French Creek is a tributary of the Big Hole River and drains the north end of the Pioneer Mountain Range and the eastern portion of the Anaconda-Pintlar Wilderness Area. The French Creek district abuts the Continental Divide on the east and the Deer Lodge/Silver Bow County line on the north. The first placers were worked in the two and a half miles of French Gulch in 1864 and the 20 claims yielded as much as $300 per ten-hour run. The best paying claims were located above the discovery and were only seven to eight feet above bedrock. Mountaineer City was well established in the Gulch when it was described in 1865 as 20 to 30 homes, two or three shops, two blacksmiths and a shoemaker shop. It had the usual assortment of saloons, a faro bank, and was proudly awaiting its first hurdy-gurdy outfit. By the end of the first four years, the district was said to have produced between $1 and $5 million (Lyden 1948; Wolle 1963; Big Medicine 1865).
The next period of placer gold production occurred at the turn of the century. In 1900 a connected bucket dredge was installed on the the creek. Although this dredge, the Mildred, was rated at 2,500 tons per day, a production of only 1,000 tons was actually achieved. In 1902 W. R. Allen secured the best remaining ground and formed the Allen Gold Mining Company. Because many of the early operations were limited by lack of water, Allen had 15 miles of ditches dug to bring a large volume of water to his placer claims. The ditches were engineered to deliver sufficient head pressure to work several hydraulic giants and an Evans hydraulic elevator. Water for the two 3-inch nozzles was brought from American Gulch via a 2.5 mile ditch which was constructed at a cost of $10,000. Gravels from the hillsides, pulled down by the hydraulic operation, were washed downstream to be worked in the Evans hydraulic elevator. Built by the Risdon Iron Works, the elevator was rated at 1,000 cubic yards per day, but in reality only worked 300 to 500 cubic yards per day. Tailings from the elevator were carried away by several three foot wide flumes. In the upper gulch a steam hoist and derrick were employed raising and moving boulders out of the way. The placer operation proved to be a success and produced coarse gold dust and $10 to $50 nuggets. Although a sawmill and a 100-ton cyanide mill were planned, Allen's activities in the gulch ended in 1904 (Mining World 1904; Lyden 1948).
Allen also employed 30 miners in 1902 and began working lode deposits from which three carloads were sent to the smelter. These averaged $15 to $19 per ton. Ultimately 4,500 feet of shafts and tunnels were driven (Mining World 1904; Lyden 1948).
Around 1910 interest in the district's lode mines returned. Several mines working true fissure veins were opened up, but there is no report of production (Walsh 1910).
The last period of production was sparked by higher gold prices during the Great Depression. In 1932 one placer operation was reported to have recovered $41 in gold. In 1940, $945 in gold was taken from California Creek, a tributary of French Creek (Lyden 1948).
BOUNDARIES OF THE DISTRICTS
Sahinen (1935) describes French Creek as a south-flowing tributary entering the Big Hole River about 20 miles northwest of Divide. The district is about 12 miles south of Anaconda on the south flank of the Anaconda range and over the divide from the German Gulch district.
Lyden (1948) discusses the French Gulch district in terms of placer mining on French Creek and its tributary California Creek. He also cites evidence of mining on Oregon Creek which flows into California Creek. Big Medicine (1865), who wrote from Mountaineer City, describes the district additionally as: First Chance, Moose Creek, Lincoln, Oregon, California and American Gulches. Figure 1 shows the district as described by Lyden (1948) and Big Medicine (1865).
HISTORIES OF SELECTED MINES
Allen & Co. Placer
The Allen & Co. Placer is initially listed in 1871 and also in 1905 and 1906 (WPA 1941). At the turn of the century W. R. Allen worked the upper gulch with two hydraulic nozzles, and an Evans hydraulic elevator. This operation worked the gulch successfully until 1904. During this period Allen also had 30 men employed in lode mining. This operation sent several carloads to the smelter, returning $15 to $19 per ton. The underground workings for the lode mining operation ultimately reached an aggregate of 4,500 feet (
1904; Lyden 1948).
Other Placer Operations
The Shams & Co. Placer is listed in 1870 and Birmingham & Co. Placer in 1871 (WPA 1941). No other information is known about these operations.
1904 "Placer Mining, French Gulch, Montana",
, Vol. 20, No. 13, pp. 25-26.
1865 "Letter from Mountaineer City, French Gulch,"
. September 16, 1865 as quoted in Wolle (1963).
Billingsley, Paul, and Grimes, J. A.
1918 "Ore Deposits of the Boulder Batholith of Montana",
Amer. Inst. Min. Engr. Trans.
, Vol. 58, pp. 284-361.
Geach, R. D.
1972 "Mines and Mineral Deposits (except fuels) Beaverhead County, Montana",
Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, Bulletin 85
Lyden, Charles J.
1948 "The Gold Placers of Montana",
Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology Memoir 26
. Montana School of Mines, Butte.
Newell, Alen S.
1980 "Historic Resources Study Mount Haggin Area Deer Lodge County, Montana", prepared for Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks by Historic Research Associates, Missoula.
Sahinen, Uuno M.
1935 "Mining Districts of Montana", Thesis, Montana School of Mines, Butte.
Smith, Marc B.
1981 "Archaeological Investigations in the Deep Creek-French Creek Locality, Deer Lodge County, Montana",
Archaeology in Montana
, Vol. 22, No. 2.
Walsh, William and William Orem
Biennial Report of Inspector of Mines for 1909-1910
Weed, Walter Harvey and Pirsson, Louis V.
1898 "Geology and Mineral Resources of the Judith Mountains of Montana",
U. S. Geological Survey
, 18th Ann. Report, Pt. 3, pp. 437-615.
Wolle, Muriel Sibell
Montana Pay Dirt.
Sage Books, Athens, Ohio
Work Projects Administration (WPA) Mineral Resources Survey
Montana Mine Index
, An Alphabetical Index Arranged by Counties, Districts and Mines of Information on Montana Mines from 1867-1940. Montana School of Mines, Butte.