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. Though the name “Bryant” has become synonymous with the Hecla Consolidated Mining Company and the district that bears it's name, James A. Bryant was but one of it's many earlier discoverers. It doesn’t seem fair to associate this one man’s name alone with such a monumental chapter of early mining history. Not much is known about James Bryant, where he came from or what ultimately became of him, except that his involvement in the discovery would later result in the development of a mining giant we now know as the "Hecla Consolidated Mining Company". Many references were made in early newspapers of the “Trapper District”, but the Trapper District and Bryant Mining District are 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.
Regarding the discovery made in the Bryant District, William Spurr made no progress nor did any work on the "original discovery" so the following year the claim was rediscovered by James A. Bryant, Philip 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 William 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 due to 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 was a potential bonanza looming. 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 Philip 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 discoverer 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”. Based on recorded documents, this is the most likely scenerio.
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.