In the early 19th century, the Lewistown area was developing economically. There became a greater demand for fuel as mountains around Lewistown were being depleted of trees. Coal was noticed in 1879 and identified in 1882 in many surrounding areas, mainly on private property, so mines were largely developed and worked by the land owners. Larger mines in the area employed many workers.
These mines were referred to as “wagon” mines as they were dug horizontally into hillsides (as opposed to vertical shafts). Holes were hand drilled into specific areas, filled with black powder and ignited with a fuse to blast away dirt and rock. The areas would be cleared using picks and shovels. Horses, mules, and donkeys could be used to pull wagons and transport the blasted materials outside. The sold coal would be delivered in wagons capable of transporting 3 tons.
Businesses and homes were dependent on coal which was a medium bituminous grade. J. Gilkerson, a large producer at the Spring Creek mine, was recorded delivering 10 tons of coal December 3, 1898 to a Lewistown school. For this he received $49.55. In 1903 the Jawbone Railroad, or Montana Railroad, was completed to Lewistown, and by 1907, the Spring Creek Mine was supplying it with 125 Tons of coal. As late as the 1920s, thirty- seven coal mines were recorded in the Lewistown area.
Delivery changes occurred in 1925 when U.S. Highway 87 became graveled. This was hard on horses’ hooves. The gasoline motor truck became available so men had to learn how to drive. Some accepted this; others did not.
World War II affected the coal mining industry as there were very few men to work in the mines.
During 1952-1953 Montana Power piped to the area natural gas, which burned cleaner with no residue. The coal market became defunct.