The Neihart mining district is located in the center of the Little Belt Mountains. The mining area is mostly within an area encompassing the Carpenter Creek drainage. Carpenter Creek is a tributary of Belt Creek. The town of Neihart, located on Belt Creek in Neihart Canyon, is the major community in the area. The district was known originally as the Montana district and was a major silver producer in the state and the primary producer in Cascade county, producing about 16 million dollars in silver between 1882 and 1929 (Sahinen 1935; Wolle 1963; GCM 1991).
Prospectors from the Barker/Hughesville mining district are credited with making
the first discoveries in the Neihart district in 1881, after the excitement from
the initial discoveries in the Barker district came to an end. The first claim
in the Neihart district was made in July 1881 at the Queen of the Hills mine.
This mine was a rich, early producer of silver ore. Activity continued in the
Neihart mining district in 1883-1884 with the development of additional mines,
such as the Galt, the Mountain Chief, and the Ball (Sahinen 1935; Schafer 1935;
Shortly after discovery in the district, the town of Neihart was founded. It was named after J. L. Neihart, an early inhabitant of the area and one of the prospectors credited with the discovery of ore in the district. By 1882 a small settlement had sprung up at Neihart, a wagon road had been cut through to White Sulfur Springs and ore was being packed out on horseback to the Barker/Hughesville smelter. The district was originally called the Montana mining district and, until Cascade County was organized in 1887, was in Meagher County (Robertson 1951; Schafer 1935; Weed 1900).
Concern over accessibility to processing facilities became a factor with the closing of the Clendenin smelter in the Barker/Hughesville mining district in 1883. After this time, ore from the Neihart district was shipped by pack train or ox-drawn wagons to Fort Benton where it was carried by steamboats on the Missouri River for transshipment to Swansea, Wales for treatment. Ore from the district was also sometimes transported to smelters in Omaha, Nebraska (Schafer 1935).
In 1885 a concentrator and smelter were built at the Mountain Chief mine on the north side of Neihart Baldy, a peak south of Carpenter Creek. These operated until the rich surface ores at the mine were depleted in 1887. At the same time, Colonel Broadwater attempted to develop the Broadwater mine. This was abandoned shortly due to lack of ores rich enough to support further activity. In spite of these setbacks, and a general decline in activity during the latter part of the 1880s, the district was recognized as one of the richest in the state.
The remote location of the mining district was a contributing factor which affected early development. Distance of the district from the processing facilities and the lack of good transportation were some of the primary concerns. The transportation difficulties were somewhat alleviated with the construction of the Belt Mountain branch of the Great Northern Railroad which connected Neihart with Great Falls in 1891. The smelter at Great Falls had been completed in 1888, providing a more accessible location for the processing of the district's ore (Schafer 1935).
Development in the Neihart district, which had slowed during the mid to late 1880s, began to increase again after the construction of the smelter and the railroad line. The hopes for continued growth and development in the district changed with the Panic of 1893, when the national demonetization of silver and the end of the United States government's mandatory silver purchases began to drive the silver prices down. Silver went from a high of $1.05 an ounce in 1893 down to $.53 an ounce by 1902. By the end of 1893, development in the silver-producing districts, including the Neihart mining district, had slowed to almost nothing. Although there was little activity after 1893, the richness of the district is indicated in its total production up to 1900, which included 4,008,000 ounces of silver, $800,000 of gold and 10,000,000 pounds of lead (Malone and Roeder 1976; Schafer 1935; Weed 1900).
After the turn of the century, although activity in the district continued to be slow, several large mines were successfully developed. These included the Big Seven, which had the advantage of both high gold and high silver values in its ore, the Florence, Galt, Broadwater, Ripple, Silver Belt, Hartley, Benton, Queen of the Hills and the Moulton. Three mills operated sporadically in the district during this period: the I.X.L. - Eureka, the Broadwater and the Morning Star. The I.X.L. - Eureka was a ten stamp cyanidization plant, while the Broadwater was a concentrator. The Morning Star included a crusher, one set of rolls and jigs. These mills served the area, although some ore was still shipped from the district to distant smelters (Schafer 1935).
The area had another small boom from 1916-1919 as silver prices rose. Many mines in the area re-opened, including the Moulton and the Broadwater, which were combined and operated under the name of Cascade Silver Mines and Mills Company. The concentrating plant for this operation, which was located at Neihart, was remodeled and improved to handle 150 tons of ore a day. The ore was sorted at this plant, with some of it milled on the site and the remainder shipped to mills in other locations. Other mines operating in the district during this period included the Benton, Galt, Blackbird, Silver Belt, Ripple, Alice, Hartley, Big Seven, Cornucopia, Fairplay, Florence, London and Tom Hendricks. Many of these mines shipped their ore directly to smelters outside the district (Schafer 1935; Weed 1900).
In addition to the mill operated for the Moulton and Broadwater mines, several flotation plants were built during this period at or near the town of Neihart. These were operated during the time of higher silver prices and were closed when prices dropped again in 1919. During this period, the miners had to contend not only with dropping silver prices, but with declining silver values and increasing zinc values in the ore as they worked deeper into the mines (Schafer 1935).
In 1921, the Silver Dyke mine was purchased by the American Zinc, Lead and Smelting Company. One million tons of ore were blocked out and a 500 ton flotation mill was constructed on the site. This mine operated at capacity throughout the decade. In 1926, the capacity of the mill at the Silver Dyke was increased to 950 tons. Because of the type of deposits at the mine, work was by open pit methods, resulting in the digging of a glory hole on the site. The Silver Dyke operated until 1929, when the blocked-out ore was depleted and no new deposits could be found. During the time of its operation, the Silver Dyke was the largest producer of ore in the Neihart mining district and its silver production was second only to Silver Bow County in Montana (Schafer 1935).
Development since 1930 in the district has followed the pattern set earlier with increases in silver prices accompanying increases in activity and decreases in prices leading to a slow down in activity and development. Mines which have been producers of higher grade ore, and which have been operated more steadily during times of higher prices, include the Big Seven, Florence, Moulton, Galt, Ripple, Queen of the Hills, Rock Creek, Silver Belt. I.X.L., Broadwater, Benton, Dakota, Commonwealth and the Fitzpatrick.
Increased silver prices, lasting from the late 1930s to 1945, brought about the last major revival of activity in the area. By 1949 development had again slowed and many mines had been permanently closed. Most of the mines in the district have not been reopened or have been operated on only an intermittent basis since 1949.
The town of Neihart, located in the center of the district, has been the principal township for the district since its foundation in 1881. It was originally called Canyon City, but by April 1882, the boundaries of the town were agreed upon, as was the name. By 1885, the town boasted two saloons, two restaurants, one boarding house, a post office, a blacksmith's shop, two stables, and about 50 houses and numerous tents. Occupation of the town rose and fell with the growth and closure of the various mines. In 1891, a spur of the Montana Central railroad breathed new life into the flagging town. The 1893 Panic slowed production down on most of the district's mines, but the town survived, in part due to the consistent mining of the Broadwater and the Chamberlain mines with revivals occurring during World War I, 1919, 1929 and 1935 (Wolle 1963; Robertson 1951)
The Little Belt Mountains are considered to be a front or bordering range to the Rocky Mountains, and formed as a broad, dome-shaped uplift. The Neihart mining district lies near the center of this uplift.. The highest point in the range is Big Baldy with an altitude of 9000 feet.
The geology of the Neihart mining district differs somewhat from other areas of the Little Belt Mountains. It is located at the southern end of an area of metamorphic rocks (pre-Beltian gneisses and schists) which are overlain by quartzites and shales. The metamorphic rocks are considered to be the oldest rocks in the mountains, constituting the central core or nucleus of the range. The stratified rocks are of later origin and have been "folded" over the earlier schists. "The bedded rocks show that the Neihart region has been the site of dynamic disturbance from the very earliest geologic time" and that the area was once the site of a Proterozoic sea. Faulting of the rocks in the district occurred during several periods of geologic disturbance. The third period resulted in the uplift of the mountain range (Weed 1900).
The ores of the district are silver and silver-lead, found in veins in the sheeted fissures of the range, and having been deposited either during or following the geologic disturbances. They belong to a single fissure system which runs on a north-south path through the area and varies in width and depth according to the rocks in which it is found.
The mining district can be divided into three units based on differences in the type and occurrence of the ore. The first is the Carpenter Creek area which is characterized by lower grade ore that contains a high proportion of copper. The second is the upper Snow Creek basin, which is characterized by ore that has low base metal content and higher gold content. The third is on the Neihart slope, which is characterized by richer surface ore that decreases in silver and lead content with depth (Sahinen 1935).
BOUNDARIES OF THE DISTRICT
Weed (1900) described the Neihart district as "embracing the drainage tributary to Belt Creek in the immediate vicinity of the town of Neihart."
Sahinen (1935) located the district "on Belt Creek...in the vicinity of the town of Neihart"
Based on previous reports and a field analysis, GCM (1991) defined the following boundaries:
Northern border from east to west: the summit of Pioneer Ridge and the Pioneer Ridge pack trail from Middle Fork Hoover Creek to the area north of Lucy Park and Lucy Creek. The boundary then follows Lucy Creek to Carpenter Creek and continues west to Belt Creek; Western border from north to south: Belt Creek from the confluence with Carpenter Creek to Narrowgauge Gulch and including an area one-half mile to the west from Spring Gulch to O'Brien Creek to encompass the confluence of Johnson Creek and O'Brien Creek with Belt Creek;
Southern border from west to east: from the point where Narrowgauge Gulch intersects with Belt Creek along the southern flanks of Neihart Baldy and Long Mountain:
Eastern border from south to north: from the eastern flank of Long Mountain to the Pioneer Ridge pack trail south of the Middle Fork Hoover Creek.
The district defined here includes the area between Belt Creek and Carpenter Creek and the tributary streams of Johnston Creek, O'Brien Creek, Narrowgauge Gulch, Rock Creek, Snow Creek, Lucy Creek, Haystack Creek, Mackay Creek and Squaw Creek.
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