The historic town of Coloma is located in the Garnet Mountain Range of western Montana approximately 35 miles east of Missoula. Covered with snow from November to late April, the town sits at elevations ranging from 5,800 to 6,040 feet above sea level. While the snow cover, averaging 36 inches, is constant in winter, the summer months remain dry with little or no precipitation. The combination of snow cover and dry summers result in a limited growing season of about 40 to 60 days from June to September. Vegetation reflects this lack of rain water, as the site is dominated by upland lodgepole pine and an assortment of upland conifer species (Nature Conservancy 1998:3-4). The majority of the mining district rests upon a layer of granodiorite, a granular, crystalline rock containing medium to coarse grained ground-mass of quartz and white feldspar. Mineral ore deposits occur in veins located in the granodiorite situated near limestone contacts (Sahinen 1957:26).
Coloma cabin, 2006
The earliest gold mining activity in the Garnet Range occurred in the mid 1860s and consisted of small placer outfits along the few creeks, mainly on the Elk and Bear Creeks (Wolfgram 2005). The first claim in what would become Coloma was established in 1868 by J.E. VanGundy, a brewer from nearby Deer Lodge, MT. His placer holdings, due to lack of water, were worked only a few weeks in the spring. The first lode claim was filed in 1879 by VanGundy and several other partners on the Mammoth or Washoe Lode (hereafter referred to as the Mammoth). Major work did not begin on the lode until 1893. Several other large claims were filed for the Coloma area in the 1890s, such as the East Mammoth Lode, the Clemantha, and the I.X.L. Despite its initial push into the Coloma area, the owners of the Mammoth Lode (the Mammoth Gold Mining Company) were not the principal presence in the town. It was, instead, the East Mammoth company under the ownership of J.W. Moss that constructed the significant structures in the town proper. These included a mercantile, accompanying warehouses, bunkhouse, blacksmith shop, and boarding house. The Mammoth Mill complex was located a little more than a mile to the southwest of town at a lower elevation, most likely to take advantage of human-constructed waterways. In addition to mining related structures and their Mill, the Mammoth Gold Mining Company constructed a boarding house, reading room and library (Bear Mountain News, 27 January 1898:1,4; Hoskinson 2000:2-6; The Silver State, 13 September 1893:3, 31 January 1894:3, 12 February 1896:2; Timmons 2006:14-25).
John Wesley Moss and his daughter Elmira (Moss-Peterson private collection)
At its height Coloma boasted the Chamberlain boarding house, the Mammoth Company store, a school, livery stable, Moss family mercantile, and Mammoth Mill complex (Missoulian, 2 November 1895: 4). The Mammoth Gold Mining Company was plagued with financial difficulties, resulting in its closure several times in the 1890s. Shareholders reassessed in order for work to resume. Failure to repay debts resulted in the sale of the Mammoth Lode at sheriff’s sale in 1898. Efforts were made in the first decade of the 20th century to revive work at the Mammoth Mill complex. These efforts, however, did not last for very long. Coloma’s post office was decommissioned in 1903 and the last major effort at the Mammoth was in 1906. The town was again occupied during the Depression and in the 1950s, however, the activities associated with these periods are currently under investigation (Journal of Engineering and Mining, 21 January 1899:94; Missoulian 23 October 1895:4, 25 October 1895:4; Powell County Call, 21 July 1906:5, 25 August 1906:5).
Previous surveys of Coloma and its surrounding environs have produced mixed results. Two geological surveys conducted in 1916 (Pardee) and 1953 (Sahinen) commented upon the presence of and conditions of the various structures observed in addition to mineral reports. In his 1953 report, Uuno Sahinen remarked that the town of Coloma was abandoned.
Bear Mountain News, 1898, Coloma News: All About Coloma. Bear Mountain News, 27 January (1): 1-4.
Hoskinson, Paige, 2000, A Cultural Site Evaluation of Coloma, Montana. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Missoula Field Office, Missoula, Montana.
Journal of Engineering and Mining, 1899, Montana, Deer Lodge County. Journal of Engineering and Mining. Volume67, 21, January: 94. Scientific Publishing Company.
1895, And Still They Come. Missoulian, 23 October: 4, Missoula, Montana.
1895, The Mammoth Mine. Missoulian, 25 October: 4, Missoula, Montana.
1895, Among the Mines. Missoulian, 2 November: 4, Missoula, Montana.
Nature Conservancy, 1998, Blackfoot (Peterson-East Mammoth Lode), Conservation Easement Documentary Report, Peterson and Moss Private Collection, Missoula, Montana.
Pardee. Joseph T., 1918, Ore Deposits of the Northwestern Part of the Garnet Range, Montana. Bulletin 660, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, 195-199. Originally published in Contributions to Economic Geology, 1917, Part I.
Powell County Call,
1906, Coloma Mining News. Powell County Call, 21 July: 5. Deer Lodge, Montana.
1906, Coloma Mining News. Powell County Call, 15 September: 1. Deer Lodge, Montana.
Sahinen, Unno M., 1957, Mines and Mineral Deposits Missoula and Ravalli Counties Montana. Bulletin No. 8, Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology. Butte, Montana.
The Silver State,
1893, Of Local Interest. The Silver State, 13 September: 3. Deer Lodge, Montana.
1894, The Mammoth Mine. The Silver State, 31 January: 3. Deer Lodge, Montana.
1896, From Coloma Town. The Silver State, 12 February: 2. Deer Lodge, Montana.
Timmons, Marta W., 2006, Historic Period Overview. In Coloma Historic District: Historical and Archaeological Research Design. Jennifer Ogborne and Marta Timmons. Report to Bureau of Land Management, Missoula, from Department of Anthropology, University of Montana, Missoula.
Wolfgram, Terri, 2005, An Overview of the Bear Gulch Placer District and the First Change Lode Mining District. Manuscript on file at Bureau of Land Management Missoula Field Office, Missoula, Montana.