By Dan Graybeal
Many geologists feel that the mountain ranges in Southwest Virginia and Eastern Kentucky do not present the geological formations which lend themselves to the existence of precious metals.
Therefore, the skeptics maintain, it is not likely the legends surrounding reports of rich silver miles in the area are based on fact.
The abundance of coal in the area supports this idea. However; coal does not exist in all the areas roamed by the legendary John Swift.
Silver and precious metals do not lay in a horizontal plane formation as does coal. When volcanic action occurs deep within the earth pressures build up causing fractures in the upper mantel of the earth. Molten magma is then pushed up through the fractures.
This action allows the metal to lay in thin fissures of rock at almost any angle. Since the rock formation has been cracked or fractured with no definite plan of scheme, the metals will fill the voids on a helter-skelter basis.
At this time the heat becomes so intense that the metals react with the surrounding rocks and strata, thus developing compounds of sulphates and sulphides. Due to the way the veins would lay, core drilling
would be a very, very ineffective way of exploration for precious metals. The use of a sophisticated metal detector would be much more effective, however the existence of pyrites and other iron compounds in the area hinder their uses.
The strata of the area indicates that great fault action has taken place in the distant past. The Clinch Mountain River, the Cumberland Mountain River and associated ranges run northeast-southwest. Some of the faults run parallel with the mountains while others run at right angles to the axis of the
The possible existence of precious metals is enhanced by the fact that metal ores exist along with fault lines of the ranges. Lead and zinc have been found in Clayburn Co., TN; zinc and nickel at Nickelsville, VA; copper along the Copper Ridge Chain; lead at Cedar Bluff, VA; iron and manganese in Bland Co., VA; and lead near Galax and Wytheville, VA.
When one looks at the existence of regular metal ores, credence is given to the existence of precious metals. There is a considerable difference between the specific gravities of precious and semi-precious metals, however it would be of little consequence under the pressures that exist during volcanic
action or an earth s upheaval. This would only be considered during the cooling off period and the sedimentation period. Quartz crystals, magnetic rocks and traces of metal have been found in these mountain ranges. The history books of Tazewell Co. record definite finds of silver in the Clinch Mountains of Tazewell Co.
It is a fact that sheet of zinc was found in Thompson Valley south of Tazewell. This metal assayed at 85 percent pure zinc. Zinc does not normally exist in such a pure state. It appeared that someone had done some smelting, scooping the zinc off the top and pouring the molten zinc on the ground where it
spread and solidified in sheet form about an inch thick.
Silver has a specific gravity of 10.5 and zinc 7.3, therefore the zinc would float on top in a molten state.
Since silver normally exists with another metal such as copper, lead or zinc, the geology of the area leans toward the existence of precious metals.
It is geologically possible that Swift or someone else found a vein or veins of silver in the aforementioned mountains.
Although much strip mining, road building and construction has occurred in Southwest Virginia, thousands of acres of undisturbed land still exists. According to Swift s Journal, the ore lay about 20 feet
below the surface.
From The Dickenson Star, Thursday, March 9, 1989.
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