History Basic Data
NPS Logo



1. Discovery and Exploitation

Although it was rumored for seven years that there was copper ore in Del Norte County, it was March 1860 before several miners took specimens to be tested by D. S. Sartwell and Dr. Henry Smith. The report was soon out—the ore contained indeed a large percentage of copper. A company headed by D. C. Gibbs, geologist, was organized to exploit the vein, the outcropping having been traced for over a mile. The vein was first opened at a point on the ridge east of Smith River, near Peacock's (Black's) Ferry. [1]

Several shafts, from 20 to 30 feet in depth, were opened, to enable the geologists to ascertain the quality of the ore. The samples secured were sufficient to prove the area was rich in various minerals, "and all that was needed was the energy to prospect, and continue prospecting, until the hidden treasures of her hills would claim for Del Norte an enviable position among her sister counties." [2]

The summer of 1860 was feverish with excitement, because of the copper strike, and the mines of Del Norte attracted attention as far away as San Francisco. A company of Cornish miners disembarked and pronounced the ore they saw as the richest they had heretofore inspected. Besides being rich it was accessible. The copper fever spread. "Oxides, sulphurets, casings, and outcroppings," became familiar words on lips of men who a few months before would have been unable to define them. A stampede ensued. The streets of Crescent City were deserted, and McClelland's Livery Stable had no horses or mules to rent at any price.

The Evoca Company, the first one organized, located its mine on the plank road from Peacock's Ferry to the Illinois Valley, and about one-half mile east of Smith River. The Excelsior was on the same ridge, one mile north of the Evoca, while the Pacific was one-half mile farther north and on the same ridge. The Del Norte was located on the east side of Myrtle Creek, two and one-half miles from Peacock's Ferry. The Alta California was on Low Divide, on the wagon road from Crescent City to the Illinois Valley. The Union was on the opposite side of the road from the Alta California's workings. Four other mines (the Crescent, Bamboo, Mammoth, and the Chaplin & Bradford claims) were located near Low Divide. [3]

These companies all came into existance during a two-month period in the summer of 1860. Many persons who should have known better seemed to forget that it required a large amount of capital to operate a successful copper mine. Most of these mines soon failed. Between 1860 and 1863 there was shipped from the Alta California and Union mines about 2,000 tons of high-grade copper ore. Because of the high price of labor and transportation, the mines were too expensive to exploit at a profit. Moreover, the price of copper on the world market was low. [4]

By 1880 there was only one copper mine (the Condon Copper Mine of Big Flat) operating in the county. Wages for miners had dropped to $40 per month and board, while the cost of transporting ore from the mine to San Francisco had slumped to $10 per ton. Although the ore was rich and commanded a price of between $50 and $60 per ton in San Francisco, the mines remained shut down, the owners lacking the means and enterprise to exploit them. [5]

2. Comments and Recommendations

The copper mines discovered in 1860 were on the ridge separating the watersheds of Peacock and Sultan creeks, at Low Divide, and east of Myrtle Creek. These are all outside the Park. The ore from the mines was hauled into Crescent City over the road belonging to the Crescent City Plank Road and passing through the Park. Some mention of the copper mines should be made in interpreting this road and Peacock's Ferry.

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004