Located about 25 miles west-northwest of Helena near the town of Avon is the Ophir mining district. The district lies in two counties, Powell and Lewis and Clark. The Powell County portion of the district is accessed by road from Avon and was on the Northern Pacific Railway.

Limestone, shale and quartzite of lower Paleozoic age are the dominant materials in the area. In the Avon Valley there are also deposits of clay, sand and volcanic ash belonging to the group known as the Tertiary "lake beds". Along the principal streams carved in the Tertiary beds are gravels of varying thickness derived from the adjacent mountains; these gravels contain the placer deposits. The lodes which contain gold and gold-silver ore occur primarily in the limestone. The ore bodies are irregular and some can be described as cylinders or pipes. They contain chiefly pyrite or chalcopyrite or their oxidized forms, in a gangue of quartz or metamorphic silicates.

Placer mines were active in the district in the 1860s and 1870s and Blackfoot City, now Ophir, was a thriving mining camp. Ophir Gulch was placer mined for eight miles while Carpenter and Snowshoe Gulches were placered several more miles. Among the richest deposits of placer gold were the Prairie Bar and Carpenter Bar. On the McKay claim in Deadwood Gulch, which is a tributary of Snowshoe Gulch, a miner named Ed Risson found Montana's largest gold nugget. The nugget was reported at the time to be worth $3,280. It is estimated that the placers produced around $3.5 million in gold in the early years. In 1933 the gulches were reworked by the Yuba Associated Engineers using an all-electric dredge (Dingman 1934; Pardee and Schrader 1933).

After the initial placer era, activity diminished and was soon limited to the development of individual lode mines beginning in the late 1880s. The Ajax Mine, which was discovered in 1888 on Cave Creek, produced $48,000 in ore by 1912 when it was last worked. In 1889 the Coulson Brothers discovered the Coulson mine, which was later renamed the Fairview mine. Active for only three years before excessive groundwater flooded the mine, the operation managed to recover $30,000 in silver-gold ore. The Little Daisy mine was discovered in 1889 two miles east of Ophir. It yielded $3,000 in gold-silver ore that was valued at up to $40 per ton (Pardee and Schrader 1933).

These mines were worked intermittently through the 1910s when they were joined by the Ophir mine half a mile southeast of Ophir. This mine produced only $1,000 in ore. In 1928-29 the McKay mine in Deadwood Gulch was developed by C. R. Brazier, but no production was reported (Pardee and Schrader 1933).


Pardee and Schrader (1933) define the district as being on the western slope of the Continental Divide facing the Avon Valley; a wide lowland that is drained partly by tributaries of the Little Blackfoot River and partly by Nevada Creek. It includes Ophir, Carpenter and Snowshoe Gulches. Figure 1 shows the district as defined by Pardee and Schrader (1933) and Sahinen (1935). Note that the boundary includes the portion of the Ophir district (mining district #102) in Lewis and Clark County.


The historic mines discussed below are within the overall Ophir district with the Ajax and the Victory actually located at the headwaters of Ophir Creek in Lewis and Clark County.


The Ajax mine is located three miles northeast of Ophir on Cave Creek. It was first developed in 1888 and last worked in 1912. It was reported to have produced $48,000 worth of ore from a 70 ft shaft. Ore was shipped that was said to carry $100 in gold per ton. Because early records are scarce, the only recorded production occurred in 1910 (Pardee and Schrader 1933; Mineral Resources 1910).


The Fairview mine, formerly the Coulson, was discovered by the Coulson Brothers in 1889. It is located nine miles north of Avon. In three years the mine extracted $30,000 in ore out of a 275 ft shaft. Excessive water halted operations. Some small production was achieved in 1909 when 12 men were employed sinking a shaft. Several large veins were exposed and ore was extracted using a steam hoist. Additional production was recorded in 1918 and 1919. The mine had unusually rich ore; gold telluride, ruby silver and tetrahedrite from the mine were appraised at $800 per ton. An ore sample from the mine was mentioned by Lincoln (1911) as being a rare arborescent native gold intergrown with crystals of proustite. By 1933 the mine was idle and the above ground developments were in ruins (Mining World 1909, 1910; Pardee and Schrader 1933; Walsh 1910).


The Julia mine was active from 1910 to 1914 and again in 1920. The mine was developed in 1905 by the Montana Clinton Copper Mining Company. A 400 ft tunnel and a 75 ft shaft with a gasoline hoist were used to extract silver and lead ore. In 1912 a two-compartment shaft was sunk 100 ft below the lowest workings (Walsh 1910, 1912; Mineral Resource Index).

Little Daisy

The Little Daisy mine is located two miles east of Ophir at the head of Lincoln Gulch. It was discovered in 1889 and is reported to have produced $3,000. The mine included three or more veins that produced ore worth up to $40 per ton. The ore was extracted from a 100 ft tunnel (Pardee and Schrader 1933).


The Quigley mine in Carpenter Gulch is located seven and a half miles from Avon. The mine was owned by Thomas Quigley and mined molybdenite. It was active around 1916 (Horton 1916).


The Ophir mine is about half a mile southeast of Ophir, just beyond Carpenter Creek. The property contains five patented claims that have produced about $1,000 in ore (Lincoln 1911). The property was reported to have several shafts, the deepest being 190 ft (Pardee and Schrader 1933).

Ophir Gulch Dredge

The Ophir Gulch Dredge was located in Ophir Gulch three miles northeast of Avon. The all-electric all-steel bridge was prefabricated in California and constructed in the gulch in November of 1933. The Yuba Associated Engineers, Limited, who owned the dredge estimated at the time of construction that the dredge (37 x 90 x 8 ft) would have a working life of 4 years (Dingman 1934).


Bowman, A. H. and Barclay Craighead

1926 Montana, Resources and Opportunities Edition, Vol. 1. Department of Agriculture, Labor and Industry, Division of Publicity.

Dingman, Oscar A.

1934 "Placer Mining in Montana", Mines Magazine. Vol.. 24, No. 1, pp. 13, 17-18.

Hall, J. H. and M. L. Rickman

1912 Montana Bureau of Agriculture, Labor and Industry, Thirteenth Report, for years 1911 and 1912.

Horton, Frederick W.

1916 "Molybdenum; Its Ores and Their Concentration", U. S. Bureau of Mines, Bulletin 111.

Lincoln, Francis Church

1911 "Certain Natural Associations of Gold", Economic Geology, Vol. 6, No. 3, pp. 247-302.

Mining World

1909 Volume 31, p. 1266. December 25, 1909.

1910 Volume 32, p. 117. January 15, 1910.

Pardee, Joseph Thomas and F. C. Schrader

1933 "Metalliferous Deposits of the Greater Helena Mining Region, Montana", U. S. Geological Survey Bulletin #842, reprint of article in Mining Truth, Vol. 14, No. 10.

Sahinen, Uuno

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

Swallow, G. C., J. B. Trevarthen and Jacob Oliver

1891 Reports of Inspectors of Mines, State of Montana, year ending November 30th, 1890. Journal Publishing Company, Helena.

Figure 1. The Ophir mining district in Powell County as defined by Pardee and Schrader (1933) and Sahinen (1935). Note that the northcentral portion of the district extends into Lewis and Clark County.