The town was named for Joseph E. Gay, a director of the Mohawk and Wolverine Mining Companies. He explored the area that was eventually used for mining and milling.
In 1896, a lumberman named Ernest Koch found some native copper where the Mohawk Mine was eventually built. Exploration by Joseph E. Gay proved the find to be valuable.
In 1898, the Mohawk Mining Company was formed. Gay became president of both the Mohawk and Wolverine Mining Companies in 1906.