HISTORIC CONTEXT

 

aka Deep Canyon

The Curlew district, located west of Victor on the eastern slopes of the Bitterroot Mountains, is credited with most of the metal production from Ravalli County, the majority of which came from the Curlew mine (Sahinen 1957).

Sedimentary rocks of the Belt series underlie the Curlew district, broken by a major intrusion of quartz monzonite of the Idaho batholith. Great pressure has turned this granite schistose for a zone a few miles in width all along the eastern front of the Bitterroot Mountains. Mineral deposits occur in fissure veins in the metamorphosed Beltian sediments that form the roof over the intrusive batholith (Lindgren 1903; Sahinen 1935; 1957).

Individuals had staked a number of claims in the Curlew district by the early 1880s. Few had done development work, however, suggesting to some observers that the owners were not miners. The initial work on the district's most important prospects, the Curlew and Elizabeth claims, was done poorly, leaving the mines in unsatisfactory condition (Sahinen 1957).

Operations improved considerably by the early 1890s when the Helena & Victor Mining Co. invested in extensive underground work and constructed a 125-ton concentrator at the Curlew claim. Mining at the deposit continued intermittently for the next five decades, with the heaviest operations occurring during the 1930s. The mine concentrated the ore at the site and then shipped the concentrates to East Helena. One operator estimated that the mine's total production up to 1940 amounted to $1 million (Sahinen 1957; WPA 1940).

The only known placer mining in the Curlew district took place in 1931. Lyden (1948) stated that the claim was located along Big Creek below the Curlew mine, with the placer gold most likely derived from the Curlew deposit. There is no record of placer production (Sahinen 1935; Lyden 1948).

BOUNDARIES OF THE DISTRICT

Sahinen (1935) places the Curlew district "near the mouth of Big Creek," about 3 miles northwest of Victor. Figure 1 shows the Curlew district as defined by the AMRB (1994) with the area of the Curlew mine shown as described by Sahinen (1935).

HISTORIES OF SELECTED MINES

Curlew

The Curlew mine is located in section 14, T8N, R21W, 3.5 miles northwest of Victor. It "contains argentiferous galena, and is located on a fissure between limestone (pre-Cambrian?) as the foot wall and, according to accounts, Pleistocene valley gravels as a hanging wall" (Lindgren 1904).

The lead-silver prospect evidently includes both the Curlew and Elizabeth claims. Initial development work on both claims was started at least by 1883. B. F. Tudor and A. S. Blake, who held controlling interest in the Elizabeth, contracted with George Orr to sink two shafts and drive a tunnel that year. Orr struck the lode at 150 feet, and assays averaged 40 ounces of silver per ton. The Curlew remained largely undeveloped, but samples of ore assayed 204-234 ounces of silver per ton (Report of the Director of the Mint 1883; Sahinen 1957).

Observers considered the initial development work on the Elizabeth and Curlew claims to be "unskilled," leaving the mine in poor condition. Problems persisted underground, and the mine inspector reported in 1892 that the "ground is heavy and of a swelling character, and unless the stopes are bulkheaded or filled with waste it is hard to hold the ground." Many of the stopes had caved and raises were neglected, but the new superintendent was repairing the problems at that time (Hogan and Oliver 1892; Sahinen 1957).

Serious development work began in 1891 under the direction of the Helena & Victor Mining Co. That year, the two-compartment shaft was down 330 feet, the mine was developed on four levels, and the 125-ton concentrator operated continuously. Work continued at the same pace the next year and the shaft reached 500 feet, with another level developed at 400 feet. Operations then slowed considerably with the drop in silver prices, and the crew of 70 was reduced to 14 in 1897 and just 12 the following year (Hogan and Oliver 1891, 1892; Byrne and Hunter 1897; 1898; Sahinen 1957).

Apparently the Curlew mine closed for a few years, reopening in 1906 with a crew of 20. Ore was treated in a 100-ton concentrator and then shipped to the East Helena smelter for further refining. Different lessees continued to operate the mine through 1914, shipping small amounts of ore most years. When the Victor Reduction Co. took over operations from 1915 - 1917, the company reworked tailings to produce zinc and lead concentrates. The mine then closed in 1918 (Walsh and Orem 1906; 1910; 1912; Sahinen 1957).

The Curlew mine operated intermittently during the next three decades. The Curlew Mining Co. developed the mine from 1923-1926 and treated some copper-lead ore through flotation during the last year. Although the mine was idle, operators shipped two carloads of lead-zinc ore in 1929 and some gold ore in 1934. Production increased considerably under the direction of the Hamilton-Victor Reduction Co., which leased the mine from 1937 - 1938. During the first year, the company shipped around 900 tons of zinc concentrates to Great Falls and another 800 tons of gold - silver ore to other smelters for processing. During seven months the following year, the company shipped another 600 tons of gold ore and treated 18,000 tons of tailings to produce zinc and lead concentrates. After several years of relative quiet, activity picked up once again in the 1940s. Lessees treated over 1,000 tons of ore in 1943, over 4,000 tons each year from 1944 - 1946, and smaller lots in 1948 and 1949. The mine has not reported any production since 1949 (Sahinen 1957).

The operator in 1939 reported that the mine had produced a total of $1 million in ore to date, with $250,000 of that in past four years (WPA 1940).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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

Byrne, John and Frank Hunter

1898 Ninth Report of the Inspector of Mines of the State of Montana. State Publishing Company, Helena.

1899 Tenth Annual Report of the Inspector of Mines of the State of Montana for the Year ending November 30th, 1898. Independent Publishing Company, Helena.

Calderhead, J. H.

1898 "Montana Bureau of Agriculture, Labor, and Industry, 6th Annual Report."

Ferguson, Henry Gardiner and L. P. Benedict

1906 Montana Bureau of Agriculture, Labor and Industry, 10th Report.

Hogan, Joseph and Jacob Oliver

1891 Third Annual Report of Inspector of Mines, for the fiscal year 1891, Journal Publishing Company, Helena.

1892 Fourth Annual Report of Inspector of Mines, for the fiscal year 1892, Printers & Binders, Helena.

Lindgren, Waldemar

1903-1904 "Mineral Deposits of the Bitterroot Range and Clearwater Mountains, Montana", U. S. Geological Survey, Bull. 213, pp. 66-70; (abst.) Eng. and Min. Journal, Vol. 77, No. 16, pp. 649-650.

1904 "A Geological Reconnaissance Across the Bitterroot and Clearwater Mountains, in Montana and Idaho", U. S. Geological Survey, Prof. Paper 27.

Lyden, Charles J.

1948 "The Gold Placers of Montana", Memoir No. 26. Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, Butte, Montana.

Report of the Director of the Mint

1883 Government Printing Office, Washington.

Sahinen, Uuno Mathias

1935 "Mining Districts of Montana", Unpublished Master's thesis, Department of Geology, Montana School of Mines, Butte.

1957 Mines and Mineral Deposits, Missoula and Ravalli Counties, Montana", Bulletin No. 8. Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology. Montana School of Mines, Butte.

Swindlehurst, J. W.

1914 Montana Department of Labor and Industry, 1st Biennial Report.

Walsh, William, and William Orem

1906 Biennial Report of the Inspector of Mines of the State of Montana For Years 1905-06.

1910 Biennial Report of the Inspector of Mines of the State of Montana For the Years 1909-10.

Walsh, William, and William Orem

1912 Biennial Report of the Inspector of Mines of the State of Montana For the Years 1911-12.

Wolle, Muriel Sibell

1963 Montana Pay Dirt: A Guide to the Mining Camps of the Treasure State Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, Athens.

Work Projects Administration (WPA), Mineral Resources Survey

1940 "Directory of Montana Mining Properties", Memoir No. 20. Montana School of Mines, Butte.

Figure 1. The Curlew mining district as defined by the AMRB (1994) with the Curlew district shown by dashed lines as described by Sahinen (1935).