In 1843, six years before the Forty-niners headed west for the goldfields of California, the United States’ first great mineral rush began to a land that was, as Patrick Henry told Congress, “beyond the most distant wilderness and remote as the moon.” He was referring to the Keweenaw Peninsula of northern Michigan. This rush was not for gold or silver, but for copper. And not just any copper, but native copper, so pure it required little refining before use. The early horde of fortune-seekers came with visions of finding mountains of solid copper, spurred on by stories of large masses...

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