Copper Country History
Whether you’re flying into the area or venturing on a road trip, The Copper Country will always offer an incredible journey marked with stunning beauty, rich history, heritage, and forever memorable.

Copper Country History

CopperCountry History can be broken down into four significant periods.  

Prehistory

Unknown dates, but dated thus far back as far as 1500 years or about 500 A.D. This period is still under critical archeological examination. This prehistory was recognized through the early copper mining digs found on Isle Royale, Ontonagon County, especially around the Rockland area, and in various places in Keweenaw County.

Who were these people, and from where did they originate? What was their process for digging copper? And, finally, how was the copper involved in their trading practices?

All these archeological questions challenge archeologists and historians.

Copper Ore From Rock

Early Native American History

Early Native American History begins sometime around 1000 A. D. when the Sioux Indian Tribe occupied much of the Upper Peninsula, Northern Wisconsin, Northern Minnesota, and the area around Lake Superior in Ontario Province. Sometime in the 1200 and 1300 A.D., the Ojibwa people who had lived in Eastern North America were driven westward by other tribes.

The Ojibwa people moved into the Sioux territories, as mentioned above, and slowly began to push them further and further west. The French who wished to dominate the Lake Superior region and the fur trade accelerated this movement west by arming the Ojibwa.  The Ojibwa accomplished pushing out the Sioux by the time the early French missionaries entered the region in the 1600s. The Ojibwa were now living throughout the region. The missionaries brought back news to Europe that the Ojibwa reported that copper and iron ore existed along the mountainous areas of the south shore of Lake Superior.

Frederic Baraga

Early Mining History Began in the Early 1800s

The boundaries between the newly born United States and England (Canada) were not settled until the United States won the Battle of 1812.  The Ojibwa people lived throughout the Upper Peninsula and specifically in the Copper Country.  The United States government made a series of treaties with the Ojibwa people beginning in the 1820s. The final one happened in 1852.  The Ojibwa people turned over all the land's mineral rights and finally were forced to live on small sections of land, called reservations.  By 1842, the Federal Government set up land offices in Copper Harbor and Ontonagon to start leasing sections of land to begin copper mining.

Please see our paper entitled Copper Mining History: A Brief Sketch for extended details of this movement.  Many excellent books have been written about this section of Copper Country History.

Houghton Michigan Copper Country

Present Day History of the Copper Country

Present Day History of the Copper Country begins with the two big mining companies – the Calumet and Hecla and the Copper Range Railroad – make substantial investments into the Copper Country to mine its wealth.

Initially, the only way into the Copper Country was by boat on Lake Superior, very treacherous and season limited.  The mining companies began to invest in railroad development, and their efforts changed peoples' lives in the Copper Country forever. We have examined some of the railroad history within the Copper Country and the changing impact on the communities.

Mining brought the development of Michigan Technological University (initially a mining university), many diverse cultural communities, their educational institutions, individual church communities based upon language differences, many struggles to the local Ojibwa communities, etc.

We will continue to present local history within this site.  Two national parks exist within the boundaries of the Copper Country – Isle Royale National Park and the Keweenaw National Park. The Copper Country has become a year-round tourist destination. Waterfalls are everywhere. Lake Superior, many inland lakes and rivers make for excellent fishing. Many state and local parks are scattered throughout the Copper Country for camping. There are numerous bike and hiking trails that national magazines highlight as some of the best in the country. Fascinating experiences await every visitor.