One of the perks of creating a web site devoted to Copper Country history is that people often come to you with their Copper Country History questions. Lets just start off by saying that I am in no way a Copper Country history expert – there are many other people with far more knowledge (some of it first hand!) about this area then I. Those people have spent countless hours researching the area, pouring over countless pages of documents and manuscripts in the archives and local libraries. I tend to go about things a little differently – relying on finding what bits and pieces of information I can on-line and then attempting to connect that dots. When that doesn’t work, I then turn to my very knowledgeable readers (some of which are experts) to pick up the slack. (hint, hint)
Recently I had received a question about the Mandan area – more specifically an inquiry about the locations of the mine and connecting rail spur. While I have been to the Mandan area many times, I myself had never found the mine site. As a result, I had to try to find an answer to the question from whatever clues I could discover on the internet. The information so far…
Here’s an arial image of the area in question (see the big version HERE), with a few items of interest marked. The town of Mandan sits near the upper part of the photo. The clearly evident main line of the Keweenaw Central sits at the bottom. Connecting the two is what appears to be the grade for a short railroad spur to the town – complete with a Wye at the point it connects up with the main line. Near the town are two areas that look like could be old mine sites, one right across the road from the town and one further to the east. I was sent a similar map as this from the reader, and was asked specifically if that was indeed a short railroad spur and if those spots that look like mine sites are indeed mine site. First I’ll tackle that spur.
Arieal images are a great way to find old railroad grades – their clean lines and swooping curves shake off all natural probability and scream man-made. This particular clean definitely looks like it could be a railroad grade, but I worried about the elevation change and whether or not it was too steep. From Topo maps the elevation change from the main line and the town is about 80 feet – which would put it at a 3% grade. That seems possible.
The key piece of evidence here has to do with a Mining Gazette Article from 1907 (which can be found HERE). This article I have referenced before, as it details proposed route changes to the KC mainline. Of course the important word here is “proposed” – I don’t know if the changes were ever made. The excerpt relating to the Mandan spur is this:
An extension of the line from mandan junction to the medora shaft is now under way and it is hoped to have it completed before many more weeks will have passed. This extension will remove the necessity of hauling supplies from the present terminal of the Keweenaw Central line about one-half mile to the mining location known as Mandan. Passengers will likewise be able to ride up to the location without making the long walk, which in winter is none too pleasant.
This seems to suggest at the very least a grade was laid from the KC main line up to the town of Mandan in 1907. According to this source 1907 happens to also be the year when the town of Mandan was expanded, in order to accommodate workers needed at the nearby Medora Shaft – the same shaft also mentioned in the article. The shaft proved to be a failure, but not for another 2 years. Those two years should have been more than enough time to finish that spur.
Now for the mine locations. Thanks to the previous information, we know there was at least two mines around the town of Mandan. Besides the original Mandan Mine (1864-1866) there was also some later development nearby at the Medora Shaft mentioned in the article (1907-1909). Assuming that the two areas seen on the aerial image are in fact mine locations (which in all probability probably aren’t), we can assume that one is the Mandan shaft and the other belongs to the Medora. The question becomes which one is which.
For that I turn to an old map of the Keweenaw, showing mine properties in and around the Mandan location (seen above, thanks to the Upper Peninsula Digitization Center, this map can be found HERE). The Mandan property sits in the middle of the image, just under the small lake. This piece of property is bordered on the west by the Resolute holdings and to the east by the Medora holdings. If those possible mine locations on the aerial image are matched to the properties they sit on, the area to the north of Mandan would be the Mandan Shaft and the area to the east would be the Medora Shaft.
Of course things are never that easy. Besides the fact that I assume quite a bit here, there’s also the fact that the KC spur that we identified doesn’t go to the Medora shaft. Yet the newspaper article clearly states that the line would serve the Medora Shaft. This would seem to suggest that the mine to the north was the Medora and the shaft to the east was the Mandan. Of course that contradicts the mine property map. Its all very confusing.
There’s one last possible explanation. The Copper Handbook (Page 716, which can be viewed HERE) states that the Keweenaw Copper Company owned the Mandan properties, along with the nearby Medora and Resolute holdings. The company would probably not honor the traditional property lines between these mines since they owned them all. The name “Medora” was most likely arbitrary and not specifically linked to a specific property.
So in the end I can’t be sure about where the Mandan Mine is located, just that its some where around the town of Mandan. Without getting on the ground (snow hasn’t melted yet) I can’t be sure. So unless some of my more knowledgeable readers can offer some more info, this is the best I can do.