Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest
The Elkhorn Mine, located high in the Pioneer Mountains, was discovered on October 24, 1873, by Mike Steel and F.W. Panish. Bill Roe was said to have given the mine its name as a result of having found a pair of elk horns in the area. The mine was first opened and worked by a company financed in the east. Silver ore, which was the mine's primary metal, was hauled by bull teams as far as Corrine, Utah, where it was loaded on railroad cars and transported to San Francisco. At San Francisco it was transferred to ships sailing for Swansea, Wales, to be processed into pure metal.
In 1911 Mr. William R. Allen had begun buying claims in the area and in 1913 formed the Boston Montana Mining Company, which hired engineer S.W. Hall to come to the mine and examine the Elkhorn properties. Hall spent 40 days investigating the claims. Impressed, he urged the company to begin operations which had every indication of a big return.
William R. Allen was born in French Gulch near Anaconda, Montana, in July of 1871. He received his early education in Deer Lodge County school, then attended the Helena Business College, where he graduated with honors in 1891. As a young man he was employed by Marcus Daly in the early development of the Anaconda smelter and was in charge of Mr. Daly's lumber business. In 1893, Mr. Allen married Eliza Berkin, and four children were born of this union. Following his first wife's death in 1917, he married Ethel Louise DeMar, with whom he raised three children.
In 1902, Allen was elected to the legislature, representing the Republican party from his county. He served in this capacity until 1908 when he was elected lieutenant governor, serving in this office under Governor Edwin L. Norris until 1913. When he retired from politics, he decided to devote his time to raising money for the development of Montana enterprises.
As early as 1914, the community of Coolidge, named after W.R. Allen's friend, Calvin Coolidge, had begun to thrive and at this time work was just beginning on the mine tunnel.
The town had both telephone service and electricity provided by a power line carrying 65,000 volts running from Divide over the hill to Coolidge. The cost on completion was $150,000. With more families moving to Coolidge, a school district was organized in October of 1918. A post office was established in January of 1922. In 1927 the school district was abandoned and in 1932, the post office was discontinued.
Two mining camps evolved from the mining operations, the Idanha, or upper, which was located just above the present mill, and the Elkhorn camp at the mill site. The Idanha was to become the best producer of the mines located in the district. A log chute ran from the upper camp to the lower camp area. In the winter, this provided recreation for the young as well as the older residents. Large frying pans were borrowed from the camp cook and along with fun-loving participants were transported to the top of the mountain in ore cars. The frying pans were then used as sleds and ridden down the log chute.
The last narrow gauge railroad in the United States was built from the mine to the town of Divide for an estimated cost of $1,500,000. Construction began on the "Montana Southern" in 1917 and was completed with a golden spike celebration at Divide, Montana, in November of 1919. Much of the old rail bed and the remains of some of the trestles remain.
The completion of the Montana Southern Railway was a tremendous asset to the construction of the mill. This huge building covered nearly two acres. For winter work it boasted steam heat and also had an up-to-date fire protection system of hydrant, hose, and sprinkler. Completed in 1922, at a cost of $900,000, the finished structure was truly overwhelming as it still is today, although time and scavengers have taken their toll.
The mill didn't operate to capacity very often. Three months in 1922-1923, and four months in 1925 were all that were recorded. Three shifts of men a day ran the operation using only one section of the two identical parallel processes available. Using the oil flotation process, the mill saved from 90 to 93 percent of the metals out of the ore. The mill produced 8,900 tons of concentrates from 47,000 tons of ore.
Shipment was suspended in 1927, when the Wise River Dam broke, destroying sections of the railroad. By the time the railroad was repaired in 1930, metal prices had declined to the point where it seemed inadvisable to operate. In the years that followed, no work of any importance was attempted.
NOTE: As you look around Coolidge, you will notice many old rusty tin cans, particularly just outside the back door of the cabins. These have been left as part of the site. They illustrate how trash was handled back in the early 1900s and help to give you a feel of life in the mining camp. THANK YOU FOR YOUR HELP IN PRESERVING THESE STRUCTURES.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication