Dakota Datebook

The Gold Rush in Lisbon

  “Gold.” The mere mention of the word sets pulses pounding and hearts longing for the glistening yellow metal. When a landowner finds flecks of gold on his land, he hopes for bigger flakes, or golden nuggets, or even the mother lode. Such a landowner was H.W. Griswold, a Chicago businessman, who bought 340 acres of Ransom County land, nine miles west of the fledgling town of Lisbon in the spring of 1883. Griswold bought acreage along the beautiful Sheyenne River – presumably as cattle pasturage. Sometime that summer, however, Mr. Griswold found gold in a mound of dirt thrown up by a gopher. He took the dirt to an assayer and was told “it was rich in gold.”

Griswold searched further and found more gold in an “eighty-foot ledge” of quartz and other rocks, and had it analyzed by experts. The analysis on 130 specimens of sand and rock calculated out to $414 to $1,360 of gold to the pan, with some silver in there, too.

News of the gold leaked out through an electrifying article in the local Lisbon newspaper in late October, 1883. Within days, a Lisbon Gold Rush was on, as articles appeared in Grand Forks, Bismarck, and all the way to Chicago and New York.

Griswold gathered a cadre of Chicago investors to buy rock-crushing mining machinery, and their company started ore-digging immediately. Other frenzied gold-seekers bought up the land along the Sheyenne River, for twenty miles from Lisbon to Fort Ransom. Lisbon was wild with excitement – with gold fever.

But, on this date in 1884, the Grand Forks Herald reported that Griswold and his associates had “abandoned all further mining enterprises until spring,” leaving “one by one” as a frigid Dakota winter touched their fingers and toes.

When April arrived, Griswold came back, bringing an ore-crushing machine to smash an accumulated 2,000 tons of raw ore. During the summer, the gold rush fizzled – Griswold’s ore didn’t pan out. By August, a report told that the “few people who worked the Lisbon gold mines have quit.”

Once the Lisbon gold rush was over, shouts of “gold!” were hushed and replaced by the murmuring waters of the Sheyenne River flowing over the shining gravel near the former “Griswold Mine,” – perhaps awaiting another gold rush in 2013, after this story ripples through the Prairie Public listenership.


Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.


“Lisbon Gold Mines, Work Abandoned for the Winter,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, January 8, 1884.

“Rich Gold Discoveries,” St. Paul Sunday Globe, October 21, 1883, p. 5.

“Dakota,” Minneapolis Tribune, May 21, 1884, p. 5.

“The Lisbon Gold Excitement,” Minneapolis Tribune, October 23, 1883, p. 4.

“’Lisbon’s Wild,’ Immense Gold Discovery Just Made,” Grand Forks Herald, October 23, 1883.

“The Gold Discovery: The Lisbon Mining Company,” Grand Forks Herald, October 27, 1883.

“The Hegira for Lisbon,” Grand Forks Herald, October 26, 1883.

“Gold Excitement Still Intense, and Lisbon Fast Becoming the Mecca of the Northwest,” Grand Forks Herald, November 2, 1883.


“Gold Found In Dakota,” New York Times, October 21, 1883, p. 2.

“Reported Discoveries of Rich Deposits of Gold at Lisbon, Dakota,” Chicago Tribune, October 22, 1883, p. 6.

“The Lisbon Gold Excitement,” Bismarck Tribune, October 26, 1883, p. 1.

“Dakota,” Minneapolis Tribune, August 4, 1884, p. 5.

“The Gold-Hunters,” Chicago Tribune, April 6, 1884, p. 11.

John Bluemle, “Gold In North Dakota,” Department of Mineral Resources, Geological Survey, North Dakota, nd.gov/ndgs/ndnotes/Gold/Gold.asp, accessed on December 11, 2012.


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