1865 — The Vermilion Gold Rush Was On!

The September 19, 1865 announcement of the assay results from three pounds of quartz rock recovered from Minnesota’s Vermilion Range brought fortune seekers by the thousands to the shores of Lake Vermilion. A three-pound sample recovered by Minnesota Geologist Henry H. Eames during his 1865 visit to Lake Vermilion revealed commercial potential when it yielded a generous $25.63 in gold and $4.42 in silver, per ton of raw material, when it was examined by J. R. Eckfeldt, an assayer at the United States Mint at Philadelphia.

The modest news story first appeared in The St Paul Press and in the St. Paul Pioneer. The following day the story was picked up by the Superior Gazette in Superior Wisconsin. Word spread quickly as other newspapers across the country picked up the story and within days gold seekers, hoping to entertain a profitable adventure, began traveling north, first landing in the Twin Ports of Superior and Duluth, before outfitting to journey into the wilds of northern Minnesota near Lake Vermilion.

By the end of September gold companies were forming and outfitting for exploration of the eastern Lake Vermilion shoreline and islands.

Towns formed, Winston City on Pike Bay and Vermilion City at the Vermilion Falls (Pike River Falls), as thousands of gold seekers arrived during the autumn and over the winter. Tents were pitched and structures were hastily built and people kept arriving providing business opportunities to provide for the comforts of lonely, hard-working gold miners.

The St. Paul Pioneer sent a writer working under the pen name “Oro Fino,” and later one called, “Buckskin,” to cover the activities of the rapidly evolving gold mining activity at Lake Vermilion.

Although Lake Vermilion was not mentioned by name in this earliest news report, the quartz rock came from its shores. As state geologist, Eames traveled inland from Lake Superior to Lake Vermilion during the summer of 1865 to collect mineral samples. Talk of mineral wealth at Lake Vermilion dates as far back as David Dale Owen’s federally funded 1848 survey of the outreaches of the Wisconsin Territory. Hearing of those early surveys, Minnesota Governor Stephen Miller, in 1865, hoped to develop the northeastern reaches of the state through mineral extraction and allocated one-thousand dollars to fund Eames’ work.