By Tom Henderson, Andrew Ray, Pete Penoyer, Ann Rodman, Mary Levandowski, Alysa Yoder, Shane Matolyak, Mary Beth Marks, and Autumn Coleman Mary Beth Marks, and Autumn Coleman
Following gold discoveries in the early and mid-1860s, prospectors traveled throughout the Montana Territory in search of another bonanza. A small party of prospectors found gold in stream deposits in the area of Fisher Creek and Upper Soda Butte Creek in 1869. Mining started in the 1870s on Republic Mountain and Miller Mountain, which border Soda Butte Creek (GCM Services, Inc. 1998). A new mining camp developed, named Cooke City, after Philadelphia financier Jay Cooke visited the camp in 1879 and promised to build a railroad to the area. Over the subsequent decades, Cooke City fluctuated from a few dozen residents in lean times to hundreds when the mines were active (GCM Services, Inc. 1985). By 1920 the town had two ore smelters, two steam sawmills, three general stores, and two hotels (Lovering 1929; Reed 1950). The deposits included lead-silver ore from Miller Mountain, gold-copper ore from Henderson and Fisher Mountains, and copper ore mined near the headwaters of the Stillwater River (fig. 2).
Operating from 1934 to 1953, the McLaren Gold Mines Company (fig. 1) was one of the longest-running, last active mining operations in the area. Ore containing gold, silver, and copper was extracted from an open cut mine on Fisher Mountain 3 miles (5 km) north of Cooke City and trucked to the McLaren Mill built on the north bank of Soda Butte Creek near Cooke City (fig. 1). In the 1930s, the mine was a small-scale operation and was suspended when the mill burned down. In 1940 the McLaren Mill was rebuilt, and the mine operated steadily until 1953, processing approximately 185 tons of ore daily. The resulting concentrates were trucked to Gardiner, Montana, and then shipped by railroad to the Anaconda smelter west of Butte. The total production of the operation amounted to approximately 60,000 ounces of gold, 170,000 ounces of silver, and 4 million pounds of copper (Krohn and Weist 1977; GCM Services, Inc. 1985).