Henry Niccum – a Gilpin County old-timer

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And a little history about the Town of Apex

By Friends of Gilpin County

Recently, one of our local residents was asking about the large holes she found all over her property, and how they came to be.

Stephen Buck, previous resident, historian and founder/ moderator of the “You know you’re from Gilpin County” group on Facebook, replied that these were often called “Henry Holes” after Henry Niccum, an old prospector from Gilpin County who used to wander around the county tossing sticks of dynamite here and there to blow test holes!

Rand Anderson sent this great photo of Henry Niccum, one of the Gilpin County old-timers.
Alan Grunruth writes in his book The Little Kingdom of Gilpin:
Henry Niccum created “Henry Holes.” All over the north end of Gilpin County, there are round depressions 3 to 4 ft. deep and about 8 ft. in diameter. Tall pines and aspen grown from them now, but they’re still “Henry Holes.”
Henry “squatted” in old cabins around Gilpin town all his adult life. When the first of the Merchant family moved there in 1890, he was already a fixture. Small, raggedy, gentle, a friend to all children, Henry was then 23 years old and already quite deaf from making holes in the ground. His lifelong quest was finding gold and his method was a simple as his mind; he threw a stick or two of his beloved dynamite on the ground in a likely place and ran to the back side of a nearby tree and waited for the explosions. Soon he couldn’t hear a thing and all his life he cupped his hand around his ear when somebody approached to signal them of his disability. Henry never found gold, but he never gave up his search.”

James V. Collins added that the picture is from a calendar his dad, Tom Collins, had made up called Colorado’s real Gamblers in 1947. That is Henry Niccum the real miner, and Jack the Ass with the long ears. James said he won quite a few races with him, and next is to Jack is Jenny the ass with laid back ears ready for a few kicks or bites. The picture was taken down in the creek bed by what is now the Richman Casino, at the bottom of Dory Hill Road and Hwy 119 by the Ameristar Casino. There you have heard the real story.

John Schapekahm – A couple days ago thread started up about Henry Niccum and his “patented” Henry-Hole method of prospecting. We have also had periodic references to Apex over time.
In a harmonic convergence of sorts, sticks of dynamite unearthing gold had a hand in the creation of Apex-town. Apex was a pretty big deal for a while as you can see from the picture.
The main street of Apex was no different from other mining towns of the area. It was lined with saloons, stores and hotels. How the town came into being is, however, much different from most.
Sometime during the late 1870s, a guy named Richard Mackey made a good but not particularly great strike in the Pine Creek mining district. He promptly sold his claim. His buyer turned around and sold it as well. This occurred a few times until a man by the name of Mountz acquired to claim. By this time, the claim was known as the Mackey Lode. Mountz, however, had a problem. He had no money with which to develop the claim. So he set about trying to locate a partner and eventually succeeded. Soon, Mountz and his new partner had mined about $30,000 of the “easy” blossom rock gold from the claim. One morning Mountz awoke to find his “partner” and the $30,000 in gold were gone. Down to his last dollar and despondent over the unhappy turn of events, Mountz took his last few sticks of dynamite, bored a hole at the mouth of the mine, inserted the dynamite, lit the fuse and walked away. The next morning, he returned to the site for a last farewell. But lo and behold, what he found in the debris from the blast was some very rich ore and an exposed vein of gold. When he had the ore tested, it assayed out at $1,800 a ton. On the strength of this he was able to get credit in Denver, with which he ordered sacks and wagons for transporting the ore. Needless to say Mackey could now pay his bills and even make some money. In short order a town and a mill sprouted.
Apex was founded in 1891, after the towns of Central City, Black Hawk and Nevadaville were already well established. It eventually had two hotels, a miner’s hall and a dance hall. At one time, in 1896, 1,000 people lived here. Because the Mackey Mine continued producing rich ore, it justified its own mill, something of a rarity at the time.

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