aka Basin-Cataract

aka Jefferson aka Comet

The Cataract mining district is on the eastern slope of the Continental Divide, north of Interstate 15 and the Boulder River. The southern border is just east of the community of Basin. Often the Cataract and High Ore districts are considered sub-districts of a larger Basin district. Basin, Cataract, High Ore and Red Rock creeks flow from the high mountains north of Basin into the Boulder River, all within three miles on either side of the town. The mouth of Cataract Creek is less than a half mile below the mouth of Basin Creek.

The Cataract district encompasses a large area where mining was carried on from the earliest placer operations in the 1860s through to the present; thus, the historic context for the Cataract mining district includes the placer mining period; the gold/silver lode mining era of the late 1880s and the period of the twentieth century mining up to World War II. The Cataract district is one which illustrates all the major themes of mining history in Montana during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Gold deposits at the mouth of Cataract Creek were reported to have been located as early as the summer of 1862 by prospectors who staked claims, but quickly left them for the reportedly richer diggings on Grasshopper Creek. The Cataract Creek claims were acquired by James and Granville Stuart, and Reece Anderson who built cabins at the mouth of the creek. Two years later placer deposits were found two and a half miles further up the creek but, although rich, the ore was too difficult to work and the claims were abandoned. Soon after, however, placer mining activities quickly spread over the length of both Basin and Cataract creeks. Some of the deposits turned out to be moderately profitable although nothing like the bonanza deposits at Last Chance Gulch were encountered (Lyden 1948; Wolle 1963; Becraft et al. 1963).

The Basin, Cataract and High ore districts are primarily underlain by quartz monzonite of the Boulder batholith. The quartz monzonite of the northern portion of the district is overlain by tertiary dacite, and the quartz monzonite on the western edge of the district is overlain by late Cretaceous andesite. The andesite deposits are pre-batholithic, and the dacite deposits are post-batholithic. The andesite and monzonite formations are cut by dikes of dacite and rhyolite. The district contains both placer and lode ore deposits, the lode deposits being of late Cretaceous and Tertiary ages. The older lodes are valued for their silver, lead and zinc content, while the younger lodes are valued for their gold and silver content. Limited open fissures occur, which contain deposits represented by both groups.

A small mining camp grew up on the flat at the confluence of the Boulder River and Cataract Creek, but when the town of Basin was established at the mouth of Basin Creek, the buildings at Cataract were gradually moved to Basin, eventually leaving no trace of the Cataract camp (Wolle 1963). The initial placer deposits gave out within a few years and prospectors fanned out to discover the lode veins. Most of the lodes were discovered during the early 1870s, but the miners, in most cases, did not have the capital or equipment to develop them. Eventually, significant lode mines such as the Eva May, Uncle Sam, Grey Eagle, Hattie Ferguson, Bullion and others were established. In 1880 the cluster of cabins at the mouth of Basin Creek officially became Basin City. Over the next two decades the town was an active camp, supplying the mines and miners in the district (Knopf 1913; Wolle 1963).A factor which limited the district's development during this period, was the need for smelters which could treat the complex ores.

As early as 1867, a smelter was built at the Gregory mine, followed shortly after by a similar plant at the Minah mine, both near Wickes. Concentrators using gravity methods were constructed at the Comet and Eva May mines but none of these early operations were very efficient (Becraft et al. 1963). In 1883 the railroad line from Helena to Wickes was completed, the smelter at Wickes was remodeled and enlarged, and the Cataract Concentrator was in place in 1890. These developments provided an incentive to mining throughout the area, resulting in a boom which lasted a decade until the silver panic of 1893 forced many of the region's mines to shut down. In addition, many of the leading mines had reached depths where it was too expensive to mine using wood-fired steam plants and, in many cases, the good ore had been mined out. In 1891 the district shipped 50 cars a month which yielded a total of $600,000 (Swallow 1891; Pardee and Schrader 1933; Becraft et al. 1963).

One of the district's oldest mines, the Eva May in 1905 was equipped with a new concentrator which led to the reopening of a number of mines in the district such as the Cataract Mining Company's Bullion mine which at one point paid $17,000 in wages during a single month. Most mining throughout the region south of Helena, from this point on, consisted of smaller-scale operations, carried out with limited capital and equipment. For the most part, old tailings dumps were reworked or old mine workings were reopened on a reduced scale. The Cataract district, however, was somewhat of an exception to this trend with a number of major mining operations being developed after the turn of the century.


The Cataract District can be considered a sub-district of the greater Basin District. Because of common geography, geology, and developmental history, the distinctions are blurred between the several sub-districts in the area. The Cataract mining district is traditionally defined as the length of the Cataract Creek drainage while the Basin district, in similar fashion, runs along the length of Basin Creek. Both Cataract and Basin creeks flow from north to south into the Boulder River, joining it within a mile of each other at the town of Basin. As is often the case, the historic definitions of both districts are indeterminate, at best. Lyden (1948) lists both Basin and Cataract districts but these districts are limited to placer mining activities which restricts the districts to a much smaller area than would definitions of more general mining districts. Knopf (1913) does not describe a separate Cataract mining district but includes the Cataract Creek drainage within a larger Basin mining district. Pardee and Schrader (1933) include the Cataract Creek mines within the Basin / Boulder mining district which included Boomerang, High Ore, Cataract, Basin, Lowland and other creeks tributary to the Boulder River. Gilbert (1935); the Work Projects Administration Mineral Resources Survey (1940); and Trauerman and Reyner (1950) also include the Cataract Creek drainage within the Basin mining district. Hill and Lindgren (1912) list the Cataract district although it is used to describe a larger area, including the Comet (High Ore district) and Basin districts. Krohn and Weist (1977) combine the two districts which they referred to as the Basin-Cataract district, While Becraft, Pinckney and Rosenblum (1963) combine Cataract Creek, the Boulder and Amazon districts as one unit. Given this ambiguity of district definition and since as Becraft, Pinckney and Rosenblum (1963:83) state: "...these districts are not geographic or geologic units and because some of the mines in them have been included in different districts by different authors..." it appears logical and in keeping with general usage to combine the two districts as one entity under the greater Basin mining district name and label Cataract as a sub-district component.

The area covered by the greater Basin district encompasses the areas of major placer mining activity and subsequent lode mining operations. The placer operations ran almost the entire length of both Basin and Cataract creeks, although the most concentrated activity was in the upper drainages extending north from the Boulder River to the border between Powell and Jefferson counties. The approximate boundaries for the Basin district are highly irregular due to the rugged terrain, erratic nature of the drainages and historical anomalies such as the Comet mine on High Ore Creek which Knopf (1913) included in the Wickes district but which later was considered to be in the Basin district after the railroad to Wickes was abandoned the mine shipped ore to Basin instead.

The greater Basin district covers a large area extending from the Boulder River on the south; west to the section line between R6W and R7W; north to the boundary between Powell and Jefferson counties and east to the watershed east of Cataract Creek, including High Ore Creek to Comet. The district would include all or portions of the following: Sections 1-24, T6N, R5W\par

Sections 3-10, 15-22, 27-36, T7N, R5W

Sections 28-33, T8N, R5W

Sections 1-24, T6N, R6W

Sections 1-3, S1/2 4-6, 7-36, T7N, R6W

Sections 25, 26, 35, 36, T8N, R6W

The sub-district of Cataract would be limited to the Cataract Creek drainage and the mines accessed from this valley. Figure 1 shows the Basin district as described above and the Basin-Cataract district as described by Sahinen (1935) and Krohn and Weist (1977).


The mines of the Cataract district were located in the 1870s after the major placer activity and were most active in the late 1890s and early twentieth century. A few such as the Crystal continued work until 1960. Small-scale placer operations continued during the first half of the twentieth century and again during the depression of the 1930s. However, production was not very large during the later years with only 845 ounces of gold being found from 1933 to 1938 along Basin Creek, and the great\-est production in 1936 when 401 ounces of gold were taken.


The Bullion mine located on the northwest side of Jack Mountain can be considered in either the Basin or Cataract district. It worked small dikes of tourmaline-bearing aplite. A 200-ton smelter concentrator was built on the property to process the ore from several thousand feet of tunnels and drifts. By 1933 the mine and mill were idle (Pardee and Schafer 1933).


The Crystal mine was located at the head of Uncle Sam Gulch on Jack Mountain north of Basin. A 50 ft wide mineralized zone composed of bands of quartz and sulphides was extensively developed. Underground workings were reported to be six miles in length with an average width of 30 ft . Exploration work has traced the vein to a depth of 1,500 ft.

The mine operated from the early 1900s to 1960 and produced 3579 ounces of gold and 343,591 ounces of silver plus over two million pounds of lead.

Eva May

The Eva May was located on the west side of Cataract Creek five miles north of the Boulder River. An extensive body of ore was encountered in 1898. A 50-ton mill was built at the mine in 1900 and processed ore for about a decade. By 1907 the shaft had been sunk to the 600 ft level; ultimately the shaft was extended to 1200 ft with levels at 600, 800 and 1200 ft. The property was reported to have yielded $2,000,000.

Hattie Ferguson

The Hattie Ferguson was located on Cataract Creek, six miles north of Basin and was owned by the Western Reserve Mining Company in 1901. The ore body was reached from a 1,400 foot long crosscut . A 100 ft vertical shaft was in place in 1907. By 1909 the mine was operated by the Pennsylvania Montana Mining Company. Operations were out of a new 400 ft long tunnel which tapped the vein of silver/lead ore.


The Minneapolis mine is located on Big Limber Creek about three miles north of Basin. The mine was located in 1929 by W. L. Creden on a previous lead-silver mine. This earlier mine was abandoned when zinc made the ore too expensive to treat. The Minneapolis mine was develop with a cross cut tunnel 1,400 ft long with several drifts on various veins. The north vein in the mine produced ore that returned $.04 gold per ounce, 6 ounces of silver per ton and .05 percent copper, 13 percent lead, and 13 percent zinc.

Morning Glory

The Morning Glory Mine is located on the Cataract claim in Cataract Creek. The claim was located by Roger McCaffey in November of 1885. Charles K. Cole et al filed on the claim in May of 1886; the property received mineral survey MS2623A in 1889 and MS2623B in 1892. Cole and company received patent on the property on January 4, 1894. The mine was located at the same location in 1919 by Christopher Hutchison. He and his partner Wesley G. White, excavated three adits on the claim. The high grade gold and silver ore was sent to the smelters in East Helena and Butte and attracted the interest of investors in Spokane, Washington. With the new capital, a new shaft was sunk and a diesel-driven hoist and compressor replaced the original equipment.

Sometime prior to 1933, H. Brooks Sharpe and Adele Sharpe acquired the Morning Glory. In 1935 they sold the complex to investors in Helena. The mine changed hands several more times in the 1930s and failed to pay taxes in 1935. Yet during those same years the mine achieved its highest production. After 1935 a 50-ton flotation mill was built to process the ore from the three adits and the shaft which was reported to be 245 ft deep.

The mine was a consistent small producer of ore. From 1945-47 the mine produced 507 tons of ore which yielded .18 ounces of gold, 28.3 ounces of silver to the ton. Although the mine employed 30 men in the 1940s, the lease was obtained in the late 1940s or early 1950s by J. Kenneth Curtiss who worked it alone until his death in the 1960s.

In total from 1920 to 1957 the mine produced 19,231 tons of ore which was reduced to 2,484 ounces of gold, 268,054 ounces of silver, 4,138 ounces of copper, 83,140 pounds of lead, and 7,793 ounces of zinc (Mierendorff 1982).

Uncle Sam

The Uncle Sam mine is located on Uncle Sam Creek, a tributary of Cataract Creek. The mine was one of the older properties in the district and was reported to have shipped 12,000 tons of ore to the Wickes smelter, returning $30 to $90 per ton. The mine worked a ledge of galena and sphalerite reportedly 1,200 ft wide (Pardee and Schrader 1933). In addition, small-scale placer operations were active during the first half of the twentieth century. Operations were especially active during the depression of the 1930s when many unemployed miners worked small placer mines. However, production was not very large with only 845 ounces of gold being found from 1933 to 1938 along Basin Creek, with the greatest production occurred in 1936 when 401 ounces of gold were taken.

Mount Thompson

Mount Thompson Mine is 3.5 miles north of Basin on the summit of the divide between the High Ore and Cataract Creek drainages. The lode was located in April 1874 and patented by James Poore, Zachariah N. Thompson, and Rilla P. Elder, on May 21, 1890. An 1888 survey of the property, labeled "Claim of Alex. J. Elder et al." recorded two shafts, and buildings valued at $905. Little was known of the mine until Kenneth Curtis obtained the lease in the 1950s or 1960s.

He was killed at the site by a dynamite accident in the 1960s. When the mine was last inspected, the development did not exceed 400 or 500 ft of shafts, drifts and crosscuts (Mierendorff 1982).


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