The Chisos Mining Company, a major quicksilver producer, was established in 1903 at Terlingua, in southern Brewster County. Founded by Howard E. Perry, a Chicago industrialist, the Chisos reported the first recovery in 1903, and during the next three decades became one of the nation's leading producers of quicksilver. Initially the company processed the cinnabar ore in primitive retorts, where the silver liquid metal is recovered through a simple baking process. As production increased, Perry turned to more industrialized methods; in 1908 he installed a twenty-ton Scott Furnace to help boost production. Exploration continued, and in 1914 the company discovered one of the richest veins of cinnabar ore in the Terlingua district. This discovery coincided with the outbreak of World War I, and with the increased military demands for the product, the company entered its most successful period. In 1915 the Chisos installed a more modern thirty-ton rotary furnace; within one ten-day period in September 1916 the company shipped two carloads of quicksilver from Alpine, valued at more than $50,000. Although strict secrecy surrounded the operation, one long-time Chisos employee claimed that company profits averaged $2,000 a day during the early war years and yielded more than $1,250,000 in its best year. In 1934 two Texas geologists, E. H. Sellards and C. L. Baker, cited the three-decade Chisos recovery at $12 million. Several factors contributed to the success. First, the property contained some of the richest ore in the quicksilver district; second, although he seldom went to the mine, Perry engaged men of outstanding caliber to supervise the onsite operations (metallurgist William Battle Phillips and geologist Johan August Udden); third, quicksilver prices peaked during World War I, the period of the mine's maximum recovery; and fourth, an abundance of cheap Mexican labor. The community of Terlingua grew up around the mine. Its some 1,000 inhabitants had access to facilities of modern civilization: a company-owned commissary and hotel, several excellent dwellings (for Anglo employees), a school, a company doctor, telephone service, a dependable water supply, and three-times-a-week mail delivery. Prior to the use of mechanized vehicles in the early 1930s, the mule-drawn wagontrains that delivered the quicksilver to the railroad at Alpine and Marathon supplied the settlement. Production declined during the late 1930s, and on October 1, 1942, the company filed for bankruptcy. The Esperado Mining Company purchased the Chisos assets and operated the mine unsuccessfully until the end of World War II. At that time most of the surface installations were demolished and sold for scrap. On December 6, 1944, Howard E. Perry died in his sleep in a Boston hotel en route to a Florida vacation.
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James M. Day, "The Chisos Quicksilver Bonanza in the Big Bend of Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 64 (April 1961). Kenneth B. Ragsdale, Quicksilver: Terlingua and the Chisos Mining Company (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1976).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Kenneth B. Ragsdale,
“Chisos Mining Company,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 28, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
August 1, 1995
Most Recent Revision Date:
October 2, 2019