The very mention of Carson City causes most collectors’ ears to perk up a bit. And everyone knows that the main United States mint is, and always has been located in Philadelphia. Three other locations of early U.S. mints in the South have been Dahlonega, Ga., Charlotte, N.C., and New Orleans, La.
In addition to Philadelphia, the current mints are the famous San Francisco branch mint, the Denver Mint and the toddler West Point, N.Y., facility which has been in business since only 1973 as compared to 1792, 1854 and 1906, respectively, for the other three.
But how many of us have heard of the U.S mint that was located in The Dalles in Oregon? Could we have had a “TD” mintmark? Or perhaps “DC,” as it was originally known as Dalles City. I invite you to take a walk with me, back to the mid-1800s, as we learn about this fascinating story, and some of the people and the events that transpired.
Then called Dalles City, it was the departure point in the 1840s that thousands of pioneers, bypassing the mountains, rafted down the Columbia river to the Willamette river, and settled in its rich western Oregon valley.
The Dalles was the end of the land route of the Oregon Trail. In the fall of 1849, U.S. Army troops arrived in the new Oregon Territory and established a military outpost at The Dalles, with a log fort finished in 1850 and named Fort Dalles. The town was a missionary and military center. Army troops assigned there were to keep tabs on Indians.
On July 13, 1861, William Logan received a coveted patronage appointment as U.S. Indian agent for the Warm Springs Reservation by President Abraham Lincoln. Mr. Logan located his new home on Fifteen Mile Creek, and there was a good reason why. The new home’s location was within fairly easy reach northward to The Dalles, site of the Warm Springs administrative offices, and shortened the distance southward to the reservation, 80 miles below The Dalles.
Logan foresaw trouble for Warm Springs when reports had told of great amounts of gold discovered on Oct. 23, 1861. What he did not foresee was that the bonanza would lead to a mint being built in The Dalles.
The first find was in a gulch leading into the Powder river. Near the site of the first strike rose Auburn, capital of the gold rush, in the Elkhorn range of the Blue Mountains, eight miles southwest of today’s Baker city. Today Auburn is gone – not even a ghost town remains. But, from this area once left armed parties toting millions upon millions of dollars’ worth of gold. Men on horseback, pack mules, freight wagons and stage coaches overcame 800 winding miles of almost impassible trails to get the treasure to the big trading center of The Dalles.
Somewhere out there in the mining crowd was Logan’s ex-workers. The almost legendary Blue Bucket Mine of Oregon Trail lore led to the eastern Oregon gold discovery. The find was made, almost accidentally, by the remnants of a party of 50 men, mostly in their 20s and 30s. They had set out from distant Portland to seek the Blue Bucket. The party, dwindled to a weary 22, camped in a high elevation one chilly fall evening. To keep warm, Henry Griffin dug into a gravely bank. He spotted bright flecks of gold. His buddy, David Littlefield, agreed. As they dug to the bedrock, the gold increased. The party had struck it rich.
Each of the 22 men staked out a claim. All but four departed before winter closed in. Left to try and mine in the snows were Griffin, Littlefield, F.W. Schriver and William Stafford. By spring, they had a hefty fortune. With supplies low, Littlefield and Schriver set off for “the outside” to convert part of their hoard into food, clothing and equipment.
They trudged 300 miles to Fort Walla Walla. When storekeepers looked askew at the dust, a visitor stepped forward. He was the merchant-trader Orlando Humason of W.C. Moody & Co. of The Dalles, one of Logan’s business partners. Then and there Humason made Moody & Co. a gold trading firm. He bought the raw gold.
Suddenly, the gold flames flashed again. It came on June 7, 1862, at Whiskey Gulch on Canyon Creek, south and a bit east of Warm springs, near the present Canyon City area. Here prospectors spotted gold nuggets in a clear stream. Some $26 million in gold came from that single little canyon alone, says Miles F. Potter in his book, Oregon’s Golden Years. In another account about The Dalles, from his book Across the Continent, Samuel Bowles stated: “Two million dollars in gold dust came in here from eastern Oregon and Idaho in the single month of June last (1865)”.
The gold strike news spread like wild fire. The “flames” fanned out into all the Owyhee country – eastern Oregon and parts of Idaho, Washington and Montana. Prospectors swarmed in. In 1862 there were some 80,000 prospectors who were seeking and finding their fortunes. It was a full-fledged gold rush. This also led to demands for a mint to be built in the region.
The Dalles, nerve center of the vast gold rush, reached a population at times of 10,000, counting those coming in from the diggings, or going to them. It was here that the raw gold seemed to always flow. It was a busy, rip-roaring city. Business boomed, including such 24-hour conveniences as saloons, gambling joints and houses of ill repute. Every man carried a handgun.
Some years later, the Dalles Chronicle commented on the times: “Payment for all commodities was made in gold dust. The god of gold reigned supreme in The Dalles. Human values were forgotten. Bags of gold were handled about as freely as other commodities. They were passed across the counter and gambling tables or bars in payment (of) merchandise, debts or drinks. There was no service for less than $1. The Wells Fargo Express Co. carried the gold dust and bullion to the San Francisco mint by boat”. Gold coins, nearly all of the Coronet type, were the media of exchange, although gold dust was accepted. Silver coins were few and far between, with any that were found being mostly the Seated Liberty design.
Dealers paid $15 to $17 a troy ounce for native gold, depending on purity. It brought up to $20.67 at the San Francisco Mint, some 1,000 miles away. The gold moved from The Dalles via riverboat more than 90 miles to the fresh water seaport at Portland, and then on ocean going vessels down the lower Columbia to the Pacific Ocean and on to the Golden Gate – a clumsy, costly arrangement. A U.S. mint and assay office was needed closer to the mines.
All things considered, The Dalles was the logical site. It was the natural gateway to and from the huge expanse of gold fields 300 miles and more to the east. It was in The Dalles that miners bought up supplies, and also returned with their packs of the precious yellow ore. The city began to challenge Portland, recognized as the commercial center of the entire Oregon country.
On Dec. 17, 1862, Oregon’s Senator James W. Nesmith introduced a mint bill, with Portland as the site named. It was estimated that in the facilities first year, it would handle $10 million or more in raw gold. But compared to the main mint in Philadelphia, this mint site, of course, was in a far off and sparsely settled part of the country – Oregon then being not quite three years old as a state. But Nesmith’s bill was placed on the backburner by congressional committees busy with the Civil War.
But on July 4, 1864, the 38th Congress in a wartime session agreed with the Oregon delegation that a mint should be built to turn into coins and ingots the gold reaching The Dalles.
“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that a branch mint of the United States be located and established at Dalles City, in the State of Oregon, for the coinage of gold and silver”, states 13 Stat. L., 382-83, which is the reference to the document of 145 years ago.
The purpose: To mint coinage badly needed by the North in its prosecution of the Civil War, and to end the long and expensive shipments by water of the raw gold to the San Francisco branch mint, some 1,000 miles away. This shocked state legislators and western Oregon diehards because it named The Dalles as the mint site, not Portland. Also enacted were the following officers of said mint: one superintendent, one assayer, one melter and refiner and one coiner. The superintendent was allowed as many clerks and laborers as needed to run the mint.
The Mint Act authorized the striking of both gold and silver at The Dalles. But the predominant metal in the region was gold, so silver coins were probably not seriously considered. Gold coins would have been the $1 Indian Princess Head (large head), $2.50 Classic Head, possibly the $3 Indian Princess Head, and $5, $10 and $20 Coronet Liberty Head coins.
In 1865, a bill which proposed changing the mint site from The Dalles to Portland was introduced in Congress, reflecting the sectional bickering going on in Oregon. I guess there was political turmoil, even back then. With sectionalism and bureaucratic delays, there was no mint activity at all in The Dalles. Gold bullion accumulated there, and crowds of young miners made it a wide-open town.
Construction that had started at the now famous branch mint in Carson City in 1866, created new hope in frontier Oregon. But yet another idle year passed by. The only action taken on The Dalles mint act was Congress’ decision not to change the site.
In 1865, having set an impressive management record as U.S. Indian agent, William Logan was given an even more prestigious federal appointment – superintendent of the U.S. branch mint at The Dalles. President Lincoln knew of Logan, and favorably, from his record and through several mutual friends. They may have even met.
Logan appeared to be an honest, talented and well liked man of the Old West. The Dalles newspaper, the Mountaineer, described him as “a friendly man of great natural abilities and commanding presence ... a leading citizen, generous to a fault”.
Around midyear, 1865, William Logan, his wife Izza and their son Hugh, 15, left for San Francisco to find medical help for Mrs. Logan, who had been suffering from an illness for three months. They checked in at the Russ House on June 17. Mrs. Logan responded well to treatment.
On the afternoon before departing to return home on the ill-fated steamer S.S. Brother Jonathon, Logan and his young son Hugh Logan, who was to remain in San Francisco longer, went to the sub-treasury and picked up $15,000 for Indian Affairs. All the government money was in the unpopular greenbacks.
Mr. and Mrs. Logan boarded the 220-foot ship on the morning of July 28, 1865. It was a 1,360-ton sidewheeler, which sat low in the water with a heavy load of 500 tons of cargo. It consisted of machinery, casks of whiskey and a large amount of money. The vessel held between 220 and 255 passengers and crew. Among the passengers was Major E.W. Eddy, an army paymaster, and his clerk, taking $200,000 in U.S. Notes north for the military.
Over the next two days of sailing, the wind intensified beyond gale force, and the waves ran mountain-top high. On July 30, 1865, at midday, the ship’s end was drawing near. As Capt. Samuel J. DeWolf tried in vain to guide his craft to safety in the harbor of Crescent City, a huge wave tossed the ship, and impaled it on the undersea tip of Saint George Reef, eight miles off the shore. The impact was so jarring that both passengers and crew were tossed overboard. As the ship broke apart, one lifeboat load of 19 persons reached shore. William and Izza were not among them. So ended the would-be legacy of The Dalles first mint superintendent, William Logan. Had he lived, the story of the mint at The Dalles might have been a far different one.
The ship was finally located in 1993. A bounty of more than 1,200 gold coins was recovered, dominated by mint state 1865-S double eagles.
According to the Wasco County book of deeds, Mary Laughlin, who was the widow of William Laughlin (Wasco county pioneers), donated a one block site for the mint on June 6, 1865.
Almost three years later, the Mountaineer broke the good news that two local men had been named to start the branch mint project. Harvey A. Hogue was appointed construction superintendent, and D.M. French, disbursing agent. Then there was silence from the East.
Six weeks later the impatient Mountaineer assumed there had been another runaround. It told readers, “Our faith in the final building and establishment of the branch mint in The Dalles wavers, flickers, dies and skedaddles. We advise our friends to no longer hold the future of our town upon the building of the branch mint, as we honestly believe that it will never be accomplished”.
However, on June 27, 1868, the Mountaineer was glad to report that “a commission was received by H.A. Hogue as superintendent (of construction) and D.M. French as disbursing agent for erection of the branch mint. Once more indications are favorable that the long talked of branch mint will be built”.
Local suppliers were to furnish brick, sand, lime, lumber and similar supplies. Sandstone and granite would be cut from quarries on Mill Creek and hauled by horse-drawn drays five miles to the mint site.
On the blueprints, the design for the mint building was well proportioned and attractive. To the non-architectural eye, it was shaped like two rectangles, one larger than the other, placed across each other. The Carson City Mint is of similar design. Plans at The Dalles called for the lengthwise portion to be just over 90 feet, by almost 51 feet. The crosswise section, which had the main entrance at one end and an engine-boiler room attached at the rear, was 63 feet by 51 feet, 8 inches.
“The building is to be two stories high, having a basement under all of it”, stated A.B. Mullet, the Treasury departments’ supervising architect. “It will be constructed of stone and brick, portions of it will be groined for brick floors and portions will have wooden floors”. The blueprints were complete for the mint, but never entirely used to complete the building.
The mint’s bright top, had it been built as planned, would have been a colorful landmark visible for miles around from The Dalles, for it was to be “painted with three coats of linseed oil and Venetian red”.
By April 1869, Hogue wrote to Mullet, stating, “I hope to get the building erected and roof on before winter. Yesterday I wrote you that I had been to Portland for the purpose of procuring more stone masons and cutters”.
Sealed bids from suppliers were opened on April 29, 1869, by French, Hogue and Samuel I. Brooks of the Department of Collector of the U.S. Revenue Service. An idea of the project’s size and of the 1869 prices of materials is had from a preview of successful bids. (The word “perch” was used in a number of instances, and was a measurement of stone, usually equal to 24.75 cubic feet). Following are some of the successful bids:
A.C. Phelps, hauling dimension limestone from J.H. Phillips, $3 per perch; A.C. Phelps, hauling wall granite from quarry, $2.90 per perch; Bulger & Gibbons, dimensional sandstone quarried and delivered, $2.40 per perch; Bulger & Gibbons, wall sandstone quarried and delivered, $2.23 per perch; Bulger & Gibbons, sand delivered, 4 cents per bushel; Abrams & Newell, bricks delivered $15 per 1,000; Abrams & Bonay, fir lumber delivered, $20 per 1,000 feet; Abrams & Bonay, pine lumber delivered, $25 per 1,000 feet; J.M. French, Rosendale cement delivered, $8.62 a barrel; J.M. French, Santa Cruz lime delivered, $5.62 a barrel. Today, those prices are almost unbelievable.
On June 11, 1869, the Mountaineer told its readers that “the basement walls are almost completed and the structure is beginning to raise itself above the ground. The brick laying is progressing finely and a great many beautiful arches now span the basement built by Mr. Runey, the mechanic in the brick department”.
Late in 1869 the first floor of the structure was completed and much admired for the beauty of its stonework. The one-foot thick blocks, with widths and lengths varying, some one foot and others two, had raised outside surfaces, dressed with flat borders. Later, in 1922 The Dalles Chronicle wrote of the building “Each block was dressed to perfect shape by skilled Dalles masons. The window ledges are of one stone, perfectly set in place. The spacious front doorway is plain but attractive in the massive stone arrangement, with a narrow border just above the door. A wide single step leads to the door. The same durability of structure marks the interior, the partitions being of stone and brick. The basement is a labyrinth of arched stone supports and passageways”.
Then, over a period of weeks, very little change was noticed. Work had all but stopped. The Mountaineer spoke on June 28, 1870: “We are informed that orders have been received by superintendent Hogue to suspend for the present, work on the mint building”. That was the end of the dream of a mint at The Dalles. The famous coinage act of Feb. 12, 1873, by omission, made it official. The act named mints and assay offices authorized to operate in the United States. The Dalles branch had been omitted.
Several factors contributed to the demise of The Dalles mint. First, of course, the Treasury and Mint by policy did not want another mint. Second, the region’s gold rush was drawing to an end in 1870, being nine years old. Cost over-runs, workers leaving to work the gold fields, and flooding from the Columbia River, also contributed to the project running two years behind schedule and led eventually to the project’s end.
Gold production slowed, as the easily reached surface gold had been recovered. Also by 1870, roads had improved to handle stagecoach shipments. This, and the coming of the railroads to the West spelled the end of the complicated passage of gold by river and deep sea vessels. Then, too, money was becoming in exceedingly short supply with the approach of a nationwide financial depression which reached its peak with the Panic of 1873.
Construction superintendent Hogue was placed in charge of the one-story building and was to sell off the government’s surplus materials, supplies, tools and equipment. But the mint was not about to fade peacefully into limbo. Instead, it was to play something of a hero’s role in a catastrophe that hit The Dalles in 1871. Hogue describes the action as he did for Mullet:
“I regret to inform you ... that a disastrous fire occurred in this city, destroying completely 75 business houses, shops and dwellings, in which the government sustained a loss, approximating $1,500 in the burning of lumber and tools”. He also went on to narrate the character of the fire, and how the little mint building saved the day:
“The wind blew furiously, making a perfect tempest of fire sweeping everything before it – houses, fences, sidewalks, street crossings, shrubbery, trees ... on four entire blocks, 220 x 300 feet, and two half blocks. Burning shingles were carried miles from the city by the wind; one picked up three miles out. Two haystacks were fired and burned from this cause, more than a half a mile from the nearest fire”.
It must have been with genuine pride in his abbreviated building that Hogue wrote, “The fire was not checked until it reached the mint building, which being located in the center of a block, constructed of stone, broke the current and fury of the flames. And (the) adjoining block above, being vacant, enabled the firemen and citizens to control it, and prevented further destruction of property”.
Although the mint building escaped the flames of 1871, not so in 1943 when fire badly damaged the rear interior. The structure, by then in private ownership as it is today, was repaired in 1947.
On March 3, 1875, the 43rd Congress passed an act giving the building to the state of Oregon, not to The Dalles, which had provided the mint’s site. The donation was made “on condition that the ... building and lot shall be appropriated by the state ... to the use of some educational or charitable institution”.
Years later, the state, unable to find a proper use for the structure, sold it in 1889 to private citizens, allocating the money to public education funds. A large concrete block addition was later constructed on the north side of the building and the building was put to other uses. The building has sat vacant for years at a time over the past century. However, there have been a number of owners of the building, who have put it to various uses.
In the early 1980s, it housed Ralph’s Transfer & Storage Co. Prior to that was the R.W. Hughes Feed & Grain Co. It is currently home to the Erin Glenn Winery.
The U.S. mint at The Dalles, however, was a reality. The old building still stands after almost 150 years, and still serves a purpose in the 21st century.