October 26, 2012

A Grisly Find

By Christine Kirkham
Coordinator, Montana Digital Newspaper Project

It is 1865. An unnamed miner taps alone in an isolated rivulet.

Tap tap.   Tap tap.

Suddenly his mallet echoes with a metallic clank.

Could this be it? Had his luck changed? Was he about to become a rich man?

Back in 1864, as the War Between the States dragged on, four Southern soldiers were brought before Union General Alfred Pleasanton and given a choice: remain POWs in Missouri, or be banished upriver. They chose the unknown hardships awaiting them in remote Montana Territory.

When the adventurous quartet discovered a sensationally rich vein of gold near present-day Townsend, Montana, they named their find after a cause close to their hearts: Confederate Gulch.

Their newfound riches gave rise to stories of fabulous wealth hidden in the hills of Montana. Between 1866 and 1869, over a third of the territory’s population resided near the Gulch, in a raucous boomtown called Diamond City. It's estimated that the value of gold dragged from the region eventually exceeded $30 million.

From the Montana Post, November 4, 1865
From the Montana Post, Virginia City,
Montana Territory, November 4, 1865, page 3
So what became of our hapless miner, tapping away silently until he heard an unexpected sound? Sadly, he had not found his fortune. Instead, his rhythmic pounding had unearthed a hollow cavern hiding a single unmarked coffin.

On November 4, 1865, the Montana Post speculated the corpse was that of a "candidate for hemp"—one of dozens of thieves who preyed on miners and ended life dangling from a noose. Over time, the burial plot sank due to the "heavy downward tendency of the corpse" on its way to a land below the Earth.

And what became of Diamond City? Today it is populated only by ghosts.

Hundreds of stories like this one can be found on the Library of Congress web site Chronicling America, where over 52,000 pages of historical Montana newspapers are available for searching and viewing.

This post was co-authored by Molly Miltenberger, based on research by Caitlin Patterson.