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Argonaut Mine
Argonaut Mine - 1.gif
Argonaut Mine and Mill, c. 1920
Location State Route 49, Jackson, California
Reference no. 786

The Argonaut Mine is a gold mine in Jackson, California, United States. The deposit was discovered 1850 and was the site of the worst gold-mining disaster in the state's history. The mine closed in 1942 and, along with the nearby Kennedy Mine, is registered as California Historical Landmark #786.

The gold deposit was discovered by two miners, James Hager and William Tudor. The mine's serious development began in 1893 when it was purchased by the Argonaut Mining Company. The mine operated until 1942, reaching a vertical depth of 5,570 feet (1,700 m) via a 63-degree shaft and produced more than $25 million in gold.

The disaster

On August 27, 1922, 47 miners, mostly immigrants from Italy, Spain, and Serbia, were trapped in a fire 4,650 feet (1,420 m) below ground. Other miners who had been near the surface poured water down the shaft in an attempt to put out the flames. By dawn, townspeople and other miners arrived to help, but it took two-and-a-half days for the fire to be extinguished.

Rescuers began re-opening tunnels from the Kennedy Mine which had been closed since an earlier fire in 1919. It was slow going, but hopes remained high until September 18, when a canary inserted beyond a bulkhead by oxygen-tank-equipped workers died. Still, it took three weeks to reach the level at which the miners were trapped. None survived, and evidence indicated that they had all died within hours of the fire's breaking out. One of the bodies was not recovered until a year later. Most likely, water flushed down the shaft carried his body further into the mine, but in the intervening time, newspapers speculated he had fled the mine to start a new life.

It was determined that the mine had violated safety regulations, but the owners escaped punishment, as the United States Bureau of Mines had little enforcement power. The cause of the fire was never determined and put down to "incendiarism," a broad term meaning either arson or defective wiring.

Listing as Superfund Site

The April 10, 2016 issue of the Stockton Record Newspaper reports the Argonaut Mine in Jackson may be the first mining site in the Sierra Nevada Motherlode to be listed as an EPA Superfund Site. Mine tailings and waste from ore processing left 1 million cubic yards of material tainted with arsenic, lead and mercury within the limits of the city of Jackson. Single family homes and part of the Jackson high school were built on waste rock piles from the mine. Other waste from the mine is now held back by the Eastwood Multiple Arch Dam, which the EPA says is at risk of failure. There are no commercial organizations responsible for mining still in existence to be held responsible for the mine clean-up. Listing the mine as a Superfund site will make the mine eligible for federal clean-up funds.

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