The St. Helens and Washougal districts are located primarily in Skamania County, Washington. The following overview is part of the 1977 publication St. Helens and Washougal Mining Districts of the Southern Cascades of Washington by the Washington Department of Natural Resources, Division of Geology and Earth Resources.
Although placer gold hod been discovered in the gravels of the Toutle River several years previously, it was not until 1892 that the region north of Mount St. Helens experienced an influx of prospectors. Around 1891 , two of the region's farmers, totally inexperienced in prospecting, entered the region on a hunting and fishing trip and discovered occurrences of pyrite, cholcopyrite, arsenopyrite, specular hematite, magnetite, galena, sphalerite, and tourmaline.
As novices in prospecting, it seemed as if they had discovered a bonanza. When news of their discoveries reached the settlements, prospecting fever spread rapidly. On July 30, 1892, the Cispus mining district, which encompassed north-central lewis County, northeastern Cowlitz County, and northwestern Skamania County was organized. This was followed in September 1892, by the organization of the Green River mining district, which "shall embrace all the lands drained by the Green River and all its tributaries, canyons, and gulches from the mouth to the headwaters and summits of the mountains surrounding the streams." However, because confusion arose between it and the Green River coal district of King County, the name was a short time later changed to the St. Helens district.
Following the organization of the St. Helens district in 1892, the district was actively prospected and within 3 years over 500 prospectors had entered the district and staked claims on any outcrop that appeared to be mineralized. Mining companies of large capitalization were organized, and thousands of shares of stock were sold in order to explore and develop the mineral deposits. Placer gold was found in several of the district's streams; however, the deposits proved to be small and unprofitable to mine.
Among the most active companies in the St. Helens district were the Mount St. Helens Consoliidated Mining Co., Mining Corporation ltd. of Portland, and Cascadia Mining & Development Co., which under the leadership of Dr. H. W. Coe undertook considerable work at the Norway, Sweden, Polar Star, Minnie lee, and last Hope properties (fig . 5). By 1910, thousands of prospect pits had been dug, and over 11,000 feet of underground workings had been driven.
Several thousand tons of copper-gold- silver ore had been mined, but most of it remained on the mine dumps. However, in 1905, 14 tons of copper ore from the Sweden mine was laboriously dragged from the mine to Spirit Lake, loaded on a makeshift barge, towed to the western end of the lake, and hauled to the railroad for shipment to the Tacoma smelter. After smelting, the copper is re- ported to have been cast into a statue of Sacajawea for the lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland in 1905. In 1929, a test shipment of three carloads of copper ore was made from the Sweden mine; however, the ore proved to be low grade and mining ceased.
Although many thousands of dollars were spent attempting to develop the copper deposits of the St. Helens district, no property became a major producer. For the most part, the veins proved to be narrow and contained only moderate amounts of copper and small amounts of gold and silver. At several properties the veins contained blotchy and scattered bunches of copper minerals that assayed as much as 30 percent copper, but on the average the deposits yielded only several hundred pounds of high-grade copper ore.
East of the St. Helens district claims were staked on deposits of lode and placer gold at the turn of the century. The most productive area proved to be the upper reaches of McCoy Creek, which yielded small amounts of placer gold in the early 1900's and in the depression years of the 1930's. Discovery of placer gold on McCoy Creek led to the discovery of lode gold on Camp Creek, a tributary to McCoy . From 1934 to 1940, the Camp Creek mines produced minor gold from small high-grade deposits that had been discovered in the early 1920's. Since 1940, the McCoy Creek area has been nonproductive. Several streams other than McCoy Creek yielded placer gold; however, all deposits proved to be small and non-commercial .
In the Washougal district of southern Skamania County, discoveries of copper and gold were made in the late 1890's near the headwaters of the East Fork of the Lewis River, and at the headwaters of the WashougaI River, as well as at the headwaters of its East Fork. At the turn of the century, mining districts in the southern Cascades consisted of Copper City, Copper Canyon, Miners Creek, Bald Knob, and Cape Horn; around 1930, the districts were consolidated into the Washougal district.
Following the initial discoveries, several hundred claims were staked; however, mineralization at most properties was so poor that little in the way of development work took place other than shallow prospect pits and adits. At the more favorable deposits, tunnels up to 3,000 feet in length were driven along the copper veins, and shafts up to 500 feet deep were sunk to test the veins at depth.
Properties that underwent extensive exploration and development work for copper and gold in the early 1900's were the Skamania and last Chance on the West Fork of the Washougal River, and the Maybee mine at the headwaters of the Washougal River. Concentrating mills were buiIt at several properties, but because of the lack of ore, milling operations were short-lived, or because of the devastating forest fires, most mills burned to the ground, never to be rebuilt.
Except for minor production from the Maybee in 1917, at the last Chance and Skamania in 1916, and at the Miners Queen in 1952, production from the Washougal district was insignificant.