Historic Note - Week of February 12th

Flathead Courier, February 12, 1920

IS COOKE CITY, GHOST CAMP OF 80’S, TO BECOME GREAT MINING METROPOLIS SOON?

Plans to make Cooke City, in Park county, one of the biggest mining camps in the west, were outlined last week at a meeting of the Livingston Rotary club by W.D. Marlow, who has succeeded in securing a permit from the government to build a “metal surfaced” road between Gardiner and Cooke City.

Marlow declared that there is more copper ore in sight at Cooke City than the mines of Butte have ever produced, and he declared that he and his associates were prepared to spend $10,000,000 to develop the mining district, which, he asserted, is the largest mineral area in the United States.

Marlow is a New York man. He promoted the construction of the McAlpin hotel and the Equitable building of that city—the latter one of the biggest business blocks in the world.

Cooke City was discovered in 1868 by Horn Miller and another early-day argonaut. Miller, a picturesque character of the district for half a century, died at Cooke city only three years ago at the age of 90. His faith in the camp never wavered and as the years came and went he kept on prospecting, declaring that the time would come when Cooke would make Butte look like a piker. Only a few days before his death he made the announcement that he was going to wait another 40 years for a railroad and that if it did not get there by that time he was going to Alaska to mine.

In the hills surrounding the old camp there are other veterans of the gold pan and pick who have been there since the early 70’s, waiting and waiting for the steam horse to find the camp so that they could reap a harvest.

It is declared that there are prospectors in the district who went into those mountains when the first prospects were struck, and who have never since been out. Tom Stout of Lewistown, when at Cooke City a couple of years ago, talked to a prospector who had never seen a railroad. Half a century ago he drifted into Montana from the fur trading posts of the Hudson Bay Company, north of the British line, and he has never been as far away from his cabin as Gardiner. He has no curiosity about modern civilization. His whole mind is bent on mining gold, and spring after spring he sets forth with his old mule and his prospector’s outfit in search of the golden pot at the rainbow’s end.

Jay Cooke Backed the Camp

The story of Cooke City is interwoven with the career of Jay Cooke, after whom the camp was named, and the downfall of Cooke, who was the outstanding financial figure of the Civil war and who was the first backer of the Northern Pacific’s trans-continental venture.

It was during the height of Jay Cooke’s speculative career in Wall street that he became interested in the mines around Cooke City. He was figuring on putting the Northern Pacific through and heard of the mineral wealth of this embryo mining camp. He sent mining experts into the district, and so flattering were their reports that he invested heavily in mining property there. When the decision was reached to go ahead with the Northern Pacific, he determined to make Cooke City the mid-continental terminal of the system, which was eventually to reach the Pacific. His surveys were made accordingly, and Cooke City had the prospect of becoming one of the important cities of the Rocky Mountain district. It was looked upon by its enthusiastic inhabitants as a coming Denver.

Then two things happened that changed the destiny of the camp and left it virtually abandoned by civilization for half a century. The first was the creation of Yellowstone Park in 1872 and the government’s refusal to permit a railroad to be built through the park. The second event was Jay Cooke’s financial failure the same year. The crash of his fall was felt over the continent and involved the fortunes of countless people who were investors in his schemes. The Northern pacific went into the hands of a receiver and when it emerged in a reorganized condition, Cooke City was forgotten.

Efforts to Mine There

In the years following there were intermittent attempts by various mining men to develop the rich prospects there in spite of the lack of transportation facilities. Scores of small smelters were built during the 80’s and 90’s. Dr. L.C. Tanzer [G.L. Tanzer] of Seattle invested $250,000 in a smelting plant, but the cost of operation forbade its success.

Then attempts were made to get a permit from the interior department to build a railroad to Cooke city from Gardiner. For a quarter of a century these efforts were unsuccessful. Other routes were surveyed from various points, including one from Columbus, in Stillwater county, but these were held to be impracticable.

Finally Robert I. McKay, an Ohio capitalist, became interested in the district. He made a long and thorough investigation of the whole situation. He assembled a mass of data on the mineral wealth of the mountains around Cooke, and pointed out how vast stores for metal were being kept from exploitation through the refusal of the government to allow a rail line to be built through a corner of the park that is well without the line of tourist travel.

McKay spent nearly $50,000 in resurfacing the wagon road from Gardiner to Cooke City, and for a time considerable ore was hauled out with motor trucks.

The government finally granted a permit to construct a “metal surfaced” road, and this was understood to mean a rail line. The interior department later refused to allow a rail line to be built.

Another Permit Granted

The efforts to secure a permit for some sort of a highway of commerce through the corner of Yellowstone Park were not abandoned, however, and last week word was received in Livingston that another permit had been granted to W.D. Marlow and local associates of Livingston for the construction of a “metal surfaced” road to Cooke City. Just what specifications for the road will be made by the interior department is not known in the state yet, but this will probably be made clear before long.

Meanwhile, Marlow and his associates have arranged for the placing of 20 heavy automobile trucks on the Cooke City route this spring. These trucks will haul the output of the Old Republic Leasing and Exploration company, which corporation Marlow is president of, and will also transport ore from other Cooke city properties on a commercial basis.

Construction of ore bins and loading facilities at Gardiner is planned by Marlow immediately.

In discussing the new permit Marlow pointed out that the road, covering a distance of 49 miles, would be built on a new survey, 39 miles of which have already been completed, and it will be used exclusively for Cooke city travel, both passenger and freight.

With the operation of the truck line to Gardiner the old mining camp of Cooke City will enjoy its first regular transportation system, making possible the development of one of the most promising but one of the most isolated mining camps in the west. When the new road is constructed an important step in the development of the camp is bound to result, local mining men point out.


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Cooke City Montana Museum

206 W. Main Street

P.O. Box 1134

Cooke City, MT 59020

Museum Director: Kelly Hartman

Telephone : 406-838-2203 

Email : cookecitymontanamuseum@gmail.com