Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



Answer Man: Gold mine almost put St. Charles on the map

I have to tell you, my boss is a heckuva reporter.

The shaft of a mining tunnel on the Gainey farm. The shaft was begun in 1910 and, by 1923, it had been extended about 700 feet into the hill. Before operations stopped in 1924 or 1925, it was 830 feet into the hillside. The 260-foot shaft of gold, "under the chickey coop door" on the Gainey farm never was found.

I have to tell you, my boss is a heckuva reporter.

He was in charge of the Post-Bulletin Dialogues public meeting in St. Charles a few weeks ago, and a guy made a passing reference to a gold mine that was in the St. Charles area, once upon a time. It wasn't a metaphoric gold mine, as in, "The Answer Man column is a gold mine for the Post-Bulletin." There was a real gold mine in the St. Charles area long ago.

Whether there was any gold in the mine is another story. More on that in a second. But my boss made a note, asked me to track it down, and here we are.

Now that I think about it, I'm a heckuva reporter, not him. But it was his tip.

The Gainey gold mine , as it was called, is hardly a secret in Winona County. I did a little digging in the P-B archive and found an obituary for John R. Decker, of St. Charles, from 2009. According to the obituary, his farm "contained the Gainey Gold Mine of local lore." So the Gainey mine is "local lore" around the Whitewater Valley, but now, I'm going to ensure people worldwide know about it.


According to a news story in the St. Charles Press in 2009 (based in part on earlier clips in the P-B), the mine dates from about 1910, when an enterprising pioneer named M.W. Gainey and his brothers did some prospecting on their land east of St. Charles and declared there was gold to be mined. They began digging, and by 1910, they had a mine.

They also had a business plan. They began selling stock in the venture, called the Minnesota Gold Mining Co. According to the Press news story, "Shares were one dollar, and capital raised was to go to exploration and extraction costs. That exploration and extraction went on for years and years without a return to shareholders."

The story says 625,000 shares of common stock were sold.

"It's widely assumed that there wasn't actual gold in those mines, that samples 'extracted' from the mine were actually seeded," the story says. "An example of such is available for viewing at the Winona County Historical Society."

The gold mine project was advanced in part by Gainey's wife, who encouraged the use of a fortune teller to find gold on the property.

You can see where this is headed — it's not unlike the type of thing that involved Tom Petters in our own era. It's also like the Minnesota Ice Man scam that was perpetrated on area county fairs in the 1960s and '70s.

By the mid-1920s, when the project was abandoned, the mine went about 830 feet into the hill, and it appears not one fleck of gold was found. More ore was found in the Zumbro River at Oronoco in 1857 than was found in St. Charles, and that's not a lot.

A news story in the Winona Republican-Herald in 1925 called the Gainey mining project a "smooth swindle game." In the end, the law caught up with the Gaineys, and the mine was boarded up.


Thanks to Walt Bennick, an archivist for the Winona County Historical Society, for finding the news clips. And don't go looking for the mine; it's on private property.

The moral of the story: If somebody tries to sell you stock in a gold mine, on land where there's no geological reason to find anything more than limestone and dirt, at a site chosen by a fortune teller, call me -- it'll make a great column.

M.W. Gainey, owner of the St Charles gold mine.

What To Read Next
Get Local