The Blue Creek or Heron mining district is on the lower western slopes of the Cabinet Mountain range in Sanders County north of the town of Heron and encompasses most of the Blue Creek and the East Fork of Blue Creek drainages. The Clark Fork River form the southern boundary of the district. The Blue Creek mine was the most productive in the district with ores that yielded silver, copper, lead, zinc, and some gold (Sahinen 1935; Wolle 1963).
The real development of the region began in 1883 with the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Some placer and lode mines were located near the junction of the East and West Forks of Blue Creek. By 1890 there were about 150 men working at these mines. The town of Heron was the location of the shops of the Idaho division of the Northern Pacific Railroad, and it had a population of 400 in 1885 (Montana Standard 1931; Malouf 1982).
There was some activity in this district during the period 1923-1927. A test lot of ore was shipped from the Broken Hill mine in 1923, and a small shipment was made in 1925. Production has been minimal and none has been reported from the district since 1925 (Sahinen 1935).
The bedrock along the Clark Fork and Flathead River valleys between Ravalli and the Idaho boundary formed during the Precambrian era and is mostly sedimentary (Belt) formations. Much of the rock is of the Prichard formation. The Pleistocene geology is dominated by Glacial Lake Missoula, which was created about 15,000 years ago by an ice dam and covered much of the Clark Fork River valley as well as land to the east. The entire flow of the Clark Fork River backed up behind the dam, and the glacial lake reached an elevation of about 4,350 feet. When the ice dam failed, Glacial Lake Missoula emptied through the Clark Fork Valley in just a few days, releasing the greatest flood of known geologic record. This process occurred repeatedly, each time resulting in colossal floods. The passage of the torrents of water during the flooding scoured the narrow stretches of the valley, especially between Perma and Plains and several miles east of Thompson Falls. Exposed bedrock and sedimentary deposits provide evidence of the long-ago rushing floodwaters through the valley, as do ripple marks in Camas Prairie (Alt and Hyndman 1986).
The mining district is located in an area of quartzites and argillites of the Ravalli formation, slates, and impure limestones of the Newland formation of the Belt series (Protecozoic). The valuable metals in the ores are lead and zinc. The dominant geologic feature of the district is the Hope fault, a large northwest-trending transverse fault that extends from at least Hope, Idaho, to Heron, Montana. Veins in the district are replacement deposits along or near faults. The Hope fault itself is not mineralized (Sahinen 1935; Crowley 1963).
BOUNDARIES OF THE DISTRICT
Crowley (1963) described the Blue Creek mining district as follows:
This small mining district is perched at the far western end of Sanders County and could be considered an extension of the Clark Fork district in Idaho, which borders it on the west. However, as far as Sanders County is concerned, the district embraces the drainage of the East Fork of Blue Creek. Blue Creek proper is a southward-flowing tributary of the Clark Fork River and enters the river about one mile east of the Idaho line.
Crowley also defined a Noxon-Cabinet district that covered "an area indefinite in shape and size north of Noxon," most of which appears to be in the Silver Butte mining district as currently defined.
Sahinen (1935) places the district in the vicinity of Heron, a station on the Northern Pacific Railroad, in the extreme northwestern part of Sanders County.
Figure 1 shows the district as defined by the AMRB (1994) with a smaller area defined according to Crowley (1963).
HISTORIES OF SELECTED MINES
The Blue Creek mine is located on the East Fork of Blue Creek in section 3, T27N, R34W, at an elevation of about 3,150 feet The property contains six patented claims: Scotchman Nos. 6, 6 1/2, and 7, Blue Creek Nos. 1 and 2, and Hillside. Mineralization at the Blue Creek mine is in the Burke Formation, which is predominantly composed of quartzite. The Blue Creek Mining Company was incorporated in 1923 and still owned the property in 1963. The mine was only intermittently developed until the late 1930s, when 20 men were employed. In 1937, 108 tons of ore were shipped with a recoverable metal content of 6 ounces gold, 521 ounces silver, 306 pounds copper, 32,593 pounds lead, and 20,000 pounds zinc. The development work at the mine consisted of two adits. Two underground veins are exposed, both replacement veins near major faults in sheared and broken quartzite and argillite (Crowley 1963; Conner n.d.).
Crowley (1963) believed that the mine reportedly developed in the early 1910s on Blue Creek four miles west of Heron by the Montana Gold Mining and Milling Company was the same as the Blue Creek mine. The company incorporated in Spokane, Washington in 1908, and tunnel and drift work began that year to access the free-milling gold ore. Gold assays reportedly ranged in value from $40 to $125. By 1911, 12 men were working on the property, a blacksmith shop and bunkhouse had been built, and a wagon road extended from the mine to the railroad station (Crowley 1963).
Broken Hills Silver-Lead property
The Broken Hill mine was located 9 miles west of Iron Mountain in Section 10, T27N, R34W. The main workings were on a high slope east of the East Fork of Blue Creek. In 1906 the mine had been developed through several tunnels. The ore was oxide of iron carrying as much as 80% excess of iron (desirable for fluxing purposes) (Walsh and Orem 1910; 1912; Crowley 1963).
The property was owned in the early 1920s by the Broken Hill Silver-Lead Mining Company, which was incorporated in 1922 in Washington. In 1923 the company leased the mine to the Federal Mining and Smelting Company, which relinquished its option a year later, after shipping a test lot of lead-zinc ore in 1923. H. C. Conn leased the mine on a royalty basis between 1925 and 1926 and reportedly shipped one car of ore a month. Federal Bureau of Mines records show production in 1925, 1926, and 1927. Some of the lead-zinc ores were shipped to Portland, Oregon, for export in 1925. The next year four cars of ore were exported to Belgium, and in 1927 a test lot was shipped to a plant near Kellogg, Idaho that made lead and zinc concentrates (Crowley 1963; Sahinen 1935; WPA 1941; Conner n.d.).
The property was developed by two adits, 108 feet and 350 feet long, both of which had caved in by 1960. Sulfide-bearing ore in the dump assayed at 0.01 ounce gold, 2.2 ounces silver, 0.08 percent copper, 7.6 percent lead, 21.5 percent zinc, 23.2 percent silica, and 15.0 percent total iron (Crowley 1963).
The Chilson mine produced copper ore in 1921 and 1922, yielding 37 tons of ore with 1 ounce of gold, 50 ounces of silver, and 7,051 pounds of copper. The mine was described as being near Perma in 1922, but, according to Crowley (1963), such a mine "could not be located in either the Noxon or Perma area." Crowley referred to the mine as being located in the "Noxon district" (Crowley 1963; WPA 1941).
The Gopher Hole mine (site #24SA147) was a hard-rock lead mine. It was located in the area of the East Fork of Blue Creek (Timmons 1982).
Sandvig (1947) described the Homestake mine as having values in silver, gold, copper, lead and zinc.
The "Ryan mine" was worked by John Ryan (actual name of the mine unknown). It was located in 1923 or 1924 on a steep slope between Squaw Peak and Fatman Mountain in the NW1/4 of Section 23, T27N, R34W. It was probably worked into the early 1940s. John Ryan had several mines in the area, and he stayed in a cabin along Dead Horse Creek. Remains at the site include a pit, a large tailings pile, and what appears to be a collapsed shack (Wilson 1991).
The Ulley mine was located in Section 13, T27N, R34W. The Dixie Queen Mining Company developed four claims at the site. There were several other mines in the Squaw Peak area (Conner n.d.).
Abandoned Mine Reclamation Bureau (AMRB)
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