Copper ‘in Them Thar Hills’ — Part 2

by Richard Nielsen

Attempt by Matsen & Longley to lasso Mining Superintendent Pearson. Image from San Francisco Examiner.

By late May of 1898, the Bolinas residents opposed to the local mining operation, had removed everything easily portable from the Golden Crown mine operation This included food, horses, wagons, hoisting engine, blacksmith tools, etc. After securing these items in a barn, they headed back to the mine, intent on destroying as much of it as possible. But they didn’t reckon with one remaining person — Superintendent Pearson’s wife Florence. Florence Pearson faced down the Bolinas men with a pistol as they approached the mine works. Undoubtedly more than a few heated words warmed the air in Union Gulch before the disgruntled men disbanded and headed back to town.

On Monday morning, Superintendent Pearson took control of the situation. Accompanied by some of his mine workers, he located the barn with the purloined mining equipment. A lone guard at the barn buckled at the approach of the well-armed miners. The miners loaded everything into a half-dozen wagons and hauled it all back to the mines. However, the temporary absence of the pump had resulted in flooding which set back mining operations for a few days.

Some of the more impulsive individuals in Bolinas wanted to tar and feather Pearson. They enlisted the aid of Attorney Cochrane to renew the law suit. The Poma brothers obtained warrants for the arrest of Pearson and those who had aided him. Pearson and his men were well-armed, and Pearson said he would fight to the death. Pearson was supported by other Marin County residents who joined him to stand against the Bolinas renegades.

Though the renegades were not supported by the more respectable citizens of Bolinas, the volatility of the situation was palpable in town.

Resentment against mining Superintendent Pearson had been building for some time. Superintendent Pearson, almost 23, would acquire the moniker ‘Wildcat Pearson’ for his brashness. Though young, at six feet tall, he was an imposing man for that time. A mechanical engineer and graduate of Stanford University, he was one of the models for the Mechanics Statue at First and Market Street in San Francisco. His fair complexion contrasted with that of many of the local Bolinas residents, who were well-tanned farmers and laborers. He was also better educated than most of them.

Mechanics Statue following the 1906 S.F. Earthquake.One of his figures is modeled after Mine Superintendent Pearson.

All of this may have contributed to their dislike for Pearson. According to them, he was “too much of a dude.” Newspaper articles indicate that a loathing for Pearson’s father also contributed to Pearson’s unpopularity. It was Pearson’s father who, in 1890, while vacationing in Bolinas, had acquired the rights to the copper mine.

Some days after the stand-off between Pearson and the renegades, Sheriff Henry Harrison reported that the simmering conflict in Bolinas appeared to have abated. However, 21-year old Wally Matsen and 19-year old Walter Longley, sons of local ranchers, were soon to be arrested for attempting to kill Pearson.

In September, the youth tried to lasso Pearson when he appeared in town to pick up mail. When Pearson got off his wagon, Matsen attacked him, but Pearson -who was taller- threw Matsen to the ground. Bystanders held Longley in check. Matsen then drew a Bowie knife. Pearson backed off and quickly entered Bonaiti’s store, locking the door behind him. After borrowing a rifle, Pearson returned to his wagon and left for the mine.

Longley and Matsen caught up with Pearson at the cemetery near the Catholic Church. They threatened him, saying they were going to lasso and hang him. However, they backed off when he stood up to them with the borrowed rifle. Just before Pearson reached the mine, they again caught up with him. This time, shots were exchanged. Some claimed there were as many as twenty-one shots fired. Fortunately, both sides were bad shots, although one shot did pierce Longley’s hat.

Before the feud, the Pearsons relax on the second floor deck of their cottage, named ‘Escondita’. © Louise Bea

Afterwards, Pearson returned to Bolinas and phoned Sheriff Harrison. The following morning, Sheriff Harrison arrested Longley and Matsen after hunting them down in the hills. They were charged with assault to commit murder. Both were released after posting a bond of $1500, pending a hearing. Friends and supporters of Pearson and the miners arrived from San Rafael and beyond to lend them support.

Eventually, Pearson paid the Poma brothers for the wood. Tempers abated and no further incidents were reported.

By March 1899, the owners of the Golden Crown Mine ended their operation at Dogtown. The mines and all of the equipment were sold for $150,000 to an eastern syndicate. Though the new owners of Golden Crown Mining and Milling Company re-opened an abandoned shaft in March of 1900 and discovered high grade copper ore, expenses outweighed rewards, and the mine was abandoned. In 1904, a fire that swept Bolinas Ridge destroyed all of the mine buildings.

Demand for copper during World War I raised the price of copper and made the Bolinas copper mines profitable for a brief time between 1917 and 1918. After being abandoned for fifteen years, a syndicate formed the Bolinas Copper Company and bought the mining rights from Jim Wilkins on whose ranch the mines were located.

A vertical shaft was extended to a depth of 180 feet. An 8-foot square concrete wall was constructed around the shaft to keep the creek water out. I observed the concrete wall as late as the early 1960s. Since then, it has entirely disappeared under creek deposits. As digging progressed, a dynamo was installed and electrical lighting was provided in the drifts. As had been the case at the turn of the century, constant pumping of water was required to make mining feasible.

An early drift from the 100 foot level reached a rich vein about 30 feet from the original Golden Crown shaft. Eventually, drifts stretched out to nine parallel veins in serpentine rock.

As expected, small amounts of gold, silver, and lead were also recovered. A nearby mill concentrated the metal content of the ore before it was shipped on the Owl and other vessels to the Selby Smelting works in Pinole (Contra Costa County) for final processing.

Though many miners were hired from elsewhere, some men, including Joseph Mendoza, were hired from the local community. In March of 1918, one of the miners, John S Martin from Globe, AZ, was killed when he fell down a twenty-foot shaft. By April, the mining company employed nearly fifty men and ran a double shift with men working day and night. Safety concerns and demand for higher pay prompted a strike by miners in June. A total of 22,500 pounds of copper were produced in 1918. Nevertheless, the mine finally closed and never reopened.

NOTE: All photos for the two-part Copper ‘in Them Thar Hills are courtesy of Louise Bea, John Pearson’s granddaughter.

Originally published at

The official Medium account of the archive of Marin County history & culture at the Marin County Free Library