Edward "Ed" (or "Emery," a childhood nickname) Stephen McDole was born July 24, 1912 in Goodman, Marinette County, Wisconsin. He became famous in his lifetime for the superb quality of the specimens he bought, sold, traded and dug throughout the West and Canada—despite being color blind—and his endless supply of tall tales, some true and some probably not (though no one could ever tell the difference).
Ed was the son of Ina Morris and James Beverly McDole (1869-1930s), a common laborer. His siblings included Beverly James McDole (1906-1987), Harvey McDole (born 1908, died in infancy), Florence M. McDole (1910-1999), John Ora McDole (1916-1922) and Marie McDole. Ed's mother Ina died of pneumonia in October 1918, leaving his father unable (or unwilling) to care for his children, and thus the family was broken up. Ed and his little brother John Ora McDole were left at the St. Joseph Orphanage in Superior, Wisconsin, and Ed's sister Florence was sent to live with her maternal grandparents in Michigan. Sadly, John Ora died at the orphanage (though one undocumented source says Colorado Springs) at the age of 6.
Ed received a grammar school education, probably while at the orphanage. By the time of the 1930 census, Ed (age 18) was working as a sailor out of Saxon, Iron County, Wisconsin. In his youth Ed may also have worked as a miner in the "Mother Lode" country of California, and as a "sand hog" on tunnel construction in New York. The Montana Standard in Butte reported on local men involved in the draft, including Ed McDole. According to the newspaper, in November 1940 he was living at 11 East Mercury Street in Butte. An October 1941 issue said he was from Akron, New York, about 20 miles east of Buffalo, whereas a May 1942 issue said he was from Buffalo, New York but born in Marinette [County], Wisconsin. (His enlistment took place in Buffalo in 1942.) So, the years prior to his arrival in Butte may have been when he was working in tunnel construction in New York.
Ed was drafted in 1942 and served as a private in the U.S. Army during World War II. On his 1940 enlistment papers he listed his civilian occupation as "semi-skilled miner and mining machine operator."
In the late 1940s and 1950s Ed worked two shifts as a contract miner (paid by the ton, so he wasn't rushed) in Butte, one shift under his own name and another shift, probably at a different mine, under an assumed name. He apparently did this mainly for the purpose of collecting minerals.
In his later years he worked out of Ely, Nevada, and lastly lived in the historic Grand Imperial Hotel in Silverton, Colorado. In addition to his own collecting activities he bought minerals by the powder-box-full from other miners coming out of the various producing mines, especially the Leonard mine. The quality of McDole's Butte specimens is legendary, and he was certainly responsible for saving many of the finest specimens ever to come from that famous locality.
Ed eventually quit his mining jobs and spent full time mining specimens on his own, not only at Butte but at other important Rocky Mountain localities from Arizona to Canada. His favorite localities included the Blackbird mine in Lemhi County, Idaho (for vivianite and ludlamite), the Beaver mine in British Columbia (for linarite), the Rock Candy mine in British Columbia (for fluorite and barite), the Rowley and Red Cloud mines in Arizona (for wulfenite), the Apache mine in Arizona (for vanadinite), Topaz Mountain in Utah (for topaz and bixbyite), and Majuba Hill in Nevada (for clinoclase and olivenite). He was also the person responsible for discovering cyanotrichite in the Grandview mine in the Grand Canyon.
Ed dressed consistently in black shoes, black slacks, and a white open-collar silk shirt—and was usually smoking or chewing on a big cigar. He insisted on doing all business in cash, and always carried a cigar box stuffed with $100 bills. He would periodically pile his excellent specimen stock into custom-made, cotton-lined, compartmentalized redwood boxes in the trunk of his car and head out across the West and Southwest offering specimens to his regular buyers, which included Russell Filer, George Bideaux, John Patrick, Al McGuinness, Hal Miller, George Burnham, Al Haag and many others.
Ed traveled for many years in a 1958 black Lincoln Town Car. Literally the paint was peeling off and the car was approaching 300,000 miles. Asked why he didn't get a new car he answered curtly, "I like this one". When he eventually did buy a new Lincoln, the salesman told him that it was black; later, Ed was furious when he showed it off to one of his mineral customers and was gently informed that it was actually maroon (of course he returned it for a genuinely black one).
Ed McDole suffered from diabetes, and died in his hotel room in Silverton, Colorado on May 21, 1970, at the age of 58. He is buried in the mountains overlooking Silverton, where his friends chipped in for a granite headstone reading "Ed McDole, Montana Mineral King, A Legend in his Own Time."
In 1972 Ed's friends John Patrick and Al McGuinness established the Ed McDole Award at the annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, and it immediately became the highest honor bestowed in the field of mineral collecting. It was awarded for 19 consecutive years until being retired following the death of McGuinness.
BIDEAUX, R.A. (2002) Ed McDole, "Montana Mineral King." Mineralogical Record, 33, 71-74.
FILER, R. (2006) Ed McDole remembered. Mineralogical Record, 37, 487-488.
U.S. Federal Census, 1920, 1930.
National Geographic, February 1974, mentions Ed McDole in an article by David S. Boyer, called, "The Glittering World of Rockhounds."
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[Citation format for this entry:
WILSON, Wendell E. (2017)
Biographical Archive, at www.mineralogicalrecord.com.]
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(only known photo)
||Label for a specimen that Earl Shaw purchased from McDole in 1957. (Courtesy of Dan Evanich)|
||Hillside Cemetery, Silverton, Colorado|