aka Independence

The Boulder River mining district of Sweet Grass County is located south of Big Timber along the Boulder River valley. Most of the mining activity in the district occurred in the Contact Mountain area and in the upper reaches of the East Boulder River. The chief values were in gold, silver, nickel, copper, lead and chromite.

Most of the Boulder River region is underlain by Archean rock, part of the Beartooth uplift. The northern margin of the area (part of the Boulder River mining district) contains the westward-extending tongue of the Stillwater Complex, and is overlain by Cambrian quartzites, shales, and limestones. The Archean gneisses and schists to the south have been covered and intruded by Tertiary rocks, which include basic and acidic andesites, dacites, basalt, and quartz monzonite (Reed 1950).

The settlement and development of the Boulder River Valley was greatly affected by the status of Crow Indian lands. The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 defined the territory of the Crow nation to encompass the area now known as Sweet Grass County. The Crow ceded all lands west of the East Fork of the Boulder River in 1882 due to political pressures from mining interests, and in 1891 the western boundaries of the Crow Reservation were modified to the present boundaries. The first settler in Sweet Grass County established a ranch west of today's Big Timber in 1873 and several small settlements soon developed in the Big Timber vicinity. The Boulder River Valley south of Big Timber was settled in the 1870s; the first post office was established there, at McLeod, in 1886 (GCM Services 1989; Pioneer Society 1960).

Antonio Drago and Hector McRae discovered a lead of rich gold quartz in Slate Mountain, near Contact, in 1893. This led to the establishment of the Minnie mine. For a few years the Minnie yielded a profit in gold, but then its production declined. Subsequent claims were made and mines opened up on Froze-to-Death and Falls Creeks (to the west of the Boulder River mining district). Several mines were opened on the face of Mt. Contact, but the veins shortly ran into faults and were not developed further (Staunton and Keur 1975).

The Standard Mining Company of Montana operated a mine halfway up Slate Mountain, and the company bought the Minnie, Calumet and others. The Milwaukee-Montana Natural Bridge Gold and Copper Mining Company had 10 claims and worked its mines along Falls Creek. These two companies were the main operators in the area (Staunton and Keur 1975).

Ansel S. Hubble was one of the earliest prospectors on the East Boulder River. In 1893 he filed a placer mining claim on Iron Creek (in the West Stillwater mining district), and in 1894 he filed claims on the Dry Fork of the East Boulder near Hubble Gulch. Findings of gold, copper and nickel resulted in claims up and down the Dry Fork and East Boulder until 1895. The mines produced mostly copper but also some lead (Anthro Research 1990).

The mining boom in the East Boulder area of 1893-94 was followed by another in 1899-1901. Many placer and hardrock mining claims were filed in the area. Exploratory work continued in the East Boulder during the 1940s, but no mining development occurred (Anthro Research 1990).

Placer gold mining was conducted on a large scale on the upper East Boulder in the 1890s. The major areas were on Iron Creek at the head of the drainage, on the main East Boulder for about a mile above its confluence with the Dry Fork, and on Dry Fork from its mouth to the mouth of the Hubble Gulch (Anthro Research 1982).

The town of Contact was midway between Big Timber and Independence. It also served the miners in the Natural Bridge area. Both Contact and Independence had post offices for a time; they were discontinued in 1935 and 1895 respectively (Staunton and Keur 1975).


The 1890s claims on the Dry Fork and the East Boulder were recorded as within the Hub Mining District and the East Boulder Mining District. The most active area was between a mountainside called Mineral Hill to Anderson Springs (Anthro Research 1982).

In the historic literature, the Boulder or Boulder River mining district is generally referred to as the area extending all the way south to the headwaters of the Boulder River (the Independence mining district).

Sanders (1913) referred to the "Contact District," located about 30 miles south of Big Timber where the Boulder River leaves the mountains.

Figure 1 shows the most active area of the district as the headwaters of the East Boulder and part of the main Boulder to Anderson Springs. The larger district as defined by the AMRB (1994) includes the whole of the Boulder River drainage to its junction with the Yellowstone River.



The location of the Bonanza mine is unknown, but it was listed as being located in the Boulder River district. In 1918, the Bonanza claim produced ore containing chromite and olivine (Mineral Resources 1918).

Boulder River Nickel Prospect

The Boulder River Nickel prospect is located in sections 23 and 24, T4S, R12E. In 1950 the seven unpatented lode claims were held by Charles Blakeley and Charles Rasnick of McLeod, Montana (Rasnick had moved to the Boulder River Canyon from Virginia in 1919 or 1920 and began prospecting in the area in the early 1940s). No ores had been produced by 1949, although the property had been sporadically prospected for many years previous. Shallow pits and two adits less than 100 feet long explored a zone in the basal horizon of the Stillwater complex. The zone contained pyrite, pyrrhotite, chalcopyrite, and probably small amounts of pentlandite enclosed in hornfels. A sample from one of the adit dumps contained trace amounts of gold and silver, plus 23.1% iron, 0.3% nickel, 0.3% copper, and 0.06% cobalt (Reed 1950; Samuelson 1984).


Testing work and small shipments were made from the Drago mine in 1912 and 1917. The ore was copper containing silver (Sahinen 1935; Mineral Resources 1912, 1917).

East Boulder

The East Boulder mine was located along a talus slope at the head of a gulch northwest of Canyon Creek (SE1/4, NW1/4, sec. 15, T4S R13E). There were at least two adits driven, and one cabin was located at the site (Mineral Research Center 1982).


The Gish mine was opened in the 1920s to exploit a rich chrome deposit near Graham Creek, on the east side of the Boulder. This operation, owned by the Hercules Powder Company, lasted only a few years. The mine was reopened during World War II, but no chromite was shipped from it (Staunton and Keur 1975; Page et al. 1985).

Hubble Gulch

Ansel Hubble established gold claims in the upper East Boulder drainage in 1893 and operated a nickel mine in the Hubble Gulch area in 1894. Hubble filed the Morning Star and Pilgrim Lode claims in 1894 near Hubble Gulch. He probably abandoned the site shortly before his death in 1900 (Anthro Research 1990).


The Minnie mine was discovered during the summer of 1893, and the discovery of quartz "fairly glistening with native gold" caused great excitement throughout the Boulder mountains. Antonio Drago and Hector McRae discovered the mine on Slate Mountain, and it set off a rush around the stage station of Contact (Anthro Research 1982; Pioneer Society 1960).

Natural Bridge

The Natural Bridge claim was located near Contact. In 1896 the lessees of the claim completed a 100-foot tunnel. In the spring of 1901, the Natural Bridge Gold Mining and Milling Company had a five-stamp mill and 14 employees. Big Timber was their supply point because the road from Livingston was in poor condition (Western Mining World 1896 and 1901).

Wright Gulch

The Wright Gulch mine was owned by William Wright, who worked it some time during the 1893-1901 Boulder gold rush. The mine is located on the west ridge along Wright Gulch, one mile north of Contact Mountain. It is located in the NW1/4 NR1/4, sec. 17, T4S R13E, according to one report, or in the SE1/4, SW14, SE14, sec. 8, T4S R13E, according to another (Mineral Research Center 1982).


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

Anthro Research, Inc.

1982 "Class III Cultural Resource Evaluations in Portions of the East Boulder Area of Sweetgrass County, Montana." Livingston, MT.

1990 "Additional Cultural Resource Evaluations in the East Boulder and Placer Basin Areas of Sweet Grass County, Montana."

Calderhead, J. H.

1898 The Treasure State and Its Industries and Resources: 6th Annual Report of the Bureau of Agriculture, Labor and Industry of the State of Montana for the Year Ending November 30, 1898. Independent Publishing Co., Helena.

GCM Services, Inc.

1989 "Cultural Resource Inventory for Big Timber South Project, Sweet Grass County, Montana."

MacKnight, James Arthur

1892 The Mines of Montana: Their History and Development To Date, Helena: C. K. Wells Co. Mineral Research Center

1982 "Stillwater PGM.", Butte. 1912 Mineral Resources. p. 767.

1917 Mineral Resources. p. 360.

1918 Mineral Resources. p. 672.

Page, Norman J. et al.

1985 "Exploration and Mining History of the Stillwater Complex and Adjacent Rocks," in Gerald K. Czamanske and Michael L. Zientek, eds., The Stillwater Complex, Montana: Geology and Guide. Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, Special Publication 92.

Pioneer Society of Sweet Grass County

1960 Pioneer Memories. Bozeman: Bozeman Business Service.

Reed, Glenn C.

1950 "Mines and Mineral Deposits (Except Fuels) Park County, Mont." U. S. Bureau of Mines Information Circular 7546.

Sahinen, Uuno M.

1935 "Mining Districts of Montana", Thesis, Montana School of Mines, Butte. Samuelson, Ann E. 1984 "Cultural Resource Report on Archaeological Sites 24PA43OH (Charlie Rasnick's Cabin) and 24PA431H." Gallatin National Forest, Big Timber Ranger District.

Sanders, Helen Fitzgerald

1913 History of Montana, vol. 1. Chicago, IL: Lewis Publishing Co.

Staunton, Ruth, and Dorothy Keur

1975 Jerkline to Jeep: A Brief History of the Upper Boulder. Harlowton, MT: Times Clarion.

Western Mining World

1896 Vol. 5, no. 118, p. 322, Dec. 18, 1896.

1901 Vol. 14, no. 13, p. 165, March 30, 1901.

1901 Vol. 14, no. 15, p. 211, April 13, 1901.