Lead and Zink Mining in Ottawa County, Oklahoma

To Mr. J. P. McNaughton belongs the credit of first finding ore in paying quantities in Ottawa County. He had married a member of the Peoria tribe and was engaged in farming when, as early as 1877, he began prospecting for lead and zinc. He secured a special permit from Carl Schurz, then secretary of the interior, to prospect but was not permitted to sell any ore, because of the restrictions which the Government had placed on Indian lands. Soon after the lands were allotted to the Indians, McNaughton secured a number of mineral leases, formed a company called The Peoria Mining Co., and in May, 1891, the first shaft was sunk into the ore at a point just outside the Village of Peoria, a few miles northeast of Miami. This first mining venture did not prove very profitable as there were no smelters nearer than Joplin, Mo., and no railroad to transport the ore, but it demonstrated the fact that lead and zinc were there in large quantities.

In May, 1905, J. F. Robinson, Charles Harvey, George W. and A. E. Coleman, experienced miners, began prospecting in the eastern part of Ottawa County, and after drilling several holes, they finally struck a rich vein of ore, which later developed into the very profitable “Old Chief” mine. These men formed the Commerce Mining and Royalty Company, which has from the beginning been one of the most important and most. successful of any of the several hundred mining companies which have since operated in this district.

Several other shafts were soon sunk in the vicinity of the Old Chief and around them the Town of Commerce quickly sprang into existence, which by 1920, according to the United States Census report, had a population of 2,555.

By 1906 the high grade quality of lead and zinc which was being taken from these mines was heralded through the press of the country and the boom was on. Miami woke up one morning to find the town overrun with strangers, scores of whom were compelled to sit up all night because of their inability to find sleeping rooms.

By this time the Frisco Railroad had built a branch line into Miami and the facilities for travel and for transporting ore, machinery and supplies of all kinds, were very much improved. Many experienced mining men came, but along with them were scores of lawyers, doctors, preachers, farmers and others, who had never seen a mine and could not distinguish between “jack” and “jackstone.” All were eager, however; to obtain leases, form companies and sell stock. Fancy prices were paid for leases, some of them including not more than two acres of ground each. The sure moneymaker in those exciting days was the lessor of the land. The horde of speculators who managed to secure leases, filled their satchels with samples of the rich ore picked up on the mining dumps and returned to their homes with flattering reports of the wealth which was just waiting to be brought to the surface of the ground from the depths below and converted into gold. Those satchels of samples were veritable Pandora boxes and with the glowing descriptions of the undeveloped wealth in sight, thousands of persons invested more or less of their earnings in the stock of these mining companies. As a logical result, those who combined mining experience and intelligence with their investments made fortunes, while most of the inexperienced “promoters” lost money for themselves and friends.

Today there are probably two hundred mines in actual operation within ten miles of Miami and great mountains of “chat,” finely crushed rock, fifty feet high and covering whole acres of ground, indicate the immense quantities of ore which have already been extracted from the mines. It is estimated that there is a sufficient quantity of this “chat” now piled up in this field to macadamize every public road in the State of Oklahoma. Some of it has already been utilized for this purpose and it has proven to be excellent material for permanent road making. Profits in mining in this district have, of course, varied with the fluctuating prices of ore, but during the late war, some of the companies counted their profits by the millions of dollars. Practically all of this development has been confined to the Quapaw Indian reservation, although some mines have been located on the adjoining Peoria reservation. Some of the Indians have acquired fortunes through the royalties and rents received by them, one of the most fortunate Quapaw having annually received as much as $160,000 for several years, in rents and royalties.

While a number of towns and mining camps have quickly sprung into existence as the development extended northward and eastward, Miami has steadily retained the headquarters of the principal companies and has been regarded as the gateway to this remarkable mining district. The effect of the war with Germany upon this industry is shown by the fact that from the year 1916 to 1917 the value of ore produced-in this district increased from five million to thirteen million dollars and the output for 1918 was still further increased to sixteen million dollars.

Source: Benedict, John D. Muskogee and northeastern Oklahoma, including the counties of Muskogee, McIntosh, Wagoner, Cherokee, Sequoyah, Adair, Delaware, Mayes, Rogers, Washington, Nowata, Craig, and Ottawa. 3 v. illus., ports., facsims. 28 cm. Chicago, S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1922.

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