aka Fish Creek

On July 25, 1866, E.B. and J.B.S. Coleman and William Crawford discovered placer gold in Fish Creek on the north side of Red Mountain. As miners rushed to the area, the Highland district was soon organized and, to the west, the Moose Creek mines opened up. The camps in this district produced purer gold than the placer diggings on Silver Bow Creek. The principal producing streams were Fish and Basin creeks and their tributaries. The placer deposits were worked heavily during the first few years, and the richest deposits were soon exhausted (Sahinen 1935; Lyden 1948; Wolle 1963).

No sooner had placers been discovered in gulches, than lode gold was found on Nevin Hill and in other parts of the Highlands. The ore, which was free-milling, could be crushed in arrastras or stamp mills. When the placers began to give out within two or three years, the main activity centered in these quartz properties. The oldest location was the Murphy; the richest was the Only Chance. Eight arrastras were built along Fish Creek to mill the ore for the Only Chance. Because the mines were claimed prior to the revision of mining law in 1872, they were restricted to 100 x 200 foot surficial claims. As a result, several claims divided the ownership of the rich ores of Nevin Hill. It has been estimated that 100 lodes were located by 1869 (Bassett and Magee 1869; Sahinen 1950; Wolle 1963).

The two mining towns of the district, Highland City and Red Mountain City, each boasted populations of over a thousand people during the boom days. By the summer of 1867 Red Mountain City was larger than Butte and was recognized as the largest settlement in southern Deer Lodge County. Red Mountain City was so close to Highland City, that in time they were often thought of as one. Red Mountain City had a water system consisting of hydrants and pipes, made from ten-foot long green logs through which a hole was bored (Wolle 1963).

The first mill to be built in the district was at the Ballarat mine. On the recommendation of George C. Swallow, St. Louis investors erected a 25-stamp mill in 1867. Swallow, a university professor from the midwest, was over-optimistic about the value of the ore. When the mill gave poor returns, the investors sent a mining expert to examine the property. Philip Knabe quickly found the mine to be of little value and recommended the operation cease. After only two years production, the first mill closed. Its closure brought to an end the district's first mining period. The Only Chance, Murphy and the Nevin mines remained open, but at a much lower rate of production. Only Chance ore was worked in three arrastras while the Nevin ore was worked in two. The towns of Highland City and Red Mountain City withered, and by 1874 contained only a few residents (McCormick and Martin 1988).

Two early pioneers who stayed in the area were Ron D. Leggat and John Kern. Leggat built a flume to his placer and worked it until the gold ran out. He then changed to hydraulic mining of the hillsides. As other miners moved on, Leggat would buy up their claims and rework them with his hydraulic setup. By 1885 Leggat had consolidated many of the claims in the upper Fish Creek and Basin drainages. In 1895, Leggat sold out to the Butte Water Company for $160,000. Leggat's properties were purchased as the water company sought to protect the source of Butte's water.

In 1897 the Only Chance mine on Nevin Hill resumed operation on a 220 foot shaft. The enterprise on Nevin Hill, the three-way divide between Fish, Moose, and Basin Creeks, comprises three old mines, the Only Chance, Murphy , and J. B. Thomson, as well as several nearby claims. In 1900, J. P. Tilton discovered the Diamond T on Nevins Hill. Tilton's mill processed Nevin Hill mine ores from 1912 to 1915 (Moore and Fredlund 1988).

From 1908 to 1920, the district saw a small revival. Lode mines were reopened and began to ship ore. Mine operators at the Murphy and the Only Chance built mills adjacent to their shafts. In 1909 the district shipped several hundred tons of ore. In 1911 the Murphy was the primary mine in the district and the return jumped to 6,368 tons of ore. In 1912 the production figure rose to 14,664 tons of ore. However, the boom began to fade, and in 1915 only 128 tons were shipped. Small intermittent production continued to 1922 when 54 tons were shipped out of the district.

The Great Depression saw an increase in placer mining in the Highlands. After the price of gold was raised to $35 per ounce, individuals from the nearby metropolis of Butte headed to the hills to supplement their incomes. Individuals also reopened lode mines. One such, the Ballarat, was relocated by a Mr. Brooks after being idle for decades.

The district's largest mine also began operations in the 1930s. The Butte Highlands Mining Company was organized in 1931 and began mining the combined Only Chance, Murphy, and J. B. Thomson. From these properties, 600 tons of first-class ore were shipped in 1932. The 100 ton cyanide mill, at the head of Basin Creek, was rebuilt in 1932 on the Moose Creek side of the Divide so as not to pollute Butte's water. But the mine and mill shut down the following year. The reorganized company built a mill in 1937 and treated 17,985 tons of ore and old tailings. Both mine and mill shut down in 1942 due to war-time regulations (Wolle 1963; McCormick and Martin 1988).

The Highlands never rated as a major mining region even though an estimated $1,000,000 was recovered from it between 1866 and 1875, and an additional $1,299,533 from 1904 to 1963 (Wolle 1963).

In this district, a series of slates and quartzites underlie a thick limestone unit, all of which are cut by numerous intrusions of quartz monzonite, diorite, pegmatite, and aplite. The sediments are faulted and in the northern part are cut off by the 'granite' of the Boulder batholith. The thick series of quartzites and slates thought to belong to the Belt series, seem to be in fault contact with the limestones which have been correlated with the Gallatin formation of the Three Forks region. The granite probably underlies the Belt series as well as the Paleozoic rocks, as several outliers of granite have been observed jutting through the sediments of all ages in nearby districts. The diorite grades into normal quartz monzonite ("granite") but the aplite and pegmatite occur as dikes in granite and are clearly the result of differentiation within the granite magma (Sahinen 1935).

In addition to placers, which are still worked in a small way, the district has many veins and irregular ore deposits, valued chiefly for their gold content. The Murphy mine, at the head of the main fork of Fish Creek, is in Paleozoic limestone. The ore occurs in veins, joints, and chimneys, and although not directly on the contact, is said to be of contact origin. The veins are irregular and occasionally faulted, the largest strikes east and dips about 80 degrees north (Sahinen 1935).


Sahinen (1935) places the district at the head of Fish Creek in the "Highlands" about 20 miles south of Butte by road. McCormick and Martin (1988) and Fredlund (1989) base their boundaries of the district on Sahinen's, but modify the simple definition to follow known boundaries of mining claims and remains on patented claims. Figure 1 shows the boundaries of the Highland mining district modified slightly from Sahinen (1935) and as described below.

The boundaries follow the Continental Divide on the north and west with a deviation on the west to include the Highland Mine. The east and south boundaries coincide with maps of patented claims suggesting mining remains. The east boundary is a section line dividing sections 26 / 27 and 34 / 35. The southern boundary is the township boundary separating Townships 1N from 1S in Range 7W.

The only mining area not within the above boundaries is the Gold Hill area which is often included in the Moose Creek district.



The Ballarat mine is located in the southwest quarter of section 33, T1N, R7 W, about half a mile south of Red Mountain City. The property was one of the most important mines in the district during the mining boom of the late 1860s. The mine was said to have been discovered by William Smith, William Baldwin, Daniel McKiever and E. B. Watson. Prior to actually working the ore, the mine was bragged to be fantastically rich. Despite a poor showing at the arrastra, the foursome managed to interest George C. Swallow by producing a completely bogus gold nugget. Swallow was fresh from a university position in the Midwest and had come to Montana to look at mining investment opportunities. In 1867 the "Professor" had purchased the claim. Also in 1867 the mine had the most developed adit in the district with a length of 45 feet. Investors in St. Louis provided money for a mill that was shipped by steamboat to Ft. Benton and freighted overland to the mine. The 24-stamp mill was the first in the Highland Mountains. Although Swallow erected several cabins at the mill site for his family and workers, the mine failed to thrive. By 1869 the adit was over 500 feet long, but still hadn't reached paying ore. Poor returns from the mill prompted the St. Louis investors to send an expert, Philip Knabe, to assess the situation. Knabe examined the mine and then issued a report that said that the mine was of little value. After only two years of activity, the mill closed. Later it was dismantled and moved to Butte where a silver strike was in progress. The closure of the Ballarat marked the end of the 1860s mining boom in the Highland mountains (Bassett and McGee 1869; Anon 1977; McCormick and Martin 1988).

In 1931 the long-closed mine was reclaimed by a Mr. Brooks. He opened three adits; two had lengths of 80 and 125 feet. Working through the decade, Brooks claimed to have discovered an ore body 45 to 70 feet wide and 800 feet long. After the 1930s, the claim was not worked again until the 1980s (McCormick and Martin 1988).


The Bluebird mine was located in 1938 and produced its first ore the same year. The mine, like all other gold mines in the U. S. was closed in 1942 by Federal Order due to the advent of World War II.

Gold Hill

The Gold Hill mines in the southwest quarter of section 12, T1S, R8W first officially reported production from 1909 to 1912 and then again in 1915 and 1916. The property is composed of three claims patented in 1911: the Monitor, Montreal and Eclipse #2. At the time of patent they were owned by the Free Gold Mining and Milling Company. A quartz mill was shown on the 1916 mineral survey along with shafts, open cuts, stopes, tunnels and buildings. The mill was built in 1909 and contained a Blake jaw crusher, three Huntington mills, six Spitz-Kasten classifiers, eleven cyanidation tanks and gravity filters. The property may have seen some small scale activity in the 1930s during the Depression driven gold rush (Beck 1987).

Highland Chief

The Highland Chief is located in section 22, T1N, R7W. This claim was originally patented in 1920 by the Butte and Plutus Mining Company as the Ready Cash, Pay Master and U.S. Gold lodes. The Ready Cash and the Pay Master lodes were located in 1913 and the U. S. Gold in 1911. Improvements included a discovery drift, two discovery shafts, a tunnel, crosscut and part of a crosscut.

The mine was patented again in 1931 by Jacob Lambrecht as the Highland Chief Lode. This new claim included a new area to the west of the previous claim plus the U.S. Gold patent area. Improvements at the time of patent included a shaft and tunnel valued at $3,760. In 1940 the mine was owned by E. M. Norris and D. J. McGrath. A Mr. White hauled 40 tons of ore from the lower workings in 1940; the ore was said to return $20.00 to the ton in gold (GLO; Fredlund 1989).

A shaft on the lower workings reached a depth of 100 feet in limestone stained by chrysocolla and malachite. The upper workings consisted of a 35 foot vertical shaft (Sahinen 1950).

Highland Mine

The Highland mine located in section 31, T1N, R7W on Nevin Hill was initially patented in 1916 to Ole J. Larson. The mine consisted of early bonanza mines such as the Only Chance, Murphy and J. B. Thompson. Although the mines were active up to the time they were patented as the Highland, they were idled soon after. Work did not resume until the 1930s when the Butte-Highland Mining Company began operations (See Only Chance). This extensive mining operation was replete with boarding houses and hotels, and a cyanide mill. At its peak of operations in 1937, 65 men were employed on the property. During this 1930s resumption of activity, the mine was known as the Butte-Highlands property (Sahinen 1950; Moore and Fredlund 1988).

Highland Placer

The Highland placer was patented by Roderick D. Leggat in the 1880s. It was surveyed in 1884; the map showed various cabins, ditches, and excavated areas along Fish Creek. Leggat consolidated many of the smaller claims as miners left the district in the 1870s. The 140-acre claim was sold to the Butte Water Company in 1895 as part of the company's efforts to protect the city's water supply (Fredlund 1989).

J. B. Thompson

The J. B. Thompson in section 31, T1N, R7W and was one of three original mines on Nevins Hill. In 1869 a tunnel was 160 feet long with 75 feet remaining to reach the lode. The mine was patented in 1875 by Curtis G. Hussey and Charles B. Seely. The patent record lists $4,000 in improvements. The mine was later repatented by Hussey and others. Beginning in 1915, the mine was worked in association with the Murphy and the Only Chance as part of the patented Highland mine operations (Bassett and McGee 1869; Moore and Fredlund 1988).

Murphy Mine

The Murphy mine in section 31, T1N, R7W was the first mine to be located on Nevin Hill around 1866 or 1867. The mine was a major producer at the time. The mine's first period of activity ended with the closure of the Ballarat mill. The Murphy mine was patented by John Murphy in 1892. The map of the property shows four shafts valued at $1,098. In 1911 the mine was again active and was the largest producer in the district. The shaft was 300 ft deep and its adit was 600 feet long. A 5-stamp mill was erected on the site to work the ore. After 1915, the mine was worked in conjunction with the Only Chance, and J. B. Thompson as the patented Highland mine of Ole J. Larson (Sahinen 1950; Moore and Fredlund 1988).


One of the early mines of the district, the Niven was claimed in the mid-1860s prior to the change in mining law in 1872. As a result several claims worked the same vein and efforts were quickly made to combine operations. The Niven was working in combination with the Thompson lode by 1869 and its ores were processed with those of the Only Chance. Later the mine would be part of the combined Highland mine (Bassett and McGee 1869).

Only Chance

The Only Chance mine is located on Nevin Hill in section 31, T1N, R7W. This property was the largest producer among the early mining claims. The outcrop was discovered in 1867 when a road was graded between the Murphy mine and the arrastras on Fish Creek. The ore from the new mine, along with that of the Murphy, was initially worked in eight arrastras on Fish Creek. In 1867, the mine shaft was reported to be down 50 feet. The property was patented by Abraham Nevins and E. B. Stephonson in 1868 under the guise of the Only Chance Mining Company. The hill on which the mine was located was named Nevins after the locator who also located the Nevins claim on the hill. In 1869, the mine was reported to be working a lode at a depth of 125 feet; the property produced $37,000 in ore in only five months. After the closure of the Ballarat Mill in 1870 or 1871, the Only Chance was worked intermittently on a small scale. In 1871, the mine's ore was again worked in three arrastras on Fish Creek; two others were operated by the Nevin Company.

In 1897, the property was in the hands of the First National Bank of Helena which leased it to Lawson & Co. The lessees employed three miners, four topmen and an engineer to develop the mine. The 2-compartment incline shaft was sunk vertically from the end of the incline at 100 feet to a depth of 220 feet. The mine was worked with a McDowell engine and a 5/8 inch rope. Because P. J. Tilton pushed forward this new activity, the mine became known as the Tilton. In 1912, P. J. Tilton erected a mill on Nevin Hill to work the ore from his Diamond T and other claims. Tilton's Red Mill, as it became known, consisted of a crusher, five stamps and an amalgamation table. The mill processed ore from Nevin Hill mines from 1912 to 1915 and was still standing in 1935 (GLO; Sahinen 1950; Wolle 1963).

After 1915, the mine was worked in conjunction with the Murphy, and J. B. Thompson as the patented Highland mine of Ole J. Larson (Moore and Fredlund 1988).

The mine was returned to production in the early 1930s as the Butte-Highlands property. The Butte Highlands Mining Company was organized in 1931 and began mining the combined Only Chance, Murphy, and J. B. Thomson claims on Nevin Hill. From these properties, 600 tons of first-class ore were shipped in 1932. A 100 ton cyanide mill, at the head of Basin Creek, was erected to work the ore. The mill soon thereafter rebuilt on the Moose Creek drainage so as not to pollute Butte's water. The mine and mill shut down in 1933 (Sahinen 1950).

In 1937, the reorganized Butte-Highland Mining Company resumed operations in the district. The mill reopened in November with a 75-ton capacity. Sixty tons of ore were mined by a crew of 65. The mine and mill had electric power and drills were operated using compressed air. The mill ultimately treated 17,985 tons of ore and old tailings. Both mine and mill shut down in 1942 due to war-time regulations. Twenty tons of gold was shipped from the mine in 1947. The mine was intermittently operated through the 1960s (Wolle 1963; McCormick and Martin 1988; Moore and Fredlund 1988).

Total production from the mine in the historic period (1867 to 1947) was estimated to be around $2,000,000 with an excess of 63,000 ounces of gold recovered. The Tilton (Diamond T) shaft is credited with $540,000 in gold from a pipe-like shoot in limestone that yielded an average of $1,000 per foot for 540 feet. The mine was also developed from the Only Chance adit with a 400 foot winze, Only Chance shaft, Only Chance glory hole, Nevin adit, Murphy shaft and the J. B. Thompson adit. In the early days, gold was also extracted from the Gold Excel shaft about 80 feet northwest of the Murphy shaft.

Other mines in the district mentioned in the historic literature include the Templeman, Ozark, Brooks, Red Wing, Iron Cliff, Highland View, Bear Cat and E. X. L. (Sahinen 1950).


Anonymous 1977

1940 "Star Pointer Gleans Gold From Moraines at Bearmouth, Montana",

Mining World

, Vol. 2, No. 9, pp. 2-7.

Bassett, S. P. and Joseph Magee


Statistical Almanac for 1869 and Year Book of Facts Showing Material Resources of Montana

. Montana Publishihg Co. Helena.

Beck, Barb

1984a "Cultural Resource Inventory Report: Great Continental Divide Corporation / Horse Gulch Placer", Deerlodge National Forest.

1984b "Site form for Leggat Cabin 24SB175", Deerlodge National Forest.

1984c "Cultural Resource Inventory Stratton / Spring Gulch Claim", prepared for the Deerlodge National Forest, Jefferson Ranger District.

Beck, Barb

1884d "Cultural Resource Inventory Great Continental Divide Corporation / Horse Gulch Placer", prepared for the Deerlodge National Forest, Jefferson Ranger District.

Beck, Barb

1987 "Cultural Resource Inventory of Inspiration Gold Incorporated, Gold Hill Project", prepared for the Deerlodge National Forest, Butte Ranger District.

Byrne, John and Frank Hunter


Ninth Report of the Inspector of Mines of the State of Montana

. State Publishing Company, Helena.

Fredlund, Lynn

1989 "Cultural Resource Inventory in the Highland Mountains, Montana: Limekiln Hill - Fish Creek" GCM Services, Butte.

Frondel, Clifford

1940 "Redefinition of Tellurobismuthite and Vendiestite",

Am. Journal Sci.

, Vol. 238, No. 12, pp. 880-888.

Gidel, Murl A.

1939 "History of Geology and Ore Deposits",

Seven Talks About Mines

, pp. 10-19. Government Land Office Records (GLO) Bureau of Land Management, Butte.

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


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


Kemp, James Furman

1898 "Geological Occurrence and Associates of Telluride Gold Ores",

Mineral Industry

, Vol. 6, pp. 295-320.

Knopf, Adolph

1913 "The Tourmalinic Silver-Lead Type of Ore Deposit",

Economic Geology

, Vol. 8, No. 2. pp. 105-119.

Lungren, Waldemar

1933 "Differentiation and Ore Deposition, Cordilleran Region of the United States",

Ore Deposits of the Western States (Lindgren Volume)

, pp. 152- 180, American Institute of Mining and Metal Engineering.

Lyden, Charles J.


The Gold Placers of Montana

. Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology Memoir No. 26. Montana School of Mines, Butte.

McCormick, Mary E. and Dale Martin

1988 "Cultural Resource Inventory of Two Proposed Mine Exploration Areas in the Deerlodge National Forest: Upper Fish Creek Valley in the Highland Mountains, Montana" prepared for Golden Sunlight Mines, Inc. by Renewable Technologies, Inc., Butte.

Moore, Connie and Lynn Fredlund

1988 "Cultural Resource Inventory of Selected Drill Hole Sites in the Highland Mountains, Montana", prepared for Battle Mountain Exploration by GCM Services, Butte.

Newcomb, R. C.

1941 "Gray Quartz Breccia Ore Body of the Highland Mine, Butte, Montana",

Econ. Geology

, Vol. 36, No. 2, pp. 185-198.

Sahinen, Uuno M.

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

1950 "Geology and Ore Deposits of the Highland Mountains, Southwestern Montana", Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, Memoir 32. Butte.

Sharwood, William J.

1911 "Notes on Tellurium-Bearing Gold Ores",

Econ. Geology

, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp. 22-36.

Tomne, C. W.

1924 "'The Treasure State' - Montana",

Min. Cong. Journal

, lVol. 10, No. 9, pp. 401-402.

Warren, Charles S.

1896 "The Territory of Montana",

Montana Hist. Soc. Contr.

, Vol. 2, pp. 61-75.

Wilde, James D.

1977 "Archaeological Investigation, Upper Fish Creek Timber Sale", Deerlodge National Forest, Butte.

Weed, Walter Harvey

1902 "Ore Deposits Near Igneous Contacts",

American Institute of Mining Engineering Transactions

, Vol. 33, pp. 715-746.

Wolle, Muriel S.


Montana Pay Dirt. A Guide to the Mining Camps of the Treasure State

. Sage Books, Denver.

Work Projects Administration (WPA) Mineral Resources Survey


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

. Montana School of Mines, Butte.


1977 "Archaeological Investigation Upper Fish Creek Timber Sale", Deerlodge National Forest communication to the Jefferson Ranger District, September 8, 1977.