Colorful History - Superior, Montana & Cedar Creek

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Superior has a colorful Wild West history with a Gold Rush and Boomtowns that sprang up around the area. We have a local museum and historical society that was able to provide me with some great information on the history of the area.

Cedar Creek Gold Rush

The discovery of gold and the ensuing stampede into Mineral County's Cedar Creek gulch took place more than 100 years ago. Time has dimmed much of the story, but it is known that Cedar had all the elements of greed, violence and rowdiness found in gold mining camps.

French-Canadian Louis Barrette, disgusted with his luck in the Northern Idaho gold fields and looking around for better prospect enroute to the largely French-Canadian settlement of Frenchtown, Barrette rode parallel of the St. Joe River to its headwaters in the Coeur d'Alene Mountains.As he followed along the summit trail, he spotted a basin on the Montana side that looked promising, to his gold prospector's eye.

It was not until the next fall that Barrette finally returned. He and his partner, Basil Lanthier, climbed into the steep, cedar-crowded gulch with several pack and saddle horses loaded with enough supplies to last them several weeks. Their departure from Frenchtown was not a secret, thus many eyes would be watchful for any indications that their trip was a success. And indeed, they did find gold, on October 9,1869.

The Colorful Scene

Somehow (there are various versions) the news slipped and the rush was on. Once word got past Frenchtown, men (there were no women in Cedar this early) poured in from all over the territory, Northern Idaho, the surrounding states and even the West Coast. The news of the strike traveled so fast that it is estimated that 1,000 men from Idaho and Montana wintered at the gulch. From Missoula one correspondent to the "New North-West" wrote, "Missoula has been wild for a week." The result, he said, was that "Hotel keepers, merchants, clerks, idle men and loafers, all are gone..."

This frantic mob rushing into such an isolated spot presented some very real problems in the way of lack of shelter and food shortages. Packers soon poured into the snow-packed drainage with beans (50 cents a pound), bacon (75 cents a pound) and gumboots ($18 a pair). Housing was of the roughest sort-canvas shelters and brush hovels. The territory's papers warned the determined stampedists to go "well clad, blanketed and pursed."

But food shortages and inclement weather could not shake loose those who suffered from "Cedar fever," and in a few weeks the gulch was staked out with anywhere from 1,700 to 2,500 claims.

By summer, the high water receded in the creeks and the nearby Missoula (now Clark Fork) River, and sluicing of the winter's diggings began. Although the merchants and saloonkeepers were raking in the most money, Cedar's miners scratched out enough gold to stay alive, and some even more.

It is said that over 3,000 men visited the place within the first year. The 1870 census of the Cedar Creek area showed 1,587 white people, 30 Chinese, 20 Indians, and nine Blacks. A total of 50 saloonkeepers and nine bartenders were listed. The 1870 census, coincidentally the gold rush's most prosperous period, reveals the Cedar miners' real and personal property amounted to about $340,000. At least this was the claimed value. Since miners are known to be tight-lipped about their yields, the actual amount was probably much higher.

But by summer the steep, ravine-sided Louiseville became Cedar's hub, leaving the lower town to the brushfires that burned away most of its traces. Hurdy-gurdy houses, gambling dens, four bankers anxious to profit on an exchange of gold dust into greenbacks, shootouts -all were part of Louiseville's panorama. Men like Hugh O'Neal, John Ritchie, Alex Mayhew and W.J. McCormick all who hailed from Virginia City, added to the colorful scene.

Yet, even Louiseville, with its fancy two-story Louiseville House, hotel, assorted restaurants, 14 saloons and "two houses of ill-fame" succumbed to the same fate as Cedar Junction. As the year passed, the 600 to 1,000 in population pushed upstream or across the ridges. Miners became increasingly convinced that the paying gold deposits lay in the upper gulch. Many of Louiseville's 200 buildings lost their timbers to the flumes that later lined the creek.

A letter from 'Norman' to the Missoula and Cedar Creek "Pioneer," published in Missoula by Joseph Magee and I.H. Morison, described his town, saying:

"In every direction windlasses, shaft-houses, piles of mining timbers meet the eye; while walking through the town, one must pursue a serpentine course to avoid the huge piles of headings, or dumps of pay-dirt that obstruct the main, and only, street of the place."

Search for Colors Elsewhere

By 1873 things in Cedar were looking as if all the gold had been found. Prospectors began in earnest to search for colors elsewhere, and they found them in the neighboring gulch of Trout Creek. The "Missoulian" claimed that prospects of 25 cents to a pan were found.

With the new discovery just over the hill, it was easy for the miners to pack up and drop into the near-by gulch. But for some, the Trout find was only a confirmation that more gold could be found in Cedar, and they stayed behind.

End of Cedar Creek's Gold Rush Heyday

Although a few lived a charmed life due to Cedar Creek, many other Cedar men and women did not. They faded away from life as they did from Cedar when the end came. Most were lost and forgotten in the shuffle of building the West.

Even the results of their labor are unknown. How much gold was taken out of Cedar from 1869 to 1874? Will Cave, who lived at Forest City during its heyday, said $4 million worth. Other estimates range from $2 million to $10 million.

But the exact monetary value of the gold Cedar Creek gave up during those years will remain secret. The miners seldom revealed the contents of their poke then, and they sure are not telling now.

For more information on Mineral County, Montana including the towns of Superior, St. Regis, Deborgia, Haugen, Saltese, Alberton, and Lozeau, visit Mineral County, Montana

-Source: Mineral County Museum and Mineral County History by the Mineral County Historical Society

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