aka Montana also see Ermont sub-district
In the early 1860s, as the ground around Bannack became saturated with claims, prospectors were forced out into the neighboring areas in search of unclaimed placer streams. Although there was some placer activity near Argenta in 1862, the district was not developed until the advent of the lode mines. The first such mines, the General Grant, Montezuma, Great Western, Morning, Prolific and Ream, were discovered on June 25, 1864 by William Beekan, Charles S. Ream and J. A. Brown. The next day the same men claimed the Montana Lode and named the area the Montana mining district. In a short time a number of silver lodes appeared in the Beaverhead County Mining Claim records. The complex silver ores of these claims could not be reduced locally and they could not be economically shipped abroad to a smelter. However, in the spring of 1865 a lode was discovered by A. M. Esler which had ore rich enough to ship to Swansea, Wales to be smelted. Esler had discovered the Legal Tender, the district's first producing mine. With the Legal Tender paving the way, many of the district's important mines were opened in the 1860s. Among them were the Iron Mountain and Midnight (Sassman 1941; Shenon 1931; Wolle 1963).
The town of Argenta was chartered on January 6, 1865 and was situated at the mouth of Rattlesnake Creek on the south side of the stream. The town was originally named Montana, but within two years had been changed to Argenta. At its peak, the town had a population of 1,500, while 3,000 persons held claims in the surrounding district. Argenta was reported to have had 3 hotels, 6 saloons, 2 grocery stores, 1 dry goods store, 2 butcher shops, 2 blacksmith shops, 1 bakery, 1 tailor shop and a dance hall. However, by 1874 the camp was nearly deserted (Shenon 1933; Wolle 1963).
The geologic structure of the Argenta district is dominated by the Humboldt anticline, a broad, broken, double plunging anticlinal fold trending northeast to north. At the south end, the fold dies out near the Ermont mine. The fold axis can be traced northeasterly to Clark Canyon and from there to Humboldt Mountain and Birch Creek where the fold plunges.
The prevailing rocks in the Argenta district area are sedimentary. Consolidated sediments ranging in age from Algonkian to Pennsylvanian are found in the region, and Permian and Mesazoic rocks and Tertiary "Lake Beds" are in the Melrose and McCarthy Mountain areas a few miles northeast of Argenta. The unconsolidated rocks in the Argenta area include terrace gravels and glacial moraine. The gravels have further been divided into Upper and Lower Bench Gravels; the Upper Bench at an elevation of 6,800 feet and the Lower Bench near the town of Argenta (Sahinen 1935; Shenon 1931).
Lead and silver were the dominant metals in the district, with some gold, copper and zinc. Ore was found in a number of different geological deposits. Pipe-like ore bodies in limestone are the primary focus of mineral activity in the district and are the source of values in the Tuscarora group. These pipes often split and rejoin as they follow the beds of limestone. Tabular ore shoots, occurring along the bedding planes in the limestone, were developed in the Legal Tender and Spanish mines. Tabular ore shoots along fissures in the limestone were worked in the Brownell, Mouldin, Anaconda, Coolidge and Goldsmith mines. Also in the limestone are two types of contact deposits found in the district: silver lead at the contact between quartz monzonite and Mississippian limestones and gold deposits between andesite porphyry and limestone. The latter are found in the Ermont sub-district while the former are found in mines such as the Iron Mountain and the Argenta Mining Company properties. Deposits along fissures in shale have produced about $200,000 in ore. Mines working these deposits include: the Golden Era, Rena, Midnight, Goldfinch, Dexter and Gladstone. In the late 1920s ore shoots along veins and sheer zones in quartz monzonite were developed. Mines such as the Ferdinand and Jack Rabbit are chief among those working these ore shoots. Deposits along fissures and sheer zones in quartzite have contributed little to the production of the district; the Carbonate was the most important mine working these minor deposits (Shenon 1931).
The Argenta district is noteworthy in that the first smelter in Montana Territory was built there in 1866. The St. Louis and Montana Mining Company constructed a 6-ton smelter to treat Legal Tender ore. Prior to the construction of the smelter, Legal Tender ore was sent to Swansea, Wales. Whatever profits came from the ore were used to pay shipping charges. Seeing an opportunity, Samuel Thomas Hauser went to St. Louis in 1865 to obtain financing from family and friends. Returning with $35,000 in cash and smelter equipment, he and his partner James Stuart bought six silver mines and built the first smelter in Argenta (Gilbert 1935; Sassman 1941).
The construction of the smelter was under the direction of August Steitz, a Frieburg educated mining engineer. The plant consisted of a "double German cupola", a German style cupelling furnace and two 4-foot wooden housed fans (one was a backup unit). While the furnace was built of local stone and soft local brick, it was lined with St. Louis fire bricks that had been freighted from Fort Benton. The stacks for the smelter rose 20 to 30 feet high. The plant was "blown in" in 1966 (Gilbert 1935; Sassman 1941).
The first and probably richest ore to be treated was contracted from A. M. Esler from the Legal Tender mine. Two hundred tons of Legal Tender ore was smelted at a rate of 15 tons per day. Charcoal for the plant was produced on upper Rattlesnake Creek and sold to the smelter for 20 cents per bushel which added $10 to $20 per ton to the cost of treating the ore. When plant manager Steitz became sick in 1866 or 1867, he was replaced by Phillip Deidesheimer, the inventor of square-set timbering which was first used in the Comstock in Nevada. While the smelter was an improvement over shipping the raw ore, the refining process and operators could only imperfectly smelt the ore (Gilbert 1935; Sassman 1941).
In 1870 the smelter was obtained by S. H. Bohm and Company of Helena. Bohm remodeled the plant and increased its capacity. Under his management, the plant smelted custom ores from the Blue Wing district, from the Moose Creek mines and from the Vipond district (Gilbert 1935; Sassman 1941).
While the historic record is confused and often conflicting, there appear to have been at least three or four more smelters built in the Argenta district. A. M. Esler sold three quarters interest in his Legal Tender mine to St. Louis investors in 1866 for $20,000 and built a smelter with the money. The operation was apparently a success and is credited with producing an incredible ton and a half of silver before the Legal Tender played out. Tootle, Leach & Co. of St. Louis built the district's third smelter in 1866 to treat Tuscarora ore. This smelter, which was called the Tuscarora Smelter, was sold to W. A. Clark in 1869 and was only shut down by falling silver prices in the mid 1890s. The St. Louis & Montana Mining Company built another smelter in the district in 1867 to treat ore from their Iron Mountain mine (Gilbert 1935; Sassman 1941; Wolle 1963).
The last smelter was constructed near the Tuscarora smelter by George M. Brown, J. P. Haskell and Xavier Renois. Brown was one of the original John White discovery party that found the original Grasshopper Creek strike near Bannack. The structure was constructed of brick, cobble masonry and cement. When the furnace was first fired, the inferior fire bricks of the combustion chamber melted. Because the structure was not exposed to repeated heatings, or metal salvage after last firing, the structure is relatively intact with portions of walls and a 20 foot high brick chimney still standing in 1981 (Earle 1981; Wolle 1963).
For a variety of reasons, Argenta's first silver smelting bonanza came to an end in the mid 1870s. The St. Louis and Montana Mining Company failed in 1872. Although the company was reorganized as the Hope Mining Company, it concentrated on its Philipsburg operations and apparently shut down the remaining Argenta smelter. As the first class ore from the district's mines was exhausted in the mid 1870s, miners and investors moved to the more promising Blue Wing district to the south. Argenta survived by mining low grade flux ores and smelting Blue Wing ores. In its weakened condition, the Panic of 1873 hit the district hard by reducing both investment capital and lowering metal prices. By 1882 the smelters at nearby Glendale and in East Helena were operational and much of the district's ore began to be sent to these larger and more efficient plants (Gilbert 1935; Sassman 1941; Shenon 1931; Wolle 1963).
In 1885, S. H. Bohm sold the original St. Louis smelter to Smith Ball. Earlier the smelter had proved inefficient because much of the silver values boiled over the cupels; Ball eliminated the cupel process. While this increased the shipping charges, it saved the silver values. He was also able to recover almost $8,000 from the ground around the cupels.
In 1890 four smelters were listed in the district. The P. J. Kelly Furnace was described as a one stack smelter with a 40-ton per day capacity to produce gold, silver and lead. The Bohm & Seligman smelter was also a one-stack, 40-ton smelter, but it produced only silver. The Gallagher & Clarke smelter had one-stack, 40-ton capacity and produced silver. The historic St. Louis & Montana smelter was dismantled at the time, but its attributes were listed as two stacks, 20-tons and produced silver (Swallow 1890).
The rapid drop in silver prices due to the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1893 brought all mining in the district to a close. W. A. Clark was able to take advantage of fire sale prices on mines in the district and in 1895 consolidated claims such as the Alice, Copper King, Hillside, Silver Rule and Mayflower (Shenon 1931; Wolle 1963).
While gold was never the driving force in the district, there were some placers. The men who staked the first lode claims in the district on June 25, 1864 also made the first placer claims on Rattlesnake Creek. However, there is little evidence to show that these men ever developed the placers. They appear to have been claimed as strategies to control the limited water and just in case there were values in the gravel. In any case, little placer activity occurred in the 1860s. In the early 1870s a four mile ditch was dug to bring water to the hydraulic placers across the Rattlesnake Creek from Argenta. The four men working the placer were able to recover $40 per day; later these same placers were reworked by a Chinese miner who was able to recover $3 per day. Remains of these hydraulic operations can be seen just upstream from the Ferdinand Mine (Sassman 1941; Geach 1972; Wolle 1963).
About the same time as the placers were opening up below Argenta on Rattlesnake Creek, new placers were discovered six miles upstream in French Creek. In 1890 placers were also discovered by Charles Watson on Watson Gulch, a tributary of French Creek. The largest nugget of gold found in Beaverhead County, a lump weighing in at 40 ounces, was found in Watson Gulch in 1894. Additional placering in 1941, recovered an additional 9 ounces of gold from French and Watson Gulches. A number of structures, known as the the Knight cabins, associated with the Watson Gulch placers survived until the late 1980s when they were slated for removal and recorded as a historic site by the Beaverhead National Forest. Although early production figures are not available, in the Twentieth century the combined French and Rattlesnake Creek placers worked 1,600 cubic feet of material to yield 107 ounces of gold and 11 ounces of silver worth a combined $2,443 (Geach 1972; Wolle 1963; Ryan 1987).
Higher metal prices brought revivals in 1906 - 1909 and again in 1934 when numerous small mines were operated along the gulches of the district. Although some of the lode mines were in production prior to effective record keeping, it is estimated that the district produced a total of $1,500,000 by 1931 (Shenon 1931; Wolle 1963).
Other mines in the district include the Anderson, Argentiferous, Arlington, Barley, Beebee, Big Four, Big Whale, Big Windy, Bobtail, Broad-gague, Cape Ann, Carmina, Chinaman, Clara, Cleveland, Climax, Clipper, Cornucopia, Crown Point, Eldorado, Elli, Emma, Eureka, Fraction, Golden Arrow, Good Friday, Gould and Curry, Home Stake, Iron-Age, Jumbo, Keystone, King of the Hill, Last Chance, Leap Year, Le Crock, Little Darling, Little Whale, Lower Mash, Mabel Bee, Manhattan, Man-Trap, Modoc, Mountain Maid, Nelly Bell, Nevada, Northern Pacific, Oregon, Paymaster, Perview Stapleton, Phillip, Phillippia, Phoenix, Queen of the Hills, Rainbow, Ram's Horn, Revenue, Snowdrift, Snowflake, St. Jo, Tilden, Union Pacific, White Bank, Widow Davis, Wolverine and the Zero,(Swallow, et. al. 1890).
BOUNDARIES OF THE DISTRICT
Winchell (1914) places the Argenta district at the mouth of the canyon of Rattlesnake Creek. The mines are between 6,000 and 6,500 feet above the benchlands south of the creek and include only the Iron Mountain and a few others. Geach (1972) describes the district as mountainous and rolling benchland terrain on the southeast flank of the Pioneer Mountains. He includes in this description the drainage basins of Ermont Gulch, Rattlesnake Creek and its tributaries, Cave Gulch, and Long John Gulch. Historical discussion of the district includes the Watson Gulch and French Creek placers in unsurveyed sections 25, 26, 35, and 36. Figure 1 shows the Argenta district as described by Geach (1972) which include the Watson Gulch and French Creek placers.
HISTORIES OF SELECTED MINES
The Anaconda mine situated a short distance north of the Mauldin mine was located by E. S. Bell after Bell lost a lawsuit over the ownership of the Mauldin property. Bell sank a shaft on the Mauldin fissure and encountered ore at 30 feet. The shaft was later extended to 60 feet. The ore was treated at the St. Louis & Montana Smelter. Before the ore body was worked out it was sold to the P. J. Kelly Placer, Quartz & Reduction & Smelting Company. Eventually the mine went into receivership and was acquired by J. E. Oppenheimer of Butte. A total of 500 tons of soft lead carbonate were shipped from the mine, but the ore had low silver content (Shenon 1931).
Argenta Mining Company
The Argenta Mining Company property consists of five patented claims and six unpatented claims. The company was organized in 1928 by Judah Judah of Argenta and G. V. Elder and Ralph Rowlands of Dillon. The main development was on the Walter Scott claim. The upper tunnel, which intersects an oxidized ore body, is 60 feet long with a 55 foot winze at the end of the tunnel. The lower level was extended 180 feet toward the ore body in 1930. Some ore had been shipped by 1931 (Shenon 1931).
The Brownell mine in sections 19 and 20 was located in 1865 by Harry Griffiths and was the second mine to be located in the district. Significant amounts of ore were shipped to the St. Louis & Montana smelter in the late 1860s and early 1870s by E. S. Ball and his associates. S. H. Bohm and Company of Helena bought the mine in 1871 and shipped ore to their smelter. From 1882 to 1885 A. J. Shoemaker shipped 1,000 tons of ore to the St. Louis & Montana smelter. The property then lay idle until 1890 when lessees took out several thousand dollars of ore. The property was bought by J. E. Oppenheimer of Butte in 1890 and was still in the family when described in 1931. Lessees James and George Knapp shipped 20 car loads in 1922 and George Spafford shipped eight tons (Mineral Record Index; Shenon 1931).
The ore bodies were developed through a 150 foot shaft with a 80 foot level. "Sandy carbonate" ore was found in tabular shoots along fissures in the limestone. One short shoot at a junction of fissures on the 80 foot level was 15 feet wide. Ore shipped by the Knapps averaged 28 percent lead and ore shipped by Spafford averaged 31 percent lead, 6 ounces per ton silver, .8 percent copper and 90 cents per ton gold. Total production for the mine is estimated at 5,000 tons (Shenon 1931).
The Carbonate mine in the northwest quarter of section 18 was located in 1890 by Phil M. Brown. He shipped about 10 cars of ore to the local smelters and then sold the property to the St. Louis & Montana Company who sank a 75 foot shaft. The mine was relocated by W. H. McMannis and Alfred Graeter and later obtained by A. H. and George French., but no significant production was achieved. Subsequent operations opened a 90 foot main shaft and several shallower shafts. Most of the mine's production dates from Brown's ownership, however some shipments were made in 1942, 1949 and 1953. Total recorded production was only 64 tons of ore which reduced to 10 ounces of gold, 592 ounces of silver, 611 pounds of zinc and 10,773 pounds of lead (Geach 1972; Shenon 1931)
The Coolidge mine, formerly the St. Joseph, is situated in the southeast quarter of section 18 T6S, R10W. It was located by Thomas E. Tuttle in the early 1870s and taken over by E. S. Bell who shipped its ore to the St. Louis & Montana Smelter. The Golden Era Company then sank a 170 foot inclined shaft, but produced no ore. Alfred Graeter shipped 200 tons of ore from the dumps in 1898. Estimates based on the size of the stopes in 1931 indicate an initial production of about 500 tons. Assays of the ore in the dumps indicated values of 10 percent lead, 20 ounces of silver and $1.80 of gold per ton. The mine also shipped ore in 1935, 1936, 1940, 1948, 1960, 1961, and 1964. Total production recorded for the property was 279 tons of ore which yielded 23 ounces of gold, 3,114 ounces of silver, 170 pounds of copper, 882 pounds of zinc, and 17,713 pounds of lead (Geach 1972; Shenon 1931).
In addition to the 170 foot shaft, the property also had two other incline shafts, 40 and 120 feet deep, and a number of prospect pits. Most of the ore was extracted from the 50 foot level of the 170 foot shaft. This ore was in the footwall of an andesitic dike. This shoot was 10 feet high and two to seven feet wide and continued down to 100 feet. The two shallow shafts were sunk by Russell Hirst in 1961 and 1963 (Geach 1972).
The Copper Bell patented claim is located between the Jack Rabbit and the Louis Philip claims in the NW1/4 of section 29, T6S, R10W. When the property was examined in 1931 the workings were caved. In 1963 the mine was reopened with a 112 foot shaft with levels at 45, 60 and 112 feet. The upper levels had oxidized ore such as cuprite, chrysocolla, malachite, copper pitch and limonite while the lower level had sulphide ores. Oxidized ores also assayed at $20 per ton in gold. Total production for the mine was 959 tons of ore which reduced to 9 ounces of gold, 6,681 ounces of silver, 73,366 pounds of copper, and 92,939 pounds of lead (Shenon 1931; Geach 1972).
The Dexter mine is in the NW1/4 of section 17, T6S, R10W. It was located seven miles east of Bond on the Oregon Short Line railroad and 2.5 miles north of Argenta. The mine was originally developed through a 260 foot tunnel with crosscuts to stopes. William Dudley shipped an exceptionally high grade of silver ore in the early 1880s and then sold to the St. Louis & Montana Company. They excavated a 317 foot shaft that connected to a 260 foot tunnel. Little work was then done until 1929 when the Continental Divide Mines Company started an exploration program. A new 60 foot shaft was sunk 2000 feet southeast of the original development. Mineralization occurred in veins in shale close to a contact zone with granodiorite. Ores were primarily partially oxidized galena, pyrite and tetrahedrite. The most recent production was recorded in 1925, 1932 and 1936, but no figures are available (Shenon 1931; Geach 1972).
See Ermont sub-district.
The Ferdinand group, situated in the SE1/4 of section 29, T6S, R10W, is composed of 11 small claims on the east outskirts of Argenta. The mine was discovered by Thomas Harrison in 1868. Initially, ores were sent to Swansea, Wales, but later they were treated in the local smelters. When sulphide ores were reached the property was idle for twenty years. The mine resumed production for two years after the St. Louis & Montana Mining Company was able to treat the ore by giving it a preliminary roast. LaFayette Scott acquired the property and it was owned by his estate until 1909. It was then sold to the Argenta-Dillon Mining Company who reopened a shaft and shipped some ore. In 1925 G. A. Decker and Roy B. Herndon of Dillon leased the mine and stoped ore from the 80 foot level. In 1927-28 Decker and Harry Renz shipped 17 cars of ore from the same ore body (Shenon 1931; Geach 1972).
The mine was originally developed through a 155 foot shaft with a level at 80 feet and another near the bottom of the shaft. This shaft was later extended to 245 feet with levels at 101 feet and 134 feet. A 280 foot drift to the northwest from the 134 foot level was the furthest extension of the mine.
A carload of the better ore contained 22.1 percent lead, 15.5 percent zinc, 1.18 percent copper, 6.1 percent iron with 8.5 ounces silver and .01 ounce gold per ton. The Mineral Resource Index lists the mine in production in 1871, 1909, 1924 - 1929, and 1938; the mine is discussed in the mining literature in 1928, 1931, 1935 and 1936. Most recently the mine was in production in 1937, 1940, 1943, 1946, 1948-51, and 1953-57. Total output for the mine totalled 3,060 tons of ore which was reduced to 17 ounces of gold, 8,942 ounces of silver, 15,746 pounds of copper, 265,934 pounds of zinc and 436,392 pounds of lead (Shenon 1931; Geach 1972).
The Gladstone group is composed of the Gladstone and Argenta mines in the southeast quarter of section 13 T6N, R11W. They were located in the 1880s by Mark Bray (Gladstone) and by James McKay (Argenta). Argenta ore was extracted from a 200 foot shaft with a few drifts. The Gladstone claim had a 50 foot shaft. While the Argenta has produced 150 tons, the Gladstone had little production. The Argenta ore returned about $50 per ton in gold while the Gladstone ore was of a lower grade; a 6 foot wide vein at the bottom of the Gladstone shaft assayed at $12 per ton. Prior to 1931 the Argenta had 150 tons of recorded production, but little or no production was recorded for the Gladstone. The mine reported production in 1902, 1909-10, 1915-16, 1918, 1921-26, 1928, 1931-40, 1942 and 1962-63. Ore from the two mines and the associated Midnight mine totaled 8,873 tons. This ore yielded 1,180 ounces of gold, 22,447 ounces of silver, 8,873 pounds of copper, and 369,958 pounds of lead (Shenon 1931; Geach 1972).
The Golden Era mine, situated in the northeast quarter of section 13, T6N, R11W, was discovered in 1880 by W. D. Booth. It was later relocated by A. I. Watts; neither locator shipped any ore. The property was purchased in 1884 by George French and Henry Laughlin who shipped a small tonnage to the local smelters. Later the St. Louis & Montana Mining Company bought the mine and shipped a large amount of ore. They also removed 1,000 tons of second class ore that was set aside and later treated. The mine was developed through a 300 foot inclined shaft. Five carloads of ore averaged 25 percent lead, 21.54 ounces of silver and 4.35 ounces of gold per ton (Shenon 1931).
Although the old shaft had funneled, considerable development work was done in 1935. Two shafts were sunk and test trenching was conducted under J. U. MacEwan. The No. 2 shaft was 141 feet north of the original shaft and reached a depth of 65 feet. The No. 3 shaft was about 200 feet south of the original shaft; it cut through old stopes and down to the water table at 118 feet. There a drift was driven 100 feet to the north. By 1972 all three shafts had funneled at the collar (Geach 1972).
The Goldfinch property is about 2.5 miles northwest of Argenta in the northwest quarter of section 24, T6S, R10W. The group of claims includes the Goldfinch, Jack, Dolphin, Harmon, Sunny Day, Southside, Golden Crown, Big Lode, Caledonia, Three Cheers and All Nations. The Goldfinch claim was originally located in the late 1880s by A. V. Clark who developed several surface pits and a 60 foot shaft from which he extracted several cars of ore. He sold the property in 1890 to George and A. H. French who worked the mine intermittently for a total production of 250 tons. They produced ore out of a 100 foot inclined shaft in the Dolphin claim which was developed with 120 feet of stopes to the north and south. A 200 foot tunnel was also run, but no ore was encountered.
In 1931 250 tons of ore were shipped from the mine. The next year the mine was leased to the Clark Canyon Gold Mining Company. The Meadow Lark shaft was sunk about 800 feet north of the Dolphin shaft. This new shaft reached a depth of 120 feet and a considerable amount of ore was raised from it. From 1934 to 1936 Robert Fleming of Argenta leased the mine and steadily shipped ore. A 120-ton gravity concentrator was erected on the property, but it was dismantled by 1936. In 1936 the Federal Mining and Smelting Company, a subsidiary of the American Smelting and Refining Company, lowered the Meadow Lark shaft to 220 feet. In 1937 some ore was extracted from the Meadow Lark shaft and a new shaft, the Gardner, was sunk to a depth of 90 feet. The mine had reported production in 1902, 1906, 1908, 1910 and intermittently from 1925 to 1954 with over half of the total of production from 1932 to 1937. Total production for the mine is recorded at 6,604 tons of ore which yielded 3,871 ounces of gold, 46,003 ounces of silver, 171 pounds of zinc, 5,502 pounds of copper and 318,689 pounds of lead (Shenon 1931; WPA 1941; Geach 1972).
The Goldsmith mine in the NE1/4 of Section 30 T6N, R10W was located in the late 1870s by Thomas Judge and Thomas Fox. They shipped some ore, but apparently let the property lapse. Mark Bray relocated the property and sold half interest to a Mr. Smeed. The remaining half interest was eventually purchased by W. A. Clark. Most of the mine's 300 tons of pre-1931 production was accomplished during Clark's ownership. In 1928 the mine was acquired by the Anaconda Copper Mining Company. The mine was developed by three short tunnels and an inclined shaft. The original adits were 120, 60 and 25 feet long with the second and third intersecting the incline shaft (Shenon 1931; Geach 1972).
The mine had recorded production in 1926-27, 1930, 1937, 1942-43, 1949, 1954-59, 1964 and 1965. The most recent activity opened up a 35 foot shaft at the contact between quartz monzonite and limestone. Total recorded production was 563 tons which yielded 56 ounces of gold, 2,761 ounces of silver, 38,574 pounds of copper, 28,900 pounds of zinc and 172,309 pounds of lead.
See Mauldin mine.
Iron Mountain (see also Mauldin mine)
The Iron Mountain mine was located in 1869 and was worked by the St. Louis & Montana Mining Company and later by E. S. Ball. The mine, which is located in the northeast quarter of section 30, was then sold to P. J. Kelly Placer, Quartz & Reduction & Smelting Company, and later acquired by the J. E. Oppenheimer estate (Winchell 1914; Shenon 1931).
The ore was extracted through two tunnels and two incline shafts. The longest shaft, excavated in 1906, encountered limestone at 100 feet and then continued down the contact for 200 feet. It is connected to the longer tunnel which begins near the level of Rattlesnake Creek and was excavated 700 feet northward to the junction; the tunnel crosscuts monzonite for about 500 feet and then extends into limestone. The second tunnel, called the Knapp tunnel, is 250 feet long and connects to the No. 1 incline shaft through a series of old stopes. Stopes on the main incline shaft have a maximum width of about 20 feet. Oxide ore is mixed with native copper in the lower levels with lumps as large as six inches across. Average values from the Knapp stope contain 18 percent lead, 12 ounces of silver and $3.00 gold per ton (Walsh 1906; Winchell 1914; Shenon 1931).
While no figures are available for the total production; it was reported to be producing from 1927-1931 and from 1938-1940. It was discussed in the mining literature in 1906 and 1907. In 1942 the Iron Mountain mine was being worked in conjunction with the Mauldin mine as the Hand property. (Shenon 1931; WPA 1941; Geach 1972).
The Jack Rabbit, located in the NW1/4 of section 29 T6S, R10W about half a mile northeast of Argenta, is the deepest mine in the district. The property was discovered by J. P. Fletcher in the 1870s and patented by W. H. Graeter. An inclined shaft was sunk to the 140 foot level in initial development. From 1915 to 1919 when the property was operated by the Conda Mining Company, the shaft was sunk to a depth of 300 feet and 200 feet of crosscuts were run on the 200 and 300 foot levels to the Jack Rabbit and Copper Bell veins. Water was encountered at 90 feet and by the time 300 feet was reached, two pumps were required to handle the flow. The Conda Mining Company, an Austrian outfit, shipped only 15 cars of ore. The Austrian workers were paid in company stock. Around 1925 Warren Graeter bought the mine at a sheriff's sale for $1,800. The proceeds went to satisfy a debt owed by Graeter (Sassman 1941).
The deposit was in quartz monzonite with ore from the lower levels in the form of chalcocite and pyrite in quartz. Ore later shipped by George D. Spafford assayed at 16 percent copper and 32 ounces of silver per ton. The mine had recorded production in 1912 - 1914, 1917, 1926 and 1934; it was discussed in the mining literature in 1914, 1916, 1920 and 1930. The total production for the mine was 959 tons of ore with 9 ounces of gold, 6,681 ounces of silver, 73,366 pounds of copper and 92,934 pounds of lead (Shenon 1931; Geach 1972).
The Legal Tender mine, located in SE1/4 section 24, T6S, R10W, was the first significant hardrock mine in the Argenta district and one of the first silver-lead lodes in Montana. The lode was discovered by A. M. Esler of Bannack in 1865. Ore was at first freighted to Omaha by ox teams, from there by train to New York and there to Swansea, Wales by ship. The shipping costs to Swansea, Wales ate up the profits from the mine, prompting Samuel Hauser to build the first smelter in Montana, primarily to work Legal Tender ore. The smelter had a capacity of 6 tons per day. In 1866 Esler sold three quarters interest in the mine to a St. Louis syndicate for $20,000. With the money he erected the district's second smelter. It has been said that the mine and smelter produced one and half tons of silver while they were operated by Esler (Sassman 1941).
The played out mine was sold to George M. Brown who then leased it to Cornelius Bray, who mined ore worth $10,000 from one small pocket. By 1931, total production from the mine was estimated at $150,000 (Shenon 1931).
The mine was developed through a 100 foot incline shaft which connected to stopes over 4 feet in width. The ore was the soft "sand carbonate" typical of the district which ran about 300 ounces of silver per ton. A few residual patches of galena were found near the termination of the ore bodies (Shenon 1931).
The Mauldin group is located in the northwest quarter of section 29, T6S, R10W. In 1942 the mine became known as the Hand property and consisted of the Rittenhouse, Anaconda, Brownell, Iron Mountain, Little Iron Mountain, Daylight, Captain Jim, Three Times Winner, Copper Blossom and the Louis Philip claims (Shenon 1931; Geach 1972).
The Brownell lode, claimed in 1865 by Harry Griffiths, was the second lode mine to be claimed around Argenta. The nearby Rittenhouse and Louis Philip claims were located soon after by James Mauldin. An early day lawsuit between Mauldin and E. S. Ball over ownership of the Mauldin properties was decided in favor of Mauldin. After settlement of the claim, Ball located the adjacent Anaconda claim and sank a shaft 30 feet into an ore body (Shenon 1931; Geach 1972).
The Mauldin mine was developed through four shafts and a long tunnel. The deepest shafeet at 150 feet was abandoned because of the heavy flow of water and the lack of ore. A 30 foot incline shaft was extended 20 feet vertically where ore was encountered. A small amount of ore (150 tons) was produced from this shaft. The Eaton shaft (named after the district's first mining geologist), struck mineral values at 100 feet. The soft lead carbonate ore from this shaft was worked at the Stapleton smelter. Total production from the Brownell deposits by 1931 was 5,000 tons. In addition to the lead values, the ore carried 3 ounces of silver and $1.00 in gold per ton (Shenon 1931; Geach 1972).
After 1942 the mine was operated as part of the Hand properties. Ore from surface cuts on the Louis Philip claim was sent to the smelter. In 1943 the Eaton shaft was used to extract ore. In 1949 an adit at the 5885 foot -level was driven into the mountain and several thousand feet of development work conducted. This exposed 20 or more veins and allowed four or five men to be regularly employed extracting 20 tons of ore per day. In 1958 the Iron Mountain adit was reopened and resumed production (Geach 1972).
Total production for the Hand properties total 56,117 tons of ore, primarily from the Mauldin claim. This ore yielded 3,670 ounces of gold, 210,643 ounces of silver, 353,407 pounds of copper, 800 tons of zinc and 6,634 tons of lead.
The Midnight mine in SE1/4 section 13, T6S, R11W, was located by Robert Wing in the early 1870s. The property consists of the Midnight and the Midnight Extension and borders the Argenta-Gladstone claims to the south. Wing developed a 60 foot shaft, but produced no ore. H. R. Paddock and Fred Randolph later relocated the claim and shipped some ore. A. V. Clark bought the mine and worked it for several years. Ore was extracted from five shafts: 265, 180, 150, 80 and 60 feet in depth. At the 200 foot level the oxidized ores with primarily gold values gave way to sulphide ores with lead and silver values and less gold. In places the galena and pyrite ore was stoped to the surface. The property produced 50 cars of ore with values of gold, silver, and lead totaling about $40 per ton. The property was in operation in 1914 by the Gladstone Mining Company. The ore produced by the mine in this period was included in the Gladstone totals. In 1931 the mine was in the hands of Monidah Trust Company, but there is no record of production under their ownership (Winchell 1914; Shenon 1931; Geach 1972)
The mine was discussed in the mining literature in 1903 - 1904, 1930 and 1938; it was listed as in production intermittently from 1916 to 1940 (WPA 1941).
The Rena, in the NW1/4 of section 18 T6N, R10W, was located by Lawrence and John Miles in 1884. They sank a 70 foot shaft and shipped ore to smelters in Omaha, Nebraska. The next owners, the St. Louis & Montana Mining Company, sank a 300 foot shaft and made a crosscut to a vein, but shipped only a small amount of ore.. A. H. French acquired the property in 1922 and he estimated that 250 to 300 tons of pyrite and galena ore were extracted with values in gold and silver. After 1942 the Rena was incorporated into the Hand properties (Shenon 1931; Geach 1972).
The Silver Rule mine was located in the 1880s by Jimmy Knapp. The mine was relocated and worked by the Laughlin brothers. The mine is interesting in that the Laughlins extracted only poor ore and left the best ore for prospective buyers to observe. When the mine was purchased by W. A. Clark in the 1890s, he only ran the mine for six months before relocating all of its equipment to the Tuscarora mine (Sassman 1941).
The Spanish mine located about 300 feet north of the Legal Tender worked a small ore shoot through a shallow shaft and some small stopes. In the early 1930s it was owned by Anaconda Copper Mining Company (ACM). The mine had only limited production (Shenon 1931).
While not a significant producer, the Three Aces mine in NW1/4 sect 1, T6S, R11W is typical of 1930s era small operator mines. The mine left little information in the official record or mining literature, but apparently achieved at least limited production. The site is littered with the remains of a boiler, ore car wheels and pieces of a 1930s era truck along with smaller items such as tools and trash (Ryan 1988).
The Tuscarora group in Section 18, T6S, R10W, was operated by the Tuscarora Mining and Smelting Company in 1930. The group of claims includes the Tuscarora, Governor Tilden, Florida, Wooley, Fraction, Fraction Placer, Reform, Burleigh, and Spring claims. Only the first two were primary producers. The ownership of individual claims was shared by the B. F. White estate and ACM except for the Tuscarora which was entirely owned by ACM. The Tuscarora was mined through open cuts and an incline that ran directly under the cuts from the 80 foot deep Florida shaft. The Tuscarora also had a 120 foot deep shaft (Shenon 1931).
The Governor Tilden was owned by Galigher & Clark of Butte in 1894. Ross & McKay, who leased the mine at the time, employed eight men. Ore was extracted from the 75 foot one compartment shaft using a windlass. Later the mine would be worked through 300 feet of inclines connected to 800 feet of drifts (Shoemaker 1896; Shenon 1931).
To the west of the Florida shaft the Shesser Bros and McKay shaft was driven to 130 feet. On the Wooley claim a small 30 foot inclined shaft and open cut produced only small amounts of ore. The Fraction has two shafts and several cuts; drifts had been run from the bottom of the shafts and a small amount of ore taken out. Buildings for the operation were located on the Spring claim (Shenon 1931).
Ores were found in gray crystalline Tilden limestone just beneath the contact with the black Ermont limestone. The pipe-like ore shoots contain oxidized ore with residual galena and follow the bedding plains. Described as a "sand carbonate" the ore was reported to assay as high as 60 percent lead and 60 ounces of silver; however, smelter returns from 1898-1899 show an average of 20 percent lead ($4.12 / ton) and $.59 in silver per ton. Although early records are far from complete, the Tuscarora mine is listed in the Mineral Record as a producing mine 1867, 1872, 1887, 1916, 1920-1923, 1926, 1927 and 1938. The Tilden mine is listed in production from 1915 to 1921, 1923 and 1926; it is discussed in the mining literature only in 1915 ( Shenon 1931; WPA 1941).
The Tuscarora was discovered in 1865 by Amede Bessette and Wash Stapleton. The nearby Governor Tilden was discovered soon after. The mines were obtained from the locators by W. G. Gallagher and LaFayette Scott who extracted a considerable amount of ore in the late 1870s. W. A. Clark bought out Scott's interest in the early 1880s and continued to treat the mine's ore in the Tootle Leach smelter which he had owned since 1869 (Shenon 1931).
In the early 1880s an incline was run to the Tuscarora from the Florida shaft. Ore was extracted until a fault terminated the values. The operation was next mentioned in 1895-6 when Clark shipped several carloads from the Tuscarora and Governor Tilden. In 1897 Gallager made several shipments and from 1898-1899 195 tons were shipped from a pipe-like shoot in the Gov. Tilden by Frank Benton who was leasing the property. From 1914 to 1921 A. H. French and W. G. Graeter shipped ore and concentrates from the Gov. Tilden worth $30,000. The concentrates were made from jigging the dumps. All told an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 tons were extracted from the Tuscarora and 2,000 to 3,000 tons from the Gov. Tilden (Shenon 1931).
The Yellow Band mine or Shafter Group is 4.5 miles north of Argenta in sections 1, 2, and 11, T6S, R11W. The property is composed of the Discovery, Cross, Yellow Band, Park, French Creek, Prince Albert and Kelly unpatented claims which were held (1972) by John Shafter and Associates of Dillon. The Pine Tree, Pine Tree No. 2, Hillside, Silver Light, and Silver Light No. 2 are part of the same group but were held (1972) by Harry Renz of Dillon. The deposits were discovered by Ernest Shafter and Floyd McClellan who found boulders containing silver and gold on the hillsides of French Creek. Early shipments from the claims consisted of these boulders (Geach 1972).
In 1935 and 1936 the properties were leased to ACM and the Park, Discovery and Cross claims developed. The Park claim had a small open pit, but the others were mined via adits. A Canadian firm worked the property briefly after 1937 and sent some ore to a mill near Argenta. The property laid idle during World War II. After the war the Yellow Band claim was aggressively developed through the Boaz adit. About $250,000 was taken out of an ore shoot in this adit in the 1950s (Geach 1972).
The majority of production for the mine occurred after World War II. Total production amounted to 28,715 tons of ore which yielded 16,258 ounces of gold, 77,515 ounces of silver, 10,740 pounds of copper, 8,521 pounds of zinc, and 2,583 pounds of lead (Geach 1972).
Argenta District Today
The numerous smelters, the mines and the placer remains are still extant in the Argenta district. Just upstream from the Ferdinand mine are the eroded banks and gravels from the hydraulic operations. Of the numerous smelters and mills several are readily visible and serve to show the extent of activity in the Argenta district.
Calderhead, J. H.
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1933 "Some Gold Deposits in Broadwater, Beaverhead, Phillips, and Ferugs Couties, Montana",
Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology
, Memoir 10.
Earle, B. J.
1981 "Brown Smelter (24BE821)", Bureau of Land Management, Antiquities Site Inventory form
Ferguson, Henry Gardiner and L. P. Benedict
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1972 "Mines and Mineral Deposits (except fuels) Beaverhead County, Montana",
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, An Alphabetical Index Arranged by Counties, Districts and Mines of Information on Montana Mines from 1867-1940. Montana School of Mines, Butte.