August 22, 2019

First Gold in Montana

Ellen Vogelsang, MHS Volunteer

Most Montanans are familiar with the Grasshopper Creek Gold Discovery in 1862, which began the gold rush to Bannack and the Montana Territory. However, Granville Stuart “found” gold four years earlier, near what is now Gold Creek. Stuart had been delayed by illness at Malad Creek (Utah) in 1857, on his journey from the gold rush of California back to the 'States'. He heard, from other mountaineers, of gold found on a branch of the Hell Gate River (present-day Clark Fork River) and detoured to the north. He found gold, but lacked sufficient tools to excavate and did not return until 1862.
Granville Stuart, 1883 [MHS Photo Archives 981-260]
Earlier in Utah, Granville Stuart had learned of Metis trapper named Francois Finlay, known as “Benetsee”, who had found light float gold on what he called Benetsee Creek (now named Gold Creek) in 1852. This prompted the detour north by Stuart and associates. Benetsee traded the gold to Angus MacDonald at Fort Connah, which ultimately led to MacDonald finding gold in British Columbia. Both Benetsee and MacDonald were employed by the Hudson Bay Company and were told to keep the gold discovery quiet to protect HBC’s interests. The company had seen what the California gold rush had done to their trapping grounds and business.   

Stuart returned to Gold Creek in the spring of 1862 with the proper equipment to viably mine gold. The Pike’s Peakers got wind of gold in Montana, which led to John White coming north from Colorado and finding gold in Grasshopper Creek on July 28, 1862.
View of Bannack in 1891 with Grasshopper Creek in the background
[MHS Photo Archives 940-699]
Benetsee can be credited with finding the first recorded gold in Montana, 10 years prior to the Grasshopper Creek/Bannack discovery.  Granville Stuart had the means to make his discovery profitable several months before John White. 

References:
Angus MacDonald (1816-1889) - MHS Archives Papers/SC 47: Box 3/Folder 3
Granville Stuart “Forty Years on the Frontier”
Wikipedia: Gold Creek, Hell Gate

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