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The Atlantic to the Pacific: What to See and How to See it (1873), by John Erastus Lester


HISTORY OF MINING IN COLORADO.

The General Features of the Mining Region, its Situation and Extent.

The region now embraced within the limits of Colorado first began to attract public attention in 1858. A party of miners from Georgia, under the leadership of Green Russell, are credited with the first gold discovery in what was then known as the ‘Pike’s Peak Country.’ This discovery was made on Dry Creek, a few miles south of the present site of Denver, and was followed by others on Cherry Creek, and at different points along the Platte River above the confluence of these two streams. Reports of these discoveries, of course greatly exaggerated, were not long in reaching the Missouri River; and, immediately thereafter, excited gold-hunters began to wend their way towards the new Eldorado. The trials, vicissitudes, and sufferings of these early pioneers, have furnished abundant material for most thrilling history.

The progress and development of the mining-interests of this region are thus described by a resident in the mining-districts.

The first important gold discoveries were followed by a large influx of population to the mining-region. During the first two years operations were confined to the placers in various localities, and to the washing of surface dirt of a few gold lodes near what is now Central City.

During the succeeding year, explorations were rapidly and widely extended; and discoveries were made, at intervals, throughout the whole foot-hill region, from Wyoming (then Nebraska) on the north, to New Mexico on the south—a distance of more than 300 miles. This mining-region has a width varying from 40 to 60 miles, hence including about 15,000 square miles. Subsequent explorations and developments have established the following facts relative to this great mining-region of Colorado, viz.,—

First, that the plain country adjacent to and along the entire length of the Eastern base of the mountains is underlaid with inexhaustible beds of coal, of the lignite class, which is of such superior quality as to adapt it for all requisite uses, whether for steam, smelting, or domestic purposes. Some of these coal-deposits are found in horizontal, others in vertical beds, varying in thickness from 15 inches to 15 feet. Bordering these coal-measures are deposits of fire-clay, equal in quality to any in the world, and in quantities sufficient to supply the wants of the nation. The same belt furnishes supplies of limestone, sandstone, gypsum, and iron ore. This is the outlying belt of the mineral region.

Second, that the lower foot-hills, for a distance of 10 or 20 miles from the plains are traversed by copper-bearing veins, in nearly all of which a trace of gold or silver, or of both, is found, and in paying quantities in some of them; and,

Third, that at the back of these, extending to the Snowy Range, and including some districts beyond the range, are found the great gold and silver-bearing veins, which, together with the placers, have hitherto constituted the bullion-producing source of Colorado. These veins extend East and West, showing many changes of character in different localities, and are believed to exist along the range, with possibly some interruptions, from the Northern to the Southern boundary of Colorado. Previous to 1865, the region of country immediately surrounding Central City was the great gold-producing section, by its placer and lode-mines. The only other sections of Colorado which produced gold were Park, Lake, and Summit Counties, where rich placer-mines were and are yet worked successfully. The mines worked in these sections were gold-mines, producing gold containing but little silver. In 1865, however, rich silver lodes were discovered in Summit County; and in 1866 others in Clear Creek County, more particularly in the vicinity of Georgetown. The latter have so steadily increased in production as to make them the great rival of the gold-mines of Gilpin County in the production of the precious metals. In 1870, in Boulder County, silver-lodes were discovered, and are worked to this day successfully. In the autumn of 1871 extensive deposits of silver-ore were opened up in Park County; also gold and silver mines in Conejos County.

Nearly all the gold veins carry a large amount of silver; many of the silver veins carry some gold; and others carry copper, lead, and zinc. A large area of the mineral region has not yet been explored, and new discoveries are made every year.

Lack of an economical and intelligent system of mining, lack of reasonable and adequate reduction-works, excess of prodigal and unscientific experiments, and lack of railroad facilities, have, in times past, militated against the profits of mining in Colorado. All these impediments have either disappeared, or are rapidly disappearing. Mining has been systematized, and is conducted far more economically than hitherto. The cost of reducing refractory ores has declined from $75 to $25, or 15l. to 5l. per ton. The completion of extensive smelting-works, already projected at. the base of the mountains, will make a still further improvement in this particular. Railways are completed, and in operation, to and along the base of the mountains, and are in process of construction to the very heart of the mining centres.

Finally, unlike many other mining regions, this entire belt is well wooded and watered. Situated under the shadow of the Snowy Range, it is refreshed by summer showers; and the streams are constantly swollen during the summer by the melting snows. The thousand little valleys among the foot-hills up to the Range are fertile; and the grassy glades afford the finest pasturage in the world. The season is short for the cultivation of cereals; but soil and climate are unexcelled in adaptation to the dairy. the growth of vegetables, and culture of small fruits.

Gilpin County, the smallest in extent of all the counties, and, perhaps, least adapted to agriculture, had, during the past season, 1,320 acres of land under successful cultivation; this apart from the grazing-lands.

Aside from this belt, which has been briefly outlined, there are known to be deposits of gold and silver in the parks and beyond the Snowy Range. There may be mines as rich, perhaps richer, to the West of the region described than any yet discovered within it. That region is yet to be explored and prospected.

In addition to the mines above noted, there are, in various parts of the Territory, soda and salt springs, from which an almost unlimited yield might be derived, and some of which have already been made available. As soda and salt are both used in the reduction of ores, their presence in the Territory is of great importance in connexion with the mining-interest. When it is taken into consideration that Colorado has had no other exportation than from her mines, since the settlement of the Territory, it cannot fail to impress the reader with their immense wealth, and how important an influence their present highly-successful developments are having on her rapid and unexampled growth and prosperity. Their present yield has been nearly doubled in the past two years.



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