Ontonagon & the Rise of Copper Mining

Ontonagon Co Michigan


Prior to the original survey made by Mr. Burt. Samuel W. Hill, in 1841, conducted explorations on the Ontonagon river and he was afterwards engaged in the geological surveys of that locality that were made under the direction of Doctor Douglass Houghton and of Foster and Whitney.

In 1843 James K. Paul made a preemption of land where the city of Ontonagon now stands, and he erected a log cabin thereon. Mr. Paul was a Virginian, brave, generous and open-hearted, and his small cabin served not only as a dwelling house, but as a store where he dealt out supplies to the few people that came shortly after.

In 1844 the government established a mineral agency at that point, and constructed a building sixteen by twenty feet for an office and Major Campbell was stationed there as the government agent. This was immediately following the ratification of the treaty whereby the Indian rights to lauds in that vicinity were acquired by the government.

It was immediately following that treaty that the government began the issuing of mineral permits for leases, and the first permits were issued in 1843 to Wilson & Carson. Ansley & Company, and Turner & Company, and in 1844 C. C. Douglass, who had been assistant state geologist, began explorations under those permits. In 1845 the first practical attention was given to the copper mining interests, at what was then called the Ontonagon mine, but later known as the Minnesota mine. Prominent men that had been connected with this mine are S. 0. Knapp, its first superintendent. Capt. Wm. Harris. Mr. Townsend and Mr. Roberts.

C. C. Cushman, representing a Boston company, located under a permit, in 1845, in the same locality. His company was first called the Ontonagon Copper Company, and later the Forest Mining Company. The same year Cyrus Mendenhall located a claim three miles square on the west side of the Ontonagon River for the Isle Royale Mining Company.

The following year many locations were made and the locality was a scene of considerable activity, and at a few places active operations were begun, and the prospects were very bright. Mining stocks were in good demand for a time, but by the fall of 1847 speculation in stocks got a setback, and as a consequence, development was slow Among the very early settlers at this locality were F. G. White, John Cheynowth. W. W. Spalding, A. Coburn, Abner Sherman, A. C. Davis. S. S. Robinson, Edward Sales. Doctor Osborn, Martin Beaser, and Messrs, Webb, Richards, Lockwood, Hoyt, Hardee, Anthony, Sanderson and Dickerson.

Of the early settlers Messrs. Cash, Spalding, and Lockwood built a boat in 1848, with which to do freighting upon the Ontonagon river. The lumber was cut with a whip-saw and the boat was seventy-five feet long, with an eight foot beam. Flat bottomed, keel form, and of fifteen tons capacity. It was propelled by a crew of ten Indians, with poles, who were under the command of a white man. The boat was propelled up the river against the rapids by means of a seven hundred foot line which was stretched from the capstan to trees on the shore. It was eighteen miles from the mouth of the river to the mine and it required three days to make the trip up the river, though the boat was able to return down stream in one day.

In 1849 the first frame house in Ontonagon was built by Captain John G. Parker, and so the then village of Ontonagon had its beginning almost concurrently with the settlement at Marquette, just at the end of the first half of the nineteenth century.

So for as can he learned the first boat to arrive at Ontonagon was the propeller "Napoleon," which landed forty-four passengers on the eighth day of May, 1849. They were mainly laborers who came to work in the Minnesota copper mine.

The first shipment of copper was made June 15, 1849, by that company, the copper being floated down the river in two canoes that were tied or lashed together.

The first mail to teach Ontonagon overland came by dog-train in the winter of 1846-1847, and the house of D. S. Cash was used as the post office, and Mr. Cash continued to be the postmaster for six years. There was but one mail that winter.

In 1848 Lathrop Johnson converted the government agency building into a tavern and called it the "Johnson House," which was the first hotel open for the entertainment of the public. Until that time, Mr. Paul's cabin had been the usual stopping place for travelers.

A history of the northern peninsula of Michigan and its people: its mining ... By Alvah Littlefield Sawyer 1911