The Basin mining district, also known as the Jefferson district, is on the eastern slope of the Continental Divide, north of Interstate 15 and the Boulder River between the small communities of Bernice and 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 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 unique formation in the district is a disseminated gold deposit in granite, which occurs west of Basin along Red Rock creek (Sahinen1935:47).
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. However, these claims were quickly abandoned for the reportedly richer diggings on Grasshopper Creek. These abandoned claims were then acquired by James and Granville Stuart, and Reece Anderson who built cabins at the mouth of the Cataract 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 placers at Last Chance Gulch or Alder Gulch were encountered (Lyden 1948; Wolle 1963; Becraft et al. 1963).
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 a half mile to the west, 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 prospect for 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 and Hattie Ferguson in the Cataract district and the Bullion, Hope and Katy in the Basin district 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). It prospered in spite of several disastrous fires, the last occurring in 1893, and by 1905 the population had reached 1500 persons (Pardee and Schrader 1933; Becraft et al. 1963; Wolle 1963).
A factor which limited the district's development prior to the 1880s, was the need for smelters which could treat the complex ores. As early as 1867, a smelter was built across the divide at the Gregory mine near Wickes in the Colorado district, followed shortly after by a similar plant at the Minah mine, also near Wickes. Concentrators using gravity methods were constructed at the Comet and Eva May mines in the Cataract sub-district but none of these early operations were very efficient (Becraft et al. 1963).
In 1883 the railroad line from Helena to Wickes was completed and the smelter at Wickes was remodeled and enlarged. These developments provided an incentive to mining throughout the area, resulting in a boom which lasted about 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 some cases, the good ore had been mined out. Few production records were kept during this period but it has been estimated the Basin district produced about $8,000,000 in gold (Pardee and Schrader 1933; Becraft et al. 1963).
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 Basin 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 Katy and Hope mines were reorganized by the Basin & Bay State Mining Company in 1894. The mines prospered in the 1890s despite low silver prices. A new mill was built at the Katy which ran successfully until the mine flooded and the mill burned down in 1895. The following year the Hope mine's concentrator also caught fire. In 1905 the Basin Reduction Company took over the operation and spent $500,000 building and equipping a 1500-ton smelter and concentrator which reworked the mine tailings; the mill ran at full capacity for several years around 1906, but by 1911 it was idle. Both mines, along with the White Elephant, were later reopened by the Jib Consolidated Mining Company in 1924, and produced $1,700,000 in gold before the operation was forced to close due to mismanagement and stock market manipulations, thus ending Basin's last major mining boom (Calderhead 1898; 1900; Hall 1912; Pardee and Schrader 1933; Becraft et al. 1963; Wolle 1963).
Since then, small-scale mining, the reworking of older mine dumps as at the Comet, and a few placer operations have been conducted in the greater Basin district.
BOUNDARIES OF THE MINING DISTRICT
The Basin district is a term that has variously been applied to a small sub-district which runs the length of Basin Creek or can be applied to a larger district. The lesser district is confined to the Basin Creek drainage. The greater district also includes the Cataract and High Ore sub-districts and has even included mines in the Colorado district. Basin, Cataract and High Ore creeks flow from north to south into the Boulder River, all joining it near the town of Basin. As is often the case, the historic definitions of the districts are indeterminate, at best.
Lyden (1948) lists both Basin and Cataract districts but these districts are limited to placer mining activities. 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 Basin mining district name.
The Basin district encompasses 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 which Knopf (1913) included in the Wickes district because it shipped ore to the smelter in Wickes. He later considered Comet to be in the Basin district after the railroad to Wickes was abandoned and the mine shipped ore to Basin instead.
The 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 greater Basin district would include all or portions of the following, although it does not precisely define the irregular boundaries.
Sections 1-24, T6N, R5W
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 Basin sub-district would consist of those portions of the greater district not included in the sub-districts of Cataract and High Ore. More specifically, the mines in the immediate vicinity of the town of Basin and those accessed by travel routes along Basin Creek. Figure 1 shows the Basin district as described above and the Basin-Cataract district as described by Sahinen (1935) and Krohn and Weist (1977).
HISTORIES OF SELECTED MINES
The mines of the Basin district were located in the 1870s after the major placer activity and were most active in the late 1890s and early Twentieth century. 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 greatest production in 1936 when 401 ounces of gold were taken.
The Bullion mine was located on the northwest side of Jack Mountain about five miles north of Basin. The mine was most active during the early period of the Basin district and was equipped with a 200-tons per day concentrator and smelter. Production continued in the twentieth century from 1905 to 1947 when 3,564 ounces of gold and 217,519 ounces of silver were mined.
Hope and Katy Mines
The Hope Mine was developed in the 1890 and was adjacent to the Katy. In 1890 a two compartment shaft was excavated. In 1898 the Basin Gold and Copper Mining Company assumed control of the mine. The new company extended the shaft to nearly 500 ft the first year. Twenty-one men were employed at the mine and a 100 ton concentrator erected near the shaft (Hogan 1891; Byrne 1890).
The Katy Mine was also developed in the late 1890s. The mine had extensive deposits of medium grade ore that could not be worked profitably until a smelter was built in Basin in 1899 to treat the mine's ores. Its operations were later joined with the Hope mine and the combined mines were thereafter known as the Hope-Katy mines.
The combined Hope-Katie mine was reopened by the Jib Consolidated Mining Co. in 1924 and known as the Jib Group. It reported a two year return from the smelter of $800,000. The ore, however, ran out at the 500 ft level. During the period from 1905 to 1956 the mines produced over 53,000 ounces of gold and 481,816 ounces of silver.
The Morning Star mine is located on the east side of Basin Creek about six miles up the creek from Basin. The mine produced a small amount of silver and gold ore during the early 1900s.
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