Prospectors located the first copper ore in present-day Montana in the Musselshell district, about 14 miles northeast of White Sulphur Springs on the southern slopes of the Little Belt Mountains. According to Wolle (1963), E. J. Hall and his partner located copper ore in 1866. The next year, Hall shipped five tons of ore from the mine all the way to Swansea, Wales for smelting. The rich ore averaged 45 percent copper, with a high of 75 percent (Wolle 1963; Weed and Pirsson 1896).

Belt series shales, slates, and impure limestones underlie the Musselshell district. These are covered in areas by basalt flows, rhyolite tuffs, and breccias of the Neocene epoch. Rhyolite porphyry intrudes in places. Rich copper ore occurs in narrow, well defined fissure veins that cut the argillaceous slates and shales of the Belt series but do not extend into the overlying rocks. The veins contain "fragments of shale cemented by quartz and calcite spotted with copper sulphides, which, near the surface, are altered to carbonates and oxides." Early reports indicated that ore from the Copperopolis mines yielded 20 to 50 percent copper and $8 to $15 per ton in gold and silver (Sahinen 1935; Weed and Pirsson 1896; Swallow and Trevarthen 1889).

Following the initial discovery, other prospectors arrived to stake claims. Ore had to be shipped by mules or freight wagons over the Jamison Trail to Fort Benton, and the resultant high shipping costs slowed the growth of the district. Just two men worked one claim in 1874 from a 40 foot shaft, packing their ore out to the Missouri River for shipping to a Baltimore smelter. When W. H. Weed visited the district in 1896, he noted that most claims showed little beyond surface pits or "gophering," and he considered the area essentially abandoned (Weed and Pirsson 1896; Kern 1988).

Two events brought new life to the Musselshell district. The Montana Railroad arrived in Martinsdale in 1896, providing a reliable link with outside smelters. Four years later, Marcus Daly purchased most, if not all, of the copper claims in the district. This outside investment by one of Montana's copper kings provided a much needed boost. W. W. McDowell laid out the townsite of Copperopolis, and by the end of October the company town boasted 25 buildings including a general store, livery stable, blacksmith shop, barber shop, restaurant, boarding house and bunkhouses. Although he died before the end of the year, Daly's successors continued his plans for the district (Wolle 1963).

The boom at Copperopolis was brief. Seventy-five men worked in the Northern Pacific and St. John mines in 1900, shipping large quantities of ore regularly. Work faltered a year later when copper exports fell, but W. W. McDowell, Daly's former manager, organized a new company to work the Northern Pacific claim. By 1903, however, the owners ordered the mine closed (Byrne 1900; Byrne and Barry 1902; Mining and Scientific Press 1903; Wolle 1963).

After a few years of quiet, lessees took over some of the mines at Copperopolis, infusing new life into the district. Work started at least by 1908, and two years later a New York company leased Daly's claims and installed new machinery. Roby (1950) noted that the peak of activity in the district was from 1914- 1924. The Copperopolis mine reported production in 1916-1917 and again in 1922-1923, while the Capitol Hill reported earnings from 1926, 1927, and 1929. A number of properties in the district continued production into the 1930s and 1940s. There are no production records available for the district (Roby 1950; Mining World 1908, 1910; Walsh and Orem 1910; WPA 1941).

Outside the Copperopolis area, important mines include the Clara Burton, Jumbo (Lucky Boy), and New Deal (Boss) near Findon; the Montana Copper south of Delphine; and the Copper State on Geis Creek northeast of White Sulphur Springs (Roby 1950).


Roby (1950), the only writer to describe the district boundaries, noted that it "embraces the region drained by the North Fork of the Musselshell River, with the exception that its extent south of the river is limited to the foothills north and east of the Castle Mountains." Altitudes in the region range from 5500 to 6500 (Roby 1950).


Clara Burton

The Clara Burton is about five miles west of Findon, a rural community located north of Martinsdale. William Sutherland located the mine around 1880, naming it the Claraton. Operators shipped 60-70 tons of ore from the mine in 1896. Four years later, Sutherland sold the mine and it was renamed the Clara Burton. Ore mined in 1908 and 1909 assayed at 18 percent copper. The shaft reached 300 feet, with levels at 50, 100, and 200 feet. M. B. Staley mined a small amount of ore in 1928, and then the mine closed. The total production is unknown but considered small (Roby 1950).

Copper State

The Copper State contains four patented claims located on the hillside east of Geis (Guise) Creek, about 15 miles northeast of White Sulphur Springs. The Montana Copper and Zinc Co. of Helena, owner of the mine, conducted operations there off and on from 1920-1927. During that time, the mine shipped two small lots of sorted zinc ore to a custom mill in Salt Lake City. While the results from this shipment are unknown, a later sample taken from the bin and tested by the Bureau of Mines yielded 0.01 ounce of gold, 0.33 ounce of silver, 31 percent zinc, 5.9 percent lead, and 0.8 percent copper. The mine is accessed through four shafts; the main one is sunk 200 feet, with 40 feet of drifting at the bottom, while the other three shafts are shallow (Roby 1950).

The vein runs in a steep fissure in Belt shales. It extends about 2000 feet east from the main shaft and ranges from 2 to 14 feet in width underground. Ore samples from the dump showed some galena and small amounts of chalcopyrite in dark sphalerite or marmatite (Roby 1950).


The Copperopolis mine encompasses 21 patented claims south of the North Fork of the Musselshell River. The main workings for the mine are located on three of the most important claims in the district - the Northern Pacific, St. John, and Darling Fraction (Roby 1950).

The Northern Pacific was the first claim in the district and the first copper found in Montana. Discovered around 1866 by E. J. Hall and his partner, the mine produced enough copper ore in the first year for the owners to pack five tons by mule to the Missouri River, shipping it then to Swansea, Wales for smelting. Hall patented the claim and then sold it in 1900 for $1,800. The St. John, a patented claim measuring 2200 x 100 feet, adjoined both the Northern Pacific and the Darling Fraction. The latter claim had a 75 foot shaft and a log shaft house by 1896, and the owners had shipped some ore earlier in the decade (Wolle 1963; Roby 1950; Weed and Pirsson 1896).

Marcus Daly evidently purchased these claims in 1900 and developed them as the Copperopolis mine. The mine inspector reported that 75 men worked at the mines that year. The Northern Pacific shaft had reached 500 feet while the shaft on the St. John claim was down to 200 feet. John Blewett and W. W. McDowell managed the mines (Byrne 1900; Wolle 1963).

Following this initial burst of activity, the mines were idled in 1901. McDowell organized a new company to operate the property and by 1902 the Northern Pacific shaft was down to 625 feet. The boom was brief, and the mines shut down in 1903 (Byrne and Barry 1902; Mining and Scientific Press 1903).

Once again, the Copperopolis properties were resurrected when lessees began working the mine in 1908. A group from New York installed machinery in 1910, and the mine reached its most active period from 1914-1924. There are no production records available (Roby 1950; Mining World 1908, 1910).

Jumbo (Lucky Boy) and New Deal (Boss)

The Jumbo and New Deal are located about 5 miles northwest of Findon in Sec. 12, and Sec. 11, T10N, R10E. Known originally as the Lucky Boy and Boss, the claims were relocated and renamed by the Tarbosky brothers of Harlowton in 1938. Operators mined copper ore from the Lucky Boy in 1915 and 1927, with no records of production. The same mine produced one carload of ore in 1943 that assayed at 13 percent copper. The shaft in the Jumbo reached 110 feet, with levels at 50 and 100 feet, while the shaft in the New Deal was sunk to 140 feet with a single level at 100 feet (Roby 1950).

Montana Copper

The Montana Copper mine consists of three unpatented claims located about four miles south of Delphine. Dr. Barnette of White Sulphur Springs, the original owner, reported shipping 31 tons of ore around 1918, which yielded 15.34 percent copper. The mine also produced a small amount of ore in 1948. The workings consist of two adits, the upper one 185 feet and the lower one 125 feet (Roby 1950).


Other claims of lesser importance include the Biesel and Calumet-Jamison near Copperopolis; Hecla and East Hecla near Copper Creek; Copper Duke, later known as Virginia, near Copperopolis; Ohio, Albany, and Standard, near Copperopolis; Badger; Blue-eyed Nellie; Bullion; Capitol Hill; Copper Hill; Crown Point; Morning Star; Musselshell; Park; and Surprise (Roby 1950; Weed and Pirsson 1896).


Abandoned Mine Reclamation Bureau (AMRB)

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