GET OUT: Mystery mine

By on August 11, 2015

Exploring Webb Canyon and its colorful history

The enigmatic mine nestled on a rocky hill  that allured industrious settlers. (Credit: Elizabeth Koutrelakos)

The enigmatic mine nestled on a rocky hill that allured industrious settlers. (Credit: Elizabeth Koutrelakos)

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – In the northern reaches of the Teton Range lies a place that, at first glance, may look like some burned up Yellowstone Park hills. Large swaths of burned trees at the mouth of the canyons deter many a wanderer. But with further examination, this area history reveals itself.

It was not always burned. Many assume that the burn is remnants of the 1988 fire in Yellowstone but it actually occurred during more recent decades. There are very few survivors of this fire, but trees from the burn are giant and still standing. Back in the days when the trees were alive, explorers were drawn to this area of the Tetons.

Why did they like this spot? For one, a boat ride across Jackson Lake was needed to get there, which made the place seem more remote from the rest of the area. Those that did not like crowds or simply wanted to be on their own had no problem with that here.

Like many other hotspots across the West, the Tetons offered a unique chance at the life of luxury. Searching settlers created their own scars in the Webb, Owl and Berry canyons region. In Berry, people mined for asbestos while in Owl, they sought talc. In Webb, no known riches were found but one prospector created a heck of a hole.

A few miles into Webb Canyon there is an old mine and traces of a dedicated prospector who never did say what he was really searching for. John Graul chiseled away at this cliff of basalt for 23 years, beginning in the summer of 1914. With dynamite and a wheelbarrow, it is believed he worked tirelessly in his search. From July thru October he worked all daylong, six days per week. A man of faith, he took Sundays off to rest. For four months a year, Graul was known to have survived on sowbelly and beans for every meal.

Moran resident Slim Lawrence would bring supplies on a scheduled basis. Unlike many mountain men of his time, Graul did not hunt, due to his deep respect for life. Some people believed he also ate an obscene amount of berries, but this speculation has never been confirmed.

So did Graul ever find what he was looking for? Nobody knows for sure, but from the looks of it, he didn’t. The fruits of his labor is located 2.5 miles up Webb Canyon. After a couple of miles into the canyon, keep your eyes peeled for a spring on the north side of the trail. Continue walking up the trail and look for a rocky outcropping. The shaft itself can be found on the side of the lip, so choose a safe path down or Webb Creek just may swallow you up. The mine itself is around 7 feet high and more than 200 feet long. While it is adventurous to explore in complete darkness, be prepared for some puddle tromping.

Old timers say there used to be a wheelbarrow and various other tools around the entrance but all that remains are tiny remnants of the past. Graul lived in a cabin above the mine, but it burned down years ago and there is not a trace to be found.

So what ever happened to Graul? What made him stop digging? Legend has it that Graul took a hiatus from his mine of mystery prospecting to get some cash working in a mine in Colorado. On one particular day, he had some sort of an accident in the mine and fell to his death. The kicker? Graul was working on a Sunday, his usual day of rest. If one should decide to make this venture, perhaps they should choose one of the other six days in the week. PJH

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