HISTORIC CONTEXT

aka Chico, Curry, Shorthill, Mill Creek

Emigrant mining district is the oldest mining district in Park County. When Thomas B. Curry and his two companions discovered placers in the area in the summer of 1863, they were the first white men to visit the area. The three men were preparing to start work in the gulch when they were interrupted by a party of Crows who ordered them off the land. The Crow claimed all the land east of the Yellowstone River as theirs. Curry and his companions left the gulch and spent the winter at Virginia City. They returned in the spring and were joined by a party of thirty men from a wagon train that Jim Bridger was guiding up the Yellowstone. Early in the same year, Sam Word and N.P. Langford obtained a charter for a stage and telegraph line between Virginia City and Emigrant Gulch, and when this news got abroad, more men stampeded to the the diggings. Their effort produced little gold although mining continued steadily until 1880. The production for that period was estimated at about $340,000. Development of copper-silver lodes began in 1885. Lode mining has been unimportant, but placer mining continued up to the 1940s with significant activity in 1931-1932 (Sahinen 1935; Lyden 1948).

Yellowstone City was the first camp set up in the district, and was already active by 1864. The town consisted of tents, dugouts and a few cabins, but the 36 residents had already organized as the Curry mining district, elected a justice of the peace, and drawn up a code of laws. Three crimes were punishable by hanging - murder, theft and insulting a woman. Some of the miners from this camp averaged $2.00 a day from placers, but others left in disgust. After David Shorthill found a sand bar that yielded $1.00 a pan in August 1864, the town grew to over 300. The placers at the mouth of the gulch were nearly worked out by the fall of 1865, and Indian attacks became more prevalent. The camp was gradually abandoned. By August 1866, the camp was deserted (Wolle 1963).

As Yellowstone City began to wane in 1865, a new, more strategic townsite called Chico began to grow. This allowed exploration farther up Emigrant Gulch, and greater protection from the Crow. Albert Hall started a ranch on Giesdorf Creek and raised wheat and other crops to sell to the miners. In 1870 or 1871, two men, Cone and Trout, struck paydirt at bedrock at the mouth of Emigrant Gulch, and gradually opened a placer strip 400 feet wide and nine miles long. Cone reported taking about $8,000 in gold in 1880. By 1877, Chico boasted one general store, two boarding houses, a schoolhouse, no saloons, and a population of 60 to 70 miners. Chico reached its peak in population by 1900. Hydraulic operations outside of Chico ceased by the early 1930s (Wolle 1963).

The area is underlain by Archean gneisses and schists which, to the south, are overlain by much younger (Tertiary) volcanics. Ore deposits occur in veins carrying gold, copper, silver and molybdenum, although the only significant production has been of gold. The mines are all on the flank of Mineral Mountain; the veins occurring in a mass of igneous rock exposed there. A small amount of fair grade of ore has been taken out from several prospects. Placer gold in the gravels of Emigrant Creek is heavily weathered and erodes from the mineralized area near the head of the drainage (Sahinen 1935; Lyden 1948; USGS 1983).

In 1932, six operators reported a production of $6,209. Much of the gold prior to 1941 was recovered by drift mining, using hydraulic giants, or ground sluicing. These operations generally accounted for one-half to two-thirds of the annual production of placer gold in the county. The district reported continuous production between 1901 and 1947, treating a total of 1,320 tons of ore and producing 395 ounces of lode gold; 15,592 ounces of placer gold; and 2,592 ounces of silver for a total value in 1950 of $536,192 (Dingman 1932; Sahinen 1935; Lyden 1948; Reed 1950; Wolle 1963).

In 1942 the Emigrant Dredging Company assembled a Yuba connected-bucket dredge on Emigrant Creek that is reported to have cost about $600,000 and was claimed to be the largest and most expensive dredge of its kind ever used in Montana. There were 110 buckets, and each held 10 cubic feet of material. In comparison, the last electric dredge in Alder Gulch had 80 buckets, each with a 16 cubic foot capacity. The dredge worked almost continuously from August 15, 1941 to October 15, 1942, when operations were suspended due to government restrictions on gold mining. During 1942, the company recovered 4,352 fine ounces of gold, representing more than one-third of the total production for the entire county between 1904 and 1942. In April of 1946 operations were resumed, but a $13,329 loss was reported during the first five months of operation. In November 1947, the properties on Emigrant Gulch were abandoned and the dredge was sold to Nechi Consolidated Dredging Company, Ltd, of Vancouver, British Columbia for $400,000 (Lyden 1948).

BOUNDARIES OF THE DISTRICT

Sahinen (1935) places the district as a station on the Northern Pacific Railroad about 25 miles south of Livingston. Emigrant Creek flows into Yellowstone River a few miles above the town. Dingman (1932) locates the district four miles south of Emigrant, a station on the NPRR. Sahinen and Dingman generally are focusing on the placer operations.

Most of the lode mines in the district are at the headwaters of Emigrant Gulch and Mill Creek but the placer operations, although centered along Emigrant Gulch, were active along both Mill and Sixmile Creek. Figure 1 shows the district as defined by the AMRB (1994) with a smaller area focused on Emigrant Gulch as defined by Dingman (1932).

The district is also known as the Chico, Curry, Shorthill and/or Mill Creek district, some of which were smaller defined areas now included in the larger Emigrant district. The Curry district was apparently the first placer mining district and probably included the area of Emigrant Gulch near the mouth of the Yellowstone below Chico. Some of the others may be placer districts similar in size.

HISTORIES OF SELECTED MINES

Although the placers were by far the most significant producers in the district, several quartz leads, primarily on Mineral Mountain, were also productive.

St. Julian

The St. Julian Mine, located on Mineral Mountain, consists of eleven patented claims, and was discovered in 1887 by D.C. Lilly. The ore was assayed as high as $368 in gold and $40 in silver per ton. A ten-stamp gravity concentration mill operated as late as 1902. Despite promising assays, the mine's development was slow due to lack of capital (Wolle 1963).

Other important mines in the district include the Alice C., Barbara Anne, Emigrant Gulch Molybdenite, Galena Queen, Great Eastern and the Mt. Cowan Molybdenite, Nancy, North Star. There is also a rumored "lost mine" near Emigrant peak. The mine was first discovered in 1866 by Davis B. Weaver. Samples from the lode assayed $5,000 in gold to the ton. Two years after discovery, two men who had accompanied Weaver tried for months to relocate the lode but to no avail (Wolle 1963).

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