The ghost town of Independence is located in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area in the Gallatin National Forest. It is south of the Natural Bridge near McLeod, Montana. Independence is 10,000 ft above sea level. Gold was first discovered in the 1860’s. It took two decades before any significant mining would occur due to the land being part of the Crow Indian Reservation. Prospectors were run out of the area by the federal government but after pressure was put on the by mining interests the government forced the Crows to cede the land in 1882. Miners then returned to the area. The first stamp mill was hauled up the steep and rugged terrain. Several mines were opened in 1889 and 1891 – one of them being Independence. By 1892 the mine was running at full capacity. In time Independence boasted about 500 people, four saloons, cabins and two general stores. It became the service center for the other mines. By 1893, it boasted both telephone and electricity! It was a difficult trek to the area requiring five days by wagon to reach Big Timber – 50 miles to the northeast.
Production peaked between 1890 -1893, however it ended with the depression of 1893, difficult transportation, exhaustion of easily accessed ore and poor management operations. The mine closed in 1894. It was later leased out, re-opened and operated until 1897. During that time other mines were sold and consolidated along with Independence – they continued operating until 1904 when the Hidden Treasure Mill burned down. The district reportedly produced gold and silver ore valued at about $120,000.
Mine shafts, cabins and the brothel are all that remain with the highest remains at 11,000 ft. It’s a beautiful drive but you need 4WD or be prepared for a hike.