest of its days with Noah’s brother, Orange.

What a story: a jackass discovered a famous mine and then ended up in Yamhill County! But I could find no verification of this story and, indeed, it sounded quite unlikely. In the column about High Heaven Cemetery, I mentioned what a great story that would be if only some verification were out there. And then — in a few days — an e-mail arrived from McMinnvillan Barry Lilly. He grew up in Idaho mining country and did indeed know the story to be true.

Over coffee at Cornerstone, I learned the rest of the story from Lilly.

It begins in Idaho in 1885. A 54-year-old carpenter and prospector, Noah Kellogg, is down on his luck. Then living in Murray, a little town of about 100 in northeastern Idaho, Noah was without a lucrative claim and had no money for a grubstake. He went looking for backers and was in luck. He found a Mr. Peck and a Mr. Cooper who loaned him money to buy supplies and sent along a jackass to carry his tools.

Off Noah and the burro (whose name is unknown) headed down the north fork of the Coeur d’Alene River. They came to a trail and followed it to the southern fork of the Coeur d’Alene. There they crossed the river and headed south to a site about five miles from Kellogg, where they camped for the night. But while Noah slept, his burro strayed from camp. When Noah discovered its absence the next morning, he was extremely upset. Then, high on a hill above, he heard the jackass braying. Looking up the incline, he spotted the animal — and beside it, glittering in the sun, was something mighty exciting to a prospector: a large outcropping of galena (lead) ore. On Sept. 4, 1885, the jackass and Noah Kellogg discovered the great Bunker Hill Mine and Sullivan Mines.

And Bunker Hill became world famous. The town of Kellogg was named for Noah Kellogg. A sign at the entrance to the Idaho town advised, “You are now near Kellogg, the town which was discovered by a jackass and which is inhabited by its descendants.”

Idaho’s mining area in the Coeur d’Alenes boomed. Population mushroomed and new towns were established. The first shipment of ore from the Coeur d’Alene mines was from Bunker Hill. In the beginning, ore was shipped elsewhere for processing. Within a few years, mills were built to extract the metals from ore, and Bunker Hill Smelter, located in Kellogg, became the world’s largest smelting facility. The first processing mills used an inefficient process known as “jigging” in which often less than 75 percent of the metals were recovered from the ore. Tailings were dumped in nearby waterways and contained large amounts of lead and other metals. Progress was made in 1945 when a processing facility was added to the Bunker Hill smelter, resulting in recovery of high-grade cadmium from the waste products.

This Coeur d’Alene mining area was pockmarked with mines: Sunshine Mine, the Lucky Friday, the Hecla, Gold Hunter, Hercules, Firefly, Standard, Mammoth, Morning, Pine Creek, Tamarack, Custer Mines — many others.

But boom days were not to be forever. In 1919, mining experienced post-war doldrums. In 1921, the area experienced a depression. Many mines reduced operations in 1922. In 1929, Wall Street’s crash profoundly affected this Coeur d’Alene area. By 1930, mining activity was severely curtailed, and Bunker Hill and Sunshine were the only two in the area to maintain capacity production. World War II resulted in increased mining activity to meet wartime needs. By 1948, a post-war baby boom was underway.

But through the years, union problems were constant between workers and owners. Bunker Hill owners refused to meet or negotiate with union representatives, and ugly protests erupted. During a union demonstration, workers hijacked a Union Pacific train. After a fight between workers and Bunker Hill security personnel, workers dynamited a Bunker Hill ore concentrator worth $250,000.

Local rivers were polluted by tailings with high levels of sulfur dioxide, lead and other metals. In 1983, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency added the Bunker Hill smelter to national priorities for cleanup. By 2007, EPA had spent $200 million attempting to remediate the site.

In 1963, Bunker Hill still employed 2,590 people, but in 1968, it was taken over by Gulf Resources. In 1981 came the unthinkable — Bunker Hill shut down.

Here in this mining area, McMinnvillan Barry Lilly grew up in the ’50s and the ’60s — with old abandoned mine sites at the ready for exploration by kids. But Barry’s dad did not want his son playing or exploring in those mines.

Today, says Barry, little remains of the glory days and the once-great mines. Most have been played out. Population in the area has reduced drastically since he lived there.

And so, as Paul Harvey would say, “That is the rest of the story.” But a couple of questions remain. Historians did not note how much Noah realized from his strike. One source, supplied by Lilly, notes that Noah had partners named O’Rourke and Jim Wardner, for whom the town of Wardner was named. The latter was said to have sold his interest in 1900 for $100,000 and moved to Seattle. But Noah’s take is unknown. He died March l7, 1903, at age 72, and is buried in Kellogg.

There’s something else we don’t know: the name of the jackass, when it died and where it is buried.

But the rest of the story we do know — thanks to Barry Lilly — McMinnville’s Paul Harvey. And what a story it is.

Elaine Rohse can be reached at

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