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ugene Sayre Topping, a writer, sailor, and ardent miner, paid that little for the “Le Roi” mine on July 21, 1890. And, by chance, “Le Roi” turned out to be one of the wealthiest mines in the world! But, before we get into one of the Red Mountain mines’ biggest gold booms, let’s first discuss mine claims and how they worked back in the 1890s.

Historical Mine Claims

The 1872 Mining Act is an intriguing counterpart to the 1862 Homestead Act. Prospectors were authorized to survey and claim public lands in the western states under the Mining Act. The claimed purpose of this statute was to allow for the exploration and purchase of mineral claims on public lands in the United States. All citizens of the United States, “and those who have proclaimed their intention to become so,” according to the legislation, were allowed to register a mining claim. As with the Homestead Act, the owner must undertake $100 worth of labour each year after filing a claim and until a patent is issued for the claim.

Unlike the Homestead Act, however, this law acknowledged that numerous people might band together and become co-owners of a mining claim. If one of the co-owners fails to contribute to annual improvements to the claim after being notified, his stake will revert to the other co-owners.

The conditions for filing a patent for a mining claim were slightly more complicated than those outlined in the Homestead Act. The key condition was that the claimant had put $500 in labour in the claim before filing the patent, implying that most claimants would need to keep and work the claim for five years before being able to petition for a patent. Those who file a patent claim may also apply for a patent for their invention.

Those who filed a patent claim might also apply for a patent for up to five acres of non-mineral land used for mining or milling, even if such land was not close to the mining claim.

The “Le Roi” mine was one of five mining claims submitted by Joe Bourgeois and Joe Morris on Red Mountain in Rossland. A mining claim granted a prospector or enterprise the right to exploit minerals from a portion of public or crown land. This claim, however, did not limit the prospector or firm to using simply the surface area, as it could also be utilized to establish mining operations and extract other accessible minerals.

There were almost 2,000 recorded mine claims in the Rossland area, but only three mines generated 96% of the actual ore ever produced: “War Eagle,” “Center Star,” and “Le Roi.”

Bourgeois and Moris’ barging

Enter Joe Bourgeois and Joe Moris (who shall be referred to as Bourgeois and Moris to avoid confusion), two extremely ambitious prospectors. They arrived to British Columbia expecting to scout claims on the Red Mountain after hearing reports of huge sums in gold that might be found throughout the area.

The two men hiked the Dewdney Trail in the summer of 1890 and staked five claims on Red Mountain, including “Le Roi,” which was then known as “Le Wise.” They took ten samples to be tested in Nelson, where their assayer, Eugene Topping, waited anxiously. The initial results of the samples were fairly disappointing, but with only a few samples indicating the promise of gold, they decided to give it a shot nevertheless.

Eugene Topping, the assayer employed by Bourgeois and Moris to examine their samples, suggested a total payment of $12.50 for all five claims. He had one condition, though: he would only make the investment provided they granted him the fifth claim, “Le Wise.” The pair agreed and had Topping pay the costs while cheerfully handing him the nearly forgotten fifth claim.

Mr. Topping was pleased with the arrangement and registered the claims before visiting his newly bought residence. He surveyed it and decided that he liked it, so he changed its name to what is now known as “Le Roi.”

He simply needed the money to develop his claim now that he had it. As a result, Topping traveled by train to Spokane, Washington, where he planned to acquire enough funds to continue his work. Fortunately, his aspirations were quickly realized by Colonel R.W. Redpath, a financier, and George Forester, a lawyer. After much deliberation and analysis of Topping’s samples, Redpath and Forester agreed to contribute $3,000 to the development of “Le Roi” in exchange for a part of the operation’s revenues. Topping agreed, and work on “Le Roi” began in June 1891.

Making a fortune from $12.50

The “Le Roi” was a huge success for everyone concerned! In its first eight years, it produced $725,000 for the men, making it one of the most profitable Rossland mines. Topping and his buddy, Frank Hanna, soon purchased 343 acres of land surrounding the claim in the hopes of developing it into a little mining town.

Topping and Hanna’s goals were realized in 1895 when they founded the City of Trail. That same year, Topping gave E.A. Heinze of Butte, Montana, property to establish a smelter for the Rossland ores. The smelter was a huge success, resulting in significant economic growth that fueled the rise of the small town of Trail. On June 14, 1901, it was incorporated as the City of Trail.

Trail Smelter from Hughes Brothers (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The discovery of gold by Bourgeois and Moris in the Red Mountain area is believed to be one of the most significant occurrences in Trail history. However, it was Topping’s good fortune and a hazardous $12.50 investment that triggered this fantastic gold surge.

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