Marcus Daly is the fifth person in this series.
The story of Marcus Daly captures both the wild successes the frontier granted a few as well as the realities of life for prospectors and pioneers opening the west in the 1800s.
In 1848, gold was discovered in California. Prospectors flooded into the state looking to strike it rich. San Francisco swelled from 1000 to 25000 people. Gold rushes don’t last forever, however. As one rush dies, prospectors pick up in chase of the next. Prospectors from the California gold rush moved into Nevada, as well as Utah, Montana, and the territory that became British Columbia.
A second boom came in 1859 following the Comstock Lode Silver discovery under Virginia City, Nevada.
Many of these prospectors came away with little or nothing. For a select few, however, mining was the road to riches.
One of these men was Marcus Daly, who in 1856 left Ireland out of desperation and ultimately ended up in San Francisco. He arrived as the gold rush was winding down however, and found there to be little work. He was however able to earn enough money to follow the path of the prospectors – first panning, and later working in underground mines.
His early experience in underground mining led to him becoming a foreman at the Comstock mine in 1862. At that time, the Comstock was the most technologically advanced mine in the US.
Meanwhile, in 1852, the gold prospectors that moved on from California early on discovered gold in what would become the Montana Territory, which by 1864 had resulted in a full on gold rush in Butte.
Copper was known to be in the Butte area, but for the gold prospectors of the time, it was considered a nuisance at best because it interfered with gold and silver recovery.
As the gold ran out in Butte, prospectors turned to silver. In 1875, Michael Hickey staked the Anaconda silver mine. Then in 1881, Marcus Daly purchased 1/3 interest in the mine for $15000. By this time, Daly had already proven himself in the mining world, and his finances and his reputation backed this. To fully pursue his own mining interests, however, he had to raise the money necessary to buy out the remaining interest in the Anaconda mine, which he successfully did.
Daly believed he had a silver mine, but in driving one of the early shafts, he penetrated a massive band of copper mineralization. Daly changed focus – Anaconda was now a copper mine. For Daly, and as it turned out, the long-term future of Butte, was copper.
Over the years, Anaconda grew, and changed names several times, before returning to the name it began with. At its peak Anaconda had copper mining operations around the world, as well as smelting, refining, and end product operations. One of its mines it would acquire in 1963 – the Britannia Mine.
These stories only begin to scratch the surface of what was happening during the period of the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was a time of radical changes in the world, and in the world of mining.
For more reading on the people and events mentioned in this series, follow the links provided in the source.
In the time of COVID-19, when our lives have been turned upside down, it can help to reflect on what has gone before, in order to find hope for what may come.