Gold And Silver Prospecting And Mining

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Gold Prospecting and Mining

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Most of the gold found in South Park came from mineral veins and lodes high in the adjacent mountains and in the thick gravels in the stream valleys. Pleistocene glaciers eroded these mountain deposits, and the streams carried the gold far into the valley, where flakes and nuggets would later attract the attention of prospectors. Gold was reported from South Park as early as 1806, when James Purcell (called Pursley by Pike) told Zebulon Pike of his findings (Simmons, 1966), and nuggets were picked up by trappers during the 1830s and 1840s. Gold mining in South Park did not flourish, however, until the late 1850s, after which it continued into the early 1870s. When hydraulic mining replaced the uneconomical one-man placers, Chinese workers were brought into South Park as cheap labor. In the 1860s the population of the camps began to dwindle, and some were nearly abandoned. Silver gradually brought the area back to life in the early 1870s, and this boom lasted until the Sherman Act of 1893 demonetized silver; subsequently, many of the camps were permanently abandoned. Gold mining was revived briefly as recently as the 1920s, when the South Park Dredging Company began work on the Platte River southeast of Fairplay (Simmons, 1966). Dredging continued until the start of World War II, then began again in 1945 and continued until the early 1950s, when it was discontinued as uneconomical (Simmons, 1966). Placer deposits on Sacramento Creek near Fairplay are still being actively worked today.


Many of the old mining camps and towns existing in the South Park area during the 1800s are shown on the James McConnell School Supplies map of Colorado originally published in 1894 (Pezolt, 1894). That map also shows the geographic names used at the time.

Tarryall, located about 6.4 km northwest of present-day Como on Tarryall Creek (not to be confused with the later settlement of Tarryall located near Tarryall Reservoir in the southeast corner of South Park), boomed in 1859 and saw as many as 13 hydraulics in operation and 300 men working in the area. Hamilton was platted in the spring of 1860 opposite the town of Tarryall on the south bank of Tarryall Creek (Fossett, 1878). By 1868, Tarryall and Hamilton had all but disappeared (Bowles, 1869).

Buckskin Joe's Diggings was a mining district 12.8 km northwest of Fairplay named after Joseph Higganbottom, called Buckskin Joe because of the tanned deerskin clothes he wore. The town of Lauret was established in 1859 in this district, and within three years there were eight steam quartz mills crushing the ore brought into town (Rocky Mountain News, 1862). Lauret became the first county seat in Park County.

Fairplay, the current county seat of Park County, and Alma are still active towns in South Park. Fairplay was known first as "Fair Play," then as "Fairplay Diggings," and was called "Platte City" in 1861 (Miners' Record, 1861). Its name was changed to "South Park City" in 1869 (Janes, 1869) and remained so until 1874, when it was changed back to Fairplay by the Tenth Territorial Council and House of Representatives (Fossett, 1878). Alma was established at the junction of Buckskin Creek and the South Platte River in 1873, primarily as a supply source for the miners. Fossett (1878) mentions a small smelter in Alma in the late 1870s.

The Trout Creek Mining District, the closest mining district to Kaufman Ridge and Porcupine Cave and one where many claims were staked, extended for about 19 km south of Buffalo Peaks, with a width of 6-10 km (Emerson, 1881). Chubb's Ranch, the settlement at the top of Trout Creek Pass, was within this district. Mining camps near Porcupine Cave included Calumet, noted for rich magnetic ores and large deposits of marble; Turret, near the Independence mine, where copper and gold were produced; and Whitehorn, situated east of Cameron Mountain and one of the larger camps of its time. Wallace and Lawson (1998) and Wallace et al. (1999) describe the geology and mineral potential in the area immediately surrounding Porcupine Cave.

Flynn (1952) mentions other towns, camps, and mining districts that were established in the mid- to late-1800s: Quartzville, located on the east face of Mount Bross in the Independent District; Hillsdale, a lumber camp for the men who furnished the timbers for the mines on North Star Mountain and Mount Bross; Sterling, located in the Mosquito Mining District about 1.6 km south of Lauret; Dudley, whose residents were connected either with the Moose Mine on Mount Bross or with the Dudley smelter; Horseshoe, located about 9.6 km west of Fairplay in the Horseshoe Mining district at the south end of the Mosquito Range; and Leavick, one of the later mining camps in South Park, established in the early 1890s and abandoned in 1921. Balfour was a gold mining site south of Hartsel and southwest of Current Creek Pass where mining continued from 1893 to 1900 (Nutt, 1983). The Montgomery District, which was platted in 1861 about 16 km west of Hamilton and 11.2 km northwest of Lauret (Rocky Mountain News, 1861), boomed quickly and declined just as quickly, with only one house still occupied in 1868 (Bowles, 1869).

Prospect pits, adits, and tailings throughout South Park are evidence of the widespread investigation of hundreds of potential sites by prospectors during the 1800s. One of these sites resulted in the discovery of Porcupine Cave, discussed later in this chapter.


Mining of coal from Late Cretaceous beds flourished near Como in the late 1870s and early 1880s. The South Park Coal Company and the Como Iron, Coal, and Land Company were active in the area and provided coal to the railroads. The Chinese laborers also made their mark in coal mining, having moved into the area from Fairplay to take over the jobs when the other miners went on strike. After an explosion in 1885, many of them left those jobs, and, when the coal mining industry collapsed in the 1890s, most of the remaining Chinese left South Park (Barth, 1997). Coal mining in South Park was limited, never achieving the local impact of gold and silver mining.


Salt produced at the Salt Works (figure 4.1), a manufacturing plant located on Salt Creek 4.8 km north of Trout Creek Pass, was used primarily for chloridizing ore, although some was used for domestic and ranching purposes (Simmons, 1966). Lipsey (1959) noted that the Salt Works was established in 1866 by Charles Hall, who homesteaded the ranch where the salt springs were located. The plant was an L-shaped building, approximately 48 m long in the main wing and 21 m in the other; 18 cast iron evaporating kettles brought from Missouri by ox or mule team were used in the extraction of the salt. Legal action over the ownership of the land and the resultant financial problems brought a halt to the operations of the Salt Works after only three years. The source of the salt is undoubtedly from the near-surface Pennsylvanian strata, which contain evaporites, including halite. Dissolution collapse of the evaporites resulted in numerous sinkholes north of this area and south of Fairplay (Shawe et al., 1995).


Peat, used in landscaping, has been strip-mined from South Park's wetlands, damaging a number of them. Much of this important habitat for rare plants, plant communities, aquatic and semiaquatic macroinvertebrates, and aquatic beetles has been irreversibly altered or completely destroyed. Sanderson and March (1996) estimated that peat mining has removed nearly 20% of South Park's extreme rich fens. (Cooper describes these fens and the associated ecosystems more fully in chapter 3.)

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