Early mines bore great significance

Copper Country's past and people

Mining companies like Calumet and Hecla, Quincy, Champion, and Osceola, were important to the economy and renown of the Copper County. But while they were important to the region, it could be argued that it was the first companies that were really significant, and the argument has several valid points.

When the Pittsburgh and Boston Copper Harbor Mining Company was organized in early 1844, it held three mineral land leases purchased from a would-be speculator named Jim Raymond. Raymond had obtained the leases from the federal government, but it wasn’t until he explored them that he realized how much capital it would require to develop a mine. This was not gold. It was copper.

John Hays, the Pittsburgh and Boston company agent, arrived in Copper Harbor, which was included in Lease Number 4, with a party of German coal miners he had hired in Pennsylvania, and a geologist named A. Rudolph. Because a vein of hydrous silicate of copper existed there, Hays began mining on the east horn of Copper Harbor, which was then known as Hog’s Point, which is known today as Hays Point.

The shaft was too close to the water’s edge, and it filled with water quicker than it could be drained. The shaft was abandoned, states the 1847 annual report of the company.

Meanwhile, housing for the workers was built, along with a warehouse very near the water, and a cooper shop for manufacturing barrels in which to ship copper. A blacksmith shop was also built, and in a bold display of optimism, even a furnace was constructed.

As the mining on Hays Point was winding down, Rudolph discovered what was hoped would become a rich copper vein, and a couple more shafts were sunk. Mining once more began. Sadly, it was soon discovered that it wasn’t a load after all, it was just a deposit of black oxide of copper. Again, while this area was winding down, still another surface outcrop of black oxide of copper was discovered in December, 1844.

This outcrop was in the very near proximity to the newly built Fort Wilkins, and more shafts were sunk, and once again mining began. Mining wound down once again a short time later.

It was just another deposit.

Mining was stopped in the spring of 1845, about the same time another company employee, a Mr. Cheney, discovered a very valuable looking outcropping of native copper on the second lease held by the company.

While economically the mining at the Copper Harbor location was a failure, it was still very significant. In the end, the location did not contain enough copper to pay for its own development, but it did prove to the world that copper was indeed present in the region. Many scientists and geologists originally believed that the copper found on the ground, such as the Ontonagon Boulder, had been carried by glaciers from Isle Royale as the ice age ended. The Copper Harbor location proved that theory wrong. The company invested some $25,000 in the location, the annual report states, and earned a return of $4,300 in sales of refined copper. Copper did indeed exist in the region.

While that point is significant, mistakes made on Lease Number 4 were lessons learned at great expense, but they would save great expense in the future. Hays was a Cleveland-born druggist living in Philadelphia when the Treaty of La Pointe was ratified by Congress in 1843, and he decided he would like to go to the Lake Superior copper district and see for himself what the fuss was all about.

Hays, as would be expected, was no more educated in mining than a Philadelphia druggist was expected to be, so with him was the geologist, Rudolph. Now, Hays expected Rudolph to know what he was looking at when he found an outcropping of copper, but like any other geologist of his time, including Douglass Houghton, he had never heard of copper in huge boulders just laying around, jutting up through the earth’s surface. The copper district was brand new to everyone.

That Hays believed in Rudolph is evidenced by his going ahead to construct housing, a cooper shop, a blacksmith shop, a warehouse and a furnace. By 1847, Lease No. 4, now pock-marked with shafts, was abandoned by the company, and the workers who had been employed there were transferred to the other mine now operating on the west branch of the Eagle River.

In the end, subsequent investors and speculators learned from the Pittsburgh and Boston company. It was not advisable to sink a shaft close to water without the proper mining equipment. It was not wise to wast revenue on shops before the copper lode being explored proved its worth. But on the other hand, it demonstrated once and for all that copper did exist in mineable quantities, which the company’s other mining location would very soon prove.

The Pittsburgh and Boston Copper Harbor Mining Company would more than recoup its losses from Lease Number 4 at its new mine, which it named The Cliff. In next week’s column, the Cliff mine, and its significance to the world, will be discussed in some detail.