The Utopia or Birch Creek mining district is located in the southeastern end of the Pioneer Mountains on Birch Creek about six miles west of and from 1,000 to 1,400 feet above Apex station on the Union Pacific, formerly the Oregon Short Line, Railroad (Figure 1). A decade after the first gold strikes, the Pioneers figured as a major silver producing area, and like other mining areas, the mines of the Pioneers experienced the same boom-and-bust cycles. With the end of the silver and gold mining boom in southwestern Montana, the emphasis switched to a search for non-precious metals. Increasing demand for metals such as lead, zinc, copper and tungsten resulted in the development of mines of non-precious metals in the Pioneers and the surrounding regions. The Indian Queen in the Utopia district was one of the more important of these later operations.
The Utopia was not one of the major mining districts in the Pioneer Mountains and its main operation and period of significance was from 1902 to 1923 when the Indian Queen mine was developed and operational. Although the first lode discoveries were made in the mid-1860s, little significant mining was done until around the turn of the century. The area was slow in developing because the principal mines produced mostly copper and there was no nearby economical transportation which would make it profitable to mine on a large-scale. Even after the railroad reached the area in 1882, the Birch Creek district took another two decades before it produced any significant amounts of copper ore (Winchell 1914).
The geology of the Birch Creek district indicates that sedimentary rocks are in contact with an intrusive batholith of monozonitic type. The intrusive mass extends into the mountains on the northwest and the upturned sedimentary rocks rest in unconformity upon it, striking northeast and dipping southeast. Mines with copper ore, such as the Indian Queen, tend to be northeast of the creek while the magenetite ores are found south of the creek (Winchell 1914). The Indian Queen Mine is on the contact between the quartz monzonite and the Paleozoic limestones. The monozonite is cut by aplitic dikes and the ore occurs in irregular shoots and bunches in the fault or in the limestone near the contact. Ore is predominantly from the oxidize zone and includes native copper, malachite, azurite, chrysocolla, cuprite, melaconite. Sulphide ores include chalcocite, bornite, and chalcopyrite. The gangue is made up primarily of quartz, calcite, hematite, garnet, epidote, diopside and axinite (Winchell 1914).
The first claim was made by J. A. Kline, who staked the O.K. lode on July 12, 1864. A few months later, on December 11, O. D. Farlin discovered the Greenwich lode. Three years later, on December 3, 1867, W. T. Clayton, George P. McConkey and W. M. Van Winkle located the Gold Hill lode. However, little was done with these prospects and, for a time, the Birch Creek area was deserted (Sassman 1941).
Interest in the district revived in the mid-1870s when O. D. Farlin and his brother, W. L. Farlin, returned to the area and recorded the Indian Queen and Greenstone lodes on December 24, 1875. Little mining occurred until the 1880s, when iron ore was mined at the Magnetic Iron mine, owned by the Birch Creek Prospecting Company. The iron ore was used for fluxing at the Hecla Consolidated Mining Company's 40-ton lead smelter in Glendale and at several of the smelters in Butte, but after better and more accessible fluxing ore was found in Soap Gulch near Melrose, the Birch Creek mine was abandoned. Some development work was also undertaken by a Chicago syndicate and the Railway Mail and Mining Company. A few placer deposits were found on Birch Creek in the mid-1880s but were never extensively worked (Sassman 1941).
During the late 1890s, the Beaverhead Mining & Smelting Company re-opened the Indian Queen mine and began major development work on the property. In 1900, the Birch Creek Copper Mining and Smelting Company was organized in order to further develop the Indian Queen. Although the mine was re-opened by the Beaverhead Mining & Smelting Company, and developed by the Birch Creek Copper Mining and Smelting Company, the first real production came from the mine in 1903 when the Western Mining Company built a 30-ton per day blast furnace which produced 553,220 pounds of copper, 16,000 ounces of silver and 160 ounces of gold from 8,000 tons of ore. During this period a mining camp named Farlin grew near the mine and smelter. The Golden Treasure, Whale, Los Angeles, and Snowball mines were also developed as extensions of the Indian Queen (Winchell 1914; Sassman 1941; Geach 1972).
In 1904, the mine was taken over by the Indian Queen Mining and Smelting Company which produced 525,639 pounds of copper, 12,577 ounces of silver and 31 ounces of gold from 12,000 tons of ore. The following year, however, only 400 tons of ore were mined. Although the Anaconda Copper Mining Company did exploratory work at the Indian Queen in 1905 and 1906, production from the mine continued to decline until 1923, the last year of production, when only eight tons of ore were mined. The mine had been developed to a depth of about 500 feet through an adit tunnel with raises and winzes, plus several shallow shafts. Total production for the period from 1902 to 1923 was 22,907 tons of ore which yielded 1,729,404 pounds of copper, 42,219 ounces of silver and 299 ounces of gold (Winchell 1914; Sassman 1941; Geach 1972; Krohn and Weist 1977).
Some small-scale mining was carried out by the Montana-Apex Copper Company which was organized in 1907 to operate a number of mines, including the Snowball mine. Small amounts of production also came from the Gold Nugget, and the Jumbo. The Indian Queen, however, was the major, and virtually the only, producing mine in the Birch Creek district. R. D. Geach (1972) points out, the Utopia district was basically a one-mine district since almost all its production came from the Indian Queen. With the closing of the Indian Queen in 1923, mining activity virtually ceased in the district except for small-scale prospecting and developing work. Geach (1972) states that total base-metal production is valued at only $244,004 or 23,186 tons of ore which contained 1,771,824 pounds of copper, 5,464 pounds of lead, 43,744 ounces of silver and 308 ounces of gold. However, the diversity of ores in the Birch Creek district continued to interest the mining industry and the Greenstone, for example, was revisited in 1949-1951 and a small amount of tungsten mined (Sassman 1941; Geach 1972).
BOUNDARIES OF THE DISTRICT
The Utopia district is located in mountainous terrain on the southeast slope of the Pioneer Mountains about 10 miles north of the site of the town of Argenta. According to R. D. Geach (1972:86) the district is defined as all the region drained by Birch and Willow creeks and their tributaries, however, the district has been reduced to include primarily the Birch Creek drainage (Figure 1).
HISTORIES OF SELECTED MINES
Although the Indian Queen was the primary operation in the district, many other mine sites are in the area. These range from the Greenstone lode which produced one car load of copper ore to the Humboldt Mountain which was unpatented and unsurveyed and reportedly shipped six tons of\ gold and silver ore in 1938, to the Indian Squaw which may have produced 500 tons of magnetite ore.
The Greenstone lode was located on December 24, 1875, by George W. Farlin who then patented the claim on October 8, 1887. According to the plat map, the mine then consisted of a discovery shaft, an open cut and two other shafts valued at $1,575 (Sassman 1941; GLO Records; Mineral Survey Records).
Winchell (1914) reported that initial development work in the Birch Creek (or Utopia) district was directed to opening the Greenwich and Treasury claims but little production ever resulted from this effort. According to the 1908 and 1909 Mineral Resources of the United States, the property produced one car load of copper ore. Additional work occurred in 1949, 1950 and 1951 when the Minerals Engineering Company did exploratory work and shipped one ton of 1.2 percent tungsten. Total production from the mine amounted to one ton of sorted tungsten ore and 106 tons of copper ore, which yielded 6,684 pounds of copper, 153 ounces of silver and one ounce of gold (Pattee 1960; Geach 1972).
The mine workings are located at an altitude of 7,100 feet and consist of two adits and a 240-foot vertical shaft with drifts at the 30-foot, 50-foot, and 220-foot level (Geach 1972). Although the load outs and an elevated tramway were constructed and remain on the site, the mine apparently never developed beyond a prospect operation.
The Humboldt Mountain mine is located on unpatented ground. The mine appears to have been in operation during the 1880s. The size of the mine dumps indicate the mine was in operation long enough to develop the mine workings but there is no record of any production during the 1880s or 1890s. The only official record of production from the Humboldt Mountain group was six tons of ore in 1938 yielding three ounces of gold and 16 ounces of silver. Apparently the mine was never surveyed. The mine is located in the Humboldt Mountain anticline. Geach describes the formation as "...a broad compound structural upwarp which is traceable from the Ermont mine in the Argenta district for about 12 miles northward into the Birch Creek district, where it is interrupted by batholithic rocks" (Geach 1972:86 & 175).
The Indian Squaw mine claim was patented (Pat. #46808 - Mineral Survey #8463) on August 24, 1907, by E. L. Hall and A. R. Jacobs. The claim was one of a group of claims held by Hall and Jacobs which also included the U.S. Treasurer (Mineral Survey #8462), Indian Chief (Mineral Survey #8464), Jumbo (Mineral Survey #8465) and Burch (Mineral Survey #8466) lodes. Improvements on the claims consisted of a discovery tunnel, four discovery shafts, five other shafts, five tunnels and an open cut, all of which were valued at $5,470 when the claim was patented. Little is known about the mining operations on these claims although Geach (1972) says magnetite ore is believed to have been mined here around the turn of the century for use as a flux in the Glendale smelter. He estimates as much as 500 tons of ore may have been produced (GLO; Mineral Survey Records).
Upper Bridge Gulch
The Upper Bridge Gulch exploration shaft is located on the Lilly lode at the upper end of Bridge Gulch, a little over a mile southwest of the Indian Queen mine. The Upper Bridge Gulch exploration shaft was owned by the Indian Queen Mining and Smelting Company and was an effort of the management of the Indian Queen to determine the extent of the Indian Queen vein. Work on the Upper Bridge Gulch site occurred in 1904 (along with similar work on the Lower Gulch mine). Geach (1972:88) notes that most of the mining in the area was at the Lower Gulch workings, located on the adjoining Florence lode to the northeast of the Lilly lode (
Mining and Scientific Press
1904). The Lilly and Florence lodes were never patented but were surveyed and a claim was filed by Ernest W. M. Hodge on March 18, 1929 (Mineral Survey #10628). At this point there were two discovery shafts, four open cuts, four shafts, a tunnel, drift and stopes valued at $7,225. There is no record of production from either the Upper or Lower Gulch operations (Geach 1972; GLO; Mineral Survey Records).
Geach, R. D.
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