In 1854, Joseph Morel, a teamster for the Hudson Bay Company, was taking a drink of water from the Columbia River near
what is now the Canadian Border. He noticed black sand on the river bottom. When Angus McDonald had taken charge of Hudson Bay Fort Colvile in 1852, he had hinted that there might be gold in these waters. Morel sifted through those sands and found flakes of gold. News spread quickly and veterans of the California gold rush of 1849 and prospectors from the West Coast soon flooded the area. You can still pan gold out of that stretch of the Columbia today.
The prospectors soon found more gold in Sullivan Creek, (named after prospector, Michael R.O. Sullivan) near Metaline Falls. It is another area that still continues to attract gold panners. Along with the other gold seekers came Chinese who were willing to work long hard hours and live more frugally than other nationalities. Many had escaped to the United States seeking refuge from the Taiping Rebellion which lasted from 1853 to 1864 and left 20 million dead in China. The Chinese worked up and down the Columbia. They channeled streams to fill their sluice boxes near Inchelium and carried large boulders up out of the stream-bed near the Canadian border. Their work ethic intimidated other miners and Stevens County passed a tax of $6 for each quarter of the year on Chinese miners in 1866. Further discrimination and violence continued until the 1900 when very few were left in the county.
This early gold rush moved north into The Frazer River country where gold was discovered in 1857.
Placer mining depended on deposits in streams and rivers that could be panned or sluiced. The discovery of larger deposits requiring hard rock mining would wait for another 30 years but placer mining continued. At it’s height in 1894 returns were estimated at $500,000 along the Columbia River. (Graham-Colville Collection-p.X).
By way of background it should be noted that Northeast Washington and related areas of British Columbia are possibly the most complicated geology of North America. The coastline of an early North American Continent once stretched along the Windermere Rift from near the southern end of Nevada almost to
Alaska. A local remnant of this inland sea, the Kootenay Arc, runs roughly along the Huckleberry Mountains through Stevens County. Geographic terrains with origins on the floor of the ocean and volcanic islands accreted onto this coastline as they were pushed away from the volcanic eruptions in the center of the Pacific Ocean. Much of this rock was pushed under the existing coastline and melted again. Lighter masses pushed up from beneath the lip of the continent. Where this molted rock broke through, volcanoes formed, where it cooled without erupting, granite formed. All of these geologic forces left pockets of mineralized rock. Almost every known metal is found in some quantity somewhere in early Stevens County which included the current Ferry County and Pend Oreille counties.
The rough and rowdy character of the gold rush miners further aggravated relations with the Indian Tribes. Formerly known as the most peaceful native population in the Northwest, local tribes felt increasing pressure from American Settlers as the British moved out. Union troops were called in to establish what was first called Harney’s Depot and later, Fort Colville in 1859. Skirmishes in the gold field area of Rock Creek involved miners, Indians, liquor and some off-duty soldiers in 1861. The outbreak of the Civil Way that same year prompted replacement of the regular troops at the fort with released prisoners from San Francisco who were more apt to disturb the peace than preserve it until regular troops returned in May 1865.
By the time troops stationed at Fort Colville were relocated to Fort Spokane in 1884, Chewelah was a boom town due to the discovery of lead, silver, copper and gold deposits near Embry Camp in 1883. This discovery was soon eclipsed when William Kearney, Albert Benoist and E.E. Alexander filed a mining claim for the Old
Dominion, a lead, zinc and silver deposit near Colville Washington April 13th, 1885. The claim was immediately jumped by a party of men that included the legendary Wyatt Earp. Earp was dissuaded from the claim without gunfire and was later a part owner of the Sierra zinc mine near Deep Lake. Unlike many mines to come, the Old Dominion was owned locally. The ore was smelted in Colville and soon a large workforce gathered to work the Old Dominion mine and other nearby discoveries. Old Dominion was worked until 1953. In the period between 1903 and 1905 it produced $1.5 million worth of ore.
Over the next 35 years, thousands of mines were claimed in the area.
Major Mines in Northeast Washington
1854 – Morel finds Gold in Columbia River
1864 – Head Tax put on Chinese Miners
1883 – Embry Camp near Chewelah
1883 – Young America Mine
1885 – Bonanza, Bossburg
1885 – Dominion Mine, Colville
1886 – Dead Medicine
1889 – Metaline Mining District
1890 – Trail Creek Copper (Trail BC)
1890 – Cleveland Mine, Hunters
1893 – Young America Mine, Evans
1894 – Cedar Canyon/Deer Trail
1896 – Daisy Mine, Daisy
1898 – Republic Mining District
1898 – Le Roi Smelter, Northport
1900 – Belcher, Curlew Lake
1903 – First Thought Mine – Orient
1904 – Germania Mine, Hunters
1906 – United copper Mine, Chewelah
1907 – Napoleon Mine, Boyds
1910 – Clayton
1914 – Electric Point Mine, Deep Lake
1916 – Magnesite (Dolomite) mines, Chewelah
1920 – Van Stone Mine, Onion Creek
1958 – Midnight Uranium, Wellpinit
1978 – Sherwood Mine, Wellpinit
1976 – Northwest Alloys, Addy
There are around 1800 mines that saw various degrees of profit in Northeast Washington. Most were claimed and worked in the late 19th and early 20th Century. Many claim that more money has gone into the ground here than has come out of it. The most recent mine to begin operation is on Flagstaff Mt. near Northport (2011). What the mining boom did was create a solid framework of transportation. Early wagon roads were mostly developed by the Military. (See Government Section) Early steamboats hauled freight, timber, fruit, ore and passengers, many of them prospectors. Steamboats were also forward scouts for the railroads which were much better suited to hauling ore from mine, to smelter and eventually to international markets. All of these developments opened the territory to settlers from around the world. As early as 1850, steam powered locomotives and rail lines were being developed on the East Coast before Washington became a Territory in 1853. Increased improvements in and reliance on machinery drove the demand for metals and the capability to secure them by mining and mechanized transportation.
During World War I, Stevens County became a key supplier of Magnesite, a mineral crucial to making fire brick used in iron production. Follow this link, http://crossroadsarchive.org//Upload/SlideShows/MagnesitePlant.pdf To see the story as a slide show in Acrobat .PDF format.
The Gold Seekers, Pauline Battien, 1989 (out of print)
The Colville Collection, Patrick J. Graham: (the following 3 books)
Book 2, Military Fort Colville
Book 3, Steamboats
Book 4, Old Dominion Mine
The Forgotten Corner, Craig Holstine
Mineral Resources of Stevens County, Charles E. Weaver, 1920
The Metal Mines of Washington Ernest N. Patty, 1921