Harmon’s Histories: A lively, short-lived diary recorded Hartford’s mining boom

Andrew Thompson and Hudson Greer opened a general merchandise store offering groceries, hardware, boots and shoes. Thomas Swanton offered the “best brands of liquors, beers and cigars” in his Liverpool Saloon.

There were also carpenters and blacksmiths who opened businesses in the mining camp south of Helena called Hartford.

We know this only because John Harris and Robert Bailey documented the events in a short-lived diary called The Hartford Weekly Pioneer.

Hartford and another town called Lump Gulch no longer exist. Clancy is the only community left from those boom/bust days of gold and silver mining south of Helena.

But at the time there was every reason to think that Hartford would like thrive – even become a city of a thousand people or more.

The Legal Tender mine produced “over a million dollars of silver”. The Liverpool mine, “the best-developed mine in the district”, is said to have brought in its owners “over $15,000 a month”.

The newspaper owners said: “With this number the pioneer bows to the people of the Lump Gulch and Clancy districts. We don’t know if we are filling a long-standing need, but if there is, we will strive to fill the void.

“We believe that the district of which Hartford is the center is destined to be the wealthiest and most productive silver mining camp in the United States, and we believe that the only way its resources can be presented to the people is by through the middle. of a newspaper. »

One of the newspaper’s first front-page stories spoke of a “pioneer prospector at Lump Gulch,” a man named Spurgeon. He succeeded, between 1864 and 1892, in putting himself “about $25,000 in the hole”. But then he got his hands on the Prospect mine “and started developing the property.”

“Each foot of depth improved the prospect, until at a depth of several hundred feet the mine produced enough to not only pay for all of its development, but paid off all of the lucky miner’s debt,” said placed a handsome balance to his credit in the bank, and made his interest in the property a fortune.

Especially the Hartford Weekly Pioneer saw his role as the city’s biggest booster and was quick to declare his virtues!

“Hartford is well supplied with rail service, there are six passenger trains a day, four on the Montana Central and two on the North Pacific.” A new deposit of $1,500 was expected.

The foundations of a new two-storey hotel with 20 rooms were being prepared. George Seeley was adding to his general merchandise store and Stephen Koalke was opening a blacksmith shop.

A reservoir was constructed with a pipeline supplying water to the new Main Street hotel and store buildings. A public telephone set was in the general store, but “a batch of telephones ordered from the East some time ago” had not yet arrived.

However, it would take more to make the city a thriving community. A restaurant would be nice – or even a lunch counter. Also, “Someone should open a lumber yard in Hartford immediately. There is already a great demand for such an institution, and in sixty more days there will be enough material used to occupy two good busy yards to meet the demand.

Now that the new local paper was “afloat on the sea of ​​journalism”, the owners encouraged “all our old friends and as many new ones as possible” to stop by their desks and subscribe.

the pioneer was also prepared to “take any work orders that may be given to us, and will execute them promptly and at reasonable rates”.

But things didn’t work out; the diary only lasted six months.

In a furious last editorial on Saturday, July 27, 1885, the Hartford Weekly PioneerThe owners of, John Harris and Robert Bailey, told their readers: “The publishers expected this district to have the warm support of Helena, being on her doorstep.

“But, on the contrary, the people of this city lost no opportunity to oppose and destroy a side whose star shines among the brightest in the state today.”

Last issue of the Hartford Pioneer, July 27, 1885

“There is no reason for this state of affairs except pure wickedness, and before the capital the city recognizes its mistake Butte will reap a rich harvest and Helena will remain standing on the wrong side of the “mud hole”.

“We want him to clearly understand that the Pioneer is not closed for fear that the publishers have about the permanence of the camp, but simply for lack of support.

“Not wanting to inflict our story of doom on a long-suffering audience, we drop the matter, with our thanks to those who have supported us and – for those who have done this necessary step.

Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula newscaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at [email protected] His new book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was”, a collection of 46 vignettes of western Montana history, is now available at harmonshistories.com.

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