In 1872 H.L. Hoffman and George Boothroyd first discovered placer gold in Rocker Gulch, a tributary of Cottonwood Creek, seven miles east of Cottonwood City (as Deer Lodge was then known). But their success was modest.
Not until the late 1880s, while searching for the source of placer gold in Rocker Gulch, did prospectors finally find several lucrative lode mines.William Zosel’s Bonanza mine gave rise to the namesake camp Zosel, which opened a post office in 1892. But it was William Emery who claimed the most productive mine, which bore his name.
As the mines sank deeper, gold gave way to silver galena, but in 1893 the government stopped purchasing silver at an inflated price, and the resulting crash spelled disaster for the mining district and town of Zosel.
It was soon to recover, as the Carbonate Extension Co. in Deer Lodge, in a reported silent partnership with local cattle baron Conrad Kohrs, invested in the claims of Emery and others. Although Zosel continued to work his Bonanza mine, locals now referred to the repopulated town as Emery.
A partnership led by Phillip Harrington, reported the May 1, 1896, edition of Deer Lodge’s New North-West newspaper, leased the Emery mine.The partners paid 25 percent royalties to the owners yet still cleared $7,500 a month. The newspaper noted that Emery was a company town with no saloon but well-supplied stores and a boardinghouse boasting “a firstclass table.” All year freighter Jack Reid hauled daily loads of ore down the mountain to the railhead in Deer Lodge, in winter using huge bobsleds.
In 1896 Emery got a new post office, which operated almost continuously until 1906. It would reopen in 1936 for less than two years.
In 1902 the Emery Mining Co., headed by Marvin W. Trask, bought out the Carbonate Extension’s assets and erected a concentrator at the mine. Shipping high-grade concentrated ore (46 percent gold, 44 percent silver and 10 percent lead), the company pulled down nearly a half-million dollars profit in just five years. Emery’s population peaked at about 400.
Everything came to a grinding halt in 1907 when Emery Mining sold out to an English syndicate that knew little about mining and even less about running a company. Its partners fought among themselves, ran out of capital, went bankrupt and closed the mine. The town emptied out.
In 1910 the Emery Consolidated Co., a group of experienced men who knew the mine and its potential, bought the Emery property at a sheriff’s auction and reopened the mine and mill. An eager workforce soon moved into the existing cabins in town. Production continued until 1923, the last year the tailings were worked. Other mines kept producing on and off, though, and the town held on.
The Emery reopened in 1931, its lessees sinking a new shaft 850 feet and building a flotation mill. Though an explosives ban shut down production during the war years, operations otherwise continued through 1948. Meanwhile, the Bonanza mine, which the Zosel family had operated straight through until 1924, peaked in 1947–48, yielding 686 ounces of gold and 3,569 ounces of silver.
The first mine to open in the district, the Bonanza was also the last to close, in 1950. In the decades since, the town of Emery has slowly deteriorated. To visit its ghosts, head east on FR 705 (Emery Road) from Deer Lodge into the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.
Originally published in the December 2013 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.