Saturday, January 5, 2013

Philipsburg's namesake

Philipp Deidesheimer

Prospector Hector Horton discovered silver ore along a small branch of Flint Creek in 1865, and the next year showed the deposit to James Stuart of the St. Louis and Montana Mining Company. Stuart and company acquired several of the lodes, and sent their mining engineer, the German born and educated Philipp Deidesheimer (above) to look over the veins. He gave a glowing report on the ore and they immediately began planning to build a mill. 
Deidesheimer was already famed for developing a safe system for mining wide veins in the Comstock district of Nevada known as Square Set Stoping. This system, comprised of interlocking cubes, provided greater stability than the traditional timbering of a mine opening. Apparently a bee honeycomb inspired his inventing the square set. If Philipp had patented his design for the square set he would have made millions in royalties, but he apparently regarded his invention as a service to the safety of miners and never sought to profit from it, saying, “If all goes well and these square sets protect the lives of the miners, what more could a man ask for?” 
The James Stuart Mill, financed by James Stuart and his associates in the directorate of the St. Louis and Montana Mining Company, was built in 1867 under Deidesheimer's supervision, with the assistance of metallurgist Augustus Steitz and builder Horace Countryman. It was the first silver amalgamation mill built in Montana. 

We describe the mill in some detail elsewhere in this blog.
It was constructed immediately adjacent to Horton's Cordova lode. Both the lode and mill are shown on the Plat below.

The mill was based on the design of mills in the Washoe (Comstock) district of Nevada known to Deidesheimer from his work in that district. It successfully operated using his basic design for nearly four decades, so the statement of Rossiter Raymond United States Commissioner of Mines and Mining Statistics in and West of the Rocky Mountains, that it was "the best mill in the Territory" can be considered amply demonstrated. 

The mill was designed to treat the "free milling" ores of Hope Hill. 
Veins further south, on Poorman Hill and Trout Hill, contain too much lead and zinc to be successfully treated by the Washoe process. Unfortunately for the St. Louis and Montana Mining Company, James Stuart pushed Deidesheimer out and took over the mining and milling operations as superintendent. Dan Meschter, a geologist who later chronicled the early history of Philipsburg, interprets this disastrous move as displaying Stuart's amateurish overconfidence. Because of the geologic complexity, Stuart could not find sufficient ore on Hope Hill to feed the mill, and his attempt to mill ore from the Poorman's Joy claim was a disaster because of the excessive base metal content. This in turn led to incorrect statements such as this one in Bancroft's History of Montana: 

"Philipsburg was laid out in 1867, its future being predicated upon the silver bearing veins in its vicinity. The first mill, erected at a great expense by the St Louis and Montana Mining Company, failed to extract the silver which for years patient mine owners had been reducing by rude arastras and hand machinery to prove the value of their mines and the prospects of Philipsburg were clouded." 

The mill only "failed to extract the silver" from ores for which it was not designed. It worked very well on Hope Hill ore from the moment of start-up. 

The mining camp that was built up around the mill was named Philipsburgh in Philipp Deidesheimer's honor at a general meeting of the residents on June 22nd, 1867.  His popularity might have stemmed in part from his attitude toward workmen and contractors. He was regarded by mining financiers like James Stuart (and, indeed his former employers at the Comstock) as being far too generous toward labor, with Stuart complaining to the banker Sam Hauser that Deidesheimer had no more idea of what to pay a man "than a child." Given such attitudes toward his workforce it should be no mystery that the miners and construction crew at a silver camp would name their town after their talented, humane, and generous boss!

A letter written by a woman who lived in the camp that first year of it's existence, Kate Perry, indicates that Deidesheimer also laid out the town. He had spent a lot of time in San Francisco, which was the financial center for the Comstock mines, and named many of the streets in Philipsburg after those in downtown San Francisco, like Sutter, Sansome and Montgomery.  

From the beginning, the residents joked that they decided on "Philipsburg" because "Deidesheimerburg" would have been just too much of a mouthful! Either way, Philipsburg bears the mark of Philipp Deidesheimer's design, even if, for lack of a third "p" the name doesn't quite accurately bear his first name - Deidesheimer's reports to the Directors of the St. Louis and Montana Company, and other documents show he signed his name with two p's at the end of his first name. Some early  maps and articles further mangled the name by spelling it with 2 l's (Phillipsburg) and an internet search quickly reveals that mis-spelling has been hard to eradicate!   Rossiter Raymond's  report to Congress on mining in the West during 1871 provides a better spelling (Philippsburgh), and the Helena Herald newspaper spelled the town's name Philippsburg in many of their articles - but the official spelling eventually adopted wasn't quite so accurate.  

Deidesheimer's reports reveal he was too glowing in his assessment of ore bodies. Whether this reflects native optimism or deliberate exaggeration is not completely clear, though his later career demonstrates that be backed up his evaluations with his own money. For example, Charles Shinn's 1896 account of the Comstock district, titled The Story of the Mine, reports that Deidesheimer poured all his money into Comstock companies in the 1870's, stating he believed there was $1.5 billion of ore in the mines yet to be extracted. Unfortunately the best days of the Comstock were even then past, and the market in Comstock shares soon collapsed. He also had the bad luck of being heavily invested in San Francisco real estate just prior to the 1906 earthquake, and by the time he died on Saturday July 22, 1916 at the age of 84 in San Francisco, he was largely forgotten and nearly destitute. He is better honored and remembered by today's mining fraternity, as one of the first inductees into the Mining Hall of Fame in Leadville, Colorado.  

Philipp and Matilda Deidesheimer, Married in 1880 according to 1900 census

Some in-depth research on Philipp was done by Daniel Meschter,  a geologist, newspaper columnist and mining historian who worked in the Philipsburg Mining District early in his career. Meschter wrote a series of articles on Philipsburg's early history (which he titled "Flint Chips") for the Philipsburg Mail during the 1980's.  Meschter's research archive is housed at the Mansfield Library of the University of Montana in Missoula. Also of note is an excellent recent biography of Deidesheimer by Ellen Braunstein, which draws heavily on Meschter's research. This blog post draws on both Meschter and Braunstein, as well as primary sources such as the reports of Deidesheimer to directors of the St. Louis and Montana Mining Co.  


  1. Having a town named in your honor in your lifetime by its residents, and to be remembered so well and cited 150 years later for your unselfishness---in the end, it's an admirable kind of immortality.

  2. Would the blog's author have any information on the biography by Braunstein? The link here is dead, and the only other item I find connecting Deidescheimer and Braunstein is an article in a mining trade journal. Any help is appreciated.

    Mitch Grady