The Parker Homestead- A Kingdom of Hope. Like the cottonwoods that shelter this cabin, the Parker family who built it dug their roots deep, weathered many seasons of hardship, and drank what sustenance they could from the soil. The Parkers were among the thousands of Americans who took advantage of the Homestead Act of 1862 to stake their dreams on the arid Montana plains. Like so many other families, they notched out a living with sweat and optimism, and enjoyed little in the way of material comfort.
In the 1890’s, newlyweds Nelson and Rosa Ellen (Harwood) Parker refurbished a miner’s shack on nearby Antelope Creek. A few years later they built a cabin for their growing family on the Jefferson River, but a spring flood washed that home away. The Parkers escaped in a rowboat, Rosa clutching the youngest of her three children between her knees. They vowed to move to dry ground.
In 1910, Nelson filed a patent to homestead 160 acres here. They built this sod-roofed cabin, and hauled water from creeks and ditches for years before they could afford to dig a well. Eventually the Parkers built a larger home near Three Forks, and abandoned this cabin.
In 1939, Orville and Josephine Jewett bought the place for their family of four children. The Jewetts farmed, hunted, trapped, and sheared sheep through the Depression and World War II. When they lived here, the cabin had three rooms, all painted with calcimine or white-wash. Bright linoleum covered wide-plank floors, curtains softened the windows, and the laughter of the Jewett’s four children rang across the fields.
The Parker Homestead lies along the Jefferson River southwest of Three Forks. It was formerly a state park but now lies on private property owned by a local family.
Skookum Joe” Anderson, Jones, Snow, Frank “Pony” McPartland and a handful of others were credited with the discovery of the mines in the vicinity of Maiden. The Maiden townsite was established in 1881. Buildings were constructed among what had previously existed as a tent camp. Where did the name “Maiden” come from?? Some say it was from an early prospector by the name of Maden who put up a sign “Camp Maden” and the I was later added in to create Maiden. Others say the name came from the nickname of the daughter of an early visitor to the town; “the little maiden”. Either way, Maiden was official (although sometimes referred to as Maidenville). The Maginnis Mine, the Spotted Horse, and the Collar Mine were the best known properties. The ore in the Spotted Horse was known as “high grade” and was found in pockets. Over 53,000,000 in gold was taken from Maiden.
By 1882, the town grew to include lumber homes, eight saloons, two clothing stores, five general stores, a butcher shop, a blacksmith, two barbers, a doctor, a hotel, and a restaurant. The local attorney was S.C. Edgerton, son of Montana’s first territorial governor. In 1883, the town’s existence was threatened because it was situated in the Fort Maginnis Military Reservation. In the end, the army relented and reduced the size of the military reservation so Maiden and its mines would be excluded. The town continued to grow and even went after the county seat of Fergus County but was beat out by Lewistown. The population peaked at about 1,200 in the late 1880s and dwindled from there. Mines began to shut down and buildings stood vacant. After a couple of fires, not much was left of Maiden.
Located about 20 miles NE of Lewistown, remnants of the past can be seen along Maiden’s Montana and Main Streets, mixed in with newer homes as well. Structures are on private property so please be respectful.
Placer mining along Indian Creek near Hassel first began in the 1860’s. The camp (near Townsend), was originally known as Saint Louis.
Placer mining died out by the 1880’s causing dredging operations and stamp mills to take over. A post office was opened in 1895 which prompted the camp to change it’s name. As both Montana and Missouri were commonly abbreviated as MO, mail and freight was getting mixed up between St. Louis, Missouri and St. Louis, Montana. The town held a meeting and the name Hassel was chosen after an early day miner.
The huge Diamond Hill Stamp Mill was operating at full capacity by 1898. The town once had 200 people, several businesses, a masonic lodge and many miners’ homes. Over a twenty year span, $5 million in gold was reportedly taken from the mining district. By 1910, most mining in the town had ceased and folks had moved on.
The old company town of Kirkville, later known as Clark, lies along Douglas Creek a mile south of Philipsburg. In 1889 the BiMetallic, a 50-stamp mill, was built here because of insufficient water resources to run a larger mill at nearby Granite. Just two years later, 50 more stamps were added to the original structure which gave a 200 ton capacity. The mill was over 360 feet long and 150 feet wide. The mine and mill employed 500 workers.
Kirkville was connected to the Blaine Shaft in Granite by a two mile long tramway. Large buckets could carry 500 pounds of ore down the mountain to Kirkville and carry fuel back up. A 4,307 pound bar of silver bullion from the Bimetallic was sent to the World’s Fair at Chicago in 1893. This was a good representation of the area’s riches.
Dropping silver prices meant sure doom for most mining operations. However the downtime didn’t last long as the Bimetallic and Granite Mountain Mining Operations combined in 1898 to form one of the largest silver mines in the world, producing a million dollars of bullion a year. Kirkville was mostly home to local miners and the population peaked at 125 and was home to many cabins, a boarding house, assay office and company offices. The U.S. Forest Service set fire to the mill in 1967 for safety reasons. The twin chimneys and stone portions of the massive structure survived. The company houses, assay office, retort building and boarding house also remain as a testament to the town’s past.
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With nearly 1,000 claims in the area, miners were drawn to the silver ore around Castle Town. Prospector, Hanson Barnes found some silver here in 1882 but it would be a couple of years before Barnes recorded his discoveries. The first mine, the North Carolina, was built in 1884 and got the ball rolling. Small operations started popping up all over. Veteran miner, Lafe Hensley came on the scene and prospected gulch after gulch. In 1885, his hard work paid off and he staked the Yellowstone Mine. Hensley’s brothers; Ike, Joe and John, would then join him to work the mine until 1887. Additionally, the Hensley brothers opened several other mines including the Morning Star and Belle of the Castles. These, along with the Yellowstone were bonded to Messrs and others for $75,000.
The next big discovery by the four brothers would be the Cumberland, which would go on to become the top producer of the district. As numerous miners were finding employment with the company, families started moving in and businesses sprang to life along Main Street. Before long, 2,000 residents made Castle their home. To serve their needs, nine stores, two butcher shops, two hotels, fourteen saloons, two livery stables, a dance hall, a schoolhouse, a church, a bank, a doctor’s office, sporting houses and a photo gallery all thrived. There was also a justice of the peace, a deputy sheriff and a brass band. The town’s first newspaper, “The News” started reporting in 1888.
One major problem would slow down the hustle; transportation. The streets were jammed with freight wagons and bull teams working to get supplies and ore, in and out. The prospects in Castle convinced Richard Austin Harlow to build a railroad line to the town but, plans were delayed with the Silver Panic of 1893. Shortly thereafter, the town’s population dropped to a couple hundred. There were a couple of short revivals but the town would never bustle as it once had. By the 1930’s, Castle was down to her last two residents; Joe Kidd and Joe Martino. Each year, they would alternate the duties of Mayor and Town Constable. One blistery winter, Mayor Kidd walked into town (Lennep) for supplies. He made it back but later that evening, his buddy Martino found him dead after collapsing in the snowbank outside his cabin. Martino left town the following year, leaving no one but the ghosts to occupy the townsite.
PLEASE NOTE: Castle is on private property. You may take pictures from the road but please do not trespass.
An afternoon drive along a gravel road in the High Ore Gulch will lead you to a true Montana ghost town and a piece of its history. As one nears the town, remnants of a once thriving mining community pop out among the looming sagebrush and dry terrain. The silence speaks volumes, accompanied by the voices of the tumbling cabins and abandoned mill.
It all started around 1869 when John W. Russell located a claim in the area. The rich lode wasn’t developed until a few years later after Russell had sold the claim to the Alta-Montana Company. They got things rolling by building a 40-ton per day concentrator. However, early mining efforts showed little profit as high costs of transportation, equipment and living expenses took their toll. In 1883, the Helena Mining and Reduction Company bought the struggling business and constructed a new smelter in nearby Wickes, Montana. At first, ore was transported by wagon to Wickes but a year later, a rope tramway began to carry the heavy loads. When the Northern Pacific Railroad branch line opened between Helena and Wickes, mining operations began to grow.
The town of Comet was officially surveyed and platted in 1876. The first post office opened in 1877. By the 1880s, Comet and Wickes held a combined 300 people. Comet was once home to a school with 20 pupils, numerous homes and businesses and of course, it’s fair share of saloons. By 1900, the ores had started to play out and by 1913; the town was described as a ghost town. A revival came about in 1926 when the Basin Montana Tunnel Company took over operations and built a 200-ton concentrator. Described as “the most modern in Montana”, the mill became the second largest mining venture in Montana, after Butte. The local mines would go on to produce over $20 million in silver, lead, zinc, gold and copper. Work continued off and on until 1941. People started moving away and the town became a ghost once more.
Such a large venture did not come without a cost. Toxic metal wastes and tailings eroded into High Ore Creek for more than 80 years according to the Department of Environmental Quality reports. In 1997, a reclamation project was done to ensure the safety of people, livestock and wildlife in the area. In 2006, DEQ earned a national award for their cleanup efforts.
Comet still holds much intrigue for the local adventurer. The two-story boarding house can be seen on the left hand side of the “main drag”. Miners could find room and board here for 75 cents of their average work day wage of $4.00. On the right hand side of the road you can view the old mill and bunk house. Many cabins and their scattered remains still dot the 12 block radius of the town. Home now to just one family, the town’s current population is 3. Comet is privately owned so please take only photos, leave only footprints and respect the owners and the town itself.
As is the case with many of Montana’s ghost towns, Comet has been victim to vandalism, bad weather and time. Comet has been neither preserved nor restored and many buildings are collapsing into disrepair. But, even as the town fades away, the memories and stories live on. For now, the wind still whistles through the cracks of yesterday’s old buildings.