Located high in the Absaroka Range in Park and Sweet Grass Counties of Montana, gold was first discovered in what would become the Independence Mining District in the 1860s. However, it would be two decades before any significant mining would occur, as the land was part of the Crow Indian Reservation. Prospectors were run out of the area by the federal government, but after receiving pressure from numerous mining interests, the government reversed itself and forced the Crow to cede the land in 1882. Almost immediately, miners returned to the area.
Though a number of small finds were made in the upper Boulder River and at the head of Basin Creek, no work was done on a major scale until 1888, after a pack trail had been cut through the timber to the high elevation veins located at 9,000-11,000 feet elevation. The first stamp mill was hauled up the steep and rugged road the same year. Between 1889 and 1891, several mines were opened, including the Poorman, Hidden Treasure, Daisy, King Solomon, and Independence. The camp that grew up around them, located at the fork of Basin Creek in Park County, about three miles below the head of the Boulder River, took the name of the Independence Mine, which by 1892 was running at full capacity. Independence eventually boasted about 500 people, four saloons, two general stores, and numerous cabins. Other camps also developed nearby at Solomon City and Horseshoe Basin.
Independence soon became the mining district’s service center and was the site of seven stamp mills, a sawmill, and several concentrators. By 1893, Independence boasted both telephone and electricity due to all of the mining activity. However, it was a difficult trek to the mining district that required five days by wagon to reach Big Timber, some 50 miles to the northeast.
Production in the district peaked between 1890 and 1893, with the Independence mill producing about $42,000 in gold bullion. However, the mining boom ended with the depression of 1893, exhaustion of easily accessed ore, difficult transportation, and poor management of the operations. The Independence Mine closed but in August 1894 was leased out, re-opened, and operated until 1897. At that time, the Independence, the Daisy, the Hidden Treasure, and other properties were sold and consolidated and continued to operate until 1904, when the Hidden Treasure Mill burned down in 1904. From 1890 to 1905, the district reportedly produced gold and silver ore valued at about $120,000.
Workings were revived intermittently over the next several decades, but all were found to be unprofitable and quickly abandoned. Today, all that remains of Independence and the other area mining camps are a few tumbling cabins and mining remnants.
What little is left of Independence is located about 53 miles southwest of Big Timber, Montana. Head southeast towards McLeod on Montana Highway 298 for about 27 miles, then continue on Main Boulder Road and Forest Road 6639 for about 26 miles to the old townsite. A high clearance vehicle is recommended.
©Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated April 2021.