Copper Discovered at Reedsburg
By Bill Schuette
During the mid-1800s, pioneers from the East were moving west in search of new lands to populate and raise their children. Some were also looking for a new adventure, and still others were seeking the wealth of the western lands.
One of those wealth-seekers was Don Carlos Barry, who came to the Baraboo area with Henry Perry in 1844. They were looking to start a lumber business and erected a saw mill there. Lumber forests were located to the north, and so Barry and Perry headed in that direction to investigate a potential location on Big Creek. Upon their return, they stopped at Reedsburg. Hearing of the possibility that copper had been found there, Barry noted that, “On our return, I discovered, where water had washed away the earth, what I supposed to be copper ore.”
They immediately changed their plans and filed a claim in Section 1 in the Town of Reedsburg. Henry Perry died shortly thereafter and the next spring Barry returned to the area, along with two partners he had recruited who had been miners at Mineral Point, “…to assist me in opening our copper mine,” noted Barry.
“We raised about two tons without much expense, it being the deepest about four feet from the surface,” he said. That load gave out when they hit sand rock.
But they were not deterred, because they continued to dig a deeper shaft that summer. Barry found two seams of ore in crevices as he dug down. Rumor was that a Mr. Kendall, who owned a copper mine and smelting business at Mineral Point, offered Barry $1,500 for the mine, which he refused.
After having dug around 32 feet—following the deposit down a seam which eventually petered out—they abandoned the mine due to water seepage and a lack of funds to continue.
Barry had the two tons of ore hauled to Mineral Point to sell, getting ninety dollars a ton. That would be approximately $2,300 in today’s dollars, for a total of $4,600. A typical laborer of that era earned about $5 per week.
In August of 1845, a rumor spread throughout Sauk County that another large load of copper ore had been discovered about ten to twenty feet below the surface, and it was of sufficient richness to make it worth digging for. William Canfield, in his Outline Sketches of Sauk County, wrote that, “Upon a certain day all of Sauk County, with mining tools, was astir for the copper diggings, each person trying to get there before the other. The next day proved it a hallucination, and the copper fever soon abated.”
However, that was not the end of the mining era in Sauk County. Other settlers, including David Reed, heard that there was iron to be found in the county, and that was one of the primary attractions that persuaded them to relocate here. That mine was, of course, located at Ironton.
Today, Copper Creek, east of Reedsburg, is the only remaining remnant of the copper diggings which caused so much excitement in the mid-1800s in Reedsburg and the Sauk County area.