Last Chance Gulch yields millions in gold
Nearly $20 Million Taken From Last Chance Gulch in Four Years By f.yle Downing The clarion call Df the California Argonauts, "thar's gold in them hills" also was heard with variation in frontier Montana 15 years after the Forty-niners swarmed into the Golden Stale. Long after the placers began playing out in California, the-Montana mining industry continued to boom. Before Butte became universally known as the "Richest Hil on Earth" due to its almost limitless copper desposits, Helena had taken its place among the west's most important mining centers. Gold, silver and line cumprised most of the pay dirt In this area. Four years after gold was dis covered in Last Chance Gulch, aecurding to Montana Record Herald issue of July 14, 1924, 519,360,000 of the metal had been taken from mines in this county. There is no doubt but what gold mining paved the way for development of other industries which contributed a great deal to thB economic development o£ Helena and its environs. Little Data Authentic information about early mining operations in this region is extremely scarce. The Anaconda Standard lamented this fact on Aug. 17, 1919, The newspaper stated: "One of the strange things relating Id gold discoveries in Lewis and Clark County is the fact that no data remains extant in relation to when certain discoveries were made or by whom. Last Chance Gulch is not immune because the actual date of the discovery of gold is not known and never will be. The discoverers themselves only knew they had found gold in the gulch in July, 1SG4. They did not know the date or day of the tveek. "It is a well-known fact," The Standard continued, "that Silver Creek was a placer mining camp before Unst Chance was discovered. Silver Cily once was desig natc-d as the county seat of Edg-erton (Lewis and Clark) County. Tlie late William Mayger of Marys-ville was mining in Silver Creek when Last Chance was discovered." According to The Standard, Mayger had been mining two years when the Last Chance Gulch discovery occurred. He visited the new diggings, and after viewing the operation, decided that he had much better prospects on silver Creek. "From this it may readily be seen," The Standard commented, "that Silver Creek must have been a good producer of gold." Helena Mining District It is the view of the U.S. Geological Survey. Department of the Interior, that (lie so-called Helena mining district should include an area 300 miles square. In this area there are literally hundreds of mining developments —many o£ them monuments to the shattered dreams of prospectors who expected lo strike it rich. More than 25 years ago, J, T. Pardee and F. C, Shrader, internationally known geologists, made a study or 1ho Helena mining district for the Interior Department. They produced a highly technical rcporl. They seemed to bo more concerned with the rock formations than they were with the romantic history ot the mines. Some historians take issue with Ihe Genlogical Survey and claim the Helena mining district should be confined to an area extending southward six to 10 miles Lo the Clfincy nnd Rimini sections and Unionville, 4 miles south of the Capital City. This district also would include Last Chance, Griz zly, Oro Fino, Dry and Nelson gulches. All o£ these locations were more or less famous in early day placer mining. Lode Mining Mining, both placer and lode, hit a slump. Many of the claims in the Helena district had been worked out. Then in 1883 when the Northern Pacific Hallway reached here, lode mining wast revived. The next 15 years set a! record for production. In the early stages ol the Helena district mining activities, Last Chance Gulch was getting the lion's share o( the publicity History of Montana, written by Helen Fitzgerald Sanders, points out there was abundant action in other sections of the region. Mrs. Sanders states: "The placer diggings in Jefferson County, with few unimportant exceptions, were not discovered until the latter part of 1865 and the early part of lBfi6. At the close of the year of 1068, however, Jefferson County had to her credit the sum of 54,500,000 in gold as having been taken from her numerous placer mines. Nearby Meagher County enjoyed a mining boom, according to the Sanders history. The populace was plagued by unfilled test holes. Both oxen and residents were reported 1i> have fallen into deep holes. Some of these holes were as much as 50 feet deep. The residents com plained bitterly of the wild riding through the town which made it unsafe to venture out." Marysvllle Camp Running a close second to Last Chance Gulch as a rip roaring mining camp was Marysville. The entire state was electrified in 1876 when word went out about the fabulous gold and silver in quartz strike made by future Hel ena capitalist, Tommy Cruse in his Drum Lummon Mine at Marysville. As a result of this discovery, within 10 years, Butte and Marys ville were Montana's two most important mining camps. Cruse sold to The Montana Company of London which extracted millions of dollars from Drum Lummon. As late as 18B5, R. H, Kemp, a noted authority on mining, wrote that bullion shipments from Marysville still averaged 51,000,000 annually. Although Marysville never became a ghost camp, it barely escaped that fate. Today it still is the home of several pioneer families and a few hardy prospectors who work over the mine dumps. The buildings of the Drum Lum mon, long deserted, stand like gray ghosts, a reminder of the golden days. Local Theater Helena Children Present Drama, "Peck's Bad Boy' "In the history book re counts, "about 15 gulches were worked for gold in Meagher County and, from the first discovery in 1864-65 up to the fall of 1868, a period embracing the bonanza placer years of the territory, the counly had produced S6,94fl,OO0 in gold." Production Declines Then production started to decline. As late as 1913, ptacer mining was showing some substantial returns in Meagher County. The following statistics covering placer gold production in six Moniana counties between 1862 and 1868 were published in the Sanders history: Madison, $40,-000,0(10; Lewis and Clark. $19,-300,000; Deer Lodge, $13,2ii0,000; Meagher, $6,949,200; Jefferson, S4,500,000, and Beaverhead, $2,-245,000. The return from other placer mining sources was placed S6.000.000. The total of ail these sources was given as $92,304,200. As Last Chance Gulch was the mnst picturesque and talked-about mining camp in the area, it might be well lo repeat one writer's impression of the place. Lyman E. Mundson, a prominent pioneer, described it in 1884 this way: "This was a lively camp of 3,000 people. Street spaces were blocked by men and merchandise, ox trains, mule trains and pack trains. The saw and the hammer were busy putting up storehouses and in constructing sluice bases for washing out gold which was found in nearly every rod ol the valley soil. "Men who had shunned duty over the cradle for years were rocking a cradle filled with dirty water watching for appearances of golden sand to open their purse strings to the realities of their adventure. Auctioneers were crying their wares," Mundson continued. "Trade was lively, salouns were crowded, hurdy-gurdy houses were going full blast. "Men were averaging from $400 lo $500 a day in their mining. Little of the money was saved in most cases. They were apt to spend il as fast as Ihcy made it in the saloons and hurdy-gurdy houses which sprang up like magic. Among the juvenile population, the great social event of the week-was the performance of "Peck's Bad Buy," to which no grown person — but one highly favored reporter — was admitted. Judg ing by the crowdea condition of the house, the proceeds must net this little theatrical company a very handsome profit. The seats were raised in tiers and crowded far beyond their utmost capacity with an audience whose deep appreciation of wit and humor might be the envy of Booth or Barrett. The performers, with the freedom and grace of childhood, and facing only an audience of merry, laughing children, threw themselves into the spirit of the play and were lost in some really fine acting. Frank Cochran was supremely happy in his presentation of "The Bad Boy," with his chum, Maurice Langhorne; Sadie Dickens' only drawback to being fat Mrs. Peck is her youth and heauty. Willie Pope was happy in a cane and a heavy pair of black whiskers, and the great honor of being the bad boy's father. Helen Langhorne was sweet and winning and prcdy as a picture in her character of Lillian Wallace. Harry Turner was monarch indeed uf all he surveyed in the role of grocery- Masquerade Ball Attention is again called to the Grand Masquerade ball under Hie auspices of the Rocky Mountain t Encampment No. 1, I.O.O.F., which takes place this evening. A large number of tickets have been sold and the affair promises Id be the event of the season. The committee of arrangements have done all in their power to make this hall a success and have adopted the following rules as a safeguard to prevent any doubtful characters saining admission to the ball; First. No gentleman allowed in female costume. Second. No person will he admitted to dance unless en masque, until after 12 o'clock. Third. All masques must be removed al 12 o'clock, promptly. Fourth. No tickets will be sold at the door under any circum-slances. The ball is lo be held at Horsky hall, which is one ol the best dancing rooms in the city, hav-ing convenient dressing r>>oms attached Tor ladies and gentlemen.— The Helena Independent, Jan. 30, 1885. man, while Abe Silverman made a first-class Schultz. So few entertainments are provided the little folks here, that those who assisted the children in getting up this play are certainly to be commended, as il afforded all the young folks greater pleasure than a real one in the opera house by professionals could possibly have done. — The Daily Independent, Jan. 19, 1890. Old Montanans To Wed i We are informed of a rumor, on good authority, of a - social ' item that will be pleasant lo: many Mnntanans, especially those who were here in the '60s, says' the Now North-West. ! The information is that John A. Creighton, Esq., of Omaha, is to wed Mrs. Thomas Francis Meagher, of New York. Montana never had a more loyal, whole-souled citizen than John A. Creighton, well-to-dn when a merchant of Virginia City, but thrice a millionaire in Omaha, while Mrs. Meagher was the worthy wife of the general who splendidly wore his laurels at the head ol the Irish Brigade in the Army of the Potomac, and gave up bis life in the turbid waters of the Missouri while secretary of Montana. Mr. Creighton and Mrs. Meagher were residents of Virginia City in 1867. and are well known to many oki-tinic residents, who will learn with pleasure that happy fale is bringing their paths together after the palse of many years— The Helena Independent, April 17, 1890. Footpads in Town Daniel Frascr, the shoemaker, had a rather unpleasant experi-ence Monday night. He says he started for bis home, on Park avenue, about 10 o'clock, and while passing by the Diamond hlock two men followed up behind, but he thought 'lolhing of this, When he reached his residence and was about (o unlatch the gale he was seized about the neck and his arms grasped from behind and in a few seconds was relieved of his watch. The approach of another man scared the footpads and they took to their heels. Mr. Frascr says he can recognize one of the men if he sees him.— The Daily Independent, April 21, I860.