RICHARD I. GIBSON for The Montana Standard
The Parrot vein was one of the first hard rock veins discovered on Butte Hill, by Dennis Leary and HH Porter in October 1864. The vein and its extensions ran east to west, from what is now the eastern edge of the Berkeley Trough. to a point near present-day Jackson and Copper streets, a total length of nearly two miles. Gagnon and Original Mines and others mined parts of the Parrot Lode.
The parrot was called the source of the “best copper ore in the camp”, consisting of “black oxide of copper often covered with a thick layer of native silver”. Several miners and partnerships worked the full length of the seam, but the focus was on the segment south of Dublin Gulch east of Wyoming Street.
Even during the depression of 1869-1874, when Butte’s population fell to 100 or 200, work continued on the Parrot Lode. At that time Butte was called “an apple of gold in an image of silver with no one to pluck its riches”, but James Gilchrist had a well on the Parrot up to 65 feet in November 1872 reaching 105 feet in the year next, while William Park and Joseph Ramsdell sold ore to the First National Bank in Helena, which shipped it to Baltimore, Maryland, for smelting.
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With the rejuvenation of Butte in 1875, the Parrot saw at least five separate operators working the seam, including Downs, Talbot and Leary, who produced from a 90 foot shaft with two galleries which produced ore grading 38 % copper and $30 silver per ton. For comparison, good ore from the Berkeley pit contained about 3% copper and Montana Resources produces copper from ore grading about 0.3% copper.
Conrad Kohrs and WY Pemberton, a future Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Montana, were both involved in the Parrot in the 1870s, as were prominent Montana entrepreneurs and politicians Samuel Hauser, Anton Holter and William Clark. . The success of the Parrot Mine (run by William Park) and the Parrot Ramsdell (Joseph Ramsdell), both of which reached over 1,000 feet in depth, led to the construction of the Parrot Smelter along Silver Bow Creek, just northeast of today’s Civic Center.
The ground was laid for the foundry on October 25, 1880, and the new furnaces were fired in June 1881. Much of the money for the effort came from Connecticut investors, including A. F. Midgeon and Thomas Wallace, as well as local individuals and banks. William Thompson, mayor of Butte from 1895 to 1897 and whose family is the namesake of Thompson Park, was awarded the lumber contract for the construction, amounting to 75,000 board feet.
In 1885, the Parrot foundry was the only American site to use a patented French process that produced a matte of 98% or more copper, whereas the old process only produced 70%. And in 1887, JE Gaylord invented a foundry process for hot casting slag bricks that became an industry standard.
The smelter was one of the worst offenders in terms of smoke discharge in Butte, and it closed in July 1899, while most of the surface buildings at the Parrot mine were destroyed by fire on August 8. 1900, “the worst conflagration in many years” at Butte. The Parrot Silver and Copper Company was acquired by the Amalgamated (Anaconda) Company in 1899 and the smelter was demolished in 1906.
Approximately 600,000 cubic yards of tailings and other waste generated at the Parrot smelter is being disposed of to prevent it from contaminating Silver Bow Creek.
Local geologist and historian Dick Gibson has lived in Butte since 2003 and has worked as a tour guide for various organizations and museums. He can be contacted at [email protected]