The Libby district is located south of the town of Libby, along Libby Creek, Big Cherry Creek and their tributaries. The lode claims are on the eastern slopes of the Cabinet Mountain range. The Libby district was important for both its long-lived placer operations and several of its silver-lead mines.
Sedimentary rocks of the Belt series underlie the Libby 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 by thrust faults. At the close of this period, magma invaded the rocks, forming dikes that cut both stocks and sedimentary rocks. This magma contained solutions that formed ore deposits as the molten material cooled (Gibson 1948).
"The lode deposits are veins extending along faults and shear zones in the Belt rocks and in the accompanying metadiorite dikes and sills. They have been formed partly by fissure filling and partly by replacement" (Gibson 1948). The only gold-quartz vein of any significance is found in the Herbert claims on Prospect Creek; it occurs in the Prichard formation where veins parallel bedding planes. Silver-lead-zinc veins are found primarily along the Snowshoe fault, where they "fill steeply dipping fault fissures and shear zones in Belt rocks, metadiorite dikes, and to a lesser extent, metadiorite sills" (Johns 1970).
Over the years, there have been numerous theories about the source of placer gold in the Libby district. While prospectors for many years believed that the source was a dike crossing Libby Creek, geologists were unable to substantiate the existence of such a feature. Instead, studies indicate that gold from the Midas vein eroded into both Libby and Howard creeks, while the quartz-sulfide veins along the Snowshoe fault supplied placer gold to Big Cherry Creek (Johns 1970).
Prospectors first tested the gravels of the Libby district in the early 1860s. John S. Fisher and several other men came through the area at that time looking for gold. They also named a number of the local creeks including Fisher River, Libby Creek (after Stephen Allen's daughter Elizabeth or Libby), and Sherry Creek (after Jack Sherry), later changed to Cherry Creek. Activity increased during the summer of 1867 when a group of prospectors started placering along Libby Creek. Their success attracted as many as 500-600 men to the camp by September. Fortunes varied, however, with some making as much as $1.25 per pan while others washed only two cents per pan. Most men left for the winter, and those who stayed helped dig a ditch to bring water to some claims. While the camp increased again the following summer, the boom was brief and it was virtually deserted by the 1870s (Renk 1994).
Libby Creek revived in the summer of 1885, beginning a long period of placering. Tom Shearer and B. F. Howard arrived in the camp to find several other men working on claims. They located their own claims, built sluices, and soon were washing out $20 a day in gold. Over the next few years, the camp gradually took on a look of permanence. Placering in the Libby district concentrated along Libby Creek and its tributaries Howard, Ramsey, and Little Cherry creeks, as well as along Big Cherry Creek (Renk 1994).
One of the best known placer operations was known as the Howard placers, located around 1887 by members of the Howard family and their associate, William Williams. They formed the Howard Placer Mining Co. around 1900 and then sold out two years later to a group of investors who formed the Libby Placer Mining Co. The company expanded operations and initiated the first use of hydraulic giants on Libby Creek in 1905. Six years later, the company kept 24 men working, washing 1000 feet of gravel daily through box and ground sluices. The company mined actively through 1915, and the claims saw sporadic work through the 1930s (Renk 1994).
Other placer operations used similar techniques for mining, although most on a smaller scale. For instance, lessees washed gravels through a ground sluice on the Vaughan and Greenwell claims, making $5000 a year from 1904-1908. The Comet Mining Co. took over a number of claims on Little Cherry Creek in 1908 and soon had two giants at work. Twelve men washed 100,000 cubic yards of gravel through sluices in 1911. They lived at the company camp which contained a bunkhouse, cook house, blacksmith shop, and miscellaneous other buildings. The operations ended in 1916 (Renk 1994).
Placering was almost nonexistent during the late 1910s and 1920s. Gold production in Montana dropped from a high of 241,000 troy ounces in 1915 to a little more than 40,000 troy ounces in 1931, and Lincoln County production mirrored this trend. Adjustments in the price of gold during the Depression stimulated production, however, and placering resumed in the Libby district. This time, older hydraulic equipment was supplemented with heavy machinery on many claims. Operators on the Vaughan and Greenwell placer used power shovels and a stationary washing plant in 1938, switching to a dryland dredge the next year; in 1940 they made $770 in just seven days in an especially rich area. The Nugget placer was worked with a dragline and bucket in 1930-1932, washing gravels through 200 feet of sluice boxes (Klett 1991; Renk 1994).
After reaching a high of 272,000 troy ounces in 1940, Montana gold production once again dropped and then plummeted with the onset of World War II. Owners worked the Vaughan and Greenwell placer during the summer of 1947 and then for the last time in 1964, ending the long period of placering on Libby Creek (Klett 1991; Lyden 1948; Johns 1970).
Three Libby district placers reported production in Mineral Resources: Big Cherry Creek Placer in 1914, 1924, and 1930-1931; Liberty Placer in 1924 and 1930; and Nugget Placer in 1916 and 1930-1931. Figures for total placer production from Libby Creek and its tributaries vary from over $100,000 to $213,230 (WPA 1941; Dingman 1932; Griffith 1948).
Prospectors discovered lode deposits in the Libby district during the late 1880s. In 1887, George Blackwell and his partners located the Silver Mountain and Silver Crown claims on Granite Creek. Two years later, John G. Abbott and Albert Dunlap located the Snowshoe mine in October; this lead-silver-gold lode became the most important producer in the district. Tom Shaughnessy and William A. Hillis discovered the Buzz Saw and Hazel T claims on Shaughnessy Hill the same year, while William Criderman located the Silver Cable mine on Cable Creek in the early 1890s. Closing out the decade, G. W. Walker and P. Portugal found the Copper Reward in 1899 (Renk 1994; Johns 1970).
Development work proceeded on many of the Libby district's lode mines during the 1890s. Libby Creek Mining Co., owner of the Buzz Saw, worked the mine throughout the decade and finally constructed a 150-ton concentrator in 1899. Both equipment and finances failed the following year, and the mine closed abruptly. Owners also developed the Silver Cable mine during the same time, installing a 50 to 75-ton mill in 1898. Unfortunately, the mill never operated due to mismanagement and/or insufficient ore (Renk 1994).
The Snowshoe mine experienced many problems over the years, including a number of different owners and lessees, mismanagement, litigation, inefficient milling, and difficult transportation. Despite these challenges, owners erected a concentrator around 1897, enlarging it to 225 tons by 1906; electrified the mine; and purchased up-to-date drilling equipment. The mine produced well until closing in 1912 (Renk 1994; Johns 1970).
The Buzz Saw was reactivated during the 1910s when the Lukens- Hazel Co. took over the mine and consolidated it with neighboring claims. The company built a 200-ton concentrator around 1920 and operated for much of the decade. The Victor-Empire and other small mines operated during the same period of time. The district was then pretty quiet until the 1930s when work proceeded on the Mountain Rose mine, and the 1940s when the Snowshoe operated sporadically. There are no figures for total district production (Renk 1994).
BOUNDARIES OF THE DISTRICT
Sahinen (1935), the only one to describe the district boundaries, places the Libby district in the region drained by Libby Creek and its tributaries. Figure 1 shows the district as described by the AMRB (1994) which includes the primary mining area with the Snowshoe, Silver Cable, Copper Reward and the Libby Creek placers as part of the Libby district. Also shown is the Granite Creek sub-district.
HISTORIES OF SELECTED MINES
The Copper Reward includes five claims, four on the north side and one on the south side of Cherry Creek. G. W. Walker and P. Portugal located the claims in 1899, and the partners hoped that the 25 foot shaft and 50 foot tunnel would intersect with the Snowshoe vein. The main tunnel eventually extended 440 feet along the shear zone. An assay report in 1899 showed values of $68.78 per ton in lead, silver, gold, and copper. It is unknown how long the mine operated; there are no production records (Libby Montanian 1899b; Gibson 1948; Johns 1970).
Glacier Silver-Lead (Lukens-Hazel)
The Glacier Silver-Lead mine includes 17 patented claims on the north side of Shaughnessy Creek. Tom Shaughnessy and William A. Hillis located the original claims around 1889, and development proceeded over the next few years on the Buzz Saw claim. The owner, Libby Creek Mining Co., invested approximately $50,000 on development work and built a 150-ton concentrator in 1899. Misfortune plagued the venture, however: the machinery proved inadequate, most of the value of the sulfide form of ore was lost during concentration, and creditors closed the operations in 1900. Lessees A. J. McCorkle and John Town operated the mine from around 1909-1912, shipping several carloads of ore in 1910. That summer, the mine buildings burned in a forest fire, but McCorkle and Town planned to rebuild (Gibson 1931; Weekly Montanian 1900; Walsh and Orem 1910, 1912; Western News 1910b).
Things finally picked up when the Lukens-Hazel Co., under the direction of C. Ed Lukens, took over the mine in 1914 and invested $200,000 in development work. It built a 200-ton concentrator around 1920, enlarging or replacing it in 1930 to handle 325 tons per day. The larger mill contained a Harding conical ball mill, a Dorr classifier, and Fahrenwald flotation machines. It is not known whether the mine operated much during the 1930s, but by 1939 or 1940 eleven men were employed blocking out ore to be processed in the company's 150-ton flotation mill. The underground workings totaled about two miles in length (Gibson 1931, 1948; Western News [compiler] 1920; WPA 1940).
There are no production totals for the mine, but the Hazel T mine reported production in 1911, 1924, and 1929-1931, while the Lukens-Hazel property reported production in 1916 and 1919-1928. Concentrates shipped from the mill in early 1930 averaged 47.4 percent lead, 1.74 ounces of gold, and 60.8 ounces of silver to the ton (Gibson 1948; WPA 1941).
Granite Creek (Mountain Rose)
The Mountain Rose mine, operated by the Granite Creek Mining Co., is located on the south side of Granite Creek, near the west line of sec. 7, T29N, R31W. In 1930, operators moved ore from the mine to the camp with a small aerial tramway. Buildings at the camp on Granite Creek included cabins and a blacksmith shop. The mine made some shipments of ore during the early 1930s, and by 1936 had four men driving the lower adit. In 1938, the last year of operations, the adit had reached 1100 feet in length, with the upper adit 950 feet long with drifts and crosscuts (Gibson 1948; Johns 1970; WPA 1940).
William Criderman located the Silver Cable mine, on the south side of Cable Creek, in the early 1890s. Development proceeded well, and by 1897 the Cable Mining Co. was working a crew of 10 men. The next year, the company constructed a tramway to carry ore half a mile from the mine to the new 50-ton concentrator. Before the mill was placed in operation, internal problems within the corporation caused the mine to close, but it was active again from 1901-1902 and 1905-1906. J. H. Town bonded the property in 1910 and planned to begin operations, but it is unclear if this actually happened. Underground workings included 2,000 feet of tunnels. There are no production records for the mine (Gibson 1948; Johns 1970; Libby Montanian 1899a; Western News 1910a).
George Blackwell and a group of prospectors located the Silver Mountain mine in 1887. The group of claims, which includes the patented Silver Crown, is on the south side of Granite Creek. Reports on the mine are sporadic, which may indicate that mining activity was also intermittent. The Silver Crown Mining Co. operated the property from around 1909-1912 and possibly longer. The mine made several shipments of high grade lead-silver ore in 1910, leaving the mill idle, a pattern that continued for the next couple of years. Operators shipped ore to the Glacier Silver-Lead mill for processing in 1926. Ten years later lessees controlled the mine. The last operations occurred in the 1940s when a new mill was built, but the mine closed within a short time. The mine included three adits, an aerial tram, and a mill. While there are no production records for the mine, sample assays show 8-18 percent lead; 8 to 21 ounces of silver; and 0.4 to 1.2 ounces of gold per ton (Gibson 1931, 1948; Johns 1970; Walsh and Orem 1910; 1912).
John G. Abbott and Albert Dunlap discovered the Snowshoe lode in October 1889 while prospecting up Leigh Creek. Within a short time, they brought Bragg Parmenter and H. G. Lougee in as partners. Control of the mine changed hands many times over the years as various owners and lessees took charge. Individuals and companies included the Chicago and Montana Mining Co. in the early 1890s; D. P. Bowers during the same decade; Pacific Northwest Mining Co. from 1898 to around 1901; Rustler Mining and Milling Co. from 1901 to around 1911; Pacific Coast Smelting-Refining Co. from 1911 to an unknown date; Snowshoe Consolidated Mines from 1928-1940; and various smaller owners and lessees through the 1940s and 1950s (Renk 1994).
The rich deposit at the Snowshoe encouraged operators to develop the mine. A crew of 30 men worked there in 1897, increasing to 32 the following year. The concentrator was operating by 1897, milling the ore before shipment to the smelter at Great Falls. By the end of the decade, the mine was electrified, a telephone line linked it to Libby, and a six-drill Rand compressor supplied power to the crews (Byrne and Hunter 1897; 1899; Libby Montanian 1899a).
The Snowshoe was plagued with closures during the early 1900s. The mine was shut down from 1900-1902 as operators tried to resolve a dispute over location of the concentrator. Work stopped briefly in 1906 when a water shortage cut off power to the concentrator. A more serious shutdown caused by stockholder litigation occurred in 1910, and major operations closed in 1912 with more litigation (Byrne and Hunter 1901; Byrne and Barry 1902; Walsh and Orem 1906; 1910; Western News 1921).
The Snowshoe also experienced difficulties with milling and transportation. In 1907, operators believed that the method of concentration caused a high loss in gold values, possibly as much as $400 per day. Later owners estimated that up to 40 percent of the concentrates was lost with the inefficient milling. Concentration was important for a mine as remote as the Snowshoe because it helped reduce transportation costs. Although a good wagon road connected the mine to the Great Northern Railroad at Libby by the early 1900s, the 20 mile trip was accomplished with horse teams and wagons up to the time the mine closed. Operators tried using trucks but found they did not have sufficient power on the hills (Renk 1994; Gibson 1931; Western News 1911).
The Snowshoe may have operated sporadically during the long shutdown, but no major work occurred until the 1940s when operators installed a portable selective flotation concentrator to work both new ore and old tailings. Several thousand tons of ore processed in 1940-1942 yielded $125,000 worth of concentrates (Johns 1970).
Despite the many problems, the Snowshoe was the most important lode producer in the Libby district, reporting production every year from 1905-1912. The total is estimated at 145,000 tons, with smelter returns of $1,211,000 in lead, silver, and gold. Underground workings included two shafts (475 and 550 feet deep) and 11,000 feet of tunnels, drifts, and connecting raises (WPA 1941; Johns 1970).
The Victor Empire mine is located on the north side of Granite Creek, about two miles past the Glacier Silver-Lead property. Development work was in progress by 1908, and four years later the crosscut tunnel was 1350 feet long, eventually reaching 2,000 feet in length. Crews used power drills that were operated by a water-powered compressor. Continued work was spotty at best, and the mine has been idle since at least 1940. There are no production records (Gibson 1948; Johns 1970; Walsh and Orem 1912).
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