HISTORIC CONTEXT

aka West Fisher, Fisher River

The Cabinet district is located on the eastern slope of the Cabinet Mountains near the headwaters of West Fisher Creek. Initial mineral discoveries in this remote and rugged area were an offshoot of placer mining in the neighboring Libby district to the north.

Prospectors sampled many streams along the Libby Creek valley in the early 1860s, but there was no general excitement until the summer of 1867. The camp grew quickly to 500-600 miners, then dwindled nearly as fast. By the early 1870s the town on Libby Creek was virtually deserted. It revived in 1885, however, and placering continued in the Libby district, at times sporadically, for more than 50 years (Renk 1994).

Prospectors fanned out from the placer mines to search for lode deposits. One of the first discoveries in the Cabinet/West Fisher district was the Blacktail group, located by Don Schanck and Henry Bramlett in 1892 on Bramlett Creek. Other discoveries included the Brick and Branigan mine on Bramlet Creek and the American Kootenai mine on West Fisher Creek. Both were in operation by 1899 (Renk 1994; Kalispell Bee 1901).

Sedimentary rocks of the Belt series underlie most of the Cabinet/West Fisher district. Diorite sills intruded into these rocks during Precambrian or Paleozoic time, after which the rocks were uplifted and slightly deformed. Extensive mountain building occurred during late Mesozoic or early Tertiary time, with the rocks folded and cut with thrust faults. At the close of this period, magma invaded the rocks, forming dikes that cut both stocks and sedimentary rocks (Gibson 1933, 1948).

The majority of the gold lode mines are found near the head of West Fisher Creek and near two tributaries, Bramlet and Standard creeks. Most gold-quartz veins are located in the Prichard formation; exceptions include the Midas and Montezuma mines where the veins are found in Wallace strata. "Gold-quartz veins in the Prichard Formation parallel bedding planes, and most ore is produced near high-angle crosscutting faults." Scheelite, or tungsten ore, occurs in white quartz veins; it is associated with native gold in the Midas mine (Johns 1970).

Mines in the Cabinet district got off to a slow start. Following the discovery of the early mines, A. B. Johnson packed 6,300 pounds of selected ore out for a smelter test. The results were disappointing, however, showing values of $43 in gold and $2 in silver and lead, and owners were then unable to raise capital for development work and milling equipment. Operators conducted only assessment work for several years (Libby News 1900).

Finally, in 1899 the West Fisher Mining Co. organized with stated aims of operating the Brick and Branigan mine, building a wagon road and erecting a 10-stamp mill. A year later, owners of the American Kootenai mine built a 10 stamp mill, and the two mines employed a total of 60 men. Several other mines were in operation during the early 1900s, including the Illinois and Montana, Mustang, Wayup, and Midas. Most closed after a few years, however, and nearly all activity ended around 1910. The American Kootenai mine closed that year after a snowslide destroyed much of the mill, and while operators attempted to restart operations, the mine did not reopen (Libby News 1900; Renk 1994; Johns 1970).

Most activity during the next decade centered around the Midas mine where geologists discovered tungsten, a key ingredient for steel, during World War I. The mine produced $27,000 in tungsten and gold from 1916-1918. The Midas also produced well during the early 1930s. Other mines, including the Little Annie, Brick and Branigan, Montezuma, and Wayup, operated intermittently during the 1930s and 1940s, with activity at the Wayup continuing into the following decade (Johns 1970).

The Cabinet/West Fisher district was almost entirely a gold lode district, with the exception of the Midas mine that produced both gold and tungsten. Unlike the neighboring Libby district, placering was unimportant in the Cabinet area. The Spokane Placer Mining Co. organized late in 1904 to mine 1280 acres of land along Standard Creek. Promoters claimed that the ground would yield $.41 per yard, but it is doubtful that any work was done on the project. A similarly large project was proposed during the 1930s when O. V. Miller and P. Church claimed 1200 acres along West Fisher Creek, south of Teeters Peak. They later dropped all but one 20 acre claim which they developed with a 100-foot shaft and a churn drill hole 110 feet deep. The men recovered only $.12 to $.16 per yard and reported no production (Western News 1904; Johns 1970).

BOUNDARIES OF THE DISTRICT

MacDonald (1909) places the Cabinet district "in the Cabinet Mountains, about 20 miles southeast of the Snowshoe mine." He credits the district with mines both on Silver Butte Mountain and on the headwaters of the Fisher River, just north of Silver Butte. Most subsequent writers deleted the first group of claims, placing them within the Silver Butte district. According to Sahinen (1935), the Cabinet district is centered around the headwaters of the Fisher River; while there are several branches of the Fisher River, it is probable that Sahinen was referring to West Fisher Creek. Other authors include primarily the mines that cluster at the headwaters of West Fisher Creek, and at least one historical map bears out this definition of boundaries (Johns 1970; Gibson 1948; Clapp c. 1905).

HISTORIES OF SELECTED MINES

American Kootenai

The American Kootenai encompasses five patented claims (Jim Blaine, Gold Den, Gold King, Gold Bug, and Gold Bug millsite) on the south side of West Fisher Creek. Discovered in the 1890s, the mine was worked very little until 1900 when the American Kootenai Mining and Milling Co. erected a 10 stamp mill that ran on water power, with a backup boiler and engine. The company evidently utilized a 2,240 foot aerial tram to carry ore from the mine to the mill, although it is unclear when and if this facility was actually built. By 1901, 40 men worked at the mine, using electric power to operate the drilling equipment. The mine closed for a time around 1905-1906 when a stockholder disagreement held up operations. Production stopped again in 1910 when a snowslide destroyed most of the mill. Crews were repairing the mill a year later when the company was working two claims, and manager J. A. Town announced large development plans. These may not have materialized since no mention is made of the mine after this date. Workings include 3 adits with a total length of 600 feet (Johns 1970; Libby News 1900; Kalispell Bee 1901; Byrne 1901; Walsh and Orem 1906, 1910, 1912; Rowe 1911).

Blacktail (Jumbo, Tip Top, New Deal)

The Blacktail group includes several claims on the north side of Bramlet Creek. Don Schanck and Henry Bramlett located the claims in the spring of 1892 and began development work. Bad luck struck soon. They bonded the mine just before the price of silver dropped on the national market, the purchaser then defaulted, and an Anaconda geologist filed a conflicting claim. Although Schanck and Bramlett won their case, the attorneys ended up holding 51 percent of the stock. They organized a new company around 1899 and within two years had constructed a 10 stamp mill and a 3,000 foot surface tramway at the mine. A sample shipment of ore tested at $30 in gold per ton (Schanck c. 1919; Kalispell Bee 1901).

The Blacktail group operated sporadically during the twentieth century, often under different names. The mine was active in 1909 and 1911. The Tip Top reported production from 1928-1931, milling 100 tons of ore in 1930 and about 50 tons in 1931. Operating under the New Deal name, the mine produced gold ore in 1934, 1937-1938, and 1940-1941; during the last year, operators milled 25 tons of ore. There are no reports of production after this date. Mine workings included cuts, trenches, and adits (Johns 1970).

Brick and Branigan

Located in 1892, the Brick and Branigan grew to include eight patented claims on Bramlet Creek. A group of Iowa capitalists organized the Fisher Creek Mining Co. in 1899 to operate the mine, build a wagon road, erect a mill, and install an 1,150 foot bucket tram. The 25 ton mill contained either 10 or 15 stamps, two vanners, and two California bumping tables. It was powered by steam in 1900, but owners altered it within a year to run on water power. The mine produced 18,000 tons of ore from 1901-1903, netting the owners $150,000. After this initial activity, the mine evidently operated only sporadically until the late 1930s. Lessees ran a test on 1,450 tons of ore in 1938. Twenty-five men worked in the mine, producing 24,239 tons of ore in 1940-1941 and 1950. The mine included nearly one mile of underground workings, with 10 tunnels up to 700 feet in length. Total production up to 1947 was estimated at $300,000 (Johns 1970; Libby News 1899b, 1900; Kalispell Bee 1901; Byrne 1901; WPA 1940).

Illinois and Montana

The Illinois and Montana mine made a brief splash around 1903 and then faded from public view, perhaps because it did not turn out as well as its promoters had hoped. The company owned four claims along the same vein, extending around the mountain from Fourth of July Creek to Lake Creek. Contractors worked all winter to drive 200 feet of tunnels to reach the ore vein. Assays supposedly showed values of hundreds of dollars per ton in free milling gold. Despite the glowing reports, the mine apparently did not pan out (Press c. 1903; Western News 1903a).

Little Annie (Gloria)

This property is located on the north side of the creek, near the headwaters of West Fisher Creek. Operated by the Golden West Mining Co., the mine sat 1200 feet above the company camp on the valley floor; the camp, which included several large cabins, also served the company's New mine across the creek. The Little Annie had two nearly parallel adits connected by a crosscut, making 300 feet of workings. A shipment of 39 tons of ore in the early 1930s averaged 3.874 ounces of gold and 1.05 ounces of silver per ton, while other small shipments were richer. The mine shipped ore in 1939 and then apparently did not operate much after that (Johns 1970; Gibson 1948).

Midas

The Midas was discovered in 1905, at which time it was known as the Rose Consolidated. It includes eight lode claims and one placer located one mile southeast of Howard Lake. The mine initially produced gold ore, but interest was sparked during World War I when geologists found that the ore contained tungsten as well. From 1916-1918 the Midas produced $27,000 worth of gold bullion and tungsten concentrates. After a period of quiet, the Midas reported production in 1927 and then ran a test on 1000 tons of ore the following year; the results yielded 317.14 ounces of gold; 503 ounces of silver; 77 pounds of copper; and 1,029 pounds of lead and netted $6,034. Operators made $20,962 from 1932-1933 with ore that contained 990.79 ounces of gold. The mine continued operations on a sporadic basis at least through the 1950s. The physical plant included a 75-ton mill with jaw and cone crushers, ball mill, sampler, Dorr classifier, flotation equipment, concentrating tables, and cyanide tanks. The underground workings contained two shafts and 3000 feet of drifts, crosscuts, and raises. Total production from the mine up to 1933 was $59,000 (Johns 1970; Gibson 1948; WPA 1941).

Montezuma

The Montezuma mine consists of six unpatented claims on the east side of West Fisher Creek, about two miles southeast of the Midas mine. Olson and Bolyard operated the prospect sporadically during the 1930s, and there has been little work since. The underground workings include two adits (lower one 385 feet and upper one 90 feet), a 30-foot inclined shaft, and a number of pits and trenches. Although the mine has reported no production, assay values range widely from $6.40 to $76 in gold and silver (Johns 1970).

Mustang

Located on the south side of Standard Creek, the Mustang property includes four unpatented lode claims. Like many other mines, it caused a brief excitement and then faded from sight. Herman Hildebrandt and A. Himes sold the group of claims to the Mustang Consolidated Gold Mining Co. late in 1902. At that time, assay values from the Mayflower claim averaged $15.40 in gold, with one as high as $45.60 and the Alabama No. 1 claim averaged $20.60 in gold. Mine buildings included a cook house, bunkhouses, root cellar, blacksmith shop, and powder house. Six months later, the mine manager suspended work because of water in the Alabama tunnel, despite the fact that they were "undoubtedly within a few feet of one of the ledges they expected to strike...." Success may have eluded the owners since little else is known about the mine. There is no reported production (Western News 1902b, 1903b; Johns 1970).

Wayup

The Wayup property includes two patented and ten unpatented claims on the north side of West Fisher Creek. Located in the 1890s, the mine was bonded to James Higgins around 1896. He undertook extensive development work, investing $10,000 on the Wayup claim in over 350 feet of underground workings, open cuts, cabins, and trails. Higgins and partners purchased the property two years later, organizing the Montana-Kootenai Gold Mining Co. in 1899 to operate the mine. By 1902, the company reported that underground developments had reached 800 feet and opened up a good section of ore that averaged $20 in gold per ton. After years of inactivity, the Wayup was reopened in 1937, with additional activity from 1948-1949 and again in the 1950s. There is no reported production from the mine (Libby News 1899a; Western News 1902a; Johns 1970).

Others

Other mines of lesser importance in the Cabinet district include the Betty Mae, Diamond John, Great Northern, Hannegan, Irish Boy, Mother Lode, Standard, Union, and Williams.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Abandoned Mine Reclamation Bureau (AMRB)

1994 Mining districts of Montana. Maps 1:100,000 and Map #94-NRIS-129. Compiled and edited by Joel Chavez. Prepared by Montana State Library Natural Resource Information System (NRIS) for Montana Department of State Lands. Helena

Byrne, John and Frank Hunter

1898 Ninth Report of the Inspector of Mines of the State of Montana. State Publishing Company, Helena.

1901 Annual Report of Inspector of Mines of the State of Montana. State Publishing Company, Helena.

Calderhead, J. H.

1898 "Montana Bureau of Agriculture, Labor, and Industry, 6th Annual Report."

Calkins, Frank Cathcart, see also Emmons, 471, and MacDonald, D. F.

1909 "A Geological Reconnaissance in Northern Idaho and Northwestern Montana", U. S. Geological Survey, Bull. 384, pp. 7-112.

Clapp, Lewis A.

c. 1905 Map of Libby and West Fisher Mining Districts, Montana. Spokane. Copy on file, Libby Ranger Station, Kootenai National Forest.

Gibson, Russell

1931 "Gold-Quartz Veins South of Libby, Montana", U. S. Geological Survey, Circ. 7, 1934; Dept. of Interior, Memo. for the Press, 1931.

1948 "Geology and ore deposits of the Libby Quadrangle, Montana:,

U.S.G.S. Bulletin 956. Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C.

Gibson, Russell, Jenks, William F., and Campbell, Ian

1938 "Stratigraphy of the Belt Series in Libby and Trout Creek Quadrangles, Northwestern Montana and Northern Idaho", Geol. Soc. America Bull., Vol. 52, pp. 363-380, 1941; (abst.) Geol. Soc. America Proc., 1937, p. 83, 1938.

Johns, Willis M.

1970 Geology and Mineral Deposits of Lincoln and Flathead Counties, Montana. Bulletin 79. Montana College of Mineral Science and Technology, Butte.

Kalispell Bee

1901 Flathead Mining Industry. 18 December:13.

Libby News

1899a "To Work the Way-Up Mine". 16 February.

1899b "Fisher Creek Mining Co". 21 December:3.

1900 "A Promising Gold Camp". 16 August:3.

MacDonald, D. F.

1909 Notes on the Economic Geology. In A Geological Reconnaissance in Northern Idaho and Northwestern Montana, by F. C. Calkins. U.S.G.S. Bulletin 384. Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C.

Press

c. 1903 Mines and Miners of Montana. Undated article on file, Mining #42, Montana files, Flathead County Library, Kalispell.

Renk, Nancy F.

1994 "Mining". In Historic Overview of the Kootenai National Forest, Vol. 1, edited by Christian J. Miss. Northwest Archaeological Associates, Inc., Seattle.

Rowe, Jesse Perry

1911 "Gold Quartz Mining in Western Montana", Mining World, Vol. 34, No. 20, pp. 1033-1034.

Sahinen, Uuno Mathias

1935 Mining Districts of Montana. Unpublished Master's thesis, Department of Geology, Montana School of Mines, Butte.

Schanck, Don E.

c. 1919 Wandering Feet. Ms. on file, Montana Historical Society Archives, Helena.

Walsh, William, and William Orem

1906 Biennial Report of the Inspector of Mines of the State of Montana for the Years 1905-6. Independent Publishing Company, Helena.

1910 Biennial Report of the Inspector of Mines of the State of Montana for the Years 1909-10. Independent Publishing Company, Helena.

1912 Biennial Report of the Inspector of Mines of the State of Montana for the Years 1911-1912. Independent Publishing Company, Helena.

Western News

1902a "The Way-Up Is In Ore", 25 September: 3.

1902b "Mustang Buys Alabama Group", 18 December: 2.

1903a "Illinois and Montana", 16 April: 3.

1903b "In the West Fisher District", 4 June: 2.

1904 "A Placer Company Organized", 17 November: 3.

Work Projects Administration (WPA), Mineral Resources Survey

1940 Directory of Montana Mining Properties. Memoir No. 20. Montana School of Mines, Butte.

1941 Montana Mine Index, An Alphabetical Index Arranged by Counties, Districts and Mines of Information on Montana Mines from 1867-1940. Montana School of Mines, Butte.