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Catlin, John B: Part 3, Section B - Gold Creek - U. S. Treasury Report

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John Catlin’s biography from Progressive Men Of Montana continued:

They arrived in Virginia City, Mont., in December, 1866, where Mr. Catlin remained for a time, then with five other men he took a stock of supplies to near the mouth of Divide creek in Deer Lodge county, where they erected a cabin. They subsisted largely on game during the winter, elk, deer, and other large game being plentiful, while mountain sheep were frequently killed from the cabin door. In 1867 Mr. Catlin went to Rocker, in Silver Bow county, and engaged in placer mining for three months with excellent success. Going then to German gulch, he continued mining until fall, and removed to Bannack, after which he then made a trip through Idaho, Oregon and Washington, passing the winter in Puget Sound. The next spring he returned to Montana, arriving in Missoula in June and soon located on Gold creek, where he worked some placer claims with such poor success as to entail the loss of much of his previous accumulations.

Gold Creek

While The Missoulian article did not mention it, after Catlin returned from the coast, he went from Missoula to Gold Creek, 62 miles east of Missoula, where he again tried his hand at mining.  Here he would experience the same fate of most gold miners when he lost money. Unfortunately, he did not give us the details; however, the area’s importance was well documented.

Gold Creek played an important role in Montana’s early history. It is well known for the first discovery of gold in Montana, by a trapper named Francois Finley in 1852. Later, in 1858, the Stuart brothers, James and Granville, along with Reece Anderson, Thomas Adams, E. H. Burr, and John H. Powell would set up a small placer here, but lacked enough tools to produce gold in significant amounts. Anderson and the Stuarts then abandoned the place and traveled south to winter at Fort Bridger, where they traded with emigrants and planned their return to the Deer Lodge country. By the winter of 1860 they were back at Gold Creek and began digging gold seriously. This party is frequently credited with the first discovery of gold in Montana Territory – in paying quantities. Before long, their settlement, first known as American Fork, began to attract miners from all over, especially from Colorado, where a third Stuart brother lived. He had displayed a letter from Gold Creek causing excitement among his friends.  Also, the American Fork was on the new Mullan military road that stretched 625 miles from Fort Benton to Walla Walla.

Not everyone agreed that the Stuarts made the first significant discovery of gold in Montana.

Another view of Gold Creek’s importance appears in M. A. Leeson’s History of Montana 1739 – 1885. Leeson quoted an article written by copper king, W. A. Clark, which presented Gold Creek in a slightly different light:

The Centennial Historical Sketch, delivered at Philadelphia by W. A. Clark, of Butte, October 11, 1876, also varies in some respects from the historical reminiscences of Granville Stuart, by transferring the scene of early mining to the Salmon river district. “In July, 1861,”says Mr. Clark, “the first gold was discovered on Salmon river by John J. Healy (now of Fort Benton) and George Grigsby. This discovery in paying quantities attracted thither from Colorado and other territories a large immigration. Some of these found their way into the Gold creek country in the summer of 1862, and others going up the Missouri en route for the Salmon river and Florence diggings stopped there to prospect in the adjacent gulches. During this summer a small party discovered some mines on the Big Hole of limited extent. A party of Coloradoans, among them Dr. Leavitt, of Glendale, had attempted to reach the Florence mines by way of Lemi valley, and were forced to abandon it by reason of precipitous mountains, and were by favorable reports led to Deer Lodge valley as a desirable wintering place. This point they reached in July, 1862. While there two horseman came in from Lemhi and reported the existence of favorable indications for gold on Grasshopper creek, near where Bannack now stands. They were provided with supplies and urged to return and prospect the gulch and report. This they proceeded to do, and returning with the news met the impatient party moving on toward the place. Augmented by other parties joining them, they proceeded to the discovery which had been made by John White on the 28th day of July, 1862, and in honor of the discoverer named White’s bar. Soon afterward other bars were found that were exceedingly rich. The gulch itself was then opened and mining began in good earnest. In the autumn a train was dispatched to Salt Lake city for provisions, the town of Bannack was laid out, and by the 1st of January, 1863, a population of 500 souls had gathered there, among them some of the wildest and most reckless adventurers whose names and misdeeds figure conspicuously in the early history of the Territory. Thus began the first important mining operations in this Territory. [emphasis added]” (p. 211)

An extensive view of Gold Creek’s importance came in an amazing report delivered by the Government. The report was printed just two years after Catlin had mined at Gold Creek.

The US Treasury REPORT

In 1870 the United States Department Of Treasury printed a massive 800 page document of detailed mining information covering the states and territories of the United States – west of the Rocky Mountains, titled Statistics of Mines and Mining in the States and Territories West of the Rocky Mountains Vol 2. In its exordium letter, dated March 16, 1870, it noted the document’s subsequent transmittal to the Secretary of Treasury and thence to the 41st Congress of the United States. 

Prepared by Rossiter W. Raymond, U.S. Commissioner of Mining Statistics, it embraced the daunting task of listing every mining venture of any note in every county of every state and territory in the west. It relied on teams of individuals and businesses from these areas for information and statistics. For Montana, it cited the contributions of Mr. Augustus Steitz of Helena, and several others, including Granville Stuart. While it concentrated mainly on mining and milling issues, the document also furnished colorful descriptions regarding weather, rainfall, water, ditches, timber, agriculture, transportation and other matters relative to these areas.

The study provided a short history of Gold Creek, its mining activity, and its potential. It also provided fascinating commentary on Montana mining activity in general, the surrounding area, and the people who labored there. Some of the comments from the report would be regarded as distasteful today. They reflect a cultural era that has for the most part, thankfully, passed on:


Not quite seven years have elapsed since the Territory of Montana was first organized as a distinct political organization. The discovery of gold on Gold Creek in 1862, and particularly that of the Grasshopper Diggings in the fall of the same year, first set in motion the tide of immigration toward the region embraced in this title. The progress of the Territory during the short period of her existence is only equaled by that of California after the days of 1849. The wonderful gold deposits developed by the early pioneers, while adding largely to the world’s stock of precious metals, have carried population, industry, wealth, and civilization to a country before unknown beyond the meagre accounts of adventurers, trappers, and explorers. The discoveries of Gold Creek, Bannack, Alder, Last Chance, and Confederate, form the principal eras in the history of her settlement. Their exploitation seems to travel in a circle. Gold Creek, almost immediately deserted for Bannack, is today the most promising and productive gold field. A second and more careful examination developed paying placers remarkable for richness and extent. Bannack, after a short but extraordinary yield, in turn forsaken for Alder, is again yielding largely, owing to the introduction of hydraulics, and when she has passed her zenith of productiveness it is fair to expect that the Capital ditch will be completed, insuring a second golden harvest from the famous Alder Gulch... (p. 253)


 (It should be noted that this was printed several years before large-scale mining began in Butte, Mt.):

In placer claims the system of mining pursued is of course dictated by the nature of the deposit – stripping, where the gravel is only covered by a thin layer of soil; and drifting, where the amount of subjacent alluvium is too great to be removed economically. In the separation of the gold from the gravel every method has its representative. The primitive pan, rocker, and long tom have nearly passed out of existence, and where the confirmation of ground will permit, hydraulic washings and bed-rock flumes are being rapidly introduced...

Vein mining is too much in its infancy to present any remarkable features. With a few notable exceptions work has not advanced beyond shafts, tunnels, and short levels. The shafts are usually made to follow a dip of the vein. The ore and rock are hoisted by cars and buckets. In five mines steam is the motive power; in the balance the work is done by horse-whims and windlasses. The system of sloping is usually more with reference to immediate returns than final economic results. In one instance, at least, this short sighted policy was carried to an extent which would have disgraced even Mexican ignorance and avidity, resulting in the temporary destruction of the mine and the financial ruin of its owners... (pp. 253-254)


The rates of wages in Montana range from $3 to $7 per day, with exceptional higher rates to experienced miners for difficult work. It is not probable that there will be any further material decline until the cost of living is reduced by the completion of the Northern Pacific railroad. For the coming season an advance is much more probable, as, with a moderate supply of water only, the number of laborers in the county will be entirely inadequate to the demands of the placers unless reinforced by a heavy immigration from the States.

Some 2,000 to 3,000 Chinese are domiciled in the Territory. Since the completion of the Union Pacific railroad to a point about 200 miles distant from the southern boundary has materially decreased the difficulty of reaching the Territory, it is reasonable to expect that their numbers will rapidly increase. They are exclusively engaged in placer mining and in the performance of domestic duties, such as cooking, washing, etc.

The Chinese work their own placer claims, either taking up abandoned ground or purchasing claims too low in yield to be worked profitably by white labor. The ground thus obtained sometimes turns out to be very valuable, but usually they work or rework only what would otherwise remain untouched. Their introduction on paying claims and their competition in the labor market has hitherto been stoutly opposed by the whites. They are frugal, skillful, and extremely industrious. Frequently maltreated by evil-disposed whites, they rarely, if ever, retaliate. Their quarrels are confined to themselves and are usually the result of too much opium. Their status in the industrial system forms one of the most important questions which agitate the western communities.

Although the contrary is stated to be the fact, I am satisfied, from careful inquiry, that the Chinese in this Territory are not coolies or living in a state of slavery. A portion of their earnings must be retained to refund passage money, but even this I consider doubtful. They seem to be their own masters, only associating together for mutual assistance... (p. 260)


 (Gold Creek was located in Deer Lodge County in 1870.)

The county is rectangular in form; its boundaries being straight lines, except a slight projection in the southeast corner...

The northern half of the county is on the east side of the Rocky Mountains and the southern half on the western slope, the main chain running diagonally across the county northwest and southeast. The northern half, embracing some of the best agricultural, grazing, and probably, mining regions in the country, is a terra incognita almost utterly unknown to the white man, because it is in the undisputed possession of the Indians, who still indulge in the pleasant pastime of murdering and robbing any luckless wight that they find in it intent on developing its resources and making it of some benefit to mankind. The southern and western portion of the county is sparsely settled by a hardy and thriving people, who are principally devoted to mining pursuits, agriculture and grazing, for which the country is admirably adapted. This portion of the county is drained to the west and northwest by the Deer Lodge, Hell Gate, and Big Blackfoot Rivers, the northeastern head branches of the Columbia, and their tributaries...

Not a single flouring-mill exists in all this immense county, consequently but little wheat is raised, but the quality and yield are both good. Oats and barley are a sure crop when the grasshoppers let them alone; large quantities are raised, the yield being fully forty bushels per acre.

Vegetables grow to a large size and of most excellent quality, with the exception of some of the more delicate kinds, such as melons and pumpkins, squashes, tomatoes, and beans; all of these, however, as well as corn, grow finely in the adjoining county of Missoula, the altitude being considerably less and the nights warmer.

Game, once abundant, is now exterminated, there being but few deer, mountain sheep and antelope. A few white Rocky Mountain goats inhabit the most inaccessible peaks. Elk are found in considerable numbers among the densely timbered mountains, where are also a few bison or mountain buffalo. All have become exceedingly wary, and it requires the utmost skill and patience on the part of the hunter to succeed in killing them...

Fish are abundant in all the streams, principally brook and salmon trout, with considerable numbers of white fish and suckers. Salmon cannot ascend to all the valleys at present on account of the Kettle Falls of the Columbia, near Colville...


Gold was first discovered at Gold Creek, in this county [Deer Lodge], in 1852, again in 1858, and still again, in 1860.

These placers were neglected until 1866, when they were found to be both rich and extensive. They are in and among rounded grassy hills at the northern foot of the Gold Creek Mountains, which are an isolated spur, putting down from the main ranges. The mines, principally hill diggings, will last for many years. That part known to be rich is about five miles square, but it will probably prove to be much more extensive, as all the surrounding country possesses the same characteristics. Water is conveyed to these mines by a number of ditches, a list of which will appear in the proper place. The average price charged is about twenty-five cents per inch for twenty-four hours, it being customary to run day and night during the summer.

The vote of this district in August last was three hundred and thirty-three; but as only about half the adult male population voted, and as the women and children would amount to half as many more, the whole population may be set down at about eight hundred. Wages are from four to six dollars per day without board, according to quality of labor. About 100 Chinese are in this district. The wages paid them are about half of what is paid the white laborers, although their labor is valued at only about ten percent less. They are good citizens and are well liked by all, except the Irish, who, true to their interests, are the enemies of all who come into competition with them. The total yield of the above mines is estimated at $3,000,000.
(pp. 269-272)


Finally, this report dedicated many pages to a discussion of the proposed railroad from Lake Superior to the west coast. Surveys had been ongoing for several years, yet a route through Montana had not been settled at the time the report was printed:

There is a choice of two principal routes from the east approaching the Rocky Mountains: one following the valley of the main Missouri to the Mountains; the other crossing the Missouri and pursuing the valley of the Yellowstone to a favorable divide separating it from the Upper Missouri, and thence along the headwaters of the Missouri by way of the Gallatin Fork, to near the Three Forks of the Missouri, and thence up to a low summit on the main ridge of the mountains. Some intermediate alternate routes may also be thereafter examined...

According to these reports, the most recent examinations by gentleman having the advantage of all the former explorations and reports, the line of “easiest grades and least snow” appears to be one crossing the Missouri at or near the mouth of the Yellowstone; thence along the Yellowstone Valley to the Bozeman Pass in the Belt range of mountains; thence over the waters to the Gallatin Fork, down and across that stream, and across the Madison Fork to the Jefferson Fork, and up that valley to the Deer Lodge Pass through the main chain of the Rocky Mountains; thence down the Deer Lodge Valley and the Hell Gate River to Clark’s Fork; and along that valley by Lake Pen d’Oreille...

Indeed the entire route from the Missouri River to the Columbia River, including the Rocky Mountains, in Montana Territory, is through a region abounding in nutritious bunch-grass, peculiarly suited to the raising of cattle and horses, and requiring very little artificial shelter for the stock in winter. I must not, either designedly or undesignedly, convey an impression that all of this immense body of land is arable, or that it is adapted to the raising of wheat; there is in the large area embraced in this extensive land grant a great variety of soil and climate, and through the mountain region a considerable portion, if it was not for its mineral wealth, would have but little value. There are tracts where, owing to the general absence of sufficient rains and dews, the land cannot be made to yield well without irrigation. On the other hand, there are numerous valleys of which will yield abundantly at once, without artificial irrigation; there are many millions of acres of the finest timber in the world. It is, of course, a question of time when this region shall be settled and support railroad business; that time will be regulated wholly by the period when the railroad shall be put into operation. At present, the middle portion along and on both sides of the Rocky Mountains, in Montana Territory, is wholly dependent on the gold production, which has been very remarkable. Gold exists over a very large area in Montana Territory; also in Idaho, and parts of Utah and Washington Territories, and Oregon. Gold has been the prime cause of the movement of the people to that once far distant interior, which the opening of the railroad to the Pacific has now brought comparatively near. Only a few years ago Montana became the theatre of the gold excitement, yet already a number of farms are established, and the excellent capabilities of the soil and climate are not mere matters of conjecture, but of actual proof. Wheat, butter, etc., and nearly all kinds of vegetables, which, until recently, brought fabulous prices all over the gold region, are now but little higher, proportionately, than in the old settled States; this has been effected entirely by the cultivation of farms in Montana Territory. The fact that the whole of the immense region between the Missouri and the Lower Columbia River, embracing the Rocky Mountain range is, with trifling exceptions, a superior natural grazing country, is very significant. All over this territory wild animals have fattened for ages. They must now give place to the domesticated herds and flocks for which this region is so admirably designed...

It cannot be doubted that accompanying, and immediately following, the construction of the line of the Northern Pacific road, hundreds of settlements will rapidly be made in the valleys of the Missouri, Yellowstone, etc., on the east, and in the valleys of the Clark’s River, Columbia River, etc., on the west of the Rocky Mountains...

In Montana there is already an active, enterprising population estimated at over sixty thousand inhabitants, chiefly men, and all directly or indirectly interested in gold or silver mining. There is every reason to anticipate a continuation and increase of the mining business in this region, which must afford a handsome amount of trade and travel immediately on the opening of the railroad...

Finally, the position of this line across the continent on the shortest practicable distance between the Pacific Ocean and the great lakes of the Atlantic side, establishes it as one of paramount importance in a national point of view, the value of which to the government cannot easily be overrated. The facilities it will afford for the rapid and economic distribution of troops, ammunition, and stores for the numerous forts on the waters of the Missouri, the Yellowstone, etc., and along the valley of the Clark’s River, Columbia River, and Puget Sound, will be invaluable for military purposes, and will save millions annually to the public treasury. A moderate estimate of the mere money-saving to the country will show not less than three per cent on the entire cost of the road every year, for present military transportation alone, to the forts now in existence. But more forts will be needed to hold the Indian tribes in check as the white settlements shall be annually extended over Indian territory, a matter which is inevitable, and as certain as the ultimate extermination or absorption of the Indian race. The opening of this road will forever settle the question of white supremacy over an area of country covering at least four hundred and fifty thousand square miles; sufficient in extent to make ten states the size of Pennsylvania...

This line, with the land grant secured to the company by the government, possesses great intrinsic value, and will be, as a whole remarkably favorable. (pp. 253-272)

The Northern Pacific line would be completed in 1883. Gold Creek would find another sort of prominence as the site where the ‘Last Spike’ was driven home by the president of the Northern Pacific, Henry Villard, on September 8, 1883. Five trainloads of dignitaries and invited guests, including former President U.S. Grant, came to witness the event. (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/frontierhouse/frontierlife/essay11_3.html)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 February 2012 15:59