The Cu-Co ± Au (± Ag ± Ni ± REE) ore deposits of the Blackbird district, east-central Idaho, have previously been classified as Besshi-type VMS, sedex, and IOCG deposits within an intact stratigraphic section. New studies indicate that, across the district, mineralization was introduced into the country rocks as a series of structurally controlled vein and alteration systems. Quartz-rich and biotite-rich veins (and alteration zones) and minor albite and siderite veinlets maintain consistent order and sulfide mineral associations across the district. Both early and late quartz veins contain chalcopyrite and pyrite, whereas intermediate-stage tourmaline-biotite veins host the cobaltite. Barren early and late albite and late carbonate (generally siderite) form veins or are included in the quartz veins. REE minerals, principally monazite, allanite, and xenotime, are associated with both tourmaline-biotite and late quartz veins. The veins are in mineralized intervals along axial planar cleavage, intrafolial foliation, and shears.
Mineralized intervals are hosted by a variety of metasedimentary rocks, including three phyllitic units of Mesoproterozoic age and two schistose units. All of these units are S-tectonites in the footwall of a regional thrust fault. Specifically, the district lies within an oblique thrust ramp containing a series of structural horses (three domains) in a duplex system. The deposits span the three domains and are hosted by metamorphic rocks that range from lower amphibolite facies in the structurally upper domain to lower-middle greenschist facies in the lower domain (an inverted metamorphic sequence). Early quartz and biotite veins were introduced during progressive folding and prolonged peak metamorphic conditions and they underwent late-tectonic retrograde recrystallization and metamorphic mineral growth, to the same extent as the country rocks in each domain. Where little subsequent deformation occurred, early veins are discordant to bedding but, where folding was polyphase and fabrics are penetrative, mineralized zones are concordant with metamorphic compositional layering. Late quartz veins in the zones are associated with retrograde minerals and textures and are only locally deformed. 40Ar/39Ar dating of unoriented muscovite from the selvage of a late quartz vein yields a Late Cretaceous age of about 83 Ma, the time of retrograde metamorphism associated with introduction of late quartz veins.
Textural data at all scales indicate that the host sites for veins and the tectonic evolution of both host rocks and mineral deposits were kinematically linked to Late Cretaceous regional thrust faulting. Heat, fluids, and conduits for generation and circulation of fluids were part of the regional crustal thickening. The faulting also juxtaposed metaevaporite layers in the Mesoproterozoic Yellowjacket Formation over Blackbird district host rocks. We conclude that this facilitated chemical exchange between juxtaposed units resulting in leaching of critical elements (Cl, K, B, Na) from metaevaporites to produce brines, scavenging of metals (Co, Cu, etc) from rocks in the region, and, finally, concentrating metals in the lower-plate ramp structures. Although the ultimate source of the metals remains undetermined, the present Cu-Co ± Au (± Ag ± Ni ± REE) Blackbird ore deposits formed during Late Cretaceous compressional deformation.