For over one hundred and eighty five years, the legends of a rich source of silver have brought prospectors and luck seekers to Wisconsin, and for over one hundred and eighty five years the location of this vein of native silver has remained a mystery. The mystery found it’s beginning in 1820 when an Indian told settlers of a vein of silver so pure and wide that chunks the size of a man’s hand could be cut from it. Other Indians, angered by the telling of the story, discounted it as a myth and settlers duly ignored the tale – for a time, anyway.
When the lands of the Lake Superior area were purchased in 1842 and digging and blasting for metals began with lust, the people became interested again this legend. By this time the Indians, who felt these actions were an affront to the Great Spirit, were not talking. The existence of a magnificent vein was confirmed by Benjamin Armstrong, the son-in-law of Chief Buffalo, who claimed that one elder of the tribe would be sent for silver and come back with it after a few days, but this elder had claimed that the Spirit was angry and had caused him to forget where the location was although he could still describe it somewhat.
In the late1880’s another Indian was credited with knowledge of the location of the silver. Old Ice Feathers, a hermit who lived on an island in Lake Namekagon and would later become known as Chief Namekagon, was known to have taken handsome caches of silver to three men in Ashland. Sam Campbell, a timber cruiser who lived a few miles from Lake Namekagon, had heard tell that the Chief had started out with these three men to show them the location but turned back when a black bear crossed their paths, an omen of ill boding according to Chief Namekagon. The chief was found dead, possibly murdered, not too long after that near Marengo Station. Whether the location of the silver had become known to another before his death has not been revealed. Many others have searched and some claimed to have known at least bits about it though. Unfortunately stories of silver always seem to place the mine in different locations.
One farmer named Johnson told of sheltering and feeding the Chief for a night during bad weather. The Chief had no silver with him at the time, but had silver with him when he got to Ashland the next day. The placement of the mine has resultantly been thought by some to rest between the old Johnson property and Ashland. Did the Chief hear Johnson approaching and hide silver he had in his possession, though, or did he actually acquire it on the way to Ashland from Johnson’s property?
Another story is that of a logger named Hoeppner who claimed to have found the mine and showed the proof, a chunk of silver the “size of a man’s hand”, to a friend. Hoeppner had claimed to have successfully tracked another man to the silver. He and his friend were unable to locate the place again, however. This story places the lost silver close to Copper Falls State Park, and north of Bad River Gap.
Many thoughts have been aired throughout the last century and a half about possible locations and there is no lack of rumors and legends of the knowledge of the silver. In a land so rich in mineral, there is also a possibility that more than one lost mine exists. The only detail that holds from one story to the next is that the opening of the mine is just big enough for a person to squeeze through, then widens into a cavern.
While people periodically turn up with caches of fine native silver and claims of knowing the location of the vein, for some reason the location still seems a mystery. Perhaps the Indians were correct in thinking that it was the anger of the Spirits that makes those who find it forget how to return there.
If you decide to take a trip to Wisconsin to look for this lost silver location, be ready to keep some foolproof notes on the location if you find it. Perhaps you will want to fill your bag with this fine silver as well, just in case you, too, find yourself confounded about how to get back to it again.
©2010, Sally Taylor