A One-Name Study
for the BARNUM/BARNHAM Surname
Notes for Austin CORSER
On 19 August 1847 Austin Corser became the first postmaster of the rural post office at West Presqu'ile, Ontonagon County, Michigan. The post office only operated until 25 October 1848.
Of the first Fourth of July celebration in Ashland, Michigan (1855), Asaph Whittlesey gives the following description: "On the day referred to, the Declaration of Independence was read by Asaph Whittlesey, and this, with the delivery of an oration by A. W. Burt, with singing and amusements, constituted the first public Fourth of July celebration in the history of Ashland. The exercises were had at Whittlesey's house, in the after part of the day, and extended late in the evening, when music and dancing were added to the festivities of the day. The ladies present were Mrs. Haskell, Mrs. Whittlesey, the two Mrs. Corser and Mrs. Farley. The gentlemen present were J. T. Haskell, George Kilborn, Lawrence Farley, Austin and John Corser, Asaph Whittlesey, A. W. Burt, A. J. Barkley, Adam Goeltz, John Donaldson, Conrad Goeltz, Andrew Scobie and Duncan Sinclaire. The children present were Eugenia E. Whittlesey (less than three years old), George, son of Mrs. and Mrs. Austin Corser, also a child of Mr. and Mrs. John Corser, and William, John, Joseph and Hattie Haskell, children of Mr. and Mrs. J. P. T. Haskell."
Today Silver City, Michigan is mostly a collection of tourist-oriented resorts and other businesses along M-107 near the entrance to Porcupine Mountains State Park. But for three years in the 1870s it was a silver mining boom town. At the fur-trading post that was the first settlement there, stories circulated about silver found by Indians back in the woods away from Lake Superior. And so, gradually with the passing of the years, the stage was set for what became the silver boom. It was a relatively short affair that began in 1872, peaked in 1874, and was completely over by 1876. And had it not been for Austin Corser, there might not even have been such an episode.
Like many others, Corser had become intrigued by silver and the many vague myths and legends concerning its hiding places. And like many others he searched the countryside with a never-fading hope of finding some hidden source of the white metal. Vein rock containing native silver had been found in the river beds and on the beach. But the source remained a mystery.
Not until 1855 when Austin Corser stumbled upon an outcropping of native silver in the Little Iron River was its hiding place first indicated. With a great thoroughness Corser pursued his explorations. From the outcrop in the river he traced the vein across the stream and into the adjoining land. Convinced that the vein had considerable value, Corser sought out the government land office with the intent of filing a homesteader's claim. But alas! Here he learned that the land the silver vein crossed was not available from the government. It had been set aside to become part of a land grant to the Ontonagon and State Line Railroad Company, if and when a proposed railroad was built.
Corser, however, remained undaunted. Perhaps he had a hunch that the railroad would never become a reality. Anyway, he gambled that it would not by building a log cabin on the property alongside Little Iron River. And then to the bewilderment of his friends, he moved his wife and daughters from Ontonagon to this cabin. For the next seventeen years they endured the hardships and privations of a squatter's life in the back woods. What patience and persistence he had. But he was right! In the end, his gamble paid off. The company did not build the railroad. When its charter expired, the land reverted to the government. Thus the land became available for homesteading.
Corser filed a homesteader's claim at once, and in the course of time a patent was issued on the land. The silver vein now belonged to him. He was about to be rewarded for his many years of privations and waiting. Abandoning his prior air of secrecy, he announced his find to the world.
Early in 1872, he sold his land to a group of easterners for a goodly amount of money. That enabled him and his family to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. And his friends, who through the years had wondered about the sacrifices of the Corser family, now nodded their heads in understanding.
Corser, however, had not been idle during his long years of waiting. He had carefully explored the surrounding area, and in so doing had discovered a similar silver outcrop in the Big Iron River. His own claim now secure, he presented these facts to some potential buyers who with little persuasion quickly purchased the land on which the outcrop was located.
News of the silver discoveries spread rapidly. A land rush developed. It was the greatest since the early days of the copper craze three decades earlier. Within a short time all of the available government land for miles around, from Green to the east, Lake Gogebic to the south, the Wisconsin border to the west, had been purchased. Anyone fortunate enough to own land in this district, "penciled out in his own imagination the course of the vein through his property." These are the words of A. P. Swineford, editor of the Marquette Mining Journal. He was a shareholder in the Scranton Silver Mining Company which was organized by the eastern group to whom Corser had sold his property.
Swineford goes on to say that considerable land was sold without any regard for its mineral value. He further records that, "companies were organized and stock sold in several instances at good figures (for the sellers) and it is only charitable to suppose that all transactions were in good faith."
In support of this statement, of the twenty seven companies formed at the time with recorded articles of incorporation, most did little more than attempt to sell shares. A few did a little exploring, but only four, perhaps six, could be called true mining ventures. Finally, only a single bar of silver was ever shipped from the area.
Remains of Austin Corser's cabin, and the sweet Williams he planted, can still be seen by hiking up the Little Iron River from its mouth. For decades Bob Daly of Fenton, Michigan (near Flint) poked around the cabin. Now the things he found (bottles, hardware, etc.) are part of the Austin Corser exhibit at the Ontonagon Historical Society Museum.
In the 1870 State Census for Carp Lake, Ontonagon County, Michigan the family of Austin Corser was enumerated as follows;
Dwelling #1; Family #1
Corser, Austin; 47; M; W; Farmer; Real property $325; Personal property $200; b. Vermont; Male citizen of US of 21 years of age and upwards
Corser, Sarah A.; 34; F; W; Keeping house; b. Ireland; Both parents of foreign birth
Corser, George E.; 16; M; W; At home; b. Wisconsin; Mother of foreign birth
Corser, Fannie; 13; F; W; At home; b. Wisconsin; Mother of foreign birth; Attended school within the census year
Corser, Marybird; 6; F; W; At home; b. Michigan; Mother of foreign birth
Corser, Bessie; 5; F; W; At home; b. Michigan; Mother of foreign birth
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