Mining History In Washington and the Northwest

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Historical Mining Districts and Mines in Washington State

Okanogan Mining District

Discovery of gold in the fall of 1859 on Rock Creek prompted a migration of miners to the area. During the spring and summer of 1860, Noland and Company were reported to have taken $7000, with a one day take of $700 form Rock Creek. Over 1000 miners were expected to winter over in Rock Creek in 1860-1861.

Poland-China Mine

In February of 1896 when the Northern half of the Colville Indian Reservation was opened to mining pursuits, prospectors traveling to Rock Creek were crossing the Chee Saw Ford on Myers Creek. Chee Saw was a Chinese man who lived with his Indian wife on Myers Creek on the trail north to Rock Creek.

That spring, rich ore was discovered near the surface and claims were staked on Mary Ann Creek, also known at the time as Chinese Creek due to the Chinese presence in the area, between the towns of Molson and Chesaw.

The Poland-China mine produced over $100,000 in gold, and is thought to have been named due to the two persons who had interest in the claim were of Polish and Chinese decent.

Palmer Mountain Tunnel

The Palmer Mountain Gold Mining and Tunnel Company built the states larges mill ever, a 100 stamper around 1895. This was after the mines manager, John Boyd returned from the mountain with a chunk of ore, which assayed to $185.20 in gold and $2.50 in silver per ton. Unfortunately, this was not representative of the ores in the mine. After drilling mostly through solid rock a double tunnel over a mile deep no paying veins were discovered. At its peak, more than 200 miners were employed, but the wheels of the mill never turned.

Republic Mining District

The Knob Hill Mine

Located near the town of Republic in northeastern Washington, the Knob Hill mine was first opened in 1896 when the North Half of the Colville Reservation was opened to mining. Knob Hill went into full production in 1902 and was run continuously until it closed in 1998. In 1984, the Golden Promise system was discovered. The shaft was sunk in 1986 and is connected to the Knob Hill tunnel by a haulage tunnel. More than 2 million ounces of gold have been recovered since 1941.

Blewett Mining District

The site of the Blewett Mining Camp is today all but completely gone. All that remains today are a few timbers and foundation stones of the twenty-stamp mill. This historic mining district is located on the Peshastin Creek, a tributary to Wenatchee River in Chelan County. It is believed that prospectors returning from Similkameen River and Cariboo Districts in British Columbia first discovered placer gold on the Peshastin and Ingalls Creeks in 1860. Gold was discovered in Ingalls Creek, which is about 5 miles form the Blewett town site, by a group of 15 miners on their way to Rock Creek, in Okanogan. When they discovered gold on Ingalls Creek, they abandoned their trip further north and sent for supplies from Seattle. They also sent samples of the gold back with friends. When word of the find on Ingalls Creek reached Seattle there was great rejoicing and an immediate financial impact on the young town of Seattle. The Yesler steam saw mill was temporarily shut down because the head sawyer, engineer, and all hands left to travel to Ingalls to seek their fortunes. Even former King County sheriff Thomas Russell, who was delivering express to Rock Creek, stopped to prospect the Ingalls. Upon finding 3¢ - 10¢ in the pan, he turned over the express delivery to his brother and wrote back to Seattle that he would no longer be delivering the mail.

At the same time, an African American was working a creek just upstream of Ingalls Creek was reported to have taken $1100 in one season.

A U.S. soldier discovered the first quarts ledge in the districts in 1854 but its location was never recorded.

In 1874, John Shafer discovered a vein near the head of Culver Gulch, which later became the Culver Claim. Mr. Ira Canady first set up a mining operation on the site, and later sold the rights to Thomas Johnson, who took approximately $100,000 from it before abandoning the site. Later William Donahue relocated the claim and ran a crosscut shaft. Donahue then sold the operation for $15,000, of which $5000 was cash, and the remainder to be paid after the mill was in operation to Warner and Bush. A twenty-stamp mill was put in place and the ore averaged $50 to the ton at that time.

Another man, who was operating out of the Blewett Mining camp at the time, was John A. Shoudy, the mayor of Ellensburgh. [sic] He was milling ore that was producing $40 per ton out of the Black Jack and Pole Pick mines and their extensions.

From the time of first discovery of gold in the area, until 1910, it is estimated that $1,700,000 was produced; mostly form the mines in the Culver Gulch region. ¹

Swauk Mining District

Located on the Eastern foothills of the Cascades near the historic town of Liberty is the Swauk mining district. Gold was first discovered by a deaf mute that went down to the creek for a drink and returned with a nugget found lying on the bedrock. Since that time, the Swauk and Williams Creeks have been mined almost continuously. Most of the gold has been found on the bedrock lying beneath by many feet of overburden. Several large nuggets have been found including one that was valued at $726 in 1891. Another, valued at $1,004 was found near Baker Creek, at that time Baker Creek gold was priced at $13.50 an ounce. Since the miners were looking for high-grade materials, much paydirt was piled into tailings, which has been reworked with some success more recently. The glacial activity of bygone eras has caused most of the gold to be in the form of what is called wire and leaf gold. IN 1953, Clarence Jordin Sr. was working the Ace of Diamonds mine when he discovered a pocket, which produced a mass of wire gold weighing 134 pounds. Thousands of ounces have been mined from the Ace of Diamonds mine.

Ruby Mining District

In 1886, the year that the Moses Reservation was opened to mining interest, many gold and silver deposits were discovered in the area surrounding Salmon Creek in Okanogan. With assays running as high as $1,500 a ton in the Arlington mine, and several other mines in the area showing good promise according to George A. Bethune, the states first geologist, the game was on.

Upon the creation of Okanogan County, Ruby became the temporary county seat from May 1888 to February 1889, when nearby Conconully became the permanent seat of government to this northern county. By the early 1890's Ruby was one of the biggest mining camps in the state with an estimated 2000-3000 people. It had numerous brothels, saloons, between 6 and 20 it is guessed, gambling and their own lager brewery. Despite Mrs. Virginia Granger's opposition, a schoolhouse was built, where she taught for a year. Prompted by a shooting of a patron by a madam, the town council had the marshal to force all brothels off the main street in 1892.

Ruby remained a vital and growing community until the depression of 1893 caused the price of silver to plummet. The nature of the ore in the mines was also changing deeper in the diggings, so that it became unprofitable to work. The town was abandoned, and the lumber was removed and hauled off to build more profitable sites so that today, little remains.

A Brief Timeline of Mining and Prospecting History in Washington

Links of interest:

Gold prices since 1793

History Link - A Washington State historical information site


Gold Mining In Washington State - Yesterday and Today
Ken and Vida Martin   © 1995 website


¹  Weaver, Charles E. Geology and Ore Deposits of the Blewett Mining District. Bulletin No. 6. Olympia: E.L.Boardman, Public Printer. 1911. p. 71.

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