Historic Narrative

aka Powell

aka Ontario

The Elliston mining district is about 20 miles west of Helena and south of the Little Blackfoot River. It includes the town of Elliston which is the first town on the Northern Pacific Railroad west of the Continental Divide. The mining district includes the town of Elliston but is generally south of the river in mountainous, heavily-forested terrain. Early reports on the district described about 15 productive mines, most of which were from five to 11 miles south of the town.

The geology in the vicinity of Elliston consists of an apparently conformable succession of limestone, quartzite and sandstone. The lowest formation is the Madison limestone which is overlain by the Quadrant quartzite, near the top of which occurs a bed of high-grade phosphate rock. To the south of Elliston rhyolites are present and persist on the flanks of the mountains to 6,200 ft. At the mouth of Snowshoe Creek auriferous gravels rest on an eroded surface of lake beds from Tertiary lakes. The ore deposits of the Elliston district contain values chiefly of lead-silver, some of which contain considerable gold. The ore minerals are galena, pyrite, sphalerite, arsenopyrite and tetrahedrite in a quartz-carbonate gangue (Schrader 1929; Pardee and Schrader 1933).

The Elliston district began as a placer operation along the Little Blackfoot River during the 1860s, but the gold deposits were poor and little production occurred. It was not until the 1890s, when lode mining was developed south of town, that the district began to produce significant amounts of ore. Most of the production from the lode mining occurred between 1890 and 1908, at which point the total production was estimated at $2,750,000. Most of this production came from the Big Dick (or Evening Star), Monarch, Julia, Flora, Ontario and Twin City mines. However, during the first half of the 1890s, the town and the area's primary economic base was woodcutting. Cutting cord wood for the Anaconda Copper Mining Company's smelter at Anaconda employed more than one hundred wood cutters and it was during this period that the town of Elliston reached its peak in population and activity. However, in 1894 and again in 1895, fires destroyed the town (Lyden 1948; Robertson 1956; Wolle 1963).

Another important industry of the district in the 1890s was the quarry and lime plant of the Elliston Lime Company, located one mile east of Elliston. The company mined Madison limestone from prominent outcrops, which was then roasted in kilns which lined the right-of-way of the Northern Pacific Railway. About 5000 tons of lime a year was produced (Knopf 1913).

Knopf (1913) reported that by 1911 there was little mining in progress in the Elliston district and throughout the region. Pardee and Schrader (1933) indicate that some sporadic mining occurred in the Elliston district during the 1910s and 1920s with a total production of about $200,000, with $70,000 of this coming from gold and the remainder from 90,000 ounces of silver, 700,000 pounds of lead and 90,000 pounds of copper (Pardee and Schrader 1933).

Robertson (1956) reported periodic mining activity in the district since then, although no important mines have been developed. He estimates the total production for the district at somewhat more than $3,100,000. During the period from 1909 to 1954 the district marketed about 7,600 ounces of gold, 149,000 ounces of silver, 98,000 pounds of copper, 1,560,000 pounds of lead and 197,000 pounds of zinc (Anderson 1990; Robertson 1948).


Nowhere is the Elliston district defined with any specific descriptions other than indefinite references to the area surrounding the town of Elliston. Hill and Lindgren (1912) show only a general location for the district about eight to 10 miles south of Elliston. Lyden (1948) does not mention an Elliston district although he describes a number of small mining districts within the general area of Elliston. These include: the Ontario Creek, Telegraph Creek, Mike Reinig Gulch and Little Blackfoot River districts. These, however, are confined to placer mining areas and are considerably more restricted than are the general mining districts.

Knopf (1913) lists the district but does not describe the area it encompasses. Most of the mines Knopf lists as being in the district are south of Elliston in the general area of the headwaters of Telegraph and Ontario creeks. Nor do Pardee and Schrader (1933) describe the Elliston district in any specific terms. They report the district contained around 15 productive mines, most of which were located in the general area from five to 11 miles south of the town of Elliston, although they also incongruously list the Blue Bell mine which was located about six miles northeast of Elliston near the west portal of the Mullan railroad tunnel.

Based on the mines generally listed as being in the Elliston district, the approximate boundaries of the district would encompass an area roughly bordered on the north by the Little Blackfoot River, including the town of Elliston; on the west by the western drainage of the Little Blackfoot River; and south and east by the Continental Divide (Figure 1). The area of the district would include all or portions of the following:

    Sections 2-11, 14-23, 26-35, T9N, R6W Sections 2-11, 14-23, 26-34, T8N, R6W Sections 1, 2, 11-14, 23-26, 35, 36, T9N, R7W Sections 1, 2, 11-14, 23-26, 35, 36, T8N, R7W


The Elliston district was primarily a lode mining area. Some small-scale placer mining was tried along Ontario Creek and other small streams within the district. However, the operations were never very extensive or profitable. Since 1904, placer operations along Ontario Creek during 11 seasons yielded a total of only $3,683. East of Ontario Creek, there was some placer activity along Telegraph Creek. No operations were reported from 1904 to 1931 and from 1932 to 1945 only about three claims a year were worked. Total yield for the period amounted to 12 ounces of gold (Lyden 1948).

Although none of the mines in the Elliston district were huge producers, the following mines provide a sample showing the dates of work and the reported production.

Big Dick

The Big Dick (or Evening Star) is located near the summit of Black Man Mountain about eight miles south of Elliston. The mine recorded production nearly every year from 1905 to 1940. In 1905 the mine extended the shaft from 250 to 300 ft and did 575 ft of drifting. A steam hoist and pump extracted the ore and water from the mine. The mine development ultimately included a 1,000 ft long adit connected to the 300 ft shaft and a 200 ft raise. The mine worked the Big Dick vein and the Blanket vein. Some of the ore shoots were 3.5 ft thick and some of the ore returned 5 ounces of gold to the ton. The mine produced gold/silver/lead ore from 1906 to 1910 which was shipped to the East Helena and Washoe smelters. The mine was again briefly operated in 1923 and 1927. Total production was said to have been about $500,000 (Pardee and Schrader 1933; Walsh 1906).

Black Jack

The Black Jack, also known as the Wye mine, was located adjacent to the Big Dick mine on the southwest slope of Black Man Mountain about 7.5 miles south of Elliston. The mine was active from 1915 to 1930. The mine was worked through an inclined shaft and an adit, each about 350 ft long, to work the Big Dick and the Blanket vein.


The Brooklyn, or Malm Mine, owned by John Malm was 7.5 miles south of Elliston on the east side of the Little Blackfoot River. The mine's adit extended 300 ft to work several veins in andesitic rock.

Charter Oak

The Charter Oak, also called the Hopkins mine, is located about five miles south of Elliston and was owned by Fred and Ralph Hopkins of Helena. The mine was operated from 1918 to 1938. The ore was treated in a small mill at the mine. The ore was pulled from two veins known as the front vein and the back vein, both in andesite. The ore when processed ran 10 percent lead and zinc with 10 ounces of silver and .01 ounces of gold to the ton (Pardee and Schrader 1933).


The Flora, also known as the Best mine, is located six miles south of Elliston. It was reported to have produced high grade silver/lead ore during the first two decades of the 20th Century, with reported production from 1924 to 1929. The mine was developed to 200 ft to work a blanket vein two to three feet wide. The ore was almost all sulphides and ran about $50 to the ton in silver and lead and $2 to the ton in gold. In 1933 it was owned by James Best.


The Julia, owned by James Friedereichs of Detroit, was located on the west side of Telegraph Creek about eight miles south of Elliston. The mine was discovered in 1905 by George Mack and quickly yielded $160,000. After 1911 considerable development work was done on the mine. The 300 ft level was mined 300 ft west and 900 ft east. The ore produced 60 ounces of silver to the ton with small amounts of lead and copper (Pardee and Schrader 1933).


The Monarch was 11 miles south of Elliston on the northwest slope of Bison Mountain. The mine was in production in 1894, 1909 and 1916 - 1923 and was said to have produced around $1,000,000 worth of ore, mostly by 1904. The extensive underground workings which included two tunnels, a 350 ft deep shaft and 3,000 ft of drifts totaling nearly a mile in length. In places the mine was 20 ft wide on the vein (Pardee and Schrader 1933).


The Ontario, situated near the head of Ontario Creek, was reported by Knopf (1913) to have been one of the district's largest producers but by 1911 the mine had shut down and the workings were inaccessible. Some production was achieved in 1924 and 1935-1940. The mine was developed through a 800 ft tunnel and a 620 ft deep shaft.


The Sadie mine, a group of four claims, is located six miles south of Elliston on the east side of the Little Blackfoot River. Although it was discovered prior to 1870, it produced only low grade lead-silver ore. The mine was intitially developed with two adits and a shaft totaling about 1,000 ft to work a 20 ft wide vein in dark andesite. The ore ran $20 to the ton in lead and silver and sometimes had up to $10 in copper.

Twin City Mining & Milling Company

The Twin City Mining & Milling Company mine was also eight miles south of Elliston. It had good gold/silver/copper/lead ore but was closed and had flooded by 1911. The mine shaft was 85 ft deep and produced $3.60 per ton ore from a lode 8 ft wide.


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