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The Trout Creek mining district is located in Sanders County northwest of the town of Trout Creek. The district drains the northern extension of the Bitterroot Mountains from Trout, Pilgrim and Marten Creeks. Trout Creek, after flowing northward for about 12 miles, enters the Clark Fork River at the town of Trout Creek. Much of the production of the district came from placer mines.
One of the first permanent settlers of Sanders County was Neptune Lynch, who lived at Plains (then known as Horse Plains) beginning in 1870. Prospectors followed but were largely unsuccessful until gold was discovered on Trout Creek. The rush was short-lived, however, and many who came to mine stayed to farm (Montana Standard 1931; Davis 1958).
Trout Creek, eight miles west of Belknap, was an outfitting point, especially during the stampede to the placers on Libby Creek. In 1873 "rich bar diggings were found on Trout Creek." Gold was recovered from placers along the Clark Fork in 1916 and 1917 and along Trout Creek in 1927 (Wolle 1963).
The real development of the region began in 1883 with the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad. The 1883-84 gold rush to the Coeur d'Alenes in Idaho caused the sudden growth of three towns along the western Clark Fork. One trail left from Belknap and went up Big Beaver Creek, another left from Trout Creek and followed that creek, and the third left Thompson Falls and followed Prospect Creek. For four to five years there were thousands of people in the area, mostly seeking placer gold. By 1890, the rush had ended, and by 1905 the trail up the Trout Creek drainage had fallen out of use. Sanders County was created in 1905, with Thompson Falls as the county seat (Davis 1958; White 1989).
At the turn of the century, placer claims on Granite Creek (a headwaters tributary of Trout Creek) were paying well. A small amount of placer mining was also done just below the confluence of the East and West Forks of Trout Creek. Since 1904, the placer mines of Sanders County have produced gold valued at $32,600, virtually all of it from Trout Creek or Vermillion Creek (the latter is in the Silver Butte mining district) and their tributaries or from the Clark Fork of the Columbia River at the mouth of Trout Creek (Lyden 1948).
In 1885 a placer claim was located 10 miles up the Trout Creek Drainage from the town of Trout Creek, and in 1892 another was located approximately 13 miles up Trout Creek from its mouth at the Clark Fork River (White 1989). Between 1916 and 1932 the gravels of Trout Creek and Granite Creek yielded 134 ounces gold and 12 ounces silver (Conner n.d.).
In 1915 and 1916, small amounts of placer gold were recovered from claims on the Clark Fork River near the town of Trout Creek, at or just below the mouth of Trout Creek. It is believed that much of this gold originated within the drainage of Trout Creek, but some may have come in from Vermillion Creek. In 1925, placer gold was recovered from Trout Creek. The production of placer mines in the district from 1906-1958 was 134 ounces gold, and 12 ounces silver from 700 yards of material (Lyden 1948; Sahinen 1935; Crowley 1963).
Lode production from the district was from 186 tons of material from which 86 ounces gold, 352 ounces silver, 635 pounds copper, and 3,792 pounds lead were recovered [these figures include the production of two mines that may actually have been in the Silver Butte district] (Crowley 1963).
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 surficial geology is was formed during by Glacial Lake Missoula.
Describing the central portion of the Trout Creek district around Pilgrim Creek, Crowley (1963) said that two major formations are present: the Wallace and the Striped Peak. The mineralization is in the Wallace Formation in Belt rocks. He continued:
Trout Creek proper drains an area that is largely underlain by the quartzitic sediments of the Ravalli Formation. Blocky talus slopes of white-to dark-grey quartzite can be seen along most of the creek. Near its headwaters and at its mouth the creek cuts slightly calcareous argillites of the Wallace Formation while several of its tributaries drain a narrow anticlinal core of thin-bedded shaley Prichard. One tributary, Granite Creek, cuts a small stock of porphyritic syenite near the Ambassador mine.BOUNDARIES OF THE DISTRICT
Crowley (1963) defined a separate district that was composed of the drainage of Pilgrim Creek, which flows northeast into the Clark Fork River near the town of Noxon. He described the Trout Creek district as "Embracing the drainage system of Trout Creek and lying southwest of the town of Trout Creek." Figure 1 shows the Pilgrim Creek sub-district and the Trout Creek sub-district as described by Crowley (1963) within the overall Trout Creek district as defined by the AMRB (1994).
Historical mention of the Trout Creek district included mines located northeast of the Clark Fork River which would therefore lie within the Silver Butte district (Crowley 1963).
HISTORIES OF SELECTED MINES
AmbassadorThe Ambassador mine is located in the SE1/4 of Section 4, T23N, R32W, near the head of Granite Creek, a tributary of Trout Creek. The Ambassador reported production of ore in 1929, 1931, and 1940. The Ambassador Mining Company was organized in October 1929 to work the property. At that time a 350-foot adit had been driven and 600 tons of ore stockpiled. In 1936 the Ambassador Mines Corporation was formed to operate the property under lease, and between 1936 and 1940 a crew of 8-10 men worked at the mine. It was reported in 1949 that about 1500 feet had been completed on the crosscut adit. The mine was still active in 1952. In 1956 the Sunny Peak Mining Company merged with the Ambassador Mines Corporation, and the new company held 23 claims under lease in the Trout Creek district. During the years 1939, 1940, and 1941, the Ambassador mine produced 38 ounces of gold, 319 ounces of silver, 613 pounds of copper, and 3,680 pounds of lead. (Crowley 1963; WPA 1941).
ArizonaThe Arizona mine was located on Trout Creek. In 1912 the operators planned to construct a mill at the site (Walsh and Orem 1912).
AtteberryThe Atteberry brothers located claims in the upper Trout Creek, including in the Atteberry mine in the Attlebury [sic] drainage, which was in operation in to the 1920s (White 1989).
BattleshipThe Battleship claim was located on Trout Creek and was discovered in 1905. In 1906 the Mount Hope Mining and Milling Company employed 10 men to work this claim and the Pride of the West claim. Development at the mine included bunkhouses, a blacksmith shop, an office, and an assay building (Sanders County Ledger 1906).
Copper CliffThe Copper Cliff Mine was located along the Bull Lake trail. The Kentucky Mining Company abandoned its claim. In 1904 Hyland and Eplin of Trout Creek relocated the claim, and by the next year they had 8 carloads of ore ready to be processed. Assays of the ore yielded 26 percent copper and 7 percent lead (Sanders County Ledger 1905).
E. T. W.The E. T. W., also known as the Homestake mine, was located 3 1/2 miles west of the town of Trout Creek. It may be the same mine as the Ruth V. There is no production record for the mine (Crowley 1963).
In the early 1920s the Homestake Mining Company was developing the mine by adits cutting into a wide vein that contained copper ore. By 1924 the company had driven a 900-foot adit. By 1931 the E. T. W. Mining Company had taken over the property, which had two tunnels over 600 feet long (Crowley 1963).
Golden ReefThe Gold Lode Mining Company treated a little ore from the Golden Reef mine in a small amalgamation and concentration mill in 1939. The Golden Reef mine also produced ore in 1940 (Rowe 1941; WPA 1941).
Hidden TreasureThis mining and milling site (also known as the Eplin) is located in the SE and SW 1/4 of Section 14, T24N, R32W, approximately 2 air miles west of the town of Trout Creek. Activity at the mine lasted from 1907 to the early 1920s. A quartz vein is exposed from surrounding Precambrian Belt materials. The claim for the mining and milling site was located in 1907 and was retained by the Eplin family until the early 1920s.
HollidayThe Holliday (or Holiday) mine (also known as the Homestead) is located in the S1/2 of Section 25 and the N1/2 of Section 36, T26N, R34W, about 10 1/2 miles southwest of Noxon near the headwaters of the West Fork of Pilgrim Creek. The first known operator of the mine was the Homestead Mining Company, which developed the property by an adit and surface pits in 1939. Development work but no production was reported for the years 1945 to 1949, and then the mine was inactive until 1957. In 1957 Holliday Mines, Inc., reopened the mine and access road, and in 1961 16 tons of ore were shipped to a smelter in Kellogg, Idaho. The ore contained 20 ounces silver, 200 pounds lead, and 600 pounds zinc, with a total value of $293. The vein minerals are pyrite, sphalerite, chalcopyrite, galena, and marcasite in a gangue of milky white quartz (Crowley 1963; Conner n.d.).
JacksonThe Jackson mine (site #24SA73) was the first mine in Little Trout Creek, and it was operated prior to 1910 by a man named Jackson. The copper-producing mine was located in a draw near Little Trout Creek in Section 25, T24N, R32W. There was a mill at the site. Two mines further up Little Trout Creek were known as the Gray Mine and the Lee Mine. The mine is approximately 3 air miles southwest of the town of Trout Creek (Rasor 1987).
LandownerThe Landowner mine was located on Windfall Creek, a tributary of Trout Creek. It was one of the earliest claims to be worked; in 1890 developers planned to build a mill at the site (Swallow 1891).
MillerThe Miller is a prospect about 3 miles southwest of Noxon near Pilgrim Creek (the adits are close to the section line between Sections 26 and 35, T26N, R33W). There are two mine dumps north of the road. A man named Miller prospected and developed the property by two adits (each about 700 feet long). Mineralized specimens from the dump contained quartz, chalcopyrite, copper pitch, and small amounts of pyrite. Most of the dump was composed of calcareous argillite (Crowley 1963).
PilgrimThe Pilgrim mine (also known as the Holbert) is located 10.2 miles southwest of Noxon near the head of a small creek (sometimes called the Tobin) that flows into the South Fork of Pilgrim Creek (Section 8, T25N, R33W). The Princemont Mining Company of Idaho held the Pilgrim group of claims in the late 1910s. In 1926 the Cabinet Range Copper Mining Company was developing 18 claims on the mine. Three adits (200, 700, and 2000 feet long) were driven into the quartz vein, which contained copper, lead, and bismuth (Crowley 1963; Conner n.d.).
Pride of the WestThe Pride of the West claim was located on Trout Creek and was discovered in 1905. In 1906 the Mount Hope Mining and Milling Company employed 10 men to work this claim and the Battleship claim. Development at the mine included bunkhouses, a blacksmith shop, an office, and an assay building (Sanders County Ledger 1906).
Ruth V.The Ruth V. mine (possibly the same as the E. T. W.) is located in the NW1/4 of Section 24, T24N, R32W, on Trout Creek. A "considerable amount" of development work was done. A sample from the dumps at the site yielded a trace of gold, 0.2 ounce silver per ton., 0.3 percent lead, traces of zinc and copper, and 76.2 percent silica. There is no production record for the mine (Crowley 1963).
StandardThe group of claims known as the Standard mine was located 11 miles southwest or south of Thompson Falls and was owned by the Standard Mining Company. The mine was developed by a 1500 foot crosscut tunnel that intersected the ore-bearing vein at a depth of 900 feet The ore carried silver and lead. For a few years prior to 1906, 1400 feet of development was done by 14 men. By 1910 the crosscut tunnel was 1900 feet in length and the length of the main tunnel was 2400 ft (Walsh and Orem 1906; Walsh and Orem 1910; Walsh and Orem 1912).
White StarThe White Star prospect is located in Section 4, T25N, R33W, with two portals located on the east slope of Pilgrim Creek about half a mile southeast of the Holliday mine road junction. Two adits 95 and 340 feet long were driven into argillaceous quartzites. There is no record of production from the mine (Crowley 1963; Conner n.d.).
Other mines and mining companies that may have been located within the Trout Creek district (they may have been in the Silver Butte district instead, however) include the Monday group, the Mountain View Mining Company, the Trout Creek Mining Company, and the Trout Creek Mining and Developing Company (this may have been the same as the Ambassador) (Crowley 1963).
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
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Calderhead, J. H.1898 "Montana Bureau of Agriculture, Labor, and Industry, 6th Annual Report."
Conner, Eunicen.d. "Footprints and Shadows of the Old Cabinet National Forest and Cabinet Ranger Districts." Available from the Kootenai National Forest.
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Davis, Evelyn M.1958 "Steamboats Once Operated on Clark Fork River." Sanders County Ledger. 6 February.
Anaconda Standard1906 "In New County of Sanders." . 16 December, p. 4. Gardiner, C. Roe and Johnson, C. H. 1934 "Placer Mining in the Western United States", U.S. Bureau of Mines, Inf. Circ. 6786, pt. 1; Circ. 6787, pt. 2; Circ. 6788, pt. 3.
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Montana Standard.1931 "Sanders County - Named for the Vigilante Leader." February 15, p. 6.
Rasor, Lee1987 "Cultural Resource Inventory of the Small Fry Timber Sale." Prepared for the Kootenai National Forest.
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Sanders County Ledger.1905 9 June. 1906 5 October. Scott, W. A. 1910 "Dredging in Montana and Idaho", Min. and Sci. Press, Vol. 100, No. 1, pp. 67-69.
Smith, Fred D.1899 "The Cedar Creek Placers, Montana", Eng. and Min. Journal, Vol. 67, No. 5, p. 143.
Swallow, G. C., J. B. Trevarthen and Jacob Oliver1891 Reports of Inspectors of Mines, State of Montana, year ending November 30th, 1890. Journal Publishing Company, Helena.
Walsh, William, and William Orem1906 Biennial Report of the Inspector of Mines of the State of Montana for the Years 1905-1906. 1910 Biennial Report of the Inspector of Mines of the State of Montana for the Years 1909-1910. 1912 Biennial Report of the Inspector of Mines of the State of Montana for the Years 1911-1912.
White, Mark J.1987 "Cultural Resource Inventory of the Eplin Salvage Timber Sale." Prepared by the Kootenai National Forest.
1989 "Cultural Resource Inventory of the Trout Creek Wildlife Enhancement Project." Prepared for the Kootenai National Forest.
Wolle, Muriel Sibell1963 Montana Pay Dirt: A Guide to the Mining Camps of the Treasure State. Denver: Sage Books. Works Projects Administration (WPA) Mineral Resources Survey
1941 Montana Mine Index, An Alphabetical Index Arranged by Counties, Districts and Mines of Information on Montana Mines from 1867-1940. Montana School of Mines, Butte.