The Rochester or Rabbit mining district was discovered in the 1860s when outcroppings of rich, oxidized gold ores were found on Watseca Hill on the south slopes of the Highland Mountains northwest of Twin Bridges. By 1869, eight hundred men lived in tents and log cabins on the surrounding hills. The Watseca lode, which was discovered in the 1860s, was the key to the region. The region was too dry for successful placer mining. Several arrastras such as the White's and the Ward's along with stamp mills such as the Rochester mill and the Allen mill successfully reduced the gold ore. A ten-stamp mill, built in 1868 at a cost of $34,000, cleaned up $15,286 in gold in nine weeks. By 1871 mining declined as the free-milling gold was nearly exhausted.
The passage of the 1872 mining laws gave lode mining a shot in the arm by revising antiquated claim laws based on placer mining. Lode mining was revived in the district in 1873 with the successful operation of the Day, Julia Homes, Pavcippa, and Watseca mines. By 1880, mining was back in full swing with many new claims operating. By 1896, F.R. Merk owned the Watseca mine, the largest property continuously operating within the district. Through lessees, free-milling gold averaging $30-75 at ton was recovered. The Buffalo mine, which adjoined the Watseca, was also extensively developed. Although gold was the prevailing deposit in the area, lead and small amounts of copper were also found. To treat these varied ores, concentrators and small lead smelters were built in or near the town (Swallow 1891; Sahinen.1935; Wolle 1963).
The period of greatest activity was from 1898 to 1905 when the Watseca was in full production. The district produced gold ore valued at several million dollars , as well as appreciable amounts of lead and silver. At this time the population of the town of Rochester reported rose to 5,000. Stamp mills, chlorination mills, and other types of concentrators, as well as lead smelters were built in the district. The increased cost of labor and materials cut production profits to such an extent that by 1906, only eight mines continued to operate. Owners began to sell off their properties or to abandon them. By 1907 the district was almost deserted and remained so until 1926. A brief three year boom resulted from production on the Emma, Colusa, and Jack Rabbit claims, as lead-silver properties. A mill, erected at the Emma mine by the Butte Madison Mines Corporation, ran until 1932. Since then the district has lain dormant (Winchell 1914; Sahinen 1935; Wolle 1963).
Geologically, the district is composed of fine grained gneisses and mica and hornblende schists of Archean age. Sills and dikes of aplitic granite have been intruded roughly parallel to the banding in the metamorphic rocks which in general trend northeast and dip 15-40 degrees to the northwest. Stocks of diorite and andesite flows are also present in the area east of Rochester. Basalt flows occur to the west. The main body of the Boulder batholith is exposed a few miles to the north and the igneous bodies of Rochester may be upward reaching fingers of the main bodies which may underlie the whole region (Winchell 1914; Sahinen 1935).
The ore deposits are in well defined veins which usually strike north or northeast and dip steeply to the west. The veins are associated with the granite dikes. They are commonly narrow but locally very rich. A few veins are wide and of low grade. Most veins are valued chiefly for their gold content but some are silver-lead veins. The ore minerals include: native gold, argentiferous galena, cerussite, malachite, chrysocolla, pyrite in a gangue of quartz. Vanadinite and exdemite have also been reported (Winchell 1914; Sahinen 1935).
Although statistics are not available for the early years, it has been estimated that the district produced $2 million from 1868 to 1903. From 1904 to 1912 the district produced 10,314 tons of ore that was reduced to 4,893.1 ounces of gold worth $101,149; 24,923 ounces of silver worth $15,496; 1,913 pounds of copper worth $321; and 382,086 pounds of lead worth $17,685. Total value of the ores during this period was $134,651. Prior to 1932 the district was credited with a total production of 2.5 million (Winchell 1914; McClernan 1981).
Sahinen (1935) lists the most important mines of the area as: Watseca, Buffalo, Index, Longfellow, New Elgin, Big Bonanza, Copper, Shoemaker, Emma, Mount Roe, Picard, Calusa, California, and Beacon Light.
BOUNDARIES OF THE DISTRICT
Winchell (1914) discusses the Rabbit district which centers around the town of Rochester about 10 miles northwest of Twin Bridges on Rochester Creek (Figure 1).
Sahinen (1935) places the district 10 miles northwest of Twin Bridges, a station on the Northern Pacific Railroad, and 10 miles east of Melrose on the Oregon Short Line Railroad. The basin lies at an elevation of about 5,300 feet, and is surrounded on the west, north and east by spurs of the Highland Mountains and on the south by the McCarthy Mountains. Cope (1888) placed the Rochester district in the McCarthy Mountains.
HISTORIES OF SELECTED MINES
The Ajax mine is located two miles due west of Rochester. The mine was developed by an inclined shaft several hundred feet deep. The property worked a vein of hard massive quartz with compact limonite, and locally considerable galena. Some stoping was done on the irregular ore shoots (Sahinen 1939).
The Big Bonanza located in section 29, T2S, R7W is on the largest quartz mass outcropping in the district. The quartz is exposed from the Mammoth claim to beyond the Buffalo claim, a distance of over 8,000 feet. Isolated exposures of the vein continue as far as Camp Creek in the Melrose district. This mineral zone contains at least two separate veins that have been exposed in eight claims: the Mammoth, Big Bonanza, Black Rock, Virginia, Leona, Alaska, Monitor, and Elizabeth. The Big Bonanza claim was the most developed with several thousand dollars of ore was taken from a single shallow stope. Some ore was shipped from the Monitor claim in 1925 and shipments have been recorded from the Alaska claim (Sahinen 1939).
On the Big Bonanza claim the main vein is a mass of white quartz, locally mineralized by sulphides such as malachite and galena. The sulphide materials assayed at 0.10 to 0.30 ounces of gold per ton. Near the main shaft the quartz is heavily mineralized by oxidized ore.
Buffalo - Anything
The Buffalo mine is on the Buffalo - Anything vein in section 33, T2S, R7W. The vein has been exposed for 4,500 feet in hard, fine-grained gneiss and is on the Buffalo, End, Anything, Peep, and New Year's Gift claims. When observed around 1939, the mine had been inactive for a number of years and its workings had caved. However, the presence of a large dump was indicative of extensive underground workings. Dump material was either hard massive quartz from the vein or altered wall rock (Sahinen 1939).
The Anything mine was developed by an adit that extended 500 feet on the vein. Stoping was done above and below the adit level and was carried to the surface. Ore shipped to St. Louis netted $50.00 after shipping and smelting charges. Ores consist of limonitic quartz containing chalcopyrite and galena with their oxidized products, malachite and cerussite.
The Champion mine is a southwest extension of the Alameda vein. The mine was developed by an 90 feet deep inclined shaft and surface equipment that included a small single-drum hoist, a head-frame, a Cornish pump and buildings. Although the last recorded production occurred in 1915, lessees took out some ore prior to 1939. The mine extracted limonitic quartz from granite. Assay returns from dump samples showed .91 ounce gold per ton, 3.75 ounces silver per ton, 0.10% copper, 8.4% lead and 12.8 % lead (Sahinen 1939).
The Clifton mine was active in 1907, 1911, 1913, 1916 and 1917. The mine's ore contained values in gold, silver, lead, copper and zinc (WPA 1941).
The Cooper mine is located about half a mile southeast of Rochester and about 3/4 of a mile east of the Emma mine. The Cooper vein could be traced at least 3,500 ft on the surface. The mine was developed by an inclined shaft to a depth of 300 ft. It had a lead of galena ore in an aplite dike cutting gneiss. The mine was active in 1905, 1906, 1912, 1913, 1918, 1925, 1938, and 1940 and produced gold, silver, copper, lead and zinc (Sahinen 1939; WPA 1941).
The Elgin mine is on the north end of the Silver Note claim. The mine worked the Elgin vein which stretched 5,000 feet from the Silver Note through the Elgin, Best Shot and Goldenrod claims. In 1939 the main shaft was caved, but a short adit on the south end of the claim was open. The dump material indicated that the mine was working quartz stained by limonite and containing scattered limonite pseudomorphs along with a small amount of malachite. At the north end of the Best Shot claim the vein was developed by a well-timbered shaft over 150 feet deep. A shallow shaft was sunk on the vein on the Goldenrod claim (Sahinen 1939).
The Emma property is located about a mile southwest of Rochester. The mine was the last in the district to be intensively operated. The mine first reported production in 1888 when 10 car loads were shipped. The mine was next active in 1905, and 1911 - 1920 (excluding 1914 and 1916). It was then operated intermittently from 1925 to 1935. In 1928 the mine was operated by the Emma Mines, Inc. From 1929 to 1932, the mine was operated by the Butte Madison Mining Company. The mine was worked to a depth of 400 feet. It was improved with a 60-ton combination flotation and table concentration mill along with mining equipment and buildings. These items were offered for sale in 1935 to satisfy taxes. At the time the Emma had the best surface plant and the only mill in the district (Cope 1888; Sahinen 1939; WPA 1941; McClernan 1981).
The mine worked several closely associated fissure veins in schist that is cut by granite and some pegmatite dikes. Galena ore from the lowest depth assayed at 51.80% lead, 38.20 ounces of silver and .10 ounces of gold per ton (Sahinen 1939).
The Germania mine is about 2.5 miles east - southeast of Rochester and was last operated in 1910. It is on a massive quartz vein cutting schist in an area intruded by several granite dikes. The mine was developed by several incline shafts which reach a depth of 150 feet. Ore from the mine was reported to carry .2 ounces of gold per ton (Sahinen 1939).
The Longfellow mine is about a mile to the south of Rochester on the border between the Rochester Basin and the Nez Perce Basin mines. The mine is on an aplite dike cutting gneiss; the vein is probably an extension of the Badger vein. A 300 foot inclined shaft was used to develop the mine. Ore on the dump indicated that the mine produced low-grade pyrite and galena ore with silver and gold values (Winchell 1914; Sahinen 1939).
The Mutch mine is about two miles south of Rochester at a granite and gneiss contact. The mine produced galena ore with values of gold, silver and a small amount of copper. The mine was developed by an inclined shaft about 325 feet deep (Winchell 1914).
The New mine is a little more than half a mile southwest of Rochester. The mine worked numerous aplite dikes and sills. Some very rich wire gold was recovered from this mine from a vein two feet wide. Some of the ore assayed at $75 per ton in gold with 10 ounces of silver. In 1888, the mine was developed by three shafts of 50, 60 and 75 feet. Ore was extracted from 75 feet of level workings. Fifty tons of the ore was worked in mills in the county and 100 tons were shipped to smelters. Total returns for 1888 were listed at $9,000 gross with 100 tons of ore awaiting shipment on the dump (Cope 1888).
The property was later described as being developed by a 300 feet deep inclined (Sahinen says vertical) shaft. At 60 feet some sulphide ore was encountered. The property was last actively worked in 1910, but it reverted to the county for back taxes. Some new work was done in 1934 (Cope 1888; Winchell 1914; Sahinen 1935).
The Picard vein is west of the Best Shot claim. The vein has been exposed for 1,000 feet and has been developed by a shallow inclined shaft and several small pits. An adit intersected the shaft 20 feet below the collar and a small amount of stoping was done at this level. About ten tons of ore was shipped by Cole and Mailey between 1934 and 1935 (Sahinen 1939).
The Shoemaker property is located a quarter of a mile south of the Cooper mine and was first mentioned in the mining literature in 1904. The mine reported intermittent activity from 1926 to 1940 working two parallel veins in an area of biotite and hornblende schists banded by many granite dikes. In the 1920s the mine produced gold, in the latter years also producing silver, copper, lead and zinc (Sahinen 1939; WPA 1941).
The Thistle mine was reported in 1898 to be owned and operated by the Thistle Mining and Milling Co. with J. W. Woods, Supervisor and Manager. The mine employed 10 miners and two topmen. The mine was developed by a 1-compartment shaft that was 230 ft deep. A 6 x 6 Ledgerwood engine hauled up gold, silver and lead ore in a bucket attached to a 5/8 inch steel rope. A mill on the property was rated at 50 tons per day (Byrne and Hunter 1898).
The Watseca claim is located about a half a mile north of Rochester. The property is composed of the Watseca-Trio, Vienna, Julia Holmes and Climax claim. These claims were relocated after the revision of mining claim laws in 1872. Production began around 1869 and was officially noted in 1873. In 1888 the mine shipped 25 carloads of ore. The mine was owned by F. R. Merk who leased it to D. G. Bricker in 1891. The lease was then transferred to "Colorado parties". At the time, the mine was developed to a depth of 110 feet below water level and had shipped at least 20,000 tons of ore. The ore was estimated at about $35 per ton with some lots up to $80 per ton at $20.67 per ounce (Cope 1888; Sahinen 1939).
In 1898, Merk sold the mine to A. W. McCune, F. R. Sargeant, W. L. Hoge, and M. B. Brownlee who later organized the Watseca Gold Mining Co. The mine's greatest activity occurred from 1901 to 1905. In 1903 and 1904, the pumping of water from the lower levels of the mine dried up all the springs and wells near the town, requiring water to be hauled for domestic use. By the end of 1905 the mine was listed as idle and composed of old tailings. The mine reopened in 1906 and produced gold and silver ore. The next year the mine was in development. Production of gold, silver, copper and lead was listed in 1909, 1912, 1927, and 1934. The mine was actively discussed in the mining literature from 1902 to 1905 and intermittently from 1907 to 1915 (Byrne 1902; Sahinen 1939; WPA 1941).
In 1902, the mine was described as having two shafts. The vertical shaft was 300 feet deep while the inclined shaft was 650 feet long. Steam hoists extracted the high grade gold ore from the shafts. Low grade ore was treated at the old Thistle mill while the high grade was transported directly to the smelter. The Thistle mill treated 50 tons per day while leased by the Watseca Mining Co. The pumps were used to drain the lower levels of the mine. (Byrne and Hunter 1898; Winchell 1914).
The mine was ultimately developed by the Watseca vertical shaft which reached 600 feet and the Goodale inclined shaft which was 450 feet deep, but connected to the 600 foot level by a raise. There were four main levels at 185, 272, 402 and 600 feet. Other shafts on the Watseca vein including the Farlin, Tripod, Stacey, Climax extend for a distance of 2,400 feet. In addition to the Watseca vein the Alameda, the Gold Bug and the Van Dusen veins are also exposed in the mine (Sahinen 1939).
In 1974 a modern custom plant was erected on the old Watseca mill site. This mill worked ore until 1980 (McClernan 1981).
Byrne, John and John J. Barry
1902 Fourteenth Annual Report of the Inspector of Mines of the State of Montana. Independent Publishing Company, Helena.
Byrne, John and Frank Hunter
1898 Ninth Report of the Inspector of Mines of the State of Montana. State Publishing Company, Helena.
1901 Twelfth Annual Report of the Inspector of Mines of the State of Montana. Independent Publishing Company, Helena.
Cope, George F.
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Ferguson, Henry Gardiner and L. P. Benedict
1906 Montana Bureau of Agriculture, Labor and Industry, 10th Report.
1908 Montana Bureau of Agriculture, Labor and Industry, 11th Biennial Report.
Hall, J. H. and M. L. Rickman
1912 Montana Bureau of Agriculture, Labor and Industry, Thirteenth Report, for years 1911 and 1912.
1933 "Differentiation and Ore Deposition, Cordilleran Region of the United States", Ore Deposits of the Western States (Lindgren Volume), pp. 152- 180, American Institute of Mining and Metal Engineering.
Lyden, Charles J.
1948 The Gold Placers of Montana. Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology Memoir No. 26. Montana School of Mines, Butte.
McClernan, Henry G.
1981 "The Rochester Mining District, Madison County, Montana", Directory of Montana Mining Enterprises for 1980. Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, Bulletin 115.
Sahinen, Uuno M.
1935 "Mining Districts of Montana", Thesis, Montana School of Mines, Butte.
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Shoemaker, C. S. and John Miles
1896 Seventh Annual Report of the Inspector of Mines of the State of Montana, State Publishing Company, Helena.
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Winchell, Alexander Newton
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Wolle, Muriel S.
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Work Projects Administration (WPA) Mineral Resources Survey
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