BY DAVID S. WARREN
Before the birth of Loon Island, of Lake Bonaparte, or of the Bonaparte hills (which are only the stumps of mountains older than the Himalayas) all this area was under an anonymous sea.
That sea had a long sedimentary existence during which many bezillions of oysters, clams, and conks lay down their shells to form deep beds of limestone.
Then as the molten earth seethed below, the crust of the planet cracked open. Up welled and out flowed the hot magma.
The forward lobe of the advancing magma met the old sea and vaporized much of it, leaving the shrunken puddles of itself which we call the Great Lakes, and a wide band of mineral deposits and crystal formations along the line of the violent confrontation.
In our North West Adirondack shield country, the most spectacular example of the mineral formations resulting from this Cambrian period event was the formerly famous Crystal Cave between Lake Bonaparte and Natural Bridge. A giant geode with crystals pointing inward, the Crystal Cave formation was sealed at creation and unknown to anyone until modern mining machinery accidentally exposed it in the early twentieth century. The crystals were so large and spectacular in their array that the cave was dismantled and removed by the state geologists. Some years later the crystals were remounted in a simulated cave at the state museum in Albany, where it became a major draw, and had its brief fame.
But after the dust had settled for a few years, the cave was dismantled for cleaning. Now, half a century later, the Crystal Cave is stacked and stored in the state museum, out of sight and much forgotten, even on its native ground.
The Crystal Cave, restored to this area, would be useful as a tourist attraction for its huge curiosity, but the smaller quartz crystals available to early prospectors who poked around lake shores and open seams, would have been useful as actual weapon points, and others would have been adopted for optical or magical purposes.
Most minerals occurring as ore would have been of no interest to primitive gatherers, but iron ore, which is still being mined in this corner of the Adirondacks is the source for Indian ochre pigment, and, mixed with milk, was the original barn paint of the white farmsteaders.
And there is lead in these hills. Individual Indians were observed into the late nineteenth century packing out lead from their own secret source somewhere here abouts. Maybe some of the stoneagers were handy with lead, as it could can be smelted at low temperatures and hammered cold to make net weights. Late nineteenth century Indians observed on their way to and from the lead deposits probably used the lead primarily to cast bullets.
I recall looking out our
window in Natural Bridge and seeing a man on his way home: his face, clothes, and
lunch box (and maybe the inside of his lungs) all powdered white from the talc of the Natural Bridge mine. Some of the bare- ground Indians would have come to grind a pouch of the local talc maybe to be added to bear grease as ghost face pigment.
But the most visible and possibly the most alluring of the shield shore minerals would have been the mica which is a morphological cousin of talc and crops out in the Bonaparte hills in jumbled shelves of chunky books. Even a small boy can open such a book; and the resulting volumes can be opened to more translucent volumes, every one of which can be opened to more and more transparent pages.... until the book is read away to nothing . Or so it was with this small boy on Loon Island.
Mica is actually useful as a fire proof of proto-glass in stove doors, and though there were probably very few long houses with mica windows, the early native gathers would have found mica useful as an accent in decorative quill and bead work.
In the late eighteen hundreds, the Bonaparte Mica outcrops were exploited by white prospectors, probably using mules to pack out the largest specimens to be used for stove and lantern windows.
Following that short episode, the tailings and pits were scavenged by our grandparents and our parents, then picked over by us as kids, and now are all but lost to the hundred year jungle.
One of the old lake postcards sold at Priests Bonaparte store was a simple outline of the lake showing the main islands, Bonaparte Cave, a few neighboring ponds, and not just one but two x's indicating mica mines down at the West end of the lake. My family only knew about the one mine.
When I was twelve and my brother Herb was sixteen we took the post card as a guide and went looking for the lost mine.
We soon lost ourselves and we stayed lost for half a day, during which we found Indian Lake, Burnt Pond twice, and one or two other things I might tell you about..... but didn't find the mine. Never did. Today, I probably couldn't even find the one we used to visit.
But up on the Loon Island fireplace mantle, at the base of the stuffed owl along with the auto-graphed artist's fungus, and the iron- slag turquoise from Alpina, we still have at least one unopened book of mica.
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