YORK-CONFEDERATE DISTRICT
aka Dry Gulch

HISTORIC CONTEXT

The York-Confederate Gulch area has been called one of the three most important Montana placer districts. York Gulch is next in importance to Confederate Gulch as a producer of placer gold in the region. Gold was discovered there in 1864 and placer mining began the same year. Gold was discovered in Big Rattlesnake and Kingsberry Gulches ca. 1865. By 1866 placer ground along Trout and York creeks had attracted hundreds to the diggings. The town of New York (now called York) was established at the intersection of Trout Creek and York Gulch in 1867. It quickly grew to become the second largest town in the area (Bassett and Magee 1869; Malone and Roeder 1988; Mertie et al. 1951; Sommer 1991).

The York district is located along the southwest slopes of the Big Belt Mountains in the Trout Creek drainage about twenty miles northeast of Helena. The area is rugged and is cut by several gulches, including York Gulch, Gennian Gulch, Kingsberry Gulch and Big Rattlesnake Gulch. In several areas the gulches are narrow, steep-sided gorges, most notably in the upper York and Big Rattlesnake Gulch areas, along Trout Creek west of these gulches and in Kelly Gulch west of Trout Creek. Altitude in the area ranges from 4000 feet at the head of Trout Creek to 6000 feet at several of the Kingsberry Gulch mines (Sommer 1991).

Gold in York Gulch was mined from the mouth of the gulch upstream to Rattlesnake Gulch. The pay streak in York Gulch between Kingsberry Gulch and Trout Creek ranged from 50 to 150 feet in width, with gravels as deep as 40 feet in some places. The gold was often found at or near the bedrock level in many of these areas. A description of the area in 1869 states:

  • The ground mined in this district ranged from 30 to 70 feet to bed-rock, and was mostly full of water from surface down, and owing to the flatness of the gulches and the consequent difficulty of obtaining so deep drainage, much of New York and Oregon gulches are still unworked (Bassett and Magee 1869:22).

A process known as drifting was used throughout the York district in areas where the placer gold was deeply buried. Drift mining has been described as digging "a tunnel for drainage or haulage in which sluice boxes may be used...[or] the tunnel [may be] used for drainage only, and the gravel [may be]... hoisted through a shaft and [into] a sluice box ... [which has been] placed on the surface for washing the gravel" (Dingman 1932:4). The yields from the York area were rich, but by 1874, most of the ore that could be obtained using these methods had been exhausted. Although intermittent placer mining continued in the area into the Twentieth century, especially in York and Kingsberry Gulches, the original period of growth of placer mining ended in 1874 (Dingman 1932; Mertie et al. 1951; Pardee and Schrader 1933).

After the more easily obtained deposits of placer gold began to decline in the area, the population of York dropped to a mere handful, mostly families who lived by stock raising or ranching. By 1880 the population had dwindled to 49. The remaining miners turned to hydraulic mining. This involved the use of high pressure hoses to wash away stream banks. The water separated earth from rock and then went through a long series of sluices from which gold was obtained. Many of the gulches in the area were mined in this way between 1880 and 1890. Hydraulicking was the primary gold extraction technique in York Gulch, from its mouth to Kingsberry Gulch (the upper limit of the water supply), between 1888-1891. This work was done by the Trout Creek Mining Company under the ownership of F.D. Spratt and others. Due to lack of available water, the area of York Gulch above Kingsberry Gulch stretching to Rattlesnake Gulch, which also had a more narrow and shallow pay streak, was never hydraulicked. Hydraulicking was also not used in Kingsberry Gulch due to its erratically distributed gold deposits or in Rattlesnake Gulch, which is very steep and narrow in some places (Mertie et al. 1951; Pardee and Schrader 1933; Lyden 1948; Wolle 1963).

Hydraulicking created great displacement of earth and rock along the stream beds in the gulches, but it was successful in reaching gold that could not have been obtained through more conventional methods. The combined efforts of placer mining and hydraulicking resulted in the entire York-Confederate Gulch area becoming one of the most profitable districts in Montana. Although accurate records were not often kept, reports indicate the value of placer gold taken the York district, was in the vicinity of $3,500,000 to $5,000,000. The early importance of the discovery is indicated by the estimated yield of $1,539,200 taken from New York Gulch and the gulches in its vicinity by 1869.(Bassett and Magee 1869; Lyden 1948; Malone and Roeder 1988; Pardee and Schrader 1933).

Shortly after the discovery of placer gold in the York District, lode mining began. The first lode mine to be discovered was the Old Amber, also known as the Golden Cloud, which was located on the southeast side of York Gulch. The Little Dandy, the richest lode mine was located in 1883. The Golden Messenger mine, situated a short distance above York on Dry Gulch, was worked during every cycle of mining since its location in the early 1880s (Wolle 1963).

Geologically, the York area is covered almost entirely with shales that belong to the Proterozoic Belt series. The formations in this area are the Greyson shale, a thin-bedded gray shale that occurs with siltstone and fine-grained sandstone, and Spokane shale, a soft-reddish shale which has some sandstone near the base of the formation. The Greyson shale is found in the northern part of the district, in the upper parts of the gulches and in the vicinity of the Little Dandy, Daisy, Golden Messenger and Old Amber lodes. The Spokane shale is found in the southern part of the district, around York, the lower parts of the gulches and the Golden Charm mine. Younger gravels are found in the Trout Creek bed and in York Gulch. There are two large quartz diorite dikes in the area, the first in the Golden Charm-Golden Messenger-Little Dandy area at the west end of the district and the second ranging east from Trout Creek in the Daisy-Little Amber area and extending past Big Rattlesnake Gulch and Hedges Mountain. Several smaller dikes are found in the area between York Gulch and Kingsberry Gulch. The western-most dike, on which the Golden Charm, Little Dandy and Golden Messenger mines were developed, is known as the Golden Messenger dike. It is 200-400 feet wide and is 2.5 miles long. The second dike ranges from 300 to 400 feet in width and is about 4 miles long (Mertie et al. 1951; Pardee and Schrader 1933; Sommer 1991).

Most of the small gold-covered veins occur along fractures in diorite or bedding planes in shale. Ore shoots vary greatly up to several feet in width and several hundred feet in length. In most of those that have been mined, the ore apparently gave out within depths of 50 to 100 feet. The Golden Messenger mine is on a replacement depost that is tabular in form with indefinite walls. Veins of the Golden Messenger dike have been classified as "ladder veins." The ore is mainly quartz but at the Golden Messenger the gold has been found to be associated with galena which occurs sparingly in the unoxidixed ore. Pyrite, sphalerite, and chalcocite also occur in small amounts (Sahinen 1935).

The ore from the Old Amber was first milled in York Gulch at a point near the mouth of Rattlesnake Gulch. In 1879, a 30-ton Bryan mill was built directly below the mine. The mine was patented in 1895 and was operated profitably from ca. 1895-1890 with gold values of $100,000 to $200,000 realized from the operation. As the workings reached greater depths, the ores changed in character and became less profitable to mine. Although the operation continued for several years under a variety of owners, the period of profitable operation of the mine probably ended in 1902 (GLO records; Pardee and Schrader 1933).

The development of the Old Amber mine mirrors the history of many of the lode mines in the York district. With the exception of the ore at the Golden Messenger mine, the gold-bearing lodes in the area occurred in shoots that ranged "from several inches to several feet in width and from a few feet to several hundred feet in length" (Pardee and Schrader 1933:140). This resulted in high grade, shallow ore bodies that were profitable to operate, but which were quickly depleted. Mines that followed this pattern included the Little Daisy, the Golden Charm and many of the smaller operations. The exception was the Golden Messenger which went on to become the most prominent mine in the district (Lorain 1937; Wolle 1963; Sommer 1991).

The Golden Charm mine was not patented. It was located in an area of rich shallow veins west of the Golden Messenger mine on the Golden Messenger dike and was one of the most active mines on the dike between 1895 and 1900. John Rowand, operator of the mine, reported production of $26,000 in gold during this period. The mine was not profitably operated after ca. 1900 (Sommer 1991).

Discoveries of lode mines in the York district continued through the last decades of the nineteenth century. The Little Dandy was discovered in 1883 and was patented in 1898. The Little Daisy was located in 1888, patented in 1901 and was effectively worked out within several years, perhaps as early as 1902. Other mines in the district were patented from 1896-1916 (GLO records; Mertie et al. 1951).

In addition to the Old Amber mill, other mills were erected in the district during this period. A quartz mill was built near Trout Creek very early in the district's development. In 1890, a new 10-stamp mill was reported to be doing business at Trout Creek. By 1899, it was reported a 10-stamp mill was operating on ore produced by the Little Dandy mine. This was probably the 10-stamp water-powered quartz mill located on the Little Dandy mill site. A 100 ton cyanide plant was recorded to be under construction at this site in 1909. A small mill, combining stamps, concentration and cyanide and referred to as a "cyanide plant" (Byrne and Barry 1902: 50), was built on the Faith mill site at the Golden Messenger mine in 1899; it was destroyed by fire in 1902. In 1913, a 50 ton cyanide mill was built on this site. It was operated, with some modernization including an expansion to 130 ton capacity in 1934, until the mine closed in 1942 (GLO records; MBMG files; Byrne and Barry 1902; Byrne and Hunter 1898; Pardee and Schrader 1933; Swallow and Trevarthen 1890; Walsh and Orem 1910; Walsh and Orem 1912).

With the expansion of the Golden Messenger mine in 1927-28 and the mill in 1934, the town of York once again expanded. By 1938, the mining community claimed a population of 150, composed mainly of transient miners and their families (Archibald 1938).

Since 1904 there has been sporadic work done along York Gulch, with the yield in some seasons being as high as $1,000. Estimates for placer production range from $500,000 to $5,000,000 and even as high as $17,000,000 or $18,000,000. Lode mining has been at a low ebb since 1900. The production from lodes is estimated variously between $350,000 and $500,000 or between $550,000 and 800,000. The mine on the Golden Messenger dike alone are credited with over half a million dollars of production (Sahinen 1935; Lorain 1937; Lyden 1948).

BOUNDARIES OF THE DISTRICT

The 1912 study by James Hill and Waldemar Lindgren identified three districts in the York-Confederate Gulch area. The first is Dry Gulch (York) which is located in Lewis and Clark County about twenty miles northeast of Helena. The second is Hellgate, twelve miles north of Winston in Broadwater County and the third Confederate Gulch south of Hellgate in Broadwater County. Dry Gulch (York) is located in the northern part of the area, while Hellgate is located in the central part. The Confederate Gulch area also known as the Diamond City district is in the southern part of the area.

Pardee and Schrader (1933) define the district both by access and by geology

  • The York district is reached by a good road that extends from Helena to York and Nelson, crossing the Missouri River (Lake Hauser) on a steel bridge at the mouth of Trout Creek. From this road or its branches most of the mines are accessible by automobile. York, a small hamlet at the mouth of York Gulch, about 4 miles up Trout Creek, is near the center of the district (Pardee and Schrader 1933:120).

and as

  • parts of the Belt Mountains, the Spokane Hills, and Townsend Valley. In addition it includes a small area of foothills along the Missouri River below Townsend Valley that is separated from the Belt Mountains proper by a series of flats distributed along a course that passes through York (Pardee and Schrader 1933:122).

Sahinen (1935) places the district about 15 miles northeast of Helena.

Sommer (1991) states that "The first mining in the York District area focused on the rich placer deposits in the streams. The most productive of these were in Confederate Gulch, White Gulch, Avalanche Gulch, Hellgate Gulch, Magpie Gulch, Cave Gulch, Clarks Gulch, Oregon Gulch and York Gulch. Confederate Gulch generally forms the southeastern boundary of the district, while the York Gulch area is in the northwestern part. The area is located between the Belt Mountains on the north and east and the Missouri River on the south". She goes on to define the boundaries of the district as:

  • Western boundary from north to south: western border of sections 6, 7, 18 and 19, T11N R1W.
  • Northern boundary from east to west: northern border of sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, T11N R1W.
  • Eastern boundary from north to south: eastern border of sections 1, 12, 13 and 24, T11N R1W.
  • Southern boundary from west to east: southern border of sections 19, 20, 21, 22, 23 and 24, T11N R1W.

The defined district includes mining operations which center on York and an area drained by Trout Creek. Within it are the Golden Messenger dike north of the creek, York Gulch, and the gulches south of the creek that intersect York Gulch (Kingsberry Gulch, Gennian Gulch and Big Rattlesnake Gulch). The York District contains both placer and lode mine and includes the Golden Messenger mine, one of the more well-known and productive in the area (Sommer 1991).

HISTORIES OF SELECTED MINES

Golden Charm

The Golden Charm mine (24LC957) was located at the west end of diorite outcropping known as the Golden Messenger dike in a group of nine claims known as the Federal group. The ore bodies in this area were generally rich but shallow, occurring in the outcroppings or dikes common to this area in quartz veins ranging from 1 inch to 1 foot in thickness and often not more than 100 feet deep. Between 1895 and 1900, the Golden Charm and the Little Dandy were two of the most active mines on this dike. They were operated by John A. Rowand. Ore taken from the Golden Charm mine was milled at a plant on Trout Creek southeast of the Little Dandy. Rowand reported production of $26,000 in gold and silver from the mine during this period, with the ore averaging $261/T. Aggregate production from the entire group of Federal mines probably ranged from $100,000 to $200,000 (MBMG files of mines by name, Pardee and Schrader 1933).

The workings at this mine were described as a series of adits and stopes with a total vertical range of about 80 feet. The ore in this mine was found in narrow, rich veins which gave out at about 100 feet, probably around 1900. The mine is currently referred to as being an underground mine of undetermined status with commodities of gold and silver (MBMG files of mines by name, Mertie Fischer and Hobbs 1951, Pardee and Schrader 1933).

Golden Messenger

The Golden Messenger mine (24LC872), situated a short distance above York on Dry (or Brown's) Gulch has been consistently worked during every cycle of mining since its discovery in 1883. The mine was located one-half mile west of the Little Dandy, a rich bonanza mine. Early attempt to extract the gold by amalgamation recovered only thirty-five percent of the values.

The earliest records of the Golden Messenger mine describe a "partially developed" claim in 1890 (Swallow and Trevarthen 1890:42). The mine was surveyed in 1897 and patented in 1898 by Henry Sieben, the same date as the Little Dandy patent. The mine now known as the Golden Messenger consisted of a number of patented and unpatented claims. The patented claims were the Faith lode, Faith mill site, the Little Dandy lode, the Little Dandy millsite and the Golden Messenger lode. The Little Dandy was probably the first of this group to be worked, while the Faith lode and millsite were not surveyed until 1914, or patented until 1916 (Caywood and Gallacher 1988; GLO records; Swallow and Trevarthen 1890).

The Golden Messenger mine was located on what has become known as the Golden Messenger dike, one of a series of outcroppings of quartz diorite that characterize the entire York-Confederate Gulch area. Although most of the major mines in the York district were found in these dikes, the ore bodies of the Golden Messenger differed from the rest in several ways. The lodes at this mine have been identified geologically as being "replacement deposits along fractures in the diorites," which occurred in comparatively large formations rather than in the narrow veins that characterize the rest of the area (Pardee and Schrader 1933:140). They also belong to an uncommon class of deposits called "ladder veins" in which the ore bodies were found in parallel formations resembling the rungs of a ladder. The ore in the Golden Messenger dike, unlike other mines in the area, was also of a slightly lower grade, but had the advantage of containing silver and lead as well as gold (Pardee and Schrader 1933).

Development of the Golden Messenger properties accelerated after its acquisition by John and Charles Friederichs in 1899. They incorporated under the name of the Columbia Gold Mining Company and ran the operation for several years. The company erected a small mill on Trout creek to work Golden Messenger ore in 1899. Using simple amalgamation, the mill was able to recover 35% of the ore's value. A cyanidization process was added to the mill before it burned in 1902. After the destruction of the mill, the property was idled for several years. The corporation apparently had financial troubles and in 1907 the mine was returned to John Friederichs as the result of a dispute. The LaCasse brothers and then the French Bar Mining Company leased the mine in the years prior to 1913, but did no milling. In 1916, Friederichs was listed as the holder of the Faith lode and mill patent. In 1919 he organized the Golden Messenger Mining Company and transferred to the company his title to the mining properties. Birtchey and Leydig operated the property under a lease around 1920 and were said to have made the mine pay. The mine's underground workings were expanded in 1927-28 by the Golden Messenger Corp as part of their mine development and extensive surface trenches and pits were excavated. A low-grade body of ore was discovered that was developed initially by an open pit, but then followed downward to the lower workings. In January 1934, United Gold, Inc., of Duluth surveyed and reopened the mine then reconditioned the cyanide plant. Under their supervision, the mine produced 127 tons of ore per day and made regular shipments of bullion to the Denver mint (Byrne and Barry 1902; Lorain 1937; Archibald 1938; Wolle 1963).

The York Mining Company, which may have been a lessee, built the 50-ton mill on the property at the Faith mill site in 1913. This mill, know as the Golden Messenger mill, recovered ninety-two percent of the gold in Golden Messenger ore. The mill was idle until 1933 and re-opened in 1934 by United Gold. The expanded 130 tons mill went into full operation until it was shut down permanently in 1942. The mill was still standing when visited in 1991 (Lorain 1937; Sommer 1991).

In 1937 the milling process was described in some detail. The ore was brought from the mine to the mill by horse-drawn trains of 10 cars. The cars were dumped in to a 25-ton bin; this bin fed onto a sorting pan where waste rock was removed. Ore was sent through a 13 x 21 inch Blake jaw crusher and reduced to under 2 inches. A belt conveyor then transported the ore rubble to a #25 Kennedy gyratory crusher where it was further reduced to 3/4 inches and sent to a 100 ton ore bin. The reduced rubble from this bin was then sent through the cyanation process (Lorain 1937).

The mine reported production in 1914-1916. Development work was reported in 1928 and 1929 when the Golden Messenger Corporation did 2,000 feet of development work on the mine. Prior to the expansion of underground workings in 1928, 34,000 tons of .30 ounce gold ore was mined. After the expansion, up to 1938, production was recorded at 130,000 tons of .18 ounce gold ore valued at $680,000 (Archibald 1938; Wolle 1963; WPA 1941).

Little Daisy

The Little Daisy mine (24LC988) was located in 1888 by the Little Daisy Mining Company. It was surveyed in 1900, with the claimants listed as Joseph Lambert, Thomas Treloar, G.J. Walsh, Thomas Walsh, Jacob Gund and Thomas Adams.

The mine was patented in 1901 and was operated by John Rowand and Company, a lessee. Its most profitable period of operation was ca. 1901-1905. It was described in 1898 as having gold and silver-bearing ore, which occurred "in a flat vein between granite and slate" (Byrne and Hunter 1899, p. 15).

The history of many of the lode mines in the York area was marked by short periods of operation during which the rich, shallow ores were taken. Most mines in the area were no more than 75 feet - 100 feet deep, for the ore deposits were often no more than 100 feet deep in this area. The Little Daisy followed this pattern (MBMG files of mines by name, Mertie, Fischer and Hobbs 1951; Pardee and Schrader 1933).

Little Dandy

The Little Dandy mine in Kelly Gulch was discovered in 1883 by a prospector who found a piece of float rock that assayed $8 per ton in gold. The float was traced to an outcrop where the Little Dandy was claimed. The mine is acknowledged to be the richest of the early mines. From 1890 to 1910 the mine was estimated to have produced $50,000 worth of ore. The mine was patented in 1898 by Henry Siebenthe who also owned the adjacent Golden Messenger. After this point the Little Dandy was included in the operations of the Golden Messenger properties (Archibald 1938).

Old Amber (Golden Cloud)

The Old Amber mine (24LC989) which was later known as the Golden Cloud was probably the first gold lode to be discovered and worked in the York district. During the early years of its operation (ca. 1870), the ore from this mine is said to have been milled in York Gulch at a point near the mouth of Rattlesnake Gulch. In 1879, the 30-ton Bryan mill was erected below the mine at the mouth of Rattlesnake Gulch and was soon reducing Old Amber ore. In 1899, a larger mill was built which ran successfully for nearly five years (Sommer 1991).

From ca. 1895-1900, the mine and mill were operated profitably as the rich upper veins of ore were worked. The mine was patented on November 1, 1895 and was listed as the claim of George Averill. It was operated during this period by John A. Rowand and Company, operators of several of the mines in the York district. It is estimated between $100,000 and $200,000 in gold values were realized during this time. As the mine reached greater depths, the quality of the ore changed and the mine became less profitable to work. By 1902, the mine was, for the most part, worked out (Mertie, Fischer and Hobbs 1951, Pardee and Schrader 1933).

Later, the mine was owned by the Old Amber Mining Company which sold it to Wallace Thayer along with several other properties in the vicinity, including the Cessford, the Eventide, the Marmion, the Ninety-Nine, the Lord Flataya and the Obispo Placer. The properties were then sold to the Golden Cloud Mining Company and eventually to Fred Friedericks in 1917 for non-payment of taxes. By 1927, the mine and mill appeared to have been abandoned for some time (Lewis and Clark County records, Pardee and Schrader 1933).

Oro Placer

The Oro Placer in Dry Gulch reported production in 1928 - 1931 and in 1940 (WPA 1941).

York Gulch Placer

The York placers are located in York Gulch in section 16, T11N, R1W. The paystreak was discovered under more than 20 feet of overburden. The placer varied from four to 16 feet wide and yielded $50 to $200 for each five feet of length. Although no production statistics are available, the gulch is estimated to have produced between half and five million dollars in gold (Lyden 1948; McClernan 1983).

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