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Gold Mining in Michigans Upper Peninsula: 13 Mines at One Time

Updated on January 7, 2014

Julius Ropes of Ishpeming purchase land in Marquette County where he found gold, and in partnership with Dr. Carpenter, S. S. Curry and C. P. Cummings the Ropes Gold and Silver Co. was formed on Aug. 20, 1881 and employed 35 men.

They had a capitol stock of $1,000,000 with 400,000 shares(as quoted in the Mining Journal Aug. 20) and through the sale of stock, two shafts were started and a mill erected. In the first hundred tons of ore mined, the gold averaged $9 per ton but a considerable amount was lost to tailings – the quartz rock left after the first crushing and processing with mercury to catch the freed gold.

In September 1882, together with the Huronian Gold Mining Co., who had an excellent showing of rich quartz on the property adjoining the Ropes mine on the west, they ordered a five head stamp mill. The state mineral commissioners report of 1885 has this to say about obtaining gold with the new mill: “80 or 90 percent of the rock broken goes to the mil, first through the Blake crusher, thence under the stamps, and finally concentrators and retorts. Mercury being put in constantly to amalgamate (alloy gold with mercury) the gold. From two thirds to three fourths of the gold and silver held in the amalgam is freed from the mercury by subsequent retorting (heating).” The first months operation with the new mill resulted in a saving of over $14 a ton. The gold from this run was delivered to Ishpeming on the first bullion train ever driven in Michigan.

Diamond Stick Pins

On June 9, 1883, the Ropes had some photographs taken of their location to save and compare with photographs which would be taken two years later. They said, what was a small mine in a wild undeveloped region with only a five head stamp mill and a few supporters, would in two years be a highly developed mining area with a 40 head stamp mill, a railroad and many buildings. The owners, they predicted, would be standing around in tailored clothes with diamond stick pins in their shirts. In July 1884 at the first level, the mine yielded $103 from 17 pound of ore, and in November of that same year a 25 head stamp mill was completed and put in operation.

On Jan. 3 1885, the Ishpeming paper had an account which stated the Ropes Mine grows in popularity as it increases in age, and where two years ago its friends could not be said to exceed 20, it has today hundreds who unhesitatingly pronounce it a bonanza. The if’s they said, had all been overcome. By Jan. 8, 1887 the Ropes Mine alone had produced $67,338.10 in gold. In ther best months the average gold mined was $400 to $4500 and in December of 1889 the mined $8000 gold.

Metallic Mineral Ranges in the U.P.
Metallic Mineral Ranges in the U.P. | Source

Another Discovery Made

It was also in 1887 that gold was discovered four miles west of the Ropes mine and it was here that the richest ore and the largest nuggets were found. There is no record of their size but specimens were put on display at the Worlds Fair, Chicago, in 1895. This was on the property of the Cleveland Iron Co. A Frank Mills, who was in charge of the iron company properties, was named in charge and a mine was started called the Michigan.

They sank a shaft 76 feet and out of their first run the gold averaged $293 per ton. The first gold from this mine, $8400 for 28 tons of ore, was made into a brick and displayed at the Ishpeming bank It was said of this mine that the ore held gold as the richest copper rock holds copper.

When the mine was first started, gold pilfering by miners was a big problem. No one was sure how much gold had been stolen but it was estimated in the thousands of dollars. In fact, one pair was apprehended with a trunk load of ore that was valued at $3000. They were caught just before a planned departure for Europe. This prompted the company to erect a high fence around the property. The company kept the area guarded constantly and all employees were searched before they could leave.

Lake Mine - Ishpeming, Michigan
Lake Mine - Ishpeming, Michigan | Source

Several Companies Formed

Hundreds of people visited this mine in 1889 so they could see how a really rich gold mined looked and many testified they had seen gold sticking out of the very walls.

Because of the Michigan and Ropes gold mines, Ishpeming became known as a gold town after 1888. From then on, gold was sought everywhere in the general area. Several more companies formed in the next 10 years and there were at least 13 mines operating at the same time. Some of these were the Ropes, Ely, Michigan, Krieg, Grayling, Gold Lake, Detroit, Ishpeming, Billings, Peninsula, Huronian, Sanson, Lake Superior, Fire Center, Coon and Negaunee Gold and Silver Co. The Detroit Gold and Silver Mining Co. had located surface gold by blasting in five different locations and assays there averaged $428 gold.

Glowing Reports Issued

On Nov. 15, 1890, Ropes had another long report published in the Mining Journal. It said in part, concerning the surrounding country north and east of Ishpeming, “referring to the geological structure of gold fields of the world, none presents a more favorable association of gold bearing rocks and minerals that the beds of this range”. It also said, “that placer gold exists in quantities all over this area to be profitably panned or etc. is of no doubt”.

The Michigan College of Mining Technology in 1932 introduced a course in gold prospecting and sent some students into the Huron Mountains to prospect but nothing ever came from their ventures.

Failures and Bankruptcy

All the gold mines other than the Ropes and the Michigan were relatively short lived. At the Krieg Mine workers were down below the 100 foot level when water started coming in on them. This same thing happened at the Coon Mine. At the Grayling, workers had to quit at the 225 foot level because of soft they couldn’t keep from caving in.

All of the mines struck rich ore but at times it was lean, and it stayed lean long enough to cause failures and bankruptcy. None of them had sufficient funds to carry them over the dry spells. This was the contributing cause at the Michigan Mine. Even after the company had gone broke from a streak of lean ore and poor handling (the mine had produced $17699.36 as of March 1898), Ed Copps, on Ma 17, 1902 published a statement in the Ishpeming paper saying he was trying to raise $25,000 for capitol. He said that if the mine had such a showing in any of the prominent western fields the people would go wild over it, as no better specimens of ore were taken from their richest mines. He was unsuccessful though and finally on June 27, 1903, the mine was purchased by the Tri-Bullion Mining and Milling Co. These new owners cleaned the mine shaft, finding the Number 2 shaft 140 feet deep. They employed 10 men and found a small stringer that assayed for $307. The struck lean ore later and in December 1908 began manufacturing silica with hope of running into gold again. They soon had to stop because freight rates were to. high to realize a profit.


A dollar in 1895 is worth about $27.78 today. So the $17699.36 produced by the Michigan Mine was worth about $491,678.00


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