HISTORIC CONTEXT

aka Iron Rod

The Silver Star district, on the southeast slopes of the Highland Mountain range, is one of the oldest lode mining districts in Montana. Many of the mines of the district were well known in the 1860s and for the next decade the town of Silver Star was the most important community between Virginia City and Helena. The district's first mine, the Green Campbell, was opened in 1867. Green Campbell discovered the gold lode and worked his property so effectively that by 1870, it was known as the most valuable quartz mine in the county and was one of the first quartz claims to be patented in Montana. In 1871 the mine and mill are credited with $96,000 of production (Sahinen 1939; Wolle 1963).

The district is on the southeastern slope of Table Mountain, one of the 10,000 foot peaks of the Highland Range. The rocks of the area are schists, slates and quartzites with a small area of limestone partially surrounded by a granitic intrusion. The granitic intrusion has been traced to the north to Butte and is part of the Boulder batholith. The quartz monzonite of the intrusion is cut by dikes of fine grained rhyolite porphyry; the schists are cut by more basic intrusive rocks such as basalts. Ore deposits in the district appear to be in rocks in the marginal remains of the roof of the Boulder batholith. The ore deposits in the Broadway group are of contact origin, while those in mines such as the Green Campbell are recrystallizations of deposits in the rocks prior to the placement of the batholith (Winchell 1914).

Following the Green Campbell, other quartz lodes were soon located and major mining operations, such as the Broadway, the Hudson Group and the Iron Rod, went into production. Smaller operations such as, the Everett, Clipper, Glenns Falls, Pinchbeck, Nugget, Morning Star, Bedford and others were active in the period prior to 1871. Within a short time there were two booming mining camps on the banks of the Jefferson River. Soon after, local residents, miners and prospectors met at the general merchandise store and voted to name one camp Silver Star after the nearby Silver Star mine of Bill and George Boyer. The other smaller camp, located up river about three miles, they named Ragtown. Later the name was changed to Iron Rod after the iron rods on a new bridge which had been built across the river. Up to that point the community consisted of dwellings on both sides of the river connected by a swinging footbridge. Silver Star acquired a post office in June 1869 and continued to be one of the major communities in southwestern Montana, ranking with Virginia City and Helena. The town in 1872 was described by M.A. Leeson as "...pleasantly situated [with] quartz mills, stores, hotel, school-house, Masonic hall, temperance lodge, and many nice private residences. Its population numbers two hundred and fifty." Silver Star remained the area's leading trading center until supplanted by Whitehall in the late 1880s (Leeson 1885:787; Sahinen 1939; Madison County History Association 1976; Cheney 1983).

To process the ore from the mines, a number of mills were constructed throughout the district in the 1860s. In 1870 ores from the Green Campbell were treated in the steam-powered Everett 10-stamp mill which was equipped with 650 pound stamps, four Horn pans, and two settlers; gold was primarily extracted through amalgamation. The mill could process 17 to 20 tons per day which yielded from $17 to $30 per ton. Ore from the Iron Rod mine was treated at the Stevens and Trivitt 12-stamp mill and the Tripp and Ainslee mill, built on the banks of the Jefferson River between Silver Star and Iron Rod, processed ore from the Morning Star, Bedford and other of the smaller mines. This water-powered mill could only operate six small stamps and processed a mere four tons of ore per day.

By the early 1870s lode mines were well established in the district and were attracting miners from around the state. Although the Green Campbell closed in 1873, three years later the district continued to employ 50 men in the mines. Three stamp mills continued to be in operation along with several arrastras. In 1876 discoveries in Hells Canyon, north of Iron Rod, led to the construction of a water-powered 6-stamp mill and an arrastra. Because much of the value of the ore escaped from these early mills and arrastras, the tails were later shipped to smelters and reprocessed at a profit (Noyes 1966; Sahinen 1939; Rossillon 1986).

The Broadway was the third big mine in the district. The Broadway, a gold-bearing vein, was discovered in the late 1860s two miles west of the Silver Star camp. By 1881 the mine had produced half a million dollars while mining down less than 200 feet. The ore was reported to have been processed in a 10-stamp mill, probably the Everett mill at the Green Campbell mine. A mining company from London bought the property in 1881 or 1882 and in the spring of 1882 the company built a 40-stamp mill on the banks of the Jefferson River. The mill was equipped with a British process for extracting gold from refractory ore. However, the extraction was a failure and the mill was shut down after only three months of operation. From 1887 to 1996 the mine shipped all of its ore to smelters. To treat the ore, which averaged $20 a ton, F. R. Merk built two mills, one on Cherry Creek and the other below Silver Star. Tailings, which were shipped to Butte and run through the smelter, averaged $10-$12 a ton. By 1896, Merk's son, W.W. Merk, was operating the Bowery, a mill which processed quantities of milling ore. The rest was shipped to other smelters. The mine has been inactive since 1918; but is credited with production of over a million dollars (Swallow 1891; Sahinen 1939; Wolle 1963).

The Silver Star district saw a decline in mining activity during the 1870s because of the lack of skilled labor, railroad transport, and the high cost of all labor and supplies. In 1883 the Northern Pacific Railroad reached Whitehall which eased transportation costs and sparked new interest in the area. Eventually, in 1898, a branch line was built from Whitehall to Twin Bridges. While short interruptions stopped production from time to time, the district operated almost continuously from the late 1860s to around 1910. In 1910 the area began to decline because of the exhaustion of the high grade ore, problems with water in the lower levels of the mines, inefficient milling methods, and the low prices for metals. A few companies, however, did continue to operate through the 1920s and 1930s. Most mining activities in the district ceased during World War II and were not resumed when the war ended. Some production did resume at the Broadway and Green Campbell but it never approached pre-war levels (McMillan 1939; Madison County History Association 1976).

One mining operation in the district which did operate during World War II was a small chrome mine located about two and one half miles west of Silver Star. Owned by the Silver Star Chrome Company, the mine employed about 20 men who mined 200 tons of chromite ore daily. Ore was processed in the Iron Rod mill on Highway 41 near Silver Star. The operation ran from 1940 until 1944 since the government classed chrome as vital to the war effort (Trauerman and Reyner 1950; Madison County History Association 1976).

Silver Star district produced almost continuously until 1928. As with most early districts, production figures prior to 1904 are not available. It is estimated that from 1867 to 1885 the district produced $2,000,000 in ore. In the three years of 1886, 1887 and 1888, district production was $72,773 in silver. No data is available from 1889 to 1903. From 1904 to 1912 the district produced 14,169 tons of ore which was reduced down to 15,944.06 ounces of gold worth $330,591; 19,209 ounces of silver worth $11,318; 49,115 pounds of copper worth 8,430; and $275,106 pounds of lead worth $14,041. The combined value of the minerals was reported to be $364,381. Production slowed after 1910 with the exhaustion of the high grade ores. Beginning in 1912 the district's production became intermittent, with peaks in 1913 ($22,432), 1918 ($26,616) and 1922 ($25,722). Total production of traditional metals for the district was estimated variously from $2,553,418 to $7,000,000 (Sahinen 1935; 1939; Wolle 1963).

The district was not a production area of placer gold. During 1933-1936 small quantities of placer gold were recovered from various claims in the district. The lode mines of the district have all produced free-milling gold ore (Lyden 1948).

BOUNDARIES OF THE DISTRICT

Cope (1888) places the Iron Rod and Silver Star districts on the west side of the Jefferson River in the Red Mountain range of Madison County.

Sahinen (1935) places the district on the west side of Jefferson River about 16 miles southwest of Whitehall.

HISTORIES OF SELECTED MINES

Aurora

The Aurora mine on the Aurora and Borealis claims is located in sections 9 and 10, T2S, R6W about three miles west of Silver Star at an elevation of 6,000. The mine was located and initially developed in 1875 by Charles Heinemann. By 1876 the mine was the "best" mine in the district. Ore from the Aurora was treated in the Tripp and Ainslee mill. The mine operated on a small scale and was opened by several small tunnels. In 1896 the Aurora-Borealis mine sent its ore to be processed in the Iron Rod mill. In 1934 the upper tunnel was open and the lower tunnel was reopened in an attempt to relocate the continuation of the vein beyond a fault zone. At the time the mine was owned by Mrs. James McFarland and leased to John Dullea, W. F. Pauline and Wilhelm Niess. The mine reported production in 1875, 1911, 1914, 1923, 1934, 1935 and 1940. The mine is estimated to have produced about $80,000 (Fritzsche 1935; Sahinen 1939; WPA 1941; Wolle 1963).

Broadway

The Broadway mine, located in section 2, T2S, R6W, two miles west of Silver Star. The property is composed of the Bowery, Delaware, Maryland and Victoria claims. The Victoria is separated from the main body by the unassociated American claim. The mine was ultimately developed by two shafts of 550 feet and 400 feet in depth on the Bowery claim and a 1,100 foot long tunnel driven from Tom Benton gulch on the Maryland Claim. In the main shaft levels were driven at 75, 175, 300, 350, and 450 feet. In 1902, a winze was extended from the lower level down to 650 feet. Drifting in the mine exceeded 2,000 feet (Fritzsche 1935).

The property was the third mine to be discovered in the Silver Star district. Original owners included F. R. Merk, Mr. Dahler, P. Largey, G. Hurst and Charles Gage. The mine was developed by Colonel N. F. Sanders, George F. Pate, N. N. Morris and F. R. Merk. The operation is credited with over a million dollars in production; half of which was from 30,000 tons of oxidized ore mined prior to 1880. This oxidized ore came from a large stope west of the No. 2 shaft at a depth of less than 200 feet. Half of the ore was processed in Silver Star and half in Iron Rod with an average recovery of $11.75 per ton from both mills. When the tails of the Iron Rod mill were later reprocessed, $12.00 per ton was recovered (Fritzsche 1935).

Around 1880 the mine began to work deeper deposits which proved refractory and could not be worked locally. The mine was idled until 1881 when it was sold to the Broadway Gold Mining Company, Ltd., a London-based company which was capitalized at $6,000,000. The sale included the old 10-stamp mill and the Mutual Agreement mine. A 40-ton mill was erected utilizing a new process to recover values from the refractory ores while a two-mile tramway delivered the mine to the mill. The mill operated under the supervision of J. W. Plummer, but the experiment proved a failure and the mill closed after only three months. From 1887 to 1900 ore from Shaft No. 1 was shipped to the smelters. About 5,000 tons of oxidized ore was taken out above the 175 foot level and from the 175 foot level down to the 300 foot level 3,000 tons of ore returned $85,000 (Fritsche 1935; Sahinen 1939; WPA 1941; Wolle 1963).

In the 1890s one of the original owners, F. R. Merk, jumped the claim and renamed it the Bowery. He utilized a law prohibiting the foreign ownership of mining properties. Although the law was aimed at the "Celestial threat", it also worked to Merk's favor against the English company. Under his direction the mine was soon producing a carload of $20 per ton gold ore per day. F. R. Merk's son W. W. Merk ran the operation. In 1900 Merk constructed a 20-stamp mill and a cyanidation plant to work the ore, one on Cherry Creek and the other below Silver Star. The Cherry Creek plant featured a 70 h.p. boiler and a 20 h.p. hoist. Despite using cyanide and amalgamation processes, the mill recovered only 60 percent of the ore values, mill tails were sent to Butte where they returned $10 to $12 per ton. After the mill and cyanide plant burned down, all of the ore was shipped to the smelter. Although Merk continued to own the property until 1918, the mine was worked after 1902 by lessees.

In the early 1930s the mill tails were reworked for a good profit. In 1935 the mine was in the hands of the Broadway Gold Mining Company. The name of the mine was changed to the Victoria in 1936 when it was bought by the Knapp Taylor Nelson Company. This company owned the patented Victoria claim and acquired the Maryland, Delaware and American claim. To work the ore from the mines, a 100-ton mill and cyanide plant was erected. The mill processed from 2,000 to 3,000 tons of ore per month. Concentrates were retorted at the mine and gold bars shipped directly to the U. S. Mint. The operation was shut down during World War II by the ban on gold mining. Production on the Victoria resumed in 1949 (Fritzsche 1935, McMillan 1935; Anderson and Decco 1988).

The mine reported production in nearly every year between 1905 and 1940 with a total of $1,050,000 return on all ore. It was discussed in the mining literature in 1903, 1904, 1928, 1933, and 1937 (Fritsche 1935; Walsh and Orem 1912; Sahinen 1939; WPA 1941; Wolle 1963).

Edgerton-Eagle

The Edgerton property is located in section 3, T2S, R6W, 2.75 miles west of Silver Star. The mine historically was operated in conjunction with the Eagle mine of the Green Campbell group. The mine is developed by one shaft 250 feet deep and by a tunnel 600 feet long. About 5,000 tons of ore were estimated to have been produced by the mine, yielding about $85,000. Although the mine was mentioned in the mining literature as early as 1904, production was reported in nearly every year between 1914 and 1940. In 1934 the mine was owned by R. J. Barkell of Silver Star and leased to J. A. Barkell and Ray Cornforth (Fritzshe 1935; WPA 1941).

Golden Rod (Iron Rod )

The Iron Rod mine, in sections 15 and 22, T2S, R6W, is three miles south of Silver Star and two miles west of the Iron Rod station. The property consists of eight patented and seven unpatented claims. The mine was located in 1868 and was the second lode mine in the district. In the early 1870s a 900 foot tunnel was run to drain and explore the mineral deposit at depth. Ore from the mine was worked in the Stevens and Trivett 12 stamp mill on the Jefferson River. Later this mill and the Iron Rod mine came into the ownership of Dahler, Poert and others. From its discovery to 1887 the mine is estimated to have produced $500,000 in ore; from 1888 to 1913 records indicate a production of $130,000. The Iron Rod mine reported production in 1868, 1870, 1871, 1875, 1881 and again from 1906 through 1911 (Fritzsche 1935; WPA 1941; Wolle 1963).

Renamed the Golden Rod, the mine again reported production from 1934 to 1940. A new 1,000 foot tunnel, 200 feet below the old workings, was driven in 1934 and 1935. The tunnel followed a clay seam for 800 feet to where it began to encounter gold ore pockets.that were 50 feet long and several feet wide(Fritzsche 1935; WPA 1941; Wolle 1963).

Green Campbell

The Green Campbell property is located in section 3, T2S, R6W about three miles from Silver Star. The property is composed of five patented claims. It was developed by two shafts, each 400 feet on the incline and by a 800 foot tunnel. About 25,000 tons of ore were extracted from 700 feet of drifts, none of which were below 200 feet (Fritzshe 1935).

The mine was the first mine to be discovered in the Silver Star district in 1867 and was one of the first quartz mines to be patented in Montana. In 1870 ores from this mine were treated in the Everett (also known as the Green Campbell) amalgamation mill which was equipped with 10 stamps, four Horn pans, and two settlers. Detailed production records from this period show the mine and mill to have produced $270,000 between 1867 and 1881; in 1871 alone, the mine and mill produced $96,000. In 1873, the mine was idled for a time due to a scarcity of skilled labor and the high price of labor and supplies. The mill at the site was re-outfitted to work as a custom mill (Fritzsche 1935).

In 1890 a 5-stamp water powered mill was erected and had good results. In 1912 the mine was owned by the Green Campbell Mining Company and operated by lessees. Ore was pulled from old stopes and pillars attached to a 800 foot long tunnel. After 1915 the mine reported production intermittently until 1942. The mine was owned by Barrette C. Leyson and E. O. Pace in 1934. The mine was finally closed in 1942 by the Federal ban on gold mining during World War II. Total production credited to the mine has been estimated at $400,000 to $1,000,000 with estimates of gold production ranging as high a 20,000 ounces (Sahinen 1935; 1939; Walsh and Orem 1912; Winchell 1914; WPA 1941).

Hudson

The Hudson Group is located adjacent to the Broadway mine in section 2, T2S, R6W. The property is composed of the Hudson, American, Ajax, Morning and Saple Orr claims. Initially, a 350 foot incline shaft opened up the mineral deposit and the ore was hauled to Iron Rod and milled in a 15 stamp cyanidation mill. Prior to 1900 the mine was estimated to have produced $37,500 in ore (Fritzshe 1935).

At the turn of the century, the Hudson mine was owned by Charles Dahler and the Largey Estate. In 1900 production from the mine nearly met all previous production at $34,500. However, after 1901 the mine was worked by a series of lessees. The mine was operated by the Hudson Mining Company in 1905. In 1906 the Iron Rod Mining Company took over production at the mine. From 1901 to 1910, the mine produced only $35,000. In 1912 the mine was owned by Charles Dahler and Company while the Largey Estate operated the mine. Under the direction of John Sheehan, supervisor, twenty men were put to work developing the mine with a second 300 foot shaft. The mine was stayed in fairly regular production until 1920. Total production from 1910 to 1920 was $41,500. From 1925 to 1934 the mine was owned by the Largey Estate and worked only occasionally. Production from 1921 to 1935 amounted to only $1,500. The mine was discussed in the mining literature in 1903, 1910, 1914, 1933 and 1937 with total production reported at $150,000 (Fritzsche 1935; WPA 1941).

King Fisher

The King Fisher property reported production of oxidized gold, silver and copper ore in 1911, 1916, 1917, 1925 and 1929 (WPA 1941).

Moonlight

The Moonlight mine reported gold and silver production from 1905 to 1910 and again from 1938 to 1940. The mine was discussed in the mining literature in 1904, 1905 and again in 1909 (WPA 1941).

Silver Star

The Silver Star mine is located in northwest section 10, T2S, R6W. The mine was one of the first rich mines of the district. The nearby town of Silver Star was named after the mine which was owned by George and Bill Boyer. Patent records (MS #3904) show the mine was formally claimed by Elmer Johnson, John Hudson, and Fredrick Merk on January 1, 1879. By this time, however, the mine had been actively mined for over a decade (GLO; Cheney 1983; Anderson and Decco 1988).

Strawn, Julian and Son.

The Strawn property was developed on an antimony deposit in 1918. In 1922 the mine was developed and worked for gold values by the Barnes-King Development Company. The mine was in production from 1922 to 1931 and again in 1934 and 1938. The mine was mentioned in the mining literature in 1930 (WPA 1941).

Wheal Clifford

The Wheal Clifford property reported production from 1919 to 1922 and again in 1940 (WPA 1941).

Other Mines

Other mines discussed by Anderson and Decco (1988) include the Argalia, Ajax, Baccharat, Bulldog, Chromite, Clancy, Clipper, Crickett , Galena, Glenns Falls, Keystone, Locust, Sample Orr, and Golden Spike / Stella.

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