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The Hecla story dates back very early in Montana’s history, 1872 to be exact. Montana was still a very young territory of about eight years. By an Act of Congress, Montana was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on May 28, 1864. This chapter looks at the early discoveries that make up the Bryant Mining District, also known as the Trapper District. Though the name “Bryant” has become synonymous with the Hecla Consolidated Mining Company, James A. Bryant was but one of the many earlier discoverers.
It doesn’t seem fair to associate this one man’s name alone with such a monumental chapter of Montana’s early mining history. Not much is known about James Bryant, where he came from or what became of him, except his involvement in the discovery of what would result in the long and successful era of Hecla Mining history. Many references were made in early newspapers of the “Trapper District”, as the Trapper Mine was one of the “Flagship discoveries in the area, so throughout this book, references may be made to the “Trapper District or Bryant Mining District but they are indeed one in the same.
The first lode discovery in the area occurred in 1872. It is not absolutely clear now whether the original discovery was that of the Forest Queen or the Trapper, however, it’s original discoverers were William Spurr and James A. Bryant. William Spurr was in the Vipond vacinity around 1871 as Raymond Rossiter reported to the Treasury Department in his report submitted in 1872. The Vipond district was discovered by the Vipond Brothers during the latter part of the 1860s and borders the Bryant Mining District, explaining why William Spurr would have been in the area. It has been told that William Spurr recorded the claim in his own name, leaving James Bryant’s name off the record, however records of this actual claim in 1872 have yet to be found.
In the 1872 report of Rossiter, it states that Spurr and others have leads but this dates to 1871 which is earlier than any account previously told of the Bryant Mining District. This report may have been making reference to the Vipond area but quite possibly may have been hinting about the soon to be “Trapper District”. Most of Rossiter’s reports contained information collected the previous year and then submitted for printing in Washington. On his cover letter to the Treasury Department, these reports are almost always dated from the previous year, making the information collected at least one year old. It is possible that the “lead” Rossiter was referring to might have been related to the Bryant Mining District and quite possibly may have been a lead in and around the Vipond District but it is speculation at best.
In regards to the discovery made in the Bryant District, William Spurr made no progress nor did any work so the following year the claim was rediscovered by James A. Bryant, P. J. (Jerry) Grotevant and others. Early in the summer of 1873 when James Bryant, Jerry Grotevant, and other men were in the area on a trapping or hunting expedition, Bryant wanted to relocate a claim he had made the year before with Willaim Spurr along Trapper Ridge. While looking for lost horses, Grotevant picked up a rock to throw at one of the horses and noticed that it contained native silver ore. Other accounts claim that Grotevant was sitting down to rest while he was looking for his lost horses and noticed a rock on the ground containing a bluish color. (It doesn’t make much sense to the author, why a man looking for his horses, would want to throw a rock at them.) As one early account states, these horses had decided to break free from camp because of a swarm of flies resulting in a stampede causing the horses to scatter.
Regardless of the minor circumstances and the many variations of the story, the end result remains the same, Grotevant made the discovery that would forever transform the area into one of the leading silver producing mines of the west. As was the practice, when discoveries were made, miners would hurry to Bannack to have them recorded. While there, these miners would procure shovels, picks, and other supplies which signaled to everyone in town that there were potential bonanza’s being discovered. It was impossible to keep these discoveries hidden and for every man who went to Bannack to record a lode, three men would return with him to prospect. Miners from Bannack and Madison County made up the majority of early discoveries on Lion Hill.
The Forest Queen was discovered on July 3, 1873 along with the Lady Elgin. Both lodes were recorded on July 7th of 1873 by Philip J. Grotevant. These two loads appear to be the earliest recorded lodes of the Bryant Mining District, however, other legends have the “Trapper Mine” as the first discovery. The author having witnessed official records contends that the Forest Queen was discovered and recorded in July of 1873 and the Trapper was discovered and recorded more than a month later that same year. It is likely that Grotevant recorded these two lodes in his own name rather than include the names of his hunting partners as he independently discovered them while hunting for his horses. The only name that appears on the recorded claims of the Lady Elgin and Forest Queen is that of Grotevants.
On August 15th, 1873, The Rocky Mountain Trapper Lode was discovered and recorded the following day by Philip J. Grotevant, James A. Bryant, Parker, McCreary, Sanborn, and DeLorimer. Together, these men formed “The Trapper Company”. Because this recorded lode bears the name of James A. Bryant as the dicoverer in addition to others, it is possible that this was the original discovery made in 1872 by Bryant and Spurr. As previosly reported, this group of men were on a mission to relocate the original claim made the year before. (The author assumes that James Bryant and P.J. Grotevant would certainly have had disagreements if Grotevant single handedly claimed what was originally, “Bryant’s discovery with Spurr”, the year prior). Though the Forest Queen and Lady Elgin were the first recorded in 1873. It is possible that the Forest Queen and Lady Elgin were discovered prior to the rediscovery of the “Trapper”.
The Trapper mine was quickly developed by the Trapper Company and was the first in the district to ship ore when, in 1874, 10 tons of ore were sent to San Francisco. In 1875, 101 tons of ore were sent to Freiburg, Germany which yielded 280 ounces of silver per ton. In the following year, 300 tons were sold to Dahler & Armstrong at Glendale which assayed between 130 to 300 ounces to the ton. In newspaper accounts dating to the summer of 1874 (Helena Independent), shows James Bryant, Phillip “Jerry” Grotevant, Charles DeLorimer, Dan Parker, James McCreary, and Noah Sanborn as being partners in the “Trapper Lode”, receiving financial backing from the First National Bank of Helena. They were given the green light to ship as much ore as they were able, to Freiburg for processing. With John Brannagan managing the Trapper Company, the ore was reportedly producing about six hundred dollars to the ton.
In the short period the mine was operating, it produced 3,923 tons of ore which contained 286 ounces of gold, 579,680 ounces of silver, 210,000 pounds of copper and 4,543,000 pounds of lead, worth over a million dollars The mine was re-opened during the 1890s when the ore bodies on Lion Mountain began to diminish. During the period from 1897 to 1899, 397 tons of ore were shipped which yielded 35,033 ounces of silver, 3,003 pounds of copper, 33,789 pounds of lead and about 60 ounces of gold for a total value of $23,290.
The mine remained in small-scale, intermittent production until around 1917. It was operated by the Hecla Company and was reported to be a principal producer of carbonate of lead ore. The mine's 1200 feet of workings consisted of two adits; a lower one near Sappington Creek and the other higher up the slope; and two shafts, one 200 feet deep and the other 310 feet deep. A 20-stamp mill was built at the site in 1913. Although it was not one of the district's major producing mines, the Trapper produced a considerable amount of ore in the period from 1874 to 1899 (plus additional tonnage from 1900 to 1917), totaling 4,320 tons of ore which yielded 346 ounces of gold, 614,713 ounces of silver, 4,576,789 pounds of lead and 312,003 pounds of copper which was valued at over $1,025,000 dollars
The Argenta was discovered and recorded by James McCameron, G.W. Stapleton, and J.H. Larwill on 9-27-1873. The Red Rover Lode was discovered by James Moffit, Owen Gaffney, and John Cannovan on 8-21-1873 and recorded on 9-2-1873. The Minnie Gaffney was discovered and recorded by E. Maynard, James Moffit and Owen Gaffney (known as the Gaffney Company) on 9-13-1873. The Moffet & Maynard Lode was discovered by James Moffet, E.P. Maynard, and Owen Gaffney on 9-6-1873 and recorded on 9-13-1873. The Elm Orlou was discovered and recorded by Solomon Jennings, Allen Hay and Robert E. McConnell on 9-12-1873.
The Keokuk, owned by G.W. Stapleton and James McCameron was discovered on 9-6-1873 and recorded on 9-11-1873. The Snyder Lode and The Western Lode was located by Amede Bessette, John Milligan, William Sturgis, J. Larwill and Christian Mead on 9-8-1873 and recorded on 9-13-1873. The Queen Mab, The True Fissure, The Mountain Sheep, and The Silver Quartz, owned by A. Bessette, John Milligan, William Sturgis, J. Larwill and Christian Mead were discovered in mid September of 1873. Mr. Larwill is a practical assayer, having spent, I understand, two years at Freiberg, Germany, and to him I am indebted for most of the assays. The Polar Star Lode was recorded by Charles McIntosh, Amede Bessette, J.H. Larwill, C. Meade. John S. Milligan, and William Sturgis on 9-22-1873. The Condor is located on the apex of White Lion Mountain at an altitude of 10,000 feet and was discovered by P.A. Cline and Thomas Sours on 9-5-1873 and recorded on 9-13-1873.
The Franklin Lode was discovered on 1-23-1874 but not recorded until 2-16, 1874 by Frank Gilg and Edwin Stevens. The Cleopatra and Ariadne lodes were discovered by D. S. Dewey and R.E. McConnell on 9-6-1873. The Cleopatra would later become one of the premier properties of the Hecla Mining Company. The Mark Antony was discovered by G.W.Stapleton and James McCameron on 9-8-1873 and was recorded on 9-11-1873. The Alta and Atlantus lodes, owned by Noah Armstrong and Benjamin Harvey (Armstrong, Atkins & Co.) were discovered on 9-4-1873 and recorded the following day on 9-5-1873. The Sheriff Lode was discovered by A.F. Sears, Con Bray, and William Peck on 9-9-1873, The Avon and Cleve Lodes, owned by Armstrong & Co. discovered on 9-2-1873 were recorded on 9-5-1873. The Hecla, owned by the same company was discovered on 9-22-1873 and recorded on 9-25-1873. This Lode named “The Hecla” would give it’s namesake to the Company that Noah would incorporate in 1877.
The Lymington Lode, Manoa Lode, Utopia Lode, and Vitalis Lode was discovered by Benjamin Harvey and Noah Armstrong on 8-23-1873 and recorded on 9-4-1873. The Oneida, and Nero Lodes, owned by R.C. Hopkins, J.C. Keppler and George E. Tarbell were discovered on 9-9-1873 and were recorded on 9-13-1873. The Bannack Chief Lode, Mark Twain, and The Niagara Lode also owned by the same party was discovered on 9-8-1873 making them their initial discoveries. The Pride of the West, The Commercial Lode, and The War Eagle Lode was discovered by J.A. Cline, James Moffet, Thomas Sours and E.P. Maynard, and recorded on 9-13-1873. The Wall Street Lode was recorded by Thomas Sours, James Moffet, Levi Hawkins, E.P. Maynard, J.A. Cline, and Owen Gaffney on 11-10-1873. The Iron Clad Lode, discovered by Levi Hawkins, Thomas Sours and J.A. Cline was discovered and recorded on 7-4-1874. The Julia Lode, located by C.L. Weeks and Andy Trideau, was discovered on 8-14-1873 and recorded two days later on 8-16-1873. The Low Trapper Lode was discovered on 8-27-1873 and recorded on 9-2-1873 by C.L. Weeks and Andy Trideau. The Trapper No. 2 Lode was discovered by H.D. Mansfield and John Badrich on 9-19-1873 and recorded on 10-2-1873. The Warwick Lode was recorded by J.C. Flores and J. Steger on 10-17-1873. The Murat Lode was discovered by Isaac Minon, Alexander Dupuis, and Joseph Arbour on 9-19-1873 and recorded on 9-24-1873.
The Elm Orlu claim was first located by the Trapper Company in 1873, but not thinking it was a worthwhile claim, gave it over to two miners named Sod and Hays. In 1875 the mine was developed by Dennis Driscoll, Thomas Lowe, and Thomas Ford who sank a 6 x 12 foot shaft 75 feet deep. They also drove a 4 x 6 foot tunnel 160 feet into the mountain. The tunnel encountered the lode 250 feet below the surface. Levels were cut at 50 feet and 100 feet with stopes being cut every 30 feet. On December 2, 1876, the three men patented the claim.
The Elm Orlu claim was situated along a mineralized zone between the Park and Meagher formations. At depth, the contact vein is a five-foot strip between quartzite and dolomite. The ore was taken out of a two-foot wide zone. In 1875, 200 tons were shipped to Utah where it returned $300 per ton. The ore assayed 12 percent copper, 40 percent lead, 13 percent zinc and .97 percent silver. At the end of the season 50 tons were in the dump. The mine most likely sold ore directly to the Hecla Consolidated Mining Company during the 1880s but there is no official record of production. In 1942, the long abandoned mine was observed to have eight shallow inclined shafts sunk along the three foot wide mineralized zone which was traceable the entire 1,500 feet of the claim
The Keokuk claim, the westernmost claim on the Elm Orlu vein, was located by W. Stapleton and James Cameron in 1873. The claim was situated along the east-west mineralized zone between the Park and Meagher formations which dips at 30 degrees south at the claim. In 1873, four assays were conducted on the two-foot wide vein in the discovery shaft. The ore tested out at $122 to $290 per ton with an average of $200 per ton. The ore had a small percentage of galena and was a good milling ore. Stapleton and Cameron planned to start operations as soon as the road was open and construction finished on the reduction works. Two years later Stapleton had become the sole owner and had sunk a 40 foot shaft into a one-foot wide vein of good ore.
The Keokuk Lode was patented on January 23, 1884 by Thomas Ford. Improvements listed were the discovery shaft and house, a connecting whim house on the northwest and a connecting ore house on the southeast. A cabin to the south completed the $2,025 in improvements. The property was extensively developed during the 1880s and ore was probably sold directly to the Hecla Consolidated Mining Company, although there are no official records of mine production. Additional work on the property may have been done by lessees in the 1930s but, again, there is no record of any production. In 1948, when the abandoned mine was inspected, workings consisted of two inclined shafts which were sunk along the mineralized zone, and an adit located about 700 feet south of the shafts. Although there is copper-bearing ore (malachite and azurite) on the mine's dumps, there is no record of any production from the mine.
The Minnie Gaffney claim is an example of one of the smaller mining operations in the district. It was located by two miners named Moffat and Maynard. In the 1870s the property was owned by the Gaffney Company and the four-foot thick vein was worked from a 60-foot shaft. It was reported that eight men were employed at the mine. Some 75 tons of ore were mined which assayed 40 ounces of silver and 60 percent lead but apparently none of the ore was ever shipped
During the 1880s, the Minnie Gaffney was owned by the Monroe Silver Mining Company which was run by Superintendent N. C. Burnum. The company also owned one of the three mills at Dewey plus extensive holdings in the Vipond Park area. In addition to the Minnie Gaffney, the company owned the Pride of the West, Wall Street, Condor, Moffat, and Maynard mines in the Bryant district.
The Minnie Gaffney was situated on the east end of the same mineralized zone between the Park and Meagher formations where the Keokuk, Fraction, Bonaparte, Elm Orlu, and Forest Queen mines were located. The mine was worked from a steeply inclined shaft but there is no record of any major production from the property. During the Bryant District's long, productive period from 1873 to 1965, it produced 656,078 tons of ore which yielded 18,250 ounces of gold, 13,384,722 ounces of silver, 8,271,136 pounds of copper, 112,482,388 pounds of lead and 3,831,254 pounds of zinc, all of which have been estimated to be worth over $19,651,000.
Raymond Rossiter Reports of the Bryant District
Some of the following informaton was taken from the 1874 report of Raymond Rossiter, Mining Engineer who served as the United States Commissioner of Mining Statistics. He collected and compiled statistics from the various Territories and States and would then submit this information back to the Secretary of the Treasury in Washington. It is an early record of the claims and their owners, their locations, conditions, values and outputs. Raymond Rossiter had men reporting to him from the various territories and similar to newspaper accounts, information was sometimes inaccurate and often times, fragmented. Rossiter relied heavily upon the men who collected this data to it’s accuracy but much was left to speculation. In many cases, names were misspelled, or simply forgotten. In the case of Montana and it’s mining properties, information collected by Mr. Wheeler of Helena, reported to Rossiter that a fire destroying much of the city of Helena in 1874 resulted in the loss of information collected that year. Information was quickly collected to replace very little of the original report intended for Rossiter and Washington. Some of the following data will read straight from the sixth annual report dated 1874 but contains information most likely collected during the year 1873 as the reports were submitted and printed the following year:
Bryant District, Trapper District. This district is located forty miles due north from Bannack at the source of Trapper Creek, a tributary of the Big Hole or Wisdom River. It was discovered in the summer of 1873. The district is shaped like a horseshoe, the opening toward the river. The locations of the various lodes are upon inner and rugged acclivities in steps or benches up to the summit of White Lion Mountain and South Mountain, at an elevation of from 9,000 to 10,000 feet above the level of the sea. The opinion widely obtains that high altitudes are the most favorable for rich and inexhaustible silver-mines. If such is an invariable rule, this district may be another instance of it. There is a beautiful park of fine pine timber within this circle, containing numerous springs of pure cold water, which unite to form Trapper Creek. In the center is a low ridge, two miles in length, running from the South Mountain to the opening, on the north side of which is Trapper Creek, containing about 1,000 inches of water. On the south, side is a brook called the South Fork, which empties into Trapper Creek, in the low opening of the horseshoe.
There is an abundance of good timber for building and fuel, and good water-power, within the park. Below the park and toward the river is also plenty of good timber and water privileges. The park is about two miles square. Some of the main lodes are on this ridge, having a strike and dip similar to those on the South Mountain. The Trapper is one of the chief veins of the district, and every indication shows that it will prove to be an extraordinary mine. The strike of the vein is from east to west; the dip, 40° south. The vein of ore is 3 feet wide at the surface in the discovery shaft, and 9 feet at a depth of 50 feet. There are several shafts along the lode, sunk to the depth of from 15 to 50 feet. On account of the decomposed nature of the ore and country rock the vein does not crop above the surface, but it is traceable for the whole length of the claim 1,500 feet. The ore contains galena and argentic sulphides; arid numerous assays give from $100 to $15,000 per ton in silver.
Seven tons of ore were hurriedly shipped to San Francisco last fall, and a return of $500 per ton in coin was received. This lode (Trapper) was discovered by James Bryant, after whom the district is named. It is now owned by the Trapper Company, in which he is interested. The same parties discovered and own the Forest Queen and Lady Elgin, continuations of the Trapper lode westward. There are four shafts along the course of these lodes to the depth of 15 feet each, showing the veins of ore 2 feet wide and similar to the Trapper ore, but not so much decomposed. Wire silver is easily panned out of the decomposed quartz on the Trapper.There are over 250 tons of ore on the dump, and 100 tons of high grade ready for shipment.
In Raymond Rossiter’s 1874 report, he also states that the owners of lodes in this district are busily engaged in constructing a wagon-road, twelve miles in length, to the mines, which will be completed by the 1st of July, 1874
Also mentioned; Noah Armstrong has machinery on the way for concentration and reduction works. He is now preparing the building for these works. A saw-mill will be put up at once, but owing to the great distance from railroad communication, and slowness of ox and mule trains, and the inconvenience and expense of so many middle-men and agents, the difficulties in the wау of successful mining operations this season are very great.
Raymond Rossiter Report 1877 (information collected 1875-76)
In reference to the Trapper Mine, in 1873 there was shipped to the Bank of California 10 tons, of which the assay value returned was 140 ounces of silver per ton. In 1874, 101 tons were shipped to Freiberg, Germany, which assayed there 280 ounces per ton. In 1875, 300 tons were sold on the dump to Dahler & Armstrong, of Glendale, Montana, which assayed from 130 to 300 ounces per ton. Fifty tons of first-class ore remain on the dump and about 3,000 tons of second-class ore, valued at 80 ounces in silver per ton. Thousands of tons are said to be in sight in the mine.
About 8 miles below this camp, where the valley of Trapper Creek opens out a little in width, are located the furnace and sampling-mill of Dahler, Armstrong & Co. These works were commenced in the summer of 1874, and completed in 1875. During the past season, although the works were not finished till late, they sampled and reduced more than 300 tons of ore from the Bryant District. They will commence early in the spring of 1876 for the season's operations, which are expected to be largely profitable to this enterprising firm and at the same time beneficial to the miners of the district. The town of Bryant is located at the mines and Glendale at the furnace and mill. Roads and bridges are being constructed for communication in all directions. Rossiter makes reference to the town of “Bryant” which is most likely either Trapper City or Lion City, In 1875, Trapper City was still a community in addition to the community of Lion City which would soon take it’s place by 1878 as the Trapper Mine declined in production. It is quite possible that either of these communities were originally called “Bryant” but given the fact that Hecla was the newer of these three communities which sprang into existence much later, Trapper City or Lion City was more likely the town being referred to as “Bryant”.
This photo taken by Hazeltines (of Butte) shows the three communities of Trapper City, Lion City, and Hecla scattered along the basin floor. When seeing the distance from Trapper to the Mines, it is evident why the men would relocate closer as Trapper City was farther south east.
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