Glacier Centennial: Altyn, a mining boom town

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“In its one and only issue, Altyn’s Swift Current Courier on September 1, 1900 observed the high-pitched activity within the ceded strip and headlined: ‘NO DOUBT ABOUT THE PERMANCY AND PRODUCTIVENESS OF THE SWIFT CURRENT MINES.’ And also: ‘THE GROWTH OF ALTYN ASSURED.'” — Malcolm R. Campbell, “Bears, Where They Fought,” in NATURE’S GIFTS.

As you drive into the east side of Glacier National Park from Babb, MT to Many Glacier Hotel on Glacier Road 3 alongside Swiftcurrent Creek, picture how different this valley would be today if the early 1900s mining boom town of Altyn had survived within a strip of mountain wilderness ceded to the U.S. by the Blackfeet Indians in 1895.

Geologists, prospectors, developers and entrepreneurs were convinced that, while the scenery in the valley was lovely and didn’t put food on the table, that a great mining center would develop at the head of today’s Lake Sherburne. The speculators thought they would find enough silver, gold, quartz and oil to put a lot of meals on a lot of tables, and they braved the harsh winter elements and bad road conditions to see if what was under the ground proved to be more valuable than the natural wonder of the place.

Altyn in 1911 - W. T. Stanton Photo, USGS


According to a reporter on the nearby Dupuyer Acantha, “the road up to Swift Current in its present condition has been known to make a preacher curse, and I have my opinion of the man who makes the trip over this road road (!) without breaking the 3rd commandment or perhaps all ten of them.”

It was all for nothing: the mineral deposits weren’t commercially viable. By 1906, only a few people remained in Altyn hoping against hope that the mining shafts and test wells would strike pay dirt. Today, the remains of Altyn–such as they are–lie beneath the water of Lake Sherburne.

Lake Sherburne is a man-made reservoir that filled the valley in 1921 where once there was a forest and several smaller lakes and a saloon and a barber shop and a hotel and a fair number of businessmen who could never imagine the centennial we’re celebrating in the park this year.

Malcolm

The Sun Singer is set in Glacier Park's Swiftcurrent Valley

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4 responses

    • Thanks, Montucky. Every once in a while, I think how bad the valley would look now if there was a mining center with a rail line, a wider highway, and houses and stores throughout the whole Many Glacier area.