Colorado’s gold rush
From Croesus’ first gold coin in 560 B.C. to the fine gold wire in your computer’s circuitry, gold holds man in its fascinating grip. Scientists say gold exists on Mars, Mercury and Venus. Soon enough, a mankind possessed of a deep hunger for gold may pursue it in new space frontiers.Past empires dating to the Sumerians and Egyptians 3,000 years before Christ treasured golden ornaments. The first coin of Croesus of Lydia (today’s Turkey) became the forerunner of more than 200,000 types of gold coins created in centuries since. The Romas aureas, the Italian florin, the Spanish doubloon, the British sovereign, the South African kruggerand and the American eagle stand in this golden tradition.America’s first gold discovery occurred in a pine-scented forest near Concord, North Carolina when 12-year old Conrad Reed found a hefty yellow rock in a streambed. His father used Conrad’s find as a porch door stop until 1802 when he sold it to a jeweler for $3.50. The delighted jeweler extracted $36,000 in gold (a fortune in today’s money with today’s gold values) from the 17-pound rock. A gold rush that later took in Georgia began.Wildfire spread in 1848 when James Wilson Marshall, a Coloma, California carpenter, plucked a gold pebble from American River sand. The California gold rush ignited with 40,000 prospectors in the famous 1849 stampede to the Sierra Nevada. In nine years 820 tons of gold poured from the California treasure vault.Colorado’s gold rush began in 1858. Prospectors invaded a pristine Blue River valley in August,1859, and that district alone produced $35 million in gold by 1900. Nevada’s Comstock Lode in 1859, South Dakota’s Homestake Mine in 1876 and the crazed Klondike gold rush in 1898 further bulged America’s gold coffers.Gold ranks among the world’s most precious commodities. Its lustrous beauty is undisputed. Its easy workability is unrivalled. One ounce of gold can be stretched into a wire an incredible 50 miles long or hammered into a sheet so thin it covers 100 square feet. Gold is rare – but not too rare. Its myriad uses in aerospace, dentistry, electronics, medicine, packaging, computers and industry in general (which uses about 700 million ounces yearly) are too numerous to list.Gold endures. You may have 4,000 year old Egyptian gold in your still-untarnished gold neck chain.***… Miners quickly innovated a more efficient placer mining device, the sluice. Simplest sluices were long ditches with rocks at the bottom as riffles. But wooden sluices, called long toms, appeared most often. Twenty feet long and one and one-half foot deep, the long toms, equipped with wooden riffles, featured one tapered end so that many could link together for more effective washing. Sometimes several dozen men operated two or three hundred-foot long toms.Miners poured mercury behind each riffle. After washing, the gold-mercury amalgam went into an iron retort furnace to vaporize the mercury and retrieve the gold.Sluicing required water, plenty of water. Some rich placer claims had no stream nearby. To supply placer miners with needed water, ditches and flumes were built to divert water from rushing streams to placer operations. Reports indicate more than 100 miles of ditch and flume in Summit County by 1870.Samuel Bowles described Summit’s extensive water channeling efforts in his 1869 book, Colorado: Its Parks and Mountains:In the valley of the Blue and its tributaries more extensive works for gulch-mining exist than in any other district; there, not less than eighty-four miles of ditches bring water to wash out the gold . . . and the amount of water they carry in the aggregate is eight thousand seven hundred and fifty inches. One of these ditches is eleven miles long; two others seven miles each; another five, and so on; and they cost from one thousand to twelve hundred dollars a mile.The gulches around early Breckenridge crawled with miners panning, rocking and sluicing. Some prospectors, like Ruben Spalding’s 1859 Breckenridge discovery party, were damming rivers or creeks, digging new channels, and washing the old stream bed for gold. (Spalding actually dug a channel and turned the rushing Blue himself; for the story of his party’s historic 1859 discovery of Blue River gold, see Chapter 4 on Breckenridge.) Other prospectors dug shafts to stream bedrock using a primitive hand winch to draw up rich streambed gravels in an operation called coyoting …”SUMMIT” is available in local bookstores and at alpenrosepress.com. Mary Ellen Gilliland’s eight local books include a humorous county history titled,”Colorado Rascals, Scoundrels and No Goods,” and “The New Summit Hiker.”
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