A Brief History of the Real de Catorce Mining District

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The Catorce district, supposedly, is named after an event in which 14 Spanish soldiers were killed by the indigenous inhabitants. The mining history of the area goes back to the mid-eighteenth century and, as the story goes, in 1772 a musician who was lost in the sierras, camped for a night and lit a fire to keep warm. In the morning when he went to clean-up the remains of his campfire he was surprised to find some little streams of silver metal fused on the ground as the result of his fire which were from outcrops of the mineralized vein since named the San Augustín. However, the first significant discovery of silver mineralization was reported in 1773 when a couple of prospectors, Sebastián Coronado and Antonio Llamas, discovered in the “Catorce Viejo” hill an argentiferous vein that they started to exploit on a very low scale and named the mine “La Descudridora”

In 1778, Don Bernabé Antonio de Zepeda, a miner from Matehuala began to explore the Sierra de Catorce and discovered the outcrops of the rich Veta Grande, in which he sank the Guadalupe shaft that produced a great amount of red minerals along with abundant green and white silver. The major Veta Madre vein was also discovered and exploited by Ventura Ruiz in 1778. In 1780, Padre José Manual Flores and his brother acquired the Padre Flores of Zavala mine for $700 and re-named it the “La Bolsa de Dios” (The Purse of God). Small scale mining on the property soon lead to the discovery of two “Bovedas” or vaulted chambers of soft chloride ore between 165 feet and 328 feet below surface and within 3 years $7,000,000 worth of silver was extracted from the mine (Southworth, 1905).

Other mines in the district were the La Valenciana, La Concepción, El Socavón del Refugio, and Candelaria y Filos.

By 1804, Catorce was the third richest silver producing district in Mexico with an average yearly production worth between $600,000 and $700,000. In its best producing years between $3,804,000 and $5,500,000 worth of silver was extracted (Southworth, 1905).

The peasant uprisings of 1810 to 1821 were disastrous to the mining industry with both the insurgents’ soldiers and royalist troops all but destroying the silver production in Mexico and Real de Catorce was not spared during this period.

Due to the richness of the district, in 1817, Don Joaquín Enguía recommended opening a mint house in Real de Catorce.

The Catorce mining district after suffering the ups and downs during the early 1800s was set on course by the Maza family, starting in 1861 with the arrival of Don Gregorio de la Maza who built a mint (Casa de Moneda) during the Don Benito Juarez presidency. The mint was briefly active from January, 1865 to February, 1866 when it was shut down by order of the Emperor Maximiliano, who was afraid it would fall into the hands of Juarez’s forces.

The Maza family founded the Compañía Minera de Santa Ana (Santa Ana mine) and, in 1885, mining management was taken over by Don Vicente Irizar, who, with the help of an English mining engineer, David Coughlan, and Coughlan’s son Francisco, assisted by Mexican mining engineer Don Luís Lopez, developed the Santa Ana mine into a major mine which prospered during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. In 1896 the Santa Ana mine installed specially designed pumps to remove water from the mine, which were the first in the country to be powered by electricity. This event was inaugurated by General Porfirio Diaz, President of Mexico.

Because of the previously arduous journey to get into and out of the town of Real de Catorce, the Ogarrio Tunnel was opened in 1901. Originally the mining passage had been cut through the solid rock to admit rail cars carrying ore. Roberto Irizar planned the project and at a cost of one million pesos the tunnel was enlarged to accommodate a trolley line that would connect Real de Catorce with Potrero.

After 1905, mining operations declined and due íto the political and social instability generated during the 1910 Revolution mining was paralyzed almost completely, except for small workings. By 1920, Real de Catorce was nearly a ghost town and the trolley and train were removed Although ASARCO, in 1926, and Fresnillo, in 1937, evaluated the major vein structures, a resurgence of mining activity did not take place until 1942 when a small cyanide plant was constructed and operated for about ten years.

Subsequently little mining took place until 1965 when the Compañía Restauradora de las Minas de Catorce, S.A. de C.V. (Restauradora) was formed. A plant with a milling capacity of 150 tonnes/day was completed in 1967 and later expanded to 300 tonnes/day (flotation). The process plant was subsequently expanded to treat old tailings material, with a capacity at 500 tonnes/day of which 300 tonnes were processed from the flotation plant and 200 tonnes were processed from the tailings dam. The final product was silver doré bars with a 98.0% silver content with copper being the main impurity with a 0.9% content. The plant operated until 1990 when it shut down “because of low silver prices and high taxes”.

Subsequent to 1990, Restauradora conducted a program of surface geochemical studies, geological, mapping and fluid inclusion studies in an attempt to identify new mineralized zones.

Since 1998 the mine has remained inactive with Restauradora maintaining the property.

Taken from the 2006 Technical Report by Normabec Mining Ltd
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