Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Industrial Heritage and Archaeology (MS)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Social Sciences

Advisor 1

LouAnn Wurst

Committee Member 1

Timothy Scarlett

Committee Member 2

Sean Gohman

Committee Member 3

Seth DePasqual


Isle Royale, located in Lake Superior, was one center of the nation’s first copper rush. High quality copper veins drew mid-19th century miners looking to stake a claim. By the mid-1850s these initial attempts at lode mining failed as the remote location and logistical hurdles made extracting copper from Isle Royale a costly business. Despite the short-lived nature of these exploratory mines, they played a vital role in defining the nature and profitability of copper lodes in the Lake Superior Basin and serve as an example for how mineral rushes on the western frontier of North America play out. The arrested development of Isle Royale, along with recent archaeological and archival research provides an excellent opportunity to assess how miners during the nation’s first copper rush claimed and explored mineralogical resources. This thesis seeks to expand our understanding of the critical but often overlooked process of exploratory mining that defined many of North America’s mining districts.

Archaeological and archival research informed the development of a taxonomic classification of exploratory mining on Isle Royale. Applied to the 61 known sites based on function, the taxonomy helped evaluate the exploratory mining process at a landscape level. The Siskowit Mining Company’s activities further clarified the nuances of this process at a site level through spatial visualization. This case study illuminated the company’s exploratory mining process and provided a way to examine and visualize the narrative of exploratory mining on Isle Royale.