WASHINGTON COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY (Washington County, Utah)
WILLIAM TECUMSEH BARBEE
(miner, mine superintendent)
BIOGRAPHYWilliam Tecumseh Barbee was born December 1831 in Greencastle, Warren County, Kentucky. In 1847, the family moved to Weston, Platte County, Missouri.
At age 28, William served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He was a private in the First Missouri Cavalry.
By October 1869, William was the mining recorder for the Clifton Mining District near Tooele. The next year he was engaged in mining in Tintic, Utah. At the Ophir District, he discovered and located the Silveropolis and Silver Chief claims. He served on the committee that prepared a code of mining laws for that district. In 1874, he built himself a prospecting cabin. Eventually, he sold the Silveropolis mine to the Walker Brothers for $27,000.
After Elijah Thomas sent a sample of horn silver to the Walker Brothers in Salt Lake City, they dispatched William and two others to the Harrisburg Mining District, arriving June 1875. William became enthused when he found silver "even in petrified wood". He located 22 claims on Tecumseh Ridge (named for his middle name) and hurried to Salt Lake City for supplies.
Returning, he established Bonanza City, with a race track, assay office, blacksmith shop, sampling works, boarding house, and several wick-a-ups. He even planned a miner’s supply store. But the land William offered for sale in the new town was expensive, so a tent city arose nearby, called the Rockpile. When a rush ensued, the Rockpile became Silver Reef City, which enclosed Bonanza City.
When William announced his discovery of silver in the sandstone of southern Utah, he got nothing but derision in Salt Lake City. However, his letters were published in the Salt Lake Tribune, and the boom was on. The area was called the Harrisburg District, covering an area of five square miles. The recorder's book showed 640 locations though probably only 150 claims were actually owned. William was shipping nearly 20 tons of rich paying ore every 24 hours. By April 1876, 33.5 tons of ore had been shipped to Salt Lake City and Pioche, which assayed from $350 to $750 per ton. William himself had netted over $40,000 by October 1876.
Things were going so well financially in the area that Apostle Erastus Snow prayed God's blessing on "Brother" Barbee for opening up the mines.
In 1879, William appointed a committee of three to ask Father Scanlan, the Catholic priest, if he would establish and conduct a hospital for the benefit of the people. Father Scanlan agreed and said the sisters would conduct the hospital provided that each of the employees of the mills and mines would pay $1 a month to the hospital. The hospital was completed and ready for occupancy on June 1, 1879, and five sisters of the Holy Cross reached town in July 1879.
In the early morning hours of June 23, 1879, a pile of wood near a mill furnace caught fire and spread throughout the Barbee & Walker Mill. The workers escaped but the building collapsed on the working mill stamps. William's half-brother, Johnson Barbee, attached a hose to the water tank and put 17,000 gallons of water on the fire in vain. The mill was reconstructed and completed in February 1880.
A group of investors in New York City began talking about organizing a new mining company. It consolidated the Barbee & Walker Mill and Mine into the Barbee & Walker Milling and Mining Company. William accepted their buyout offer, selling his interests for about $75,000.
William moved to Salt Lake City where he married a widow, Alice Almira Gwinner Mosby. He was 49 and she was 26 years old.
After leaving Dixie, William was involved in various enterprises. In 1881, he was involved in a petition for the extension of the water mains along Third East in Salt Lake City. He provided a monetary advance towards the work with the requirement that all water users on the block had to pay their water rates to him instead of the city until the amount advanced was repaid. William (and his brother Johnson?) moved to the Winnemucca-Lovelock area of Nevada, where they acquired several mining claims. The area was named the Barbee District with a mill site and town named for them in the area. William served multiple times on a grand jury in Salt Lake City for cases of cohabitation (polygamy) and other crimes between 1885-1895. In 1890, William was on a prospecting trip that located ten claims in Juab County near Tintic, Utah. The next year, he made a big strike on the Buckhorn in the Ophir District. Messrs Barnett and Lynch of McCornick's bank sent him out on a prospecting trip to the Deep Creek country. He arrived at Dugway and had good results there. He was one of the incorporators of the Ophir Mining District and one of the committee that framed its constitution and by-laws He was a notary and a justice of the peace in Ophir, and was usually referred to as Judge Barbee afterwards.
William died on March 24, 1896 of heart failure in his tent at the Blue Bill Mining District in Vernon, Tooele County, Utah. He was 64 years old. His obituary described him as a “"a gentleman of education and endowed with taste and refinement" and a “courteous gentleman, genial and pleasant to all he met, and he was never heard to murmur against his lot." He had ups and downs, had sold mining claims for enormous amounts, but died without a cent.
His wife and all eight of his siblings survived him. His widow, Alice G Barbee, was living in Salt Lake City in 1899. She died in there 1919.
FAMILYWilliam was a half-brother of Johnson Richard Barbee.
REFERENCESWilliam Tecumseh Barbee
A research report by Elaine Young, PhD.
Find-A-Grave entry for Elias Barbee