By Tony and Suzanne Bamonte
Find their book, “The Coeur d’Alenes Gold Rush and Its Lasting Legacy” at www.tornadocreekpublications.com.
The following is an excerpt from the chapter “Buried Golden Treasures: Developing the Hard-Rock Gold Mines” in Tony and Suzanne Bamonte’s book The Coeur d’Alenes Gold Rush and Its Lasting Legacy now available for purchase at www.tornadocreekpublications.com.
In the fall of 1883, as a harsh winter was rapidly closing in, thousands of people joined in the frenzied rush to the newly discovered gold fields around what is now Murray, Idaho. While many of the gold seekers were panning the surface (placer) gold from the creeks, the more seasoned miners fanned out in search of the sources of the gold, typically found embedded in quartz ledges along the hillsides above the creeks. Among the earliest discoveries was the Golden Chest, east of Murray, which grew into a mining operation comprised of numerous claims. It enjoys the most storied history of all the mines that developed in the region generally referred to as the Murray Gold Belt or the North Side of the Coeur d’Alene Mining District. The following excerpts highlight a few of the mine’s most interesting owners, including the original discoverers: members of the Coplen family, who founded the town of Latah, Washington. They were responsible for locating some of the most significant gold-producing lodes on the North Side.
(Quoted from The Coeur d’Alenes Gold Rush and Its Lasting Legacy:)
“The Golden Chest, located in Reeder Gulch (the mouth of which is a little over a mile southeast of Murray), was a rich and significant lode (hard-rock) producer. Following its discovery, it changed hands and was legally reorganized frequently. All the while, the Golden Chest holdings were continually increasing. Eventually, most of the productive lode claims in and around Reeder Gulch were consolidated under the Golden Chest umbrella, which was at times owned by men of some renown, elevating the mine’s status to one of legendary proportion. Many of the lode claims that now make up the Golden Chest group were among the first to be discovered during the early days of the gold rush and include some familiar names, such as the Paymaster, Katie Burnett, Dora, Idaho, and Joe Dandy. Although it would have been most efficient to explore and develop the claims under the management of one company, during the early years most of the claims were located, owned, and managed by independent parties.
“The Golden Chest was located on October 13, 1883, by Henry Coplen and one of his sons, Alonzo Coplen. It was a good day for the Coplen family, as on that same date brothers Lewis and Benjamin staked the Idaho lode on the southern boundary of the Golden Chest, while George and James staked the Euphemia on the northern boundary. All three discoveries would be sold within about a year to two separate groups of investors from Louisville, Kentucky. The Idaho and Euphemia would both eventually become part of the Golden Chest group.
“On October 3, 1884, an article in the Louisville Courier Journal reported on a recent evaluation of the Golden Chest by a mining expert from Colorado. He had been hired by the group from Kentucky who recently formed the Golden Chest Mining Company and purchased the mine. It has been written that the company was the first in the Coeur d’Alenes to incorporate, with references to a May 1884 incorporation date. The correct date, however, according to the Articles of Incorporation for the Golden Chest Mining Company filed in the state of Kentucky, was November 24, 1884. On June 16, 1885, the company filed an application for a patent for the Golden Chest. John M. Martin Jr., the company manager, was named as the authorized agent on the application. The patent for the 18.21-acre mining property was issued on October 20, 1890.
“Work on the Golden Chest began earlier than most of the other lode claims staked in the Summit District’s early years. The first stamp mill on the North Side was constructed on its site in April 1885. (Stamp mills pounded the ore into fine granules to separate the gold from the quartz.) One reputable account stated it had five 850-pound stamps and an amalgamating plate. If that was correct, since newspaper references within a year or two indicate it was a ten-stamp, five additional stamps were added fairly soon. The steam-powered mill was situated at the head of Reeder Gulch. Like most of the other early stamp mills on the North Side, it initially had no concentrating equipment….”
The Golden Chest Mine subsequently experienced a rapidly changing environment, both in terms of development and ownership. In 1902, the mine was purchased by a group of investors, who reportedly paid nearly $800,000. The following quote is from The Coeur d’Alenes Gold Rush:
“Of particular note regarding the principal stockholders, Morris H. Hayman, a New York attorney, became the company president. Abner McKinley, also a New York attorney and one of the company directors, was the wealthy younger brother of the sitting U.S. president, William McKinley. Abner was becoming heavily invested in the new Golden Chest Mining Company around the time the Bunker Hill and Sullivan Mill was blown up in April 1899, during the labor riots on the South Side, and the military was brought in to enforce martial law. His investment was of more than passing interest because Congress was presently investigating the McKinley administration’s policy in the Coeur d’Alenes in regards to the “bull pen.” The infamous bull pen was where those suspected of any involvement in the riots (and nearly every blue-collar worker in the district was suspected) were imprisoned under inhumane conditions. As an aside, regarding the McKinleys, there were four brothers in the family, three of whom died tragic deaths. Of course, the one that shocked the nation was the assassination of President McKinley in September 1901. Three years later, Abner would die suddenly, though not altogether unexpectedly, as he had been ill. His obituary stated he was successful at the bar and in business, adding: ‘He easily eclipsed his more distinguished brother as a money maker.’”
The Idaho Mine and the Paymaster Claim
“The new investors positioned the Golden Chest to move forward as, what was later claimed to be, the richest gold mining venture in Idaho, if not the nation. Before embarking on a discussion of that next phase, a little background history follows regarding the major newly acquired components.
“The Idaho and Paymaster, with their extensive and rich ore veins, were important additions to the Golden Chest group. Contrary to assertions in various secondary sources that the Paymaster was the first gold-quartz discovery during the gold rush, the Shoshone County Recorder’s Office has records of a few earlier lode claims on file. Unfortunately, the record for the Paymaster is presumed to have been among those lost when, at a river crossing en route from Pierce City to the new county seat at Murray, a wagon transporting some of the county records was washed downstream. Without the claim record (the Notice of Location), the exact physical location of the Paymaster could not be determined, but various indicators place it between Reeder Gulch and the town of Littlefield. The Paymaster entry in the Recorder’s “Index to Lodes” at least establishes it was located on September 23, 1883 (recorded October 7, 1883), and names the locators. Although Patrick Flynn has been credited as the sole locator, he was actually one of six. No references to the Paymaster were to be found in newspapers or mining journals from the 1880s or early 1890s, but a couple of “Proof of Labor” records were filed in the early 1890s. (Those filings record annual assessment work, a legal requirement to retain ownership of unpatented claims.)
“The Idaho Mine has been largely forgotten, but there were enough references in early newspapers and mining journals to piece together a brief sketch of its history. The Idaho Lode was located by Lewis and Benjamin F. Coplen on October 13, 1883, and recorded by A. J. Prichard thirteen days later. (Prichard is generally given credit for the gold discovery that ignited the Coeur d’Alenes gold rush.) The Golden Chest’s patent application, filed on June 16, 1885, stated the Idaho Lode adjoined the Golden Chest on the south. The Idaho was by then in the hands of ‘Alfred Brile et al by purchase,’ who were also the new owners of the Euphemia, adjoining the Golden Chest on the north. The purchasers of the Idaho, known as the Idaho Gold Mining Company, were from Louisville, Kentucky. The exact date of the sale is unknown, but work began on the mine in 1884, and a fifty-stamp mill was built two years later. Its location was on the north side of Prichard Creek, near the mouth of Reeder Gulch.
“The new mill was near the main portal of the mine. The ore bin was only five-hundred feet from the entrance. The mill was manufactured by the Excelsior Iron Works of Chicago and, according to an 1886 Engineering and Mining Journal, was ‘one of the most complete in all its parts that has yet been sent to this section.’ The Idaho Gold Mining Company spent over a quarter of a million dollars on development work and equipment. A flume supplying water to run the stamps had been built, and the mill was ready for operation by the beginning of 1887. On July 7, 1887, the Oregonian stated the Idaho Mine was the largest development in the gold-quartz district….”
Following a few more ups and downs at the Golden Chest, Samuel Green, the builder of New York City’s first concrete high-rise bought the Golden Chest. The narrative in the book continued:
“The demand for tungsten during World War I sent the prices up, creating renewed interest in the Golden Chest (which was rich in scheelite, a tungsten-producing ore). On December 18, 1915, the Anaconda (Montana) Standard reported a new owner:
A few days ago Samuel Green of New York, the controlling factor in the company, arrived in Murray and it is said he has announced that extensive development is to be inaugurated soon.
The Golden Chest company, with the exception of the Bunker Hill & Sullivan, is said to own more territory than any other corporation in the Coeur d’Alenes. Its holdings embrace 37 patented and 10 unpatented claims.
“Green was a New York real estate developer who had been involved earlier as the treasurer of the corporation formed by the New York syndicate in 1899 to purchase the Golden Chest. He was well known as the builder and owner of the Monolith Building, the first high-rise in New York City to be built entirely of concrete, which became Green’s residence after its construction in 1907.
“The Golden Chest properties were honeycombed with tunnels, and Green was planning on reopening the operation chiefly for tungsten, but to also later recover the gold from the ore being put aside. As fate would have it, he did not live to see his plan materialize. On January 26, 1916, while in Murray, he died suddenly from a heart attack. (Ironically, just before his death, Green had been quoted as saying: “I would rather lie dead on Broadway than live in Murray.”) …After Samuel’s death, the Golden Chest passed into the hands of his son Vivian, who for a short time also pursued the development of the mine….”
Though Vivian Green actively participated in the mine’s operation for a period of time, he then leased it out. After his death, the mine passed to his wife Irma, and then to their son Johnny after Irma’s death. Johnny Green had no interest in owning a gold mine in the remote wilderness of northern Idaho. As excerpted from the gold-rush book, “His name may not be a household word today, but Johnny Green remains one of the great composers of American popular music, known for such memorable songs as “Body and Soul,” “I Wanna Be Loved,” and “I Cover the Waterfront.” In addition, he won Oscars for his arrangements and musical adaptations for Easter Parade (1948), An American in Paris (1951), West Side Story (1961) and Oliver! (1968), and a Grammy for the sound track album of West Side Story. Green’s Broadway musical compositions include Here Goes the Bride and Beat the Band. He also had his own dance orchestra for a time and conducted house orchestras for national radio programs. At various points, he was a guest conductor with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, and the Boston Pops….
“The precocious Johnny Green graduated from Harvard in 1928, at the age of 19, with a major in economics. Although his early song “Coquette” was already the biggest sheet music seller in the country, to please his father, Johnny took a job on Wall Street, a decision that landed him on the psychiatrist’s couch. After six months, he quit his Wall Street job and devoted his life to music, first in New York and then in Los Angeles, where he moved in 1942. From 1949 to 1958, he was musical director for MGM. He was an associate conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1959 to 1961, and conductor at the Hollywood Bowl for more than twenty seasons. In 1972, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He died in 1989 at the age of 80.”
Though Johnny Green had little interest in the Golden Chest, he became friends with John Beasley, former NFL player with the Minnesota Vikings, who did. Beasley quickly assumed a major role in the Golden Chest’s future, which evolved from investor to leasee to owner and leasor. While his story is recounted at some length in the gold-rush book, the abbreviated version is that his involvement spanned forty years when, in 2010, he sold the mine and retired in comfort. According to Beasley’s story, as recounted by the Bamontes, “Through this affiliation [with the Golden Chest], Beasley and Green became fast friends. Green didn’t take much personal interest in the mine and reaped little, if any, monetary gain from it, but he trusted his friend’s competency and interest in managing it. John Beasley said that none of Green’s Hollywood friends and associates, or even his daughters, knew of his mine ownership until the two of them began to show up at Hollywood events together. Green seemed to delight in the stunned responses when he introduced Beasley as the manager of his gold mine. As Beasley describes it, they made an amusing pair, saying, ‘I’m a rather large person (as would be expected of one who played tight end for the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints), and Johnny was anything but.’”
In the world of gold mining, most mines are worked steadily until exhausted, usually within a relatively short span of time. Not so with the Golden Chest. In recent years, new owners, an infusion of capital, and advanced technology led to renewed exploration and the subsequent reopening of the mine. According to current reports, despite its checkered past, present indicators point to the important elements all lining up for success as operations move forward at an increasing pace.
The Coplens and the Giant Columbian Mammoth
In the 1860s, Henry Coplen, wife Julia Ann, and their sons James, Lewis, George, and Alonzo moved west to Washington Territory, where Isaac and two other children (who died young) were born. The family eventually settled in the area where Henry and a couple of his grown sons (including Benjamin, the second oldest, who had recently joined the family in Washington) founded the town of Latah (depending on the source, Henry, Benjamin, or Lewis are variously named as the town’s founder).
Like many in the area, although they began prospecting and mining during the North Idaho gold rush, they were primarily farming and raising stock on their respective homesteads. In the spring of 1876, 33-year-old Benjamin discovered some huge, puzzling bones in a boggy area near his spring. Benjamin recruited the help of his brothers – Lewis, George, Alonzo, and Isaac – to assist in draining and systematically excavating the bog. They unearthed a wide array of bones in various states of fossilization from both large and small animals, as well as artifacts, such as stone arrowheads and a stone spearhead. Following the Coplens’ lead, nearby homesteaders drained a bog on their property, and found similar bones. With the interest shown by curious neighbors for miles around, the older Coplen brothers put together a traveling show. After a few months of exhibiting at county fairs and various centennial celebrations, according to an article about the discovery written by Laura Arksey for HistoryLink.org, a free online encyclopedia of Washington State history: “In October 1876, the Coplens leased their traveling exhibit to Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, in exchange for tuition for young George Coplen at Tualatin Academy. Tualatin was the preparatory school attached to the university.” George subsequently graduated from Pacific University in 1881.
The bones eventually passed into the hands of the Chicago Academy of Science where, in 1886, the skeleton was reconstructed (plaster casts were used for missing bones). The result was the first full mammoth mount in North America. The Latah mammoth was the largest known elephant in the world. In 1893, it served as the centerpiece of the Washington Pavilion at the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago. The Columbian mammoth skeleton is now on display at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, which purchased it from the Chicago Academy of Science in 1914