A “tailing tale” of Henry Villard

To the Pike’s Peak Country in 1859 – Part 4 of 4


In opening this chapter—probably the most interesting to your readers—I will say that I shall not presume to express any ultimate opinion as to the true character of the gold washing of this country. I shall perform the part of a faithful reporter of what I have seen (not heard) and nothing further. I am aware of the responsibility of my position, and shall convey no information to the readers of the Commercial that I know not to rest on facts.

In the first place, I wish to remark that in calling this the Pike’s Peak gold region a vast radical misnomer is made use of. From here to that much-mentioned glacier the distance comes not much short of seventy miles, and in but a single locality between the two points gold washing is carried on. Whatever digging and washing is now going on is north of this place, and the mines off in the same direction.

On Cherry Creek, as already stated, nothing in the way of washing is going on at present. It does not pay. Any shovel full of sand on the bottom between the South Platte and Cherry Creek will give one the color, but the most diminutive substance of gold, and the idea of turning those all but invisible particles to account has been abandoned. On the South Platte, about six miles south of this, a company from Georgia has dug a ditch; is busily at work, and doing well. I visited this claim myself, and found them doing well. They take out dust at a rate of from $5 to $7 per day, six individuals.

All other mining operations at present taking place at the headwaters of the northwestern tributaries of the South Platte in the mountains. Of the various diggings along and in the latter I know but by hearsay, and will, therefore, speak of such of their yieldings as have come within my immediate observation. In a few days I shall start upon a mountain tour, for the purpose of a personal inspection of them, and lay the result in due season before your readers

The Leavenworth and Pike’s Peak Express Company has shipped during the last week about a thousand dollars’ worth of scale gold. It was bought from a number of individuals that had brought it mostly from the mountains.

Wm. Fisher, a merchant in Denver City, has in his possession three hundred dollars’ worth of dust (seen by me) which he had received in different quantities in exchange for goods. Similar amounts are in the hands of three more tradesmen.

Yesterday morning, I assisted Mr. Joe Heywood, formerly a well-known Cincinnatian, but now of California, who came here on a prospecting tour, in weighing six ounces of gold which he bought of two men who had taken it out of Plum Creek in six days.

Mr. Gregory came down from the north fork of Vasquez Creek with thirty-seven dollars’ worth of gold dust, which he had washed out of forty pans of sand. He also had several specimens of quartz and shot gold, the result off his explorations at various points.

In strolling over town in the course of the same day I saw dust varying from 18 to 62 dollars’ worth, all of which had arrived from the mountains for the purpose of buying a new stock of provisions. The quantities appear insignificant when compared with the discoveries in California. But this smallness can be easily explained, first by the fact that the mountains have become accessible but two or three weeks ago, and that from the inability of miners, on account of a want of means, to lay in a supply of provisions for any considerable length of time, which circumstance renders their return to town, after a few days’ work imperative.

From all appearances it is, however clear that this summer will have to be devoted almost entirely to prospecting, the result of which will finally settle the question of the paying character of mining operations in this latitude.

Great depression of mind prevailed here at the time I arrived, with regard to the diggings. The favorable returns of the last few days have, however, brightened up the countenances of all, and a general rush for the mountains is imminent.


The loose state of society and the large influx of lawless individuals has already made resort to the lynch law necessary in this part of the country. About four weeks since a German by the name of John Stuffer formerly of Louisville, was suspended by the neck for the murder of his brother-in-law.

On the morning of Sunday last, Judge Lynch again convened his Court, for the purpose of trying an alleged horse thief. The whole town had turned out to witness the spectacle, which was truly an original one. The meeting was called to order and a President and Secretary elected. A jury was then summoned by these officers; a prosecutor and counsel for the defense appointed, and the trial proceeded with. The evidence not being sufficient to convict, the accused was acquitted although six stolen animals had been found in his possession. He received a warning to leave town at once, which he did. He returned, however, in the course of the evening, was caught once more and swung up, for the purpose of frightening him, when he confessed the theft, and revealed the existence of a regularly organized band of thieves. He gave the names and whereabouts of his confederates, and regulators are now after them.

Some ten days ago thousands of Indians were encamped all along Cherry Creek. These were the peaceable Keota and Arapahoes, and the warlike Cheyennes, Apaches, and Comanches. Since then most of them have, however, started for a buffalo hunt. No depredations were committed, except by the Apaches, who drove off 150 head of cattle.

Mr. Davidson, the special correspondent of the New York Tribune and St. Louis Democrat, because tired of the country after a six weeks’ exploration of the same, and undertook to go down the Platte in a skiff, on his way home. But thirty miles east of this, his means of river navigation was wrecked, and he and his companions very narrowly escaped drowning. All of his property, valued at over $1,000 and including some valuable mineral and botanical collections he had made on his tours through the mountains were lost. He returned to this place, whence he embarked eastward in the express coaches on Sunday morning last.


Colorado Magazine, V.8, November 1931

From Maggie

Many thanks to Mary Ramstetter for sharing this fascinating story of Henry Villard.

The first two books of my Misadventures of the Cholua Brothers series are available at Mountain Menagerie on Main Street in Central City, Colorado; at,, and

For past columns and other information on my speaking engagements, book releases, and events visit me at

I’m always looking for interesting stories about Colorado pioneers and local folk instrumental in the founding and/or development of Gilpin County. If you have stories about family members or friends to share, please contact me at or send snail mail to Maggie Magoffin, P.O. Box 746495, Arvada, Colorado 80003.

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