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Copper Falls State Park History

Native Americans

During the last several thousand years, many different Indian tribes lived in this region. The earliest Indians followed the retreating glaciers edge as nomadic hunters, and killed giant mastodons for food. Other ancient Indians, primarily hunters, followed the earliest tribes. Old Copper Culture Indians lived here for many centuries mining pure copper veins for the metal to make hunting weapons and tools.

The most recent Indians in this region were the Sioux and Chippewa. They were here when the French first came to Lake Superior country.

European-American miners

In the early 1860s and before, exploratory mining for copper ore occurred in the canyon of the Bad River between Copper Falls and Brownstone Falls. Not much is known of this activity other than the shafts shown on early maps, but it is assumed that this search for copper was due to the North's armament needs during the Civil War.

Edward Dolan of Mellen was son of Mrs. Ellen Bacon Dolan, cook for the Ruggles mining crew. They lived at Copper Falls for several years in the early 1900s. On January 16, 1975, at age 76, he gave the following information to Park Manager Kent Goeckermann:

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Wells M. Ruggles ran a four- or five-man mining crew in what is now Copper Falls State Park. Mr. Ruggles was an attorney by profession who somehow ended up running a mining camp. The camp consisted of several houses and farm buildings on the Bad River just southwest of the present picnic grounds. John Blix was mine captain and crew boss of the Ruggles men in their search for copper ore.

The Ruggles crew sank a vertical shaft at the site of the present footbridge across the Bad River. They also dug a nearly horizontal shaft into the hillside at the southeast corner of the present picnic grounds. This shaft was known as "the cave."

While working on this shaft, the mining crew became irritated at the rises of the Bad River causing flooding in their diggings. To solve this problem, the Ruggles crew proceeded to divert the Bad River to the north of the hill that you can see at the east end of the present picnic ground. The river formerly curved to the south in the area of the present concession footbridge, then swept east, and then north in a quarter-mile loop back to Copper Falls.

The Ruggles mining venture found little copper, and investors were disappointed.

Names preserve memories

Tyler Forks River is named for John Tyler, a Great Lakes ship captain and surveyor for the Indian Agency at Ashland, Wisconsin.

Murphy Lake is named after Jack Murphy, who in the late 1800s and early 1900s lived in what is now Copper Falls State Park. He had a log cabin near the present ballfield pine plantation.

The state park era

Copper Falls State Park was created in 1929 and much of the development work was done by two Depression-era government agencies, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

Log building being constructed

Civilian Conservation Corps workers built an enclosed shelter at Copper Falls during the 1930s.

Log building in snow

This log building was quite new in March 1939, but already a stovepipe out a window had been added.

Last revised: Wednesday May 09 2012