aka Tenderfoot-Sheep Creek District

Instead of a concentration of activity and claims, the Smith River district is characterized by isolated prospecting and mining with poor returns. Early prospectors combed the Sheep Creek area in the 1870s, searching for precious metals while overlooking the iron deposits there. Later individuals staked twenty claims to cover the iron deposit, while farther north, John Mortinson patented ten claims on another isolated iron deposit at Iron Park. Neither iron mine amounted to much. Two lead-silver mines produced some ore for a brief period. The original owner worked the Ducolon-Potter claims on Tenderfoot Creek from 1895 to 1903, shipping eight tons of ore to the smelter. Far to the southeast, operators removed 50 tons of ore from the Lynn mine. In addition to lode mines, the Placer-Deer Creek area saw intermittent placering along the creek beds from the 1910s into the 1930s. There are no production totals for the district (Roby 1950; Jensen 1981).

The underlying rocks of the Smith River district are mostly sedimentary and include shales, slates, sandstones, and limestones ranging in age from the pre-Cambrian through the Cretaceous. Small igneous dikes and sills intrude into the sedimentary layers. Rock formations in the north-central part of the district expose Archean gneiss and schist. Minerals found in the district include lead, silver, iron, and some placer gold (Roby 1950).


Roby (1950) describes the Tenderfoot-Sheep Creek district as embracing "the region on the western slope of the Little Belt Mountains that is drained by the Smith River." This same description covers the AMRB (1994) boundaries of the district.



The two lead-silver claims of the Ducolon-Potter mine are located on the hillside south of Tenderfoot Creek, about 28 miles north and 13 miles west of White Sulphur Springs. The original claimant located the mine around 1895 and worked the claims until 1903, hauling eight tons of lead ore to the smelter in East Helena. W. E. Ducolon and John V. Potter, both of White Sulphur Springs, relocated the claims in the 1940s (Roby 1950).

Mine workings consist of three adits, all caved, ranging in length from 25 to 165 feet. Despite the claim that the mine produced lead ore, Roby (1950) found no trace of the mineral in the old mine dumps. Instead he found copper carbonates and oxides in small amounts in the limestone bedding planes (Roby 1950).

Sheep Creek Iron

The iron deposits on Sheep Creek are located 15 miles north of White Sulphur Springs. They "occur as steeply dipping fissure veins and as replacements extending outward from the fissure veins along favorable bedding planes." The known veins ranged in width from 12 to 50 feet and had a strike length of 1300 feet. Bedded deposits had an average thickness of over 16 feet. Iron content averaged 31.7 percent, with a high of 59 percent (Roby 1950).

Prospectors initially looked at the Sheep Creek area while searching for precious metals during the 1870s. Later some staked iron claims, working the deposits with two short adits, shallow cuts and open pits, and some churn drilling. Initial tests were disappointing, showing low iron content and impurities (Roby 1950).

Twelve patented and eight unpatented claims cover the known iron deposits. Yellowstone Metals, Inc. held the lease and purchase option in 1943-1944, the years when the Bureau of Mines conducted extensive investigations on the deposits. Beneficiation tests showed that the grade was improved only slightly and problems remained with the sulphur content, which could be reduced only through sintering. There are no recorded shipments of iron ore from this mine (Roby 1950).

Iron Mountain

The iron deposits at Iron Park are located in an isolated region about 9 miles west of Neihart. Ten patented claims cover the known deposits. John Mortinson of Monarch, Montana, first prospected the area and located the deposits as copper claims since both iron oxides and copper carbonates were present. Dewey F. Whittaker of Great Falls owned the claims around 1950 (Roby 1950).

The mine workings consist of several shafts, all caved, and at least six trenches. Iron ore apparently occurs as "replacements along bedding planes in the argillites." A sample taken from a dump in 1948 showed 58.4 percent iron, 4.3 percent silica, 0.8 percent lime, and 0.04 percent phosphorous (Roby 1950).


The Lynn mine, a lead-silver deposit, is located 13 miles north and 3.5 miles east of White Sulphur Springs. Operators removed 50 tons of lead ore from a 100 foot shaft and a 100 foot adit drift. Little else is known about the history of the mine. The mine workings are caved (Roby 1950).

Placer Creek Placers

By at least 1916, 15 mining claims were located along Placer and Deer creeks in Sections 5 and 6, T14N, R6E. These included the Excelsior, Gone By, Admiral Dewey, Silver Belle, Twenty Centuary (sic), Occidental, Sampson, Remainder, Overlooked, Even Exchange, Goldbug, W. J. Bryan, Maud B, Parnell, and Board of Trade. According to a recent map, additional claims extend along the creeks in Sections 31, 32, and 33, T15N, R6E (Jensen 1981; USDA Forest Service 1988).

Despite the name of the creek and the number of claims, the Placer and Deer creek claims never proved profitable. Prospectors in 1934 and 1935 recovered a few ounces of gold from Placer Creek gravels. Other intermittent operations have brought only small returns (Roby 1950; Lyden 1948).


Abandoned Mine Reclamation Bureau (AMRB)

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

Jensen, Ardyce K.

1981 Cultural Resource Inventory of the Proposed Deer Creek Claims Right-of-Way (81-LC-7-4).

Lyden, Charles J.

1948 The Gold Placers of Montana. Memoir No. 26. Montana School of Mines, Butte.

Roby, Robert N.

1950 Mines and Mineral Deposits (Except Fuels), Meagher County, Mont. Information Circular 7540. United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Mines.

USDA Forest Service, Northern Region

1988 Forest Visitors Map, Lewis and Clark National Forest (Jefferson Division).