State Treasures - Montana

By Anthony M. Belli
From page 28 of the April, 2011 issue of Lost Treasure
Copyright © 2011 Lost Treasure, Inc. all rights reserved


Prospector’s Lost MineFLATHEAD COUNTY – It was a bitterly cold afternoon in 1898 when two brothers stumbled into an abandoned mining camp while hunting near the Peak of Columbia Mountain, elevation 7,169’. Lost to history are their names, but their story, and what they witnessed, remains well preserved in local legend.The camp consisted of a half-collapsed cabin with a dirt floor and rock fireplace. Outside, a lean-to containing a hand-built forge, an anvil, pieces of rusted drill steel, and hand tools with their wood handles rotted away were found near piles of bull quartz studded with wire gold.Near the front of the cabin two skeletons, one of a man, the other of a grizzly bear, were discovered. Next to the man was a rifle "of early vintage" half-buried in the dirt with its stock rotted away.The brothers concluded the unknown prospector had met his death while in a battle with the grizzly, and that he must’ve gotten off at least one shot that proved fatal to the bear. Hoping to learn the man’s identity, the two searched for anything that might provide a name, but found nothing.They observed new growth trees aged 20 to 30 years growing from the cabin’s dirt floor, and a frying pan with its bottom rusted out sitting atop the fireplace. Based on the rifle’s age and the condition of the camp, the brothers concluded the camp hadn’t been occupied for roughly 60 years. This put the unknown prospector there in the late 1830’s or early 40’s.By following the creek a short distance they found an old mine. It appeared the prospector found color in the creek, located its source above bedrock along the creek bank, and tunneled horizontally into the bank. He had opened a tunnel of unknown distance and placed support timbers. But the timbers had rotted, resulting in a cave-in that nearly buried all evidence.By now the sun was setting and snow had begun. A nighttime descent from the mountaintop was too dangerous. Having no axe to build a shelter, the two built a fire and spent a miserable night under a large tree, burning wood from the cabin to keep the fire going.They wondered if anyone in town had ever heard of the prospector. How did he haul heavy items to this mountaintop when no roads or trails existed? How much gold had he taken out of the mine, and what remained? And where did he hide his gold?At daylight the two packed the finest ore samples into their packsacks for the return trip. A foot of fresh snow had fallen, making it a slow descent. They reached home exhausted, hungry and cold. Later they crushed the ore samples and recovered $90 in gold. They asked around, but none of the old timers seemed to know anything about the unknown prospector.Knowing they’d found a very rich gold mine, the brothers made plans to return in the summer. But when they returned they could not relocate the site. For decades they continued to search, but all efforts failed. Today, its exact location remains a mystery.Columbia Mountain is in the Doris Creek country of northwest Montana, less then 4 miles south of Hungry Horse and less then 5 miles southeast of Columbia Falls. Bearmouth TreasureGRANITE COUNTY – In northern Granite County along Interstate 90 at 1610 West Drummond Frontage Road, Clinton, you will find the Chateau Bearmouth. This historic inn and large livery stable are all that remains of the ghost town of Bearmouth. Legend claims an outlaw treasure was buried here.Bearmouth served as a trading post, supply center and transportation hub for the mining camps in the Garnet mining district. It was a major stop for stagecoaches on the old Mullan Road, and a collection point for gold ore being shipped to smelters. When the Garnet mines played out, Bearmouth became a true ghost town.At the old railroad water tower in Hell Gate Canyon west of Bearmouth, on June 16, 1904, a train robbery occurred. When the train stopped for water, two armed, masked men boarded and overpowered the crew of three. They dynamited the express car safe and made their escape with a sack full of currency, jewelry and gold specie. The railroad refused to make public their losses.A posse gave chase, but lost their trail and returned, leaving railroad detective Jack Hindman to continue. Determined to bring the fugitives in, Hindman learned the bad guys abandoned their horses in the canyon and escaped in a rowboat along the Hell Gate River.Hindman reasoned the bad guys had money, so he alerted authorities to look out for men on a spending spree. Soon, he took a call from Spokane, Washington, over 200 miles west of Bearmouth. Officers had two men under surveillance.When Hindman arrived, he learned that John Christie and George Hammond were the men Spokane officers had under surveillance, and that Christie had given officers the slip. Hammond, however, was still being watched and was at his hotel. Hindman arrested him and found evidence linking both to the robbery.A short time later, Christie was arrested in North Dakota and returned to Spokane. Both confessed to the crime and claimed to have buried the loot near Bearmouth. Several attempts to recover this cache were made, but nothing was ever found. Treasure of the Far WestBIG HORN COUNTY – During the 1876 Indian campaign, the U.S. government leased the steamboat Far West to deliver 200 tons of supplies to the military. The captain anchored at the confluence of the Big Horn River and the mouth of the Little Big Horn to await soldiers to unload the supplies.The following morning, two freighters appeared and told the captain they had several narrow escapes from Indians and asked if he would take their cargo of $800,000 in gold to Bismarck, North Dakota, on the captain’s return trip downriver. Reluctantly the captain agreed. The freighters then set off on their return trip to Bozeman, Montana.By the next morning no soldiers had arrived and the captain could see smoke behind the hills. Fearing an Indian attack, the captain steamed downriver to safer anchorage. He ordered the gold taken ashore and buried. The next day the captain returned to the mouth of the Little Big Horn, hoping to rendezvous with the soldiers who were to take charge of the supplies.Shortly afterwards, word of the Custer massacre arrived followed by wounded soldiers from Benteen’s and Reno’s command who needed transportation. Faced with the emergency, the captain forgot about the gold.Years later, the captain contacted the freighting company and told them about the gold. He led a party from the freighting company back to the site where the Far West anchored downriver. But rain and mudslides had altered the terrain and the captain was uncertain of the gold's exact location. Sources:Green, Charles K., "Dead Man’s Gold," August 1967, True Treasure, p. 54Lets Go Diggin, Treasures in Montana, http://www.godiggin.com/montana.htmlWikipedia research: Bearmouth, Montana, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bearmouth,_MontanaTerry, Thomas P., United States Treasure Atlas, Vol. 6, 1985, La Crosse, WI, Specialty Publishing Company, p. 608.