In 1923 two forest rangers surveying a remote section of Crandall Creek happened upon an old adit tunneling into a mass of brilliant white marble.
The rangers were at once amazed by the fine quality of the quarry and perplexed by its history and remoteness. With beautiful blue veins transecting the deposit, it looked to the men “like the marble that was once the fashion for dresser tops and center tables.” Seeing no other signs of mining activity in the area they were understandably puzzled.
These rangers might not have been aware of the fact, but by the 1920s nearly every peak and valley in the Absarokas had been prospected by a rugged and energetic cadre of miners looking for signs of mineral wealth.
Old-time sourdoughs like Adam “Horn” Miller [for whom Miller Creek is named], Jack Baronette [Barronette Peak], John “Dad” Hughes [Hughes Basin], Jack Crandall [Crandall Creek], and many others diligently scoured the Absaroka country looking for elusive pay dirt. They located many claims, a few of which, like those around Cooke City, were moderately lucrative. Most proved unprofitable and remained barely developed.
Assuredly people have known about the marble deposits on Crandall Creek for many years. Historic maps in the collection of the Park County Archives indicate the head of Crandall Creek, presently named Timber Creek, was formerly known as Marble Creek. The reason for these name changes is unknown, and also quite confusing.
A few weeks ago a friend and I shouldered our duds and headed out in search of the old marble quarry. After a good look around, some light bushwhacking, and a few mumbled curses while sliding around on steep scree, we finally located our object.
Excavated from a precipitous ledge of solid limestone and marble, the adit is only about 10-feet deep. On the rock walls appear many signatures, some over 100 years old. The early forest ranger Frank Sparhawk and the Crandall-area homesteader Rex Posten both signed their names in 1916. The autographs of geologists and local adventurers also appear in more or less weathered condition.
While the marble grotto on Crandall Creek might be a novel discovery to many of those who have sought it out, historical records show it was quarried more than 130 years ago.An 1889 article from the Livingston Enterprise reported a discovery along Crandall Creek of “very fine marble by Robert Mandeville and William Chick two miners and prospectors” of Cooke City. The location had been made the previous summer and investors from California promptly sent 1,000 pounds of marble east for testing. The rock was soon “pronounced on all hands to be equal if not superior to the best Italian marble imported”.
More work was planned for the quarry in the summer of 1889. But, as the news story made clear, “of course it must lie dormant until the arrival of cheap transportation for moving it.”
At that point in time such a forecast seemed nearly a reality. In 1886 a railroad line had been surveyed from Billings up the Clarks Fork Canyon to Cooke City. For decades there was persistent chatter of laying track, but obviously this route never materialized and many of the mining claims along the proposed line were doomed to obscurity.
Robert Mandeville, after locating the marble claims and ultimately seeing them come to nothing, continued mining around Cooke City until his death in 1921. His partner William Chick met a tragic end in 1892 as the result of a drunken gunfight on the streets of Cooke City, the sad luck of an old-time prospector indeed.