Glen Evans:
The Compleat Naturalist
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MERCURY and TERLINGUA

Mercury is obtained from cinnabar ore.  In the late 1890’s mercury (“quicksilver”) was discovered near Terlingua, Brewster County, Texas.

Cinnabar

Cinnabar is the ore from which the mineral mercury can be extracted.

Specimen to the left is on loan from Glen Evans personal collection. It was found in one of the mines near Terlingua, Brewster County, Texas.

This sample illustrated is about 3"x5".

The ore was ground and heated and the mercury driven off as a vapor, which later cooled and distilled.

Mercury flasks, such as this one collected from Terlingua by Glen Evans, were used to collect that mercury. 

Early fuels for this process were the local sotol and lechugilla plants, available in great abundance in this region of Texas.


Specimen: TMM 878-1
Location: Old 44 mine, Terlingua, Brewster County, Texas
Period: Late 1800s
Collector: Glen L. Evans, 1947


Click on the image to see the complete Museum catalog entry for these flasks

Mercury flask

Mercury is a toxic substance.  Workers breathed the fumes during the smelting process, and subsequently suffered from loss of hair and teeth. Extensive exposure sometimes resulted in insanity.


Mercury was used as a fungicide until the early 1970's, at which point its use was banned in the USA.

Mercury is still used in dental amalgam, and as an amalgam for extraction of gold and silver.

Lindheim and Dewees' 45 ton furnace

Lindheim & Dewees’ 45 ton furnace

Photograph from the Adkins Collection , the Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin 

The Chisos Mine near Terlingua produced over 100,000 flasks of mercury, and was the most productive mine in Texas.  The miners shown here were workers in 1908.  The Chisos Mining Company filed for bankruptcy in 1942. 

Mexican miners Images of processor and miners taken from Adkins Collection, with permission from the Center for American History, the University of Texas at Austin

More on cinnabar


More about mercury production in Terlingua:  Sharpe, R.D., 1980, Development of Mercury Mining Industry: Trans-Pecos Texas, Mineral Resource Circular #64, Bureau of Economic Geology, The University of Texas at Austin.