Montana Silver Mine is the Historic Elkhorn Mine in Coolidge, Montana.
The Elkhorn Mining District is located between Wise River and Polaris in the Pioneer Mountain range approximately twenty one miles from Elkhorn Hot Springs Resort. The road is open only during the summer months from May to late fall.
The road leaving Wise River, the Elkhorn Hot Springs road, going into the lower camp of the Elkhorn Mine and Coolidge is both paved and dirt which are maintained. The lower adit called the 1000 level sits just above the Elkhorn Creek and old ghost town of Coolidge, MT. The upper adit is about 2500 feet above the town. This adit is not visible from the valley floor.
The first discovery of silver ore in the Elkhorn district was made by Sheldon Preston in 1872. His ore assayed at 300 ounces per ton. His claim named the Old Elkhorn was about one quarter mile southwest of what would later become the town of Coolidge. On October 24, 1873 Mike Steel and F.W. Pahnish located the Storm claim and their ore assayed at 260 ounces silver per ton. Next the Mono lode was discovered and in 1885 a shaft was sunk 35 feet on the vein. Another shaft was sank to 90 feet in 1888 on the Mono vein which eventually reached a depth of 250 feet. Several other mines were located and worked on many of the over 33 veins in the mountain. But mining was severely restricted due to the lack of economical transportation.
For the ore to be smelted it had to be hauled by wagon to Corrine, UT and then sent by railroad to San Francisco where it was loaded on ships and shipped to Swansea, Wales which is where the smelters were located. This meant only high grade ore could afford to be shipped half way around the world. Even though it was so costly to ship the ore, several mines in the district were able to operate profitably in the 1870's.
Due to the silver crash in 1893 all the mines in the area closed. No mines were worked or produced and only some small prospecting work was done in the area. Bill Roe was said to have given the mine it's name as a result of having found a pair of elkhorns in the area.
The Elkhorn Mine claims are at an altitude of about 7000 to 8000 feet. Winchell describes the geology of the country rock in the Elkhorn district as porphrytic quartz monzonite with euhedral plagioclase, quartz, biotite, horneblende, magnetite, apatite, and pyrite. In the Elkhorn district the monzonite is penetrated by dikes of aplite and pegmatite and also by fissure veins containing copper ores in a quartzose gangue. In the southwestern part of the district the monzonite is intersected by narrow seams of quartz with pyrite carrying a little silver and copper. The veins contain chalcopyrite, galena, sphalerite, and chalcocite films on pyrite. In the oxide zones, the copper minerals include malachite, azurite, and native copper. Fissure veins in the central portion contain pyrite and chalcopyrite. Sooty copper glance is formed at water level at a depth of 150 to 250 feet. Also present are veins along aplitic intrusions containing argentiferous galena and tetrahedrite with bornite.
In 1903 a rise in the price of silver created new interest in the district. At this time Tom Judge working on the Elkhorn ledge reported 511 ounces of silver in an 18 inch wide ore chute. In 1906 Frank Felt, M.L. McDonald and Donald B. Gillies started a tunnel on the Idahna vein which eventually became the major producing mine for the Elkhorn group. In 1909 the tunnel was further developed by the Park Mining Company which extended it to 748 feet.
By 1911 William R. Allen, former lieutenant governor of Montana, had begun buying claims in the area and in 1913 formed the Boston Montana Mining Company. Allen was born in French Gulch which is south of Anaconda, Montana in July of 1871. His ancestors settled first in Virginia, then in Kentucky and soon were engulfed with the pioneer spirit and came west. His early education was from Deer Lodge schools then he attended Helena Business College where he graduated with honors in 1891. As a young man he was employed in the Anaconda smelter and was in charge of Mr. Daly's lumber business. He also kept an interest in some mining claims his father worked in the Anaconda area.
In 1902 Allen was elected to the legislature, representing the Republican party from his county. He served as legislator until 1908 when he was elected lieutenant governor, serving in his office until 1913 when he retired from politics. By 1913 Allen owned 80 claims of approximately 1600 acres. The principle claims were bought at a cost of $474,000 and he formed the Boston Montana Company.
This company hired S.W. Hall as mining engineer to come to the mine and examine the Elkhorn properties. After spending forty days Hall was impressed and he urged the company to begin operations which had every indication of a big return. By 1914 a good road had been constructed by the Boston Montana Company. Plans for over thirty eight miles of railroad were also made and a mill capable of processing several tons of ore per day along with the supporting structures.
Tunneling operations for the mine began and work progressed at about one hundred fifty feet per month. It was reported that the mine looked better than the Butte mines in the same stage of development. In fact, there was a lot of speculation that the Elkhorn Mine would show a better return than the mines at Butte. Some of the ore formations were said to be identical to the formations of the Butte district with higher grade ore.
The massive operation to develop the mine turned out to be one of Montana's last and the largest silver mining ventures.