By: Marlene Affeld
It is believed that the first gold in Montana was discovered in 1852 by a trapper named Francois Finlay. Finlay, who was also known as Benetsee, found the first recorded gold in what is now Montana on a creek he named Benetsee Creek. This was an isolated discovery as not enough gold was located to make mining commercially viable.
The first commercial discovery is attributed to the Stuart brothers at their location on Gold Creek, a branch of Hell Gate River. Gold creek is located on the western slope of the continental divide, between Butte and Missoula, Montana.
The brothers had heard a story of gold being found by a Hudson Bay fur trapper near their camp and they set off to seek their fortune with just the supplies and tools they had.
In 1858, the Stuart brothers and another man named Reese Anderson, discovered gold in the creek. However, they did not have tools or equipment to work the discovery and were unable to return to the area until 1862.
On May 8, 1862 Granville and James Stuart established a mining operation and set up sluices near the head of Gold Creek. Most of what is known of this first discovery comes from the diaries of the brothers. James was the sheriff of Missoula, Montana and his comments mainly dealt with daily activities of the town and made little mention of his mining operations.
Gold Creek was never over populated with miners like later gold rushes. Word went out that the gold reserves were minimal and showed signs of early depletion. This dismal news encouraged many residents to leave Gold Creek. Once word of the discoveries at Alder Gulch and Bannack was out, the rush was on and the little town of Gold Creek was deserted for richer diggings.
Gold Creek is the area in which Henry Villard, president of the Northern Pacific Railroad, came to drive the iron spike that completed the line linking the West Coast with the East.
Today all that remains of the history of gold mining on Gold Creek are huge tailing piles and enormous gravel bars that evidence the sluice and hydralic efforts of 150 years ago.
Today, the daytime hours in Gold Creek, Montana are quiet, there is still a one room school house, although the bar and the church are closed. Nightime is a different story. Ghost of miners long departed are said to roam the creek. Several local residents allege these stories are untrue, but chilling things happen on Gold Creek during the dark of the moon.