Mark Steen and his daughter Ashley together
scattered the ashes of his parents, Charles Augustus “Charlie” and
Minnie Lee “M.L.” Steen at the Mi Vida mine site recently, officially
closing an important chapter in Moab’s history.
Charlie died Jan. 1, 2006, in Loveland, Colo.,
having been a victim of Alzheimer’s disease for several years. M.L.
died July 14, 1997.
Charlie was born Dec. 1, 1919 in Caddo, Tex., the
son of Charles A. and Rosalie Wilson Steen. He worked his way
through high school and college, attending first Tarleton College in
Stephenville, Tex., where he and M.L. met, and graduating from the
Texas College of Mines and Metallurgy in El Paso with a degree in
geology in 1943.
Poor eyesight and a slight frame prevented him
serving in the army, and he spent the next three years as a petroleum
geologist in Peru. Returning to the U.S. he and M.L. were married.
He worked as an oilfield geologist until he was
fired, which his son Mark characterized as the best thing that could
have happened to him, because it freed him to go prospecting on his own
An article in a professional journal on the young
uranium mining industry centered in the Four Corners Area piqued his
interest. His mother, Rosalie Shumaker, mortgaged her home in Houston
and contributed $1,000 to buy a small, portable drill. M.L.’s sister,
Tera Hrbacek, and her husband, Albert, loaned Charlie enough money for
a second-hand jeep. Charlie drove the jeep and a 20-foot trailer
to Dove Creek, Colo. M.L., with three small boys and an infant,
joined him shortly.
They moved to the Yellow Cat Wash area south of
Cisco on Christmas Day, 1950. After formulating his own theory about
the geology of the Lisbon Valley anticline, Charlie staked 11 mining
claims and filed them with the county recorder in Monticello on March
7, 1951. In July 1952 Charlie’s discovery of a 14-foot bed of
pitchblende was confirmed. He knew he had realized his dream and struck
The mine shaft bottomed after passing through more
than 8 feet of primary uranium ore that ran between 0.34 and 5.0
percent uranium oxide. During its first 12 days in operation, the Mi
Vida mine only produced 114 tons of ore, but it averaged over $100 per
ton and some of it was worth more than $800 per ton. And it was almost
all profit, because mining and hauling costs were less than $20 per ton.
The articles that appeared in mining industry
magazines attracted mining companies, geologists, mining engineers,
prospectors and promoters from all points to the Colorado Plateau in
search of another Mi Vida mine. The Big Indian mining district became
the uranium magnet for most of these migrants. More millionaires were
made on the Lisbon Valley anticline than any other uranium mining area
in the United States. Charlie Steen’s assertions that he had found a
million-dollar mine ignited the Uranium Boom.
In August, 1953, Steen was quoted saying that “We
need to build a mill down here to process our ore. I will build a mill
in Moab one of these days. It will also help to serve the many small
miners in the area.” It was estimated that a mill would cost between $3
million and $5 million. After obtaining necessary permits, Uranium
Reduction Company was formed, and the mill was built and under
operation by 1956.
During their years in Moab, the Steens built their
home on the hill, now a restaurant, and the subdivision dubbed
Steenville below. They donated land for every church that wanted it.
Any deserving organization received funds from Charlie and M.L.
Charlie served four years on the Grand County School
Board during the district’s most hectic years of almost unimaginable
growth, double sessions and new schools. His donation of land made it
possible for the construction of Helen M. Knight School.
Charlie was elected to the Utah State Senate,
representing Grand, San Juan and Emery Counties. He resigned in the
fourth year in office when he moved his family to a new home he built
near Carson City, Nevada.
His fortune began leaving him during those Nevada
years, with the coming years of litigation, primarily with the Internal
Revenue Service. But Charlie never gave up. While core drilling on gold
prospects in Nevada, he was struck on the head by a piece of
metal. Even though he was wearing a hardhat, his injuries required
extensive surgery. He never fully recovered from that injury.
Having lost the home in Nevada, he moved his family
to Colorado, and for many years kept after his next big mineral
Charlie Steen’s life story, written by his son Mark,
is being published in a two-part series, the first installment was just
published in the Canyon Legacy, the quarterly publication of the Museum
Steen is survived by four sons: John, Charles, Andy and Mark, and six grandchildren.