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The Cyanide Mill of the Gilt Edge Company

On June 15, 1893, the FEGUS COUNTY ARGUS (a central Montana Newspaper-still in circulation) made first mention of the new "cyanide or leeching process" mill being constructed on the east side of the Judith Mountains, about 3/4 mile below the mine and about 1/2 mile from the Ft. Maginnis-Lewistown road. Gilt Edge stockholders were listed as T.E. Collins, President H.S Shrard, Mgr., C.H. Clark, Secretary, and J.K Clark, Treasurer; J.T. Armington, A.E. Dickerman, and others. Continued the Argus: "It has not been over six weeks since the company took possession of the property under bond from the discoverers and owners, W.E. Wilson and Henry Munson, and Ed Anderson."

The ore in the mine was of "low grade" variety, yielding gold particles so fine they could not be seen via the naked eye. Only chemical test could determine the gold content, and only the new cyanide leeching process could extract it...Hopefully! Whi le the new cyanide process had been used most successfully in the Transvaal of South Africa, it had never been tried in the United States. The Gilt Edge mine in Fergus County, Montana, would be the first attempt in America. And all eyes in the mining world focused on Gilt Edge in the summer and fall of 1893!

The new cyanide process at the Gilt edge Mill produced gold instantly - In abundance! Yet, the laborers in the mine and mill were initially paid in "IOU" notes, and the suppliers of the materials and machinery went unpaid. The new mining camp of Gilt Edge, which sprung up a block east of the mill in the summer of 1893, was hard pressed, as its merchants accepted the miners' IOU notes but could not redeem them for cash outside Gilt Edge. From the start, a stockholder and New York lawyer named Robert A. Ammon (often called "Honest Bob") became resident manager and quite simply horded all of the gold in the company safe without paying the company bills or the miners. The FERGUS COUNTY ARGUS followed the tragic events of Gilt Edge with every issue, and on January 25, 1894, Argus headlines read: "Gilt Edge Troubles: The plant and bullion attached and a lively chase for the latter." In short, creditors T.C Power & Co., the Montana Hardware Co., and Geo. T. Chambers got an attachment on the plant and gold via court action on January 16th. The Sherriff was to seize the gold and bullion the next day. Robert A. Ammon found out obout it quickly, and "at 5 o'clock in the morning of the 17th," had his employee Jack Parr leave Gilt Edge "In charge of about 800 punds of cyanide product valued at about $25,000." Parr reached Lewistown at 7:15 A.M. going toward Great Falls. Ammon joined Parr in Lewistown. Under Sherriff Scott and Deputy Selvidge left for Gilt Edge at noon on the 17th, and upon arriving, attached an empty safe. After escaping from an encounter with Deputy Lyons pursuing near Stanford (MT), Parr and Ammon made it to Great Falls. According to the first report, Ammon deposited the bullion in the Cascade National Bank. In later published reports, the Cascade Bank denied ever having seen the bullion. The gold has never been found!

The new Gilt Edge Cyanide Mill 1899

On June 22, 1898, the FEGUS COUNTY ARGUS excitedly noted that the new owners of the Gilt Edge properties had "stopped ore hauling to the mill...and a crew is now engaged in cleaning the mill preparatory to its abandonment." The mill built in 1893 was to be torn down, and a prestigious new cyanide plant, processing 500 tons of ore per day, was to be built next to the mine tunnel a mile up the canyon. This would eliminate the hauling of ore in wagons from the mine to the mill. E.W. King was appointed General Manager, and was so popular with the miners that he was presented with a gold watch in February of 1899. On August 16, 1899, the ARGUS reported that the new Gilt Edge Cyanide Plant was in full operation. The paper also noted that "The Town of Gilt Edge is prosperous, with new buildings being erected and merchants generally reporting good business and ready pay. Pay day is now as certain as the sunrise." The Gilt Edge Cyanide Plant functioned from August of 1899 until about 1912, when the gold ore supply thinned out. The mill was later destroyed by fire. The creation of the Great Northern Mining & Development Co. as the sole owner of the Gilt Edge in 1898, and the building of the new 500 ton-a-day cyanide plant in 1899, was the main contributor to the growth and stability of the town of Gilt Edge after the turn of the century.

Whiskey Gulch Cyanide Mill 1901

While the initial and primary source of the economy for the mining camp of Gilt edge was the adjacent Gilt Edge Mine and Cyanide Mill, a second cyanide mill, completed early in 1901, added much to the growth of Gilt Edge. On August 29, 1900, the FERGUS COUNTY ARGUS reported that A.S Wright & Co. "will this fall erect a 200 ton cyanide mill near the Whiskey Gulch properties lately acquired by them." It further concluded that "it is believed the Whiskey Gulch properties will prove as big a dividend payer as the Gilt Edge mines."

Actually located in Cave Gulch, about 2 1/2 miles from Gilt Edge, the Whiskey Gulch Cyanide Mill was completed and began operations on February 4, 1901. The ARGUS gave a full page description of the new plant on February 6, 1901, claiming that "in many respects it is not only an innovation but a decided improvement on the other cyanide plants of this section." Aside from the mill, t he Whiskey Gulch property had an office building, and assay office, several store houses, a bunk and boarding house, and stables. As predicted, the Whiskey Gulch mill produced well, paying dividends to satisfied stockholders, until about 1905. The mill was later destroyed by fire.

The operation of the Whiskey Gulch Mill between 1901 and 1905, coupled with the successful operations of the Gilt Edge Mill, provided the mining camp of Gilt Edge with its peak growth and population boom. After 1905, Gilt Edge began to decline.

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