“Thar’s Gold in Them Thar Hills”


As I mentioned previously, many of the articles for 2023 are based on stories I found intriguing from the six-part Diamond Jubilee issues of the Grand Rapids Herald-Review (June 16-July18, 1966).

In February 1925, deputy sheriff John Dickie recovered $1600 in gold that had been stolen by three Grand Rapids boys between the ages of 12-17. The gold was taken from a private residence, the owner was not at home at the time. Because the boys were minors, there were no further details provided in subsequent issues of the paper, but this did prompt me to investigate the rumor I had heard about gold in northern Minnesota. And no, I’m not referring to Chief Busticogan’s gold—that’s another story!

Boy Robbers Caught with Gold ~ 2-25-1925 Grand Rapids Herald-Review

“When Deputy Sheriff John Dickie stopped some boys who were target shooting in the village limits last Sunday, he uncovered a daring robbery, or series of thefts, and led to investigations which cleared up several mysteries.  He also found and recovered for the owner about $1,600 in hoarded gold, the biggest surprise of the year.

The boys that were doing the shooting a short distance from the Dickie residence were Leslie Greene and Roland Anderson, aged 12 and 17 years, respectively.  When Greene was searched, Mr. Dickie found a purse of gold coin amounting to several hundred dollars. He decided to hold both boys for investigation, and they soon implicated a third, Leland Bradley, age 16.

After they had been questioned by the officers, the three boys confessed that they had stolen a large sum of gold from the home owned by Tony Zines, who lived in the west part of town, and who was supposed to be so poor that he could not pay his hospital and physician’s bills. The money had been equally divided among the three boys and the amount recovered was about $1,600, while a portion of the sum taken is believed to have been spent. Mr. Zines [Zeine] had not been at home for several weeks, being out at work on the Root ranch several miles east of Bigfork.

When the gold had been unearthed, the officers obtained search warrants and looked for more property. They found a large amount of stolen property including three rifles taken from Legion Hall, army service guns. These with the belts had been missing but no one knew where they had gone. A fair-sized truck was packed with stuff stolen from Forest Lake School. This plunder included books, pencils, shears, paper and almost anything that could be removed easily. Various other articles that had been stolen in homes or in places of business were found concealed in various places and revealed through confessions by one or another of the trio.

As the boys are all under eighteen years of age, they come within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court. Their cases are to be disposed of by Judge McCullough today.”

Lake Vermillion Gold Rush

In the fall of 1865, geologist Henry Ames found gold in quartz along the shore of Lake Vermillion in St. Louis County. He brought a sample to St Paul, and it was sent to the Philadelphia Mint for analysis. Based on the information received from there, it was believed there might be enough gold to make someone very rich. “The St. Paul Pioneer newspaper 9-20-1865 speculated that the existence of the gold bearing quartz would ‘immediately turn the tide of California emigration to Minnesota.’ Ossian Euclid Dodge, a well-known singer and song writer (and sometimes journalist) was hired by the paper to report on the story.

Dodge chose to write under the pen name of ‘Oro Fino’ and submitted a series of nine ‘Gold Letters,’ between September 30 and the end of October 1865 to the newspaper.  To get to the gold fields, Dodge described vividly the route he took [after the train to Superior] and his sometimes perilous means of travel—the journey from Superior by canoe through waters often swift and full of rapids and over portages frequently narrow and steep.

He wrote of seeing, or hearing rumors of, gold veins ‘from three inches to ten feet in width, and some of them extend for many miles in length.’” [extracted and summarized from Lake Vermillion Gold Rush by David A. Walker, Minnesota History magazine, Summer 1974]

Dodge’s choice of a pen name was appropriate. “Oro Fino” translates to “fine gold” in Spanish. It was also the name of a gold mining camp established near Pierce, Idaho (then Washington Territory) in 1861.

By the end of December, the full force of gold fever hit the city of St. Paul.  Businessmen organized several mining companies and offered their stock to the public. Within two years, more than a dozen groups had incorporated to develop the Lake Vermillion gold fields. There were over a dozen gold mining companies which organized, established claims, and sought gold-bearing quartz.  The three most notable being Mutual Protection Gold Mining, Minnesota Gold Mining, and Vermillion Falls Gold Mining. The peak of gold fever was from spring 1866 to fall 1869. None of the companies yielded sizable profits, but many men who caught gold fever, including George Stuntz and Lewis J. Merritt, subsequently played major roles in the initial exploration of both the Vermilion and Mesabi Iron Ranges.

In 1934 a gold crusher, one of the first pieces of mining equipment brought to the area in the 1860s, was found under water near Lake Vermillion. The crusher is mounted on a historic marker in the city of Tower, MN.

Gold in Deer River

Using the search function on my computer I looked for other articles about gold in my Itasca County Research file (contains over 15,000 files), I found an article about gold in Deer River!

Gold found in Village ~ Itasca News 10-18-1902

“The neat job of gold leaf lettering on the window of the News shop was done by artist Holdridge, who cannot be beat in that line of business. This is the first and only gold leaf sign in town.”  John Holdridge was from Pennsylvania. He moved from Wisconsin to Deer River about 1900 and was a house and sign painter.  The building (former Western Itasca Review) still stands, but the window with the gold leaf lettering was removed and replaced with brick many years ago.

Gold in Bigfork

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) has reported that Bigfork is one of six major areas in the state which has gold deposits. The five others are Cook, International Falls, Linden Grove, Vermilion, and Virginia Horn. Overall, there are almost 62 areas in Minnesota where gold can be expected.

The scattered amounts of gold in Minnesota, as well as other midwestern states was brought down from receding glaciers from the last ice age.  Glacial deposits do not generally accumulate gold in enough quantity to be valuable by commercial endeavors, but smaller scale gold prospecting is a present and growing hobby within the state.

According to goldrushnuggets.com, in addition to the glacial gold, “past discoveries of low-grade lode deposits in the northern part of the state caused a few short-lived gold rushes but were eventually abandoned due to low yield. Lode discoveries in the past decade have caused a huge interest in recent years by commercial mining companies. For recreational gold prospectors, Minnesota has plenty of opportunities and several active clubs to help you get started pursuing gold.

Near the border with Canada, a short-lived gold rush occurred at Rainy Lake near present day International Falls. Several mines popped up in the summer of 1894 but, like other discoveries in Minnesota, profitability was an issue. The gold was locked up in ore, and the gold recovered did not cover the cost of production.”
[from https://www.goldrushnuggets.com/goinmi.html] At the time of this discovery, the northern border of Itasca County went all the way to Canada.

If you are interested in finding gold in “them thar hills,” check out the Minnesota Gold Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/groups/MNGold.

The May column is about Fish Stories & Trophies in Itasca County.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s