The Bighorn Expedition Of 1863
In July, 1862 gold was discovered on Grasshopper Creek in what now southwestern Montana. Though the nation was engulfed in a massive civil war, the discovery aroused the interest of fortune seekers. By April, 1863 the area around Grasshopper Creek had been transformed from a gold camp into the first territorial capital of Montana, the town of Bannack. Already the bustling community had a population of over 1,000 people. Soon thereafter, hundreds of gold seekers began scouring the creeks and rivers of the territory in search of the next big strike.
Anything, But Romantic
The expedition was anything, but romantic. Each night the camp had to be guarded from possible attack by hostile Indians. As Stuart related, “all the romance (is taken) out of traveling in the mountains to have to leave a warm comfortable bed at one a.m. on a cold, windy, rainy night, and stand guard until six next morning, the weary hours cheered by the infernal howling of coyotes, buffalo, wolves, and pleasing thoughts of Indians crawling around camp, and the probabilities of hearing their arrows and bullets come hissing through the pitchy darkness.”
Mouth Of The Canyon
On May 12th the party reached the mouth of Bighorn Canyon, where they saw “old red sandstone, in perpendicular walls, two hundred feet high. On the west side of the river the red sandstone crops out for several miles, and can be plainly seen for a long distance.” Several prospectors began to try their luck around the river banks and sand bars. Soon they discovered some fine specimens of float gold. As the party set up camp at the mouth of Lime Kiln Creek, they noticed numerous signs of fresh Indian activity in the area. Stuart decided to post a guard around the camp.