James Harold Courtright was an extraordinary exploration geologist. He teamed up with his life-long colleague and friend Kenyon E. Richard to produce an exploration record for ASARCO Incorporated that was described in the 1995 Arizona Geological Society Digest 20 as “…the all-time most successful porphyry copper program.”
Harold Courtright was born in Yakima, Washington, and attended the University of Nevada Reno for three years, although finances did not allow him to graduate. His formal employment began in 1941 when he was hired by Kenyon Richard to work at Ely, Nevada, for Consolidated Coppermines Corp. His first contribution after reviewing old data and remapping an area between two pits led to the discovery of a 20 million-ton ore zone.
In 1945, Harold and Kenyon joined what was then the American Smelting and Refining Co. Harold’s first assignment resulted in the discovery of a major lead-zinc-silver-gold orebody at the Black Cloud property in Leadville, Colorado. Work by both geologists from 1948-1955 at Silver Bell, Arizona, identified two orebodies that led to development of ASARCO’s first open-pit copper mine. This work was interrupted by extended trips to southern Peru, where Harold’s insights following a visit to the Pima mine near Tucson led to the discovery of the Mission copper deposit.
In 1957, Harold visited the Craigmont prospect in southern British Columbia and wrote a strong recommendation supporting the local office’s desire to acquire the property. ASARCO’s Mining Department, to which Exploration reported, rejected the recommendation. In 1960, the CEO of ASARCO learned that the property had been strongly recommended by ASARCO geologists. ASARCO’s exploration effort was immediately reorganized as a separate unit reporting directly to the CEO.
Harold retired as chief geologist of ASARCO in 1978. Later, as a consultant, he reviewed several hundred samples of leached capping from a prospect in Chile being evaluated by the Getty-Utah Joint Venture exploration program set up by Dave Lowell. Based on an examination of these samples, Harold recommended four drill holes. As written by Wheaton, Lowell, Muessig, and Ortiz in 1985, five holes were initially drilled in other areas with negative results. The next four holes were those proposed by Harold, of which three hit high grades and to quote Wheaton et al, “with the completion of these holes, it can be said that the Escondida ore body has been discovered.”
Harold Courtright’s work always emphasized careful observation in the field and a thorough analysis of all available data. The Richard and Courtright team proved the efficiency and effectiveness of managed exploration that relied principally on geologic mapping. Their influence on the evolution of ASARCO from a smelting company to a mining company is undisputed, and their record of discovery on a sustained basis is unsurpassed.