As featured in the August/September issue of the Pick & Shovel Gazette
by Kevin Hoagland
Gold and Silver is what every Montanan sees when they look up to the flag of this great state. The state motto is “Oro y Plata,” which is Spanish for Gold and Silver. The Montana motto could easily read “Oro y Plata y Cobre,” for Gold and Silver and Copper— three minerals that the state of Montana is more than famous for.
Montana is listed by the U.S. Geological Survey as the seventh-largest gold producing state in the nation, which is amazing considering that the major gold deposits are only located in the western part of the state in the rugged mountains that make up the Continental Divide. Other than that, the other two-thirds of Montana is pretty flat. Not Kansas flat, but pretty flat.
Yet there is an eastern-state upside in that there has been some talk that there were more glaciers in the eastern part of the state than originally thought. I did hear one hypothesis that the James and Des Moines lobes that took in eastern North Dakota and Minnesota may have been much larger than originally calculated and took in a part of the eastern section of Montana. Now, I really do not know if I fully give in to this theory, but there is glacier gold in the eastern part of Montana, so it may not be as far-fetched as some may think. Me, I prefer the Occam’s razor approach and would just as soon consider that there were more glaciers that covered the area over trying to explain how a glacier in Minnesota ended up in Montana.
With the first discoveries of gold in the early 1850s and the first major strike on Grasshopper Creek in 1862 around the town of Bannack, Montana has a number of excellent gold-bearing areas that have given up a lot of gold in the last century and a half, including one of my favorite “wish I had found it” finds and a find that keeps me coming back to Montana: the Highland Centennial Nugget, a 27-ounce piece of solid gold found in the late 1980s. That tells me that in Montana there are a lot more and bigger nuggets to be found.
One of the most famous areas for modern prospecting is the Confederate Gulch area outside of Helena. I’ve been in this area a few times on some private claims and have never been skunked whether I was panning or detecting. With this being said, Montana deserves a lot more attention than it has gotten over the years. The Montana Gold Belt from Anaconda to Virginia City is one of the richest I have ever prospected, and is one of the least prospected in the Western states.
Montana gold is found in pretty rough country; there is nothing really easy about getting into the gold. Sure, you can park on the side of the road and dabble into the creeks for those easy pickings, but if you want to really get into the gold country, you are going to have to work for it.
The weather can be brutal during the mining season, with extreme lows to highs and dry to flooded (which is pretty much the case right now). You must always be prepared for anything that Mother Nature can and will throw at you. My first time to an area outside of Elkhorn, my prospecting partner who lived in the area suggested that I bring clothes for three seasons — and summer was not one of them. He was spot on with that little tidbit of information; I just wished I would have listened to him.
Is it worth the venture, if you are a prospector, yes it is. So much so that I am going to work very hard to help you out.
I have been studying a great deal of mining areas in Montana for the last couple of months and have narrowed down my search to three areas all within an hour or so of each other. These areas have excellent production histories, have a lot of active claims in the area and some additional areas that can be prospected and claimed. Many of these are old mining areas were abandoned in the 1940s. My plan for this year is that I prospect all of these areas with members, evaluate and, if they meet the criteria for a GPAA claim, stake and file in the Share-A-Claim program. Want to join me?
More to come.
I’ll see you in Montana,
Featured Prospecting Areas
Lewis and Clark, MT
Ten Mile Creek is Helena’s watershed and regulated by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Helena is the only gold camp that would later become a permanent, thriving city, and then the state capital. During its gold mining heyday in the 1860s, ’70s, and ’80s, over $3.6 billion of gold was extracted from Helena’s city limits.
Rules and Guidelines
May use a pan.
May use a sluice box.
May only dig in the water; digging on the dry land and stream bank is prohibited.
Suction dredging requires permits from the Forest Service and County Water Quality Board. These permits are only available after Aug. 15.
What You’ll Find
Silver has been found downstream of Rimini below a reclaimed mine. —Dean Olson 8.30.2017
Small course gold and fine pieces of gold have been located throughout the stream, but typically on the banks. Wait for the water level to rise to take advantage of this. — Bobby Lewis 05.15.2018
During high water, walk about 200 yards downstream of the fourth bridge. You can dig behind some of the larger boulders that are typically dry when the water is lower.
For optimal results, run your concentrates through a Miller Table or Spiral Bowl. — Bobby Lewis 05.15.2018
Rimini locals are friendly, be sure you respect the town and drive slowly. — Dean Olson 8.30.2017
The Libby Creek Recreational Gold Panning Area is a fantastic public site for gold mining. Located in the Kootenai Forest 23 miles south of Libby in northwestern Montana, you’ll be sure to enjoy the views while you pan for gold. Along the banks of Libby Creek, you can see the remains of cabins built in 1932 by past gold prospectors. An estimated 10o 15 percent of the original gold remains, so with a sharp eye and patience, you should be able to find something.
Rules and Guidelines
Only non-motorized, non-mechanized hand tools are allowed.
Sluice boxes, dry washers, rocker boxes, wheelbarrows, and metal detectors are prohibited.
Only two 5-gallon buckets per person are permitted to be used at a time.
There is a 14-day camping limit.
No firearms are to be discharged within the Libby Creek Recreational Gold Panning Area boundaries.
Placer material shall not be removed from the Mineral Withdrawal Area and must be processed within the Area.
What You’ll Find
Small bits of gold, fine and small course gold has been discovered here.
Large pieces of flake gold and small nuggets have also been found.
The higher up you go, the chunkier the pieces you’ll find. — Mike Lewis 02.20.2017
The nearby Gold Miser Prospecting Shop has lots of useful tools, and the owner is great about pointing you to the right locations in the river.
Good to Know Info
Montana is a beautiful, spectacular mountainous state with plenty of precious resources available, including gold, silver, copper, sapphires, and even diamonds. Keep in mind, though, the land can be equally brutal as it is stunning.
The terrain is rugged, the roads often require 4x4, and the weather can be unforgiving. In 1972 the weather once rose 103 degrees (from -54 to 49 degrees Fahrenheit) in less than 24 hours, a world record. When panning in the mountain streams, pack warm clothes, long pants, and closed shoes. Not only is it cool up there, but snakes (and other dangerous wildlife) are lurking about.
The best prospecting locations are always off the beaten path and away from the roads. Montana is surprisingly one of the least prospected states, so doing some prospecting away from common, easy-to-reach areas can be highly rewarding.
Access the Online Mining Guide to see more information and to get directions
(Some areas are Members Only)
Kevin Hoagland is the Executive Director of Development for the Gold Prospectors Association of American and the Lost Dutchman’s Mining Association.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org