aka Browns Gulch

aka Granite Creek aka Williams Gulch aka Barton Gulch

The first discovery of placer gold in Alder Gulch occurred on May 22, 1863, when a small group of prospectors, including William Fairweather, Henry Edgar and Barney Hughes, panned the creek while on their way back to Bannack. The party had discovered what would become the richest placer strike in the history of the Montana Territory. The prospectors, however, had lost most of their supplies in an encounter with the Crow Indians and had to return to Bannack following the initial strike. They tried to keep the discovery a secret, but word inevitably got out and a horde of some 200 men followed them back to Alder Gulch. As word of the rich diggings along Alder Gulch became known, there was a general exodus from Bannack where the placer workings were starting to play out. Miners swarmed up and down Alder Gulch and within a year the population would swell to an estimated 10,000 people, and the Virginia City mining district and its sub-districts were established. Settlements were established along the gulch with Alder at the mouth, Summit at the head, Virginia City in the middle and Adobetown, Central City, Junction and Nevada City scattered in between resulting in a rambling, ramshackle continuous settlement extending up and down the gulch for 14 miles (Figure 1). For this reason the early settlement was also known as Fourteen-mile City. In 1865 the territorial seat of government moved from Bannack to Virginia City which remained the territorial capital until 1875 when the capital was moved to Helena (Malone and Roeder 1976; Wolle 1963).

Geologically, the Virginia City mining district (VCMD) is in the southern portion of the Tobacco Root mountains in Madison County on lands that slope to the north from Ramshorn and South Baldy mountains. The primary rocks are gneiss and schists of igneous and sedimentary origin which were formed in the pre-Paleozoic period and are part of the pre-Belt Series. During the late Cretaceous or early Tertiary the intrusion of a quartz monzonite batholith was the most significant event in the geologic history of the region. The metals formed within the batholith were the reason for the mining efforts in the area (Tansley et al. 1933:47).

The Tobacco Root batholith covers an area of about 100 square miles with numerous outliers, one of which is in the Virginia City area. In the Virginia City area the ore deposits occur in fissure filling veins which are independent of the bedding planes in the gneiss or schist and tend to dip to the north. These veins are the basis of the lode development in the VCMD and many of these veins have been mined for considerable distances. The Easton-Pacific vein system is economically the most important vein system in the VCMD. Besides the vein systems there are limestone beds in the Baldy Mountain area which "probably served as an important host rock for numerous high-grade ore lenses, which through erosion, gave rise to much of the Alder Gulch placer gold" (Tansley et al. 1933:47).

Ore deposits in Browns Gulch consist of argentite, auriferous pyrite, native silver, tetrahedrite, native gold, sphalerite, and stibnite. In the Summit district, ores consist of pyrite and course native (telluride) gold, with little silver or base metals. In the Fairweather and Highland districts stringers and quartz veins carry pyrite, chalcopyrite, and galena. A fissure vein on the Winnetka mine contains quartz, pyrite, telluride, hematite, limonite, and chalcopyrite. The primary recovered metals are gold and silver (Winchell 1914:163-164).

Placer Mining

The area around the initial strike was organized as the Fairweather placer district on June 6, 1863, the same day Fairweather's group, and the mob of following miners, arrived back in the gulch. Other meetings followed which adopted mining laws, set up a miner's court, elected officials and created other mining districts. By the end of 1864 all of Alder Gulch was staked with placer mining claims and divided into placer mining districts. These districts were based primarily on the potential of the placer gravels although they also included lode claims. The Fairweather district was located in the center of the gulch. Above the Fairweather was the Pine Grove district and above it, at the head of the gulch, was the Summit district. Extending down the gulch from the discovery site were the Nevada and Junction districts. Located south of Nevada City, was the Browns Gulch district in the gulch of the same name. The Granite district was established along Granite Creek, about two miles northwest of Nevada City. The Highland, Barton Gulch, and Williams Gulch districts were added later to what became the overall Virginia City mining district (Tansley et al. 1933; Malone and Roeder 1976; Wolle 1963).

Within five years the placer boom was all but over. Estimates of the amount of gold taken from the gulch during the first five years are put at $30,000,000 to $40,000,000. Although the boom was over, lesser amounts of placer gold would continue to be taken from the gulch for the next two decades. Chinese miners leased many of the original claims and methodically worked over the mined areas, recovering considerable amounts of gold missed by the early placer miners. White placer miners also continued to work the gulch until as late as 1887. An additional $10,000,000 worth of gold was taken from the gulch during this period.

Placer mining can only work relatively shallow deposits and many mining experts realized there was undoubtedly a large amount of gold still to be found along the gulch. The only feasible way to get the remaining gold would be with floating dredges. In 1896, the second period of placer mining began when the Conrey Placer Mining Company was organized to dredge the gulch. The company bought up placer ground along the gulch as well as a number of ranches below the mouth of the gulch. The first dredge went into operation in 1899. Ultimately, six dredges were constructed which, during the next 24 years, processed over 37 million cubic yards of ground along a seven-mile long stretch of bottom land from Virginia City to Alder.

The Conrey company's most productive year was in 1915 when it had four electric dredges working at once. They processed some six million cubic yards of gravel, recovering more than $800,000 in gold. By the first part of 1922 the company decided that all the dredgeable ground was exhausted and it closed down the operation. The company's two decades of dredging the seven miles of Alder Gulch were profitable ones with a total of $9,000,000 worth of gold being recovered. Shortly after the dredges were shut down, most were disassembled and the equipment sold for scrap while the heavy wooden barges were left to slowly rot away in their dredge ponds (Lyden 1948; Wolle 1963).

For the next 12 years only small-scale sluicing operations occurred in Alder Gulch. In July of 1935 the Humphrey's Gold corporation set up a 5,000-yard, dry-land dredging operation that operated until June 1937, producing a total of 19,592 ounces of gold. In 1940 and 1941 another company operated a dry-land dredge that recovered about 1180 ounces of gold. Although small pockets of gold little mining has been undertaken since the early 1940's, there has been continuous exploration for high grade lode deposits and bulk tonnage low grade gold deposits (Chavez 1993). Recently mining has resumed on a small-scale with some of the dredge tails being reworked for industrial garnets and (Gray 1991a; Lyden 1948).

Early Lode Mining of Free-Milling Ores

Mining in Alder Gulch has not been restricted to just placer mining and dredging operations. Lode mining in the area got under way shortly after the first discoveries of gold. The first lode claims were made in 1864 and five mills were in operation the following year. These early hard rock mines were usually fairly shallow, and mined oxidized ores that could be easily milled for the free gold. The Summit district, in particular, had a number of these rich deposits with ore that produced $500 to $1000 in gold per ton. By the mid-1870s these free-milling deposits had been depleted. Most of the veins continued at deeper levels, but as deeper ores became more complex; the primitive machinery and milling equipment were unable to process it. By 1876 only the Oro Cache mine was still operating in the Summit district. The mine had exceptionally rich ore and produced $1,250,000 in free-milled gold even though only crude horse-driven arastras were used to pulverize the ore. When the free-milling ore ran out, the mine was abandoned, leaving large deposits of rich, but complex ore (Cope 1888; BLM 1990).

The first period of significance for hard rock quartz mines, from 1864 until 1876, is measured by the activity of the lode mines during the days of free-milling. A partial list of the active mines and their respective sub-districts (in parentheses) includes: Black Lode (Browns Gulch), Christinot Claim (Summit), Delton (Browns), Easton (Browns), Eumenia (Browns), Gould and Coury (Browns), Kearsarge (Summit), Louin (Browns), Lucas (Summit), Oro Cache (Summit), Pacific (Browns), Polar Star (Summit), and True Silver (Browns). Little remains of these mines, still less of the hundreds of smaller claims that never reported their production or never progressed past the prospect phase of development. In the twelve years that the bonanza mines were active, men such as Henry Elling were able to build fortunes by selling supplies to the miners and by promoting and developing the mines (Gray 1991b).

Although the 1880's and 1890's saw little of the excitement of the bonanza mines, the hills and gulches around Virginia City were not abandoned. The development of dynamite brought hard rock mining into the realm of the small investor and many small "ma and pops" mines sprang up. In this interim period only one large mine was discovered and developed. The Prospect mine was discovered in 1880 by Samuel B. Rice and George W. Layton. In 1892 Col. P. A. Langley built a 10-stamp mill on the site. The mine proved itself, and its lifespan extended well into the 1930's with a new and more efficient 60-ton mill replacing the old one in 1932 (Friedman 1989).

The second significant period of hardrock mining had to wait for two developments: perfection of cyanide milling methods and completion of the Northern Pacific rail spur in 1901 from Whitehall to Alder. The cyanide method allowed the processing of lower grade ores and the reprocessing of poorly milled tailings. The railroad made it possible to ship lower-grade, complex ores to smelters for processing. A number of mining and milling operations were started in the Virginia City area during the first half of the twentieth century. Some of the principal mines from the second period of significance were the: Alemeda (Fairweather), Bamboo Chief (Fairweather), Easton (Browns), Fairweather (Summit), High Up (Hungry Hollow), Kearsarge (Summit), Marietta (Summit), Monte Christo (Alder Gulch), Pacific (Browns) and the U.S. Grant (Alder Gulch). The Kearsarge and General Shafter mines in the Summit district were the largest and perhaps the most important mines in production during this period. Henry Elling (in the persona of his estate) and C. E. Damours were important mine developers, but most of the mines were developed by syndicates and other investor groups (Gray 1991b; Wolle 1963; Madison County History Association 1983; BLM 1990).

Many small subsistence level operations were active during the economic depression of the 1930's. This third period of lode mining spanned the Great Depression and lasted until the advent of World War II when gold mining was prohibited as non-essential for the war effort. Many of these mines had no recorded name or had no recorded production. The biggest of the depression era mines was the Marietta, which was technically in the Summit mining district, but was located over the ridge in Barton Gulch. The Marietta was extensively developed in the 1930's under the supervision of W. L. Bell. The 100-ton flotation mill, installed in the 1920's, was replaced by a 50-ton mill that was able to produce .27 ounces of gold and 1.11 ounces of silver per ton of ore. Development of another depression era mine, the Winnetka, was financed by eastern money from investors of Chinese and Euroamerican extraction (Gray 1991b).

Estimates of the total amount of gold produced in the Virginia City region range from a low of $30,000,000 to a high of $150,000,000. Tansley, Schafer and Hart (1933) put the total at over $54,000,000 in 1933, although this figure was based on conservative estimates of early production from data published by the United States Geological Survey. Even conservative figures show Alder Gulch and the surrounding area to be one of the richest gold-producing areas in the West.


The Virginia City mining district is a collection of mining districts in the vicinity of Virginia City on either side of U.S. Highway 287. The districts were originally based on placer areas which were the gulches or drainages in the area of Virginia City. As lode mining developed the lode claims were subsumed as part of the appropriate mining district and, through the years, all districts became absorbed under the "Virginia City mining district" (Figure 1).

District Descriptions and Discussions

G. C. Swallow, the Inspector of Mines, described a large Virginia City district in some detail in his 1890 semi-annual report. He listed hard rock mines in Alder, Oro Cache, Bachelor, Spratt, Mill, Williams, Business, Harrison, Ramshorn, California, Granite and Nevada gulches. Ramshorn, California, and Granite gulches are to the north of Virginia City. The Kennett and Bertha mines, over the ridge to the northeast of Virginia City, are included in this larger district. Swallow also included the Alder, Ruby and Sheridan placers as part of this district.

Wilfred Tansley (1933) describes a smaller and less tenuous district: "The Virginia City region lies near the head of Alder Gulch and is herein considered to include the Alder Gulch, Browns Gulch, Granite Creek, Fairweather, Highland, Pine Grove, Williams Gulch and Barton Gulch Districts." This differs from Swallow's definition by excluding the California and Ramshorn Gulch mines that are accessed north of Alder. The mines in Mill Gulch are considered to be in Alder Gulch. To the east, over the ridge from Granite Gulch, the Kennett and Bertha mines are also absent from the description. The Alder, Ruby and Sheridan placers are also excluded.

A. N. Winchell in his "Mining Districts of the Dillon Quadrangle, Montana, and adjacent areas" (1914) mentions that six districts were established on Alder Gulch in the 1860's. While none are specifically mentioned, it can be assumed that the Williams Gulch District and the Ruby and Granite Gulch District to the north are excluded from the number.

The smallest boundary for the Virginia City mines was defined by S. H. Lorain in his "Gold Lode Mining in the Tobacco Root Mountains" (1937):

Although the region was originally divided into several districts, there is little reason for such a division, except for the group of mines on Barton Gulch several miles west of the Marietta. Nearly all other veins of the district are scattered along a belt several miles wide between Mount Baldy and Virginia City. There are few differences in the general character of the ores. Lorain's definition agrees with Winchell's. However, by describing a mining corridor without reference to the gulches, he was able to include the Marietta Mine in Barton Gulch while excluding other mines in the Ruby River drainage.

Definition of the VCMD

The greater Virginia City mining district (VCMD) as noted above is composed of varying combinations of smaller mining districts. The definition of the district by Tansley et al (1933) is the basis for the map (Figure 1). Generally, the mines are in gulches that drain into Alder Gulch near or above Virginia City. Exceptions to this rule occur in the eastern portion of Williams and Barton Gulches which drain into the Ruby River. However, all mines within the district have historic road access to Virginia City.

South of Virginia City, the area included in a historic mining district includes the Alder Gulch, Browns Gulch, Fairweather, Highland, Pine Grove and Summit districts. The Marietta mine complex in the eastern portion of Barton Gulch will be considered to be part of the Summit district. Similarly, any mines found in the extreme eastern portion of Williams Gulch will be considered to be in the Browns Gulch district. Although omitted in historic definitions, the Hungry Hollow district, which lies between Alder and Browns Gulch, is included in the general Virginia City district. In the foothills north of Alder Gulch, are several relatively isolated mines which are not identified with any district or are described as being in the Nevada district. These mines can be found in Water, McNeal and Herman gulches.

The mines in the Granite Creek and the Slade mining districts were at first considered for inclusion in the larger Virginia City mining district. However, research revealed the Granite Creek mines to be isolated efforts with neither the numbers or interrelations typical of the other sub-districts. The Kennett and Bertha mines in Slade district, also included by some historic sources, were found to be part of a district that extended northeast and north. While qualifying as a district with some Virginia City connections, geographically the Slade district has even greater attachments to Ennis. For these reasons, the Virginia City mining district boundaries were drawn to exclude these areas.

The small mining districts found in the greater Virginia City area are considered sub-districts to the larger Virginia City mining district. The survey plats and survey field notes of patented claims were reviewed for the area around Virginia City. Individual mines found in the area were assigned to specific sub-districts according to the district designation given in the official Mineral Survey Records. By plotting the location of mines in each sub-district, boundaries were determined. The greater Virginia City mining district boundaries were drawn on a map to include the sub-districts.

The Virginia City mining district, as shown in Figure 1, is defined by Gray (1991b) as follows:

All of the area within the city limits of Virginia City, Montana, plus the greater area included within a line drawn from the southern city limits boundary along the eastern edge of Section 23 and 26 of Township 6S, Range 3W. The border continues due south to the midpoint of Section 35, thence it runs due east bisecting Section 36 to the eastern edge of Range 3 West. From this point the line runs south along the Range 3 West/Range 2 West border which is the eastern boundary of the District. In Section 25, T7S, R3W the line strikes westward along UTM Zone 12, 5005 000 North. This cuts across the saddle between Bachelor Gulch and Buffalo Creek. This is the southern boundary of the District. The line continues along this line until it intersects with UTM 425 00 East, which lies near the middle of Section 27, T7S, R3W. The line then runs north along UTM 425 00 East to the northern boundary of Section 27. From that point it runs west to the northwest corner of Section 27. It then turns and runs north along the Section 21/22 boundary and continues along the Section 16/15 border until it intersects UTM 5008 000 North. From there it continues along the UTM 5008 000 North line to the western boundary of Section 16, T7S, R3W. The line strikes due north along the Section 16/17 boundary, the Section 9/8 boundary and the Section 4/5 boundary to the northern border of Township 7 South, Range 3 West. It continues westward along this border one mile to the southeast corner of Section 31, T6S, R3W. The line runs north to the quarter section mark between Sections 32/31. From that point it strikes westward to a point 100 yards past the midpoint of Section 31, T6S, R3W. From that point the line runs due north to the northern border of Section 31. The line then runs eastward to the NE corner of Section 31. It then turns north and follows the boundary lines between Sections 29/30, 20/19, 17/18 and 7/8 to where it intersects Montana State Highway 287. It then proceeds in a westward direction along the highway to the western boundary of Section 13, T6S, R4W. From that point it strikes north along the boundaries between Sections 13/14, 12/11, and 1/2 to where it intersects the northern border of Township 6 South at the northwest corner of Section 1, this being the western boundary of the District. From northwest Section 1, the line runs east along the boundary between Townships 5/6 South to the northeast corner of Section 5, T6S, R3W, this comprises the northern border of the District. From the northwest corner of Section 5, T6S, R3W, the boundary line runs south and east along the eastern and northern edges of sections 5, 9, 15, and 23. As the line descends south on the eastern side of Section 23, it intersects the Virginia City, city limits, the point of beginning.

(Boundaries of individual mining districts was drawn from Jerry Clark's "A Reconnaissance Inventory of Historic Mining Resources in the Summit, Browns Gulch, and Hungry Hollow Mining Districts, Madison County, Montana" (Butte: Butte District Bureau of Land Management) August, 1990.)


A brief historical discussion follows for specific mine and mill sites and placer operations in the VCMD for each period of operation. The physical remains of these mines have been recorded and their histories compiled. This data has then been used to identify mines were operational during the five major periods of activity: the early placer boom, the era of free-milling ores from lode claims, dredging and the Conrey operations, the early twentieth century lode claims using cyanide processing, and the mining boom of the 1930's depression era.

As is true with many mining operations, activities often began in one period and continued on into additional periods. Examples are the General Shafter and New Winnetka, both of which began in the late nineteenth century or early part of the twentieth century; operated using a cyanide process into the 1920's; shut down for a few years and then reopened in the depression era. One mine, the Kearsarge, operated sporadically from the 1860's through the 1930's. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century only a few major mines were developed. The exceptions are Henry Ellings' Easton and Pacific mines which were developed in the 1880's and 1890's. A 10-stamp mill was built on the Easton group in the mid-1890's and in 1902 a cyanide plant was added. The Easton-Pacific ceased operations in 1915 but reopened in the 1930's.

The Placer Boom

The original gold rush into Alder Gulch in 1863 found what turned out to be the richest placer diggings in Montana. An estimated $30,000,000 in gold was taken from the gulch between 1863 and 1866. During the following 23 years an additional $10,000,000 was taken from the gulch by sluice boxes, pans and rockers. While the initial placer boom is perhaps the most significant historical period, no sites have been recorded that are representative of these early placers. Because of the extensive dredging by the Conrey Placer Mining Company and by later placer and dry land dredging operations, most evidence of the early hand placering of the bonanza period has been destroyed.

The Early Free-Milling Lode Claims and Mills

As the surface gold of the original placer mining claims was depleted, mining operations began developing the underground hardrock sources of the gold. From about 1865 to 1875 stamp mills and arrastras were constructed to process free-milling ores at a number of locations throughout the VCMD. There were at least eight mills in the Summit district in 1871. While little remains of the early hardrock mines, four of the early mill sites are discussed below with the information from Clark's reconnaissance survey of the area (1990:9-11).

Remains at the Old Baldy Mill Site

The stone walls of this mill are on the Old Baldy Mill Site, MS 1542B, but it was built prior to the 1887 Old Baldy mineral survey. The 1887 plat shows a "stone mill" on the site indicating it was in place prior to the mineral survey. Although there is no history on this mill site it undoubtedly was constructed during the early lode mining period (GOS mineral survey records).

North Oro Cache Mill

This 1866 structure lies near the head of Spring Gulch within the Summit district. Wolle (1963) states that a mill was constructed on Bachelder Gulch in 1865 to handle ore from the Oro Cache and a larger mill was constructed on the Oro Cache itself. The 1875 mineral survey of the North Oro Cache Lode, MS380, for Samuel B. Rice, shows a mill and house on the site and the surveyor's notes refer to "one steam quartz mill built by the Montana Gold and Silver Company in 1866 at the cost of fully $150,000 and a one story frame residence, $2,500". Although this lode claim and mill site were never patented, the area was later patented as part of the Traynor Lode, MS2827 (GOS mineral survey records; Wolle 1963).

Lucas Mill

Wolle (1963:44) quotes an article from the Montana Post which describes the Lucas Mill, located about a half mile south of the old townsite of Summit.

"We went about half a mile up the gulch to the Lucas mill, which we found pounding away. It is a twenty-four stamp mill. Mr. Countryman designed it and superintended the construction work. The building is of stone, 62 feet by 72 feet. The company is now only saving free gold. The last run of six days was satisfactory."

The mill ruin is located less than a mile south of the Summit townsite and a few hundred feet up a small eastern tributary of Alder Gulch. It is on the Lucas Lode which was located in 1890 and surveyed in 1900. While the mill is not shown on the 1900 survey plat nor mentioned in the surveyor's notes, it is on the plat for the 323 Placer which was surveyed in February, 1875 (GOS mineral survey records; Wolle 1963).

Junction Mill

Only the stone footings from this mill just north of Highway 287 remain to mark the Junction Mill. Ore from the Browns Gulch mines was brought to the mouth of Granite Creek for processing. Around the mill was the small mining community called, appropriately, Junction.

Scranton Mill

On the 1875 plat map a structure, the "Scranton Mining Co's Stone Quartz Mill", is shown. A stone structure is still in this location and may have been the Scranton Mill although it was probably adapted to other uses through the years.

Dredging and the Conrey Placer Mining Company

A small dredge was built and operated in 1896 and 1897 four miles below Virginia City by the German Bar Placer Mining Company but the operation recovered negligible amounts of gold. Alder Gulch appeared to be worked out. However, a Harvard University geologist, Dr. N. S. Shaler, concluded otherwise and persuaded Gordon McKay, a shoe manufacturer from Boston, to organize the Conrey Placer Mining Company in 1898. The company was named after the Phillip Conrey ranch at the bottom of Alder Gulch which McKay bought for $30,000 and where the company began its operations. The company built its first dredge in 1899 and put it into operation on the property in the fall of that year (Lyden 1948; Wolle 1963; Spence 1989).

The first dredge to work the company's land, however, was not owned by the Conrey company. The steam-powered dredge, the Maggie Gibson, was built in Bannack around 1894 and then was moved to Alder Gulch in 1898. It worked the company's land on a royalty basis for over four years but only processed about a million cubic yards of material.

The Conrey company continued to buy up placer ground along the gulch as well as a number of ranches below the mouth of the gulch. As the company's holdings were enlarged, more dredges were built. Another steam-powered boat was constructed in 1901, followed by four electric-powered dredges after electricity was brought into the gulch in 1906 (Wolle 1963; Spence 1989).

During the next 24 years the company dredged the seven-mile long stretch of bottom lands along Alder Gulch Creek from the town of Alder to Virginia City. The six connected-bucket dredges ultimately processed over 37 million cubic yards of ground. McKay served as the company's president until his death several years after the dredging operations had been underway. Dr. Shaler succeeded McKay as president but McKay's will left the controlling interest in the company to Harvard University which reaped a sizable income from the Alder Gulch dredging operation for the next twenty years (Wolle 1948; Spence 1989).

The Conrey company built two steam-powered dredges of its own that began operations along the creek in 1899 and 1901. The first was named the Gordon [after McKay] and operated for the next eight years. Initially it was found to be too small for the Alder Gulch gravels and had to be equipped with heavier machinery but then operated until it was dismantled in 1907. In 1906 the first electric dredge was built which had a digging ladder of 96 buckets with each bucket having a 9.5 cubic foot capacity. The company built three more electric dredges, including the No. 4 dredge in 1911, which cost $296,000 and was the largest dredge in the world. The original design, however, was flawed and it had to be rebuilt. The finished dredge had a digging ladder of 80 buckets that could reach 54 feet below the water surface. Each bucket weighed 5,200 pounds and had a capacity of 16 cubic feet. They were dumped into a revolving screen cylinder 40 feet long at a rate of 22 per minute. The finest sands and gravels sifted down to riffles which were constantly sprayed with water while the coarser gravels and rocks were carried on a conveyor belt and dumped in 50-foot high windrows behind the dredge. The heavy gold would settle in the riffles and when combined with small amounts of mercury formed an amalgam. Once a week the riffles were cleaned and the amalgam was treated in coke furnaces on the dredge and formed into 20 to 45 pound gold ingots. In spite of the dredge's size and complexity, it took surprisingly few men to run it and it could be operated for a little over two and one half cents per cubic yard material processed. At night the dredge was operated by an engineer, a pilot and two oilers. A dredge master, lineman, teamster and two laborers were added to the two shifts during the day (KOA handout; Lyden 1948; Spence 1989).

The Conrey company's most productive year was in 1915 when all four electric dredges were working at once. They processed some six million cubic yards of gravel, recovering more than $800,000 in gold. By the first part of 1922 the company decided that all the dredgeable ground was exhausted and it closed down the operation. However, the company's two decades of dredging the seven miles of Alder Gulch were profitable ones with a total of $9,000,000 worth of gold being recovered. Shortly after the dredges were shut down, they were dismantled and sold for scrap. The sunken hull of Dredge No. 4 can still be seen in the pond next to the Alder KOA campground (Lyden 1948; Wolle 1963; Spence 1989).

Mines Using Cyanide Processing

Easton and Pacific Mines

Two mines shown on the USGS Cirque Lake, Mont. provisional 1988 quadrangle map are the Eastern Pacific and Pacific mines. The "Eastern Pacific" is misnamed and is actually the historic Easton mine.

The Easton and Pacific lode groups were located in the 1880's and 1890's. The Easton and Pacific lode groups, developed by Elling between 1890 and 1900, are sometimes referred to as separate properties but often simply called the Easton-Pacific. The lode groups up Browns Gulch and two mill sites at the mouth of Granite Creek on Alder Gulch were surveyed for Henry Elling in 1894: the Easton Mill Site (MS4513B) and the American Mill site (MS4514B) (Mineral Survey Records). However, an existing mill is shown on the 1894 plat map (GLO Records). This mill probably from the early lode mining days was apparently leased by Elling in 1892 to process ores from these and possibly other mines up Browns Gulch.

Elling later constructed a 10 stamp mill capable of processing 30 tons a day on the Easton group thus moving the ore concentration up closer to the mining operations (Byrne and Hunter 1902). A cyanide plant was added to the operation in 1902 to treat the mill tailings. Initially power for the mill was supplied by a steam plant. However, in 1908 Henry Elling organized the Economy Power Company which developed a plant at Blaine Spring on the Madison River to supply electricity to the Easton mine and Virginia City (Byrne and Barry 1902; Walsh and Oren 1912; J. Clark 1990 based on personal communication from Bill Babcock of Virginia City).

In 1900 there were 35 men working at the Easton and six miners at the Pacific. Depending on the demands of the two developments, the labor force was transferred between the two claim groups as needed Total employment in 1906 was 43 and by 1912, 60 men were working the Easton-Pacific (Walsh and Oren 1912).

About 1915 mining ceased and the Elling Estate was reported by the Mining Truth of November 1929 to have sold these properties to "eastern interests" in 1929. The Easton-Pacific was reportedly the most important quartz property in the area with production between 1902 and 1935 totaling 22,091 oz. of gold and 759,148 oz. of silver (Tansley et al 1933; Lorain 1937).

Highland Mine

The Highland mine was located on February 27, 1901 by Henry E. Steffens and others. In 1903 the Highland Mine strike (a nine-foot wide seam of $23 per ton gold ore) was reported to the Mining World. At the time of the patent survey in July of 1904, the mine consisted of four open cuts and three short tunnels. Two months later it was reported that the Dakotah Mining Company, with Thomas G. Post as supervisor, was developing a 110 ft shaft in Hungry Hollow. The only production was reported in 1918 (GLO Mineral Survey; Mining World 1903; Mineral Record 1919).


The Kearsarge was one of early producers of free-milling gold in the Summit district and reportedly yielded a half million dollars from free quartz between 1865 and 1866. However, its main development was after the Northern Pacific rail line was completed to Alder when it was developed by C. A. Damours and Willard B. Millard and production began in 1901. At one time the Kearsarge employed up to 200 men, had the largest mill and a major complex of associated buildings. It occupied much of the old Summit townsite and was the biggest operation in the VCMD. C. A. Damours and the Alder Company brought in a 60-stamp mill. A fire in the Kearsarge in November of 1903 killed eight men and seriously damaged the mine. Although it was reopened after the fire, the mine and mill never reached previous levels of production (Cope 1888; Byrne and Barry 1902; Mining World 1903; Winchell 1914; Pace 1962).

Nellie Bly

In August of 1901, the Nellie Bly was reported to have been worked for two months by L. O. Enoch, who had four to five tons of ore ready for shipment. This low grade ore was shipped to Twin Bridges for processing. In November, 1,000 ft of development, mostly tunneling was reported (Western Mining World 1901).

In 1909 interest was renewed in the mine. The Butte-Alder Gulch Exploration Company, with James McKee of Butte as President and M. R. Ostronich as supervisor, took a lease and bond on the mine and prepared for extensive work. They found a vein seven feet wide and blocked out 12,000 tons of ore worth $10 per ton. Seven men started work after Christmas and drove a 300 foot tunnel on the lead. A raise was started to connect with the upper tunnel, 93 feet above (Mining World 1910; Walsh 1912).

The Nellie Bly was officially located on August 18, 1914. R. L. Ruble, the owner, listed a number of improvements including: a short discovery tunnel, an 87-foot tunnel, a 73-foot tunnel, a 328-foot tunnel, a 70-foot raise and an 85-foot inclined shaft. The mine was the dominant property worked in connection with the Alder Fraction, Prescott and the Malta mines (GLO Mineral Survey).

St. John Mine

In late 1896, B. J. Fine and O'Donnell took out a bond for development from John Reed, the owner of the St. John Lode. The mine had been developed for a long time but its complex ores could not be treated until Fine and Company applied a cyanide process.

Located on October 31, 1891, the St. John Lode was surveyed for patent in July of 1900. John Reed estimated improvements (three shafts: 60, 68 and 20 feet deep) at $1,010. Reed leased the mine to E. M. Wade in early 1901. However, by November of the same year, Davis and Gray held the lease and were actively developing the property. A 500-foot tunnel was driven and work progressed on a 100-foot shaft. For the next year high grade ore was shipped to the Colorado Smelter in Butte (GLO Mineral Survey, Western Mining World 1898; 1901; 1902).

The property was again active in 1905, when C. E. Damours leased the mine and began fixing the shaft. When telluride ore worth hundreds of dollars per ton was encountered, he increased his force of men. Twelve tons of ore from the mine was sent to the East Helena Smelter in September. In 1912 McIntyre and Trask were in possession of the mine and were working it, but little came of the effort. William Hoff leased the property in 1931. He planned to install an electric hoist. Two thirds interest was given to the nearby Winnekta Mining Company in exchange for power and treatment of the ore. No production was recorded (Mining World 1905; Mineral Record 1907 - 1917: Mining Journal 1931; 1933).

In 1938 Collin J. MacKenzie, Jerry Morck and Curtis Bishop from Idaho Falls, Idaho, leased the property from Monidah Trust Company of Butte and operated the mine for three years before final cessation. Production was recorded in 1906, 1907, 1917, 1938, 1939 and 1940 (Mineral Record 1907-1917; Mineral Year 1938-1940; Lorain 1937).

Black Rock Mine

Henry E. Steffens filed a claim for the Black Rock Mine on October 7, 1912 and received a patent for it under Mineral Survey No. 9323, within the Browns Gulch mining district, on February 5, 1913. The mine stayed in the Steffens family until April 14, 1948, when Judy Steffens quit claimed it to Olivine Cobb. On November 10, 1976 the property was acquired by its current owner, Stephaine Wood. The Black Rock mine was operated in conjunction with the adjacent Homestake Mine, patented by Henry Steffens in 1905. In 1937 it was reported in a U. S. Bureau of Mines publication that the Homestake and Black Rock mines were being worked under option by Frank Hammond of Virginia City. Development consisted of a 900-foot long adit and drifts. Old stopes were found for 300 feet along the drift. The stopes were open, and supported only by stulls and headboards. Hammond and two assistants had mined about 100 tons of ore by hand in three months, with most of this coming from the edges of the old stopes. The ore was said to contain both gold and silver, mainly in quartz, which assayed between between $15 and $50 a ton (GLO Mineral Survey; Lorain 1937).

Silver Bell Mine

Henry Elling, a local mining magnate, was reported in 1903 to be the owner of the Silver Bell. However, it was Morrison, Crouse & Company which developed the lead in 1903 and sent a car load of ore to the Parrot smelter in Butte. The reported returns were similar in value to the assay samples. Four years later the mine was still paying well. In 1910, the Silver Bell mine, under the direction of William Clancy, was reported to be a collection of seven claims with a series of tunnels that reached 300 to 700 feet. The mine again saw limited production in 1919. In 1937, the mine was reopened by Rupert Garrison. A 4 x 6 foot shaft was sunk to connect with the 150-foot level. A 18-foot timber headframe was erected in connection with sinking the shaft. The engine out of a Hudson automobile provided power for the operation. The last entry for the mine in the Mineral Record was in 1939 (GLO Mineral Survey; Cope 1888; Walsh 1910; Western Mining World 1903; Lorain 1937; Stout 1959).

St. Lawrence

First mentioned in mining literature in March of 1899 when the Western Mining World noted that it had shipped a couple car loads, the St. Lawrence was incorrectly attributed to the Sheridan district. Two months later, owners Marion Baker and Dennis Duella leased the mine to P. A. Morrison, Robert Krause and C. M. Cristler. In July this group managed to ship 13 tons of ore to the Twin Bridges smelter and recovered $40 from each ton of ore. Shipments were then made to Butte smelters until April of 1900. The Bruggerman Brothers gained control of the mine and began shipping ore to the East Helena smelter in July of 1901. It was reported that on their first shipment of 20 tons they netted $600. In 1903, the mine was again being operated by the owners who reported a strike at the 200-foot level (Walsh 1910; Western Mining World 1899; 1900; 1901; 1903).

The Uncle Joe Mining Company began working the mine in 1911. The company installed a 350- foot gas hoist and re-opened the old shaft past the 150-foot to the 170-foot level. Ore from the mine was sent to the Washoe smelter in Anaconda. The patented mine claim was surveyed in October of 1929 (Mineral Record 1911; Mining World 1911; Lorain 1937; Tansley 1933).

The mine was re-opened in 1979. The headframe was repaired and moved eastward 60 yards to a new inclined shaft. This operation was running as recently as 1981 (Gray 1991b).

New Winnekta Mine

The Winnekta was first described in 1910 as a series of tunnels 200 to 400 feet long whose ore contained high values of free gold. A 10-stamp mill was erected by Fredrick C. Ball. Prior to construction of the mill, the mine was shipping two cars of ore (about 100 tons) monthly to Anaconda to be smelted. Early in 1911, Ball and Associates bought out Ball's partner, D. J. McGrath. The tunnel had been extended to 700 feet and was encountering gold bearing gneiss with some silver values. In September, a main haulage tunnel was begun just above Alder Gulch on a lower vein. Electricity was brought to the site to power a compressor and a sawmill. The mine and mill continued to make regular shipments until 1927 when the mill burned, closing the operation (Mining and Scientific Press 1912; 1918; Mining and Engineering World 1911; Mining World 1910; 1911; Walsh 1912; Winchell 1917).

In 1931, the newly incorporated Winnekta Mining Company bought the mine from Harold Gohn of Virginia City. With backing from American and Chinese American investors, R. A Brett, the President of the Company, proceeded with construction of a 50-ton mill. Production in the finished mill had to wait until September of 1931 when a water line to the mill was completed. The company also constructed an assay office, boarding house, garage, compressor plant and bunk house. With 90 feet of new drift, the total operation had over 1,400 feet of underground workings. To protect the Chinese interests, Miss Ah Hee Yong, formerly a star on Broadway and successful radio announcer, served the company as secretary and treasurer. This unusual woman had recently obtained a Masters degree in mining engineering from Columbia University. Although capitalized with $275,00 in stock, the company failed its option payment and the mine reverted to G. Harold Gohn, the former owner, who also held the positions of trustee and mine superintendent for the Winnekta Mining Company. In 1932, Harold Gohn began limited production at the mill. With four men, the mill operated for two production runs and produced 70 ounces of gold. Gohn reported the mine could be profitable if run on a moderate level of development (Mining Journal 1931; 1932; 1933; Mining Truth 1931; 1932; Tansley 1933; Lorain 1937).

In 1936, when the mine and mill were inspected, 600 feet of drift (almost all ore) and 240 feet of stoping were seen in the mine. Both square-sets and cut and fill were used in the stoping. The mill was described as a 25-ton amalgamating-concentrating operation. An Ingersoll-Rand, Type 20, 210-cubic foot compressor was powered by a 30 h.p. motor. Ore was brought from the mine to a 20-ton ore bin; passed through a grizzly; reduced in a 7 x 10 inch Blake jaw crusher; lifted by bucket to a 80-ton ore bin; passed through a 10-foot Lane Chilean mill (8 rpm, 30 mesh); passed over an amalgam plate and processed over a Whifley Table which formed final tails and concentrate. This process recovered 75 percent of the gold. Eight miners, three millmen, one blacksmith, one laborer, and one superintendent were employed at the operation until 1940 (Lorain 1937).

The claim was apparently never patented under the name "Winnetka". Examination of Government Land Office maps show it may have been first claimed as the Alder Fraction. Whatever name, the mine has an extensive history of production from 1909 to 1911, 1915, 1917 to 1919, 1923 to 1927, 1931, 1934, 1935 and 1938 to 1940. From 1909 to 1932, 3,205 ounces of gold and 4,747 ounces of silver were produced from 3,322 tons of ore. In 1931 and 1932, while under the ownership of the Winnekta Mining Company, 881 tons were processed for 236 ounces of gold (GLO Records; Mineral Record 1909-1919; Mining Year 1923-1940).

General Shafter Mine

The General Shafter was developed at the turn of the century as an extension of the earlier worked Keystone and Keystone #2. In August of 1899, C. F. Turner sold half interest in the mine to a Mr. Hartt of Michigan. Tunneling began on a 10-inch vein of gold and copper and work on a shaft commenced. Two cars of ore were shipped to East Helena, netting $701 (Western Mining World 1899).

In July of 1900, the mine was in the hands of Thomas H. Teas and Associates. Three men were busy working the mine. Cross cuts were extended from 170 feet to 240 feet. Teas began building living quarters, tunnel house and other structures in November. The following May, Bert Ribbel and R. R. Smith were sent to Butte to buy milling equipment and the latest cyanide plants. Teas began construction of a mill building and filed a location claim in July. A five-stamp mill was installed by Mitchell and Turner of Butte and operated at a capacity of 24 tons per day in August of 1901 (Western Mining World 1900, 1901; Byrne and Barry 1902).

Under the experienced eyes of Ribbel and Dan Sherman, the 400-ton ore dump began to be processed through the mill. Ore pulverized by the stamps passed through a Barr amalgamator with a cyanide attachment. Three 50-ton leaching tanks completed the recovery of 85 percent of the ore value. Fourteen men were employed at the mill and mine with two, 12-hour mill shifts and three eight-hour mine shifts. The tunnel was extended to 280 feet with 125 feet of drifts (which had $10 per ton ore), 90 feet of stopes and raises (containing $50 to $150 per ton ore). Under a bond from Henry Elling, underground tunnels were extended into the Keystone claims early in 1902. Work on the General Shafter was suspended in late November 1902 with a total of 1,200 feet of underground development. The mill processed Kearsarge ore the rest of the winter (Western Mining World 1902).

Work resumed on the mine in 1903 with a small force of men mining a newly discovered vein of high-grade gold ore. The mine next saw work in 1906 when T. B. Salisbury of Grand Forks, North Dakota extended the underground 300 feet to a total of 1,700 feet. The ore was sent to smelters in East Helena. The mine was surveyed for mineral patent on June 3, 1906. Although the mine was thought to be worked out, Salisbury briefly reopened the mine in 1911 (Western Mining World 1903; Mining World 1911; Lorain 1937).

Bell Mine

The first reported production for the Bell mine occurred in 1903. L. B. Bell of Virginia City, who had controlling interest in the Bell Mine, bonded the mine to Merrill and St. Johns of Tacoma for 18 months. In turn Merrill and St. Johns reported $25,000 in production for the period of their lease (Western Mining World 1903).

By June 1912 the ownership of the mine had passed to S. J. Bukvich. He leased the US Grant mill located one mile downstream from the mine to process ore from the Bell. At the beginning of milling operations, the Butte - Virginia Company, under F. H. Edwards, was prepared to mill 40 tons per day (Mining World 1912; Walsh 1912).

The mine disappeared from mention in the mining literature until December 1930 when the California Mining Corporation acquired the Bell Mine from the Alder Gulch Gold Corporation owned by T. Tomich of Butte. Plans were announced to install an Ellis Ball mill to process 500 tons per day. The California Alder Gulch Corporation finally reopened the Bell group in 1931 and reportedly expected to ship high grade ore Mining Truth 1931; 1932; Mining Journal 1931; 1932; Tansley 1933).

The mine was once again in the record in September of 1934 and once again in the hands of L. G. Tomich of Butte. He announced that work was underway an a shaft to connect the upper and lower tunnels (Lorain 1937).

In its final development, Alder Gold Mines incorporated in November of 1938 to work the Bell mine. Officers of the company were announced with D. W. Arbogast as president and Joe Ostronic of Virginia City as the general supervisor. In all, thirteen claims were leased from Tomich and a new mill completed. This new plant was under the supervision of Thomas McGrath, Jr. and employed 15 men. The mill boasted flotation, amalgamation and cyanide equipment. No production or work was reported after 1938 (Mining Year 1938).

East Mapleton Mine

Since the mine failed to attract major investors, it was never fully developed and little is known of its history. In 1903 it was noted in the Mining and Scientific Press that W. Snidow and P. McGovern of Adobetown had the lease on the East Mapleton mine and had shipped a 200-ton shipment to the smelter with a $40 per ton return. In 1936, the Mining Journal recorded that J. F. Dixon had leased the property from the Elling and Millard estates. The mine consisted of a 90-foot shaft and three 750-foot adits on two claims and had begun to ship ore. When one of the adits was observed in 1990 it was found to have only been excavated 30 feet and a bulkhead installed. The remaining 720 feet of adit existed only on paper( GLO Records, Mining and Scientific Press 1903; Mining Journal 1936).

Omaha Mine

The Omaha mine was surveyed for patent on February 5, 1904. The claim had an open cut 18 feet long. It was part of the development of the Kearsarge group by the Alder Company which patented 15 claims with $14,597 in improvements. In 1911, W. B. Millard and Gerry Raine drove the shaft to 125 feet with a level at 65 feet. They were following a three-foot wide vein. Seventy- five tons of ore were in the dump. Ore samples were run through the General Shafter mill to determine treatment (GLO Records; Mining and Engineering World 1911).

The Highup Group

Most of the claims in Hungry Hollow belong to a single group, the Highup. Surveyors notes and maps of 1913 for E. W. Merritt and W. J. Bates indicate improvements included four discovery shafts, a discovery tunnel, four tunnels, three drifts, a shaft and two crosscuts, a house and a shop. Merritt reportedly opened a 600-foot tunnel in 1910, and a 1,100-foot tunnel two years later. However, the mine was reported to have been closed until a mill could be built. A postscript on the Highup Group is a 1937 article in the Mining Journal. This states that Walter K. Mallette and S. F. Mallette of Spokane were retimbering old tunnels, "...extending into known shoots for testing", and proposed to install new milling equipment if their exploratory work proved successful (GLO Records; Mining Journal 1937).

Depression Era Mines

Prospect Mine

The first record of the Prospect mine was a notice of a seven-ton shipment of ore to the East Helena smelter in March of 1898 (Mining Journal 1898). The mine was probably active for a period around the turn of the century and then was apparently closed for the next three decades.

The mine was re-opened in 1931 and was widely promoted in the trade magazines. By November the mine was shipping three carloads of ore a week to the Washoe smelter in Anaconda. To do this, three shifts of seven men worked around the clock. R. E. Tower and Associates were developing the mine under the auspices of the Montana Gold Mines Company. The Gold Coin Mining Company [another of their interests] built a power line to the site. In 1932, the company announced plans to build a 60-ton amalgamation and flotation plant at the mine. The plant was ordered and $12,500 was spent on improvements in the mine. The tunnels were re-timbered and 25-pound tram rails were installed. Two 12,000 gallon tanks were installed on top of the hill to provide both water pressure and fire protection. With five of the claims owned outright, 6,000 tons of ore in the dump, and 41,000 tons of $14 per ton ore blocked out in the mine, the mine was on sound financial footing (Lorain 1937; Tansley 1933; Mining Truth 1932; Mining Journal 1931; 1932; 1933).

In 1935, a new strike was uncovered at the 400-foot level. Gold worth $772 per ton was found in combination with silver worth $206 per ton. An electric winze hoist was installed to serve the discovery. The 35 men working above ground continued to process 60 tons of ore a day in the mill and the cyanide plant recovered three dollars per ton from the tailings. The mine was idle in 1936 but it reopened in 1937 under the Virginia City Gold Mining Company. The mine remained in production until 1940 (Tansley 1937; Mineral Record 1935-40.

Marietta Mine

The Marietta group of claims were located and surveyed in 1918 for the Barton Gulch Mining Company. At the time the Mineral Survey records noted a powerhouse, stable, blacksmith shop, cook house, bunkhouse and a cabin on the JJJ Lode, one of the claims in the group. The Montana Mineral Record recorded the mine in production in 1922. However, the next year the mine and mill closed due to litigation. The mine remained idle until early in the depression, when interest was renewed. The Mining Journal reported that ore samples were taken in June of 1931. Late in 1933, reports were made to several journals that the newly organized Marietta Mining Company was resuming production in the 100-ton flotation mill that had been built in the 1920's. The Mineral Record noted the new production in 1934 (Mining Journal 1931; 1933; Mining Truth 1931; 1932; 1933; Mineral Record 1922; 1923; 1933).

Under the supervision of W. L. Bell, 1935 was a year of expansion for the operation. Equipment for a new 100-ton mill was ordered from the Union Iron Works in February; a new strike was recorded in May; and by July the newly equipped mill was processing the new strike. The mill ran three shifts to process 40 tons per day (Tanley 1937; Mineral Record 1935).

The operation in 1937 consisted of a 50-ton flotation mill, sawmill, blacksmith shop, assay office, cook house, bunk houses and family cabins. Montana Power electricity ran an Ingersoll-Rand 2-stage air compressor along with other mill equipment. Ore was brought out of a 900-foot adit that connected to the Metallic vein and the Marietta vein. Ore was crushed as it came out of the mine by a 9 x 16 jaw crusher. A conveyor belt carried the crushed ore to the fine ore bin at the top of the mill. The fine ore bin fed into a 4 1/2 x 6 foot Marcy ball mill which emptied into a Dorr duplex classifier. Coarse material was returned to the ball mill, fines were sent through a special five-spigot hydraulic trap and the rest was sent through the eight Union Ironworks flotation cells. Tails were sent over a blanket table. Concentrates from the trap and blanket table were sent through an amalgam barrel, flotation concentrates were put in a settling tank/filter. The return on the ore was .27 ounces gold and 1.11 ounces silver per ton. The mine continued production until 1940 (Lorain 1937).


Anderson, Paul

1990 Environmental Assessment Study of Selected Abandoned Hard Rock Mine Sites in West-Central Montana, prepared for the Abandoned Mines Reclamation Bureau of the Montana Department of State Lands, Helena, by Mountain States Energy, Inc., Butte, with cultural resources inventory and evaluation by GCM Services, Inc., Butte.

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1901 Twelfth Annual Report of the Inspector of Mines of the State of Montana Independent Publishing Co., Helena.

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1898 Montana Bureau of Agriculture, Labor and Industry 5th Annual Report. 1898 Montana Bureau of Agriculture, Labor and Industry 6th Annual Report.

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1993 Geologist, Montana Department of State Lands, Personal Communication. Helena

Clark, Jerry

1990 Reconnaissance Inventory of Historic Mining Resources in the Summit, Browns Gulch, and Hungry Hollow Mining Districts, Madison County, Montana. Bureau of Land Management, Butte, Montana.

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1888 Statistical and Descriptive Report Upon the Mines of Madison County, Montana. Montana School of Mines, Butte.

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1905 Source of Placer Gold in Alder Gulch, Montana. Mines and Minerals, V 25. pp 353-355.

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Other Periodicals:

Engineering and Mining World Magazine

Mining Congress Journal

Mining and Engineering World

Mining Journal Magazine

Montana Mine Index

Mineral Record

Mineral Year

Mining and Scientific Press

Mining Truth

Western Mining World Magazine


1904 Famous Old Madison County, Montana. Mining World, Volume 21, No. 2, pp 32-35.