Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Where was American Fork?

Like much of the early history and geography of the Gold Creek area, the exact location of the town of American Fork is not easy to ascertain, because it was mostly abandoned in 1863 when the Stuarts and other miners moved to the boomtown at Montana's greatest gold discovery, Virginia City. Granville Stuart stated that they located their settlement where the Mullan Road crosses Benetsee or Gold Creek. American Fork - misspelled "American Fort" - appears on Pardee's geologic map about a mile upstream from the railroad tracks (below), where he shows the Mullan Road crossing the creek. 

Shirley Thomas, whose family owns lower Gold Creek, maintains that Stuart's cabin and American Fork were located further down the creek, about at the railroad tracks, where a monument has been erected to the first gold discovery in Montana.
Shirley Thomas at site of Monument and American Fork

Based on a detailed reading of both the Mullan survey and later township surveys, Pardee's map is in error and Shirley is surely right! 

Good evidence for the location comes from the government land surveys. The 1869 township survey (above) shows two roads crossing lower Gold Creek. One near the mouth passes by a Hotel while the other crosses about a mile upstream, near the common corner of Sections 36 and 6. The notes for this survey, copied below, state "Gold Creek runs through Section 31 and there is a store and hotel on the military road at the crossing." Therefore the road by the hotel was the Mullan road, and this spot must also be the location of the town of American Fork.

A careful reading of Mullan's 1861 report shows that his road at first ran down along the river : later the segment between Deer Lodge and "Benetzi Creek" was re-located along the bench to avoid the river crossings, such as the winter crossing of the Hellgate depicted in an illustration for the Stevens railroad survey report (below). 

But where did it go once it reached the Gold Creek valley?  A careful examination of Mullan's map (below) shows that it was east of the creek, joining the earlier route, and crossing Gold/Benetzi Creek where the Carten Hotel was later built. Note that Mullan did not rename the creek as Gold Creek as is sometimes reported but stuck with Stuart's name of American Fork. It is unfortunate he did not follow his notes and call it Benetzi Creek (see the preliminary 1861 Mullan report for that spelling and usage) as that name has even greater precedence. Note that the labeled position of the "Gold Mines" is somewhat too far south, out of the drainage of American Fork. 

1871 Township survey
An additional General Land Office survey in 1871 shows more detail where the northern road crosses the river at a bridge and then continues west to a small settlement centered around Carten's Hotel, about where the monument is now located. It appears that this settlement was named Gold Creek (also "Hangtown" based on Montana's first hanging which occurred there) and flourished during the major period of mining which began in 1866 after ditches were constructed to mine the deposits near Pioneer several miles upstream. Carten's was apparently a provisioning point and way station for miners headed to Pioneer. Carten himself later made his fortune as a prospector when in 1884 he located the fabulous Tiger lode, the first claim in the Wallace, Idaho part of the Coeur d' Alene mining district. 

An 1865  newspaper report on Gold Creek/American Fork states that some of the original cabins were still occupied, though several had been lost to a fire the previous year. Perhaps some of the buildings shown on the plat near the hotel are original cabins of the American Fork settlement. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this excellent contribution. I hope we can hold the Mullan Road Conference in the area in the near future so we can walk on portions of this segment of the historic Mullan Road.