The Copper Cliff mining district is located on the north slope of the Garnet Mountains about 20 miles east of Missoula. The primary drainage in the district is Union Creek, a tributary of the Blackfoot River. The district's mines were only accessible north up Cramer Creek from Bonita, a small community on the Little Blackfoot River. The district was named for a cliff at the foot of a slope, about a third of the way downstream from the head of a gulch tributary to Union Creek. The "Cliff" is a rugged mass of quartzite about 150 feet high, with blue, green, yellow, and white streaks. The mines were at an elevation of about 5,000 feet. The Copper Cliff copper-bearing lode was discovered in 1890 or 1891, but mining activity was sporadic (Sahinen 1957).

The Copper Cliff mining district is characterized by sandstones and shales of the Belt series (Proterozoic) and by Cambrian limestones, with a few small bodies of Porphycitic intrusive. At the Copper Cliff mine, the most prominent structural features are faults. The most severe faulting was in a relatively narrow zone on the northwest side of the limestone wedge, parallel to the face of the Cliff. The fault breccias contain ore minerals, but the metallic content is irregular (Sahinen 1935; Pardee 1918).

The Copper Cliff lode was discovered in 1890 or 1891 (as a result of prospecting after the discovery of placer gold at Bearmouth) and caused "some excitement," but mining was intermittent. Total production prior to 1918 was estimated to be about 150,000 pounds of copper and small amounts of gold and silver. After 1918, there were a few occasional shipments of ore, bringing the total value for the district to just over $20,000. Total production of the mining district between 1891 and 1960 was 259 ounces gold; 567 ounces silver; and 110,898 pounds copper (Sahinen 1957; Kauffman & Earll 1963; Sahinen 1935).

The major mines of the district were the Copper Cliff, Crescent, Tiger, and Leonard. Several thousand feet of drifts and several shallow shafts were developed. Some high-grade ore was reportedly found (containing 22 percent copper), but the actual average was probably less than 1 percent (Kauffman & Earll 1963; Pardee 1918).


According to Sahinen (1935), the Copper Cliff mining district was located about 10 miles northeast by road up Cramer Creek from Bonita. In 1957 he described the district as lying "in the Garnet Range near the head of a tributary of Union Creek in Section 11, T12N, R15W." Pardee (1918) described the Copper Cliff district as lying along the main divide about six air miles west-southwest of Garnet. Figure 1 shows the Copper Cliff district as defined by the AMRB (1994) and by Sahinen (1935).


Copper Cliff

The Copper Cliff mine was located near the head of a steep gulch tributary to Union creek from the southwest and it was discovered in 1890 or 1891 by W. P. Shipler. Later the mine was sold to an English company that developed it extensively with about 1,500 feet of underground workings prior to 1916. Between 1905 and 1910, operators shipped 310 tons of ore to Tacoma for treatment. The ore yielded 77,000 pounds of copper, plus a little gold and silver. The mine was idle for a time, but in 1916 it was leased to Bielenberg and Higgins, who developed it further. Total production prior to 1918 was estimated to be about 150,000 pounds of copper and small amounts of gold and silver (Wolle 1963; Sahinen 1957; Pardee 1918; Sahinen 1935; Kauffman & Earll 1963).

In 1919, the Potomac Copper Company did much development work at the mine. By that time there were four tunnels, including one being driven from the main gulch on Union Creek westerly. The company was not mentioned after 1920. In 1940, 47 tons of ore were shipped from the Copper Cliff, with a total value of $333, and the next year 15 tons were produced. Production remained low; in 1943 four tons of ore were produced, and in 1944 five tons of ore (Sahinen 1957).

One quarry face at the north end of the Copper Cliff reportedly averaged 2.5% copper, and carloads running 22 percent were shipped. The different ore shipments from the Copper Cliff mine contained 9.5 - 22 percent copper; 0.5-1 ounce silver; and $0.25 to $2.30 per ton in gold (Pardee 1918). According to Kauffman and Earll (1963), however, "any one of the several dumps represents the expenditure of more money than the value of the entire production of the district."

The formation at the mine is quartzite, shale, and limestone, faulted together. In the lower adit and some other places there were small blocks of porphyry, apparently broken from a dike or other intrusive body. The deposit at Copper Cliff is in greatly brecciated Precambrian quartzite and argillite that seem to be remote from any large granitic intrusive (Pardee 1918; Kauffman & Earll 1963).


The Leonard mine (also known as the Blue Bell) was located about 1,500 feet south of the Copper Cliff and about 400 feet higher, in Section 11, T12N, R15W. It was the second principal mine in the district after the Copper Cliff. The Leonard mine reported activity in 1913 and 1916-18. It was listed at various times as in the Copper Cliff district in Missoula County, the Copper Creek district in Powell County, and an unorganized mining district in Gallatin County. Prior to 1916 the mine produced 21 carloads of ore assaying from 6-10 percent copper, which was shipped to smelters. The principal workings in 1916 were a 100-foot shaft and an incline about 350 feet northeast of the shaft. The mine was relocated by Ole Dahl in 1943 and renamed the Blue Bell. As the Blue Bell this mine produced 45 tons of copper ore, 30 tons of silver ore, and 10 tons of lead ore in 1945. The total value was $1,174 (Sahinen 1957; Pardee 1918; WPA 1940).

Other Mines

The few other mining operations in the district include the Crescent and the Tiger, both of which were in the vicinity of the Leonard and Copper Cliff.


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

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(abst.) Washington Acad. Sci. Journal

, Vol. 8, p. 290.

Sahinen, Uuno Mathias

1935 "Mining Districts of Montana", M. S. thesis, Montana School of Mines.

1957 "Mines and Mineral Deposits, Missoula and Ravalli Counties, Montana", Bulletin 8, Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology.

Sanders, Darrell, and Maureen Winn

1994 "Cultural Resource Inventory Report for the BLM - Plum Creek Land Exchange (Formerly BLM - Champion Land Exchange)", BLM, Butte.

Wolle, Muriel Sibell


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Works Projects Administration (WPA) Mineral Resources Survey


Montana Mine Index, An Alphabetical Index Arranged by Counties, Districts and Mines of Information on Montana Mines from 1867-1940

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Pardee, Joseph Thomas

1918 "Ore Deposits of the Northwestern Part of the Garnet Range, Montana",

U. S. Geological Survey

, Bull. 660, pp. 159-239;

(abst.) Washington Acad. Sci. Journal

, Vol. 8, p. 290.

Rowe, Jesse Perry

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, Vol. 31, No. 10, pp. 581-584.