Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Flint of Flint Creek

In Flint Chips No. 3, Dan Meschter related a story of a Hudson Bay Company prospecting expedition to Henderson Creek in 1849, long before the settlement of the Flint Creek Valley. Meschter's source was a letter to the "New Northwest" newspaper in 1875 by William Graham, a pioneering prospector who heard the tale from the H.B. Co. manager, Angus McDonald. Angus' geographic reference is "Arrow Point". That must have been the huge flint quarry at the "The Eyebrow", which seems to have been a major flint source for millennia. The Eyebrow first appears as a geographic name in this spot on the 1958 topo map of the area. We continue that usage (for now) while recognizing that earlier geologic work by Pardee uses "Eyebrow Hill" to denote a different topographic feature, a hill near the mouth of Douglas Creek on the east side of the highway. 

The Eyebrow is one of the archaeological sites covered by Patricia Flint in her excellent UM master's thesis on local archaeologyThis quarry is no doubt the reason the creek just to the east is called Flint Creek, and that the Hellgate River was called the Arrowstone by early geographers.
The term "flint" is a slight misnomer, as "flint" is a variety of chert, a sedimentary form of silica, while the silica at the Eyebrow is hydrothermal in origin, and would better be described as chalcedony. Nonetheless, since "Chalcedony Creek" doesn't have the same ring as "Flint Creek", we will refer to the stone at the site as "flint" for historical reasons. 
Just to the south of the Eyebrow is Henderson Creek. Apparently a party traveling near the landmark of the Eyebrow ("Arrow Point")  tried a pan in the nearby creek, got some gold,   and reported it back to Angus McDonald. An account by McDonald (see P. 201) confirms that he assayed gold from Flint Creek prior to 1850, when he reported it to John Owen and some friends - apparently including William Graham - and that the first discovery of gold in what would become Montana was made at Flint Creek. Graham provides the additional information that McDonald then sent out a prospecting party, but they got little done because hostile Blackfeet were in the area. Still, by Graham's account, confirmed by McDonald, it is apparent that some gold was recovered very early in Henderson Gulch, in fact before the gold discoveries in the Bitterroot and Gold Creek.

Below are two maps - a Google Earth aerial view, and a snippet of Lonn et al's 2010  geologic map of the Missoula East quad. In the air photo from Google Earth, you can see why the "Eyebrow" got its name - a patch of timber on the hill indeed looks much like an eyebrow. You can also get an idea of how close the flint quarry at the Eyebrow is to the major placer gold mines along Henderson Creek. The portion of Henderson shown has been extensively dredged. On the geologic map, the Eyebrow is in about the center of the map, in Cambrian sedimentary rocks (Hasmark Formation) with Tertiary andesite and basalt a short distance to the west... the likely source of the hydrothermal fluids that formed the flint.


  1. I infer from the geologic map of the Missoula East quad that the flint at the Eyebrow is chert in a Cambrian formation, such as the Hasmark? Is that correct?

    1. I've only picked up flint on the road below the outcrop and haven't been onto the Eyebrow itself. John Maxwell's detailed geologic map published in the MGS guidebook to the area in 1965 has the Eyebrow as Hasmark as well. If it is Hasmark I doubt that the flint is sedimentary (i.e., chert), as the Hasmark is dolomite and shale and really is not cherty where I've seen it. I'm thinking the volcanic rx. to the west may have something to do with generating the flint.

    2. In other places I've seen silty carbonates in that part of the section highly silicified by sills intruding them. This article is interesting (I imagine you have seen it) but doesn't really answer the question: http://books.google.com/books?id=jcOqDcDrNt4C&pg=PA65&lpg=PA65&dq=flint+quarry+at+the+%22The+Eyebrow%22&source=bl&ots=kP4dkUfDno&sig=BSZIMMUoPxQPX0RAHnjOGVxQv5M&hl=en&sa=X&ei=maFtUe2AD8OLiwLK6oGACw&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=flint%20quarry%20at%20the%20%22The%20Eyebrow%22&f=false

    3. Yes, that's the article I link at the very end of the first paragraph. One point of disagreement is that they characterize the outcrop as a klippe and that's not what the mapping shows. I do think your point that silicification is seen to accompany volcanic rocks/sills broadly fits with the most likely origin for the flint at the Eyebrow, given the nearby volcanic rx.

    4. Actually the link takes you to an Alaska page... :)

    5. Fixed! We'll see about adding a piece of the geologic map...

    6. Thanks to this piece and GoogleEarth, I now pay attention to the eyebrow whenever I drive through the area. One day I'll find a way to get closer so I can walk up into those trees. Will I know what I'm looking at? Not likely, but I'll be able to imagine the history that took place there.

    7. You take the "Poison Patch" road that turns out of Henderson Gulch and it gets you pretty close. It's on private property and we've opened the conversation on a field trip there this summer in conjunction with a seminar on the mountain man era.