Mining gold near Togo? The rush is … on hold

Ian McShane’s Al Swearingen in “Deadwood” (screenshot)

So I binge watched “Deadwood” recently.

I know, I know. No one wants to hear what I’m watching on TV. We’re all busy watching one of 9,000 shows on 50 different platforms, having independent experiences that confine us all to our own small community of strangers. Or we’re not watching TV at all because we’re so damn special.

But I watched “Deadwood,” a 15-year-old show that lots of people don’t remember. And I’m going somewhere with this.

“Deadwood” tells a fictionalized version of the Black Hills gold rush in South Dakota. Rooted in historical truth, the story puts words in the mouths of names enshrined in western legend. But the most interesting part of it is the way that these coarse and striving characters interact while confined to a clapboard pioneer town in the middle of nowhere. And how they react when powerful forces come to take it all away.

See, in 1880, a gold rush meant people. Men came first to claw at the rocks and pan the rivers. They pushed and shoved for the best position. The successful sold to companies that came with workers by the dozens, or hundreds. These workers took up the charge, their hammers sounding thunder from the mountains. “Boom times” meant BOOM TIMES, with countless entrepreneurs, weasels and hangers-on ready to profit off the new eco-system of human progress.

All of which provided the kind of tension that made one of TV’s best dramas possible.

We experienced a gold rush here in Northern Minnesota not long after the time of the real Deadwood’s boom in the 19th Century. No significant finds were made around Lake Vermilion. Nevertheless, astute miners quickly figured out there was plenty of iron in the region.

And despite a century extracting monumental lodes of iron ore Northern Minnesota still falls into the grips of gold fever time to time. This becomes especially true as new technology allows companies to extract trace amounts of gold from previously unprofitable reserves.

Case in point, recent news that international mining company AngloGold Ashanti will conduct more test boring for gold in a rural location near Togo, Minnesota. For a year, the third largest gold miner in the world extracted core samples from this rustic, rugged stretch of pine forest just south of the Itasca/Koochiching county line. Now they’re coming back for more.

It’s too early to say whether this translates into a gold mine on the drive between my house and the family deer camp in Greaney. Many have immediately focused on the potential environmental impact of gold mining in this area. Certainly, that’s a concern.

But I’m more interested in the fact that a mining “boom” in these times does not come with the same human element as it did in Deadwood or even here on the Mesabi, Vermilion and Cuyuna iron ranges. It’s more surgical. Like getting a boil lanced. In and out. Tylenol ought to be enough for the pain.

Some future TV drama might depict a crew cab pickup pulling up to a test site. Some men pile out and hook up the boring rig. They extract a sample before lunch and load it into the truck to be shipped overnight to a lab in Zurich. And thus ends Episode 1.

Five years of work for a few dozen people, and a science experiment left behind.

No drama in it. And not much for us to fight for, even if there’s plenty to fight about. Not even worth serving peaches over.

Seems to me we need “rush” more than we need gold. I’m curious how we get there.

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