Camping, Hiking and Traveling in Montana
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The Moccasin Mountains are two very small island ranges located just North of Lewistown MT. There are two distinct sets of mountains called the North and South Moccasins. Neither range is very large and the highest peaks are at about 5,400 ft. in the North Moccasins and 5,800 in the South Moccasins. As with the Judith Mountains, there is a road to the top of the highest peak in the South Moccasins where there are various telecommunications towers. However, this is not as extensive of an array as on top of Judith Peak and the access road is not nearly as well defined.
MT Hwy 81 splits the two ranges. This road, which runs east/west, connects a string of small towns which hint of the history of the area. Each of these towns has a large grain elevator and they are connected by railroad tracks. For more information about the historic rail lines in the area see Central Montana Railroads
There are few if any marked hiking trails in these ranges so the Moccasin Mountains are probably best explored by vehicle. Both the North and South have roads that run through and around them. For most people the main attraction of visiting the Moccasins is the mining ghost town on Kendall. The town contains several significant remains; a general store,many crumbled foundations and much of the foundation of a two story building that served several purposes including as the town bank. The solid, thick walled bank vault stands in the center of the building. Steel I beams support the roof and would have helped to prevent break-in.
The area has been maintained generally by the Boy Scouts whose K-M Scout Camp is nearby. The Camp is run by the Montana Council and for anyone interested visit their site at K-M Camp. Although a lot of people know of the Moccasins because of the camp, most are much more familiar with them (although perhaps not by name) for their gold mining. Since the late 1800's there has been mining in the area and Kendall was a vibrant gold mining town. Rather than write my another history of Kendall, I have reprinted here the account that is provided by the Montana Dept. of Environmental Quality at http://www.deq.state.mt.us/abandonedmines/linkdocs/techdocs/50tech.asp. This is an excellent summary that gives a great sense of what Kendall once was.
"The town of Kendall dates back to 1901 and the original development of the Kendall mines. It was laid out on a homestead of William A. Shaules, who staked out his land and sold lots to businesses and homeowners. In May of 1901 the town had several dwellings, a miner's union hall, a saloon and a restaurant. One other building was noted but not described; it held two stagecoach loads of prostitutes who had arrived before most of the businesses. In August, the town had a new livery stable, a general store and two more saloons. In October the tally of businesses included five saloons, three general stores, two hotels, two livery stables, a restaurant, a butcher shop, a tailor shop, an assay office, and a photographic gallery. Within a year the town had grown to rival nearby Lewistown and had its own newspaper, the Kendall Chronicle, to crow its virtues. Several of the new buildings were made of stone, including the R. C. Cook building which housed a bank and a fraternal hall, the H. V. Turner block of shops, and the Shaules Hotel at the corner of McKinley Avenue, Teddy Street and King Mill Road. The wedge-shaped building cost $12,000, was two stories high and held 26 well-appointed rooms.
The hotel, as were all the buildings in town, was illuminated by electricity from the Kendall power plant. A few years later the town was improved by the construction of the stone-faced Jones Opera House. A Presbyterian church was built in 1907 at a cost of $3,500. In its first year of life the town was served by two stages a day. In later years three stages a day carried tens of thousands of dollars of gold bullion down to the banks of Lewistown. Plans were made for a Locomobile to speed service and increase the freight traffic and rumors of a railroad connection circulated. At its peak the town was said to have had a population of 1,500 and its mines credited with between $9 and $15 million in gold. However, when the Barnes-King mine folded in 1920, the town disappeared."
The town of Kendall faded away but the gold in the hills remained. During the early boom miners had found high quality ore that produced significant gold using the methods of the day. However, the high quality ore played out and the refining techniques they used made mining a money losing proposition. However, by the 1980's new refining techniques allowed corporations to profitably mine ores that historically were unusable. In 1986 a new corporation began to develop operations and Kendall began to see mining on a scaled never previously imagined. From 1987 to 1996 the Kendall mine produced 9 million tons of ore which was processed with cyanide to yield 300,000 ounces of gold and 135,000 ounces of silver.
Unfortunately, the use of the highly poisonous cyanide lead to massive environmental damage. Area ranchers sued to protect their waters and the Kendall mine closed, the corporation went out of business and Montana has been left with a lot of clean up expenses. The Kendall mine was a large factor in the voters of Montana deciding in 1998 to use the initiative process to permanently ban the use of cyanide in Montana mining. After many court phalanges it now looks as the ban will stand and it is unlikely that there will never be another Montana mine that will use the refining process that was first developed in the state.
Finding Kendall is not too hard. It is best accessed from US 191, if you are traveling from the north head due west on the gravel road that leads out of Hilger. This is actually called Kendall Road and it is an easy drive for about 2 1/2 miles until you reach a Y intersection. At this point the three roads are South Kendall, North Kendall and Kendall Road. Take the North Kendall Road and you will get to the old town site after about 3 more miles. Ruined structures lie on both sides of the road so find a place to park and enjoy your exploration. Just ahead the road runs on to gated property sealing off the mine site.
As you return you can retrace your route back to Hilger on the Kendall Road or you can head south on the South Kendall Road. If you follow this route you will travel about 4 miles you will hit Hwy 81 just to the west of Brooks and Hwy 191. Of course, if you are traveling from the south, you will follow this route in reverse to get to Kendall. A visit to Kendall give you a great glimpse of the unique attributes of the Moccasins. This is a great trip from spring through fall and one that you will enjoy. Consider combining this with the trip to the mining ghost towns of Maiden and Gilt Edge for a great day exploring the mountains and history of the area