aka Dry Cottonwood

aka Champion


The Oro Fino district is located east of the upper Clark Fork River east of Anaconda on the western slope of the Continental Divide. Oro Fino and Dry Cottonwood Creeks, the principal drainages of the district, are northwest flowing tributaries of the Clark Fork River. Oro Fino and Dry Cottonwood Creek placers were first worked in the 1860's and two miner ditches are shown on the 1879 GLO survey map of Section 15, T5N R8W. However, the bars and gulches in the area were only surficially worked for gold and no mention was made of the area's sapphires (Lyden 1948; NBM n.d.).

Gold in the stream derived from oxidized portions of veins exposed in mines such as the Champion mine. Country rock in the region is Butte "granite" and hard rock mining follows veins that generally have concealed outcrops (Lyden 1948).

The Lode Mines

The district was primarily active as a lode mining district in the 1880's. The principal mine, the Champion, was the nucleus of a small town of the same name. The town was described in 1890 as being several hours out of Deerlodge on the summit of the mountains. The town had grown in one year from one or two cabins to a small village of 60 to 70 houses, 11 saloons, a lumber yard, grocery store, two restaurants (one of which was Chinese), a lunch counter, a post office, a general merchandise store, two barber shops, two butcher shops and an academy of music. When visited in 1978, the town of Champion City consisted of 11 collapsed log cabins, 67 prospect holes and a dozen structures which resemble roofed over prospect holes (Steere 1978; New Northwest 1890)

The town was platted on the High Tariff and East Champion claims with two separate grids. Water was drawn from five or six wells, but most used water hauled in barrels from the gulches. No less than ten headframes stood within the town (New Northwest 1890).

The Champion, American Ruby, New State, Silver Crown and Mountain Lion were the most noted mines in the district in 1890. The mines generally used steam hoists and pumps to extract the ore and keep the workings dry. Shafts varied from 200 to 400 feet deep. A 20-stamp mill was erected in Deerlodge to work the Champion ore (Swallow et al. 1891).

In the 1930's a number of claims were developed along Perkins and Girard Gulches. Sahinen (1935) notes that the St. Louis, the Jackpot and the Last Resort had some limited production.

Sapphire Mining

Beginning around the turn of the century the upper four miles of the south fork of Dry Cottonwood Creek became the site of sapphire mining. The sapphires from Dry Cottonwood were pale green in color and were not recognized as a valuable item until the 1890's when some were collected during gold placer operations. Initially two men named Harris and Farell took thousands of sapphires out of the stream. From 1900 to 1903 J. M. Jamieson and his two brothers worked the stream until the water ran out. In 1903, they averaged 15 pounds of sapphires per day and received 70 cents per ounce. In 1902 the Northwest Sapphire Company also mined sapphires in Dry Cottonwood Creek using hydraulic techniques (Weed 1900; Pratt 1901; Hall and Rickman 1912; Lyden 1948; Fredlund 1994).

In 1904 West Dodd of DesMoines obtained several of the claims on the south fork of Dry Cottonwood. The next year he bought parts for a very small dredge that was originally bound for South America. This 1-cubic foot bucket-line dredge may have been built by Link-Belt. By 1905 all the parts had been shipped by rail to Deer Lodge and by wagon to Dry Cottonwood Creek. The dredge was completed and ready to operate in 1906. The steam-powered dredge had a 12-foot long trommel and a 3-4 foot wide riffled sluice to catch gold and sapphires. A special pocket at the head-end of the sluice contained mercury. Because sapphires have a much lower specific gravity than gold, a large percentage of the gems found their way to the tailings. The machine was capable of dredging to a depth of 10 feet under normal conditions and 12 feet by lowering the water in the dredge pond. West Dodd named his company the Variegated Sapphire Company, but aside from a licensed engineer hired to work the boiler and steam engines, the operation was a family affair. Gems were sorted on a table by Dean Dodd and his brothers while the gold was retorted by their father William Dodd. William ultimately lost his teeth from mercury poisoning. The company was active in Dry Cottonwood Creek from 1907 to 1910. Initially, gold from a vein hidden under the valley floor bolstered profits, but when the dredge moved away from the vein, the dredge began to be a losing proposition. The family diversified their activity by running a sawmill to support themselves and the dredge. Although the dredge could not meet expenses after 1910, West Dodd allowed his brother and nephews to run the dredge during part of the 1911 season and let them keep whatever gold and gems were recovered (NBM n.d.).

About two miles downstream from the Dodd's operation, Nat Simon and associates set up a larger dredge. In 1908 or 1909 under the banner of Consolidated Gold and Sapphire Mining Company of Butte, Simon purchased and moved a dredge from Boulder at a cost of $85,000. The machine was a 3 5/8 cubic foot Ridson bucket-line dredge with around 20 buckets. In operation by 1910, the machine was capable of working the deeper deposits, but poor mineral survey techniques resulted in the dredge working gravels only 6-foot deep. The dredge worked only a small area, a pocket about 100 yards by 50 yards, before it was declared a failure (Weed 1900; Pratt 1901; Hall and Rickman 1912; Lyden 1948; Fredlund 1994; NBM n.d.)

The gravels of Dry Cottonwood Creek were of two distinct types. The upper gray gravels were sterile while the lower red gravels which rested on bedrock contained the gold and gem values. Gold recovered from the red gravel ran 750 +/- fine ($14 to $15 per ounce at $35 per ounce gold prices) according to mint returns and a cubic yard of red gravel typically carried 25 cents of gold. As mentioned above, the first season, the Dodd dredge apparently worked directly over a gold vein outcrop hidden by the stream deposits; profits improved when the quartz and wire gold showed up in the sluice box. Sapphire values averaged 6 ounces of commercial grade and 50 carats of gem quality stones per cubic yard. The small Dodd dredge was said to have produced around 1,000 pounds of sapphires per season. There are no records of sapphire production for the larger Simon dredge, but it probably recovered several hundred pounds of industrial quality sapphires and thousands of carats of gem material (Weed 1900; Pratt 1901; Hall and Rickman 1912; Lyden 1948; Fredlund 1994; NBM nd).

In addition to low gem and gold prices the Dodd's operation was also hampered by lawsuits filed by Nat Simon. The Dodd dredge had been working claims on Section 17 which the Dodds had purchased in good faith. However, the land was deeded to the Northern Pacific Railroad who actually held the mineral rights. In 1907 Nat Simon purchased the railroad land that the Dodds were dredging. In 1910 he also charged that Dodd's sawmill was polluting the stream with sawdust. This fouled his dredge's water supply and bothered the cattle that he grazed in the area. By late in the season 1911, Simon's lawsuits had stopped all dredging on the gulch. Most of the Dodd family had gone to Anaconda to find employment. William Dodd spent his time in Butte with his attorneys.

In 1914 Silas Dodd, William Dodd's oldest son, reactivated the dredge and ran it a longer distance up the gulch. He managed to work more yardage than any previous year. His activities came to an end when Nat Simon finally obtained the Dodd land and dredge through his lawsuits. However, Simon could not enjoy the fruits of his legal maneuvering because World War I stopped dredging until 1919. After the war Simon was able to dredge for only one season before a cloudburst filled the gulch with debris and topsoil. The new deposits laid down ahead of the dredge made it impossible to work the gravel. The dredge was abandoned and parts were salvaged in the 1930's. The gulch has seen several additional attempts of prospecting, primarily by the Dodd family who obtained title to a portion of section 16 in 1927, but no further production.


Sahinen (1935) describes the district as being on the western slope of the Continental Divide about eight miles west of Racetrack, a station on the Northern Pacific and on the Milwaukee Road railroads. Sahinen's description includes upper Oro Fino Creek which is the area of the Champion and other major lode claims. The district as defined by the AMRB (1994) includes minor lode claims along Perkins and Girard Gulchs and the placer mining area of Dry Cottonwood Creek (Figure 1). Wolle (1963) states that the initial placer activity in the district occurred on Caribou, Oro Fino and Dry Cottonwood Gulches; Caribou and lower Oro Fino Creek are in the Emery mining district to the north.


Cashier Property

The Cashier Property is listed from 1924 - 1930, and 1938 - 1940 in the

Montana Mine Index

(WPA 1941).


Most of the $350,000 in ore recovered from this district came from this mine. The mine was first operated from 1887 to the early 1890's; then again in 1920 - 1926. When it was described in 1891, the mine was operated by the Champion Mining and Milling Company and had a 600 foot two compartment shaft. Levels were driven at 200, 375, 475 and 600 feet. By 1891 the shaft was down to 800 feet and 45 men were employed stoping below 500 feet. A Knowles pump kept the mine dry while a cage on a 1.25 inch rope pulled men and ore up the shaft. This ore, consisting of quartz with a small amount of sulphides including ruby silver, was worked at the company's 20-stamp mill erected in Deerlodge. By 1892 the shaft was down to 800 feet and was supported by 8 x 8 and 10 x 10 timbers. Levels were timbered with sets while the stopes were supported with stulls and backfilled waste (Hogan 1891; 1892; Sahinen 1935; Wolle 1963).

The Champion mine was listed from 1920 - 1926 and 1939 in the Montana Mine Index; the mine also was discussed in the mining literature in 1904, 1905, 1909, 1920 and 1921.


The Independence mine was listed from 1916 - 1918, 1931, 1934, 1939 and 1940 in the

Montana Mine Index

; it was also discussed in the mining literature in 1914, 1928, 1931 (Fairview Mining Co.), and 1932.


The Jackpot mine was listed in Sahinen (1935) as carrying copper and some molybdenite in its ore. An ore deposit opened in 1935 revealed a quartz deposit with ruby silver as the primary value.

Last Resort

The Last Resort was listed in Sahinen (1935) as producing ore that was earthy limonite stained with copper carbonate and carrying residual pyrite and galena.

St. Louis

The St. Louis mine is mentioned in Sahinen (1935) as producing gold, silver, copper and lead.

Other District Mines

Other mines mentioned in

New Northwest

(1890) were in the upper Oro Fino Creek drainage: Lion, Silver Crown, High Tariff, East Champion.


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

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.

Ferguson, J. A. and Benedict, L. P.


Montana Bureau of Agriculture, Labor and Industry

, 9th Bienn. Report.

Fredlund, Lynn

1994 "Cultural Resource Inventory and Assessment: In Dry Cottonwood Creek, Deer Lodge County, Montana", for New Butte Mining, Inc. by GCM Services, Butte.

Hall, J. H.



. Independent Publishing Company. Helena.

Hall, J. H. and M. L. Rickman


Montana Bureau of Agriculture, Labor and Industry, Thirteenth Report, for Years 1911 and 1912

. Helena.

Hogan, Joseph and Jacob Oliver


Third Annual Report of Inspector of Mines, for the fiscal year 1891

, Journal Publishing Company, Helena.

1892 Fourth Annual Report of Inspector of Mines, for the fiscal year 1892, Printers & Binders, Helena.

Kriegel, W. Wurth, and John D. Keys

1935 "Ceramic Materials and Products that have Present or Future Significance in Montana", a radio talk, Montana School of Mines.

Lyden, Charles J.

1948 "The Gold Placers of Montana",

Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology Memoir 26

. Montana School of Mines, Butte.

New Butte Mining (NBM)

n.d. "History of Sapphires on Dry Cottonwood Creek," New Butte Mining document #7036. Butte

New Northwest

1890 "The Growth of the Future City,"

New Northwest

, July 18, 1890 as quoted by Wolle (1963).

Pardee, Joseph Thomas

1933 "Placer Deposits of the Western United States",

Ore Deposits of the Western States (Lindgren Volume)

, pp. 419-450, American Institute of Mining and Metal Engineering.

Pardee, Joseph Thomas and F. C. Schrader

1933 "Metalliferous Deposits of the Greater Helena Mining Region, Montana",

U. S. Geological Survey Bulletin #842

, reprint of article in

Mining Truth

, Vol. 14, No. 10.

Pratt, Joseph Hyde

1901 "The Occurrence and Distribution of Corundum in the United States,"

U. S. Geological Survey, Bulletin 180


Sahinen, Uuno M.

1935 "Mining Districts of Montana", Thesis, Montana School of Mines, Butte.

Shoemaker, C. S. and John Miles


Seventh Annual Report of the Inspector of Mines of the State of Montana

, State Publishing Company, Helena.

Steere, Peter L.

1978 "Archaeological and Historical Reconnaissance in the Deerlodge National Forest; Summer 1978" prepared for the Deerlodge National Forest.

Sterrett, Douglas Bovard

1908 "Development of Montana Sapphire Industry",

Mining World

, Vol. 29, pp. 483-485.

Swallow, G. C., J. B. Trevarthen and Jacob Oliver


Reports of Inspectors of Mines, State of Montana, Year ending November 30th, 1890

. Journal Publishing Company, Helena. Swindlehurst, J. W. 1918

Montana Department of Labor and Industry, 3rd Biennial Report.

Weed, Walter Harvey 1900 "Montana Sapphires",

Mineral Industry

, Vol. 10, pp. 280-283. Willard, Bess 1980 "South Fork of the Dry Cottonwood Timber Sale; Cultural Resource Inventory", U. S. Forest Service, Deer Lodge National Forest. Wolle, Muriel Sibell 1963

Montana Pay Dirt.

Sage Books, Athens, Ohio. Work Projects Administration (WPA) Mineral Resources Survey 1941

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.