WERE there once lead mines in the Adirondacks? Can anyone prove that there were? Probably not, but there have been numerous stories by various people; some seemingly good evidence; and a whole lot of time, energy, and money expended in an effort to do so.
Perhaps the most publicized mine was in the vicinity of Owls Head and Ragged Lake, in Franklin County. Floy S. Hyde in her Water over the Dam at Mountain View, tells about Ignace Plamondon, commonly called Plumadore, who was among the very early guides in this region. Born in Michigan about 1781 of French and Indian parentage, he lived for a time in Chasm Falls, but ranged widely over the northern Adirondacks. He died at 98 in 1879 and is buried in Duane.
Floy Hyde relates the following from Morton Fitch’s History of Ragged Lake in Franklin County. In the early 1860’s Plumadore made his headquarters with Madore Fountain, an old trapper, near Plumadore Pond and at Round Pond (now Indian Lake). At that time he would go east from Round Pond and south from the highest point of land near Drain Pond Hollow, and return with lead to be melted and made into bullets. Because of this, the hill east of Indian Lake was called Ore Bed Mountain. The deposit he visited was the source of supply for the St. Regis tribe, and its location was kept a sacred secret from the whites.
When older and in failing health, Plumadore went to live with a Spicer family near Chasm Falls. He became fond of them, told them about the lead supply, and promised to tell them its location. But, while visiting at Deer River (on the Duane-Meacham Lake road), he was taken sick and died, his secret untold.
F. J. Seaver, in his Historical Sketches of Franklin County, tells of Major Albon Man, who before the Civil War used to hunt at Indian Lake and Mountain View (then Round Pond and State Dam). He employed “Old Aleck”. a St. Regis Indian, for guide and camp worker. On several occasions “Old Aleck” sneaked off from camp, and after a few hours, returned with quantities of pure galena, which they reduced and cast into bullets. Old settlers in the vicinity used to tell of the same Indian appearing at their homes from time to time with native lead, claiming to have gotten it from a “mine in the mountains.”
It is interesting to note that Lot 87, which contains Ore Bed Hill, is given on several old maps as the “Lead Mine Lot”. About 1890 this lot belonged to Orville Moore of Malone, and others. Elmer Davis of Owls Head recalled that some men hired him to transport a considerable amount of equipment to Ore Bed, where they sank a shaft, saying they were searching for the lost lead mine. The attempt was unsuccessful, as was a similar one on Whipple Hill.
In 1894 the Plattsburgh Sentinel reported a rumor that lead had been found in this area, and that a Syracuse party was arranging to open a vein. In 1900 the Adirondack News reported that Thomas Todd, who had tramped through this area for years, believed that he had located the mine. He and others in Malone purchased land located east of Indian Lake and south of Owls Head Mountain from M. V . B. Turner of Plattsburgh. Arrangements had been made for an expert to start drilling. No big discoveries followed either of these reported finds.
The story of Cass Hoose and lead near Plumadore Pond appeared in the Adirondack Enterprise in 1970, probably a reprint from the Malone Farmer in 1925. He and his brother lived on the old Hatch place on the Loon Lake-Duane road. When he was twelve, an old miner named Davis, having heard of the lead deposit, came with instruments, and took the boys along on his exploration. They went east to a hill near Plumadore Pond, where there were indications of a lead deposit. Tunnelling into the hill produced thin slivers of lead, but no vein. Davis became ill, and nothing more was ever done.
Donaldson, in his History of the Adirondacks, tells of two inn proprietors who had contact with Indians concerning lead. Charles H. Wardner ran the Rustic Lodge at the end of Upper Saranac Lake in the early years of this century. He told of two old Indians coming to the Lodge from Canada, saying they were looking for lead. They knew that Indians once living here had known of its whereabouts. Their search was unsuccessful, and they never returned.
James M. Wardner, a relative, ran the Rainbow Inn on Rainbow Lake, and told of an old Indian who came to his place and offered quantities of lead ore as a medium of exchange. If he failed to have enough to complete the bargain at hand, he would disappear for awhile and return with a new supply. His secret was guarded with great care.
Lead fever also infected Essex County. The story ran as a series in the Essex County Republican in 1883. Smith’s History of Essex County also gives some of the details.
At the close of the Revolution, William Shapley, a soldier who was quite familiar with the waters of the Champlain Valley, came to settle on Flat Rock Bay. Exploration of Peru Bay (Willsboro Bay) disclosed abundant game, so he often hunted in the area. One day he picked up a light colored stone with which to scrape off the flint in his musket. Thinking it interesting, he picked up several more to carry home in his knapsack. That evening he put the pieces in the fire and discovered them to contain lead.
The next day Shapley returned to the spot, hoping to find more of the “stones,” but several years’ search proved unsuccessful. Later, his half-brother, Joseph Moore, settled nearby and helped Shapley with his search. Still without success, they eventually left the area, after telling several local people all about the old find.
The area in which Shapley located the “stones” was not far from where Peru Bay was visible, and among the northeast foothills of Rattlesnake Mountain, a huge mountain lying directly west of the Red Rocks, and near Little Sand Beach, at the south end of what is now the end of the tunnel at the railroad cut.
Some years after Shapley’s discovery, Caleb Smith (an old settler on Willsboro Point) was hunting in the same area and went into a hollow to find water. Brushing away leaves, he found some stones which were very heavy. The sound made when struck together convinced him that they contained lead. He covered the place, making a mental note of the location, and intending to return. He later did with his son-in-law, Dr. Asa Fisher. Still later, they told two friends, who also helped in the search. Finally, the information became known among several other settlers, who also aided in the search. Nothing was ever found by any of these people.
Winslow Cossoul Watson says that his father, Elkanah Watson, brought from London in 1784 an old map made by French engineers in l731. The map exhibited exact designations of headlands, islands, rocks, reefs, etc., and was considered to be the only minute chart of Lake Champlain extant. On the shore of Peru Bay is marked “lead ore bed.”
In the early part of the nineteenth century, Levi Higby’s father erected a sawmill at Port Kendall. It was in the deep gorge later spanned by the iron railway bridge of the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company. In clearing the gorge for the placing of timbers, workmen found a crucible of the type used for melting ores . Had it been used by the old French engineers a hundred or so years earlier?
In April 1883 the Plattsburgh Sentinel printed a letter from John Mattocks of Chicago (Presbyterian minister in Keeseville, 1838-1856) who tells of buying an old atlas published before the Revolution. At or near the present location of Willsboro was marked “lead mine.”
Accounts are retained by descendants of those who were taken prisoner by the French and Indians, that on their way through the lake to Canada, they landed at a small sand beach on a great bay, at a place where the rocks stood steep and high above the water. Some of the Indians went up into the mountains, and after a few hours, returned with lead ore. Notice that Red Rocks and Little Sand Beach are alluded to.
Mr Martin of Essex once accidentally secured a specimen of lead. He and his father were becalmed on the bay near Red Rocks. He took a shotgun and went ashore to get partridges. In climbing over a ledge, he broke off a small bulge which turned out to be lead. Messrs. Cameron & McDonald, contractors on the railroad, found one small pocket of lead when cutting through the Red Rock.
Winslow Cossoul Watson, in his Military and Civil History of the County of Essex, says that a tradition of an ore bed on Rattlesnake Mountain was known to exist among the Indian tribes north of the Great Lakes . Since the settlement of Port Kent, and until around 1870, a group of Indians appeared annually about mid-autumn. They usually camped at the sand beach south of the village, or in a glen nearby, for about ten days, and then disappeared. It is thought that they came for lead ore.
Trembleau Mountain is another location given in some accounts about the lead mine. As reported in the Essex County Republican in 1881, a landowner claimed to have found the excavation made by the Indians on Trembleau Mountain. In his letter, John Mattocks also states that in 1858 Jackson Bishop or his brother John of Keeseville had shown him a cube-shaped piece of lead ore which he had found while hunting on Trembleau Mountain.
The Plattsburgh Sentinel in 1883 carried a letter from Leander Dunham of Ellenburgh Depot regarding the Trembleau Mountain lead mine. He states that he was a sailor on Lake Champlain in 1826, and while returning from Whitehall, was becalmed near this mountain. He went ashore and rambled around. Later, he heard of an old man being taken captive by the Indians. They left him in a canoe while they went ashore at that spot, returning with a lot of lead. Dunham says it was the same spot where he had rambled around earlier.
Clinton County’s lead mine, once known to the Indians, was in the Lyon Mountain area. The summer 1967 issue of York State Tradition relates the story of two men’s attempts to discover the location, as told years ago by Capt. E. E. Thomas of Chateaugay Lake.
Nathaniel Collins was one of the first white hunters to canoe on the Chateaugay Lakes and roam the surrounding woods. While fishing on South Inlet he came upon an Indian girl and her parents. She explained that they had come for lead, and warned him not to follow them. Nat went across the inlet to a high elevation, and for five days he searched for smoke by day, and fire by night. He never saw either. After eight days the Indians returned loaded down with lead–long strips with evidences of charcoal.
About the same time, Mose Sangimore settled at Chazy Lake. He went hunting on Lyon Mountain, looking for the Indian lead mine. Smelling smoke, he used the wind to guide him to a cavern with stone steps and logs. He ventured in for a few feet, hearing no sound, but detecting the strong smell of smoke.
Leaving his overalls in a tree, he broke branches for a trail, and returned the next morning with neighbors. He could not find the mine. The Indians had probably been in the mine when Mose discovered it, and erased his trail marks . The location is still a mystery.
Also of interest in Clinton County is the notation “Leadmine Gully” found on a soil map of the county. It lies directly to the west of the Dead Sea area of Altona. Beers’ Atlas of Clinton County, 1869, shows a spot marked “leadmine” in plot #80, northeast of Churubusco, in the very northeast corner of the town of Clinton.
Undoubtedly, the Indians did know of the existence of lead in any or all of these locations. However, white men have never been able to substantiate its existence. Accounts of the various deposits remain as tales of the distant past, none of them ever having become a commercial reality.
According to the Essex County Republican, November 7, 1924, a woman who was a native of Plattsburgh enlisted and served as a man in the Union Army in the Civil War. Born Mary Ann Murphy, her mother died when she was very young, and she was adopted by the Benjamin Hill family, who moved from Plattsburgh to Worcester, Mass. She enlisted as Saul Hill when she was 18. She was a member of Company B, 53rd Massachusetts Regiment.