Mining on Woodhurst Mountain

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This page draws significantly from material kindly supplied by Kelly Keim,
archeologist with the Lewis and Clark National Forest in Montana.

John James Woodhurst and Woodhurst Mountain

Woodhurst Mountain is a prominent peak in the north-eastern section of the Little Belt mountain range in Montana, and has a distinctive shape owing to an ancient landslide that left it with a notched profile. Its height is 7379 feet (2249 metres) and it rises from prairie standing about 5000 feet above sea level.

It is not yet known precisely when or how the mountain acquired its name, but the appellation probably arose in the late 1880s and is almost certainly attributable, directly or indirectly, to John James Woodhurst. He was the only adult Woodhurst then living anywhere in Montana and is known to have been engaged in mining on the mountain at least as early as 1882. Confirmation of his having been there is provided by the following paragraph from Homestead Days, a collection of oral histories transcribed in 1980 by three local high school students, including Deb Ernst who subsequently became an accountant for the main office of the Lewis and Clark National Forest:

"In about 1870, John Woodhurst homesteaded on Upper Running Wolf [Creek]. The Woodhursts operated a silver and lead mine up Running Wolf. The ore was hauled to Fort Benton by horses and wagons. The first building that they built on the ranch was made of round logs. The next room that was built on had an upstairs and the logs were hewn out by an axe. The third room that was built also had an upstairs but that lumber was sawed out at the sawmill. The big barn was built out of enormous logs. Buster Goyins who was raised on this ranch recalls a mountain lion which once got into the barn and carried off a calf. This ranch was sold to Andy Goyins in 1905. The Goyins family sold [it] to the X-Z Ranch."

This information probably came from an interview with Charles ("Buster") Goyins, son of Andy Goyins. The students had chosen him as one of their interviewees owing to his knowledge of the history of the Running Wolf district. The above-cited date "about 1870" needs to be treated with caution, as at the time of the US 1870 Census John James was apparently in Iowa. The earliest date at which he was provably in Montana is 1880.

The Running Wolf mining district on Woodhurst Mountain is located about 15 miles east of Neihart. It now lies in Judith Basin County but in the 1880s lay in Meagher County which, with several others, was later assimilated into Judith Basin.

On January 10th 1882 two lodes named Sir Walter Scott and Mystery were located by "John Woodhurst et al", as recorded on the relevant mineral plats filed after their claims had been officially surveyed. The partner(s) of John James are not named in this source. Some or all of these lodes appear to have been sold or forfeited in a Sheriff's sale in June 1884, relating to a legal case between Paris Gibson and John James and the latter's partner James W. Shaw.

The Sir Walter Scott was showing good promise by the late 1890s when it was visited by Walter Harvey Weed on behalf of the US Geological Survey. It was located on a spur of Steamboat Mountain. Operators had located a vein of free milling silver ore, 2 to 5 feet in width, that assayed at 60-70 ounces of silver per ton. The mine had shipped about 100 tons of ore which accrued a profit of a few thousand dollars. The mine workings included a 300 foot long shaft, a 75 foot inclined shaft, a log shaft house, boarding house, a blacksmith shop and other structures. The mine evidently then lay dormant for many years.

By the 1940s ownership of the Sir Walter Scott and Mystery lodes had been transferred to a Lehman family in Irvine, California who then leased them in turn to Walter Lehman of Lewistown, Montana. In 1948 the owner shipped 12 tons of ore taken from open cuts and recovered 253 ounces of silver, 102 pounds of copper, 164 pounds of lead and 240 pounds of zinc.

The Running Wolf's mines produced mostly silver and lead, along with some gold, iron, and manganese. The largest one, the Woodhurst and Mortson, was situated about 5 miles above the canyon mouth on Running Wolf Creek and about 1.5 miles south of the Sir Walter Scott and Mystery lodes. Its vein varied from 2 to 7 feet in width, whilst its workings included a 250 foot shaft and nearly 4000 feet in levels. A small smelter was built and operated just below the mine.

The Woodhurst and Mortson was the most active and most developed of all the mines in the district. The claims on the Woodhurst and Mortson lodes were patented in 1888. They had been first located on August 20th 1887 but had not been officially surveyed by their discoverers. The latter - who almost certainly included John James - sold the claims instead to Paris Gibson, the pioneering founder of Great Falls on the Missouri river. Great Falls was the largest town in the area and was the location of its principal mills, smelters and related commerce. Gibson had the lodes surveyed and was granted the patents on them. John James had probably already known Gibson for some years - in 1880 his uncle Stephen Woodhurst was living in Fort Benton at most one street away from Gibson. At that time Fort Benton was a wild river port, being the head of navigation for steamboats to the territory before the roads and railroads arrived.

In 1889 the Woodhurst and Mortson produced 500 tons of lead carbonate ore with 30 ounces of silver and 65 percent lead per ton. It is not clear for how long the smelter operated, but total production from the mine has been estimated at 15,000 ounces of silver and 650,000 pounds of lead.

The histories of the Woodhurst and Mortson, Sir Walter Scott and Mystery lodes were documented by Walter Harvey Weed in [Geology of the Little Belt Mountains, US Geological Survey, 20th Annual Report, pages 451-452 and 460]. In his text he refers to them as situated on "Woodhurst Mtn". More general accounts of the early mining in the Running Wolf district have been documented by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality on this page.