Posted by: cobaltmemories | May 3, 2010

Review: Cobalt: The Legacy of the Blackbird Mine

Cobalt: Legacy of the Blackbird Mine was reviewed in the Idaho Librarian, the Quarterly Publication of the Idaho Library Association. The reviewer was LeAnn Gelskey, Assistant Director at the Hailey Public Library, Hailey Idaho.

Cobalt: The Legacy of the Blackbird Mine is an insightful booklet that offers a chronological history of the Blackbird Mine and many of the people who had a hand in the legacy of the area. It further provides a glimpse into the life of Russell Steele and his family, residents of Cobalt from 1949 to 1952, and again in 1956 and 1957.

The Blackbird Mine is located west of Salmon in a region referred to as the Idaho Cobalt Belt. The first mineral discoveries at the future miningsite were made by a Lemhi Indian by the name of Little Tommy in 1892. These discoveries included copper and gold and then cobalt, minerals that were used extensively during wartime. The history concludes by describing the cleanup of the environmental damage caused by human activities at the mine site. The author has done extensive research on mining in this area and includes many photographs.

Steele shares personal anecdotes and life stories of the Blackbird and nearby town of Cobalt. He recounts some of the hardships the families encountered but also relates fond memories of life at the mine. One of the more humorous stories is that of a rowdy poker game that ended after a miner lit a stick of dynamite with no explosive cap. The card players were unaware that the stick would not explode and ran out into the cold night.

This book is unique in that it does not end on the last page. Steele is continuing the story of the mine on his blog, Cobaltmemories, where he is building on the the material presented in the book by adding more photos, stories, video and audio clips, and related links.

Throughout the book the author educates his reader on mining, processing, and environmental issues without injecting his own political views or ideas. The historical and factual information regarding the early years of mining in Idaho make this book a welcome addition to any library. Readers will also want to follow the author’s blog for an interactive experiment in recording and sharing history in the twenty-first century.



  1. Is Formation going to mine the Blackbird deposit, including the mineralized trend-extension in the River of No Return Wilderness? I’m quite interested because I worked on gaining the mining exemption in the legislation creating the RNRW Wilderness; I was Noranda’a land agent in Salmon in 1979 and 1980. It was wonderful to be in Salmon. I interacted plenty with C. Walker Lyon (you old-timers will know who he was), and I vaguely recall a gentleman named Walt, whose father ran the IGA store in Salmon AND the IGA up at Cobalt townsite, when that was active. Walt looked just like Wm. Shakespeare and introduced me to Luciano Pavarotti’s music. Last, it was fascinating to see the picture of the sign regarding the Salmon Arts Council. I served on its board while I was a resident. We put on a Renaissance festival at the high school. Does anyone remember the Salmon River Playhouse, run by (Dr.) Dick and Barbara Young? I acted in “summer stock” there for one summer, when three plays rotated. I was in “The Mousetrap.” Would love to get in touch again with some of the wonderful people I knew there.

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