Wednesday, January 3, 2018

candle studies: ozokerite & gunplay maxwell starring in “Wax of the Wild West”

When starting this candle studies series I had no idea it was going to lead to an American outlaw killed in a classic gun battle in the middle of a dusty street in the Old West. Welcome to the Wonderful World of Wax. Enter Gunplay Maxwell, ozokerite, and the wax mines of Utah.

Photo with caption lifted from “The American Ozokerite Company,” Will C. Higgins, Eighth Biennial Report of the State Mine Inspector of the State of Utah 1911-1912.

At the time of our story, ozokerite (also known as ozocerite) was found in only two places in the world: about 100 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, Utah, and in Boryslaw, Austria, which is now Boryslav, Ukraine. It is a naturally occurring earth wax, or mineral wax, first mined in 1854 in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. A fellow named R. J. Kroupa, described as “one of the prominent engineering chemists of the United States” in Higgins’ report, visited the wax mining operation in Austria, and his description, included in the report, reads in part:
The ozokerite is found in the shales and sandstone with oil and salt water. The mining is all done by shaft work, and at the time of my visit was at a depth of about 800 feet, since that time they have gone down to a depth of 1,400 feet in shaft mining and about 3,000 by drilling.¶  The wax, as extracted, comes in a brecciated form, mixed in shale and sandstone. The lump form of wax, as a rule, is soft, and is something like butter half way hard. Part of this wax oozes into the drifts from the crevices in the walls and fills up the drifts charged with oil and gas. Sometimes this exudation of wax comes so suddenly that the miners have to leave the mine, and afterwards the oil has to be pumped out. At one time a large body of this soft wax, called at the mines ‘Blassen Wachs’ (Blow Wax) filled the drifts, shaft and house, over night, to a depth of 800 feet.
Kroupa also described the initial refinement process, which sounded familiar.
All the wax hauled from the shafts is sorted and the brecciated matter is placed in large cast iron caldrons containing hot water. The wax was skimmed from the surface, remelted, and cast into wooden tubs.
Higgins described ozokerite as “a residue formed by the receding of oil from the fissures, leaving a certain amount of paraffine in the cracks and crevices … ” Does this mean ozokerite is paraffin?

In a report a few years later by Heath M. Robinson (“Ozokerite in Central Utah,” US Geological Survey Bulletin 641, 1916), Robinson states that “[Ozokerite] is a mixture of hydrocarbons in various proportions, the exact nature of which is a subject of dispute. Some authors consider that it is composed of members of the paraffin series; others place its chief constituents in the olefin series.”

Either way, ozokerite has a melting point ranging from 154 to 190 degrees, which was much higher than the commercial paraffins of the time, which, according to Higgins, had melting points no higher than 130 degrees. Both Higgins and Robinson list the many uses of ozokerite, which included everything from phonograph records to waterproofing surfaces, to wax paper and dolls, to candles (Robinson: “Candles made from ozokerite have qualities superior to those found in other candles” and Higgins: “The illuminating power of such candles is stronger than that of others, while they drip but little and never lop over when exposed to ordinary atmospheric heat”). It seems whatever one wax can be used for all waxes can be used for, depending on some of the finer points such as melting point, specific gravity, solubility. Ozokerite proved especially useful for insulating electrical wires. It could also be converted to the highly refined product ceresin.

Both Higgins and Robinson expressed optimism for the future of Utah’s wax mining industry, though one a bit more effusively than the other. Higgins:
Comparing the Utah to the Austrian ozokerite field even the layman can see the wonderful possibilities possessed by the former. At Colton, near which place almost inexhaustible deposits of ozokerite exist, the field is so extensive that an industry could be established that would make our state as noted and famous for the production of this commodity as it now is in its yield of gold, silver, lead, copper, coal and other minerals.
Robinson tempered his optimism with reality.
The first prospecting of this region was done in 1886. Since that time mining and prospecting have been carried on at irregular periods, for litigation has prevented continuous development. Exact figures for the production of the field are not available, and at the time of the writer’s examination all the mines were inactive.
Inactive mines, litigation, opportunity waxing and waning. Maybe not so surprising to learn that one fellow laying claim to an ozokerite mine in Utah was the outlaw Gunplay Maxwell.

Gunplay, born in or near Boston in or near 1860, was thought to be an educated, intelligent man, but he spent most of his life in Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada robbing banks and stage coaches, stealing cattle, getting in gunfights, shooting folks, getting caught, spending time in prison, changing his name (everything from James Otis Bliss to William H. Seaman), trying to get in with Butch Cassidy’s Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, shooting morphine or some such into the veins of his arms, drinking, gambling, marrying (whether or not he was already married), and generally making his way through a somewhat messy life. For a short while or two, Gunplay was a deputy sheriff. For another short while he was a mine guard for a Utah coal mining company, whose workers were on strike, and as well a bodyguard for the company’s lawyer—a man who became his lawyer and who subsequently helped Maxwell dodge a bullet or two, so to speak. But Maxwell’s seemingly legitimate jobs always appeared to have angles attached to them that helped his illegal pursuits. From what I’ve read, I would say he was a dirty, double-dealing, scheming kind of guy. He died in 1909 around 50 years of age after being challenged in a saloon. There was a gunfight in the middle of the street. Maxwell was shot dead. Whether it was high noon or not, I do not know. These Wild West tales do seem to get a little … wild.

Lifted from where it is attributed to
The Garland Globe, September 4, 1909, Garland, Utah.
The headstone pictured at FindAGrave tells a different
story of Gunplay’s death, but I’m sticking with the one
in the Globe.

Maxwell also was a founder of the Utah Ozokerite Company. Here’s a notice from Mineral Wealth, Vol. 6, March 1, 1905 (page 164).
The Utah Ozokerite Company, has been incorporated with a capitalization of 300,000 shares of $1 each. The incorporators are C. W. Shores, Grand Junction, Colorado; C.L. Maxwell, Scofield, Utah; B.F. Caffey and H.A. Nelson of Salt Lake, Utah. The company will mine mineral wax and ozokerite near Colton, Utah. The company’s headquarters will be at Salt Lake.
It’s an interesting group. C.W. “Doc” Shores was a lawman, C.L. “Gunplay” Maxwell was an outlaw, and Caffey and Nelson were saloon keepers. What brought them together in a wax mining venture? Did it have anything to do with the 1897 robbery of the Pleasant Valley Coal Company’s payroll at Castle Gate? (See pages 116-119 and 138 of Whispering Smith: His Life and Misadventures, by Allen P. Bristow.)

Well. So. Litigation. Outlaws. Robberies. Idle mines. But somehow, somewhere down the line Utah’s wax mining industry came together and wax was indeed mined until 1951. Now all that’s left are the dusty trails, and ozokerite just ain’t what it used to be.

Ah, but once:
In some instances the walls are almost as smooth as glass, and can be followed for considerable distances before a break is encountered. The veins are from three to thirty feet in width, and carry an average value of three per cent ozokerite. The ozokerite exists in the crevices and fissures in the vein matter, and is easily distinguishable, being a glossy black shading off into deep browns or a pronounced yellow. In places in the vein the ozokerite occurs in solid masses ranging from two to six inches, or even a foot in width. This requires to be melted to be rendered marketable, and is practically 100 per cent pure. (Higgins)
[Ozokerite] cuts easily, somewhat like hard cheese, but does not adhere to the knife. (“Ozokerite Deposits in Utah,” Joseph A. Taff and Carl D. Smith, US Geological Survey Bulletin No. 285, 1905.)

Selected Readings: Gunplay Maxwell
Who was that masked man?, D. Robert Carter, Daily Herald (Provo UT), June 3, 2006.
Gunplay became a creative convict, D. Robert Carter, Daily Herald (Provo UT), June 10, 2006.
Gunplay followed path of lawlessness to the grave, D. Robert Carter, Daily Herald (Provo UT), June 24, 2006.
Jones Exhibit. (Sketch of life of C.L. Maxwell …), Industrial Relations: Final Report and Testimony, Volume 11, United States Commission on Industrial Relations, 1916.
Gunplay Maxwell – Utah Gunfighter & Outlaw, Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, August 2017.