An Ozark Journey: What happened to the Newton Mining Company?
Over the past two centuries, there have been many who came to Ozark County in search of something. For some it has been tranquility, for some a desire to be independent and for some a quest for spiritual enrichment.
We tend to hear little or nothing about those who came seeking fortunes, probably because most were not very successful. That doesn’t mean they didn’t exist.
One of the county’s many appealing assets in the early days of settlement was a proven wealth of minerals. This attracted a number of investors and a considerable amount of private enterprise surface mining. A survey of Ozark County on one reputable internet site identified 51 mines – and that did not include any of the backyard projects. If folklore is any indicator, these hills are literally laced with old surface mines— perhaps as many mines as there were mills.
In an earlier column about the Old Salt Road, we briefly mentioned the Bratten Store south of Isabella. While researching that early trading post, we noticed on a 1930 plat map of Ozark County that near Bratten’s first store was a considerable plot of land owned by the Newton Mining Company—677 acres, to be exact. In that story, as we progressed north along the route of the Salt Road, we spotted another large section of land northwest of Noble. It too was owned by the Newton Mining Company. This plot consisted of 905.75 acres.
Like the Davis Mill mystery, nobody I spoke with knew anything about the Newton mining enterprise. It seemed odd to me that a firm owning nearly 1,600 acres of land in Ozark County as late as 1930 would be all but forgotten in this day and age. I couldn’t help but wonder who or what this mining company was and what happened to it?
Searching for answers
The first part of that question would seem fairly easy to answer, simply by ask Siri or launching a Google search for “Newton Mining Company” on the internet. The problem is that there are, and have been, several Newton Mining Companies across the country, reaching back to before the Civil War. They seem to have no connection whatever to each other and are incorporated in different states from coast to coast.
What to do? Check them all!
I did, and it turned out to be quite a journey. Fortu-nately, I happen to love research. Eventually, the fog cleared.
On March 14, 1859, Missouri’s General Assem-bly enacted a bill that granted corporate status to Newton Mining Company. Named in the bill as a “body corporate” were 10 Missouri residents, most of whom were immigrants from Europe. The principal founders appear to have been Woldemar August “Gustavus” Fischer and Isidor Bush.
Woldemar Fischer was born in Dresden, Germany. He served as a captain in the 13th Cavalry Regiment of the Missouri State Militia. During the Civil War, he was promoted to major and commanded the 5th Missouri Cavalry. His 10-year-old son, also named Woldemar, was born in St. Louis and is included among the 10 incorporators. Also included was his son-in-law, Emil Ulrici, who was born in Berlin, Germany.
Isidor Bush (also spelled Busch, but not connected to the Busch of Budweiser fame) was born in Prague, Czech Republic, and married Theresa Taussig in 1844. He grew up in Austria and fled to America in the wake of the failed revolutions of 1848. Isidor became a very successful wine producer in the St. Louis area, where Theresa’s family had settled earlier. In 1857, he was made president of the People’s Savings Bank in St. Louis. During the Civil War he served as a captain and was aide de camp to Gen. John C. Fremont. Isidor’s brother-in-law, Charles Taussig, and William Taussig, a cousin of Isidor’s wife, were also on the list of Newton Mining Company incorporators.
Investors Emil Leeman, Henry Lehrman and John T. Fiala rounded out the list of 10. Fiala, born in Hungary, served as a colonel in the Civil War and commanded the 2nd Regiment of the Missouri Home Guard. He also served on General Fremont’s staff, along with Isidor Bush.
Although the Missouri Secretary of State’s online database lists Newton Mining Company (Charter No. A00000875) as being in “good standing” and the duration as “perpetual,” no contact information or activity has been recorded since its creation in 1859.
The mining company’s land once owned near Noble is now part of the Mark Twain National Forest. The property south of Isabella became part of the Corps of Engineers’ land acquisitions in 1947 (tract # R1743). Today, it is almost entirely under Bull Shoals Lake.
There is no evidence that mining operations were ever conducted on either of these pieces of land, although preliminary tests and assessments were performed. Shortly after incorporation, the Civil War broke out, and several of the investors and organizers served in the Missouri State Militia or the Home Guard. Ozark County was essentially depopulated during the war, and its recovery took decades.
Mining operations require heavy transports for equipment and supplies as well as for product shipping. After the war, the much anticipated railway development through West Plains and Gainesville to Spring-field was abandoned. That may well have been the death knell for commercial mining in western Ozark County.
Why then, did the company hold its properties here well into the 20th century? An article in The Lead and Zinc News of Jan. 1, 1901, titled “South Central Missouri’s Wealth” gives us some insight.
In summary, it says: “Mineral lands are cheap throughout the county: In fact there is little land that mineral cannot be found on, and there are thousands of acres to be had at agricultural prices. Labor is cheap, because living is cheap, and with the three-fold proposition of a soil rich in minerals, productive of every fruit that grows in the temperate zone and the crops never failing, it offers a proposition for investment that should not, cannot fail to attract outside capital.”
Although these words were written almost 120 years ago, they still have a ring of truth today. Capitalists thrive on stable, long-term investments. The initial investment by Newton Mining Company was minimal, and the holding costs were very low. While they never did realize the potential profits of a successful mine, the company or its successors undoubtedly saw a fair return on investment when these properties were acquired by the U.S. government.
For those with foresight and patience, an Ozark Journey is hard to beat.