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The Gold Rush of Montana was in Confederate Gulch and Diamond City 1864 to1868
We often hear about the gold rush in California and Alaska but I can’t recall too much about the gold rush in Montana. One discovery I find interesting is that in 1864 and 1865 where Confederate soldiers who were given parole (amnesty) were sent west and, arrived in Montana, prospected for gold and made a minor gold strike.
The Civil War had not yet ended and these soldiers were part of General Sterling Price’s Confederate army. They had invaded Missouri from Arkansas in the campaign of 1864. After several defeats they had disintegrated but there were still several bands of rebels that were hard to hunt down.
General Alfred Pleasonton decided to offer amnesty to the prisoners on condition that the leave the combat area and follow the Missouri river west. His hope was that the others who were in free roving bands would disband and not become like Quantrill.
A lost cause could be discouraging and not really worth dying for. The parole seemed attractive and there were rumors of gold in Montana territory.
A tough breed
A tough breed of Missourian started showing up in Montana territory and confederate units broke up in Missouri.
Confederate prisoners, Washington, a.k.a., Wash Barker and Pomp Dennis, were paroled and released at Liberty, Missouri to a steamboat owner bound up the Missouri for the Montana goldfields. Steamboats had to stop and cut wood for fuel and because Indians had burned the existing wood yards for a stretch of about a thousand miles which they controlled. Rebel soldiers were able to earn passage by chopping fuel wood along the way.
Low water at Cow Island forced the boats to unload passengers who were carted the rest of the way to Fort Benton. The former Confederates were on their own though. News came that there was a gold strike at Last Chance gulch where Helena, Montana is now. By the time Barker and Dennis walked there from Cow Island there was no good ground left and no jobs were available. The price of everything, as in any boomtown, was high.
They got by doing a little prospecting along the way and living off the country. Jack Thompson and John Wells, also rebel soldiers, joined them; eventually they wandered into a gulch on the west side of the big Belt Mountains. It was late fall and they decided to stay the winter. As there was game and a good creek. Thompson sank a hole near the mouth of the creek and found the first pay dirt, a bit of gold about he size of a grain of wheat. The prospected up the canyon and found more small quantities of gold. They eventually established a discovery of placer gold in gravels of the little creek. A day’s work produced enough for a few pounds of beans. Although it was small, hard work produced enough gold that word got around. Other southern sympathizers showed up in 1864, and the area became known as Confederate Gulch.
The name Diamond City came about in the winter of 1864-65 when four log cabins were built equally apart around a large rock. The paths from one cabin to the next formed a diamond in the snow when seen from the slopes above. So it got named Diamond city as a joke, as it had no comparison to the booming mining camps in Virginia City and Helena.
The Fabulous Montana Bar In Confederate Gulch in 1865
It was slow going for Diamond city and the prospecting camp. In the winter and spring of 1865 a lot of prospectors went through Confederate gulch because they were few trails from the Missouri Valley up over the big belt Mountains to Smith river valley, where there was abundant game and farm land available.
Some newcomers came in 1865 that were referred to as “the Germans” led by and old time prospector named Charles Fredericks. He prospected up the stream in an area, which became known as Cement Gulch and became one of the richest discoveries of Confederate Gulch, However, the Germans moved on elsewhere because they did not get down to bedrock.
Fredericks group went back down the main gulch through water and timber where they sank a prospect hole in a clearing on a shelf up from the gulch floor. They struck it rich at the foot of a clearing of a small tributary, which became known as “Montana Gulch. The shelf became famed as the Montana bar of the Montana Gulch.
The Montana bar, although only two or three acres was a truly spectacular placer gold discovery in terms of yield per acre. The bar was also unique in that the gold was in a shelf of gravel on the side of the gulch rather than at the bottom.
The gravels of the Montana Bar were saturated with gold from the surface to the bedrock of dense blue gray limestone. Depressions in the limestone trapped the gold and when washed offer by water the gold in these depressions was thick enough to be seen from a distance as glowing metal. The gold bearing deposit was about eight feet deep in most places. but thickened to thirty or forty feet against the mountain.
It was claimed that the gravels in the Montana bar were some of the richest ever washed anywhere. It was not uncommon to get $1,000 of gold from a pan of gravel and dirt when gold was worth $20 a once. The record was $1400, according to witnesses or about 7lbs of gold in 15 lbs of gravel. In the first sluice box cleanup on the bar, the riffles were clogged with gold. One week’s production was $115000.00.
According to a popular legend the Germans were greenhorns and didn’t know the habits of gold to sink to the lowest bedrock in a gulch, due to forces of erosion and gravity. In response to their earnest, repeated and annoying requests to the more experienced Confederate boys for directions to the” good claims”, they were told (with a wave of the hand at the sides of the gulch) to” go up yonder.” According to legend they went up yonder and discovered the Montana bar.
After the Seminole Montana Bar Strike of 1865
A multitude of strikes followed. Rich finds were developed along Confederate Gulch proper, two miles up Cement Gulch proved rich. Placer deposits were found along Greenhorn Gulch and Boulder Gulch.
Unlike most deposits, Confederate Gulch had its richest deposits in benches of gravel on the hillside. Montana Bar on the same hillside as the Montana bar was the Diamond Bar and as rich per acre. Gold Hill and others yielded good gold production.
Although hard to work because of boulders settled in heap.Within a few months however miners were swarming the Montana Bar after the strike of 1865.
At the peak of the boom ten thousand people lived and worked in Confederate Gulch but Diamond City dominated the area and was the county seat of Meagher County. About a third of Montana’s population was in this area.
When the mining stopped the prospectors left as suddenly as they came. During the boom years it was exciting and active. Hydraulic mining started and Diamond city was displaced. The town was moved to Confederate gulch where it boomed on for awhile.
Diamond city didn’t even remain as a ghost town. Likewise Confederate gulch has not left a ghost town The only thing that remains is a cliff overlooking Confederate Gulch and Boulder gulch from the south is a graveyard for diamond city and Confederate Gulch where about 65 people are reportedly buried.
© 2011 Don A. Hoglund