History of Mining and Protection in the Little Rocky Mountains: A Timeline of Events

Timeline by Dylan Nelson


May 10, 1872: General Mining Act of 1872 signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant.

June 1, 1888: Fort Belknap Indian Reservation established for the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine tribes.

October 9, 1895: A federal commission led by George Bird Grinnell signs an agreement with the Fort Belknap Indian Community purchasing a 49 square-mile tract of line that encompassed the Little Rocky Mountains. During negotiations for the treaty, Grinnell and other members of the commission told Fort Belknap Indians that they would not receive rations if they did not sign the agreement. Within months of the agreement being signed and received by Congress, mining prospectors flooded the Little Rockies and rapidly built the mining districts of Zortman and Landusky.

June 1979: The Montana Department of State Lands approves applications filed by Zortman Mining, Inc. (ZMI), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Pegasus Gold Corporation, for operating permits for two open-pit cyanide heap leach mines in the Little Rocky Mountains.

June 15, 1990: After at least three spills at the Zortman and Landusky mines in the previous year, the Fort Belknap Community Council Tribal Health Department issues a notice to Fort Belknap residents indicating that water from streams leading from the Little Rockies may not be safe for consumption and outlining alternative water sources and methods of water monitoring and treatment.

June 22, 1990: The Lewistown District Office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approves an application for an amendment to the operating permit of the Landusky. mine. Soon after, Red Thunder Incorporated, along with a similar organization called Island Mountain Protectors and the Fort Belknap Community Council, appeal this decision to the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA). Their appeal was denied on December 19, 1990.

August 22-25, 1991: American Indian Traditional Environmental Conference held by Red Thunder at the Chief Nosey Creation Center in Lodgepole; supporters from as far away as Ontario, New York, and Texas participate in the conference.

March 15, 1992: The premiere screening of Indian Tears of Love is held at Hotel Boulderado in Boulder, Colorado.

May 1992: ZMI submits another application for an amendment to the operating permit of the Landusky mine to the BLM and the Montana Department of State Lands. This amendment proposed to more than triple the amount of disturbed land at the mine sites.

Late 1992: Acid rock drainage is detected in water monitoring reports sent to the Montana Department of State Lands by Pegasus.

June 1993: Red Thunder and Island Mountain Protectors send a notice to Pegasus of their intention to file a clean-water suit against them.

July 1993: A heavy rainstorm leads drainages at the Zortman mine to overflow and send thousands of gallons of orange, acidic sludge through the streets of Zortman.

July 28, 1993: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent a notice to the Montana Department of Health and Environmental Sciences (DHES) that the Zortman and Landusky mines had violated the federal Clean Water Act.

August 24, 1993: The DHES files a clean-water suit against Pegasus and ZMI for violations of the Montana Water Quality Act first in the Phillips County District Court, and then in the First District Court of Montana in Helena.

June 1995: The EPA filed a complaint against Pegasus Gold Corporation and Zortman Mining Inc. for violations of the federal Clean Water Act in June 1995 that sought civil penalties and permanent injunctive relief. The State of Montana filed a supplemental complaint soon after. The Fort Belknap Community Council, the Assiniboine Tribe, and the Gros Ventre Tribe filed a complaint in a District Court for various violations of environmental legislation. These two complaints would eventually be consolidated.

March 1996: The BLM and Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ; created on July 1995 as a consolidation of other state agencies involved in environmental regulation, such as the Department of State Lands and the Department of Health and Environmental Sciences) release an environmental impact statement for the expansion project that permitted expansion with various conditions.

July 1996: A Consent Decree between Pegasus, the EPA, the Montana DEQ, the Fort Belknap Community Council, the Gros Ventre Tribe, and the Assiniboine Tribe is signed under the auspices of the Department of Justice. The decree outlined $37 million in civil penalties; monitoring, mitigation, and reclamation procedures for ongoing mining; and other forms of redress for the parties damaged by the Pegasus mines. Notably, the settlement was reached so that Pegasus could continue mining in the Little Rockies, just in allegedly safer ways.

June 1997: The IBLA halts the expansion of the Zortman and Landusky mines as it reviewed an appeal of the BLM’s decision to proceed with the project following their environmental impact statement and the consent decree. The appeal was filed by the Fort Belknap Community Council, the Gros Ventre Tribe, the Assiniboine Tribe, Island Mountain Protectors, and the National Wildlife Federation.

December 1997: Pegasus stock falls to under one dollar per share.

January 16, 1998: Pegasus files for chapter 11 bankruptcy in a Nevada court.

December 1998: Pegasus reorganizes under the name of Apollo Gold. Apollo Gold liquidated thirteen of sixteen Pegasus subsidiaries, including ZMI, abandoning the Zortman and Landusky mines and leaving surface reclamation and water treatment completely to state and federal agencies.

2017: Reclamation in the Little Rocky Mountains is ongoing.

This graphic timeline is based on the Fort Belknap Reservation Timeline Assiniboine and Gros Ventre Tribes (March 2010). View the original timeline from the Indian Education Montana Office of Public Instruction.ft-belknap-timeline-v5.jpg