Texas' time as a colonial outpost of the Spanish crown, people have
believed great mineral wealth lay hidden in what would become Llano
To some extent, they were right. Gold has been found there, as well
as silver, copper, lead, mica and asbestos. For a time in the 1880s,
the county actually produced a small amount of gold, and an iron mining
But like most booms, a bust was not far behind. None of the metals
or minerals have ever been found in large enough quantity for profitable
In January 1954, as Americans worried about the possibility of nuclear
war (though "atomic" was the big buzz word) with Russia, Llano
appeared on the verge of becoming a uranium boom town.
S.B. Waters, a metallurgist from Brownwood,
showed up in his Cadillac and got a drilling lease on a ranch about
ten miles north of Llano. Soon he had rock cores that made a Geiger
counter sing and tongues wag.
"I am sure we have an outstanding atomic reserve here," he told a
reporter. "Just how thick it is remains to be evidenced. We have found
radioactivity from the surface down. This is due to a massive ore
at a great distance."
Waters said he had first discovered radioactivity in the area while
doing aerial oil surveying in 1947. Indeed, during the 1930s several
varieties of uranium had been mined from a formation at Barringer
Hill. That area had been covered by the water of Lake Buchanan
in 1937, but Llano County
had other hills and a lot more rocks.
While Water kept drilling, another company came in from Abilene
and leased acreage on another ranch. Then reporters started nosing
around, talking to the drillers, who played what they knew pretty
close to the vest, and townspeople, who were freer with their thoughts.
A newspaper reporter dispatched from Austin
quickly got the gist of local sentiment:
Take it easy
and see what develops
Buy maps and
Geiger counters and go prospecting
Put the ranch
up for lease
Scoff at the
notion of Llano becoming a mining town
As it turned out, the take-it-easy crowd and the scoffers proved
to be the most realistic segment of the population.
The Great Llano Uranium Boom lasted less than two weeks.
January 27, according to the Austin Statesman, a spokesman
for the Atomic Energy Commission "dashed cold water on hopes that
a major lode of the atomic ore uranium had been discovered near
C.E. Towle, chief of the AEC's Denver office, informed Llano Chamber
of Commerce President Robert Kassell that the agency's field representatives
had been unable to find "radioactive materials in sufficient quantities
to be of commercial value" in the county.
It may not have seemed like it at the time, but that was some of
the best news Llano
Though the uranium mining boom of the 1950s and '60s brought prosperity
to some corners of the nation, it also brought scarred land, radioactive
waste and a high cost in human lives. One Internet site with statistics
on mining says uranium mining proved to be the deadliest form of
mining ever, with an estimated worldwide death toll of 22,000 from
cancer and other causes.
As the Llano Chamber of Commerce came to realize, the real treasure
in its county is the scenery and the abundance of white tail deer.