Hecla Mining District in the Pioneer Mountains
the 1870s, four mining camps got their starts in the Hecla Mining District
on the side of Lion Mountain. Also referred to as the Glendale and/or
Bryant Mining District, which was strung out along ten miles of gulches,
the four towns included Trapper City, Lion City, Glendale, and Hecla. One
of the last districts to be established in the Pioneer Mountains, it was
also one of the richest, producing silver, lead, copper and zinc ore
valued at nearly $20 million over the years.
first claim in the area was made in 1872 by two men named William "Billy"
Spurr and James Bryant and called the Forest Queen. However, Spurr
recorded the claim in his own name, but never worked it. The following
year, James Bryant returned to the area with several other men and began
looking in the area for other potential claims.
During this excursion, a silver
outcropping was found that was called the Trapper Lode. After staking
their claim in
Montana, the men began to work the mine taking
the both silver and lead out by pack train and wagons to be loaded at
the railroad at Corinne,
Utah and sent to Denver for smelting.
Hecla Mines atop Lion Mountain.
Word quickly spread
and before long the area was filled with a number of prospectors from
Bannack. More lodes were soon discovered and the Cleve and Avon Mines
soon were being worked. The first mining camp to be established was
Trapper City, which established a post office in 1873. Soon, the camp
also boasted a hotel, several saloons, a brothel, general store,
butcher shop, livery stable, and numerous cabins lined up and down
Trapper Creek. The settlement reached a population of nearly 200, but
was short lived, as mining began to move up onto Lion Mountain.
In 1875, a 40-ton
smelter was built farther down Trapper Creek by two men by the names
of Noah Armstrong and Charles Dahler. The camp of mill workers that
grew up around it was named Glendale and a post office was opened the
same year. Numerous employees and their families soon made their home
in Glendale, the tamest and most civilized of the four mining camps in
the district. The new town also sported "The Montana Brewery”, owned
by John Mannheim, who had formerly operated the brewery at Bannack. A
general merchandise store was owned by Noah Armstrong.
Two years after building the smelter, Noah
Armstrong, along with investors from the east, would form the Hecla
Consolidated Mining Company, buying out the original claimants of the
Trapper Lode and began to aggressively developing the organization.
The mining company was after a painting that had been hanging in the
company's payroll office which depicted Mt. Hecla, a volcano found on
the Icelandic Continent. Soon, the new mining organization began
buying up most of the workings on Lion Mountain, including the
Cleopatra, Trapper, Franklin, Cleve-Avon, Mark Anthony, Ariadne, True
Fissure, and Atlantus lodes. By 1878, Glendale had grown to almost
Also growing was the new camp of Lion
City, at the base of Lion Mountain and by 1878, almost everyone had
abandoned Trapper City and moved to Lion City or Glendale. Trapper
City’s businesses also moved, and Lion City soon boasted three
saloons, two brothels, two hotels, several businesses, a school,
mining buildings, numerous cabins, and about 600 people.
the meantime, the Glendale smelter was busy producing about one
million ounces of silver and thousands of tons of lead and copper
annually until it burned down in July, 1879. That same year, Noah
Armstrong was replaced by Elias C. Atkins, as the Hecla Consolidated Mining Company’s General
Manager. However, the company was not faring as well as its investors
would like, and he too, was replaced in April, 1881 by Henry Knippenberg.
The new general manager quickly set about reorganizing the company,
splitting it into three divisions and appointing a superintendent for
each. By the end of the year, the company was profitable once again. In
the meantime, the Glendale Smelter was rebuilt, enlarged, and placed back
New manager Henry
Knippenberg also made his home in Glendale, building a mansion for his
family that looked over the town site. Glendale continued to grow,
boasting numerous businesses, hotels, four saloons, a newspaper called The
Atlantis, restaurants, a school, an opera house, church, hospital, and one
of the largest skating rinks in the state. The town peaked at about 2000
people during the early 1880s.
About this same time,
Knippenberg also created the company town of Hecla about a mile away from
Lion City, primarily to remove the miners from the many bawdy
opportunities available in Lion City. Building boarding houses for the
miners and moving the company mine offices to the new site provided easier
access to the mines as well as improving the morals of the miners.
In 1882, Knippenberg
added the Greenwood Concentrator halfway down the mountain and laid four
miles of narrow-gauge tramway to move the ore from Hecla to the mill. The
mine operations also continued to expand and by 1885, the plant consisted
of three blast furnaces, two crushers, a large roaster, two powder houses,
warehouses, and numerous other mine buildings.
Unfortunately, the Hecla
Mining District, like many others, was hard hit when the Sherman Silver
Purchase Act was repealed in 1893. Though operations
continued on a smaller scale, the ore was dramatically played out by the
turn of the century. The company’s major producing mine, the Cleopatra
shut down in 1895 and in 1900 the Glendale Smelter was torn down. Only the
Atlantis and Cleve Mines continued to operate but by 1904, all operations
of the Hecla Consolidated Mining Company ceased.
But, for Henry
Knippenberg, was not convinced that the district’s heydays were completely
over and that same year, he bought the operations at a sheriff’s sale.
Knippenberg then leased the properties to the Penobscot Mining Company,
who continued to mine the area for several years. Finally, in 1915, the
mines closed forever, but still more ore was to be worked in the old slag
piles, which continued until 1922.
For the next several
decades, the property changed hands numerous times, as new developers
attempted to work the old mines and tailings. Though small amounts of ores
were recovered, these ventures were unprofitable.
Though its prosperous
times were finally over, and its mining camps abandoned, the Hecla
Consolidated Mining Company was one of the more successful, paying
dividends to its investors for more than two decades.
Today, all signs of
Trapper City are long gone but Glendale continues to display the smelter
stack, the remains of the old stone office building, and a few old
buildings. Lion City
and Hecla also sport just a few remaining buildings and mining remains.
The old charcoals kilns can also be seen about five miles beyond Glendale
on Canyon Creek Road.
The district can be
reached from I-15 near Melrose at Exit 93 on Trapper Creek Road. Glendale
is about five miles and Lion City and Hecla, another 7 miles or so. A
four wheel drive or ATV is recommended.
For More Information:
of America, updated March, 2016.
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