The Lewis and Clark line is a prominent zone of strike-slip, dip-slip, and oblique-slip faults that extends from near Wallace, Idaho, to east of Helena, Montana. Faults of this zone have been intermittently active from Middle Proterozoic to Holocene time, and because of numerous tectonic overprints, controversy continues about displacement directions and times of displacement along specific faults. Geologic mapping shows evidence that many principal faults of the Lewis and Clark line, such as the St. Marys-Helena Valley, Bald Butte, Ninemile, and Osburn faults, had right separation or slip that ranged between 28 and 11 km, and this displacement probably occurred during Late Cretaceous time. Other faults, such as the Elevation Mountain, Placer Creek, and Ranch Creek faults, have Late Cretaceous right separations that range between 8 and 3.2 km, and the Mount Sentinel fault zone has between 6.5 and 3 km of right separation of probable Late Cretaceous age.
Subsidiary structures of the Lewis and Clark line postdate Paleozoic and Lower Cretaceous rocks and predate Late Cretaceous stocks at some places; subsidiary faults and folds that have age constraints have slip directions compatible with right slip along adjacent, principal faults.
Sedimentation patterns of Lower and Upper Cretaceous rocks indicate that faults of the Lewis and Clark line fragmented the foredeep region of the foreland basin into separate northern and southern basins in Late Cretaceous time. The Lower and Upper Cretaceous Blackleaf Formation (Albian and lower Cenomanian) was deposited in a continuous foredeep basin that extended across the Lewis and Clark line from north of the Canadian border to southwestern Montana, a distance of about 450 km. North of the Lewis and Clark line, middle and upper Cenomanian rocks are absent, and a thin sequence of uppermost Cenomanian to Campanian rocks was deposited in a marine environment that changed to a strand-line and continental environment in early Campanian time. South of the Lewis and Clark line, middle and upper Cenomanian deposits are also absent, but a thick sequence of Turonian-to-Campanian rocks was deposited in brackish water and strand-line environments, and during later Campanian time, in a continental environment. In the region between the St. Marys-Helena Valley and Bald Butte faults, a barrier may have formed that served as a local sediment source between foredeep regions in the northern and southern foreland basin during the period 91 to 75 Ma. South of the Bald Butte fault, an extensional tectonic regime contributed to a higher sediment-accumulation rate in the foredeep region along the north border of the southern basin (30 cm/1,000 yr), as compared to lower sediment-accumulation rates (6.9 and 7.8 cm/ 1,000 yr) in the foredeep region of the south part of the northern basin.