HISTORIC CONTEXT

aka Big Hole

The Wisdom mining district (also called the Big Hole district) is on the northeast end of the Pioneer Mountain range. It was not a major mining district and was active for only a few brief periods. The activity centered exclusively on gold and silver rather than other metals as was common to some of the Pioneer range mining districts. The district is located southeast of the town of Wisdom and covers an area along the east side of the Big Hole valley. The town of Wisdom served as the supply point for mines located in the Big Hole basin area (Sassman 1941; Wolle 1963; Geach 1972).

Geologically the Wisdom district consists of granite (quartz monozonite) bedrock, but rocks of the Missoula Group (Precambrian) crop out along the eastern margin toward the Wise River drainage. An aplite and pegmatite facies occurs throughout the quartz monzonite but lamprophyres are unknown. Numerous small and narrow quartz-pyrite veins cut the granite; many of them associated with aplite. Gold and silver are found in some of these veins but the values are irregularly distributed and individual ore shoots are small (Geach 1972).

In the summer of 1862 a party of Colorado men, led by Judge Mortimer H. Lott, made a small strike around July 10th near the head of the Big Hole River. There was a short-lived rush to the area but the strike did not amount to much. The first mining activity in the district occurred in August of 1869 when placers were located on Steele Creek by Mike Steele, Edward Boyle and Barney McDonald. Edward Brown and Fred Myers developed a claim but the placers were not very productive, yielding no more than a few thousand dollars worth of gold. As a result, little notice was taken of the diggings. While working his claim, Brown discovered the Martin lode which was later reported to have rich silver ore. Expensive development work was conducted but apparently no profitable production resulted(Sassman 1941; Wolle 1963; Geach 1972).

Mining revived in the district in the 1890s when work was done on the Phoenix group of mines located on the east fork of Steel Creek. An arrastra was built by John Gillenberg and considerable development was carried out at the mines. Ore, valued at $10 per ton, was mined and the arrastra ran every summer for three years but expenses could not be met and the operations at the mine and mill were shut down in 1899 (Sassman 1941; Wolle 1963; Geach 1972).

Helena mining engineer, W. E. Sanders, then moved up the creek about one mile and established the Bonanza mining camp. The company had six claims - the Bonanza, Mountain View, Sanders, Clifford, Sentinel, and Maynard - which had been located by Harry Clifford and Louis and Charles Maynard. Ore was found which assayed at $40 per ton in gold plus two to three ounces of silver. It appears some ore was mined but lack of records prior to 1902 it is not known if any profitable results came from the venture (Sassman 1941; Wolle 1963; Geach 1972).

Some of the district's significant mines include the Clara (Monty Clinton) which produced a few tons of ore in 1960. The Martin, developed by Ed Brown around 1870, for which the only record of production is from 1904 when 70 tons of ore were mined. The Ibex, located on the south side of Schwinegar Lake, may have produced some ore in the 1890s (Geach 1972).

BOUNDARIES OF THE DISTRICT

Geach (1972) places the district in the West Pioneer Mountains along the east side of the Big Hole valley at an elevation of 7500 to 9000 feet. The district includes the upper portions of the drainages of Doolittle, McVay, Steel [historically spelled Steele], Sand, Sheep Creeks and Fox Gulch (Figure 1).

HISTORIES OF SELECTED MINES

Few mines in this district were ever patented even though most have seen several episodes of exploration activity with some having been worked in the last few decades. These include the Moose Horn, the Martin, the Clara and the Diadem Group (including the Arnold mine) which were reported to be developing during the 1960s (Crowley 1960 & 1962; Geach 1964, 1965 & 1966). A few of these are discussed below.

Arnold

This site is the remains of a small hard rock mine which was apparently active at two different times. The Arnold mine site consists of three frame structures (one collapsed); two log structures (one collapsed); one adit (portal collapsed) and a small prospect pit. Artifacts at the site suggest that the mine may have been worked around 1900 and again from the late 1940s to the 1960s. The Arnold mine was reported to have been in a developing stage during the early 1960s. At one point, seven part-time employees were working on the property which was reported to contain gold, silver, lead and copper. The owner was J. F. Arnold of Wisdom and the Diadem Company of Spokane (Crowley 1960 & 1962; Geach 1964 & 1965).

Bear

The site is a mining complex in a remote area of the Wisdom mining district. The site consists of three standing structures, one can dump, two adits and an animal pen and corral complex. Little is known of the Bear mine. It was developed in isolation near the top of Odell Mountain and as such is included in the Wisdom mining district. However, it could just as easily be included in with the Wise River mines. A claim notice at the site lists the mine as the "Black Bear".

Maynard

The site is a small hard rock mine in the Wisdom mining district. Development consists of two adits (collapsed), cabin, stable, spring house, three other structures too decayed to identify and an arrastra. A log building, 200 feet below the mine workings on the banks of Steel Creek, housed a double arrastra. Although there were no records, the mine appears to have produced at least enough ore to warrant the addition of the second arrastra.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Crowley, Frank A.

1960 Directory of Known Mining Enterprises, 1959.

Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology Bulletin 14

. Montana School of Mines, Butte.

1962 Directory of Known Mining Enterprises, 1961. Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology Bulletin 25. Montana School of Mines, Butte.

Geach, R. D.

1964 Directory of Mining Enterprises for 1963. Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology Bulletin 38. Montana College of Mineral Science and Technology, Butte.

1965 Directory of Mining Enterprises for 1964. Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology Bulletin 46. Montana College of Mineral Science and Technology, Butte.

1966 Directory of Mining Enterprises for 1965. Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology Bulletin 49. Montana College of Mineral Science and Technology, Butte.

1972 Mines and Mineral Deposits (Except Fuels) Beaverhead County, Montana. Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology Bulletin 85. Montana College of Mineral Science and Technology, Butte.

Krohn, Douglas H. and Margaret Mlynarczyk Weist

1977 Principal Information on Montana Mines.

Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology Special Publication 75

. Montana College of Mineral Science and Technology, Butte.

Sassman, Oren

1941

Metal Mining in Historic Beaverhead

. Unpublished thesis, Montana State University, Bozeman.

Winchell, Alexander N.

1914 Mining Districts of the Dillon Quadrangle, Montana and Adjacent Areas.

United States Geological Survey Bulletin 674

. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.

Wolle, Muriel Sibell

1963

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

. Sage Books, Denver.