Friday, February 1, 2013

Hector Horton: Biographical Details

The story of Hector Horton and the discovery of silver ore in the Philipsburg area requires some historical housekeeping. 

When was the district discovered?
For some reason as yet unknown, W.H. Emmons in USGS Professional Paper 78 gives the date for Horton's original discovery as December of 1864, and credits him - incorrectly - with discovering the Hope mine.  Newspaper accounts at the time state with precise confidence that Horton made his discovery on February 28th, 1865. However, Horton's recorded Certificate of Location for the Cordova shows he located the claim on June 24, 1865, and filed it at the Deer Lodge County seat, Silver Bow, on July 4. 

Dan Meschter's research for his historical column in the Philipsburg Mail in the 1980's (called "Flint Chips") shows that the claimants Horton listed on the various lots of the Cordova were mostly businessmen from Deer Lodge. Perhaps they had grubstaked him in return for a share of his discoveries. J.H. Brown was an attorney who helped Stuart and Sam Hauser set up the St. Louis and Montana Mining Company.  

What was William Graham's role?
William Graham and his partner, A.S. Blake, are listed as the claimants of the first lot SW of the discovery on the Cordova. William Graham was an accomplished pioneer explorer and prospector who was one of the first placer miners in Montana, washing gold at Pioneer (Gold Creek) in 1861, the year before the Stuarts set up their sluice boxes. Graham also gets a share of the credit for the earliest lode claims in the Butte District. Here's the account in Bancroft's 1890 History of Montana:

The most famous silver districts were those of Butte in Silver Bow, Philadelphia in Deer Lodge, Glendale in Beaverhead and Jefferson in Jefferson County. In May 1864 Charles Murphy and William Graham discovered the Black Chief lode, which they called the Deer Lodge, in the Silver Bow district. Soon after, G. O. Humphreys and William Allison discovered the Virginia, Moscow, and Missoula leads. The Black Chief was an enormous ledge, extending for miles.

Montana did not become a territory until the very end of May, 1864, and so there would have been' no county courthouse where Graham and Murphy could file the "Deer Lodge lode" when they staked it. Graham may have relocated the claim in November, as that is the date given in his eventual courthouse filing. His co-claimants include his usual partner, A.S. Blake., as well as "Dance and Stuart." Apparently the close association of Graham and James Stuart, cemented in an 1864 exploration of the Yellowstone, carried over into prospecting ventures. 

Meschter speculates that perhaps Graham accompanied Horton on his prospecting expedition to Flint Creek, but so far no direct evidence has surfaced to support this supposition. "Sandbar" Brown and others (Leeson) describe Horton as discovering the Cordova as a lone prospector, and Owen's Journal says Graham was off on an unsuccessful prospecting trip during the time Horton was locating the Cordova. However, Graham was one of the very few pioneers who ever travelled through the upper Flint Creek Valley, on trips from Fort Owen via the "Bitterroot Direct" or Burnt Fork trail. He was also one of the few who could recognize a silver vein, as shown by his discoveries at Butte. The most reasonable explanation for Horton's prospecting trip to the Philipsburg area is that Graham tipped him off that there were some good looking silver prospects in the area. In return for this tip, Horton "staked him in"... registering lots on the claims in Graham's name. 

John Wagoner's claims in 1865 on the "East Fork of Flint Creek"
Examination of the Granite County courthouse filings indicates that shortly after Horton filed his locations, a John Wagoner recorded several claims, including the "Comstock No. 3", which Wagoner describes as being located a mile southeast of the "Flint Creek" lode, one of Horton's claims. The courthouse transcription of his certificate says Wagoner located his claims on June 4, but since that is before Horton staked any claims, and the certificate directly refers to a pre-existing Horton claim, there must be a transcription error on the date. Either the year or month have likely been transcribed incorrectly. In any case one would expect to hear more of Wagoner in late 1866 or 1867, when a "silver rush" occurred in the district. Instead, after location, Wagoner and his claims disappear from further mention in the record, and the story of these claims, and even their exact location, remains a mystery. The only well known John Wagoner in this era of Montana history is the infamous robber Dutch John Wagoner (Wagner), but he had been hung by the vigilantes the previous year.   

Fortunately, the 1870 Census lists a John Wagoner - twice - at Bannack and at a nearby district. Both listings have the same age and birthplace, so Wagoner apparently traveled between places and was counted twice. He is no doubt the mysterious locator of the Comstock No. 3, as several of his co-claimants were also living in Bannack in 1870 (Henry Pond, Thomas Watson, and Joseph Kepler). They must have found better prospects to work on at Bannack, and abandoned their efforts at Flint Creek. 

Hector Horton, Biographical Details
Now for such biographical details on Horton as we are able to muster. Dan Meschter's research on Horton locates him in the 1850 census in Pennsylvania, where a 22 year old bricklayer with that name was living with a family named Petty. We have learned from descendants of the Pettys (see the comment at the bottom of this blog entry) that Hannah Petty was Hector's sister. Pioneer miner and journalist Sandbar Brown, who undoubtedly knew Horton,  is our source for believing that Horton was an 1850 pioneer of the California gold rush; if so, Horton traveled from the east to the west coast in that year. The Pettys apparently missed him... after he was gone they had another child, a son, and named him Hector after his uncle.

Sandbar is probably right when he says Horton prospected up and down the Sierra and Cascade ranges from the Gulf of California to the 55th parallel- indeed one of his claims adjoining the Cordova is named the "Puget Sound", and another the "Olympia", lending support to the idea that Horton came to Montana from the west coast. An excellent account of the rush of California miners to the Fraser River country in Canada, and back again, is provided in Chapter 2 of Dan Cushman's "The Gold Frontier". In 1862, he likely made the trek with many other miners from the over-hyped diggings along the Salmon River in Idaho across the continental divide to Montana's first major gold rush at Bannack. 

Sandbar's account is that Horton spent the winter of 1865-1866 at his cabin near the Cordova. This is unlikely, since in November he was staking claims in the Lomax district at or near Emery, which he sold to James Stuart in early February, placing him in Deer Lodge at least part of that winter. Horton's circle appears to have included well known Virginia City personalities. His partners on the Sligo claim in the Lomax district include "Thomas J. Dinsdale", no doubt a misspelling of the name "Dimsdale", the pro-Vigilante editor of the Montana Post, and "J. R. Biedler", who is likely "J. X. Biedler", a leader of the Vigilantes.  

If Horton spent any time in upper Flint Creek during 1865 other than his short trip in June when he located the Cordova group, it is remarkable that he didn't find and locate the better prospects nearby. In particular, only a mile or so to the northeast was a bold, obvious outcrop of rich quartz that Dan and Sandy Brown would stake in the summer of 1866, and that they named the Comanche lode. The Comanche, and the slightly offset westward extension of the Comanche vein on the Hope lode, proved to be the foundation on which Philipsburg was built, supplying most of the ore mined and milled for the next decade by the St. Louis and Montana Mining Company and its successor, the Hope Mining Company of St. Louis. Even as late as the 1970's, Jimmy Young and his partners Ron McComber and Leo Graham of Philipsburg found a bonanza silver ore body on the Comanche that had been faulted downward and missed by the earlier operators. 

Horton certainly was heavily involved in the claim staking rush at the Philipsburg district during 1866 and 1867, locating many claims including two on major veins - the Horton and Cliff. Two items relating to a "H. Horton" appear in the October 5, 1867 Montana Post, one reporting that H. Horton took over the management of a hotel in Virginia City and the other reporting that he had been involved in a shooting incident, but we do not have evidence that this is Hector. The name Hector Horton is also published in the July 3, 1868 Montana Post in the unclaimed mail list for the city of Helena, Montana. The 1870 census apparently locates him in Deer Lodge, with name misspelled (Hecker Horton) and age wrong as well. At least the profession is right... brick mason.

But by the mid 1870's, Horton seems to have settled in the Flint Creek valley. Sandbar reports Horton lived in a cabin near the Cordova, just across from the Hope mill, but Hector also declared an occupancy one mile from the mouth of Klamath Creek (an early name for Camp Creek imported by the Brown brothers and Charles Frost, who lived at Klamath in California before travelling to Montana) which ran through the mining Camp first known as Flint and then renamed Philipsburg.  He is listed  as the first deputy of the Band of Hope Lodge, No. 20, International Order of Good Templars  when it was organized in Philipsburg by T.H. Todhunter on November 3, 1876 (History of Montana, 1885, Leeson, p.572). The I.O.G.T. promoted abstinence from alcohol and the lodge was nicknamed the "Tank"... a place, like the "drunk tank", to dry out. However, their meetings reportedly boosted local bar sales as much as meetings of any other lodge! 

In 1877, Horton was part of the Philipsburg contingent of militia that took part in the farce of "Fort Fizzle" near Lolo during the Nez Perce War, where the Philipsburg volunteers were directed toward the "fort" by Indians, who unbeknownst to the volunteers were actually the very Nez Perce they had been sent to fight. The Nez Perce had already bypassed the fort and were no doubt enjoying a good laugh at the volunteers' expense. 

In 1878, Hector was a founder of an I.O.G.T. Lodge at New Chicago. That same year, when the Hope Mining Company tried to cut miners' wages, Horton was a founding member of the first miners' union in Philipsburg. 

When a correspondent for the New Northwest arrived in Philipsburg in 1880, he was astonished when the first resident he met was it's discoverer, Hector Horton!  The 1880 census found him in Hasmark, likely part of the crew building the Algonquin mill for J.K. Pardee. The census says he is 53 years old, single, a brick mason, born in Pennsylvania and with both parents from Pennsylvania as well. 

newspaper account in the Rocky Mountain Husbandman  in 1881 (a followup to the earlier visit several years earlier) says Horton planned and superintended the construction of the Kaiser House in Philipsburg, so he was still following the trade he learned in Pennsylvania as a young man... in fact, he is stated to be Philipsburg's principal mason. He is working at the hoist of the Trout when the journalist for the Husbandman (Will Sutherlin) visits.

When Leeson published his History of Montana in 1885, he described Horton's discovery of Philipsburg and wrote that he was still one of the its oldest and most respected citizens. Leeson's research predates his publication date by several years. A publication by the Society of Montana Pioneers in 1899 says that Hector Horton, a member of the Society, was at that time residing at Stone with the occupation of farmer. This last reference seems to have Hector confused with Benjamin Horton, who lived and farmed at Stone, but who was no close relation, given that Benjamin's parents were from Germany, not Pennsylvania. Still, Hector and Benjamin had at least one connection... according to a newspaper report in the Rocky Mountain husbandman for October 17, 1878, Hector built Benjamin's stone house, which is now the Boomer residence at Stone.  

Horton's mining claims
The Cordova proved to be a good claim, but no bonanza. An 1872 report to the bondholders of the St. Louis and Montana Mining Company by their superintendent, Felix McArdle, shows that ore from the Cordova run through the James Stuart mill assayed about 20 ounces of silver per ton; respectable but not quite high enough to turn a profit given the high costs of the mill's Washoe process. The Cordova produced a few ore shipments as late as the 1960's (by lessee Ben Walkup). The deposit is a bedding plane vein that appears to be a spur of the extensive bedding plane veins present in the south ore channel of the Hope mine. Perhaps there is more ore in the Cordova vein yet to be found and mined. 

Horton staked several other claims in the district, at times selling interests in claims for modest sums to the principals of the St. Louis and Montana Mining Company. His claim sales at Philipsburg total at least $2300, a respectable sum of money in those days. While he did not become wealthy from his prospecting, he seems to have done pretty well making a living in the Flint Creek valley, the place of his most famous discovery. Indeed, one of the better reports on activities in the district in the late 1870s is one given by a journalist who gets a personally conducted tour of the mines and especially of the Algonquin with Hector Horton as the guide.

On June 15, 1883 the New Northwest reported that Hector had recently traveled to San Francisco to have surgery in which part of his skull was removed and replaced (appropriately enough) with a silver plate. 
By May of 1885, he was locating claims named the Vanderbilt, Boulder Hill, and Midas just south of Helena in the Dry Creek/Tucker Basin area, which can be seen on the south part of the map shown to the left (from Knopf, USGS Bull. 527, 1913). The prospects are near the contact zone between granitic Boulder batholith to the south and metamorphosed Paleozoic sediments to the north along which the Whitlach Union and other significant gold mines of the Helena district are located. This geologic environment is similar to that at Philipsburg. Tucker Basin was regarded as one of the most promising parts of the Helena district by the pioneering mining engineer Rossiter Raymond

Horton lived in a cabin on the claims, prospecting in Dry Gulch with a partner, apparently in excellent health. He died suddenly of heart failure on October 6, 1890 (and here), and, according to information
Sandy Barker photo
researched by Sandy Barker, is buried in Forest Vale cemetery in Helena (at site 252 in the non-maintained Glendale section). Apparently he had made one last deal on some of his prospects only days before his death. The Granite County Historical Society has placed a marker at his gravesite  honoring his role in bringing Philipsburg into existence. 

Further questions on Horton
Thanks to feedback to this blog we are in touch with Hector's closest living relatives and have added info provided by them on his family background. Hector named one of his claims the Elizabeth Horton, apparently after his sister Elizabeth who died young.
  However we have not yet located any picture or portrait.  


  1. My great grandfather, Dan McCashum owned the Stone Station at Gird Creek from 1904 to 1941. I have a document that purports to be a title to the Stone Station executed by Horton. I would like to have someone who is knowledgeable about land titles, to inspect the document and identify what it is. Perhaps the document would shed light on the two Horton.

    1. That is very interesting. Are you able to scan the document? If so send it to me at
      We have recently found a newspaper article that says Hector was building the stone house for "a namesake" and have found a notice for his estate to be probated in 1891 in the Helena Independent. But have not found an obituary yet on Hector.

  2. I do not know how often that this comment section is checked but..Hector Horton is my great, great uncle- brother of my great, great grandmother Hannah Horton Petty. He was born in about 1827 in the Minersville section of Pitt twp.- now renamed and known as Pittsburgh, PA.

    Hector was living with my great, great grandparents in the 1850 census- James Petty and Hannah Horton Petty- Hector's sister. After that census I was unable to track Hector except for the 1880 census for Montana- which I could not connect to my tree as I had no documentation to support.

    Hector was the son of James and Mabel McCune Horton- Hector was their 3rd child and first born son. the couple had 7 children. James died in 1841 and Mabel died soon after. The 3 oldest Horton girls were married by that time or getting married. James' estate and property was left to the 3 youngest brothers for their upbringing. Hector continued to work as a brick layer in the local mining business operated by relatives. Hector's House cousins were well known for their brick laying in the building of later mines and mills

    Hector and several relatives participated in the gold rush in the early 1850's from this small village Hector and 2 brother in laws- James Petty and Daniel House- husband of his sister Margaret Horton. Several of the men worked as teamsters out of St Joe Missouri to California.

    Hannah Horton Petty did name her youngest son for her brother Hector- which speaks to a close connection.

    The Elizabeth mine would not have been named for Hector's mother- it may have been named for his oldest sister who died in childbirth in Allegheny County,Pennsylvania in the early 1860's. He may also have named the mine for his niece with whom he lived prior to his move to California.

    Hector's 3 sisters married men from Pitt twp.- all three of these families moved to nearby Wilkins Twp and raised their families- the area was later renamed Braddock, PA. hector's 3 little brothers James , Robert, and Thomas also lived in Pitt Twp. and then moved on to Braddock, PA- investing in property and real estate- Thomas died young.

    I hope this provides background- my email is

    1. Superb info on Horton's background! Nice to see the connection to the Pettys. And we appreciate knowing of his sister and niece named Elizabeth... perhaps he was thinking of both when he named the claim. I hope you enjoyed hearing of Hector's considerable accomplishments out West and encourage you to dig through any old trunks that might have letters with a Montana postmark! Thanks again... ta
      ps. pls. double check your email address as it seems to bounce back or send email to me at or Loraine at