The area near Lewistown, literally the center of Montana, has a history of gold mining, and with the boom and bust associated with that, there are now ghost towns.
I took a driving tour following along portions of the Ghost Towns/Gold Mines history detailed in a brochure available at the Lewistown Chamber of Commerce. It’s a self-guided driving tour but I was lucky to connect with a historian who lives in one of the areas along the route.
My day began near Gilt Edge just off MT Hwy 200, about 16 miles east of Lewistown. This area is on the east edge of the Judith Mountains although it starts our fairly flat. It doesn’t take long to get in to this island mountain range though. Gold was first discovered at Gilt Edge in 1883 but mining methods of the day didn’t work well to extract it. By 1892 cyanide was used to extract the gold and the town of Gilt Edge was born. By 1912 Gilt Edge had several businesses, many residences, a hospital and a school. Population hit 1,500 around 1908 and then it began to decline. Today you can see remnants of a store front and several other ruins. Most of the town is private property but you can drive a few of the old streets.
A few miles before we reached Gilt Edge we could have turned and traveled to Fort Maginnis. This military fort was established in 1880 and built by nearly 200 craftsmen. We didn’t take this jaunt because there isn’t much left to see there. A few foundations and a cemetery remain at Fort Maginnis and it’s certainly worthy to note that Teddy Blue Abbot, famous cowboy in the area, is buried in the cemetery. Some of the buildings at the Fort were moved and two still stand in Lewistown.
When we left Gilt Edge we drove through Maiden Canyon and the terrain changed considerably. Gone were the open views of the Judith Mountain foothills and in their place we saw large rocky outcroppings, curvy roads and tall coniferous trees. It was the third week in June and wildflowers were blooming alongside the gravel road. It drizzled rain part of the time but the road was in good shape, no worries there.
Again, we arrived at a fork in the road with options of going to Camp Maiden or the townsite of Maiden. Camp Maiden is mile off the road towards Judith Peak and is a recreation facility that is available for rent. We took the turn to the townsite of Maiden.
The first gold discovered in Maiden was in 1879 near the head of Warm Spring Creek Canyon. There’s gold in them there hills because other discoveries soon followed! One mining camp was called Andersonville and had around 50
buildings. Rustle mining camp had about a dozen buildings and the Alpine camp was about the same size. By 1881 Maiden had buildings constructed with tent camps still there. The paydirt at Maiden came to be from the gold and silver lode deposits, not the placer gold that was originally discovered. The little town of Maiden flourished. By 1883 Maiden had 154 buildings although they were built on mining claims. It’s hard to image 1,200 people living in Maiden although the scenic beauty could certainly draw a good population today if land was available. Maiden’s population shrunk to a few hundred residents by 1900 and a fire five years later destroyed most of the business district.
Fast forward to 1970 and the Spotted Horse mine reopened and operated off and on until 1989. The latest ore production came from the Maginnis mine in 2016.
Nearly 20 structures remain in the Maiden townsite today including ruins and remodeled buildings that
are residences. You’ll also see some new homes and a few signs around the townsite, You can drive on Montana Street and Main Street but other areas are private property.
I learned that if you see purple coloring in the rocks that means there should be gold in them. We found rocks that looked like that!
My scenic drive through the Judith Mountains took about three hours. When we began it was drizzling rain but we drove out of that. Some of my photos look misty but that added to the ghost towns, gold mines mystique. Grass was lush and green, wildflowers were beautiful and around every bend in the road I wanted to stop for photos.
I’ve driven up to Judith Peak before for those amazing 360 degree views. I still want to go back and drive to the ghost town of Kendall which is in the North Moccasin Mountains. At Kendall today, according to the brochure, you can still see foundations, a bandstand and a boulder used in drilling contests.
The Lewistown Chamber of Commerce at 408 NE Main (406-535-5436) has free copies of the Ghost Towns & Gold Mines tour. In addition to a map on the brochure you’ll find some interesting history about the ghost towns and gold mines. Next door to the Chamber is the Central Montana Museum with history of the area.
Lewistown is noted for outdoor recreation from hiking to fishing to biking and more. Find things to do and places to stay here.
Now, start planning your next road trip!