In 1869 John W. Russell discovered silver galena ore on High Ore Creek, a tributary of the Boulder River. Four years later he obtained a patent on 17.7 acres, which included the “Comet” mine, his home, a second house and an “ore house.”
A camp/town named Comet developed and a post office was secured in 1877. Two years later, Alta Montana Mining, owned by moguls Samuel T. Hauser and D.C. Corbin, bought the property.
The rich ore (the vein was reported to be 12 feet thick at a depth of 145 feet) from the Comet was shipped over a mountain pass to the company smelter town, Wickes. The smelter could not keep up with the ore supply, leading to many production slowdowns at the mine.
In 1883 the company went bust, causing the first complete stoppage at Comet. Hauser and Corbin reorganized with new capital investment and built a concentrator at Comet and an aerial tramway over the pass to reduce transportation costs to the smelter. Also, lime was discovered in a second shaft dug at the mine, which provided cheap flux for the smelter. Full production resumed in Comet.
The next decade saw full employment at the mine, with 40 miners earning $3.50 a day and 35 others $3 a day. Even the dramatic crash in silver prices in 1893 didn’t really affect production.
By 1894 equipment was wearing out. On September 25, a suddenly falling lift cage crushed the lower half of William Laughlin’s body (he later died from his injuries); the brake block and its bearings were faulty. On October 13, the hoist again let go, and hoist man Archie Gillis, though he swore he had set the brakes, was fired. A week later, a mysterious fire believed to have been deliberately set destroyed the hoist shed and hoist frame.
Production came to a halt in 1897, and the lower levels of the mine were allowed to flood. Little mining was done in the next decade, with ownership changing often. But by 1908 new pumps were installed and full production resumed with 60 miners. At the 1,000-foot level, copper and some gold were discovered.
In 1926 the Basin Montana Tunnel Company acquired the Comet and the nearby Gray Eagle mine on Bishop Creek, a tributary of High Ore. The company built a 200-ton flotation mill (then called “the most modern custom milling plant in Montana”) to process the ores from both properties. The old mill was torn down to make room for it.
The World War II ban on nonessential mining put a stop to mining operations, and postwar mining activity was minimal before the Comet played out.
The government has cleaned up the Comet so that it no longer pollutes the Boulder River. Today, the mine, the flotation mill and a town of crumbling cabins sit on private property. A Jefferson County dirt road runs through the property, allowing access.
These facts are courtesy of Alberta, Canada, resident Terry Halden, a self-proclaimed “ghost-town nut” and author of Mining Districts & Ghost Towns of Montana (Old Butte Publishers, 2007).
Originally published in the August 2007 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.