Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Old Copper Mine at Cracker Lake

If you’ve ever had the chance to hike to Cracker Lake, it’s likely you’re aware of the remnants of the old mine located near the far end of the lake.

The mine was established after copper ore was discovered near the shores of the lake in 1898. Although the Blackfeet Indians owned all of the lands east of the Continental Divide, they sold their claim on the mountainous area to the United States in 1896 for $1.5 million. This parcel, which became known as the “Ceded Strip,” would eventually become part of Glacier National Park. By an Act of Congress the transaction officially took place on April 15, 1898. On that same day the area was declared open, and a "rush" to stake mining claims took place. At the appointed hour a volley of shots rang out and the rush began with a wild stampede of miners on horses, in wagons, and even on foot. Within a matter of hours hundreds of claims were staked in the Swiftcurrent Valley and in adjacent areas such as Rose Creek, Boulder Creek and Cracker Lake.

The Cracker Lake Mine was established on the southern end of the lake at the foot of Mt. Siyeh. According to legend the mine received its name when two prospectors, L. C. Emmonds and Hank Norris, after staking their claim, had a lunch of cheese and crackers on the site. Later in that same year the claim was sold to the Michigan and Montana Copper Mining & Smelting Company.

At the site, miners dug a thirteen hundred foot tunnel, built a sawmill, and erected a steam driven concentrator to process the ore.

According to Through The Years In Glacier National Park, Charles Nielson used a large freight wagon and twelve mules to transport the 16,000 pound concentrator on a 29-day trip from Fort Browning to the mine. Often the load was hauled with block and tackle up the bed of Canyon Creek to its headwaters at Cracker Lake. Although hauled in and installed, the concentrator never operated. A mining expert from Helena determined that the site wouldn’t be profitable and discouraged further development (and you thought the boys on Gold Rush were the only ones that didn’t have a plan!).

The boom town of Altyn

One of the financial backers of the Cracker Lake Mine was Dave Greenwood Altyn. A town bearing his name was built near Cracker Flats, and was active from 1898 to 1902. During its peak it had an estimated population of 600-800 people, and boasted a store, post office, hotel, newspaper, several saloons, and many of the other establishments typically found in a boomtown. After the Cracker Mine went bust, so did the town. The former townsite was eventually buried under water after the Lake Sherburne reservoir filled the valley in 1921.

After the short boom most of the mining claims were abandoned. Unfortunately for the miners who staked their fortunes in this area, little or no minerals were found. With the exception of a few diehards, most of the claims were abandoned by 1903.

The land surrounding the Cracker Lake Mine changed hands several times throughout the following years. It was finally picked up on a tax deed from Glacier County on September 22, 1953 by the Glacier Natural History Association. In October of that same year the land was turned over to the Federal Government for $123.96, the cost of acquiring it and clearing title.

Today hikers can still find many of the remnants from the old mine. In addition to mine tailings, you can still see several abandoned machinery parts, including the boiler. The tunnel entrance is also nearby, though entry into the mine shaft is prohibited by the park. For more information on the hike to Cracker Lake, please click here.

Glacier National Park: The First 100 Years details the astonishing changes the park has undergone since its designation in 1910, including the Great Northern Railway's Swiss-style chalets & lodges. It features more than 200 historical photographs, as well as some of the finest artwork of the region and its people, including Charlie Russell.

Hiking in

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