Monday, February 28, 2011


The Shaft to David Evans gold mine near Noxon. David Evans and Frank Berray batched together and built bridges for early Sander County, Montana. Courtesy Edna Evans Cummings collection.

Noxon's men who were not off to war preoccupied themselves with the business of survival on the home front. Charles Maynard, who had become a county commissioner, brought home the horses he had wintered in Camas Prairie as soon as May greened his pastures. Frank Parrot began working in a mine near the head of Pilgrim Creek. Granny Gordon went to Thompson River country to do forestry work for the summer.1.

 Strawberry Bartholomew and Ethel Fulks Greer had wed. Both were working hard to get ahead, and to provide for Ethel's three children, Mary, Goldie and Dan Greer. Strawberry continued to work in the woods while Ethel grew increasingly larger gardens.

As spring arrived, mining occupied not a few men along the steep mountainsides of the valley. Slag heaps of fresh earth scarred hillsides greening with young mountain maple, seanosa (favorite habitat of millions of wood ticks), buck brush, and huckleberry bushes, where burned-over snags  stood like sentinels; stark reminders of the 1910 fires.

Sam Holbert, a geologist, stayed at the Cottage Rooms that Mrs. St. Clair ran for owner Jim Finnigan. It was the Pilgrim Prospect that brought them to Noxon to begin with. In 1910 the Princemont Mining Company of Idaho held the property, consisting of six claims.
Every summer Sam Holbert and his crews tramped the mountains searching for country rock - banded grey-blue argillite and grey fine-grained sericitic sandstone and quartzite of the Prichard formation. Among the rocky cliffs they examined rock they unearthed for galena, sphalerite, pyrite, pyrrhotite, chalcopyrite, and arsenopyrite.

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Caption: It was in these rocky cliffs overlooking Rock Lake in western Sanders County, Montana, that Peter Weare and his wife Emma came to prospect, at the turn of the century. Photographed by Wallace 'Wally' Gamble. Courtesy Clifford A. and Dorothy Weare collection.

Books on geology were passed around. The words took on meaning to a few men. Sitting humped on the barstools, when they came to town for supplies, they bandied around geologic 'buzz words'. They talked long about which occurred in a gangue of quartz, calcite, chlorite, amphibole, garnet or biotite. What was the meaning of this or that find? Everything was debated and gradually they grew to a better understanding of minute bits of the earth's contents they found in the surrounding mountains. During World War I (1917-1918) Art Hampton, two Swedes and Kenny Miller also worked with Sam.2. Named 'Pilgrim', the mine lay 10.2 miles southwest of Noxon in sec. 8, T.25 N., R. 33 W. near the head of a small creek named Tobin, a tributary to the South Fork of Pilgrim Creek.3.

Cabinet Range Copper Mining Company incorporate in Montana incorporated in 1919  and was doing development work on 18 claims. The quartz vein, which outcropped on the surface for 2,000 feet, was eventually developed with three tunnels (adits) 200, 700 and 2,000 feet long. Copper, lead and bismuth were present in the vein, which cuts across Newland (Wallace) slates. Traces of sulfide mineral, a few specimens containing felted malachite and azurite with specks of chalcopyrite in white quartz scattered across their dump.

Holbert left his mine for a time to go to Troy. He returned to Noxon with his wife - she of the high-collared gowns - and became good friends of Ann and Bob Larson. Kenny Miller went to work in the Salzbury Mine.

Young Charlie Knutson and his hunting sidekicks looked inside the diggings at Miller's invitation, but had no desire to work in the damp, dark tunnel.
"We'd go hunting or fishing up there and every time, Kenny'd want us to eat dinner with him. He was a good cook. We used to stop up there and he'd have Sourdough biscuits and salt pork. We enjoyed that and always planned on it, too."4.
Whenever he wasn't out developing claims south of Bull River in Copper Gulch Jim Freeman shared his homesteaded cabin, about a half-mile above the mouth of Bull River, with 'stew bums,' those itinerant men who meandered through the mountains, working for whatever bed and board they could find. Having sold one mine to Frank Lyons, Freeman continued searching the peaks surrounding the Bull River valley for the "big" lode.

After the end of WW I Frank Berray worked for Frank Lyons in his mining property on Squaw Peak. Frank and a Dutchman stayed there all one summer, mining the ore. Frank related the following episode,
"It was all in just big pockets, the hardest quartz you ever tried to hand drill in. But you hit one of these pockets, and it was pretty darned heavy to copper. You saved all the pockets. Near summers end Frank Lyons came up to sack it. Ore sacks weighed about 26 pounds. We had for our summer's work about 20-25 sacks of these copper pockets.
"We sacked it all up and had it ready to go down the mountain. But we couldn't find anybody to haul it out, so it just set there. I went down to Weare's homestead, west of Noxon, and went to work cutting brush and trees.
Although the 1910 fire had cleared whole mountains of trees and vegetation, portions of the lowlands went untouched. Clearing up land to meet homestead requirements still included felling trees, cutting and stacking brush, and dusk-to-dawn fires. Where the miners were engaged in skulduggery in the Bull River claims, the mountains had been scoured to bedrock by the fires, leaving it possible to scan the rocky slopes all the way from the valley to ridgetops, without hindrance of brush or trees.
"Old Culligan, a butcher shop owner from Troy, two other guys from Troy and a man named Williams, from Washington, went up and jumped that claim during the winter. Ellinwood's little homestead cabin was right down at the bottom of Star Gulch," Frank said. "He could see right up to the mine, though it was about three miles straight up the mountain to it. But anyway, Ellinwood was supposed to be a spy for them and get up there as fast as he could if anybody showed up.
"Lyons found it out. So he went up to the peak, but not through Bull River, past Ellinwood's and up the Star Gulch trail. Lyons went up the other side, over Fat Man Mountain and Squaw Peak. Ellinwood found it out someway, so he goes rushing up Star Gulch.
"There were two houses on Squaw Peak (the Forest Service later burned them down.) The snow was so deep it was level with the beam in the peak of the house. They had to climb over that to see down the Squaw Peak trail. When Ellinwood got in sight of the house, he started to hollering. Williams would of shot him if it hadn't been for this Hosea from Troy because he thought it was Frank Lyons! So they all cleared out.
"Well Lyons got up there and he found what was going on. He turned around and came back for the law and had them arrested. But Culligan had furnished old cowhides and they'd fastened them together, put the sacks of ore in, and slid it down on the snow. They got them down to the three forks, right into Star Gulch, and they piled up, broke the sacks open and scattered the ore.
"After the law told them to get out, Frank Lyons goes in from the other side again, arriving first. Then Williams and one other guy goes back up the trail from Star Gulch. Lyons saw them coming on the trail. He hollered, warning them they'd come far enough.
"They wanted to come on. Williams said they'd talk it over and work on the mines and this and that. Lyons told them they'd come far enough. They'd just better turn around while they got a chance and go back. Williams wanted to argue so Frank fired a shot right close to their feet, saying, 'The next one's going to count.' They turned around and left fast.
"Williams come to Weare's. He'd bought a six-shooter and said he was going back up there. We advised him not to. Williams waited four or five days at Ellinwood's to see Lyons, but he never saw him. The ore is still in there. I went back up there the next spring. But the sacks were broke and the ore fallen into the down logs and brush."5.
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Caption: Cabinet Mountains near the Montana - Idaho border. Carpy Mine is at the bottom of the photo, about right of center. Looking north from southside of the Clark's Fork River. Courtesy Mary Easter Younker collection.

In addition to prospecting on Pilgrim Creek, Holbert also prospected on Elk Creek. Other prospectors included Jim Millar, Carlson, who drove a 150-foot tunnel on the east branch of Pilgrim Creek, Jack Ully, Peter Weare and his son, Clifford Weare.

Miners near Noxon, Montana. Circa early 1900s. Identity unknown. Courtesy Earl and Katie Engle collection.
 Mining interests proving unprofitable were changing ownership. In October Jason Edwards was notified of impending forfeiture of his interests, as co-owner with James Freeman, of mining interests in the Noxon mining district.*6.
"You are hereby notified that there has been expended during the years 1905, 1906, 1907, 1908, 1909, 1910, 1911, 1912, 1913, 1914, 1915, and 1916," $6,000.00 in labor and improvements upon the "Dewey Wellington, Golden Seal, Bonapart and Washington Quartz Lode Mining Claims... the location certificates of which are found... in the office of the County Clerk and Recorder."
The amount claimed was for actual labor required to hold the claims. Edwards had ninety days to contribute his,
"proportion of such expenditure as the Co-Owner, which amounts to 1/5 of said expenditure or the sum of $1,200." Otherwise, his interests in the claims would become the property of James Freeman, "one of your Co-owners."

An unidentified group enjoying an outing at a mine in Rock Creek, located left of the Salisbury Mine. Circa 1900s. Courtesy Agnes and Stewart Hampton collection.
 Next: Chapter 5

  1. Sanders County Independent Ledger, May 10, 1917.
  2. Stewart and Agnes Hampton, November 18, 1983.
  3. The Mines Handbook, v.8, 1918, p. 794.
  4. Charles Knutson, tape-recorded oral history, November 18, 1983.
  5. Frank Berray, tape-recorded oral history.
  6. Sanders County Independent Ledger, October 4, 1917.


  1. I enjoyed looking at the old photos. It is like traveling back in time. Those were the days of primitive mining.

  2. Thank you so much for your generous sharing of such nice post. I am quite interested in your information and making such researches on such subject. I am looking forward to get more useful knowledge from your article before long.