Whitlatch Lode and other Quartz Mines

Under the first quartz-mining law of Montana, 100 feet in length constituted a claim. The second legislature changed this to 200 feet along the lode, with all the dips, spurs, and angles, and 50 feet on each side of the lode for working purposes; but 1,000 feet of ground might be taken in each direction along the lode for the same uses. Montana Scraps, 39. The person discovering a lode was entitled to one claim for the discovery and one by preemption.

In September 1864 James W. Whitlatch, born in Pa, not much cultured in book-knowledge, but with great shrewdness and an indomitable will, who had become acquainted with mining and milling ores in Nevada and Colorado, was looking for a quartz location, having prospected in several districts before he came to Prickly Pear, where he tried working some silver-bearing galena ores which proved intractable from the presence of copper and antimony. The expenditure, in a country of high prices, reduced his exchequer to naught, and he sought Last Chance gulch, there to encamp for the winter with eight companions. The placers were paying enormously, and believing that quartz is the mother of placer gold, he began searching for the veins. In this search he was assisted by his eight messmates, who, having less faith, and desiring to test their fortunes in the placer diggings, bound him to an agreement to give up the pursuit if at the close of a certain day of the month he Lad not found his bonanza. The day was drawing to a close, and his companions had returned to camp, when Whitlatch caught sight of a fragment of quartz, which on being broken open by his pick showed free gold. It was with a quickened pulse that he struck it into the earth and uncovered the long-sought lode.

This was the famous Whitlatch mine. In order to work it, a company was formed of succeeding claimants, called the Whitlatch Union Mining Company. In 1864-5 there was taken out a good quantity of ore worth on an average forty dollars per ton, and in Sept. 1866 the mill of the National Mining and Exploring Company commenced crushing it, followed by several others which were erected in this and the following year. These were the Turnley, Hendie, Sensenderfer & Whitlatch, and Kicker & Price mill the first 2 erected in 1866. Virginia Montana Post, Dec. 25, 1867. Over 32,000 tons were worked before the close of 1867, yielding $1,001,500. The cost of mining and milliner ores in Montana at this period was enormous, but $7 per ton to get out the ore, and from $15 to $18 for crushing it, in gold when gold was worth a premium of 100 per cent. The profit was therefore small, but such as it was, Whitlatch, with the true enterprise of a pioneer devoted to the further development of his own and neighboring mines. I X L owned by J. C. Ricker and M. A. Price, was claim No. 1 west of Whitlatch discovery claim. Whitlatch and Sensenderfer was claim No. 3 east and claim No. 3 west on the lode, from discovery, a half-interest in which was sold to Sensenderfer in June 1869, and a 30-stamp mill erected thereon. The property was resold to a Philadelphia company under the name of The Columbia Mining Company of Montana, managed by B. H. Tatem. Claim N 4 east was owned equally by this company and by E. Mansfield & Co, Claim No. 2 east was owned by Mansfield and E. Hodson. The westward extension on the Union lode was called the Parkinson, and was owned by J. W. Whitlatch, J. Parkinson, W. Parkinson, and C. McClure. On the extension, the Essex Mining Company, composed of Thomas Parkinson, W. Parkinson, Thomas Argyle, and C. McClure, owned 1,800 feet. They received a patent for the ground from the U. S., the first granted in Montana under a law of congress concerning quartz claims. The mill site included 10 acres on Grizzly gulch, ¼ mile from the mine. More fortunate than many other men of his class, he secured a fortune for his own uses.

The discovery of the Whitlatch lode led to a quartz excitement, not only about Helena, but in every other part of Montana. The Cliff was a promising lode at Helena, discovered by Worden and Hall, on which 18 claims were located, 9 of which were consolidated in one company known as the Croesus Mining Company. The crevice of the Cliff was from 20 to 200 feet wide, and it rose in many places 30 feet above the surface. It formed a dividing line between the slate and granite formations. It crossed the gulches in the vicinity of Helena, all of which paid well below it, and none paid above it from which it would appear that it must have been the source of their riches. The Owyhee Park mines also were famous in 1866. Professor Hodge was agent of the National Mining and Exploring Company of New York, who owned them. Turnley’s mill commenced running on the ores in the latter part of August 1866. Helena Republican Sept. 1, 1866. Hodge and his son Russell were indicted in January 1867 for killing George Moore because he took timber from the company’s land. Virginia Montana Post, Feb. and March 9, 1867. The Bullion Mining Company, of Nilson’s gulch, commenced crushing their ores in November 1866. The Sultana, at the head of Grizzly gulch, had a ten-stamp mill erected by J. Gormley & Co. at work in November also. It was erected by Richard Fisher. His partner, Clifford was superintendent for a New York company which owned 5 mills in Georgia before the rebellion. The property being confiscated, Clifford migrated to Colorado, and mined there lor 5 years before coming to Montana. Among other mines partially opened in 1865 near Helena was the Uncle Sam, owned by a miner from Scotland named Brown, who had formerly worked on the Gould and Curry lode of Nevada. This mine was said at the period of it discovery to be the richest in the known world, being a well-defined ledge five feet wide, three fourths of which was pure gold, and the remainder principally bismuth. The quartz casing containing the vein, it was stated, would assay from $500 to $2,000. Making every allowance for over-enthusiasm, the Uncle Sam was undoubtedly a mine of very unusual richness, with one of these bonanzas at the top which have not been altogether unknown in other mines.

While quartz-mining was being followed with so much earnestness in the regions of Bannack and Helena, it was being prosecuted also in the neighborhood of Virginia City. In Summit district, five miles south of the then capital of Montana, four mills were running on ores from the mines in that vicinity. In Hot Springs district, 30 miles north of Virginia City, were three others. Idaho mill was the first in Madison County, and began pounding ore with 12 stamps in Dec. 1865. It was not successful, being replaced by another little more than a year later. Virginia Montana Post, Dec. 30, 1865. The following year Seneca Falls mill, in a large frame structure with excellent machinery, Scranton mill with a Dodge crusher, in a stone building, and Excelsior mill with 20 stamps, in a fine, large building, were added. In a gulch just below Summit was the Foster mill with 24 stamps, crushing ore from the Mesler lode. A 50-stamp mill was on its way from the east, in May, intended for Mill Creek mines in the same county. The owners were James A. Dowdall, Manlius Branham, and C. C. Branham. The first run was made on the Lady Suffolk lode. Two mills arrived in Summit in Oct., for Frank Chistnot, from Nebraska City, overland. The best known lodes of Summit district were the Yankee Blade, Lucas, assaying $2,000,000 per ton, Caverone from 15 to 40 feet in width, Oro Cache, and Keystone.

There was one belonging to Raglan, Cope, and Napton, a custom mill, and one to the Clark and Upson Mining Company, and of which Professor Eaton was the agent. Helena Republican, Sept. 13, 1866. The mines in Hos Springs district which were worked at this period were the Cotopaxi, Gold Hill, Esop, Oro Fino, Sebastopol, Buena Vista, Poco Tiempo, Alpha, Cleopatra, Mark Anthony, May Reid, Megatherium, Brooklyn, and Pony. The latter was the leading mine. Virginia Montana Post, Feb. 24, 1866. Several other mills and mines appear in 1867, owned by H. A. Ward, McAndrews, Warre & Co., Isaacs, and L. W. Borton. At Pipestone, a few miles north of Hot Springs, a mill was erected in 1866. At Fish Creek, a short distance south of the Pipestone, the Red Mountain district was opened too late in the season for the introduction of mills.

Northeast of and within about fifteen miles of Helena, on the east side of the Missouri, was the Trout Creek district, in which both mills and arastras were busily at work grinding and pounding out gold from rock of great richness, at a place called New York, on a creek flowing into the Missouri, with a Brooklyn on the opposite side, the two towns having a population of about 400. John A. Gaston, one of the first comers, and an Englishman, was associated with Simpson in a 30-stamp quartz-mill. Each stamp weighed 600 pounds, and dropped 35 times a minute, pounding 22 tons in 24 hours. It started up Aug. 28, 1866. A water-power mill, with an 11 foot over-shot wheel, was located west of the steam-mill, and carried six 500-pound stamps, crushing a ton a day each. This was the pioneer mill of Trout Creek district, and belonged to Wessel & Wilkes, and started Aug. 25th. It had an arastra attached. Another water mill was erected by Cullen, and a 20-stamp steam-mill by Hendrie A. Cass, during the summer. An arastra belonging to Rumlay & Watrous consisted of a circular basin 12 feet in diameter, with 5 mullers, weighing in the aggregate 3,000 pounds. It reduced 1,000 pounds of ore in 6 hours, with one hand, and was run by waterpower from an over-shot wheel, 8 feet in diameter.

The Star of the West was the first ledge developed in this district. Seven tons yielded $387.50 in Wessell & Wilkes’ arastra, at a total expense of $97.50. The Nonpareil, Grizzly, Alta, Excelsior No. 2, Little Giant, Zebra, Chief of Montana, Hidbard, Trout, Keystone, Humboldt, Sampson, and Old Dad were more or less worked in 1866.

The mines, both placer and quartz, were discovered in January, by four hunters returning from an exploring expedition to Sun River. These men were Moore, Price, Ritter and Spivy. The valley of Trout Creek was 2½ by 11 miles in extent. The stream furnished the famous New York and other gulches, and numerous bars. A rumor of rich discoveries at the mouth of Sun River, in the winter of 1865-6, drew a rush of prospectors in that direction in the months of January and February. Many were frozen to death, or had their hands and feet frozen. Five bodies were found in the spring. Most of the explorers returned disappointed. Idaho World, Feb. 24 and March 17, 1866. A large number of immigrants by the northern route (Fisk’s train) stopped there in the summer, but abandoned that region in October. Virginia and Helena Post, Oct. 11, 1866. They also explored the Bear Paw Mountains. Helena Republican, Aug. 21, 1866.

In June 1866 both quartz and placer mines were discovered on Crow Creek, on the west side of the Missouri, nearly due west of the south end of the Belt Range of mountains, which has furnished so great a number of good mines on the east side. At this place the town of Radersburg was laid off in October, one mile from the road leading from Helena to Gallatin. The first lode found was the Blipp, by J. A. Cooper and George Beard. The Johnny Keating, by Keating and Blacher, Ironclad, Leviathan, Twilight, Nighthawk, Ohio, Ultramarine, Robert E. Lee, and 20 others were located during the summer. Virginia Montana Post, May 2, 1868. The district, a rich one, and Radersburg had, in 1808, 600 inhabitants. In the Silver Bow and Blackfoot regions quartz was being daily discovered. In December 1865 there had been discovered the Lioness, Rocker, Shamrock, Original, Alhambra, Wild Pat, Mountaineer, Polar Star, Lepley, Dewey, Arctic, Fairmount, and a host of others. Quartz was discovered near McClellan gulch by Henry Prosser and Charles Melvin, 1,000 feet of which sold for $10,000. This was the Glencoe mine. Helena Republican, Aug. 18, 1866. But there appear to have been no mills introduced west of the Rocky Mountains until later.

The first arrival of hydraulic machinery in Montana was in November 1805, when the Nelson Hydraulic Mining Company imported four engines of ten-horse power, throwing water eighty feet high, with iron piping and india-rubber hose extensions. Another powerful hydraulic machine was imported by N. G. McComb in September 1866, and put up on Zoller’s bar, near Bannack. The construction of bedrock flumes and extensive ditches was only just begun. There were 500 or more gulches in Montana which produced well, and about twenty that were remarkably rich. Some were soon exhausted, but a good number paid well for the introduction of improved means of mining. As early as 1867 there were over thirty-two miles of ditching at French bar, near Cañon ferry, east of Helena, and ninety-six flumes, the cost of which was $75,000, and was at that period the largest improvement of the kind in Montana. The Bowlder ditch, owned by McGregor, Metcalf, & Speigle of California, which supplied the mines around Diamond City, was five miles long, and cost $60,000. The excessive cost of the work was occasioned by having to use 1,716 feet of pipe in crossing Confederate gulch. S. F, Alta, March 23, 1808. The El Dorado bar ditch, north of French bar was 4½ miles long, and cost $50,000; and many smaller ditches had been constructed east of the Missouri, whose aggregate cost was about a quarter of a million. The Ten-Mile ditch at Helena was completed in June 1867. It was built by Henry B. Truett, who came to Montana in 1866, Truett, born in Maryland in 1814, removed to Illinois, and worked a lead mine; thence to Cal. in 1849, where he made and spent a fortune. He operated in mining in Nevada, and from there went to Montana. A good citizen and courteous gentleman. Died April 23, 1869, aged 58 years, leaving a family. Virginia Montana Post, April 30th. Deer Lodge County had, in 1869, nearly 300 miles of ditches, costing $498,000, and carrying an aggregate of 20,350 inches of water. Deer Lodge New Northwest, Aug. 27, 1869. A nine-mile ditch, carrying 2,500 inches of water, was completed to Norwegian gulch, in Madison County, in 1876, and similar expenditures will yet be made in some of the richer placer districts. A flume was completed to Confederate gulch in 1879. There had been one built in 1876, which a flood destroyed. It was rebuilt by the owner, James King. It was but one mile in length, but it was estimated that it would require 25 years of constant work to exhaust the ground controlled by it. Helena Herald, Nov. 18, 1879.

In mining countries the usual succession is, first placer gold, then quartz gold, and lastly silver mining. In Montana the discovery of gold and silver quartz was contemporaneous. The first experiments with silver quartz were made in the Blue Wing and Rattlesnake districts, a few miles east and northeast of Bannack. The first lodes of the Blue Wing district were the Huron, Wide West, Blue Wing, Arizona, and Silver Rose; of the Rattlesnake distinct, Legal Tender, White Cloud, New World, Watson, and Dictator. Virginia Montana Post, March 31, 1866. The ores carried enough galena to make them reducible by the smelting process, furnaces being set up in 1866 by several companies. The first smelter was erected at Marysville by the New York and Montana Mining, Prospecting, and Discovery Company. Their scientist was A. K. Eaton, and their general manager E. Loring Pratt of Cleveland, Ohio. In 1868 the St Louis Smelting Co. erected furnaces at Argenta. The Rocky Mountain Gold and Silver Mining Company put up a cupelling furnace at Marysville, just east of Bannack, Charles D. Everett superintendent. The ore smelted was from the Wide West in Blue Wing district. A blasting-furnace was erected by Professor Eaton; a furnace and a 24-stamp mill by Duran & Co.; a cupel furnace in Rattlesnake district by Professor Augustus Steitz, on Legal Tender lode. The ore yielded 80 per cent lead. The mine was owned by Esler and others. The Stapleton and Henry Clay ores were also worked in this furnace. Virginia and Helena Post, Oct. 11 and Nov. 8 and 15, 1866. The Huron Silver Mining Company erected furnaces, Thomas W. Wood superintendent. A small town in this district, hitherto called Montana, suffered a change of appellation by the command of Augustus Steitz, and was henceforth known as Argenta, which name it seemed really to deserve from the quantity of argent which it turned out.

This was the beginning, and when the miners had begun to look for silver leads the epidemic had to run its course. They also began to talk about the placers being exhausted, and to dilate upon the importance of developing quartz, and doubtless the world is richer for their vagaries. When they came to look the country over, there really was no end of silver. Silver Bow, which in the first instance referred to a shining crescent of water, now meant that the crescent was backed by a wall of silver leads. In 1869 the judges at the industrial exhibition held at Helena gave the first premium to silver specimens from the S. C. Day mine, on Moose Creek, in the south end of Silver Bow County, then Deer Lodge. Deer Lodge New Northwest, Oct. 8, 1869. Mining in Colorado and Montana, by George Aux, is a manuscript of 14 pp., containing good references to early mining in the latter. In the most fertile and beautiful valleys, which should have been sacred to bucolic pursuits, cropped up legions of silver lodes, mutably in the country about the three forks of the Missouri River, and on both sides of that river for a hundred miles. Silver lodes were found in Jefferson County, in 1806, near where the most famous mines of the present are being worked. The Gregory, owned by Axers and Mimmaw, was located near Jefferson City. Virginia and Helena Post, Nov. 10, 1860.

But it now began to be observed that Montana was not advancing in wealth as it should have been with these grand resources. In January 1868 there were forty quartz-mills in the country already in operation, and half a dozen not yet set up, yet there had been a steady falling off in the treasure production since 1865, which was continued during a period of ten years. I borrow from Strahorn’s Montana the following table, which by comparison with the most reliable statements I find to represent, as nearly as possible, the gold and silver production of the territory:

1862 $600,000
1863 8,000,000
1804 16,000,000
1865 18,000,000
1806 17,000,000
1867 16,000,000
1868 15,000,000
1809 11,000,000
1870 9,000,000
1871 8,000,000
1872 7,000,000
1873 5,200,000
1874 4,000,000
1875 4,100.000
1876 4.500,000
1877 3,750,000
1878 4,867,000
1879 5,000.000
1880 6,500,000

Total $164,517,000

Which amount is distributed by counties as follows:

Beaverhead. $19,500,000
Deer Lodge 26,367,000
Gallatin 650.000
Jefferson 5,500,000
Lewis and Clarke 29,000,000
Madison $79,500,000
Meagher 13,000,000
Missoula. 1,000,000

Total $104,517,000

W. A. Clark’s Centennial Historian for Montana, in Avant Courier, Feb. 23, 1877. Strahorn gives these figures. J. Koss Browne makes a lower estimate for the first 6 years; but Brown did not get his statistics at first hand. See Mineral Resources of Pacific States, 511. The Helena and Deer Lodge newspapers, which should be well informed, place the figures much higher. For instance, the secretary of the treasury makes the product of 1866 $18,000,000, while territorial authorities place it at $30,000,000 for that year.

To account for this reverse of progress is not difficult. The same happens in all mining countries in the first twenty years. The majority of the 30,000 or 40,000 people who flocked to Montana in the earlier years gathered up the most easily obtainable wealth and hurried away with it, often the same season. When a few years of this depletion had gone on, and it was becoming more difficult to pick up a fortune in a creek-bed or ravine, the discovery of new mining districts in Nevada, Colorado, and Wyoming drew away a large proportion of the mining population, who never returned or were replaced by others. Of these who were left, some settled upon land claims, investing their gold in farm-stock, mills, agricultural implements, and buildings. Two classes were left, merchants who lived upon the profits of trade, and mining men who had a real interest in the country; and they had a heavy burden to carry in the cost of transportation. To get a quartz mill from the Missouri River to its destination in Montana required from thirty to fifty wagons, which were often loaded at some point in Kansas or Nebraska. Or if they came by steamboat from St Louis to Fort Benton, it was the same tiling – wagons had to be used to carry them to the point selected, several hundred miles from the landing. Often low water prevented steamers coming above Fort Union, or Cow Island. Freights during the first decade were enormous; costing the country between a million and a half and two millions annually, even after the population had shrunk to eighteen thousand. Many plans were resorted to to lessen the cost of transportation, but without materially affecting it.

Bancroft, Hubert H. Bancroft Works, Volume 31, History Of Washington, Idaho, and Montana, 1845-1889. San Francisco: The History Company. 1890.

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