The bulk of the early mining in the Stillwater region occurred near Nye City (in the AMRB defined Nye district) just to the west of the Stillwater district boundary but exploration and activity undoubtedly spilled over into the Stillwater district. The first miners in the area are thought to have discovered gold in the mountains in the late 1860's. However, the lodes were reported to be within the boundaries of the Crow Reservation preventing the miners from developing their properties. A survey of the reservation in 1882 showed the lodes to be several miles outside its boundaries and miners soon streamed into the area where indications of ore had previously been found. In 1887, Nye City was a modest camp containing four log cabins, a boarding house and a saloon. It gained its fame as the center of the mining efforts of the Minneapolis Mining and Smelting Company. However, all mining around Nye City ceased in 1889 when the Secretary of the Interior declared that Nye City and the surrounding mining properties were within the Crow Reservation. This effectively shut down all activity in the Stillwater area.
However, political pressure continued to permit mining in the area and shortly after the turn of the century the reservation boundary was moved to the east and mining in the area continued -- although on a minor scale.
WW I provided the next catalyst for renewed mineral exploration in the Stillwater region. The war demand in 1917 and 1918 stimulated the search for chromite in all parts of the country, and in those years three properties in the Stillwater region were actively developed, but not patented. No shipments were made, however, and when the war demand ceased, there was very little further development except at the eastern end of the belt, where some improvements were made on the seven claims of the late T. C. Benbow. Very little development work was done on the Boulder River properties which included the Bonanza Group, the M & R group, a group held by Mr. Kirwan et al. and a group held by Edward Royal et al.
A wagon road from this property to Dean was built, three adits, one of them 500 feet long, were driven, and several trenches were dug. Three cabins were built, an air compressor was installed, and in 1929 the camp was prepared for mining; but work ceased because of the financial uncertainties of that year. On November 24, 1933, a patent on these seven claims was issued. By 1940 the mine was owned by the Chromium Products Corporation of Livingston (Peoples and Howland 1940; Howard et al. 1949).
Many of the claims were restaked during the Second World War. The claims on East Boulder Plateau were held in 1944 by Dewey Whittaker and by the Montana Chrome Corporation, which also held all the claims in the Iron Mountain area. The Fry-Taylor claims were claimed in the valley of the West Fork of the Stillwater River and extended westward on the plateau about a mile (Howland 1955).
The Stillwater district is north of the Beartooth Mountain front. It is an area of pre-Cambrian rocks upon which Paleozoic and Mesozoic seas were deposited. This area was then uplifted and exposed to erosive forces which exposed the basement rocks. The front of the mountains is characterized by one or more thrust faults. The Stillwater igneous complex is the name given to a great igneous sheet that is exposed between Boulder Valley 14 miles south of McLeod and Little Rocky Creek, six miles southwest of Dean. It comprises a high plateau between 9,000 and 12,000 feet above sea level. Chromite occurs in several bands in the igneous sheet and is recognized as the Stillwater Chromite Complex. The bands are remarkable in their continuity. Greater band widths have been exposed in the Mouat and Benbow properties.
BOUNDARIES OF THE DISTRICT
Schafer (1937) describes the district as the region from the Stillwater River to Little Rocky Creek, the eastern end of the Stillwater Complex. This is shown in Figure 1 as a dashed line and reflects the eastern end of the Stillwater Chromite Complex. Figure 1 also shows the large area defined as the Stillwater mining district by the AMRB (1994).
HISTORIES OF SELECTED MINES
The Benbow claims are located in sections 28, 29 and 30 of T5S, R16E. The mine was reached by a nine-mile wagon road out of Dean. The property consisted of the War Eagle, the Lucky Strike, Eclipse, Black Rock, Titanic, Majestic and Big Seven. The claims begin west of the Stillwater divide and extend across the valley of Little Rocky Creek. In the 1920's, this was the only Chromite property to be developed. A wagon road was constructed that connected the mine to Dean. Three adits, one of them 500 feet long, were driven, and several trenches were dug. Three cabins and a stable were built, an air compressor was installed. In 1929 the camp was prepared for mining; but work ceased due to the advent of the Great Depression. On November 24, 1933, a patent on these seven claims was issued. By 1940 the property was owned by the Chromium Products Corporation of Livingston. The property was developed out of four adits, one of which contained 860 feet of work. Main workings are on Lucky Strike and Eclipse claims, but the Black Rock also had an adit of 30 feet. Several debris filled trenches were also observed in 1939 (Schafer 1937; Peoples and Howland 1940).
The Fry-Dillon claims are located in sections 15 through 18, T5S, R14E. The group includes the Climax, Brannan, Iron Duke and Dixie Queen Claims among others. The ore body stretches from the a point near the head of Iron Creek to the West Fork of the Stillwater River. No production has been recorded from the claims (Westgate 1922).
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
Bowman, A. H. and Barclay Craighead
Montana, Resources and Opportunities Edition
, Vol. 3. Department of Agricultural, Labor and Industry, Division of Publicity.
1988 "Addendum to Cultural Resource Field Inventory Anaconda Stillwater Complex Project" prepared for Hydrometrics, Inc., Helena. Addendum to study prepared by Western Cultural Resource Management, Boulder for Camp, Dresser & McKee, 1981.
Howland, A. L.
1955 "Chromite Deposits in Central Part Stillwater Complex, Sweet Grass County, Montana",
US Geological Survey, Bulletin #1015-D
Howland, A. L. and R. M. Garrels and W. R. Jones
1949 "Chromite Deposits of Boulder River Area, Sweetgrass County, Montana", USGS Bulletin #948-C.
Page, Norman J., et. al.
Exploration and Mining History of the Stillwater Complex and Adjacent Rocks,
Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology Special Publication #92.
Peoples, J. W. and A. L Howland
1940 "Chromite Deposits of the Eastern Part of the Stillwater Complex Stillwater County, Montana",
US Geological Survey, Bulletin
Schafer, Paul A.
1937 "Chromite Deposits of Montana",
Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, Memoir #18
Westgate, Lewis G.
1922 "Deposits of Chromite in Stillwater and Sweetgrass Counties, Montana",
US Geological Survey, Bulletin