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The Mines of Colorado

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Nevada City (Nevadaville) in the 1860’s

By Mary Peery

This newspaper article appeared in The Hartford Courant, which is the country’s oldest newspaper in continuous publication.

The Mines of Colorado.

Denver, “The City of the Plains”—The Rocky Mountains—Golden City—Central City—The Gold Mines—How They are Worked—The Silver Mines, Etc.

By: special correspondence of The Hartford Courant.

Nevada City, Col., July 13, 1866.

“By request, I take this opportunity of laying before the reader a slight sketch of the mines and the manner of mining in Colorado; and to give you a correct view of the mines and the manner of mining in Colorado; and to give you a correct view of the mines, it will be necessary, first, to notice the situation of the mining territory and its adjuncts.

Denver is the business centre of the territory, and the traveler is somewhat surprised after a five days’ ride across a barren country, (seeing nothing but stage stations, adobe ranches, and bacon and beans three times a day,) to see a brisk, aristocratic, enterprising little city, nestling as if it were for protection under the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains. Denver is situated on the plains, is twelve miles from the mountains, and is 5,300 feet above the level of the sea, with a population of about 7,000. Here are the heavy mercantile houses, and banking houses, United States mint, luxurious gambling houses, Governor’s residence, headquarters of the “army of the plains,” etc., etc.

It will not be necessary for me to further describe Denver except to say that the hotels are fair, the ladies fairer, and the liquor detestable; therefore we will leave Denver alone in its glory, and take the coach for the mountains. After crossing the Platte River over a good bridge, (which by the way does honor to the enterprise of the people of Denver) we enter upon a ride of twelve miles of plain, (which lies between Denver and the mountains) after which we enter the mountains and after a short ride through the gulches, enter the capital of the territory, Golden City. It will be unnecessary to spend much time describing the capital. Its situation is splendid, scenery magnificent, population small, and buildings mean, although in time Golden City bids fair to outrival Denver in population, business and wealth. Here is a magnificent water power, a few flour mills, and in the vicinity are the immense coal beds of the territory, none as yet having been found further in the mountains. These coal mines are now being worked and bid fair to be an immense source of profit to the owners. Owing to a scarcity of wood in the mountains, the coal will be eventually used in working the mines and manufactories which are now using wood entirely. Another year and there will be a railway from Central to Golden City; the route is already surveyed and considerable of the stock taken. There are a few gold lodes in the vicinity, but none are noted for their richness.

We will now proceed by coach to Central City, the centre of mining operations in this territory. Before entering Central, we pass through a small village dignified by the name of Black Hawk City; here is the foundry of Langford and Co., which does considerable of the machine work, etc., for the mines throughout the territory, also the mill of the Black Hawk Gold Mining Company, and the smelting works of James E. Lyon & Co. In the vicinity is the Gregory gold mine, which is worked by the Black Hawk, Narragansett and Consolidated Gregory G. M. Co.; also the “Maria” silver lode owned by Lyon & Co. Leaving Black Hawk we ride up the gulch about 1 ¼ miles, and enter Central City, which is the principal business place in the mountains. We have now arrived at the centre of mining operations in Gilpin county, and are prepared to visit the mines. The mines in this section are principally gold, although there are a few lead lodes, the ores of which contain quite a per centage of silver. It will only be necessary for me to mention a few of the principal gold mines. These are the “Bobtail,” “Gregory,” Gardner,” “Benton,” “Alps,” “Ophir,” “Boroughs,” “Kansas,” and numerous others which it will not be necessary for me to mention. The Bobtail gold lode is probably the most noted of any in Colorado; it derived its name from the fact that the original discoverer hauled his top dirt down the mountain to the gulch (for sluicing) in an ox-hide with a pair of bob-tailed oxen. This lode is worked by a number of companies who own from one to three hundred feet each. The Bobtail Gold Mining Co., Braston Gold Mining Co., and Saeusenderfer mine are on this lode—all fine property and paying large profits when worked. This lode is extensively opened to a depth of from one to three hundred feet; the great difficulty in working this property is the great quantity of water. The average yield of the ore of this lode is about $850 per cord (128 cubic feet) or $80 per ton in a stamp mill, which, it is said, does not save over 25 per cent of the gold contained.

The Gregory I have already noticed. Ten cords of the Narragansett ore, run by Bier & Keith, yield $300 per cord. This mine (the Narragansett) is not being worked at present, owing to a lack of working capital which was expended in building a large stone mill with the stamp process.

The Gardner lode is about 1 ¼ miles from Central, and is situated on Quartz Hill. The principal mine on this lode is the Clark Gardner G.M. Co. This company was organized last year, and have since erected a stone mill without process; they are now raising ore for future use. The main shaft is about 250 feet in depth, and shows a fine crevice of ore which pays largely in a stamp mill. The Benton is finely developed. The ore assays well, though it is not run under stamps.

The Alps lode is owned by a New York Co. and is situated on Quartz Hill. This lode is finely developed. Main shaft 161 feet in depth; crevice one foot in width. This lode has made the largest runs of any in the mountains. Three cords of assorted ore were run under stamps at three different times, in different mills, yielding $1500, $1400, and $1250 per cord respectively. The ore is dark blue pyrites, and assays largely. The Alps is now being worked after a resting spell of over a year.

The Ophir is the old Pat Casey mine, (situated on the Boroughs lode) now owned by a New York company, I believe. It is probably the best developed lode in the territory, the main shaft being over 500 feet in depth; the ore is rich and yields under stamps about $200 per cord.

The Boroughs is a master lode, and is worked by a number of companies in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and one from Baltimore. The ore is rich and yielding on average about $300 per cord. It is not being worked at present to any extent, (excepting the Ophir) owing to the different companies having new processes on the brain. The Kansas is also a master lode, and is similar to the Boroughs. Both lodes are situated on Quartz Hill.

I have now mentioned a few of the principal gold mines in this section with their several characteristics. It would perhaps be well for me to say a few words on the way of working the mines.

Immediately after gold was discovered in the mountains there was a rush of miners here to find and appropriate the gold. They immediately commenced gulch mining, sluicing the pay dirt and catching the gold by riffles in the sluices. Gold was plenty, so was vice, and as the two are incompatible, only a few of the miners got rich. Gamblers thrived and theatres (every mining community has its theatre) did a large business. Finally the gulches played out and then it was that the lodes were discovered. Stamp mills were introduced into the country—immense runs made from top quartz (which is decomposed rock) and immense fortunes made by a lucky few who sold their mining property at ridiculous prices. Everything went smoothly as a marriage bell, until suddenly the quality of the ore changed from decomposed quartz to pyrites and sulphurates of iron. This was a blow under which Colorado sunk for a time, as the sulphur in the ore would not permit the gold to be saved in a stamp mill. Various things were tried to obviate the difficulty but were practically useless. Finally to cap the climax, the country was flooded with Crosby and Thompson’s desulphurizers, a great majority of the companies bought and erected this process, and after a few days run were convinced that they also were useless. A very few of the companies still hung to the old stamp process and made out to pay expenses, while others filled their mills with patent pans, crushers, amalgamators, etc., until the company’s working capital was expended and they were obliged to stop and see how the stockholders felt about the assessment.

There are two new processes in use here that seem to save the gold. These are Bien Keith’s, and smelting. Keith desulphurizes ores with his patent desulphurizer and then runs them over shaking tables, using a Blake crusher and Ball polisher for reducing the ores.

Lyon uses crushers-jiggers to separate the ores; desulphurizes the ore in a reverberatory furnace and then smelts it. Smelting would undoubtably be the process for the country were it not for the scarcity of lead, which is used for fluxing. Colorado ores have been termed refractory, on account of a large amount of sulphur, etc.; to obviate this difficulty it seems necessary to desulphurize the ore, and this is the process most used in the country at present. There is a new process in operation here at present termed the Dodge disintegrating process. Dodge reduces the ore without desulphurizing to an impalpable powder, and then amalgamates it. It is thought to be a success.

It is somewhat amusing to notice the arrival in the mountains of newly-appointed agents, who know about as much about mines as they do of farming; they are filled with conceit and acknowledge no equal; look with contempt upon the old agents who have expended all patience in examining and studying new processes. However their time is not far distant. Drafts are drawn in abundance; buildings are commenced on a grand scale; chemicals are bought by the wholesale; erects hot lead processes; patent desulphurizers; patent amalgamators; starts into operation with considerable noise, runs a week, cleans up and finds—nothing. He immediately gives up in despair, despises the country, shuts down all work and goes East to report to his company that the country has gone up, no gold in the ore, etc. All this hurts the country more or less, but it will come out bright after all. Labor is coming down; prices of everything are falling; the ore looks better every day, and it will be but a short time before Colorado will stand forth one of the most enterprising, wealthy and loyal States in this Union.”

Notes from the late editor and proprietor of the Colorado Mining Journal, Ovando J. Hollister, in his book, The Mines of Colorado, published in 1867:

“The Narragansett and Consolidated Gregory G. M. Co., own 400 feet on the Gregory. The mine furnishes the necessary water, the mill contains forty 880-lb. stamps and a few iron pans, and is driven by an 84-horse engine.  The Company ceased operations in June, 1866, with the view of adopting a better treatment for their ores. Eben Smith has had the supervision of the affairs of the Company in Colorado; and supposing a stamp mill to be the best treatment for the ores, which it is not, there are no better works in the country. Judged by its production, the Gregory stands at the head of all the Colorado lodes.”

According to geologist Terry Cox, in his book, published in 1989, Inside the Mountain: “By 1864, most mine operators openly recognized that something had to be done to break the stranglehold of the sulphide minerals. The typical miner was interested in his own property, not his neighbor’s, and certainly not the district as a whole. Trapped by his own problems, he knew there had to be some peculiar process that could wrest his gold from the sulphides. He was willing to try anything. And everything. Until he ran out of money.”

Next time we’ll learn about Nathanial P. Hill, and his contribution to mining, which furthered the gold mining industry, past the problem of sulphides.

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