Mining History


History of Jo Daviess County   1904

There is no question but that the early settlement of Jo Daviess County was caused by its mines. Just when those mines were first discovered is shrouded in mystery, although it is certain that a Frenchman by the name of LeSueur saw the mines as early as the month of August, 1700.

He was on a trading expedition to the Indians in what is now the State of Minnesota and, in his report of that expedition, he says he discovered a small river entering the Mississippi on the right side and describes it as "a river running from the north, but it turns to the northeast. On the right of said river, seven leagues from the Mississippi River, is a lead mine, and he named the small river, thus discovered by him, the "River of the Mines."

This river was, beyond doubt, what is now known as Galena River. The writer has examined a map of the State of Illinois which was published in 1820, and Galena River is named on said map as the "River of Mines." The geography of the country was then but little known. In 1712 Louis XIV of France granted in perpetuity to one Anthony Crozat and his heirs, all the property of the lead mine country of Louisiana, which was then supposed to include the mines of what is now included within the bounds of Jo Daviess County.

The best evidence obtainable points to the fact that the mine known in early history as "The Buck Mine," located on Section 8 in West Galena, on lands now owned by the Hughlett estate, was the first discovered, and is doubtless the one seen by LeSueur. It has been worked more or less up to the present time.

From a short historical account of the lead mines of the Northwest, published by the New England & Galena Mining Company, other early mines near Galena are mentioned as follows: The Harris Leads; Tomlin & Burrichter; The Tomlin; The Doe; The Krengle Mine; The Gaffner Range; The Hog Range; The Graves; Comstock and Rosemeyer; Wallo & Quick; Sanders & Co.; Molitore; Crumbacker; Evans & Adams; A. C. Davis; Armbruster & Co.; Ottawa Diggings; Drum, Rare & Co.; Benninger & Co.; P. Smith & Co.;. Hostetter & Co.; Dueer & CO.; Allendorf & Co.; Tom Evans; Bolton; Stephen Marsden; The Allenrath; The Egan; The J. E. Comstock; Britten & Wilkins; The Cady Range; The Roberts Range; The William Richards Range; The Wilcox & Co. Range. All these, with many others of lesser note, were within a short distance of the present limits of the City of Galena, and were all good producing mines.

In addition to the above there were valuable mines located in the Township of Vinegar Hill, Council Hill, Rice and Elizabeth the latter, however, being a later discovery than those first named.  At a still later date valuable mines were discovered in the Township of Rice, better known as the Black Jack Mine and the New California Diggings, and these have been worked more or less continuously up to the present time. It is rather remarkable that, up to within recent years, all of the mines in Jo Daviess County were worked for lead ore exclusively. The vast quantities of zinc ore, which seems to underlie all lead ore in Jo Daviess County, was considered a worthless ore a despised material and, as the miners used to express it, "it burned the mineral out."

It is to be regretted that no accurate account of the output of the lead ore from said mines has been preserved, and any statement of such output would be largely speculative; but -it can in be said with truth that the product has been very large.

Prof. Whitney, who is perhaps the best authority on-the lead-mining region, states that, from 1853 to 1859, the out-put of lead-ore from the mines of Jo Daviess County was thirty million pounds.

The late Henry Green in 1875 stated that, up to that time, the out-put of the Elizabeth mines, alone, had been at least seventy-five million pounds.

The late H. H. Houghton, in his work, entitled, "The Marsden Mines" (now known as the Black-Jack Mines), states that the out-put of the mines of Vinegar Hill has now reached the enormous sum of one hundred million pounds.

A writer from Galena, whose name I have not been able to ascertain, in Harper's publication for the month of May, 1866, states that the value of the lead ore, produced by the mines of Jo Daviess County up to that time, was $40,000,000.

During the early history of the mines, ore was sold as low as $8 per thousand; and it is on record that a thousand pounds of mineral has been exchanged for a barrel of flour. In one instance, at least, five thousand pounds were given for a barrel of flour. The highest price per thousand that has been known to have been paid was $110, which was during the War of the Rebellion-and this price was paid only for a short time. Since the year 1878 the average price of lead-ore per thousand has not exceeded $30, and it is doubtful if it has equaled that figure. It is now (1902) $22 per thousand. The ore is found in veins and flat sheets, -the horizontal veins being known to geologists as gash veins. It is found at various depths from the surface as far down as explorations have been made. The principal veins run east and west, and are known in the mines as "Easts and Wests;" other veins run north and south, and are known in the mines as "Norths and Souths." The north and south veins generally cross the east and west ranges at right angles. Besides these there are what are known as 11 quarterings," which usually cross the east and west crevices diagonally. Some of these quarterings, so-called, run from the northeast to the southwest, and some from the southeast to the northwest; these are locally called either "ten o'clocks" or "four o'clocks," according to the direction they assume. There are also smaller crevices, which usually cross the east and west ranges in various directions; these are locally called "swithers," though just why they are so called we have not been able to ascertain. The ore found in the crevices that run east and west is generally known as "cog mineral;" that found in the veins running north and south is generally of a sheet formation. It is a remarkable fact that no ore is found in any of the crevices without the same having been crossed by some other crevice, and the local expression is, "you will not find lead ore until you strike a crossing." Just why this is so is not known.

The first work done in the mines was. beyond doubt, performed by the squaws, and their method of extracting the ore from the ground where it was found attached to the rock, was to build great fires and, when the rock had been sufficiently heated, throw water upon it, thus causing it to crack and enable it to be more easily worked. It may be added that the method of working the mines is still rather primitive.

The Indians reduced the ore by piling up wood, putting the ore thereon and setting the wood on fire, thus melting the ore. Many such places, called "Indian furnaces," may still be found in the county.

When the white miners first came they reduced the ore in much the same manner, only more skillfully, and their furnaces were called "log furnaces." Afterwards the Drummond furnace was introduced, also the cupola and the blast furnace-the latter being nothing more than the old "Scotch Hearth," a full description of which is subjoined, taken from Judge Shaw's geological work of Jo Daviess County.

The hearth consists of a box of cast-iron, two feet square, one foot high, open at top, with the sides and bottom two inches thick. To the top of the front edge is affixed a sloping shelf, or hearth, called the work-stone, used for spreading the materials of the "charge" upon, as occasionally becomes necessary during smelting, and also for the excess of molten lead to flow down. For the latter purpose a groove, one-half an inch deep and an inch wide, runs diagonally across the work-stone. A ledge, one inch in thickness and height, surrounds the work-stone on all sides except that towards the sole of the furnace. The hearth slopes from behind forward, and immediately below the front edge of it is placed the receptacle or "melting pot." An inch from the bottom, in the posterior side of the box, is a hole two inches in diameter, through which the current or "blast" of air is blown from the bellows. The furnace is built under an immense chimney thirty to thirty-five feet high and ten feet wide at its base. Behind the base of the chimney is the bellows, which is propelled by a waterwheel, the tuyere, or point of the bellows, entering at the hole in the back of the box. The fuel, which consists of light wood, coke, and charcoal, is thrown in against the tuyere and kindled, and the ore is placed upon the fuel to the top of the box. The blast of air in the rear keeps the fire burning, and, as the reservoir, or box, is filled with molten lead, the excess flows down the grooved hearth into the "melting pot," under which a gentle fire is kept, and the lead is ladled from it into the molds as is convenient. Before adding a new "charge," the blast is turned off, the "charge" already in is turned forward upon the work-stone, more fuel is cast in, and the "charge" is thrown back with the addition of fresh ore upon the wood. The combustion of the sulphur in the ore produces a large amount of the heat required for smelting. The furnace is thus kept in operation sixteen hours out of the twenty-four.

The ore is of different degrees of purity, but the purest galena does not yield, on an average, over 65 per cent of lead from the first process of smelting. The gray slag is very valuable, though the lead procured from it is harder than that 'of the first smelting. There is left about 75,000 of gray slag from each 1,000,000 pounds of (>re. The slag furnace is erected under the same roof with the Scotch Hearth, and has a chimney of its own a few feet from that of the hearth, and the "blast" 'is secured from the same water-power by an additional blast-pipe driven by the same wheel. It consists of a much larger reservoir, built of limestone cemented and lined with clay, with a cast-iron door in front heavily barred with iron. It will burn out so as to require repairs in about three months. Open at the top, the slag and fuel are thrown in promiscuously. Under the iron door is an escape, and below it is the "slag-pot." This is an oblong iron basin about a foot in depth, with one-third of its length partitioned off to receive the lead, which sinks as it escapes, while the slag, being lighter, flows in a flame-colored stream forward and falls into a reservoir that is partly filled with water, which cools the slag as it is plunged therein. As the reservoir fills, a workman shovels the scoriae into a hand-barrow and wheels it off. This scoriae is black slag and worthless, the lead having now been entirely extracted. The smelter now and then throws a shovel-full of -,ray slag into the furnace, which casts up beautiful parti-colored flames, while the strong sulphurous odor, the red-hot stream of slag, with the vapor arising from the tub 'wherein the hissing slag is plunged, the sooty smelters 'and the hot air of the furnace room, suggest a thought of the infernal regions. Outside, the wealth of "pigs"-not in the least porcine gives one a sort of covetous desire, that, if indulged in, we are taught leads directly to said regions.

The Scotch Hearth requires less fuel than any other furnace. It "blows out" in from six to twelve hours, while the Drummond furnace may be kept in operation night and day.

The Scotch Hearth, or blast furnace, is still the one most commonly used in the lead mines. None of these furnaces were able to get all of the lead out of the ore. The father of the writer owned and operated a blast furnace on the Sinsinawa from 1852 until 1875 ' and during part of that time the writer kept his father's books, and the highest percentage that he ever knew to be made in his father's furnace was 74 per cent, and his father's furnace was probably an average. It is doubtful if the average percentage of lead extracted from the ore by any of the furnaces that were ever operated in Jo Daviess County would exceed sixty-eight, although it is known that a much greater percentage of lead exists in the ore, and it is probable that, if all the lead that exists in the ore could be saved, the average would reach eighty-five per cent. From an old Directory of Galena, published in 1848 by E. S. Seymour, I gather that, when the Directory was published, there were twenty-four smelting furnaces within the county of Jo Daviess, but I am unable to give the location of all.

It may not be amiss in this connection to state that, in the early history of the mines, Illinoisans ran up the Mississippi River in boats in the spring, worked in the mines during the warm weather, and returned to their homes for the winter. This was supposed to be after the manner of a certain kind of fish, and for this reason they were called "suckers" by Missourians. Very soon, however, many miners from Missouri came to seek their fortune in the new El Dorado. A boat-load of these, landing at the wharf in Galena, a resident miner sang, "Hello! Missouri has taken a puke." Ever after that Illinoisans were called "Suckers," while Missourians were called "Pukes"-names by which they will be called by the vulgar for some time to come.

It is also a remarkable fact, when you take into consideration that ore has been discovered in every one of the twenty-three townships in the county, what a small portion of the county has been explored for ore or "prospected," as the, mining term is. As compared with what is unexplored the explored portion is very insignificant. It can be stated with certainty that, if all the mines in the county were placed side by side, they could not cover more than a section of land, or six hundred and forty acres; and some idea can be gathered from this, to justify the assertion that untold quantities of ore still lie under the surface of Jo Daviess County. It can be stated with certainty, that, so far, little or nothing has been done more than surface mining.

It is also a little remarkable that the zinc ore (called by the miners, "dry-bone" and "blackjack"), which, in the earliest history of the county, was a despised material, is now being sought for more than lead ore the reason being that. while not as valuable as the lead ore, the output, prospectively, is much greater, and companies are being formed to develop the zinc mines.

A Wisconsin Company is now operating a zinc mine on the lands of Oldenburg in Section 1, about three miles from the City of Galena, which bids fair to be a mine of great value. The company is operating the mine with a view of reaching deposits much lower than have heretofore been developed, and the prospects are that the enterprise will be richly rewarded. At the California Mines in Rice Township, Harris & Co., of Chicago, are developing a mine. which promises large returns, in both lead and zinc ore.

Within the City' of Galena, Wm. Waters has been working a mine for the past two or three years, and has be-en rewarded with good returns in the shape of zinc ore. It is claimed that his mine, which runs entirely through the corporate limits of the City of Galena from west to east, is a true "Fisher vein." His mine has been worked down to the water-level only, but has been worked at that level for a distance of over half a mile. The product has been largely zinc ore, although the mine also produces some lead ore, and it is claimed with a strong probability of truth, that far greater deposits exist -in those mines below the water level than have yet been developed. Mr. Waters claims that he can walk on ore at the water-level for a distance of over six hundred feet. -

The mines in Elizabeth Township seem to have taken on a new lease of life, but they as yet produce only lead ore, although many believe-and with good ground for such belief -that, at a lower depth under the lead ore, exists a still greater deposit of zinc ore. We shall treat of the mines of that township more at length when we specifically speak of the township.

As before stated, so far the mines of the county have been worked only to a limited extent; and in no sense have they been worked to any great depth, as no mine of which the writer has any knowledge has been worked to the depth of two hundred feet. The most of the ore has been taken from a depth of less than one hundred feet from the surface. It can be safely asserted that, nowhere in the United States are there mines which offer a fairer, return for capital invested, than the mines of .Jo Daviess County.

Thus far mining in Jo Daviess County has been prosecuted by men with limited means, and in no -instance has any mine been developed to any great depth.

In the judgment of those whose opinion is of value, with a larger use of capital and more adequate machinery, the mines of Jo Daviess County would be found to be practically inexhaustible.

Besides lead and zinc, iron ore to a considerable extent has been found in the township of Derinda, and traces of copper have also been discovered.

In one locality the writer has personally picked up specimens of quartz, and has seen "black sand," such as is found in the placer gold mines in the West, washed out of the ground, although he saw no gold. Mixed with the ores in the county is an element called sulphur, but which is really a Sulphide. Until recently it had no commercial value, but now it is worth six dollars per ton, and is used in the manufacture of sulphuric acid. Arsenic is also found mixed with the ores; but as yet has no market value. In fact, no effort has been made to save it.

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