Garnet Mining District

In the usual version told of the discovery of the great placer mines of the Garnet Range, gold was discovered in the area then known as Bear.  The mouth of Bear Gulch is located about eleven miles west of Drummond and the first discovery is credited to the Jack Reynolds party, in October of 1865 in Elk Creek Gulch.  Reynolds' discoveries led to a rush of miners into Bear Gulch  (the upper part of which is called First Chance gulch), Elk Creek Gulch, Deep Creek Gulch and Bilk Gulch. It is known because of Leeson (1885) and the Morse Family descendants that Colonel George W. Morse and partners took about $250,000 worth of Gold out of Bilk Gulch. But perhaps the role of John Lannan in these events has been overlooked.

The Society of Montana Pioneers (1899) states that Edward Lannan, John's son was born in New York in 1856 and traveled with his father and mother Bridget from Kansas across the plains via the Lander cut-off. They arrived at Bearmouth in September of 1864, a full year before Reynolds. In Wolle's version of events, John mined during the winter and in the spring traded his claim for a cow. Then he brought his wife Bridget and son Edward to the area. He built a ferry that carried people and supplies across the Hell Gate River (Clark Fork), from the Mullan Trail to the gold mines. This crossing site became a major traveler's stop and eventually even included a hotel during Lannan's tenure at the mouth of Bear. Besides raising sheep, a garden and operating the ferry, John ran gold to Deer Lodge and returned with currency. He also operated a milk route. Known as Bearmouth, the stop became a stage stop on the Mullan Road, then a railroad station for the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1883. It was also the shipping point for all of the ore removed from the Garnet District during the mining booms.

John's wife Bridget was an immigrant from Ireland, born in 1829 and traveled the above route with Edward and John to Bannack, then Helena and arrived at Bearmouth the same year as Edward. By August 1911 the Philipsburg Mail stated Chris Lannen (sic) (Edward's brother) had over forty thousand sheep and averaged eleven and one quarter pounds of wool from each animal per shearing.

The US Federal Census of 1880 has John age 50 and Bridget age 54 living in Hells Gate Valley in the county of Deer Lodge with the following family members: Peter age 21, Christopher age 13, John age 19, and Edward age 29 plus a person named Charles Harris age 30 and another male named Ah Unknown age 46. Ah must have been a Chinese servant. There are no records available in the 1900 census for either John or Bridget. At this time obituaries are unavailable.

In "Report on the construction of a military road from fort Walla Walla to Fort Benton" (1998) compiled by John Mullan there is a member of his crew named Lannon. He has no first name and his trade is listed as ? (pp.37a). Then in the "Itinerary for the Route" on page 39 is the statement: "Thirty first day --Move to Lannon's camp. nine miles. Road excellent. May have to double team at Beaver Tail Butte. Wood, water and grass abundant." Mullan's work crew was in the area in 1861 and 1862. Lannon's is shown on Mullan's map below not far east of "Close Creek" (now named Rock Creek) at Beavertail Hill.

The above comments leads one to believe that John Lannan (Lannon) may have been with Mullan and then went back to get his family and returned to Montana. It is documented that the Lannan family arrived at Bannack then moved to Helena and Bridget and Edward spent the winter in Helena before moving to the mouth of Bear. If John had set up a camp at the site while building the Mullan Road during the winter of 1861-62 he certainly would have felt comfortable returning to the area to mine, earn a grubstake and then settle down with his family. Hopefully more information will be discovered in the census records about the family in 1860.

Mining Camps
The camp named Bear grew around mining claims in the narrow gulch above Bearmouth. Bed rock was 70 feet below the surface and the streak of placer gold was very narrow.  Water was necessary for placer mining and even when the miners made reservoirs and let water flow only limited hours a day, the season for washing the diggings was very short.

As more miners came into the area they moved up the gulches and Yreka, Silver City, and Reynolds City were populated. There are frequent references in the early newspapers about Reynolds City in 1865. Half of the camp burned in a fire on July 18, 1867. The camp was named after the discoverer of the first gold, Jack Reynolds'. The mining camp had a population of about 500 people during the two years it was active. Another camp named Top O' Deep had a post office from 1893 to 1894 with Tillie Kreuzberger as post master.

Phil Newman's sawmill at GarnetWhen stamp mills became popular the mining had a resurgence and the camps of Garnet and Coloma sprang up. Garnet's post office was established in 1897 under the name of Mitchell and changed later that year to Garnet. It served 100 addresses and about 1,000 miners.

unknown residents walking the Garnet main street 1902

Coloma is located about three miles over the ridge from Garnet and is now located in Powell county. An in depth discussion of the camps and mines is available at the Montana Department of Environmental Quality . Garnet is now on the National Register of Historic Places and managed by the BLM. Frank Davey and Sam Ritchie (Ritchey) are the two most prominent pioneers in the area and detailed in depth in readily available publications so will not be discussed in this blog.


Miner's Union HallMajor mines in the area were owned and operated by the doctors Peter Mussigbrod and A.H. Mitchell plus Henry Grant, James Hartford, Sam Ritchie and Michael McKevitt. All of these names and many more are discussed on the above mentioned abandoned mines web site. One of the most famous of these mines was the Nancy Hanks. The mines were all operated by members of the Miners Union #16 that was established in 1888. The Miner's Union Hall was completed at Garnet in 1889. There is no history of any strikes in the area by the miners and non-union miners were not allowed to work in the area.

The literature abounds with figures in the multi-millions for the dollar amount of gold and silver taken from the Garnet Mining District. Since these sources vary greatly in the amounts I will leave it to the reader to decide the contributions made to Montana from this pioneer section of Granite county. We are blessed to be able to drive to the ghost town of Garnet and walk amongst the preserved buildings. One can even reserve a cabin and spend your vacation in the serene setting with the spirits of the brave and hardy men who originally toiled in the area.

The photos in this post are provided courtesy of LouAnn Fessler Sichveland and Myrna Fessler Leipheimer.