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Prospecting Paradise

Prospecting in Paradise

Searching for Gold in Yellowstone in the 1860s

by Robert V. Goss


When gold was discovered in California in 1848, countless thousands of hopeful prospectors flooded into the territory seeking their fortune. After the easy pickings were gone, they spread out over the West to continue their search. Gold was discovered in Montana in 1862 and by the following spring, close to 3000 miners were living in Bannack. With thousands more in route to the new bonanza country, they soon spread out into all the many mountain ranges in Montana and Wyoming. A number of men went to the Yellowstone area, not to enjoy the matchless beauty, but to discover pay dirt and fulfill dreams of becoming rich. From 1863 to around 1870, there were many parties, large and small, exploring the Yellowstone country for glittering nuggets of gold.
Illustration from Harper's Monthly, April 1860

1850 - Bridger & Carson

ES Topping in his book “Chronicles of the Yellowstone,” related that, “Kit Carson, Jim Bridger, Lou Anderson, Soos, and about twenty others came overland from St. Louis to the Bannock Indian camp on Green River, late in the fall of 1849. They fixed up winter quarters and stayed with these Indians till spring. Then they went up the river and as soon as the snow permitted crossed the mountains to the Yellowstone and down it to the lake and falls; then across the divide to the Madison river. They saw the geysers of the lower basin and named the river that drains them the Fire Hole.”
Jim Bridger
Topping described the venture as a prospecting expedition, not fur trapping and if true, it is probably the first publicized quest for gold in Yellowstone. The results of the expeditions are not known and I am not aware that Carson or Bridger made further attempts to prospect the Yellowstone. However, both Lou Anderson and Soos participated in future prospecting efforts in the region.

Kit Carson in 1868, two months before his death


The Prospectors

The known records of Yellowstone prospecting activities are mostly quiet about the period between Bridger and Carson’s visit in 1850 and 1863, although certainly occasional small trapping or prospecting parties must have passed through the region. The discovery of gold in Montana in 1858 and the big strikes of 1862 resulted in a multitude of prospectors scouring the greater Yellowstone area for the precious metal. These included men such as Walter deLacy, George Huston, Jack Baronette, Joe Brown, Jeff Standifer, Bart Henderson, Adam “Horn” Miller and many others. Prospecting probably continued on a yearly basis in the park through the 1860s and after that time efforts were concentrated on the Bear Gulch/Crevice Gulch areas north of Gardiner and the New World Mining District around Cooke City.

1863 - Walter W. deLacy

In July of 1863, forty (some sources say 26) prospectors banded together under Walter W. deLacy to explore the headwaters of Snake River. By the time his “forty thieves” reached the forks of Snake River and were within the south boundary of the present park, the party had splintered several times. Charles Ream led a group up Lewis River to Shoshone Lake, over the divide to the Firehole River and down that stream to the Madison, while deLacy conducted his party across the Pitchstone Plateau to Shoshone Lake. There they found what is now called Shoshone Geyser Basin, noting that, “some of which were geysers, which they saw in action, spouting up the water to a great height.” Continuing on, they traveled over the divide by way of DeLacy and White Creeks into the Lower Geyser Basin, from which they, too, continued down Firehole River to the Madison and out of the Yellowstone. deLacy made an excellent map of the area, but unfortunately neither his explorations or map were published until after others had accomplished those tasks and his claim to glory was overshadowed by others. One of the men, John Davis returned the following year to prospect (see below).

Left Top: Walter W. deLacy
Left Bottom: "Crater of the Giant Geyser", illustration from "The Wonders of the Yellowstone. “ Scribner's Monthly, June 1871


  1864 - George Huston

According to historian E.S. Topping, author of Chronicles of the Yellowstone, “Prospecting parties were going out in every direction. One of these consisting of thirty men under the leadership of Austin [George Huston] went to and up the Yellowstone. When they arrived at the east fork of the Yellowstone, they went up that stream to the first creek coming in from the left above Soda Butte creek, up which they went. They made a camp at its head and, as they had seen no signs of Indians, let their horses run loose. The next morning at daylight a band of Arapahoes swooped in and drove away all their stock but one jackass. It was useless to chase them without horses, and the boys, not being ready to go back, cached their things and, packing the jackass heavily and themselves lightly, went over the divide to Clarke's Fork and down it to below the mouth of the canyon. Here they found some prospects, but no pay; so turned back to their cache, and taking from this the most valuable articles, struck out on their back trail for Virginia City.”

Right: George Huston biography by Robert Goss
Left: "The Giantess", illustration from "The Wonders of the Yellowstone. “ Scribner's Monthly, June 1871

Huston revisited the park later that year and ascended the Fire Hole River, probably following the Madison River through the west entrance.  Upon reaching the Upper Geyser Basin Huston and his party witnessed the “marvelous eruption of the Giantess and other geysers” but apparently felt uncomfortable with “the suffocating fumes of brimstone, [and] fearing they were nearing the infernal regions, hastily decamped."  The prospectors failed to strike it rich, but found enough color to justify return visits.

1864 - James Stuart & John Davis

John C. Davis, one of the men who accompanied deLacy in 1863 returned to the Yellowstone region the following year as a member of James Stuart's 1864 expedition down the Yellowstone River to prospect the Bighorn and Stinkingwater (Shoshone) Rivers. After the breakup of that undertaking, an element of the party worked southward under the leadership of Adam "Horn" Miller. According to the Louisville, Ky., Courier-Journal (April 13, 1884) Davis explained, "We came into the park just above the lake, and immediately found ourselves in the midst of the wonders of this enchanted land. The boiling springs and geysers were all around us, and, accustomed as we were to the marvels of Western scenery, we hardly knew what to think of the phenomena. Having visited this place the preceding year I was, however, less surprized than the others. We wandered along the shore for a while, and leaving the lake we went into camp about a mile and a half above the falls. The roaring of the great cataract reached us, but was barely discernible at this distance, and we were among so many wonders that we paid it little attention."

[Note: James Stuart was the older brother of Granville Stuart, who was a Montana pioneer, prospector, rancher and statesman. The brothers discovered small amounts of placer gold at Gold Creek, Mt in 1858, leading to a rush to Montana and the large 1862 gold discovery at Bannack.]

"Yellowstone Lake" Illustration in "The Wonders of the West"  by FV Hayden, Thomas Moran, artist
February 1872 Scribner's Monthly


1864 - William Wyatt & William Hamilton

Yellowstone Superintendent Philetus W. Norris noted in his annual report for 1881 that, "In the spring of 1864, H. W. Wayant, now a leading citizen of Silver city, Idaho, William Hamilton, and other prospectors, to the number of forty men, with saddle horses, pack train, and outfit, ascended the east side of the Yellowstone from the Gate of the Mountains to Emigrant, Bear and Crevice Gulches, forks of the Yellowstone, East Fork, and Soda Butte; thence over the western foothills of Mount Norris to the bluffs upon the south side of Cache Creek, where their horses were all stolen by some unknown Indians, but their only two donkeys would not stampede, and remained with them. Here the party broke up; Wayant, Harrison, and ten others, with one jack, and what he could carry, ascended Cache Creek to Crandall Creek, Clarke's Fork, Heart Mountain, thence by way of Index Peak and the Soda Butte returned to the cache made by the other party of what they could not carry, aided by their donkey, from where set afoot, and hence called Cache Creek.”

Map of northeastern portion of Yellowstone where prospecting activities were centered. The East Fork of the Yellowstone east of Baronette's Bridge is now called the Lamar River. From FJ Haynes, 1888


1864 – Jack Baronette

The Livingston Post in Jan 30, 1895 reported that, “Jack Baronette, the famous scout, hunter and old-time Indian fighter, is in receipt of a letter from Lieut. H.M. Chittenden of the United States engineer office of Columbus, Ohio.  Mr. Chittenden says he is making a careful study of all historical questions connected with the Yellowstone National Park and asks for information on obscure points. . . Mr. Baronette says: ‘In 1864 I went into the park on a gold prospecting tour, going as far as Yellowstone lake. There were no signs of any white man having preceded me. Arriving at the east fork of the Yellowstone I found a camp of about 150 lodges of hostile Indians, but did not talk with them, as my party was small. We left there as fast as we could conveniently.’”
[Note: Baronette has been variously spelled, Baronett, Barronett, Barronette, etc]


1865 - George Harvey Bacon

The Yellowstone region was visited a number of times in 1865. One of which was a Montana prospector and mountaineer named George Harvey Bacon. He is said to have been led to the Upper Geyser Basin by a party of friendly Indians that year.


1866 - George Huston

Only one known prospecting expedition is known from 1866. It was a violent time as the Sioux Indians, who were determined to prevent a reopening of Bozeman's emigrant road into Montana Territory, frustrated the activity of prospectors in the Yellowstone region that year. From Aubrey Haines "Yellowstone National Park – Its Exploration and Establishment," is revealed that “A small party, led by George Huston, entered from the west, up the Madison River, passing from the geyser basins to the Mud Volcano by way of the "east fork" [Nez Perce Creek], around the west side of Yellowstone Lake to Heart Lake, then across rough country to the Yellowstone River above its lake. From there they followed the eastern shore to the outlet, descended the river to the great falls and across the Mirror Plateau to the east fork of the Yellowstone [Lamar River], after which they passed down that stream and the Yellowstone to Emigrant Gulch.”


1866 – Yellowstone Expedition

This expedition was led by Jeff Standifer and A. Bart Henderson and was accompanied by Jack Baronette. They prospected along the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River, Wind River Mts, Big Horn Mts and other areas east of the Absaroka Range. It is not believed that they actually prospected in Yellowstone proper, despite their name. Although some of them may have passed through the park on their return to Montana.


1866-67 – Joe Brown, Zimmer, Royer

From Topping’s “Chronicles of the Yellowstone,” we find that, “In the spring of that year [1866] Joe Brown, John Zimmerer, Dan Royer and another man took a claim on a bar at the mouth of the Bear and worked at it all that season, taking out about eight thousand dollars in gold. At an average exchange rate of gold at $20/ounce during those days, the $8000 taken out would have represented around 400 ounces of the precious metal.The next summer Brown worked higher up in the gulch, and Nelson Wannamaker, Front and two others worked a claim just above its mouth and took out considerable pay. This latter party picked up several nice nuggets, one of which weighed three ounces, and was worth over fifty dollars.
Joe Brown (from orginal with Adam Miller, John Curl & Brown)

Arch Graham, Jack Crandall and Finley (or Dougherty) worked in Crevice Gulch during the summers of 1867-68 and part of 1869.” In August of 1869 Crandall and Dougherty were killed by Crow Indians on what is now Crandall Creek in the Clark’s Fork region of the park. A week or so later after the two had headed east, Adam Miller and Frederick Bottler traveled to the area to meet the two prospectors. They found the men’s camp, where the pair had been killed by Indians. Both heads had been severed and stuck on the end of picks that were stuck in the ground.

Adam "Horn" Miller grave site in the Cooke City Cemetery (author photo)


1867 – Lou Anderson, Hubble, Reese & Caldwell

According to E. S. Topping, this set of prospectors made an expedition, “Early in the summer of 1867, Lou Anderson . . . with [A. H.] Hubble [George W.] Reese, Caldwell and another man, went up the river [Yellowstone] on the east side. They found gold in a crevice at the mouth of the first stream above Bear, and named it in consequence, Crevice gulch. Hubble went ahead the next day for a hunt and upon his return he was asked what kind of a stream the next creek was. "It's a hell roarer, was his reply, and Hell Roaring is its name to this day.”   [Note: Hubble may be Ansel S. Hubbell]


1867 – A.H. Hubble & Bear Gulch Stampeders

David Weaver, a gold miner at Emigrant Gulch north of Yellowstone proper, reported to the Virginia City Montana Post, (published Aug. 31, 1867) that, "A portion of the Bear Gulch Stampeders have returned. They have been to the Lake at the head of Yellowstone and report the greatest wonder of the age. For eight days they traveled thro' a volcanic country emitting blue flames, living streams of molten brimstone, and almost every variety of minerals known to chemists. The appearance of the country was smooth and rolling, with long level plains intervening.
On the summits of these rolling mounds [Crater Hills] were craters from four to eight feet in diameter; and everywhere upon the level plains, dotting it like prairie dog holes, were smaller ones, from four to six inches and upwards. The steam and blaze was constantly discharging from these subterranean channels in regular evolutions or exhaustions, like the boilers of our steamboats, and gave the same roaring, whistling sound. As far as the eye could trace, this motion was observed. They were fearful to ascend to the craters lest the thin crust should give way and swallow them. Mr. Hubbel, (one of the party) who has visited this region before, ventured to approach one of the smaller ones. As he neared its mouth his feet broke through and the blue flame and smoke gushed forth, enveloping him. Dropping upon his body, he crawled to within a couple of feet of the crater and saw that the crust around its edge was like a thin wafer. Lighting a match he extended it to the mouth and instantly it was on fire."
Boiling Sulfur Spring - Crater Hills. By Wm H. Jackson, 1871

Click here to view the entire article from the Virginia City "Montana Post" Aug 31, 1867
Some of the descriptions strains one's credulity, but such was newspaper reporting in those days.


1867 – A. Bart Henderson

Another party of prospectors passed through the Yellowstone region in the fall of 1867 that became known through a diary kept by A. Bart Henderson. From his diary Henderson explains that, “The party entered the park at the southeast corner after following the old trapper’s trails along the Snake River and over Two Ocean Pass. Aug. 30th 1867. It was from this camp [near Bridger Lake] that we first looked upon the far-famed Yellowstone Lake, about 15 miles northwest. We were at a very great loss to know what it was. Capt. Bracey said he would soon settle that question & let us know the facts. He soon had Capt DeLacys map spread on the grass, tracing out the different rivers that he found marked on the map. The Yellowstone Lake he soon found to be 15 miles long & 5 miles wide. This was all contrary to what we could see with our own eyes . . . However we all concluded that we was on the Yellow Stone, & in sight of the famous lake."  Henderson's party moved northward and eventually continued down the Yellowstone River to Emigrant Gulch.

A drawing made in 1894 of Two Ocean Pass with a view to the northeast. Atlantic Creek exits the pass between the hills in the upper part of the image. Pacific Creek exits to the southwest in the lower part of the image. North Two Oceans Creek enters from the left side of the image and divides into its two tributaries and South Two Ocean Creek enters from the right of the image and is also shown dividing into two streams. Evermann Creek also enters the area from the west (just above the tents). Popular Science Monthly. V. 47, 1895, pp. 175–186]

1870 – A.B. Henderson, Adam Miller, Hibbard, Gourley

Soda Butte, Wm Henry Jackson, 1871
The lodes of Cooke City were discovered in 1869 by a party that included Adam "Horn" Miller, A. Bart Henderson, James Gourley and Ed Hibbard. The four men prospected near the head of the Clark Fork of the Yellowstone and on upper Soda Butte Creek. Henderson noted in his diary on July 22, 1870 that they discovered a, “. . .very singular butte, some 40 feet high, which has been formed by soda water. We gave the cone the name of Soda butte, & the creek the name of Soda Butte Creek.” They found gold float in the gravel as well as galena deposits in three or four places. On July 2, 1870 Henderson noted in his diary that, "“Here we found the first gold on the trip – gold in every gulch and sag.” Investigating the headwaters of Buffalo and Slough Creeks, their prospecting was cut short when Indians attacked and ran off their horses. Having to cache all of their supplies at what is now known as Cache Creek, they were forced leave the area and walk back to civilization. The next year, the group returned to establish a number of mining claims on Republic Mountain and a return expedition was organized in 1874 and several more lodes were discovered claims filed. The men took up residence, established the small burg of Miner’s Camp, later to become Cooke City while the surrounding area was to gain the moniker of New World Mining District.



By the end of the 1860s small parties of explorers began to arrive in the Yellowstone region, not to trap beaver or prospect for gold but to ascertain for themselves and the general public the truth behind the incredible and fantastic tales they had heard about Yellowstone. The mountain men were somewhat proud of playing fast and loose with the truth and many of their stories were justifiably unbelievable, though with a certain ring of legitimacy to them. The prospectors and miners who followed them tended to be somewhat more faithful in their verbal descriptions of the park’s wonders. Admittedly, like the fisherman’s tale of the whopper that got away, the tales of lost veins by seekers of ore could rightly be questioned. Nonetheless, early day “tourists” began arriving in small numbers to this Wonderland that was still fraught with danger, following the trails of the miners, mountain men and Native Americans. Scientific expeditions by the Washburn parties and Hayden-Barlow expeditions confirmed the old stories with oral and written documentation, and depicted in artwork and photographs. And so it goes . . . you know the ‘rest of the story.’ And if not, any number of other websites can better tell that story.

Hayden Expedition Camp, 1872.
By Wm Henry Jackson


Aside from his extensive mining activities around Cooke City, Adam Miller also served as a guide in the park and was a scout, along with Huston, for Gen. O.O. Howard during the Nez Perce war in 1877. He ultimately settled down to retire in a cabin across the Yellowstone River from Yankee Jim (James George). Some of the early prospectors became industrious citizens in the fledgling Montana Territory while many drifted from view of the historian. Others, many unnamed or unknown, never left the park and left only their bones to note their presence.
Although little gold was found in the park proper, the rich deposits discovered on Bear Creek, near the North entrance led to creation of the Crevice Mining District and town of Jardine. Near the northeast entrance of Yellowstone, the burg of Miner’s Camp was founded 1872 and later became known as Cooke City. The New World Mining District was formed and both areas have been mined off and on, just outside the park boundaries, for over 100 years.

Hydraulic Mining in Bear Gulch near Jardine in 1885. FJ Haynes photo.

Right: Cooke City ca1890 with Republic Mtn in background. Ralph Glidden Collection.

Copyright 2009 by Robert V. Goss. All rights reserved.
No part of this work may be reproduced
or utilized in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by an information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing from the author.

Additional Resources:

E.S. Topping, “Chronicles of the Yellowstone."

Aubrey Haines, “Yellowstone National Park – Its Exploration and Establishment.”

George A. Huston - Yellowstone Pioneer, Prospector & Guide

Grand Teton Historic Resource Study

Cooke City, Montana at

Jardine – Montana DEQ

New World Mining District

Montana Gold Rush

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