The historic Gunnison Country of central Colorado encompasses the high mountain parks lying along the headwaters of the Gunnison River, just west of the Continental Divide. It is a vast and rugged area containing some of Colorado's most beautiful landscapes and scenery. Bounded on the south by the sprawling Powderhorn District, the Gunnison region extends northward to the rugged Elk Mountains and nearby Ruby Range. These towering peaks form the headwaters of the Slate River and its tributary the East River. The Continental Divide comprises the eastern boundary of Gunnison Country while the West Elk Mountains rise up along its western edge. The Continental Divide in this part of Colorado runs along the crest of the breathtaking Sawatch Range. This rugged mountain chain forms the headwaters of Quartz Creek and Taylor River. It is here that the beautiful high mountain sanctuary known as Taylor Park lies.
Historic Taylor Park lies 30 miles northeast of the town of Gunnison, near the headwaters of the Taylor River. Lying at an average elevation of 9000 feet, Taylor Park and its smaller companion Union Park, are two of Colorado's most beautiful high-mountain basins. Taylor Park is drained by several tributaries of the Taylor River including Willow, Texas, Illinois, Pieplant, and Red Mountain Creeks. Known to the Utes as the "Valley of the Gods", Taylor Park was a stronghold of the Indians prior to the early 1870's. It was a very perilous place to enter as many prospectors found to their sorrow.
The first recorded gold strikes in Taylor Park were made by prospector Jim Taylor in 1860. Taylor was a veteran prospector who had cut his teeth on the 1859 rush to Cherry Creek and Clear Creek. In 1860, he entered the Gunnison country, using Lake Pass as his portal to the high mountain park on the other
side of the Divide. Here, he found placer gold in nearly every stream he panned. Later that year, with partners Ben and Charlie Grey andGus Lamb, Taylor panned gold out of the stream known as Willow Creek using his tin drinking cup. Initially known as "Grey's Diggings", the area eventually became known as the Tincup District after Jim Taylor's original discovery. Taylor River and the beautiful park at its head were both named for this intrepid prospector and pioneer.
Taylor Park is home to a number of gold-producing areas including the lode deposits at the Pieplant Mine and the placer deposits of the Taylor Park Mining District. The area is also home to several well-documented lost gold mines, one of which lies somewhere on the slopes of Cross Mountain, 6 miles south of Taylor Park Reservoir. Cross Mountain forms the southern boundary of Union Park, site of the Lottis strikes of 1861. Discovered in 1890, the lost gold-bearing quartz vein was said to be 10 feet thick! Ore from the vein assayed out at $440 per ton.
Taylor Park is also home to a fabulous lost vein of gold-bearing quartz known as the Lost Murdie Lode of Taylor Park. Named for its discoverer, an engineer from Topeka, Kansas named W.D. Murdie, the Lost Murdie Lode lies hidden somewhere in the park. The gold-bearing vein crops out in the streambed of one of the many creeks that drain the park. It was here that W. D. Murdie spotted a 15-inch wide band of gold-bearing quartz during one of his visits to the area. He gathered samples of the ore which turned out to contain 2400 ounces of silver and 95 ounces of gold per ton! Unfortunately, when he returned to Taylor Park he was unable to locate the vein. He never did. The Lost Murdie Lode remains hidden to this day.
The mining history of Gunnison County closely mirrors that of the state of Colorado. The history of both is marked by 3 major mining booms, the first centered on gold, the second on silver, and the third on gold again. The first of Colorado's rushes was founded on easily obtained placer gold and the free-milling lode deposits associated with it. The site of this monumental discovery was Clear Creek and the year was 1859. Only one year later, prospectors were spilling into South Park and then Taylor Park in search of similar deposits.
In 1878, the second of the great money metal rushes of Colorado occurred as rich silver-bearing carbonate deposits were discovered near Leadville. The discovery of these carbonate ore bodies sent prospectors scurrying into the mountains in search of limestones and dolomite formations. By the following year, the immense silver deposits near Tincup, Gothic, and Irwin had been discovered. As the "Carbonate Craze" swept through Taylor Park, prospectors Carl Hurd and George W. Hall were carried along with it. Just south of present-day Tincup, the two prospectors discovered an outcrop of rich ore assaying out at $1700 to the ton! Other rich lodes were discovered in the area and for awhile, the district seemed destined to be another "Leadville". In 1879, two small mining towns called Virginia City and Hillerton sprang
up near the silver mines on Willow Creek. Virginia City was soon renamed Tincup while Hillerton gradually gave way to its neighbor upstream. The Tincup District eventually produced over 16,000 ounces of gold and millions of dollars worth of silver during its heyday!
During the last decade of the 19th Century, the mining industry received a shot in the arm as new types of gold deposits were discovered in Colorado. In 1891, the great Cripple Creek deposits were finally recognized for what they were. These fabulous gold deposits would prove to be richer than all the previous strikes combined! Indeed, the Cripple Creek strikes would rejuvenate the mining industry of Colorado. In 1894, another type of gold-bearing deposit precipitated the great Gunnison gold rush. In this case, an ancient Precambrian greenstone belt in the Powderhorn country was finally recognized as a potential source of the yellow metal. Although sporadic prospecting and mining had occurred in the area throughout the 1880's, it wasn't until the early 1890's that the rich Dirigo Mine was discovered by prospector Charles Grant. Miners flocked into the Powderhorn country as the Gunnison gold rush got underway. From 1894 to 1905, the Powderhorn District thrived. But rising costs eventually doomed the district as mine after mine was forced to close. By 1907, it was all over.