aka Vermillion, Vermillion River aka Cabinet

The Silver Butte district, located on the western slopes of the Cabinet Mountain range, is known for both placer mining along the Vermillion River and lode mining in the mountains that divide the Vermillion River drainage from the western fork of the Fisher River system.

The sedimentary rocks of the Belt series, which underlie the Silver Butte district, exhibit the same folding and faulting as seen in the Cabinet and Libby districts to the north. A syenite stock cuts through the district, terminated at the north end by the Snowshoe fault. The most important mineral is gold, both lode and placer deposits, with smaller deposits of lead, silver, and zinc. Many of the deposits are quartz fissure veins found in Prichard or Ravalli argillite (Johns 1970; Crowley 1963).

A group of prospectors, probably traveling to or from the booming Montana camps of Bannack, Alder Gulch, and Last Chance Gulch, discovered gold in 1867 just up the Vermillion River from its confluence with the Clark Fork. Some of the men dug a ditch to bring water from the river to their sluices. The deposit must have been small and the camp, named Twenty Odd, lasted only a season or two before its inhabitants moved on (Ramsey n.d.).

In the 1890s, a unique placer operation centered around a dike known locally as the Hog Back. Since the formation partially dammed the river, some thought that it also trapped a considerable quantity of placer gold. A group of men worked to drill a tunnel through the Hog Back to form an underground sluice, complete with wooden riffles. Miscalculations in the drilling and an encounter with quicksand ended the project. Hugh Townsley attempted to revive the tunnel plan during the 1920s, but he failed as well (Ramsey n.d.; White 1988).

Other placering in the Silver Butte district resumed in the 1890s and continued intermittently through the 1940s. Johns (1970) writes that Ed Coleman and Mr. Rowdy worked a number of claims along the Vermillion River between 1900 and 1906, including one that became known as the Ajax placer just below the mouth of Lyons Gulch. The partners reportedly cleared $90,000 for their work. Thirty years later, these same claims produced $60,000-$70,000 for Albert Thayer, who worked the ground from 1930-1936. Although Johns (1970) reported the Vermillion River placers as paying quite well, other reports contradict this impression. Lyden (1948) claimed that the total for all the placers from 1904-1948 was just $8,200. Mineral Resources reported similarly small amounts: 1932 ($463), 1933 ($1,263), and 1934 ($3,923). Most of the 1934 production was attributed to the Mammy Lou, Driftwood, and Ogoma placers, which were mentioned again in 1935, 1939, and 1940 (Johns 1970; Lyden 1948; WPA 1941; Mineral Resources 1913-1934).

Some miners used heavy equipment in their placering operations. One ran a trommel and dragline to work the gravels just above the Hog Back around 1900. A number of prospectors used similar equipment for the next thirty years or so. Mr. Rierson worked a bucket dredge near the mouth of the Vermillion River for one season in the 1920s. William Pringle tried a Becker-Hopkins suction dredge in 1946 on some leased claims just above the Hog Back. The operation recovered 33 ounces of fine gold from 5000 cubic yards of gravel, but it proved unprofitable when the intake hose clogged easily with cobblestones (Ramsey n.d.; Lyden 1948).

Prospectors in the late 1880s and 1890s searched the Silver Butte district for lode deposits, the same time that they were looking in the Cabinet/West Fisher district to the north. The state mine inspector reported "great activity" in the district by 1890, centered around the Silver Bow, Panhandle, and Monarch claims that later evolved into the Silver Butte mine. Initial development also proceeded on the Copper Ridge claim during this period. Both mines had mills to process ore at the site, and both lost at least one mill to fire (Swallow, Trevarthen, and Oliver 1891; MacDonald 1909; Crowley 1963).

Following a decade of relative quiet, at least two mines were active during the 1910s. The Vermillion mine developed its Dominion group and had a mill running by 1919, and the Gold Hill Mining Company worked on the Harfort group, later known as the Viking mine, constructing a 50-ton mill. After only intermittent mining during the 1920s, the Copper Ridge, Viking, and Vermillion were all active during the 1930s and were joined by the King (Silver Butte) in the 1940s. Farther to the west, in the Rock Creek drainage, the Heidelberg mine operated on a small scale from the 1920s to the 1970s. Most of the later mining operations included a mill at the site (Johns 1970; Crowley 1963).


According to Crowley (1963), the only one to describe the district, the Silver Butte district encompasses the drainage system of the Vermillion River. Additional mines are located at the north end of the Rock Creek drainage. Figure 1 shows the district according to Crowley (1963) and the larger district as defined by the AMRB (1994).


Copper Ridge

The Copper Ridge mine is located in section 25, T25N, R31N, near the headwaters of the West Fork of Canyon Creek. The prospect was first discovered and developed in the 1880s when the operators built a mill to process the gold ore from a quartz fissure vein. Operations continued into the 1890s, and when the mill burned, it was replaced in 1897 with a stamp mill. At some point, the claims were abandoned, but during the 1930s, P. O. Brende relocated them and began more development on the deposits. By 1949, the workings included five adits, 80 to 260 feet long, and an inclined shaft. Samples taken from different parts of the mine ranged from a low of $.35 to a high of $19.60 in gold per ton (Crowley 1963).


The Heidelberg mine encompasses 20 unpatented claims located in section 32, T27N, R31W; the company controls another 19 unpatented claims scattered in sections 20 and 29-32, T27N, R31W. The initial development began during the 1920s when R. J. Price Mining Co. worked on a group of seven unpatented claims on a copper-lead outcrop, switching later to follow a silver-lead-gold vein. The number of claims increased to 15 by 1930, and 5 years later the mine featured a 456 foot adit, 500 foot pipeline, Pelton wheel, four compressors, and two Burleigh drills. The company changed its name to Heidelberg Mining Co. in 1936, and it continued to increase its holdings, extend the workings, and add new equipment over the years. A gasoline-powered 8-ton ball mill processed ore in 1940. Small-scale operations continued into the 1970s. There are no production records for the mine (Crowley 1963; Quigg et al. 1986).

King (Silver Butte)

The King mine, encompassing 10 patented claims, 21 unpatented claims, and 2 mill sites, is located at the head of Silver Butte Creek in section 7, T25N, R30W. The deposit was discovered in 1887 and originally called the Silver Butte mine. Differences in names for the mine and mining company over the years confuse the historical record on this property, and the mine described by Crowley (1963) as the Silver Butte is actually the Vermillion (Johns 1970).

The mine was active in 1890, when most of the work was done on the Silver Bow claim. The Kentucky-Montana Mining Co. (referred to by Johns as the Kentucky Vermillion Co.) operated the mine in 1897 with nearly 60 men on the payroll. An 1800 foot tramway moved ore from the mine to the mill, and a 2.5 mile flume brought water to the Leffel water wheel to generate power. The 500-ton concentrator, which was operating at only half capacity, had two Cornish rolls, ten jigs, and two slime tables. Other buildings included a sawmill, boarding house, office, assay office, and company store. Sometime before 1905, the mine was closed temporarily and the mill burned (Swallow, Trevarthen, and Oliver 1891; Kalispell Inter Lake 1897; MacDonald 1909).

After sitting idle for several decades, the mine revived in 1943 under the ownership of the Silver Butte Zinc-Lead Mining Co. The new owners spent $100,000 by 1946 on both development work and construction of an 80-ton flotation mill. The company received $2300 for the first shipment of concentrates. By 1947, the zinc concentrates assayed 45 percent zinc and 7 ounces of silver per ton, while the lead concentrates assayed 59 percent lead and 42 ounces of silver per ton. The investment did not prove profitable, however, and the mine sold for back taxes in the 1950s. Development work in the mine includes 4 adits with a total of 4300 feet (Johns 1970).

Vermillion (Carpenter)

The Vermillion mine includes the six patented claims of the Dominion group located at the head of Lyons Gulch in sections 15, 16, 21, and 22, T25N, R30W. In earlier years, the mine was known as the Dominion group and the Carpenter mine, and Crowley (1963) called it the Silver Butte.

The Dominion group aroused interest in 1911-1912 when development work exposed a gold-quartz vein with assay results ranging from $9 to $1,700 per ton; a more sober report a year later said that the average value was $20 per ton. The Vermillion Gold and Silver Mining Co. (later the Vermillion Silver and Lead Mining Co.) employed a crew of 6-8 men in 1912. Development work had reached 500 feet of tunnels and a 100-ton mill was processing ore by 1919. The mine operated only intermittently during the 1920s and early 1930s, reopening in 1937 when lessees installed a 50-ton flotation mill. Different lessees operated the mine during much of the 1940s. There are no records of production. Underground development includes 1650 feet of adits, drifts, and crosscuts, as well as 145 feet of raises (Western News 1911; Walsh and Orem 1912; Crowley 1963; Johns 1970).

Viking (Gold Hill)

The three claims of the Viking mine are located in section 4, T25N, R30W, near the head of Silver Butte Creek. The property has been called the Gold Hill group and the Harfort group in the past.

Herman Hildebrandt located the Gold Hill claim in December 1891, filing on the claim originally known as the Old Bullion. The property was evidently not developed much until around 1911-1912 when the Gold Hill Mining Co. employed a crew of 20 men and constructed a 50-ton mill. It is not known how long the mine operated during this first phase of activity. Mark Fowler relocated the claims in 1934 and development proceeded under the direction of the Viking Mining Co. Operators constructed a mill in 1938 which evidently operated intermittently until abandoned before 1946. Development work includes five adits with 2000 feet of drifts and crosscuts. There are no production records for the mine (White 1989; Walsh and Orem 1912; Crowley 1963; Johns 1970).


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

Crowley, F. A.

1963 "Mines and Mineral Deposits (Except Fuels), Sanders County, Montana", Bulletin 34. Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, Butte.

GCM Services, Inc.

1992 "Cultural Resource Inventory and Assessment: Proposed Rock Creek Common Mine and Mill Site Sanders County, Montana", prepared for Westech Inc. by GCM Services, Butte.

Johns, Willis M.

1970 "Geology and Mineral Deposits of Lincoln and Flathead Counties, Montana", Bulletin 79. Montana College of Mineral Science and Technology, Butte.

Kalispell Inter Lake

1897 "A Flathead Mine", 17 September.

Lyden, Charles J.

1948 "The Gold Placers of Montana",

Memoir No. 26

. Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, Butte, Montana.

MacDonald, D. F.

1909 "Notes on the Economic Geology", In

A Geological Reconnaissance in Northern Idaho and Northwestern Montana

, by F. C. Calkins. U.S.G.S. Bulletin 384. Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C.

Mineral Resources

1913-1934 Notes on Silver Butte district, taken from Mineral Resources. On file, Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, Butte.

Quigg, J. Michael, Daniel F. Gallacher, and T. Weber Greiser

1986 "U.S. Borax Exploration at the Rock Lake Deposits: A Cultural Resource Inventory", Prepared for Pacific Coast Mines, U. S. Borax and Chemical Corporation, Spokane, by Historical Research Associates, Missoula.

Ramsey, Paul M.

n.d. "Placer Gold of the Vermillion River, Sanders County, Montana", Unpublished ms. on file, Cabinet Ranger Station, Kootenai National Forest.

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


Reports of the Inspector of Mines and Deputy Inspectors of Mines for the Year Ending November 30th, 1890

. Journal Publishing Co., Helena.

Walsh, William, and William Orem


Biennial Report of the Inspector of Mines of the State of Montana for the Years 1911-1912

. Independent Publishing Company, Helena.

Western News

1911 "Developing Rich Gold Ledge", 9 November: 1.

White, Mark J.

1988 "Site Form Amendment, 24SA64", 21 September. 1989 "Cultural Resource Inventory of the West Fisher Teeters Timber Sale, Kootenai National Forest".

Work Projects Administration (WPA), Mineral Resources Survey


Montana Mine Index, and Alphabetical Index Arranged by Counties, Districts and Mines of Information on Montana Mines from 1867-1940

. Montana School of Mines, Butte.