Monday, December 12, 2016

Mine Owner and State Senator Michael Carey [otd 12/12]

Idaho state Senator Michael Carey was born December 12, 1844 in Ireland. The family emigrated to the U.S. in 1850, settling in Keweenaw County, on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The area was known for its extensive copper deposits, and Carey started work in the regional mines as a teenager. He relocated to California gold country when he was twenty years old.
Early Silver City. Directory of Owyhee County.

In 1870, Michael moved to Silver City, Idaho, where he managed area mines for the next eight years. He then spent two years managing a gold mine near Baker City, Oregon. Carey returned to Idaho in 1881.

Three or four years earlier, prospectors had discovered signs of silver in the Wood River watershed. However, violent Indian outbreaks in 1878 and 1879 discouraged extensive exploration. Then, in 1880, hopeful miners discovered substantial deposits of galena (lead sulfide ore) laced with rich veins of silver and gold. The lodes were located west and north of the new town of Ketchum.

The following year, prospectors discovered major gold lodes in the ridges west of Hailey. When Carey arrived in the region, he negotiated a lease on what was called the Elkhorn mine, near Ketchum. He developed the property profitably, but the owners did not allow him to renew the lease. (They subsequently extracted ore worth in excess of a million dollar – in 1880-1900 dollars.)

Carey then leased another mine. At that time, the region did not have local milling capacity to handle the ore. Thus, operators had to haul it by wagon to Kelton, Utah, from which it was shipped by rail to mills as far away as Denver. Still, despite that considerable cost, Carey realized a respectable net return from his two year lease.

Fortunately, the Oregon Short Line Railroad completed a branch line into Hailey in May 1883, and extended the rails to Ketchum the following year. This made it possible to ship large milling equipment into the area. Producers also built a smelter in Hailey almost immediately.
Early Ketchum. J. H. Hawley photo.

Carey eventually helped organize a company to purchase and develop mines along Warm Springs Creek, twelve miles west of Ketchum. He headed the firm initially, and eventually became sole owner. The company’s mines – collectively known as the “Ontario Group” – continued in productive operation through the remainder of the century. In fact, the Illustrated History (published in 1899) asserted that the mines would “yield to its owner valuable ores for many years to come.”

Carey interested himself in politics as a Democrat until the formation of the Populist party in the 1890s. The 1898 Idaho elections were particularly chaotic: slates were advanced by “traditional” Republicans, a “Fusion” (Democrats and “Silver Republicans”) Party, the Prohibitionist party, and the Populists or “People’s” party. Carey was elected as a Populist to represent Blaine County for one term in the state Senate.

During his term, the legislature considered a law to prohibit organized gambling in the state. Rumors surfaced that gambling interests were trying to buy votes. An Idaho Statesman reporter questioned Carey and wrote (February 1, 1899), “He admitted he had been approached, but he declined to say who the boodler was or how much was offered.” The measure passed (but by just one vote in the Senate).

Michael died October 23, 1900 after a week-long bout of pneumonia.
                                                                                 
References: [B&W], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
A Historical, Descriptive and Commercial Directory of Owyhee County, Idaho, Owyhee Avalanche Press (January 1898).

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