aka Alta aka Overwich
The Hughes Creek district, located in southern Ravalli County, is known for its placer mining. The historic mining centered on Hughes Creek, a tributary of the West Fork of the Bitterroot River. These operations are responsible for 88 percent of all the placer gold recovered in the county from 1904-1948. Despite the comparative richness of the Hughes Creek gravels, total production has been minor, amounting to only $254,412 (Lyden 1948; Sahinen 1935; 1957).
Quartzite of the Ravalli formation of the Belt series underlie the Hughes Creek district. Quartz monzonite of the Idaho batholith intrudes into the northeastern section, extending south into the upper reaches of the area between Overwich and Hughes creeks. A large mass of Tertiary volcanic rocks covers much of the area north of Alta. Ore deposits are found in veins, with most found in granite-gneiss or metamorphic slates and schists (Lindgren 1904; Sahinen 1935; 1957).
The source of placer gold in Hughes Creek is unknown. Berg (1977) writes that the lode deposit in the Larrigon mine on Taylor Creek in sec. 34, T2S, R21W accounts for just a small percentage of the gold found. He provides two reasons why the high-level gravel deposits cannot be the source: first, gold found in Hughes Creek is considerably rougher than that from the upper gravels, and second, stream tin (cassiterite) is found in greater quantities in the higher gravels than along the creek. Berg's analysis suggests that the source of the placer gold in Hughes Creek is "[n]umerous quartz veins in quartzite" within the Hughes Creek drainage. The best paystreak was located just above bedrock (Western Mining World 1898a; Berg 1977).
Barney Hughes is credited with the discovery of gold along Hughes Creek in the late 1860s. A few years earlier, in May 1863, he had accompanied Bill Fairweather and Henry Edgar when they found gold in Alder Gulch, leading to one of the most important rushes in Montana. The later find along the remote Hughes Creek did not appear significant, and Hughes headed over the mountains into Idaho where he discovered richer deposits along a second Hughes Creek near Gibbonsville. Chinese miners considered the Montana deposits worthwhile, however, and a group was working the creek as early as 1870 when Rossiter Raymond reported that Chinese miners were recovering $4 to $5 per person each day during the spring season. Evidently the Chinese continued to mine this stretch since Raymond repeated this same information in 1877 (Raymond 1877; Western Mining World 1898b; Sahinen 1957; Malone et al. 1991).
Any activity during the next two decades is undocumented, but this period of apparent quiet ended in the 1890s. Arthur Woods began prospecting along the creek early in the decade, located some claims, and then publicized the new area. Within a few years, miners had staked claims all along the creek, and by 1898 they had located all the ground along the creek and many tributary streams, Chrandal Creek in particular. The Wood Placer Mining Co. organized c. 1897, with George W. Ward as general manager, employed 12 men to work on its 19 claims using hydraulic methods. A flume several hundred feet long carried water to the work area, exiting through a six- inch pipe. One of the richest claims in the district, belonging to Ort, Malloy, Drinkenberg, and Stapleton, cleaned up $1100 in three weeks early in the 1898 season, but the claim was later tied up in litigation. Other claims were being worked nearby, and most indicated they were making a profit. By 1898 a weekly stage connected Hughes Creek with the outside world, and the camp included a general store, two saloons, and a sawmill (Western Mining World 1898a; 1898b).
After the initial excitement, placers in the Hughes Creek district continued to produce some gold nearly every year until the early 1940s, with sporadic mining continuing until at least 1974. Operators had introduced heavy equipment at least by 1911 when steam shovels were in use on some claims. Montana Washington Mines Inc. tested creek gravels for possible dredging operations in 1925, and ten years later, a dryland dredge recovered 236.64 ounces of gold. Operators installed a dragline dredge in 1939 and ran it into 1942, recovering 3582 ounces of gold. J. L. Shiely Co. operated the dredge in 1941 and processed 376,920 cubic yards of gravel in eight months, recovering 2,237 ounces of gold (Mineral Resources 1909-1934; Lyden 1948; Sahinen 1957; Berg 1977).
Production rose and fell over the years, reflecting market trends, government regulation, and available technology. The lowest point was from 1927-1932 while the highest amount came in 1941-1942. Total placer gold production from 1904-1952 amounted to $254,100, with an additional $312 in silver. The largest producer was the Wood Placer which rated special mention in mining periodicals in 1904, 1909, 1913-1916, 1918, and 1930. Hughes Creek Dredging Co., which may have worked the same claims, was mentioned in 1911, 1919, 1921-1923, 1925, 1927, 1935, and 1940 (WPA 1941; Sahinen 1957).
Lode claims in the Hughes Creek district proved insignificant, accounting for only two percent, less than $6000, of the district's total production of $260,000 from 1904-1953. The only mines mentioned in the literature are the Jim and Star, Overwich, Washington, Pathfinder, and Baker-Brickley, but there is little information on individual mines. An arrastra processed small amounts of gold ore in 1923 and 1925 from the Jim and Star and Pathfinder claims. Years later in 1953, G. W. Berggeren operated a small mill in connection with a gold lode mine on Taylor Creek in sec. 34, T2S, R21W; the ore carried values of $25 and up. This may be part of site #24RA101-H (Mineral Resources 1909-1934; Sahinen 1957; Caywood 1979).
BOUNDARIES OF THE DISTRICT
Sahinen (1935) places the Hughes Creek district 36 miles south of Darby, with no other information given. The district is best described by the location of the claims, which all cluster along the drainage of Hughes Creek and its tributaries, especially Chrandal Creek (Figure 1).
HISTORIES OF SELECTED MINES
Jim and Star
Little is known about the Jim and Star mine, which operated intermittently in the Hughes Creek district. Owners or lessees processed some gold ore in an arrastra in 1923, and the following year they treated a small batch by amalgamation. The lode operations may have been connected with a placer, since
reported in 1931 that some gold was recovered from the Jim placer. Mining literature does not discuss the mine after this date (Sahinen 1957).
The Overwich gold mine was worked sporadically during the 1920s and 1930s. Operators shipped a test lot of ore in 1924, but the results are unknown. Ten years later, a batch of ore was treated by amalgamation. The mine is not mentioned in the mining literature after this time (Sahinen 1957).
Apparently the Washington mine was the most active lode mine in the Hughes Creek district. The first reported production occurred in 1933 when some gold ore was treated by amalgamation. Operators continued to produce small amounts of ore in 1934, 1938-1940, and 1952. The combined total from the Washington and Baker-Brickley claims in 1939 was 66 tons of ore that yielded 33 ounces of gold. The following year the mine produced 31 tons of ore, while in 1952 the claim produced 40 tons of ore that yielded just 5 ounces of gold (Sahinen 1957).
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.
Berg, Richard B.
1977 "Reconnaissance Geology of Southernmost Ravalli County, Montana"
, Memoir 44
. Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, Butte.
1979 "Cultural Site Record, Site #24RA101-H". 19 September.
1904 A Geological Reconnaissance Across the Bitterroot Range and Clearwater Mountains in Montana and Idaho",
U.S.G.S. Professional Paper No. 27
. Government Printing Office, Washington.
Lyden, Charles J.
1948 "The Gold Placers of Montana",
Memoir No. 26
. Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, Butte, Montana.
Malone, Michael P., Richard B. Roeder, and William L. Lang
Montana: A History of Two Centuries
. University of Washington Press, Seattle.
1909-1934 Chronological Record, Hughes Creek District, Ravalli County. Ms. on file, Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, Montana Tech, Butte.
Raymond, Rossiter W.
1877 Statistics of Mines and Mining in the States and Territories West of the Rocky Mountains. Eighth Annual Report. Government Printing Office, Washington.
Sahinen, Uuno Mathias
1935 "Mining Districts of Montana",. Unpublished Master's thesis, Department of Geology, Montana School of Mines, Butte.
1957 "Mines and Mineral Deposits, Missoula and Ravalli Counties, Montana", Bulletin No. 8. Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology. Montana School of Mines, Butte.
Western Mining World
1898a 2 July:8-9. 1898b 16 July:32.
Wolle, Muriel Sibell
Montana Pay Dirt: A Guide to the Mining Camps of the Treasure State
. Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, Athens.
Work Projects Administration (WPA), Mineral Resources Survey
Montana Mine Index, and Alphabetical Index Arranged by Counties, Districts and Mines of Information on Montana Mines from 1867-1940
. Montana School of Mines, Butte.