It is uncertain who found the first gold in the Little Rockies, an outlier mountain range in northcentral Montana. It is likely that the Indians knew of the gold, for they are believed to have shown samples of the yellow metal to two French priests who visited them in the middle 1860s. However, to protect their land, the Indians wanted the discovery of gold to remain secret. In 1884 Frank Aldrich, Powell Landusky, and "Dutch" Lou Meyers found gold. The news of the strike brought hordes of men to the gulches where they dug in Little Alder, Rock Creek, Camp Creek, Grouse Creek, and the other streambeds in the mountains. As soon as the placer gold was exhausted the boom was over and the area deserted (Wolle 1963).
Then in 1890 Powell Landusky located the first lode mine; the Julia, as well as another mine, the Gold Bug. Landusky worked his claim along for some time. In August 1893, while prospecting with his son-in-law, Robert Orman, they located a claim they called the August. They worked the claim at night since they believed their prospect was within the Fort Belknap Reservation and that they would be forced off. Eventually they discovered an ore shoot with a vein thirteen feet wide, which yielded $400-$500 a ton in free-milling gold. Their secret leaked out, and when it became known that their profits ran as high as $13,000 a ton on picked ore, $500 on unsorted lots, and that it was rumored that they had obtained $100,000 from a hole less than 100 feet deep, a second rush to the Little Rockies began. This rush was all hardrock mining; the deposits lay in porphysitic granitic intrusions and limestone formations. In June, 1894, a settlement called Landusky was organized by the miners and stockmen. The Gold Bug group of mines promised a prosperous future for the area until it was found that the refractory ore refused to respond to the methods of extraction that existed. When the Gold Bug mill shut down, Landusky died. After cyanidation provided a successful means of recovering gold deposits, Landusky's mines were reopened and the camp began to come back (Wolle 1963).
From 1903 to 1912, the towns of Landusky, Zortman and Ruby (first called Whitcomb) saw a rapid population increase. Zortman boomed to 200 people, and boasted a hotel, two general stores, two saloons, a livery stable, and mining company offices. Stage lines ran between Zortman and Dodson, and Landusky and Harlem. Gold production was strong during this era, with a high of $700,000 in 1909. In 1913 the Ruby Gulch Mill burned down, and mining once again lulled (Murray 1978).
Operations continued off and on in the early 1920's. The Anaconda Copper Mining Company began work on the Alabama mine, building a new mill, and driving a tunnel on the 600 foot level to the bottom of the ore body in the Alabama. Additional good and high grade ores were found at the 300 and 500 foot levels. In October of 1923, the new mill burned down and operations at Ruby Gulch again went into a lull, since rising costs offset the $20.67 per ounce price of gold (Murray 1978).
The district saw a renaissance as a result of the rise in gold prices in 1934, and the towns of Landusky and Zortman saw coincident growth. A fire raged through Zortman in 1929, and again in 1944. Though still profitable, the mines shut down in as labor and resources were withdrawn in accordance with the War Production Board's Order L-208. There were hopes that the mines would reopen after the war, and some attempts were made. By 1951, however, all serious mining activities ceased. Over the years, a total of about 308,000 ounces of gold were recovered from the Little Rockies district (Murray 1978).
The Little Rocky Mountains are a dissected domal structure due to the laccolithic intrusion of phosphycitic rock. The oldest rocks, schists and gneisses of pre-Cambrian age, are exposed in gullies underlying the intrusive. Unconformably overlying the schists and gneisses, in order from oldest to youngest, are the following formations: Deadwood (Cambrian), Big Horn limestone (Ordovician), Jefferson limestone (Devonian), Lodge Pole and Mission Canyon limestones (Mississippian), Ellis Formation (Jurassic), Kootenai (lower Cretaceous), and the Colorado and Montana groups (Cretaceous). The intrusion of the laccolithic mass caused the doming of the sediments, and subsequent deformation produced faulting along the periphery of the uplift and shearing within it (Sahinen 1935).
Gold deposits occur as veins, contact deposits, replacement deposits, disseminations and as placers. Near Zortman, low-grade ores have been mined from lodes in shear zones. Contact and replacement deposits in limestone also occur. The brecciated ores exposed in the Little Ben, Alabama and other mines allow for easy breakdown and low processing costs, once cyanide leaching was introduced to the area. Near Landusky, small pockets of high grade ore have been mined from veins which, in general, strike northeast in contrast to those near Zortman which strike northwest. Auriferous pyrite occur in the fissured zones as well as dissemations in the porphyry. Sylvanite and fluorite have also been reported (Sahinen 1935).
BOUNDARIES OF THE DISTRICT
Sahinen (1935) places the district in the vicinity of the towns of Landusky and Zortman in the southwest part of Phillips County about 50 miles southwest of Malta, a station on the Northern Pacific Railroad. Figure 1 shows the Little Rockies district as defined by the AMRB (1994) which includes the historic mining area and the heads of the major drainages flowing from the Little Rockies.
HISTORIES OF SELECTED MINES
Gold Bug Mine
The Gold Bug Mine is located in Section 22, T 25N, R 24E. The mine was first worked in 1894 and consisted of 4 patented claims. The mine was developed by Landusky's heirs and G.L. Manning. In the Mid-1890's, the mine had a 40-foot shaft leading to three tunnels and a 50-foot winze extending from the lowest tunnel. The ore bodies ranged in value from $4 to $100 per ton (Murray 1978).
In 1902, Jacobson, Torgenson and Nobin bought the Gold Bug from Landusky's heirs, and built a ten-stamp mill with a 10 inch Blake jaw crusher, two Frue Vanners, and almalgamation plates. Like Landusky's mill before it, the Jacobson mill was incapable of recovering enough gold from the telluride ores forcing it to shut down in 1903 (Murray 1978).
Mining activity continued off and on at least into the 1960's, when $600,000 of gold were recovered by the Little Rockies Mining and Development Company between 1956 and 1966 (Hogan and Fredlund 1978).
When the site was revisited in 1978, the remains of the Gold Bug included a small mill, rail tracks, several adits, an air compressor, and a filter tank which had been recovered from the old Landusky Mill. Two house structures were also found southwest of the August Mine complex, and may be associated with the historic mining community of Ragtown (Hogan and Fredlund 1978).
The August Mine is located in Section 15, T 25N, R 24E. Cory (1933) states that gold mining attained significance in the Little Rockies when Landusky and his son-in-law Robert Orman discovered and staked the August claim in 1893. They worked the claim at night since they believed their prospect was within the Fort Belknap Reservation and that they would be forced off. Eventually they discovered an ore shoot with a vein thirteen feet wide, which yielded $400-$500 a ton in free-milling gold. The August was noted for high grade ores, and may have been one of the largest gold ore producers in the state (Cory 1933).
The August group eventually included 21 patented claims and 3 millsites (Hogan and Fredlund 1978).
In 1930, the Little Ben Mining Company, organized by Charles Whitcomb, acquired and resumed operations in the August, and recovered forty tons of ore that brought in $27,400. By April of 1933, the company was planning a new cyanide plant, and was shipping high grade ore which ranged from $6 to $3,300 per ton. The sudden rise in the price of gold in 1934 to $35 per ounce allowed large scale operations to continue at the August, and the company employed up to 72 men. In 1936, the company showed gross earnings of $267,039.52 and net profits of $68,075.12. In 1937, they grossed $342,152.68 and netted $108,058.62. In 1939, the gross take was $247,567.44 with net profits of $47,031.62. When gold prices leveled off, the company shut down and liquidated as a corporation (Murray 1978).
When the site was revisited in 1978, all that remained of the August group was a glory hole, a shaft, three adits, remnants of loading platforms and rails, the remains of an aerial tramway from the 300 foot level to the Landusky Cyanide Mill, and the foundations of a few buildings (Hogan and Fredlund 1978).
By 1984, reclamation and rejuvenation of the area had destroyed much of what was observed in 1978 (Herbort 1984).
Little Ben Mine
Located in Section 15, T 25N, R 24E, the Little Ben Mine was part of a separate group of claims worked in close proximity to the August Mine (Cory 1933).
Initially ores from the Little Ben were probably taken to the mill in Landusky. The mine was part of the reorganization and and revival of mining in the district during the 1930's, with Whitcomb organizing the Little Ben Mining Company along with five prominent partners - the Holter Brothers, George McKee, John Corette and James Finlen. The company acquired the Little Ben and August groups, built another mill and recovered another fortune in high grade ore from a new lead (Costello, n.d.).
When the site was revisited in 1978, the remains of the Little Ben Mine included an adit, a shaft, an ore car rail line from the adit, and a loading platform (Hogan and Fredlund 1978).
Ruby Gulch Complex
Located in Section 7, T 25N, R 25E, the Ruby townsite (originally called Whitcomb) was a small village which sprang up around 1903-1904 as a result of mining activities in Ruby Gulch. The Alabama Mine opened in 1899, yielding $55,000 in high grade ore between 1899 and 1900. The Ruby Mine followed in 1904. The Ruby Mine turned out to be highly successful, because the miners were able to drive a haulway parallel to the main vein, and run inclined raises up to tap the brecciated ore. This made it possible to make a profit on ore that contained as little as $2.00 per ton of recoverables. In addition, there was enough silver in the ore to offset what gold was still lost in the tailings. A mill was built to accommodate the mines, and the townsite sprang up around that. The initial mill had a No. 3 Gates crusher, six 300-ton tanks and six 110-ton tanks. In 1907, the old Landusky mill was disassembled, and parts used in the Ruby mill (Murray 1978).
By 1912, when mining activities, and thus the village, shut down as a result of a fire at the Ruby Gulch Mill, the Ruby townsite boasted several cabins, a school, a records office, a gas station, a general store, an assay lab, and the George Whitcomb and family house - a fairly sizeable house with greenhouse, cement sidewalks and a guesthouse or servants' quarters (Hogan and Fredlund 1978).
In 1935, Charles Whitcomb and Carl Trauerman acquired and reopened the Ruby and Alabama Mines. By 1936, they had built a 300-ton cyanide plant, and by 1938 there were 120 men on the payroll. In 1936, the operation showed gross earnings of $269,358.42 and net profits of $65,097.42. In 1937, they grossed $509.644.28 and showed a profit of $202,205.72. In 1939, the mines brought in $424,129.40 for a net profit of $114,827.76. The mine continued to be profitable until it shut down it 1942 when labor and supplies were withdrawn in accordance with the War Production Board's Order L-208 (Murray 1978).
The mines saw a brief revival after World War II, and in the last half of 1946, the Ruby Gulch Mill processed 30,000 tons of ore, yielding gold and silver valued at over $80,000. 55 tons of high grade ore were recovered from the Alabama Mine that same season. Work in the Alabama proceeded year-round as a result of blasting and breaking up large quantities of the ore in the Alabama glory hole, and transporting it out through grizzlies to the old haul way. This process helped prevent snow-melt from mixing with the ore, as it was in the old external transfer system. By 1951, all serious mining activity in the district ceased (Murray 1978).
The area continues to see mining activities, and when the site was revisited in 1978, much of the townsite was still visible, although many cabins had collapsed, and most structures had been heavily vandalized (Hogan and Fredlund 1978).
Other important mines in the area include the Julia, the Ann, the Beaver Creek and associated camp, Alder Gulch, Pole Gulch, Hawkeye, and the community of Ragtown (Rossillon 1991).
A mine called the Alhambra mine was reported in 1896 to have shipped eight tons of ore to a mill in Aurora, Illinois with a return of almost $500 per ton. This mine is outside of the town of Landusky, and may actually have been the original name of the Alabama Mine. Alternatively, the mine may not have seen any subsequent mining (Western Mining World 1896).
Abandoned Mine Reclamation Bureau (AMRB)
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