Joseph Pearsall stakes the first mining claim in Snohomish County's Monte Cristo area on July 4, 1889.

  • By Margaret Riddle
  • Posted 8/16/2006
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7890

On July 4, 1889, prospector Joseph L. Pearsall (b. 1855) files a claim for the Independence of 1776 Mine, the first mining claim staked in the Monte Cristo region. This is a region in Snohomish County in the North Cascade Mountains.

Red-brick Gold

Earlier that spring, Pearsall scouted the area near Glacier Basin in the Cascades with his prospector friend Frank Peabody (1854-1930). Pearsall’s knowledge of geology led him to check out mineral deposits east of Mineral City. He climbed Hubbart Peak to a 5,500-foot vantage point between Silver Creek and Troublesome Creek and scanned the Cascades. A ledge running from the valley floor to the mountaintop shone brick-red gold in the afternoon sunlight. Pearsall suspected this was galena, which could indicate silver and gold beneath its oxidized layer.

He took samples and convinced Peabody to have them assayed in Seattle.  He hoped that Peabody’s gift of gab and influential connections would lead to financial backing to allow them to further explore this promising area. 

The assay showed quality silver and gold.  John MacDonald Wilmans, a 31-year old entrepreneur acquainted with mining, visited the site with Pearsall and Peabody and grubstaked them to gather more samples.  “Mac” Wilman’s brother Fred soon joined them in the venture.  In the next few years, Pearsall, Peabody, and the Wilmans brothers filed claims for numerous mines in the district.  Mining created the town of Monte Cristo and solidified plans for an industrial city called Everett. 

Backing for Hard Rock Mining 

The potential was for lode or “hard rock” mining, requiring financial backers of substantial means.  Peabody is said to have commented, “There is enough gold in that mountain to make the Count of Monte Cristo look like a pauper”  (Wilkie).  The Count of Monte Cristo is the character in Alexander Dumas's popular novel of the same name who finds a pile of treasure after enduring a hard time. Thus the location was called Monte Cristo.  The name, they hoped, would entice investors.

Pearsall, Peabody, and the Wilmans successfully kept their discovery low key while they gathered more funds and staked more claims.  They soon linked with East Coast investors Hoyt, Colby and Company, backed by John D. Rockefeller.  Mining created the town of Monte Cristo, which was built below the mines between Glacier Creek and ’76 Creek.  It also solidified plans for the city of Everett, which was to be the location of Puget Sound Reduction Works, a smelter to refine ores mined at Monte. A standard-gauge railroad connected the two locations in 1893. 

The mining venture at Monte Cristo lasted until 1907, bringing investors millions of dollars. Ongoing railroad repairs and the growing cost of extracting the ores ended large-scale mining.

From the 1920s to the present day, the Monte Cristo area has been a well-loved tourist attraction for hikers and climbers, as well as those drawn to the story of Monte Cristo's mining past. Today Monte is open for hiking, cycling and horseback riding. Visitors need to park their cars at Barlow Pass and walk a four-mile trail to reach the location of the original townsite. The Monte Cristo Preservation Association repairs roads and periodic flood damage and provides interpretation for thousands of visitors each year. The association works closely with the Forest Service to preserve the story of Monte Cristo.


Sources: Rosemary Wilkie, A Broad Bold Ledge of Gold (Seattle: Seattle Printing and Publishing, ca. 1958); Philip R. Woodhouse, Monte Cristo (Seattle: The Mountaineers, 1979); Greg Cady, Daryl Jacobsen, Vic Pisoni, Philip Woodhouse, and Bill Peterson, Discovering Washington’s Historic Mines, Vol. 1: The West Central Cascade Mountains (Oso: Oso Publishing Company, 1997); Dr. David Cameron, "The Greatest Gold Rush of the Cascades," Monte Cristo Preservation Association website accessed August 3, 2006 (http://www.whidbey.com/mcpa/history.html).

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