TWINKLE IN THE GROUND – THE COMET MINE OF MONTANA
Ghost town evokes varying images in the minds of many. It could be abandoned town populated only by dust and dirt. Or it is a decrepit village with many hazardous houses and building. Maybe it is an eerie place giving off a dark aura. Perhaps ghost towns are haunted, giving a literal meaning to the term.
Comet, Montana, is one of many American ghost towns today. It is also home to one of the abandoned mines in Montana. Once an economic center for miners from the 19th to 20th century, it is now overgrown and belongs to nature. This is the brief story of the Comet Mine, its little town, and its untimely demise.
Just about every mine in America has its beginnings with the gold rushes of the 19th century. It is no surprise that Comet is no different. When gold was found in California, the nation caught gold fever. Eager miners and genial pioneers flocked westward to earn their riches with blood and sweat.
It is here that we find the beginnings of Comet. Tucked away in the larch forest in the Garnet Mountain Range of Montana, Comet enjoyed its seclusion.
Montana, far from immune to gold fever, received many miners in the late 1860s. Several mines popped up and claims were filed left and right. But by the early 1900s, the mines petered out. What happened to the little Comet Mine and its town?
Comet didn’t just decline and die, it faded out of public memory and was forgotten for many years. The town attached to the Comet Mine was all but abandoned in 1919.
There are some interesting things to note about Comet other than its mysterious death. For starters, for a mine to just die out in the early 20th century, it did pretty well for itself; it was decent producer of lead-zinc ore, gold, and silver, the death of the Comet seems sudden and inexplicable.
The reality is that the Comet just wasn’t profitable. Although some areas in the region were profitable and were still worked into the present day, Comet and most of its neighbors became ghost towns. To explorers and locals, it should be a well-known ghost town, but it isn’t. Comet entered a historical oblivion, almost entirely disappearing from written and spoken record.
A TOUR OF THE TOWN
Comet is a small place. The few remaining buildings are derelict in the ghost town. The old boarding house, “Rosie’s,” remains standing. Miners could get bed and board for 75 cents a day.
Several ruined houses remain in Comet. Beyond houses for the locals, there was also the mills superintendent’s home. There was the mill itself, once owned by Basin Montana Tunnel Company.
The town and mine were established in an area with little access to natural water sources. The industrial mining of Comet required high quantities of water. A couple of creeks nearby supplied some water, but not enough to sustain a mine, its residents, and the mill. Instead, a spring a few miles away supplied water for the whole town. The mill was likely powered by the creeks and another nearby spring could supply water for the mine.
The schoolhouse had some 20 students in 1930.
The town was abandoned by 1940. The hasty withdrawal from the dying town was evident as countless items, buildings, machinery, and even scrap metal were left behind. To further make this ghost town a secret, the surrounding foliage concealed it from prying eyes. You only found Comet if you were looking for it.
The amount of metal alone left behind is staggering. Nails, wire, buttons, barrel hoops, and bullets from Winchester guns, the lot of the site’s old fragments are preserved enough to be a snapshot of the past. Rust is like a rash on Comet’s metal artifacts and most are useless today.
Comet is ripe for analysis, scholarly or casual. Modern day adventurers and explorers may find Comet a fascinating area to survey for personal amusement. Journalists or authors may want to dig into the town’s history and publish a book or article. Whatever the purpose may be, Comet is a relatively new unearthed gem that anyone can enjoy even if they do not visit it. There are many abandoned mines in Montana, but Comet seems to be the most forgotten.
Mineral Resources of the United States. United States, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1911.
Mineral Resources of the United States. United States, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1932.
Wendel, Ryan E., "THE COMET MINE: AN ENGENDERED STUDY OF VICTORIAN CONSUMPTION PRACTICES AND MATERIAL CULTURE ON A SMALL MINING LANDSCAPE" (2014). Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers. 4377. https://scholarworks.umt.edu/etd/4377
White, David, et al. Contributions to Economic Geology (short Papers and Preliminary Reports) 1917. United States, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1918.