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Historical Note - Week of December 31st

Big Timber Pioneer, December 31, 1931

Cooke City Story

Columbus News: When Dan Wood died here it marked the passing of another pioneer and probably the last pioneer in Montana who saw Cooke City, the ever constant Eldorado of Montana’s mining camps, in the early years of that town’s existence. Mr. Wood was but 14 years old when he first came to Cooke City and at that time Cooke City was even younger.

The relation of Cooke City to Columbus would in itself make an interesting story. Columbus has settled many of its hopes and aspirations on the possibility of a railway to that recurrently booming mining town. The story of the many ventures to build that railroad should be written some day. Now that they are building a highway from Red Lodge to Cooke City, Columbus may not again experience the thrill of watching the preliminary skirmishes necessary in building a railroad with our town as one terminus and the ghost mining town on Republic creek as the other.

If Mr. Wood was but 14 years old when he first came to Cooke City that town must have been in its infancy indeed for it is believed that the first claim was located there in 1870.

Rumors of the existence of rich lead, silver and gold deposits in Cooke City were reported as early as 1868 but it is certain no claims were located until two years later. In 1869 four trappers, Adam Miller, J.H. Moore, Bart Henderson and James Gourley, the first two being better known as “Horn” and “Pike,” were robbed of their horses by Indians who had discovered and looted their cache on Cache creek. These four men in escaping from the Indians fled north of Cache creek and crossed the divide that separates its headwaters from Republic creek. They discovered the manganese-stained outcrop on the property which was later developed into the Republic mine, panned a small amount of gold from the streams and pushed on to Stillwater, later Columbus. In all probability, it was about this time that Columbus pioneers first conceived the possibility of a railroad up the Stillwater.

“Pike” and “Horn” made the first location, naming it the Shoofly. It was also back in the fall of ’69 that a husky young trapper named Jack Crandall, with his partner, an Irishman named Daugherty, came out of the unmapped, unknown country between Yellowstone park and the Clark’s Fork to Bozeman with placer gold to fire the imagination of those as adventurous as themselves. They met the four trappers in Bozeman and agreed that they should meet the next July on the headwaters of the Clark’s Fork and prospect together.

The four men from Bozeman kept the rendezvous, found the Clark’s Fork, but no sign of the men who were to meet them and guide them. Their search failed to reveal the missing prospectors and what had happened to them remained a mystery until ’71 when “Hank” Bottler, another prospector, and his partner, came upon a gruesome sight on the bank of a tributary of the river. They found the heads of the two prospectors sticking on their picks in their camp where they had been killed by the Indians. Each head had a tin cup in front of it, a sign telling other Indians that their victims had been surprised while eating. That’s how Crandall creek was first named.

Claims were staked out on Miller and Republic mountains in 1878. In 1875, despite the fact that Cooke City was at that time within the boundaries of the Crow Indian reservation, a furnace of the Mexican type was built and lead ore from Miller mountain was smelted. The amount of base bullion produced is difficult to estimate, as the records were destroyed by a raiding party of Nez Perce Indians in 1878, and the lead of the furnace stolen, presumably to be converted into shot.

There are a lot of prospectors who still believe in Cooke City as evidenced by the work that is still being carried on. Heinse of Butte fame once said that there was more ore in sight in Cooke city than Butte ever dreamed of before the rich deposits of copper were discovered. In 1880 George Houston bonded the Republic property to Jay Cooke, then a Northern Pacific contractor, and after whom the city was named, but after an initial payment of $5,000 Cooke was unable to take up his bond and the property reverted back to its former owners. A lot might have happened to Cooke City if Jay Cooke had not met with financial reverses.

There are innumerable names that should be mentioned when Cooke City is discussed. Jack Allen who set out from Bozeman April 23, 1882, when the district was cut off from the Crow Indian reservation and thrown open for settlement, with the first four-horse team to be driven into Cooke City, building his road as he went, and many others.

It is impossible to say how much lead-silver ore was produced in the early history of the district, but records of the Republic smelter show that in 1886 approximately 4,000 tons of ore were treated, from which 735,000 pounds of lead 62,300 ounces of silver, and 436 ounces of gold were recovered. The prices were as follows: Gold, $20 an ounce; silver $1 an ounce; lead 4.6 cents a pound. The value of the metals produced in this one year was, therefore, about $104,870.

No record can be found of the ore produced between 1896 and 1901, but it is probably that ore to the value of about $55,000 was mined and shipped, the principal contributions coming from the Alice E., Homestake, and Daisy mines. From 1901 to 1923, according to C.N. Gerry of the United States bureau of mines, the production from the New World district amounted to 1,213 short tons and had a value of $56,943. This would indicate a total production from Cooke of about $215,000 and that’s a lot of money.

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