Historic mining camp offers chance to step back in time
By Kim Briggeman
Photos by Kurt Wilson
In a way, this remains George Gildersleeve’s Father’s Day gift.
He was in his early 20s in 1924 when George convinced his father, Ike, and Ike’s brothers, Charlie and Lee, to move their mining attentions over the hill from the Trout Creek watershed to the headwaters of Cedar Creek.
Most of a century later, you can search the old gold gulches of Montana and not find anything like the compound the Gildersleeves and the Kansas City Mining Co. built in 1930 and 1931 in Snowshoe Gulch.
A U.S. Forest Service survey in 1995 called it “the most complete Depression-era mining camp remaining in western Montana.”
Today it’s just as intact, just as secluded, and even more secure in its post-mining days as a family-owned complex of rough-hewn cabins, shacks and shops.
George Gildersleeve was 88 in 1991 when he died in the Superior hospital, clinging fiercely to this haven 17 miles up the creek.
“When he was up here, he felt that he was the king on the mountain,” Sue McLees, George’s lone surviving offspring, said. “As far as he was concerned, he owned all this.”
“As far as you could see,” McLees said in unison with her niece, Anna Haskins. They smiled at the memory.
The mountains of Mineral County sang their summer song early this summer, and the canyon that stretched from the Gildersleeve camp down toward the distant Clark Fork Valley shimmered in the unseasonable heat.
Here and there a sprig of beargrass already bloomed. Snowshoe Creek was less than a trickle, though water splashed merrily from the spring 200 feet above camp. It’s the source of a gravity-fed water system rigged up decades ago to provide plumbing to some of the cabins and, later, the chicken coop.
Half of the latter is rigged out as a shower, heated by a propane grill, a car radiator and copper tubing.
Resourcefulness thy name is Gildersleeve, though none of the family in this neck of the woods goes by the surname any more.
Neither Charlie nor Lee Gildersleeve had children, and George was Ike’s only son. He married Fern Dodson in 1931, even as the camp was being built. They had two daughters, McLees and her older sister, Gloria (Weaver), Haskins’ mother, who passed away in Superior in 2010. Gloria had four daughters, Sue had two more and a son who died young in a car wreck.
With all those girls involved, the names on the title these days are Weaver, McLees, Johnson, Mattfeldt, Mayes and Schaefer.
“When I was in high school, I was determined that when I got married, he was going to have to change his name to Gildersleeve, because there weren’t any more,” McLees said.
By whatever name, it’s the extended family connections that bring children, grand- and great-grandchildren, in-laws, cousins, and an occasional visitor to the camp in the good weather months.
What McLees called a paperwork snafu while routinely renewing their mining claim in 1994 led the Bureau of Land Management to declare the Gildersleeve claims abandoned. The Forest Service posted no-trespassing signs on the buildings, which seemed doomed.
“We realized there was quite a history there and the camp had a lot of historical significance from the early mining history in the Cedar Creek area and the longevity of the Gildersleeve family being up there,” said Nancy Rusho, forest geologist on the Lolo National Forest. “We really worked to try to figure out the best way to preserve the property.”
The solution was a land swap. The family purchased 20 acres in the Seeley Lake area, then exchanged them with the Forest Service for 20 acres on Snowshoe.
Though subject to some regulations, George Gildersleeve’s descendants now own the camp that he so loved.
Milo McLeod was archaeologist for the Lolo National Forest when he prepared a nomination of the Gildersleeve mining camp for the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service accepted the nomination and listed the camp in 2002.
It qualified first because it was part of the Cedar-Quartz Historic Mining District that rose after Montana’s last major placer gold rush. In late 1869, Louis Barrette and Basile Lanthier found gold in Cayuse Creek, a tributary 10 miles below the Gildersleeve.
Perhaps within weeks, it’s thought that a handful of the thousands of miners who flooded into Cedar Creek made it up to Snowshoe. For much of the 20th century, before and after they built their camp in 1930, the Gildersleeves maintained the mining legacy.
The Gildersleeve camp “played an important role in the life of the upper Cedar Creek drainage during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s,” according to the National Register nomination. “Its location on the upper reaches of Cedar Creek, as well as its telephone link to the outside world after 1938, made it a popular stopping place for hunters and travelers.”
Flanked on one end by the creek where placer ore was sluiced and on the other by a now-barricaded mine shaft into which operations moved when the creek dried up, this is a 1-by-12 camp – another basis for its national historical significance.
The structures are similar in design, made of the rough-sawn boards cut by a portable steam-powered sawmill in 1930. Snow depths are legendary up here, and support poles are used to keep the main bunkhouse from listing under heavy loads.
According to the National Register nomination, the construction style in the Gildersleeve camp is typical of “Depression-era mining camps that utilized simplified construction and relied on affordable, available, and often recycled construction material.”
In a corner of the cookhouse, an old-time phonograph is set in a dynamite box. Its horn is made from the aluminum skin of a Model A Ford, circa 1930.
“I don’t know if it didn’t run or what happened, but they left it up here over the winter,” McLees said. “Well, the snow crushed that car.”
“I was an accountant,” Anna Haskins said at lunch time in the cookhouse.
A Superior girl born into a mining family, Haskins worked for Barrick Gold Corp. and Newmont Mining Co. in Elko, Nevada.
“The stress was unreal,” she said. “I got up here and it was just like it actually fell off my shoulders.”
Each spring when the snow goes, Haskins and her husband Tim head up to the Gildersleeve. For the past eight years she’s stayed, riding herd on whatever needs fixed, showing the occasional visitor around camp, and basking in its history.
Tim Haskins, a federal mine inspector, returns to the camp on his days off. Generations of Gildersleeves and their extended families make the drive to Snowshoe Gulch from Superior and other places to work, hang out, and drink in the delicious solitude.
“Now I stay as long as I can in the fall,” Anna said, “and I can’t wait to get back up here in the spring.”
You probably wouldn’t ask George Gildersleeve this, and the question may sound “idiotic” even to his daughter and granddaughter, but what’s the appeal of the Gildersleeve?
“It’s like a different world up here, like you step back in time,” said McLees. “I think what people really enjoy (is) it’s so calming. I don’t know if there are words for it, how you feel when you’re up here.”
“It’s the memories,” Haskins said. “Oh, yes.”
Kim Briggeman is a longtime Missoulian reporter. He writes from Missoula.
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Treasure State Hidden Gem: Tongue River Winery
Story and photos by Susie Wall
Your first hint that Tongue River is not an average winery is when you notice the “Location” section of its website lists GPS coordinates. The second hint comes when you realize that proprietors Bob and Marilyn Thaden and son Josh are the sole sources of labor at Tongue River.
They perform all the planting, harvesting, pressing, bottling and labeling on their two acres to create an annual flow of 2,000 gallons of exceptional wines in the outskirts of Miles City.
Winemaking began as a hobby for Bob and Marilyn.
Bob was a pastor for 30 years. Marilyn was a speech pathologist.
One day Marilyn said to Bob, “If you’re going to make this much wine, you might as well sell it.”
Soon after, the joys of gardening combined with the thrill of a constant challenge and an endless supply of learning opportunities turned a hobby into a livelihood.
The Thadens grow almost all of the grapes and fruits that go into their wine on their own property. Rows of vines heavy with hearty European and wild American hybrid grapes such as Frontenac, Marquette and La Crescent are found beside branches laden with raspberries, currants and chokecherries.
The quiet beauty of the vineyards belies the struggles of making wine on the unforgiving eastern plains, and Bob and Marilyn are constantly waltzing an intricate dance with the elements.
“Nature is a bad mistress,” Bob said.
The grapes they grow were chosen for their ability to withstand temperatures down to 40 below zero, but this is no guarantee every harvest will bring forth a plentiful crop.
The timing of frosts does as much to effect the yields as plunging mercury.
One of these unpredictable cold snaps in 2014 caused Tongue River to suffer a total grape crop failure.
Despite the challenges, it is evident that the Thadens are addicted to the art of making wine.
In addition to their love of working the land, they revel in the social aspect that comes with owning a winery.
A typical day finds them buried among their vines until the chime of a cell phone alerts them to the next round of curious wine lovers peeking through the tasting room door.
Soon after the alert sounds, you will find Bob and Marilyn deep in conversation with a new set of friends while they proudly showcase their hard earned bottles of Apple Ice and Tongue Tied red.
Tongue River Winery Tip Sheet
Where and when to go
Either take the Broadus exit south off of Interstate 94 and follow the handmade “Winery” signs or plug 46°22’50″N 105°50’22″W into your GPS to find yourself at the front door of Tongue River Winery.
On that door you will find cell phone numbers that will bring Bob or Marilyn in for a tasting. As the website notes, the winery is open all legal hours but to schedule a visit or make sure someone will be around, call (406) 853-1028 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are unable to visit the winery, wines can be ordered online at www.tongueriverwinery.com or found in 25 retail outlets from Circle to Dillon.
When you’re there be sure you try
A glass of haskap wine. Haskap is edible honeysuckle also known as honeyberries. It resembles an elongated blueberry and tastes like a cross between strawberries, cranberries, blueberries and raspberries. The Tongue River proprietors believes they are the only winery in the country that makes haskap wine, so snatch up the opportunity to sample this delectable and unique wine. Finish up with a sweet treat with sips of Cherry Pie. Bob thinks that it resembles the real thing so much he suggests pairing it with pie crust.
Where to go if you admire the art on the walls of the winery
Much of the artwork that adorns the tasting room was produced by friends of Bob and Marilyn. To continue your interest in local art, a stop at the WaterWorks Art Museum is a must. After a long career as the supplier of the citizens’ drinking water, this century-old building now displays works by local artists such as Michael Blessing and one of the largest publicly viewable collections in Montana of the works of 19th century western photographer L.A. Huffman.
Susie Wall is a freelance writer and photographer. She works from Missoula.
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Digging up millions of years of Montana
We really dig this story. Get it?
Dinosaur dig revealing insights to Montana 103 million years ago
By Brett French
In a region of Montana known for a 1960s fossil discovery that forever altered paleontologists’ concepts of dinosaurs, Michael D’Emic may have unearthed the bones of three new species — one a mammal, another a crocodile and the third a dinosaur.
“What’s really cool about the site is we’re getting a big picture of the ecosystem,” D’Emic said in a telephone interview from his home in Stony Brook, N.Y., where he teaches anatomical sciences at Stony Brook University. “We’re finding stuff that died in a flood, and a few seasons before, all collected in one area.”
D’Emic is waiting to collect more bones from the specimens before he names or describes the new fossils.
“He doesn’t want to say anything until he knows more,” said Greg Liggett, paleontologist for the Bureau of Land Management in Billings.
In 1964 in the same region of the Bighorn Basin, south of Billings, John Ostrom of Yale University discovered the deadly curved talon of a dinosaur later named deinonychus, or “terrible claw” — a smaller, feathered version of the fierce velociraptors made popular in the movie “Jurassic Park.” Ostrom’s research into the dinosaur’s skeletal structure was the first to relate the animals more closely to birds than lizards and to defy earlier concepts of dinosaurs as slow and stupid.
“It kind of started us on the whole dinosaur revolution of the past 50 years,” Liggett said.
Liggett, who oversees the granting of permits to dig on BLM lands in his region, said the layer of rock D’Emic has targeted to chisel into is not as readily accessible in other parts of the continent.
“I’m working one of the few sites still producing a lot of material, but logistically it’s difficult,” D’Emic said.
Read the rest of the story here
New book tells the nighttime story of Glacier
Here’s a beautiful story about a photography who captures the best of Glacier National Park – at night:
Glacier Park’s nighttime stories come alive in new photo book
By Rob Chaney
To see Glacier National Park like John Ashley does, you don’t have to be a mountaineer or a tour bus driver.
You just have to stay awake. All night long.
Landscape photographers lecture one another about the “golden hours” around sunrise and sunset, when the sun skims the horizon and alpenglow gleams on the mountain peaks.
Ashley’s biological clock ticks to very different rhythms, like moon cycles and magnetic storm pulses. Any Glacier visitor treasures snapping a photo of a grizzly bear. Ashley holds out for comets.
“The image on the cover is one of Comet Lovejoy,” Ashley said from his home in Kila, where he’s launching the publication of “Glacier National Park After Dark – Sunset to Sunrise in a Beloved Montana Wilderness.” “That comet was only visible during the month of December 2013, and there were only three nights that were something less than 100 percent cloud cover. Those three nights, the temperature was 10 below, 11 below and 21 below zero. I was out all three nights, and I never saw another photographer on any of those nights.”
That could be because a photographer had to linger four hours on the subzero shore of Lake McDonald hoping that a night fog would clear. But then, Comet Lovejoy only passes by once ever 14,011 years.
Numbers and calculations hold considerable sway over Ashley’s art.
He schedules his photo forays by the appearance of meteor showers, the seasonal aspect of constellations, and when those features might line up with park landmarks such as lookout towers, lake valleys or significant mountains.
Read the rest of the story here
Where to get ‘After Dark’
Glacier National Park After Dark: Sunset to Sunrise in a Beloved Montana Wilderness is available directly from author John Ashley through his website,johnashleyfineart.com and wherever Montana natural history books are sold.
Editor top picks: Features worth reading twice
We’re getting ready to send our fifth issue of 2015 to the printer. That means we’re 5/6 of the way through 2015.
How time flies.
In light of that, I took a moment to look back at all our features for 2015 so far and find a few I hope you haven’t missed – or are worth a second (third, fourth…) read.
To me, the below list represents exactly what we try to accomplish in each issue by telling the authentic story of Montana through the eyes of the people who love it.
- Over the Hill Gang, from the May/June 2015 issue: Meet the members of the longest-running hiking crew in Glacier National park.
- A World Wildlife Experience, from the November/December 2014 issue: Glasgow native Skip Erickson donates wild gift to children’s museum
- Homegrown Guitars, from the March/April 2015 issue: Sean Kochel’s guitars are made from Montana
- Best Pie in the Big Sky, from the May/June 2015 issue: A very sweet installment of our The Last Best Plates series (including a pie slideshow!)
- Woodpecker Men, from the January/February 2015 issue: Ryegate men keep unique tradition alive
More fires spark in Glacier – much of park still open
As crews continue to contain the wildfire that shut down Going-to-the-Sun Road in late July, another set of fires sparked early this week.
Most notably, the Thompson Fire near Nyack and Cold Creek “exploded” to more than 11,000 acres on Tuesday. As you can see from the photos courtesy of Nicholas Parker, it’s a big one.
But, as park officials keep noting, much of the park is open and ready to explore.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Goat Haunt
- Rockwell Falls with the Over the Hill Gang
- Mountain Pine Motel and it’s wonderful neighbors
- Many Glacier Hotel
‘Last Bus to Wisdom': Montana events planned for release of final Doig novel
We’ve always got a suggestion on which Montana books are worth a read thanks to our book reviewer Doug Mitchell.
Doug reads a lot of books and then picks the ones he thinks you need to know about to feature in his reviews each issue. All his reviews are online here.
Earlier this summer, Doug featured Ivan Doig’s “Sweet Thunder” – including an author Q&A with the man who captured Montana so beautifully throughout his storied literary career.
We’re reviving this post and review in anticipation of the release of Doig’s final novel “Last Bus to Wisdom,” which will be available a week from today.
It was a shock to the state and his fans worldwide when Doig died in April after an eight year battle with cancer.
Just weeks before his death, Doig chatted via phone with Doug, telling him at one point “I’m a full-blown Montanan all the way back to the times of the Anaconda Company domination, and I’m from the ‘other’ Montana; the ranching Montana, the rural Montana, the outback Montana.”
If you haven’t read the entire Q&A, it’s worth a read.
Doig’s words certainly live on in a meaningful way. You can (and should) read his memoriam page.
And if you are around Montana, Washington or California next week, perhaps you can make a reading or celebration event being held for “Last Bus.” Below are the Montana events:
MONTANA BOOK AND TOY COMPANY – 7:00 PM
Off-site at the Lewis & Clark Library
120 South Last Change Gulch Street, Helena, MT 59601
Free & Open to the Public
COUNTRY BOOKSHELF – 7:00 PM
28 W Main Street, Bozeman, MT 59715
Free & Open to the Public
FACT AND FICTION – 5:00 PM
Off-site at Ten Spoon Winery
4175 Rattlesnake Drive, Missoula, MT 59802
Free & Open to the Public
Top reader photos: Summertime scenes
We’ve got quite an eclectic mix of pics for you this week, courtesy of our fabulous readers.
From the Milky Way above a lookout tower to a set of cowboys doing what they do best, we present the top reader photos of the weeks, summertime scenes style.
You can always see more reader photos here.
Do you have photos of Montana you’d like to share? Email email@example.com with the jpg image, a short description and full photographer information.