Life of a
Marysville and Helena
John H. Sandy
Born, March 18, 1836, County Cavan, Ireland
Died, December 20, 1914, Helena, Montana, U.S.A.
- Mine Owner
In 1894, Joaquin Miller described Thomas Cruse as a man who “has the highest confidence and good will of his fellow citizens. He is a man of too much solid sense to be injured by his prosperity, and he understands making a laudable and judicious use of the things of this world which it has been his good fortune to acquire.” Further, Miller would go on to say, he [Cruse] is “a devout member of the Catholic Church.”
From the time Cruse arrived in Helena in 1867 until he discovered a rich gold bearing vein in 1876, he made a living digging for gold along Silver Creek and other nearby lands. Some gold was found, but only enough to meet regular daily expenses. Such was the life of most prospectors who worked placer deposits in the valleys and mountains around Helena.
From his earlier prospecting experience in other parts of the West, Cruse knew that the gold found in streams and valleys at lower elevations came from higher up in the mountains. He noticed that gold found in the sands and gravels of Silver Creek near Helena was associated with the mineral quartz. Find a vein rich in quartz, then gold was in reach.
With this clue in mind, Cruse searched the mountains above Silver Creek to find a mineralized zone rich in quartz. After toiling many months in the field, he found the source of the gold, the Mother Lode. On July 9, 1879, he filed a patented mining claim for a 20.25 acre parcel located northwest of Helena in T12N, R6W, S36, Lewis & Clark County, and opened a gold and silver mine. Cruse named the mine Drumlummon, after his home parish in Ireland.
As often the case, words passing over the Atlantic from the old country undergo a change in spelling. In Ireland, Cruse’s home parish is spelled as one word, Drumlumnum. Back in Helena in 1879, the recorder at the office of mining claims wrote down the name as spoken, two words, Drum Lummon. But in years to follow, common usage became one word, Drumlummon.
Over time, the Drumlummon Mine yielded a bonanza of gold and silver worth millions of dollars. By 1913, the Drumlummon had produced $15,000,000 in gold and silver, with 60% of the value coming from gold (Knopf 1913, 69). A booming mining town sprang up near the mine: Marysville, Montana.
In 1883, six years after the discovery, Thomas Cruse sold the mine to a company formed by investors in England for $900,000 in cash, plus 100,000 shares of stock valued at $600,000 (Spence 1959, 192). In total, Mr. Cruse received $1,500,000 from the sale. The amount of $1,500,000 calculated in current value is $41,655,737.
From ownership of shares in the company, Cruse earned additional cash from profits generated by the mine. Even more cash was received from the sale of shares. Sale of the Drumlummon Mine made Cruse a very rich man, with more wealth than anyone can imagine for back in those days.
For old prospectors the urge to gain profit from discovery of gold never fades. In the years after sale of the Drumlummon Mine, Thomas Cruse’s interest in gold mining continued. From 1883 to 1907, he acquired several more patented mining claims mostly in the vicinity of Marysville. In 1883, he filed a claim for the North Star Lode (17.93 acres); in 1889 a claim for the Tommy Lode (19.82 acres); and in 1896, a claim for the Bald Mountain Lode (40.29 Acres). Still more claims were filed at other times.
Extracting gold and silver from ores is an imperfect process. Some precious metals from the Drumlummon Mine ended up in the tailings. Thomas Cruse wanted a solution, and he searched for ways to improve the process. On October 17, 1898, he submitted a patent application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office with a title “Method of Extracting Gold and Silver from Their Ores.” On April 3, 1900 the application was approved and Cruse was awarded Patent No. 646808. While not educated as such, Cruse had the mind of a mining engineer.
Cruse understood economics well. He diversified his holdings. In 1885, he acquired the Montana Sheep Company (later renamed N Bar Ranch) near Lewistown. Over several years following the purchase, Cruse bought more land and expanded the ranch. With thousands of acres of grazing land, the ranch supported a huge herd of cattle and many sheep.
In 1887, Mr. Cruse launched The Thomas Cruse Savings Bank in Helena. By all accounts, the bank, located on Main Street, was a very successful enterprise, even surviving the nation’s financial crises of 1893 when the price of sliver had collapsed and the economy descended into ruin.
Cruse also tried his hand at drilling for oil in the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains in Carbon County near Red Lodge. Nine (9) dry holes were drilled in 1889-1890, before giving up on the venture.
Mr. Cruse lived in a mansion at 328 N. Benton Avenue in Helena. In 1900, Cruse shared his home with a few relatives along with hired help. In addition to his daughter Mary Margaret, age 13, the household included, Mary A. Cruse (niece), Frank H. Cruse (nephew), William J. Cruse (nephew), Mabel Lockman (maid), Rose B. Sheehey (governess), John Niehuser (servant), Robert H. Holmes (coachman), and Sam Toy (cook). Mr. Toy was a native of China.
By 1910, Mr. Cruse was alone in the mansion, except for the presence of two servants, Emma Olson and Anna Olson, ages 28 and 35, both born in Minnesota and of Norwegian ancestry, who attended to his daily needs.
Beyond his amazing prospecting ability and business acumen, Thomas Cruse is probably best remembered for philanthropy. Indeed, the Catholic Church of western Montana was a huge beneficiary of Cruse’s generosity.
The Cathedral of Saint Helena, constructed during the years 1908-1914 in Helena, Montana, owes its existence in large part to Thomas Cruse. During a time when money was scarce in Montana, Mr. Cruse gave $5,940,554 (measured in today’s value) to the Diocese of Helena for site acquisition, building the exterior, and finishing and furnishing the interior.
No major endeavor is complete without some drama. In January 1909, Bishop Carroll announced that a party who wished to remain anonymous had come forward with a pledge of $100,000 to help build the Cathedral. To win this prize, members of the Helena community had to match with another $100,000 on or before Easter Sunday 1909. A fund drive to reach the match was successful. Many non-Catholics gave.
The name of the anonymous donor of the first $100,000 was never revealed. It’s reasonable to speculate that the first $100,000 (current value, $2,881,500) was another act of generosity by Thomas Cruse. This was likely the case as others in the Diocese of Helena at that time did not have a sum so large to donate.
On more than one occasion, Bishop Carroll publicly gave thanks to Mr. Cruse and others. The magnificent Cathedral of Saint Helena, Gothic Revival in style and modeled after the Votivkirche in Vienna, Austria, still stands tall and proud, reaching toward Heaven in the sky above Helena.
On a personal side, a slice of Thomas Cruse’s life reads as a tragedy. In 1886, after less than one year of marriage, his wife Margaret (Carter) Cruse, age 25, died. Years later, his only child Mary Margaret Cruse died at the young age of 26 in 1913.
As the years passed and a new century began, Cruse started to think of about his mortality. He had accomplished much in life and he wanted his memory to live on in Helena, the community he helped to build and loved, after his passing.
By 1910, he had reached the age of 74. The window of his life was closing. In 1913, he contracted with Link & Haire Architects of Billings and Butte to design a magnificent family mausoleum to be placed in Resurrection Cemetery in Helena. After the design of the mausoleum was completed on August 5, 1913, construction began. In a few months, the new mausoleum was competed.
With construction finished, Cruse placed the remains of his wife (Margaret) and daughter (Mary) in the family mausoleum, both disinterred from Saint Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, a pioneer cemetery, on Townsend Avenue. Wife and daughter would rest in eternal peace in the elaborate monument Cruse had just built in Resurrection Cemetery.
As if by Divine design, Thomas Cruse died on December 20, 1914, at age 78, a little more than a year after his daughter Mary died. The Cathedral of Saint Helena, built with many cash donations from Mr. Cruse, was formally dedicated by Bishop Carroll, a few days later, on Christmas Day, December 25, 1914. On the following day, December 26, a funeral Mass was held at the Cathedral for the departed Thomas Cruse. Cruse would now follow his wife and daughter on their journey to Heaven.
The many accomplishments of Thomas Cruse are well documented. About his character, less is known, through this side of the man can be inferred from the broader picture of his life. Clearly Cruse was an ambitious, hard-working, man. That he would toil for months digging by hand with primitive tools through 345 feet of solid rock to reach a gold-bearing quartz vein deep in the side of a mountain northwest of Helena is hard to comprehend. A lesser man would never have thought of, much less undertaken such an arduous task.
A credit to his background as an Irish-Catholic immigrant of little means, Cruse gave generously to charity once he became rich from gold and silver mining and other business ventures on the Montana frontier. At the same time, as might be expected of a rich man, he lived in a large, beautiful home. In a brief biographical account, one writer said that Cruse visited New York City often and stayed at the city’s finest hotel. Another account says Cruse spared not a dime at his wedding celebration in Helena in 1886. By 1900, and earlier he was well-known figure in Montana. In a “Local and Personal” column on June 19, 1908, the Billings Gazette newspaper reported, “Thomas J. Cruse, a banker of Helena, was a Billings visitor yesterday.”
A part of Cruse’s life is a mystery. After his wife died in 1886, after less than one year of marriage, why did he remain a single man for the rest of his life? Following her death, his complete energy appears to have been directed to business dealings. Perhaps, coming from a life of near poverty, the urge for wealth consumed his life. Then again, in deep sorrow from the death of his wife, he may have completely reordered his attention, this being an unconscious way to lessen the pain and thoughts of his lose.
A footnote: Bishop Carroll is a person of particular interest who figures into the life of Thomas Cruse. Sure, Cruse was a rich man, but Bishop Carroll was always ready to ask Cruse for more cash every time he needed money for building the Cathedral of Saint Helena. When the Bishop asked, Cruse handed over a check. Was Bishop Carroll aware of other people he could reach out to for donations or was Cruse just a soft touch? Or perhaps Cruse’s donations were really a willing commitment coming from the heart and soul of a man who wanted to please the Almighty.
Adding in another layer of the unknown, in 1914, after Bishop Carroll was done scrambling for funds for the Cathedral, he found more money for the Diocese of Helena to buy a magnificent mansion at 720 Madison Avenue in Helena’s Mansion District. Did Cruse buy this house in the final months leading up to his death on December 20, 1914? After the purchase, the mansion on Madison Avenue became a residence for Bishop Carroll and the chancery for the Diocese. Perhaps, this is confirmation that Thomas Cruse was really pleased with the good work Bishop Carroll had just done in building the Cathedral, and the home on Madison Avenue was a gift to Bishop Carroll, a way of showing gratitude for a job well done.
The story of Thomas Cruse is a tale of rags to riches. For those with an interest in this amazing man, this Web page offers an abbreviated timeline of his personal life and business pursuits in Montana.
– A Timeline of the Life of Thomas Cruse
1856 emigrates from Ireland to American, time in New York. (TC, age 20)
1863 moves to California and spends some time in Nevada and Idaho. (TC, age 27)
1866 arrives in Virginia City, Mont. (TC, age 30)
1867 arrives in Helena, Mont. (TC, age 31)
1876 makes discovery of rich gold deposit in mountains northwest of Helena Mont., near present day Marysville. (TC, age 40)
1879 files patented mining claim (Drum Lummon Lode) on July 9, 20.25 acres Lewis & Clark County northwest of Helena, Mont. (TC age, 43)
1882 reaches agreement with Joint Stock Association, London, to sell the Drum Lummon Mine for $900,000 in cash and as a part of the deal Cruse received 100,000 shares in stock valued at $600,000. The sale, finalized in February 1883, gave Cruse a total of $1,500,000 (current value, $41,655,737). (TC, age 46)
1885 buys Montana Sheep Company (renamed N Bar Ranch) southeast of Lewistown, Mont. (TC, age 49)
1886 donates a site for Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Marysville, Mont.
1886 marries Margaret Carter at Cathedral of the Sacred Hearts, Helena, Mont., on March 2. (TC, age 49)
1886 buys a mansion from T.C. Power located at 328 N. Benton Ave., Helena, Mont. (TC, age 50)
1886 daughter Mary Margaret Cruse born on December 27. (TC, age 50)
1886 wife Margaret (Carter) Cruse died in childbirth on December 27, at her age of 25. (TC, age 50)
1887 founded The Thomas Cruse Savings Bank, Helena, Mont. (TC, age 51)
1889 drills for oil in the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains in Carbon County, Mont. (TC, age 53)
1903 after Rt. Rev. John B. Brondel (first Bishop of the Diocese of Helena) died, Cruse paid for all his medical and funeral expenses, as the Bishop was a poor man having only $5 to his name
1905 donates $25,000 (current value, $720,135) to buy site for new Cathedral of Saint Helena. (TC, age 69)
1909 donates $28,000 (current value, $806,820) to Building Committee Fund for Cathedral of Saint Helena. (TC, age 73)
1911 donates $27,000 (current value, $750,246) to build one spire for the Cathedral of Saint Helena. (TC, age 75)
1913 sells N Bar Ranch (TC, age 77)
1913 Mary Margaret Cruse, daughter, dies on November 22, age 26. (TC, age 77)
1913 donates $119,850 (current value, $3,139,194) to finish interior of the Cathedral of Saint Helena. (TC, age 77)
1913 donates $10,000 (current value $265,594), through his niece, Mrs, H. M. Rae, for purchase of the pipe organ
1914 donates $10,000 (current value, $258,565) for 15 bells for Cathedral of Saint Helena, inscribed “in memory of Mary Margaret Cruse by her father, Thomas.” (TC, age 78)
1914 Thomas Cruse dies on December 20 (U.S. Census data and other publications indicate age 78, but official Certificate of Death, Lewis & Clark County, Mont., records death at age 80. (TC, age 78)
1914 Thomas Cruse funeral Mass, Cathedral of Saint Helena, on December 26. (TC, age 78)
1914 Thomas Cruse interred, Thomas Cruse Family Mausoleum, Resurrection Cemetery, Helena, Mont. (TC, age 78)
1963 Thomas Cruse Mansion at 328 N. Benton Ave, Helena, Mont., demolished.
- Cruse Park, Helena, Mont., named for Thomas Cruse
- Cruse Avenue, Helena, Mont., named for Thomas Cruse
Learn More – Read
Cruse, Thomas. Method of extracting gold and silver from their ores. U.S. Patent 646808 filed October 17,1898, and issued April 3, 1900.
Darlington, John. The Drum Lummon Gold & Silver Mine, Montana: Report. London: Waterlow & Sons Limited, Printers, London Wall, 1882.
Day, Victor. The Cathedral of Saint Helena. Helena, Mont.: The Standard Publishing Company, 1938.
Graetz, Rick and Susie. Helena Capital Town. Helena, Mont.: Northern Rockies Publishing, 2004.
Grosskopf, Linda A. On Flatwillow Creek: The Story of Montana’s N Bar Ranch. Los Alamos, N. Mex.: Exceptional Books, 1991.
Jackson, W. Turrentine. “The Irish Fox and the British Lion: The Story of Tommy Cruse, the Drum Lummon and the Montana Company Limited (British).” Montana the Magazine of Western History 9, no. 2 (Spring 1959): 28-42.
Knopf, Adolph. Ore deposits of the Helena mining region, Montana, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 527, 1913.
Miller, Joaquin. An Illustrated History of the State of Montana. Chicago, Ill.: Lewis Publishing Co.,1894.
Searles, Daniel. “Story of the Drumlummon Mine.” The Butte Miner (1 Feb. 1903): 13
Spence, Clark C. “The Montana Company, Limited: Case Study of an Anglo-American Mining Investment.” The Business History Review 33, no. 2 (Summer 1959): 190-203.
Wren, Patrick J. “Thomas Cruse: Forgotten Man of Montana.” Master’s thesis, Carroll College, 1959.
For Research on Thomas Cruse
The Montana Historical Society Museum in Helena has a treasure trove of documents relating to the life and business affairs of Thomas Cruse. All are part of The Thomas Cruse papers, 1879-1956.
Absaroka Mountain, Mont.
© 2021 John Sandy