The Big Sandy Mountaineer -

The Ruby Gulch Mine and Mill


July 12, 2017

Ben Phillips, the Phillips County sheepman and Charles (Pop) Whitcomb found rich gold deposits up Ruby Gulch, just west of Zortman, Montana. They built a mine and mill and a town for workers to live in called Whitcomb on the side of the steep gulch leading to a pass from one side of the Little Rockies to the other.

They made a great deal of money but needed other investors so McNamara and Marlow of Big Sandy invested in the mill and mine and made a lot of money there too long before the turn of the century.

McNamara and Marlow knew that the mine and mill were worth a great deal of money so they said to Ben Phillips that they would sell their interest in the mine and mill to him for half a million dollars. Or they wanted him to sell his interest in the mine and mill to them for the same amount. McNamara and Marlow knew that Phillips could never come up with that much money but somehow he did. A few years later Phillips was in Havre bragging that he had an offer in his pocket from a New York Investment house offering seven million dollars for the Ruby. He and Charles Whitcomb turned down the offer.

Many years later, when I was in high school and spending a lot of time in the Little Rockies, one of Charles Whitcomb’s daughters, (Freddie Donaldson) was still selling Ruby Gulch Mine and Mill stock for ten cents a share even though the mine had been closed for years. I bought many shares and so did my dad. To this day I get correspondence from what is now called the Gold Reserve Mining Company for my ten cents a share stock.

Ben Phillips was a silent partner in the mine and mill. The real man pushing the gold discoveries was Charles Whitcomb. He had two mills at least built at the head of Ruby Gulch, some three miles from Zortman. He built a town for workers to live in named Whitcomb. Years later when the town was a ghost town, you could still see where managers lived and where miners lived. Manager’s houses were white stucco and very nice looking. Miner’s houses were boards and batten, poorly constructed and it was a wonder they were still standing.

There was a school and railroad line from the mill to the mine and a general store for people to buy everything from dry goods to groceries.

The Whitcomb family lived over the hump and down on Beaver Creek in the Little Rockies. They lived in a mansard roofed house that is still standing and is now used for community picnics and the like on upper Beaver Creek.

The family included Pop Whitcomb and his wife, several daughters and a son George. By the time my father and his brothers got to know the family, they had a mansion in Helena where they could live but they still preferred to live near the mine and mill in the Little Rockies.

My Dad told the story that one time his brothers and George were all playing football at the Beaver Creek House when Scott Lucke jumped on George too hard and broke his leg. It was off to Malta in a buggy to get the leg mended and no more football.

Later George married the daughter the then Governor of Montana and built a beautiful house for himself right at the Ruby Gulch Mill. To get to the house a person had to drive right through the Mill. Once at the house there was a very long front porch with windows facing the east. The view from that porch, looking down Ruby Gulch at Zortman and out to the prairie and the Coburn Buttes and all the way to the Missouri Breaks and the Larb hills was spectacular to say the least.

In the living room, there was a fireplace made of high grade gold ore. Of course by the time I saw the fireplace, probably when times got tough, the family had chipped all the ore off the fireplace but it was still beautiful. Out of the master bedroom was a pair of French doors that opened onto a small greenhouse. It was a beautiful house indeed!

George was killed by a policeman when crossing Last Chance Gulch in Helena. The whys and wherefores of that story were never very clear to me. Anyway, after George died no one ever used the beautiful house again at the mill.

Still though, Whitcomb and the mine and mill flourished. They even had a glory hole near the top of the Beaver Creek divide where they took large amounts of gold.

It wasn’t until gold was devalued during the depression that the mine and mill had to close and the Whitcomb family died poor.

Years later a new gold mine, Pegasus stripped mined that area and destroyed most of the Ruby Gulch for years and years to come.

No mine and mill anymore. No ghost town of Whitcomb. Just a few faded photos and lots of memories and probably lots of ghosts in the area as well.

And, for anyone who ever went there and saw what it had been, there is still a fondness and a sadness for what was and is no more.


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