The Discovery of Gillespite

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Frank Gillespie

Frank Gillespie was born in 1871 in the farmhouse by the old forge on the Bannockburn Road in Clyde River with the heart of an adventurer. In 1889, he and his brother Richard travelled West. They arrived in Vancouver in 1896, but they couldn’t find work, so they went down to Bellingham, Washington, where they worked as deck hands on a boat going to Skagway, Alaska. When they arrived in Alaska, they heard that gold had been discovered on Bonanza Creek in the Yukon, so they were determined to go.

We are not sure how they made their way from Skagway to Bennett Lake, but according to the book, Klondike by Pierre Berton, they would have had to cross the 30 miles of White Pass, a trail that led through a treacherous mountain area, so dangerous for horses that it was renamed Dead Horse Trail and closed in late 1897. In the History and Stories of Clyde River, it indicates that they arrived in Yukon in 1897, so it is possible they took this route. Later there was an alternate trail opened that could accommodate wagons, but they would go when the muddy ground was frozen.

Further to an account offered by Richard’s son to The Yukoner Magazine, the brothers had a harrowing experience up the Yukon River. Being experience loggers, they cut down some trees to build a raft that would take them from Bennett Lake to Dawson on the Yukon River which covered a distance of 500 miles (800 km). Along their journey while they were camping in a sheltered bay, they woke up in the morning to a cold wind and light snow. Even though Frank was not feeling well, they decided to continue on. They had trouble controlling their raft and the snow turned into a blizzard. The raft started breaking up, one log after another breaking away. Cold and bewildered, their endurance was waning. Their feet and hands were numb and they were losing hope of ever reaching Dawson and wondered why they had ever left their home in Prince Edward Island. Although their parents were religious, they were not that serious about praying until that day on the Yukon River. Their fervent prayer lasted half an hour until they saw a dim light in the distance. The storm abated somewhat, at least enough to bring what was left of their raft ashore at a settlement called Stewart River. After a hot meal and warm beds, they went on to complete their journey to Dawson.

In Yukon, Richard mined and became the District Mining Recorder in Dawson City and Frank continued to prospect.

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Gillespite

In 1921, at 50 years of age, Frank discovered a new mineral specimen with the chemical formula of BaFe2+Si4O10 with a composition of 29.5% barium, 12% iron, 24.13% silicon and 34.37% oxygen. He discovered it in a glacial deposit, one hundred miles southeast of Fairbanks, Alaska along the Upper Ross River. A specimen was brought to the Chemical Laboratory of the U.S. Geological Survey by Dr. Philip S. Smith. In early 1922, the mineral was named Gillespite in his honour. The mineral’s distribution is in the USA, near the head of Dry Delta, Alaska Range, Alaska; from Trumbull Peak, near Incline, Mariposa Col, and on the Esquire No. 7 claim, Big Creek, Fresno Co., California; n the Gunn claim, in the Itsy Mountains, near Macmillan Pass, Yukon Territory, Canada; in the La Madrelena mine, Tres Pozos, Baja California, Mexico.

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The Brooklyn Standard Union article

Pictured here is a newspaper clipping from The Brooklyn Standard Union: Sunday, January 28th, 1922.

Frank had no formal education, but during his lifetime, he was a carpenter, timberman, prospector and miner. As a carpenter, he helped to build Chateau Mayo Hotel “that became the heart of the thriving silver centre in the early 1900s and Mayo landmark until 1986.” according to the Historical Society of Mayo. He also worked on the construction of Galena Creek Bridge at Silver King, a mine established in 1913 that ran until 1917. Frank remained in Yukon, never married and died in 1958 at the age of 87.

Richard “Dick” moved from Dawson City to Mayo in 1921 to become their first Mining Recorder. A log cabin was built for him to use as the Mining Recorder’s office. Link here for more information on Mayo. Richard eventually retired in Newton, B.C. and his descendants still live there.

Neither Frank nor Dick made the journey back to Prince Edward Island.

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Richard Gillespie’s granddaughter visited PEI for the first time in 2011 and we featured a story at that time. To view it, click here.

Frank and Richard are great uncles of George, Ethel, Wayne, Carol and Douglas.

More details on the Gillespite mineral, click here.

More background on Klondike Gold Rush, click here. Includes a description of the journey from Skagway to Dawson City and the challenges of weather, terrain and rapids.

To view a google map created to show the Gillespie boys journey, click here. Includes an approximate location of where Frank Gillespie discovered the new mineral based on descriptions.

References: The Yukoner Magazine, Issue #23Handbook of Mineralogy; Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences Archives, 1922; The Brooklyn Standard Union, 1922; Kerrilee York, Doug Gillespie and Carol Murray.