The Tobacco River district is located in northwestern Montana east of the Kootenai River and just south of the Canadian border. The primary mines are on the western slopes of the Whitefish Mountain range.
The Tobacco Plains is part of a natural travel corridor joining the Flathead Lake region in the south with the Kootenay region of British Columbia in the north. Undoubtedly, some of the miners who traveled north to the Kootenay strike in 1864 stopped to sample creeks along the way. Johnson (1950) reported that there was placering along Grave Creek during this period, about the same time that a group of Chinese miners reportedly worked the deposits of Scattergravel Bar on the Kootenai River near the later town of Rexford. Other bars were likely sampled as well.
Placer deposits continued to attract individuals off and on over the years. Lyden (1948) reported that prospectors recovered a small amount of gold in 1921 from the Tobacco River near Eureka, and there may have been other small scale operations along other creeks as well. High unemployment during the Depression increased the amount of placer activity throughout the region and brought prospectors back to look at the Kootenai River deposits again. Individuals worked the Stonehill placer, c. half a mile south of Stonehill siding, during the early 1930s, recovering c. $80 in fine gold during a two-week period. Marian Fishel designed and built a washing plant to use on the Sutton Creek placer at the mouth of Sutton Creek. The gold-sand concentrate that he recovered assayed at 41.5 ounces of gold per ton. L. C. Curtis & Sons worked the Pioneer placer near Ural in December 1939. After running about 1,100 cubic yards of gravel through a stationary washing plant, they recovered 13 ounces of gold (Johns 1970; Lyden 1948).
The Bluebird Basin area northeast of Eureka attracted attention during the 1890s as prospectors staked copper-silver-lead claims. Edward Boyle located the Independence mine, one of the district's most important discoveries, in 1892, and within two years he shipped a sample of ore to Great Falls. Different operators worked the mine intermittently until 1912 when the British Columbia Copper Co. leased it and several other claims, including the Swansea Rose. The company's plans to develop the properties were thwarted by the outbreak of World War I (Johnson 1950; Renk 1994).
Small scale mining continued in the Tobacco River district for the next several decades. Twin Peaks Mining Co. worked intermittently on the Peterson claims at the head of Blacktail Creek. Fritz Jager of Fortine mined silver-lead ore from his claims on Deep Creek for many years. Other district mines included the Blue Bird and Second Chance (Johns 1970; Renk 1994).
Sedimentary rocks of the Belt series underlie the Tobacco River district. According to Johns (1970), ore deposits in eastern Lincoln County "are confined to the Ravalli, the lower Piegan P1 unit (believed to be equivalent to lower Wallace strata), and to fissure veins and replacement bodies in the Purcell Lava." Ore minerals found in copper-bearing quartz veins are copper-bearing sulfides in a gangue that includes quartz, siderite, calcite, and ankerite, along with pulverulent iron oxides. The source of the placer gold found along the Kootenai River bars is most likely a lode in British Columbia (Johns 1970).
BOUNDARIES OF THE DISTRICT
The mining literature does not define boundaries for the Tobacco River district, so the limits are best determined by the locations of the mines. The most productive claims cluster in the area of Bluebird Basin, Independence Peak, and Poorman Mountain northeast of Eureka on the western slope of the Whitefish Mountain range. Placer mining spread along the Kootenai River and parts of the Tobacco River, and may have covered parts of Grave Creek as well. Other mines appear as isolated deposits.
Figure 1 shows the district as defined by the AMRB (1994) which includes the Tobacco River and Pinkham Creek drainages. A smaller area where the most productive mines were located northeast of Eureka is also delineated.
HISTORIES OF SELECTED MINES
Antoine Therriault located the Blue Bird claim, although by the time it was patented in 1907 ownership had transferred to C. T. Young. The mine is located at the head of Bluebird Basin in section 24, T37N, R26W, in the Whitefish Mountains northeast of Eureka. Workings consist of a discovery pit and an adit 102 feet long. Selected samples of ore assayed 2.36 percent copper, 0.002 ounces of gold, and 0.20 ounces of silver per ton. There are no records of production from the claim (Johns 1970).
The Independence mine, located in section 22, T37N, R25W, was one of the more important claims in the Tobacco River district. Edward Boyle discovered the deposit on July 4, 1892, causing some local excitement with the copper-silver-lead ore. Boyle employed 12 men during the summer of 1894 to do development work on the mine, and he shipped some ore to Great Falls for assay results. Boyle bonded the mine for $40,000 to Baden Brothers of Denver in 1896 - 1897. After considerable development work, interest in the mine waned as it became apparent that the ore was not profitable. The British Columbia Copper Co. of Nelson tested the ore in 1912 and arranged to lease the property, along with several other area mines. Before any work began, however, the company dropped the lease when the onset of World War I imposed barriers (Johns 1970; Johnson 1950).
The property, which includes one patented claim and five unpatented claims, is developed with six adits along with several trenches and pits. The adits range from 50 feet to 1145 feet in length. The quartz vein, found in Purcell Lava, may be a replacement lode. It contains an estimated 3 to 3.5 percent copper, although some selected specimens have assayed as high as 32 percent copper. There are no production records for the mine (Johns 1970).
Fritz W. Jager located six claims in 1929 on the north side of Deep Creek east of Fortine in section 15, T35N, R25W. Jager continued to work the claims for several decades, developing them with a discovery pit and two adits, 70 feet and 476 feet in length. He reported assays that ranged from 37 to 55 percent lead and 13 to 20 ounces of silver per ton (Johns 1970).
Peterson (Twin Peaks Mining Co.)
The Peterson property includes three patented claims (Red Bird, Midnight, and Copper Kettle) located near the head of Blacktail Creek in section 14, T37N, R26W, in the Whitefish Mountains northeast of Eureka. Gust Peterson staked these and two other claims around 1900. British Columbia Copper Co. of Nelson leased the three primary claims in 1912, along with several others in the same area, but never proceeded with its development plans. Howard and Herbert Poston took over the property in 1929, forming the Twin Peaks Mining Co. to work the mine. When their 220 foot adit reached the vein, an assay showed 2 percent copper, 3 ounces of silver, and a trace of gold per ton. Other lessees/owners continued with development work in 1940. Mine workings include three shafts, seven adits, and two cuts. There are no records of production (Johns 1970; Johnson 1950).
Second Chance (McGuire)
The Second Chance mine is located c. 15 miles south of Rexford, on the north slope of McGuire Creek, about 1 mile up from the mouth. Mr. McGuire discovered the claim in the early 1900s and apparently abandoned it later. Marion Fishel relocated the prospect in 1958. Mine workings include two adits, 40 feet and 600 feet in length, as well as an open pit. A channel sample from the open pit assayed 9.6 percent lead; 0.12 percent copper; and 3 ounces of silver per ton; while a selected sample assayed 42 percent lead and 7 ounces of silver per ton (Johns 1970).
The Swansea Rose adjoins the Blue Bird claim in Bluebird Basin. It was probably located during the brief excitement of the 1890s but was not patented until 1907. British Columbia Copper Co. leased the claim in 1912, along with several others, but never proceeded with its development plans. The mine workings include a short adit and some shallow pits (Johns 1970; Johnson 1950).
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
Johns, Willis M.
1970 "Geology and Mineral Deposits of Lincoln and Flathead Counties, Montana", Bulletin 79. Montana College of Mineral Science and Technology, Butte.
Johnson, Olga W. (editor)
1950 The Story of the Tobacco Plains Country: The Autobiography of a Community. Printed for the Pioneers of the Tobacco Plains Country by Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho.
Lyden, Charles J.
1948 "The Gold Placers of Montana", Memoir No. 26. Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, Butte, Montana.
Renk, Nancy F.
1994 "Mining", In Historic Overview of the Kootenai National Forest, Vol. 1, edited by Christian J. Miss. Northwest Archaeological Associates, Inc., Seattle.