HISTORIC CONTEXT

aka Backer

aka Canton aka Diamond City

The Confederate Gulch mining district, containing some of the richest placer ground in Montana, lies on the western slope of the Big Belt Mountains between Helena and Townsend east of the Missouri River (now Canyon Ferry Reservoir). A rush followed the initial discovery of gold late in 1864, swelling the population of Confederate Gulch to 10,000 at the peak. During the boom, miners worked placer claims on the upper stretch of Confederate Gulch and its tributaries, especially Boulder Creek, Montana Gulch, and Cement Gulch. Diamond City provided supplies and entertainment for miners and served as the first seat of Meagher County. The Confederate Gulch district continued to produce gold, through both lode mining and dredging, at least into the late 1940s (Malone et al. 1991; Wolle 1963; Lyden 1948).

The principal rocks underlying the Confederate Gulch district are sedimentary, including shales of the Spokane and Greyson formations, as well as limestones of the Newland formation. These are cut by diorite and quartz diorite dikes, stocks, and sills. Narrow quartz veins, found along fractures in the diorite and along bedding planes in the shale, contain most of the high grade gold ore. Ore values decrease with depth, and few mines have been developed deeper than 150 feet. In addition to the quartz veins in the shales, the diorite contains "low grade mineralized shear zones" (Sahinen 1935; Pardee and Schrader 1933; Reed 1951).

The rich placer gravels of the drainages were deposited during the interglacial stages of the Pleistocene period. Their distribution suggests that the common source of most of the placer gold in Confederate Gulch and White Creek is a series of quartz lodes on Miller Mountain on the divide between the two drainages (Pardee and Schrader 1933; Reed 1951).

Jack Thompson, Washington Baker, Fountain M. Dennis, and John Wells are credited with the initial discovery of gold along Confederate Gulch late in the fall of 1864. Word leaked out and the three men were soon joined by 500 more in the upstart settlement of Diamond City. The following spring a group of German miners located rich claims in Montana and Cement gulches, while others worked the gravels at Boulder Bar (at the junction of Montana and Confederate gulches), Greenhorn Gulch, Gold Hill, and Diamond Bar. One early observer described Confederate Gulch as the place where "the gold dust was collected by the hundred-weight..." (Greiser et al 1983; Wolle 1963; Raymond 1869).

The richest ground, however, was found at Montana Bar at the foot of Gold Hill. The roughly two acres there produced more gold per acre than any other placer claim in Montana. While one pan reportedly contained a high of $1,400 in gold, it was not uncommon to wash out $1000 from a pan full of Montana Bar gravels. A single shipment in the fall of 1866, representing a short run, weighed two tons and was valued at ca. $900,000. The best of the 200 foot claims produced $180,000 each, with the total from Montana Bar estimated at $1 million to $1.5 million (Pardee and Schrader 1933).

Water was critical to the hydraulic mining operations in Confederate Gulch. Crews built a ditch on the north side of Confederate Gulch in 1866 to divert water to sluicing on Montana Bar, about the same time that the Boulder Ditch Company dug four and a half miles of ditch to carry water to higher claims. A couple of years later, King and Gillette of Helena constructed a half mile of bedrock flume in the same area (Wolle 1963; Raymond 1869).

Hydraulic mining chewed up land and diverted water in Confederate Gulch to the point where it undermined the buildings in Diamond City. Townspeople relocated the buildings and the city continued to boom during the late 1860s. As the placer claims played out, the population dwindled during the next decade until approximately 60 residents remained in 1880 (Wolle 1963; Pardee and Schrader 1933).

Sporadic hydraulic operations continued in Confederate Gulch and its tributaries for many years. A company based in Milwaukee worked some old ground briefly in 1899. About nine years later, a company worked gravels in the lower end of the gulch using a Risdon dredge, but it shut down operations after three months when it found no values in the gravels. Placering continued off and on during the late 1910s and 1920s, with at least two operations in 1928; lack of water frequently hampered success (Lyden 1948; Calderhead and Holmes 1900; WPA 1941).

Dredging companies moved into the area in a big way in the 1930s, using power shovels and a variety of other equipment, including a stationary washing plant, dryland dredge, and dragline dredge. The best returns came in 1939 when two dredging operations recovered 2,357 fine ounces of gold. One company had 16 to 18 men on the payroll that season. A single dryland dredge worked the ground in 1942, after which operations shut down for the duration of World War II (Lyden 1948; WPA 1940).

Lode operations in the Confederate Gulch district never measured up to the standard set by the rich placer mines. The most important mines, including the Hummingbird, Slim Jim, Schabert, Baker Group, and Three Sisters, are all located along the divide between Confederate Gulch and White Creek, principally on Miller Mountain. Lode mines produced only $100,000 in gold, while the placers of Confederate Gulch yielded $12 million. The Philadelphia Mill, with a capacity of 15 tons per day, operated briefly at Diamond City around 1889. (Sahinen 1935; Pardee and Schrader 1933; Mining Truth 1932; Swallow and Trevarthen 1889).

White Creek Sub-district

White Creek is a subdistrict of Confederate Gulch, located in a parallel canyon to the north and west. Following the initial discovery in 1865, the camp was active for close to 20 years, although the hydraulic operations were never as profitable as those in the neighboring gulch (Lyden 1948).

The geology of White Creek is similar to that of Confederate Gulch, with diorite dikes intruding into underlying shales. The gold-bearing ore, located in both the bedding planes of the shale and the diorite, is found in conjunction with iron oxides, pyrite, and chalcopyrite (Pardee and Schrader 1933).

There was little work done in the drainage after 1904, with only 1921 production rating a mention in the annual statistics. Following World War II, operators worked part of the creek with a dryland dredge in 1948, removing a heavy overburden before reaching the paydirt just above bedrock. Total production for White Creek is estimated at $1 million to $1.5 million. One of the richer terraces averaged $10/square yard, or $500,000 in all (Pardee and Schrader 1933; Lyden 1948).

BOUNDARIES OF THE DISTRICT

Lyden (1948) states that the Confederate Gulch district includes the length of the gulch, along with the upper tributaries of Boulder Creek, Montana Gulch, and Cement Gulch (Lyden 1948).

The White Creek sub-district, while never discussed formally in the mining literature, appears to cover the main gulch as well as the important upper tributary, Johnny's Gulch. Both Confederate and White creeks flow west into the Missouri River (Canyon Ferry Reservoir) north of Townsend.

Figure 1 shows the Confederate Gulch mining district as defined by Lyden (1948) and the White Creek sub-district. These are within the larger Confederate Gulch mining district as defined by the AMRB (1994).

HISTORIES OF SELECTED MINES

Baker Group (Satellite)

The Baker claim was part of a group of patented claims on the west side of Confederate Gulch, across from the mouth of Boulder Creek. Although the mine was worked before 1901, there is no record of production before 1926. M. A. Ellis and sons owned the claim in the early 1930s. Mine workings include a 30 foot tunnel and 30 foot shaft (Pardee and Schrader 1933; Reed 1951).

The quartz lode, deposited in thin-bedded Newland shales, ranged from 3-8 feet in width. The gold was found in association with iron oxides, a small amount of galena, and copper stain. The recovered metal content averaged 0.55 ounces of gold, 1.1 ounces of silver, and 0.9 percent lead per ton. No record of production was found (Pardee and Schrader 1933; Reed 1951).

Hummingbird

The Hummingbird mine is located on Miller Mountain at the head of Johnny's Gulch, a tributary of White Creek. In 1917-1918, John Buckingham removed a good quantity of rich gold-quartz ore from open cuts and tunnels. The relatively small operation had grown considerably by 1932 when McLaren Brothers of Seattle employed a 30-man crew at the mine. The men lived in tents while log cabins, a cookhouse, and recreation hall were built. In addition, a ball mill was under construction at the mouth of Hour Gulch to process the free milling gold ore. Small-scale, sporadic production continued from 1932-1935. The average metal content of the ore averaged 1.25 ounces of gold and 1.7 ounces of silver per ton (Pardee and Schrader 1933; Mining Truth 1932; Reed 1951).

Schabert

This group of claims, formerly owned by "Blind Mike" Schabert, is located on the mountain at the head of Montana Gulch in Section 18, T10N, R3E. Most of the early development work, including tunnels and shafts, was blocked with slides by the early 1930s. Veins of quartz containing pyrite and finely divided sulphides range from one to four feet in width. A wide range of assay reports found from 0.1 to 11 ounces of silver and $1 to $500 in gold per ton of ore (Pardee and Schrader 1933; Reed 1951).

Slim Jim (Miller)

The Slim Jim, also known as the Miller, is located at the head of Greenhorn Gulch. Discovered in 1900, the mine produced on a small but relatively steady scale into at least the late 1940s. The workings consist of cuts, adits, and shafts, with none running much deeper than 100 feet. A single stamp amalgamating mill processed the ore on site at the rate of one ton per shift (Pardee and Schrader 1933; Reed 1951).

Most of the ore is found along the seams and bedding planes where the shale meets intrusive diorite; ore found in the diorite is generally lower in grade. Ore values were erratic. High returns came in 1909 when three tons of ore averaged 151 ounces of gold per ton. In 1947, an even more spectacular find was a single nugget worth $2,200. The average metal content of ore mined since 1901 was 7.95 ounces of gold and 4.6 ounces of silver per ton. The mine was the most active of the lodes in Confederate Gulch, reporting gold and silver production every year from 1908-1931, with sporadic work after that time (Pardee and Schrader 1933; WPA 1941; Reed 1951).

Three Sisters

The Paymaster Mining Company, owned by the Hampton brothers of Belgrade, developed the Three Sisters mine in the early 1930s. They reported finding free milling gold ore in three rich leads. Although slowed by a shortage of capital, the company employed 11 men in 1932 to build a 10-stamp mill. There was no record found of production, and little else is known about this mine (Mining Truth 1932).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Abandoned Mine Reclamation Bureau (AMRB)

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