Mountains

Lewis & Clark County, Montana 1921

Lewis and Clark County lies in the great Missouri Valley of Western Montana, its chief natural drainage being through the Prickly Pear in the Helena district of the south, the Dearborn River which flows through the central part and the Sun River Valley of the north. As the main range of the Rocky Mountains passes through the county somewhat west of its center there is also a drainage down their western slopes into Clark's fork of the Columbia, directly through the Blackfoot River and the Missoula. The main body of the Missouri River, which forms a portion of the southeastern boundary of Lewis and Clark County, breaks through the massive Big Range belt, running parallel with the Continental Divide, and forms a gloomy and magnificent exit known as the Gate of the Mountains. It is located a few miles below the junction of the Prickly Pear Creek with the Missouri and just within the county boundaries.

The Gate of the Mountains

The Gate of the Mountains has drawn thousands of photographers and artists to its grandeurs and beauties, which have impressed themselves upon every beholder with the same vividness as upon the first white men to fittingly record them, Lewis and Clark, the godfathers of the county itself. That feature of the story, as it relates to this section of the county, and the discoveries of the famous expedition hereabouts, are covered in other chapters of this work. In fact, the pioneer times and characters are necessarily excluded from this sketch, which treats of modern events woven into a narrative aiming to etch a picture of the present.

The County and the Capital

Lewis and Clark County is more than a hundred miles from north to south and some sixty miles from east to west, these being its maximum dimensions. It is so irregular in shape, however, running to sharp points both north and south, that its area is 3,476 square miles, or slightly more than the average of the fifty-four Montana counties. It is one of the oldest counties in the state, being originally Edgerton County, and named after the first territorial governor, Sidney Edgerton. At first, the county depended on mining, although not to such an extent as the districts centering in Bannack and Virginia cities and Butte. But the beautiful and fertile valleys of the Sun, Dearborn, Blackfoot and Prickly Pear, suggested other and more permanent riches. Stock growing soon developed; Helena became the permanent capital of the territory and the chief trade and commercial center for the mining districts to the southwest, and even before irrigation was attempted the uplands of Prickly Pear Valley were covered with productive farms, With its trade advantages and political and social attractions as the territorial and state capital, Helena developed into a substantial and handsome city. The Sun River Valley, in the northern part of Lewis and Clark County, was settled by ranchmen at an early day. Afterward, the farmers took up the good work of developing its great agricultural possibilities, and the State and the United States Governments instituted several large irrigation projects. At the present time, upwards of 75,000 of the 3,000,000 acres of tillable land in the county are irrigated, chiefly in the Sun River Valley and in the Prickly Pear Valley at Helena. The so-called Sun River Project, the scope of which embraces several counties interlaced by the Missouri and its tributaries, has already been described in the chapter devoted to the irrigation enterprises of the state.

Towns and Conservation of Natural Wealth

Several prosperous and growing towns have developed in the Sun River Valley, the largest being Augusta and Gilman. Augusta, especially, is both old and stable. Other communities are Marysville, Rimini, Wolf Creek, Craig, Canyon Ferry and Lincoln. The last named, on the Big Blackfoot River, is becoming quite a summer resort. There are many attractions in the county for tourists, including not only grand scenery, but health-giving springs and fishing and hunting grounds. In the northern part of the county, along Sun River, is one of the nine game preserves established in Montana to protect its game from ruthless and thoughtless slaughter. Farther east is the smaller preserve on Willow Creek for the special protection of birds. In the central part of the county is the Twin Buttes game preserve, on the eastern slopes of the Rockies, and in the southern part of the county is the Helena National forest. So that Lewis and Clark County, with Helena as the center of the State Government, is really typical of the commonwealth, in the stability and diversity of its interests, and its striking evidences of artificial and mechanical aids to the natural advantages of soil and drainage, as well as the wise conservation of its vegetable and animal life, originally poured out with such prodigality.

Largely on account of this forethought, which so many of the older states and counties in other commonwealths have neglected to put in force, although much timber of commercial value is found in Lewis and Clark County, logging and lumbering operations have never been conducted on a large scale. Besides the Helena National forest of 243,418 acres there are 49,000 acres of the Flathead National forest in the county, 422,152 acres of the Lewis and Clark National forest and 162,905 acres of the Missoula National forest. In the past many mining districts within the county have produced abundantly, and may again. Gold mining has virtually been at a standstill for many years, although there is some activity in the silver districts. Lead, zinc or copper are usually found with the "precious" metals. Many sapphires have been found on the Missouri River, but the deposits have not been developed commercially.

Lewis and Clark County, the center of so much activity and intelligence, is naturally well supplied with educational institutions, public and sectarian. Besides good graded schools at Helena and in other parts of the county, there are consolidated high schools at the state capital and at Augusta, the leading town in the Sun River Valley. At Helena, there are also the Montana Wesleyan College, Methodist; Mount St. Charles College, Catholic; the Deaconess School for children, a Catholic high school and St. Vincent's academy, a girls' boarding school.

What the Census Figures Show

The population figures given in the United States census for 1920 indicate that Lewis and Clark County, like most of the districts in Montana which are not supported by a country productive of either good crops or livestock, has been almost stationary for the past ten years or has even deteriorated; and, throughout the state, the rural population has been gaining on the urban. Of the larger cities, the only one which shows a notable increase for the decade 1910-20 is Great Falls, with its fine water-power. Lewis and Clark County has decreased in population during that period, from 21,853, to 18,660, while Helena herself has fallen off a few hundred, having 12,515 people in 1910, against 12,037 in 1920.

The land area of Lewis and Clark County amounts to 2,206,080 acres, of which 754,135 acres are included in farm lands and 132,576 acres improved. The average acreage per farm, in 1920, was 882, and the average acreage of the improved farms, 155.1. The property represented by each farm averaged $20,887, and the land, per acre, $16.30. Of the 855 farms in the county, 698 were operated by their owners, the remainder being operated by managers or tenants.

All the domestic animals, or livestock, in Lewis and Clark County, were valued at $5,455,672; of which there were 7,607 horses, valued at $499,078; 33,422 cattle, worth $1,840,957; 72,874 sheep, valued at $753,-593; 3-378 swine, $54,77$; poultry 35,750, $38,141 ; dairy products, value $227,315; eggs and chickens, $113,224; wool produced, 725,508 pounds, valued at $357,902.

The principal crops of the county were cereals, other grains and seeds, hay and forage, vegetables and fruits and nuts, and their total value was $1,391,325. Of this amount, the value of the cereals was $170,759; hay and forage, $957,502; vegetables, $261,651. Alfalfa is a good crop in the county, 14,616 acres being devoted to it and the product, 21.614 tons, while the 9,074 acres growing prairie or wild grasses raise 6,495 tons of that forage. Montana potatoes have a reputation throughout the United States for their size and "mealiness," minus the "core." Ravalli is the banner county in their production, and Lewis and Clark comes second, with its 1919-20 crop of 88.391 bushels.

As to the prevailing prices of farm lands and those particularly adapted to the raising of livestock, the State Department of Publicity (and Agriculture) estimates irrigated lands as varying from $75 to $200 an acre, non-irrigated farming lands from $15 to $50 an acre, and grazing lands from $7 to $12.

Water Powers and Public Ways

Montana, in common with all the advanced states of the Union looks upon her water-powers as most tangible sources of wealth, and engineers claim that the Missouri River in Lewis and Clark County furnishes about one fourth of the electrical energy generated in the entire state. The hydro-electric plants within the limits of the county-the Holter, Hauser Lake and Canyon Ferry, generate about 65,500 kilowatts of electrical power. This electrical energy, generated from great dams on the Missouri Rivers, three of which are located near Helena, supplies power not only to the mining region but to the cities and towns of the county, and especially to the diverse forms of manufactures found in the capital. Helena is the center of a fine system of railroads and highways, radiating to the Yellowstone Park, via Bozeman and Livingston; to Glacier Park, on the far northwestern border of the state; and to Butte, Missoula and Great Falls, representing shorter spokes of the wheel of conveniences and attractions which pivots on the state capital. The main line of the Northern Pacific traverses the southern portion of the county, the Havre-Butte branch of the Great Northern runs through it north and south, and the latter has also a spur from Great Falls which taps the Sun River Valley. The Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul railroad has projected a line through the county from Great Falls to Missoula, which will add to the facilities furnished by the Northern Pacific and Great Northern, which are now chiefly relied upon by residents of Lewis and Clark for outside connections by rail. On the other hand, a number of automobile lines are in operation. In summer, a 400-mile auto stage is crowded with tourists enjoying the wonderful scenery from the Yellowstone to Glacier Park, with the hospitality of the half-way station on the Geysers-to-Glacier Motor Trail, at Helena. The season of sight-seeing usually commences June 20th. On the outskirts of Helena is one of the finest tourists' hotels in America, known as the Broadwater. One of its unique attractions is the largest covered hot water plunge in the world, the contents of which are renewed by ever flowing hot springs. Nearby is Fort Harrison, recently converted into a United States Public Health Service hospital.

To be precise, Helena is 187 miles from Gardiner, the entrance to Yellowstone Park, and 197 miles from the southern limits of Glacier National Park, at Highgate, and the Geysers-to-Glaciers trail, or motor highway, which connects these wonderful public grounds of the nation, is believed to represent the most wonderful and varied scenic highway in America. In May, 1919, the late Franklin K. Lane, secretary of the interior, designated this trail as the approved government road binding the two great national parks, one of which is entirely within the limits of Montana, and the other, although overlapping its territory but a few miles, identified with it by many historic associations.

There are fully 1,200 miles of good auto roads in Lewis and Clark County, and many excellent trails or bridle paths for those intent on more intimate explorations of the picturesque surrounding country than are afforded by the highways, or for those who prefer to wander afield in search of game. For the benefit of such A. H. Abbott, supervisor of the Helena National Forest, has issued a map and descriptive guide showing saddle horse and fishing trips within and near that preserve; and the excursions of that nature most desirable are in the region indicated, southwest of Helena.

Picturesque Excursions

Many of the trails, away from the auto highways now taken by pleasure seekers in the Helena region, were laid out years ago by prospectors and miners, which fact makes them interesting of themselves, irrespective of the charming, historical and picturesque country through which they lead. A large mileage of the trails is maintained by the United States Forest Service for use in the administration of the forests and in their protection from fire.


Lake Scenery Near Helena

One of the most popular trips is that which leads west and south of Helena to Nelson gulch, where the largest gold nugget in the world was found, and thence beyond Ten Mile Creek to Grizzly and Oro Fino Gulches. This excursion of seventeen miles takes one along the placer diggings of the Helena district. A longer trip, farther to the south, is up the famous Colorado gulch and over the divide to the head of Travis Creek, and thence to the great Chessman reservoir, the source of the city's water supply, and return. There is also a trail north of the reservoir which leads to Colorado Mountain, from the top of which is obtained a splendid view of the Elkhorn and the Beg Belt Mountains and the Valley of the Prickly Pear north of Helena. The scenery along the route to and from Colorado Mountain is beautiful, and as there is an excellent spring near the summit of the elevation it is a favorite locality for large parties of excursionists. An interesting and charming western excursion is through McDonald pass, over the continental divide to the Little Blackfoot River, the waters of which mingle with the Columbia River system, the return being by way of Whiskey Creek.

One of the longest trips in the county, and one of the most fascinating, is that taken along the Black Mountain trail. One can go to Marysville, northwest of Helena on the Northern Pacific railway, and thence take saddle horses southwesterly to Spring Gulch Ranger station, almost on top of the continental divide, where the trail properly begins. To reach the top of Black Mountain, which has an elevation of between 8,000 and 9,000 feet, the tourist follows the old stake road westerly for a distance of six and a half miles and thence northwesterly about half that distance. From the top of the mountain one can see the Anaconda smelter nearly fifty miles to the southwest and, on a clear day, it is said that the outlines of the Canadian mountains may be traced some 150 miles due north. On the south side of the mountain about half way down, there is a crystal cave, the bottom of which has never been fully explored. Three miles below Black Mountain in a southwesterly direction is the remainder of what was, in the early days, one of the richest placer veins in Montana, now called the Ophir. The schoolhouse still stands where William A. Clark taught school in 1862. The old stage road, now a section of the Black Mountain trail, is a portion of the early-day stage route which ran from Salt Lake City to Fort Benton.

Another trip which carries one back to the days when the Helena district was rich in gold production may be taken by auto in a comfortable day's journey. It bears toward the southeast up the valley of the Missouri and ends at the little hamlet of Canton, standing upon the site of the old mining town of Diamond City. The famous Confederate gulch made the city, which once boasted some 800 people and was the county seat of Meagher County. The gulch was first prospected in the early '60s, and a conservative estimate places its production at $75,000,000. If one is interested in fishing, a number of streams around Helena afford excellent sport. The headwaters of the Little Blackfoot River offer brook trout and white fish, largely through the forethought of the good sportsmen of Elliston who have put new stock into the stream. On the eastern side of the divide, there is good fishing in the Little Prickly Pear, in Ten Mile, Trout and Beaver Creeks, and other streams within auto distance of Helena. An evidence of the interest taken in hunting and fishing is the status of the Lewis and Clark Rod and Gun Club, which has a membership of 600.

A Wonderful Trip Suggested

For the benefit of those who would enjoy the wonderful Montana out-of-doors to the limit, the Rod and Gun Club suggests a motor and fishing trip of a hundred miles, outside the area of the Helena National Forest, which embraces imposing stretches of country south and southwest of the capital, and a great tract east of the Missouri River to the Big Belt Mountains. The suggestion for a full day's trip has the Big Blackfoot country as the objective, and is this: Leaving Helena, take the Silver road to 14-mile post, thence due west up Canyon to Virginia Creek, with its remains of the old placer diggings and its present-day good fishing grounds. The next point of interest is the old mining camp of Stemple, situated almost on the ridge of the continental divide, and then you drop down into McClellan Gulch, on the western slope, to Poorman's Creek and the big trees of the Blackfoot. You are now in the heart of the best fishing country in the West. Native trout, bull trout and white fish especially abound in the Big Blackfoot River and Keep Cool, Beaver and Little Spring Creeks. Lincoln, in the far western part of the county and on the south fork of the Big Blackfoot, has a hotel, a store, supplies and other accommodations. The return is usually by way of Flesher and Canyon Creek. The spokesman for the Rod and Gun Club says: "The roads are perfect. So is the fishing, if you are a fisherman."

City of Helena

The main body of the city of Helena lies at the foot of an imposing mount to which its name is given, and, with its growth, its outlying districts have straggled along the foothills of the Rockies in the near background. Although a city of little more than 12,000 people, it presents an elegant appearance, which, added to its picturesque site near the many hued masses of the Rocky Mountains, endows it with such unexaggerated christenings as the "Queen City of the Rockies" and the "City of the Golden Glow." The latter title is fairly earned in the early glow of the setting sun, during early spring or late fall, before the verdure of the summer months has invaded the yellow grass lands of the valley of the Prickly Pear, or the early snows have mottled its golden stubble. Then the golden glow not only spreads over the tops of the Rockies and is reflected over the gemlike city, but turns the valley lands stretching to its feet into sheets of light silvery yellow. In the southern fringe of the city, beyond the peak of Mount Helena, is the massive yet elegant capitol, and farther east the two substantial red brick buildings of the Montana Wesleyan College and the imposing depot of the Northern Pacific railroad.

At the summit of one of the foothills, over which climbs one of the city's streets, is the large building which stands for the St. Vincent's academy (Catholic), and several blocks to the east on lower ground, but still overlooking the business section of Helena, is the Helena Cathedral, a majestic structure with two spires which represents the Catholic diocese of Helena having a membership of 3,000. On an opposite height of the valley in which rest most of the business houses of the city rises the Algerian Temple, a splendid structure of ornate oriental architecture, characterized by its delicate and graceful minaret bearing aloft the Crescent. The Temple, one of the most noteworthy pieces of architecture in Montana, also evinces the strength of the 'Shriners in Helena. A stranger remarked not long ago when first viewing the beautiful city from one of the surrounding heights: "Helena is unique in several ways, and in none more strikingly than in the physical opposition, on these noble city heights, of the Cross and the Crescent."

Within a city block is the handsome depot of the Great Northern railroad, and on its line, not far distant to the north, is Mount St. Charles College for boys, which was opened as late as 1911.

These are but a few of the many institutions of a religious and an educational, as well as of a charitable and benevolent nature, which makes Helena a powerful center for higher activities. Its twenty churches represent all the strong religious beliefs. A dozen well managed public schools enroll more than 2,000 pupils, and, besides the colleges and academies mentioned, are several Catholic and Lutheran parochial schools and two training schools for nurses. The latter are connected with St. John's Catholic hospital and St. Peter's hospital (Episcopal). The County hospital is two and a half miles north of the city. Both the Odd Fellows and the Masons have homes, the former, four miles northwest and the latter, seven miles north. The Florence Crittenden Home and the House of the Good Shepherd are located at Kenwood, one of Helena's suburbs. The latest of the public institutions of an educational and reformatory character to become located in the Helena district is the State Vocational School for Girls. Dr. Maria L. Dean, backed by the Federated Women's clubs of Montana, originated the movement which is designed to provide both a school and a home for delinquent girls. Dr. Dean died before the Legislature passed the bill establishing it in April, 1919. The site of the institution is seven and a half miles north of Helena, on a two hundred and forty acre ranch, and one unit (a cottage) of the proposed buildings has been built, capable of accommodating thirty girls.

Helena Public Library

Among the uplifting forces which have been operating for many years are the Helena Public library and the State Historical library. The Helena Public library is the oldest of its kind in Montana, founded four years after the close of the Civil war, in 1868. In addition to its age it is, perhaps, the most important library in the state, in many respects, having a splendid Montana collection, second only to that of the State Historical Society library; a large reference library of valuable bound magazines and government documents of very early date.


Helena in 1870

The history of the library may be divided into three periods, namely its foundation as a library association in 1868, next the change to a free public library in 1886, and lastly, the time of expansion to its present quarters, from 1892 to the present.

In the autumn of 1868, Judge Cornelius Hedges, Col. Wilbur F. Sanders, J. W. Whitlach and Ben Stickney, Jr., composed a committee to solicit subscriptions during which time Judge Hedges, who was chairman of another committee to draft a constitution, worked up the organization side of what was later to be known as the Helena Library Association. James King was elected first president, Judge Fledges, vice president and J. L. Douglas, secretary. The library was installed in the first floor of the Whitlach Building and Ben R. Dittes was appointed first librarian. In 1870 Judge Hedges was chosen president and the Library Association moved to new quarters, in a stone and brick building owned by Holter and Hedges, on upper Main Street, West Side, second and third lots above Wall Street, and reopened January I, 1870. This year also marked a change of librarians, W. A. Hedges being appointed to this position. On his resignation a year later, Robert H. Wilson was given this position which he held until the disastrous fire of 1874.

Col. Wilbur F. Sanders had only succeeded Judge Hedges as president, when on January 9, 1874, that historic fire totally destroyed the library, which had about 2,500 books, together with all its important record books containing its history for the first four years. The library association had many friends besides those mentioned but, unfortunately, the original list of subscribers is supposed to have shared the fate of the other library records in the fire.

The pioneers, undaunted, called a meeting of the directors and some few months later, August 24, 1874, the library association began anew, with that ever stanch friend, Judge Hedges, again as president. The pioneer figure of Judge Hedges was interwoven with the history of the library from its inception to his death, April 29, 1907, thirty-eight years later; furthermore, during all these years his hearty interest and services increased in behalf of the library as an institution.

At the time of the reorganization of the library, George M. Woods served as librarian until his resignation the following November 2, 1874, when Miss Lou Guthrie succeeded him. Miss Guthrie was the last librarian of the Helena Library Association. A. J. Smith became president in 1877 and Hon. D. S. Wade in 1878.

The value of a library having been demonstrated, the people by popular vote demanded and obtained a library maintained by the city with one-half mill tax, and under city ordinance No. 79, organized a Free Public Library May 8, 1886. The Helena Library Association turned over 2,000 books to the newly organized Free Public Library, which reopened August 7, 1886 in the Murphy Block with the first trustees appointed May 8, 1886, W. E. Cullen, president; H. M. Parchen, Cornelius Hedges, S. C. Ashby, S. H. Crounse and R. H. Howey. Charles H. Snell was elected first librarian (1886), and in 1888 was succeeded by Leslie Sulgrove, who held the position for several years; upon his resignation in 1892, Frank C. Patten, a graduate of the New York State Library School at Albany and a librarian of many years' experience, became librarian. At this time the library occupied the second floor of the Ashby Building, now known as the location of "Sanden and Ferguson" store.

The third and present era was one of expansion, beginning in 1892 under the able librarianship of Mr. Patten, when the library moved into a larger and better permanent home in the new building adjacent to the auditorium. At this time there were less than 9,000 volumes, but so rapid was the increase that there were 16,000 books in 1896. Because of the increased usefulness and larger number of books, it became necessary to remodel the basement floor and add extra space to the library building during April, 1897. On May 22, 1897, the library reopened for business.

The library remains housed in the same building, at present writing (1921), but there is a decided need for a new building that would more adequately meet the present needs. There are now over 60,000 volumes including the bound magazines and bound government documents, besides the usual picture and clipping collection, bird and mineral museum. In addition to serving the general public, the library is functioning somewhat, as an educational library, for Helena is forging ahead as an important educational center. The Helena Public Library serves the public and high schools, Mount St. Charles College, Montana Wesleyan University, Deaconess School, and other private schools. This January (1921), the library received one and one-half mill tax, which was a three-quarter mill increase voted at spring election, in April, 1920. As for the previous seven years, the library had been greatly hampered by a lack of funds and this crisis was passed only by the careful administration of the present Board of Trustees whose names follow: Fred S. Sanden, president; Judge A. J. Horsky, vice president: Mrs. F. J. Lange, treasurer; Rev. James F. McNamee, secretary; Dr. O. M. Lanstrum, Mrs. G. B. Nolan, Mayor John Dryburgh (City Council member).

State Historical Collections

The State Historical Library has a large collection of books relating to Montana, and a remarkably complete file of newspapers covering the main publications of the state. Its classified collection of photographs, bearing upon all phases of Montana's history, is also noteworthy, and its museum of Indian curios, natural history and minerals, with gallery of paintings and other portraits of historical characters, makes the quarters of the State Historical Society in the basement of the capitol an invaluable resort for everyone interested in any feature of Montana's development, past, present or future. The State Bar Association also controls a professional library which was developed into one of the best in the new Western states. The Young Men's Christian Association has a large building and a growing body of workers in Helena, and the Young Women's Christian Association is well provided with conveniences and comforts.

The two organizations which have supplied the greatest impetus to the progress of Helena, along the paths of material advancement, are the Montana Club, one of the oldest, richest and most influential bodies of the kind in the Northwest and the Helena Commercial Club. The latter, which is an outgrowth of the Helena Business Men's Association, was organized in 1897, and during the twenty-four years of its life has had seven presidents: N. Kessler, F. S. P. Lindsay, Sherwood Wheaton, T. C. Powers, N. B. Holter, H. G. Pickett (1906-1918), and George L. Ramsay. The secretary-treasurers have been E. W. Fiske, L. W. Heath, E. A. Macrum, C. H. Boynton, W. T. Hull, and C. A. Mead. L. M. Rheem and E. W. Prosser then served as secretary and treasurer, respectively, for a number of years, and since 1919 M. Max Goodsill has been secretary-manager and E. W. Prosser, treasurer. In May, 192 1, the membership of the club was divided as follows: Men's division, 1,147; Women's division, 133; Junior Commercial Club, 955. Total membership, 2,235.

In every modern city, like Helena, its newspapers always stand in the van of its promotional forces; and the dailies of the capital, the Record-Herald and the Independent, are "live wires" in that regard. It is said that Helena is the richest city of its size in the United States, and that its bank assets alone amount to more than $1,000 per capita. Its people of means are public-spirited and patriotic. The World's War proved that; for Lewis and Clark county, with but two per cent of the state's population, subscribed ten per cent of Montana's Liberty bonds. Helena's five banks, the two transcontinental lines which accommodate the city and the three great power dams near it make it a natural industrial and distributing center. It is said to be one of the most stable labor markets in the West. Helena is a distributing headquarters of such famous industries as the International Harvester Company, Studebaker Corporation and the American Tobacco Company, and its factories include plants of the National Biscuit Company, Western Clay Manufacturing Company, Caird Engineering Works, B. E. Mathews Fixture Company, Reinig Coffee Mills, Northwestern Milling Company and the C. T. Perry Soap Works. Helena is the division telephone office for Montana and Northern Wyoming, with 150 employees. The city is the home of the largest greenhouse and nursery between the Twin Cities and the Pacific Coast (State Nursery and Seed Company) and is the headquarters of the Montana State Fair. The annual fair, which is an event of importance even outside the state, is held in September, the large grounds and substantial exhibition buildings being just outside Helena. Further, the state capital is headquarters of internal revenue for the district of Montana. Idaho and Utah, and United States Government assay office is located at Helena, in a large separate building.

Mining, Smelting and Ore Testing

The exciting and productive days of gold mining in the Helena mining region are probably a feature of the past, but with the prevailing high prices of silver many of the old silver-lead properties are being profitably reopened and not a few new mines are being opened. Mineral geologists and practical experts claim that the region comprises the most varied deposits of gold, silver, lead, copper and zinc of any area of equal extent in the West, and it is not beyond the scope of the probable that silver and some of the other precious metals may revive the productiveness of 1833-93, when the Helena mines produced nearly $200,000,000, for their owners.

Conditions for the development of the mining industries of the Helena district are now far more favorable than they were in the '80s, or even the '90s. Electric transmission lines traverse it in all directions and, as one experienced operator put it, "it is a difficult thing to get as far as three miles away from a power line." Helena is also conveniently located with respect to productive coal fields and lumber mills, where quick service on mine necessities is readily available. Through the Northern Pacific and Great Northern, with their branches, and the good roads of the district, not only railroad cars but motor trucks are readily available for the transportation of the ore or more finished products of the mines.

Not only are these advantages to be advanced over those of an earlier period, but Helena has become a smelting, milling and testing center of prominence.

The Helena Commercial Club issued a booklet, in 1920, containing a valuable fund of information which sets forth the strong points of this phase of regional development, and upon that authority the writer bases many of the statements which follow and which have already been made. At East Helena is located the American Smelting and Refining Company, operating the only lead smelter in Montana and treating ores of all kinds produced in the region tributary to the state capital. Under normal conditions, the plant employs between four and five hundred men, with a payroll of $50,000 a month. The great smelter, which was started in 1888, treats custom ores exclusively and purchases lead, silver and gold ores. The plant is able to handle all the Montana lead ores, besides a considerable tonnage from the Coeur d'Alene District in Idaho. Its electric power comes from the Canyon Ferry Dam, twelve miles east on the Missouri River. The plant comprises four large blast furnaces for smelting, with a total capacity of from 800 to 900 tons daily. Mines in the Helena region also have convenient access to the copper smelter at Anaconda, one hundred miles distant by rail from Helena.

Helena has the important advantage of possessing the New York-Montana Testing and Engineering Company. It operates the only plant of the kind in the Northwest, where ores are treated in carloads. The company offers not only engineering and testing service to the mining men of the Helena District, but treats complex ores and ores of low grade for direct smelting. The plant has been in operation for three years, during which it has treated and tested ores from all over the state. During a portion of that period it has produced some of the highest grade manganese in the country. The plant has a completely equipped laboratory for the testing of small samples, both as to their feasibility for milling and smelting and also as a guide for treatment. Ores are tested free of charge for prospective shippers.

Another advantage Helena offers to the miner of today is her roster of experienced assayers and mining engineers, both those operating in a private capacity and those connected with the United States Assay Office. The government office at Helena is one of five of a national character, the other four being located at Deadwood, South Dakota; Seattle, Washington; Boise, Idaho; and Salt Lake City, Utah. In 1919 the business transacted at the Helena office ($835,644) was exceeded only by the receipts of the Seattle office. These offices were established, primarily, to afford the miner a ready market for his product, and as a means whereby the Government could secure gold and silver for coinage purposes.

The Helena office purchases bullion to the amount of about $1,000,000 annually. It may be deposited in any quantity and is usually paid for the second day after receipt. This is of special advantage to the small operator and to the concern trying out a plant or opening new ground, where test runs are made upon which quick returns are desired. The saving in time and the cost of transportation to the nearest mint is in some cases of vital importance.

When bullion is deposited, it is melted and assayed, and a Government check drawn to the depositor for the net proceeds. The gold contained is paid for at the regular price of $20,671 per fine ounce, and the silver at the market price. The Government makes only such charges as are estimated to be necessary to fit the bullion for coinage. They are the same at all federal mints and assay offices, as follows: $1 for melting, 21-2 cents per ounce for the amount of copper required for alloy, and a refining charge depending upon the weight and fineness, averaging 4 cents per ounce of bullion. In the case of refractory bullion, an extra charge may be made to cover the additional cost. Each check in payment for a deposit is accompanied by a report showing the weight received, weight after melting, gold or silver fineness and value, silver price, charges and net value.

It is not necessary for Helena miners, as in some districts, to carry large stocks of tools, machinery and other equipment, as there are extensive hardware stores and distributing houses in the city to furnish all needed supplies, as well as engineering works and foundries to manufacture and repair all kinds of mining and milling machinery.

Helena is the headquarters of the Montana Mining Association, the state organization of mining men formed to advance and protect the industry, and to furnish practical information relating to all the mineral districts of the state for the benefit of investors and investigators. Which is an additional fact tending to establish the Helena District as pre-eminent in the mining development of Montana.

Mineral Production of the Helena Region

Various estimates have been made of the total production of the Helena Mining Region, as the district is officially designated. The latest figures to be prepared by the United States Geographical Survey (Bulletin 527) are as follows:


Mining Camp Near Helena

Placers in the Helena Region have recorded the following productions:

City of Helena $32,625,000
Marysville 3,200.000
Montana City 18,000,000 Maupin 50,000

Engineers have not been able to secure reliable data upon which to base figures on the riches also removed from placers in the Blackfoot, Elkhorn, Clancy, Basin and Boulder districts of the Helena Region. Great fortunes have been taken from the mountains and streams of Helena and vicinity, "and yet," as prophesied by a practical writer, "the stores of wealth have been but slightly tapped." It seems probable that the revival of the silver industry will start a swelling stream of wealth toward the already prosperous "Queen City of the Rockies," or "City of the Golden Glow."

Montana Counties 1921

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Source: Montana its Story and Biography, by Tom Strout, Volume 1, The American Historical Society, 1921

 
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