Monday, September 15, 2014

Neihart’s Silver Lining

Neihart is a wonderfully quirky little community in the heart of the rugged Little Belt Mountains. In the 1890s, Neihart’s population of four thousand rivaled that of Great Falls. Today, the twenty-five full time residents take pride in the town’s colorful past. Its roots date to 1881 when James Neihart and company discovered rich silver veins. There was gold in the district, too. Richard Oatey and his partners sold their silver mine at nearby Barker and headed to Neihart to celebrate. As they hiked back to Barker, hung over and sick, Oatey inadvertently knocked off a piece of outcropping and stuck it in his pocket. Several days later he took it out and studied it. Gold ran through it. The assayer valued it high in both gold and silver content. Oatey and his partners searched the hills and coulees for years, but they could never find the mysterious outcropping.

Scattered buildings recall Neihart's roots.
 By 1885, Neihart bustled. Even though the area was one of the richest in Montana, lack of transportation hindered further development until the arrival of a spur of the Montana Central Railroad in 1891. After the silver market crashed in 1893, Neihart’s mines operated sporadically. They never regained their 1890s momentum, but the Broadwater and Chamberlain mines continued to produce. In the 1920s, Neihart’s silver production was second only to that of Silver Bow County. The late 1930s to 1945 saw the last burst of activity when silver prices briefly increased. In 1945, Neihart residents took their last round trip to Great Falls. Upon their return that afternoon, the train ran no more and workers pulled up the tracks.

Mines and mills dot the hillside around Neihart.
Remnants of mines and mills dot the hillsides. Declared a Superfund site in 2001, the $11.8 million project will include removal of lead-contaminated soil.  Although the mining waste poses no immediate risk, the project will protect residents from long-term exposure. Neihart’s Main Street showcases the community’s individuality. A sign posted just outside town reinforces its resdients’ love for their unique community.  “Our small town is like Heaven to us,” it reads, “please don’t drive like Hell through it.”

The town has a wonderfully quirky personality.


  1. Yes, Neihart does have a reputation of colorful and quirky people. But the town of Neihart never had a population much over "...four or five hundred..." during her halcyon days between 1889 and 1898.

    She has been a town of many other myths of fact and fiction. For those reasons, and many others, it took me over two decades to ferret out the facts from the fiction as presented in my book, Neihart Mining (March 2013, Arcadia Publishing).

    Ron Lansverk
    White Bear Township, MN &
    Neihart, MT

  2. Thanks for your comment. Yep, there is a great deal of disparity as far as population figures. I saw everything from 500 to 5,000. The Sanborn Perris map puts the population in 1892 at 1500. I appreciate the unraveling you have done. Mining camp population figures are pretty crazy--especially when so many folks were transient.