aka Haystack aka Boulder aka Independence

The Boulder River placers were discovered in 1866 but were abandoned only to be reopened in 1871. Gold was discovered in 1864 on Baboon Mountain by John Allen and Barney Hughes. Other gold and silver veins in the district were found by 1879, but because they were on Crow Indian land and in largely inaccessible areas, development was retarded. In 1908, there was some hope for development in the district, when the New World Smelting Company proposed an electric railroad from Columbus to their mines. Both the Stillwater and Boulder River routes were considered and surveyed, but the Stillwater won out as the more practical. Some lode and placer activity was conducted in the late 1920's and early 1930's, but production apparently was not important (Dingman 1932; Sahinen 1935; Wolle 1963).

The Cowles district is at the headwaters of the Boulder River in the Absaroka Mountain range. Froze-to-Death Creek and Little Falls Creek, tributaries of the Boulder River in the northeast corner of the district, are both reported to be good placer prospects, although there is no record of production. The Standard lode claim lies at the head of Froze-to-Death Creek. The Oregon lode claim is at the head of Little Falls Creek. Neither of these claims have reported significant production (Lyden 1948).

Production records from the Cowles district show production reported for 1930 through 1934, 1936, 1938 and 1941. Total production for the district during this time was 27 ounces of placer gold and 2 ounces of silver with a total value in 1950 of $723. Mill Creek in Park County (which may be the Mill Creek in the Cowles district) reported treating 5 tons of ore in 1946, producing 1 ounces of gold and 323 ounces of silver (Reed 1950).

The area is underlain by pre-Cambrian gneisses which have been intruded by dikes and stocks of gabbro and diorite. Volcanic rocks, related to the eruptive center at Independence Peak, cover all older formations to the south and to the west and probably resulted in much of the area's mineralization. Ore deposits occur in veins which are wholly in gabbro and diorite, exposed on the flanks of Haystack Peak. The ores carry free gold and sulphides with considerable silver, galena and some copper (Sahinen 1935; Reed 1950).


Sahinen (1935) places the district at the head of Boulder River about 60 miles south of Big Timber, a station on the Northern Pacific Railroad.

Dingman (1932) also places the district at the headwaters of the Boulder River about 45 miles southwest of Big Timber.

It is clear that the distinction between the Cowles district and the Independence district to the east is one of formality, observing the Sweetgrass/Park County line that passes between them. The Cowles district follows no natural boundaries, and in some references the Cowles district is a sub-district of the Independence, while others view the Independence district as an eastern extension of the Cowles district. Where the two districts are combined, they are commonly referred to as the Independence (Boulder) district (Sahinen 1935; Reed 1950; Wolle 1963; USGS 1983).

The Bureau of Mines (1989) attempted to clarify the various historic names of the districts as follows:

Most claim records, as well as official mineral survey plats, refer to the Boulder mining district; however, since the Independence was one of the principal mines, popular usage refers to the area as the Independence district. The western part of the mining district, including the townsite of Independence, has also been referred to as Cowles or Haystack mining district. Early in its history, the Independence mining district extended as far as 20 mi to the north; however, the Natural Bridge area later became a separate district.

Figure 1 shows the Cowles district as defined by the AMRB (1994) with a smaller area showing the historic mining district as defined by Sahinen (1935) and Dingman (1932) as the headwaters of the Boulder River.


No mines were discussed in literature which treated the Cowles district as a distinct district, perhaps reflecting insignificant production. Confusing the issue further is the fact that claim records were filed at both Park and Sweetgrass County courthouses, as well as at Gallatin County during the early exploration of the area. However, three Park County mines are discussed in the literature which combines the Cowles and Independence districts (Reed 1950; USGS 1983).

Black Diamond (War Eagle, Lori Kay)

The Black Diamond mine, located in section 32, T 6S, R 12E, was first prospected in 1878. Underground development includes three short adits totaling 500 feet with a vertical range of 240 feet. Despite intermittent exploration over about 30 years, no ore has been produced. Float rich in iron, copper and molybdenum, has been found along a zone extending several thousand feet south of the prospects. Preliminary samples indicate the ore is rich in iron and contains about .01 to .05 percent copper; .5 ounces of silver per ton and trace amounts of gold in a quartz-magnetite gangue (Reed 1950; USGS 1983).

Four Sevens (7777)

The Four Sevens group consists of four unpatented lode claim in section 21, T 7S, R 12E. The lode was reportedly discovered and prospected in 1905. The mine was dormant until 1948, when a small open-cut was hand-excavated by Charles Blakely. Samples show the ore contains .5 percent lead; .01 ounce of gold and .59 to 1.7 ounces of silver per ton. The workings were collapsed by 1964 (Reed 1950; Rubel 1964; USGS 1983).

Other mines in the district include the Red Fox and the Amit No. 5.


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

Dingman, Oscar A.


Placer Mining Possibilities in Montana

. Montana Bureau of Mines Memoir # 5, Montana School of Mines, Butte.

Emmons, W.H.

1908 "Geology of the Haystack Stock, Cowles, Park County, Montana." Journal of Geology, Vol. 16, p 193-229.

Freeman, Henry C.

1895 "Boulder Mining District, Montana",

Eng. and Min. Journal

, Vol. 60, pp. 583-584.

Lyden, Charles J.


The Gold Placers of Montana

. Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology Memoir No. 26. Montana School of Mines, Butte.

Reed, Glenn C.

1951 "Mines and Mineral Deposits (except fuels), Park County, Montana",. U. S. Department of the Interior.

Bureau of Mines Information Circular 7546


Rubel, Daniel Nicholas

1964 "Geology of the Independence Area, Sweet Grass and Park Counties, Montana." Ph. D. dissertation, University of Michigan.

Sahinen, Uuno M.

1935 "Mining Districts of Montana", Thesis, Montana School of Mines, Butte.

U. S. Geological Survey and U. S. Bureau of Mines


Mineral Resources of the North Absaroka Wilderness Study Area, Park and Sweet Grass Counties, Montana

. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, Geological Survey Bulletin 1505.

Wolle, Muriel S.


Montana Pay Dirt. A Guide to the Mining Camps of the Treasure State

. Sage Books, Denver.