HISTORIC CONTEXT

aka Wilson - Tizer District

The Elkhorn mining district is located in the center of Jefferson County, eight miles northwest of Boulder, but separated by 20 miles of dirt road. Historically Elkhorn was connected to the Northern Pacific Railway by a spurline from Boulder that was constructed in 1887. The district was prospected before 1870, but the area first came to prominence when the Holter (later known as the Elkhorn) mine began producing silver ore in 1875. A series of mills evolved at Elkhorn to handle the increasingly complex ores. After the arrival of the railroad, the Elkhorn and other mines such as the C & D, Elkhorn, Queen, and Dunstone, shipped 20- 25 carloads of their ore and concentrates each week to East Helena returning about $20,000. In 1891 the district was producing at a rate of $1 million a year. The Holter mine produced ore continuously until 1900 (Knopf 1913a; Roby 1960; Swallow 1891; Weed 1901).

To the northeast on the other side of the divide is an area known as the Wilson-Tizer Creek mining district, often looked upon as a sub-district to the Elkhorn district. The Wilson-Tizer Creek area was placered and had a few lode claims which produced, in total, little more than 10,000 tons of ore. Because it was a minimal producer there is very little information on activities in the area. [It is treated here as a sub-district and the reader is referred to the Wilson-Tizer Creek file.]

The southern Elkhorn mountains are a thick sequence of sedimentary and layered volcanic rocks which have been folded, faulted and cut by a variety of intrusive rocks. The oldest rocks are mudstones, shale and sandstone in the Belt series of the upper Precambrian. These rocks are covered by a thin layer of Flathead quartzite of the Middle Cambrian. This in turn is covered by marine carbonate rocks, shale and sandstone of the Cambrian, Devonian, Carboniferous, and Permian ages. A thin layer of Upper Jurassic marine sandstone is succeeded by nonmarine Upper Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous sandstone and shale. These rocks are overlain by thick deposits of nonmarine and marine sandstone, mudstone and shale of the Colorado group that grade upward into sandstone and volcanic tuff. In some localities these rocks grade upward into andesitic volcanic rocks of the Late Cretaceous age. Most of the deposits are in either sedimentary rocks or the andesite, or at the contact zone with the quartz monzonite (Roby 1960; Weed 1901).

The area around the town of Elkhorn is highly tilted limestone and quartzites that have been injected with gabbro and diorite and later granite. Gold, silver, lead and copper occur in Paleozoic sediments cut by diorite, gabbro, and quartz monzonite (Hill 1912; Roby 1960; Stone 1911).

The Elkhorn mine dominates the history of the district. Walter Harvey Weed (1901) in his report on the district discusses the Elkhorn mine almost exclusively.

The Elkhorn district was prospected early in the history of the state and numerous quartz locations were made in the years preceding 1870, but the district did not attract attention until the A. M. Holter lode became a producing mine. This property, later known as the Elkhorn mine, has been the principal and, in fact, almost the only producer of the district, and was for many years one of the prominent silver mines of the country. The history of the mining industry of this district is therefore the history of this mine.

The Elkhorn property was sold by its original locators to A. M. Holter, after whom the claim has been named. Mr. Holter organized the Elkhorn Mining Company, and the mine has since been known as the Elkhorn mine. A 5-stamp wet crushing free-milling plant was erected by the first owners, and as the surface ores were free milling and yielded readily to simple amalgamation, satisfactory results were realized in the early history of the property. With increased depth, however, the oxidized ores became refractory and the loss in treatment became as high as 50 percent of the silver values.

In 1881 the mine was developed to a depth of 300 ft, and the nature of the ore made it evident that a new mill would have to be erected and chloridization adopted. Owing to a disagreement among the owners and the necessity of enlisting new capital, the property was idle for a greater part of the year 1882, though it yielded 4,285 ounces of fine silver during that year. In 1883 the property passed into the possession of the Elkhorn Mining Company, a new hoist was erected, and a 10 stamp-chloridizing mill was put up, with a capacity of about 11 tons per day. The ore was stamped fine, roasted, and amalgamated in combination pans without grinding. The result was a saving of 90 percent of the values and a bullion product aggregating $188,375 in silver and $2,320 in gold for the first ten months after installment. The bullion product was 900 fine in silver, with a little gold, the principal impurity being copper.

The old Elkhorn Company subsequently increased its battery to 20 and then to 25 stamps and worked the mine down to the 800-ft level, where lean ore was encountered, and some doubt was expressed whether the property was not worked out. In 1888 the Montana corporation sold out to a new company organized in London, which took the name and property of the old corporation, remodeled the mill, and instituted a policy of vigorous development, under which the mine has yielded 6,500,000 ounces of silver and 5,000 ounces of gold since 1888.

From 1884 to 1900 the mine was in continuous operation, save for a short time in 1886, when an accident to the pump resulted in the flooding of the mine up to the 500-ft level for several months.

In 1886 the ore in sight was nearly exhausted, and preparations were made to abandon the mine, but Mr. Walter S. Kelley, who at the time became the general manager of the property, by careful exploration work disclosed new ore bodies, and continued to work the property until December 1899. In the autumn of 1899 it became apparent that the expense of pumping, which necessitated heavy fuel bills, combined with the small extent and low grade of the ore in sight, would not warrant the further operation of the mine. The cost of the ore extracted had steadily risen during the last few years until in 1898 it reached a total of $15.60 per ton, while the expense of milling increased to $9.50 per ton. It was therefore decided to close down and abandon the property (Weed 1901).

J. H. Longmaid purchased the mine in 1901 and began operations as the Elkhorn Silver Mining Company. A mill was erected and old dumps and mine ore were processed. In 1901 a large body of iron ore carrying silver values was found and some ore was shipped to East Helena. The mine employed 100-150 men and produced 400,000 ounces of silver and 159.5 ounces of gold. However, the continued low price of silver caused the closure of the mine which filled with water.

In 1906 Longmaid and associates dewatered and again opened the mine. The mill on the property was equipped with Frue vanners which replaced the previously used Wifley tables. Sixty men began working the mine in 1907 and 400 ft of development work was done; in the process E. Castallino was killed by a premature blast. In 1908 construction on a new mill was begun to treat the extensive mill tailings with the Baker-Burwell Process. The plant was completed in 1909 by the Elkhorn Electro Metals Company. The tails were reworked again in 1922 and again in 1937. In 1943 the much milled materials were finally shipped out of the district for use as flux (Byrne 1901; Roby 1960; Walsh 1906; 1908).

In 1910 the Elkhorn Silver Mining Company resumed production in the mine at the 2,300 ft level. The company installed a 140-ton mill equipped with the latest machinery including 20 stamps, two tables and 12 Frue vanners which saved 95 percent of the silver-lead values. While the mine employed 75 to 100 men, 200 men worked at the combined operation. Despite this rapid development, in 1912 the blocked out ore was exhausted and the mill stood idle. The pumps were turned off in the mine and water allowed to rise to the 1,100-ft level. While the tailings were reworked several times for remaining values, the mine saw only limited production. In 1948 the mine was worked by two different companies and in 1951 it was operated briefly for the last time (Roby 1960; Stone 1911; Walsh 1910; 1912; Hall 1912).

BOUNDARIES OF THE DISTRICT

Walter Harvey Weed (1901) who wrote the definitive work on the district, states that the "Elkhorn district is situated in the center of Jefferson County, in the central portion of the mountain region forming the western part of the State of Montana." He further places the district within the horseshoe-shaped ridgeline of the Crow Mountain range which contains both the Crow and Elkhorn mountains. The district is separated on the west from the Boulder Mountains by Prickly Pear Creek. His definition for the district within the Crow Mountains is supported topographically and geologically. Roby (1960) simply states that the Elkhorn district embraces that part of Jefferson County in the Elkhorn Mountains drained by Elkhorn Creek. The district lies in T5N R3W and T6N R3W. Figure 1 shows the district boundaries as given by Weed (1901), Pardee and Schrader (1933), Sahinen (1935) and others.

HISTORIES OF SELECTED MINES

Boulder Lime Company Kiln

The Boulder Lime Company Kiln (24JF680) is located in a gulch west of Elkhorn Creek in the foothills of the Elkhorn Mountains, the site consists of a lime kiln with a large partially buried pipe extending out of the base, four excavations, and two waste dumps . The Company was incorporated in 1906 with a capital stock of $200,000. The company bought the land and constructed the kiln in 1907. Lime was quarried from the hillside and deposited in the kiln. This was fired to produce quicklime, a smelter flux. As one of only 10 to 12 such lime kilns in the state, the mine and kiln continued to operate well into the 1930's (Mierendorf 1982).

C & D

The C & D mine, located about a mile north of the Elkhorn is one of the oldest mines in the district. The mine is composed of three claims, the C & D, Boulder -Belle and Louise which were located in 1875. The property produced several thousand dollars in gold and silver from an ore body in marbleized Madison limestone near a granite (quartz monzonite) plug. Work began in 1890 when 40 men were employed working a drift out of a 220 ft two-compartment incline shaft. The mine was worked primarily by various leasing parties. While the mine was idle most of 1892, it was reopened and employing 18 men the next year. It was also active in 1898. Although the ore had relatively low values of gold and silver, the smelter at East Helena was willing to provide good terms to use its ores as flux (Hogan 1891; 1892; Weed 1901).

In 1910 the mine was developed by the Butte-Elkhorn Mining Company. The shaft was repaired and extended to 240 ft. A steam plant was installed with power enough to reach 400 ft. At the time the ore was iron oxide with gold values. The next year the mine shaft reached 250 ft with several levels and a crosscut through the limestone to the granite contact (Stone 1911; Walsh 1910).

Although little information is available on the early production of the mine, total production for the mine between 1902 and 1942 was reported to be 1,860 tons of ore with 641 ounces of gold, 7,748 ounces of silver, 769 pounds of copper and 90,770 pounds of lead. The mine was last worked by Dutton Clark and J. Kalstead in 1942 who worked the mine through a 400-ft adit and the 250-ft shaft (Roby 1960).

Center Reef

The Center Reef mine's first recorded production occurred in 1907. In 1909 the Ballard Mining Company reportedly had nine men driving two tunnels of 250 and 400 ft in length. The ore was reported to be free milling with values in gold. The mine reported production in 1915, 1923, 1931, and 1940 (Walsh 1910; 1912; Mineral Resource Index).

Elkhorn / Holter Mine

The Elkhorn mine at one time was the largest producer in the district and one of the largest silver producers in the country. It is composed of five patented lode claims (Elkhorn (Holter), Keene, Hardin, Silver Star and Sophia), two patented placer claims and two mill sites. In its ultimate form the main shaft dipped to the 2,300 ft level which was 1,439 ft below the surface. Nineteen levels were driven with 12,000 ft of underground workings. The mine workings were supported by square sets and stulls. Production followed silver-bearing calcite ore shoots between a hornstone hanging wall and dolomite footwall.

Production on the Elkhorn, originally called the Holter, began around 1881 By 1891 the mine employed 76 men and the incline shaft had reached 1,150 ft with stations at 100-ft levels. The free milling ore was worked at the mine by a 25-stamp mill while the lead ore was shipped to East Helena. In 1898 employment at the mine had risen to 123 men. By 1900 when the mine was considered worked out, the mine had produced 8,902,000 ounces of silver, 8,500 ounces of gold, and 4 million pounds of lead (Byrne 1898; 1899; Hogan 1891; Roby 1960; Walsh 1910).

In 1899 the pumps were removed and the surface machinery sold, the entire property was sold in 1900 to J. H. Longmaid and Associates for $20,000. It was presumed that the new operators would rework the old dumps. However, Longmaid's Elkhorn Silver Mining Company began operations in 1901 to reopen the upper workings. A mill was erected and old dumps and mine ore were processed. In 1901 a large body of iron ore carrying silver values was found and some ore was shipped to East Helena. The mine employed 100-150 men and produced 400,000 ounces of silver and 159.5 ounces of gold. However, the continued low price of silver caused the closure of the mine which filled with water.

In 1906 Longmaid and associates dewatered and again opened the mine. The mill on the property was equipped with Frue vanners which replace the previously used Wifley tables. Sixty men began working the mine in 1907 and 400 feet of development work was done. In 1908 construction on a new mill was begun to treat the extensive mill tailings with the Baker-Burwell Process. The plant was completed in 1909 by the Elkhorn Electro Metals company. The tails were reworked again in 1922 and again in 1937. In 1943 the much-milled materials were finally shipped out of the district for use as flux (Byrne 1901; Roby 1960; Walsh 1906; 1908).

In 1910 the Elkhorn Silver Mining Company resumed production in the mine at the 2,300 ft level. The company installed a 140-ton mill equipped with the latest machinery including 20 stamps, 2 tables and 12 Frue vanners which save 95 percent of the silver-lead values. While the mine employed 75 to 100 men, 200 men worked at the combined operation. Despite this rapid development, in 1912 the blocked out ore was exhausted and the mill stood idle. The pumps were turned off in the mine and water allowed to rise to the 1,100 ft level. While the tailings were reworked several times for remaining values, the mine saw only limited production. In 1948 the mine was worked by two different companies and in 1951 it was operated briefly for the last time (Roby 1960; Stone 1911; Walsh 1910; 1912; Hall 1912).

Golden Curry

The Golden Curry mine is on the right fork of Elkhorn Creek one mile west of Elkhorn. The Golden Curry is in a group of claims which included the Sourdough and Jacquemin that work a magmatic sulphide ore body. Although early production records are not available, the mine recorded some production nearly every year from 1905 to 1940.

Development work in 1905 exposed one of the largest veins in the vicinity with a width of between 20 and 60 ft. Thirty men were employed to extract 100 tons per day for shipment to East Helena. In 1907 a 100-ton mill and cyanide plant was built at the site which was equipped with crushers and tanks to treat the ore. In 1910 the Golden Curry Mining Company employed 25 men in the mine and mill. A series of tunnels 200 - 700 ft long connected to the vein. In the early 1910's, twenty tons of iron sulphide carrying gold ore was shipped daily to East Helena. This ore averaged $35 per ton in gold and 2.5 percent copper. Prior to 1911 the ore contained 40 percent iron and was used primarily for smelter flux. In 1911 the mine was taken over by the Canada Mines Company who employed 70 men. Because the upper tunnels caved, the ore was taken out by the open pit method. From 1902 to 1951 the mine produced 11,542 tons of ore which yielded 23,868, ounces of gold, 11,542 ounces of silver, and 650,549 pounds of copper (Ferguson 1902; 1908; Hall 1912; Knopt 1913; Roby 1960; Stone 1911; Walsh 1906; 1910; 1912).

Hard Cash

The Hard Cash mine is located in Slaughterhouse Gulch west of Elkhorn. The mine was originally called the Dolcoath mine and was located by John Rothfus. The auriferous contact-metamorphic lode was worked from a 400 to 500-ft adit and a 20-ft shaft. The adit had collapsed by 1949. Production was recorded from 1912-17, 1932-35 and intermittently from 1938 to 1942 when it was known as the Hardcash (Beck 1986; Roby 1960; Weed 1901).

Queen

The Queen or Elkhorn Queen mine two miles south of Elkhorn was located in the 1880s (MS2054) and mined extensively until around 1900. The mine extracted tourmaline-bearing galena-quartz ore. It was originally developed with a deep vertical shaft and by a stope, both with levels. In May and June of 1900 the mine shipped 1,000 tons of ore to East Helena with values of gold, silver, lead, zinc and copper. The mine was revitalized in 1942. Although early production records are not available, between 1905 and 1956 a total of 11,820 tons of ore were mined. This yielded 1,857 ounces of gold, 149,794 ounces of silver, 13,138 pounds of copper, 1,940,063 pounds of lead and 356,163 pounds of lead. (Fairchild 1989; Knopf 1913; Roby 1960; Stone 1911; Weed 1901).

Tacoma

The Tacoma mine is in a narrow canyon about three miles south of Elkhorn. Originally developed by the Tacoma Mining Company beginning in April 1890, the mine worked a blanket ledge with three tunnels into the ledge. A winze connected the upper and lower tunnels. Ore was shipped to the smelter in Tacoma, Washington in 1890. The mine inspector notified the operators that inadequate methods and ventilation were found during inspection. The mine was eventually expanded to ten tunnels and pits on or near the contact between andesite porphyry and Cambrian limestone. By 1910 all but one of the workings were collapsed. The mine was reopened and worked sporadically between 1911 and 1940, but produced only 87 tons in the four years with recorded production (Hogan 1891; Roby 1960; Stone 1911).

Union

The Union mine is composed of two patented claims about a mile north of Elkhorn at the head of Alpreston Gulch. This mine is one of the oldest in the district. By 1884 it was being worked through a 240-ft drift driven from the surface along the contact between shale and limestone. A 80-ft vertical shaft connected with the drift. In 1891 seven men were employed at the mine. Although early production records are not available, between 1905 and 1922 the mine produced 422 tons of ore, which yielded 11 ounces of gold, 13,469 ounces of silver, 1,062 pounds of copper, and 75,870 pounds of lead (Hogan 1891; Roby 1960).

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