Four Georgians

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The Four Georgians were a group of gold prospectors that are traditionally credited for discovering the Last Chance placer gold strike of Helena, Montana. They were John Cowan, D. J. Miller, John Crab, and Reginald (Robert) Stanley. Of the four, the only actual Georgian was Cowan, who hailed from Acworth, Georgia.[1][2] The other three came from Alabama (Miller), Iowa (Crab) and England (Stanley). It has been speculated that they were named "Georgians" not from where they came from, but because they were practicing the "Georgian method" of placer mining.[3][4]

In 1864, they left the Alder Gulch area of Virginia City, Montana Territory, heading north toward the Kootenai River country to pursue rumored prospects there. En route, they heard that the Kootenai prospects had played out, and instead decided to prospect the Little Blackfoot River. They crossed the Continental Divide to the Prickly Pear Creek drainage, still finding only minimal signs of gold at best. Noting a small creek in the Prickly Pear Valley with the best prospects so far, they again moved north to explore the Marias River. Still finding little gold after six weeks of hard work, they returned south to the place they referred to as Last Chance Gulch, since it would be their final opportunity on a long, arduous prospecting trip. They were prepared to give up on the whole area.[1][3]

On July 14, 1864, they dug two prospect pits on Last Chance Gulch upstream from their earlier efforts.[3] Both pits revealed flat gold nuggets and gold dust. All their efforts had finally paid off. Eventually, Crab and Cowan were sent back to Virginia City for more supplies, other prospectors began appearing, and the Last Chance Gulch bonanza began.[5]

A Georgian genealogist, Suzanne Coker, proposed an alternate theory that the "Four Georgians" were John Cowan, his nephew Frank Cowan, Henry Rusk, and Bill Palmer, all of whom were from Georgia. She claimed they left Georgia in 1859 and traveled around the west for five years with no luck until encountering Last Chance Gulch. They then built the first cabin in what was to become Helena and mined until 1867, when they all started home. She refers to a news article in an Acworth, Georgia newspaper from 1975 but does not refer to a specific date.[2] No other sources have substantiated this story. In 1867, the Four Georgians finally sold out their claims and took $40,000 of gold dust by wagon to Fort Benton, MT to board a steam boat down the Missouri River and eventually all the way to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia where they cashed in three years of hard labor in the Montana gold fields.[3]

Reginald Stanley's accounts of his discovery of gold in Last Chance Gulch can be found in the archives of the Montana Historical Society in Helena, MT as Small Collection 781, Reginald Stanley papers.[6]


  1. ^ a b Burlingame, Merrill G.; Toole, K. Ross (1957). A History of Montana (Vol. 1 ed.). New York, NY: Lewis Historical Pub. Co. p. 125. 
  2. ^ a b "Last Chance Gulch and 4 Georgians". 1998-08-14. Retrieved 2014-08-03. 
  3. ^ a b c d Lincoln, Marga (13 July 2014). "Heart of Gold: 150 years ago, four weary miners discovered gold, which would lead to the founding of the Queen City". Helena Independent Record. Retrieved 1 August 2014. 
  4. ^ Holmes, Krys (2008). Montana: Stories of the Land (PDF). Helena, MT: Montana Historical Society Press. pp. 103–104. Retrieved 08/01/2014.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  5. ^ "Historic Context". Montana Dept. of Environmental Quality, Abandoned Mines Program, Mining District Historical Narratives. State of Montana. Retrieved 1 August 2014. 
  6. ^ "Reginald Stanley Papers". Montana Historical Society online catalog. Retrieved 1 August 2014.