Candy Moulton: Reminiscing on the Gold Rush, locations that impacted it
March 8, 2016
The Continental Divide from Colorado to Montana is high country known for scenic vistas and diverse mineral resources. Beginning in the 19th century and continuing to the present, miners have harvested the bounty of nature. Gold, silver, copper and sapphires are some of the riches they've taken home.
The mother lodes they found spawned fast-growing towns and rich histories, and today you can explore the places and learn the stories of their booms, their busts, and their people.
Miners pulled more than $18 million in gold from the nearly 500 mines in the Cripple Creek district high in the Rockies just to the north of Pikes Peak in the late 19th Century. Bob Womack—some called him "Crazy Bob"—filed on the El Paso lodge mining claim on Oct. 20, 1890. When his ore assayed at $250 in gold per ton, the rush started.
During the heyday, three railroads and two electric trolley systems served the gold camp. The "Gold Belt Line" narrow-gauge Florence and Cripple Creek Railroad linked the gold camp with Florence, Colo., by climbing through Phantom Canyon. You can drive the route of this old railroad by taking the Phantom Canyon Road, but be forewarned, it is steep, narrow, and not for anyone who dislikes heights, one-lane roads with two-way traffic, or blind corners! For adventurers, however, it is an awesome drive.
Gold mining continues in the region by the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company. The Cripple Creek Heritage Center has displays, tours and opportunities for a guided tour of a modern working mine, as well as a tour of the historic Mollie Kathleen Mine. Nearby Victor also has a rich mining heritage. Learn more at the Victor Lowell Thomas Museum. Gold Rush Days are held in mid-July with mining games, gold panning, a parade, and other activities.
Leadville is the location of one of the richest historic silver districts in the country, and home of the National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum, a showcase of American mining. Outstanding examples of ores and precious rocks and minerals are on display along with artifacts, historic photographs and exhibits including a replica underground hard rock mine and a prospector's cave. The museum also has a collection of mining tools such as hammers and drills that show how mining technology changed through the years.
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As you travel north from Cripple Creek through Silverthorne and Walden Colorado, you are on a route speculators and miners took when they fled Cripple Creek to the next big strike: the discovery of copper in what became the Grand Encampment Mining District.
Grand Encampment Mining District
Edward Haggarty herded sheep but his primary interest in the Sierra Madre mountain range was the search for minerals, and on a spring day in 1896 he found the mother lode – a copper deposit that would be developed as the Rudefeha Mine (named for the men who backed his mining work – Rumsey, Deal, Ferris and Haggarty). In May of 1897 the word was out and men who had rushed north from Cripple Creek staked the town of Grand Encampment at the foot of the mountains. Miners and boomers came quickly, many of them like Milt Englehart and Edward Parkison from Cripple Creek. They opened stores to serve the mining industry and brought newspaperman Grant Jones up from Cripple Creek as well.
He would take over the promotion of the area, quickly getting articles placed in newspapers from Philadelphia to Denver.
Jones would ultimately open his own paper, the Dillon Doublejack, published in the town that grew closest to the mine. In addition to the Rudefeha Mine (which later became the Ferris-Haggarty), other copper mines were quickly developed and spawned such towns as Battle, Copperton, Elwood, and Rambler.
From 1897 until 1908 Grand Encampment was the hub of the copper district. Stagecoach service provided a link to the Union Pacific Railroad at Walcott Junction, forty miles to the north. Freighters like Gee String Jack Fulkerson hauled goods to the mines and mining camps, and returned to the North American Copper Company smelter with loads of copper ore. But that transportation was difficult — both costly and dangerous.
So the company hired the Riblet Tramway Company from the Pacific Northwest to build a 16-mile-long aerial tramway that could transport the ore from the Ferris-Haggarty to the smelter that had been constructed along the Grand Encampment River near the town. This engineering marvel was the longest aerial tramway in the world at the time.
It operated from June 1903 until August 1908 when the last of three fires rendered the smelter in operable.
The copper boom went bust shortly thereafter, but the Grand Encampment Museum has one of the original tramway towers, plus three replica towers that have original cable and ore buckets. Also on the grounds at the museum are original buildings from the town of Battle, homestead and stagecoach cabins, a one-room school, and a two-story outhouse.
TO BE CONTINUED…