Colorado has always been mining country. The soaring mountains that form the rugged backbone of the state turned out to be storehouses of enormous wealth. The history of mining in Colorado is marked by many astounding mineral discoveries beginning in 1859 with the famous Clear Creek strike and culminating with the great Cripple Creek strike of 1891. Production at Cripple Creek peaked around 1900, then slowly decreased until 1915 when a spectacular discovery occurred deep in the mine. That year, the fabulous Cresson pipe was struck. Consisting of a brecciated, vug-filled basaltic intrusion, the Cresson pipe contained enormous gold-filled cavities worth millions of dollars.
During this period of great mineral strikes, some truly monumental ore-bearing veins and pockets were discovered in Colorado. For example, ore from the famous Smuggler Mine near Telluride averaged $1200 worth of gold per ton. In the Leadville District, south of Tennessee Pass, the Robert E. Lee Mine contained a pocket of silver ore worth $1250 per ton. In 1880, the nearby Matchless Mine yielded ore containing 1000 ounces of silver per ton. When the Wheel of Fortune vein on Mount Sneffels was discovered in 1876, the surface ore contained 1200 ounces of silver to the ton. The Mollie Gibson Mine near Aspen yielded incredibly rich ore bearing 3300 ounces of silver per ton! The Beartown District in the San Juans was another storehouse of bonanza ore. Hand-sorted sylvanite ore from Beartown brought $4000 per ton. A rich silver vein recently discovered near Silver Plume produced a sensation when it was found to be worth $6000 per ton. In 1879, a prospector named Jim Jennings found deposits of pure wire silver near Gothic worth $15,000 per ton! But this is not the richest silver ore ever found in Colorado. The first shipment of silver ore from the Caribou Lode, located four miles west of Nederland, was worth $16,000 per ton. And the Anglo-Saxon Mine, near Georgetown, yielded silver ore worth an astounding $23,000 per ton! But Colorado is gold country too. The richest ores from the famous Jamestown District, in central Boulder County, contained 2000 ounces of gold per ton!
In the annals of Colorado mining history, there are a number of fabulously rich lost ledges and veins that rival and even exceed those that have already been found. For example, a vein of gold-bearing rose quartz discovered by a prospector named Douglas McLean in 1895 somewhere on Mount Bergen yielded samples of ore that assayed out at $1000 per ton. In 1890, another prospector named Joseph Johns stumbled upon a gold-bearing quartz vein somewhere on the southwest side of McClure Pass, near Muddy Creek. Ore from this lost vein was found to be worth $5000 per ton, as was the ore from the Lost Murdie Lode of Taylor Park. Samples of ore from the legendary Lost Golden Ledge of the Gore Range seem to range from $10,000 to $15,000 per ton. Various hunters, trappers, soldiers, and prospectors have all stumbled upon this elusive ledge at one time or another. Samples of ore from a lost silver ledge near Gore Pass assayed out at $17,900per ton!
But even richer deposits are on record. Ore from the Lost Carson Mine, located somewhere in the West Needle Mountains, was worth an amazing $28,000 per ton. The Lost White Cement Mine, located near the Culebra Range in extreme south-central Colorado, yielded samples of ore containing 1000 ounces of gold per ton. In the La Plata Mountains, samples of ore from the Lost Hollingsworth Lode assayed out at $40,000 per ton while the Lost Baker Brothers Lode, located 30 miles northeast on Coal Creek, yielded samples of ore worth $44,000 per ton! Both are extraordinarily rich ores, but the granddaddy of all Colorado mineral assays is the ore from the Lost Crazy Swede Mine on Bear Creek. This incredible ore assayed out at $200,000 per ton!
One of the richest of Colorado's lost ledges is the Lost Simpson Mine, located in the beautiful La Veta country of Huerfano County. The Lost Simpson Mine has yielded samples of ore worth $40,000 per ton. It is one of Colorado's richest!
In the spring of 1937, an old prospector named Alex Cobsky passed away at the state hospital in Pueblo. Forgotten at the time of his death, Cobsky had created quite a sensation 36 years earlier when he showed up in Pueblo with a load of incredibly rich gold ore. Indeed, the ore was some of the richest ever seen in Colorado. Mining camps were soon buzzing with excitement over the news. But then Cobsky dropped out of sight.
Just when the furor was dying down, Cobsky showed up again with another load of ore. This time, he indicated that he had found an old abandoned mine shaft in the La Veta country, somewhere near Silver Mountain. Local prospectors suddenly realized that Cobsky had found the fabulous Lost Simpson Mine.
Discovered in 1869 by Jack Simpson, the gold-bearing quartz vein was said to be located somewhere on or near Silver Mountain, just east of La Veta Pass. But Simpson was killed by Indians and the secret of the mine's location died with him. Cobsky apparently discovered the abandoned shaft 32 years later while herding goats. In any case, he built a cabin in the area and became somewhat of a recluse. The mine's entrance was said to lie inside the cabin.
After many years, Cobsky's health declined and he wrote out his will, leaving the gold mine to some relatives in Denver. These included Anna Reicht, Howard Roepnack, and Mrs. Elizabeth Wichelt. After his death, the cabin was opened up and found to contain no evidence of any gold mine. The source of Cobsky's incredible ore was never found and remains hidden to this day.
The history of mining in the La Veta area of south-central Colorado extends back to the time of the early Spaniards. The first official Spanish incursion into the mountains of southern Colorado was the Rivera expedition of 1765. The explorers penetrated the southern half of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and parts of the San Juans further west. The Rivera expedition was preceded and followed by many unofficial prospecting forays into the mountains of southern Colorado. These early Spaniards left evidence of their passing in many parts of the Sangre de Cristos including the Spanish Peaks area, the Culebra Range, the Marble Mountain area, and the La Veta Pass area. But despite the activities of Spanish prospectors, the great ore deposits of Colorado lay undisturbed until the coming of the Americans.
The mountains of southern Colorado reverted back to their pristine state as the Spanish tide receded. They left, having missed all the major gold and silver deposits in that part of the country. The Spaniards were replaced by the indomitable Americans during the early part of the 19th Century. They came first as mountain men, then as prospectors. Both would find gold in the Sangres.
During the 1840's, a mountain man named Norton displayed some small gold nuggets that he had found in a stream somewhere in the Sangre de Cristos. Some of the mountain men at Bent's Fort had seen Norton's nuggets.
The Sangre de Cristos of southern Colorado slept for nearly 30 more years before the rumors of gold in the mountains were confirmed. During the middle to late 1870's, several moderately-rich strikes occurred in the southern part of the range. Discoveries were made on West Spanish Peak, Silver Mountain, and Grayback Mountain, located just west of Pass Creek Pass. In 1876, a minor boom occurred in the Spanish Peaks area as both lode and placer deposits were discovered on the slopes of West Spanish Peak. Unfortunately, the mining districts on West Spanish Peak were never big producers. The placer deposits were quickly worked out and the gold-bearing veins were simply not rich enough to sustain a big operation. Nevertheless, the lode deposits were reopened in 1900 and continued to be worked until the 1940's.
The late 1870's also saw rich strikes on Grayback Mountain, just west of Pass Creek Pass. Both lode and placer deposits were discovered on the southern slopes of the mountain. The deposits were rich enough to support a small mining camp which sprang up on the west side of La Veta Pass. Established in 1880, the camp eventually became known as Russell.
The late 1870's also witnessed several minor strikes on Silver Mountain, located just east of Mount Maestas and La Veta Pass. The ore deposits on Silver Mountain contained both gold and silver but they never amounted to much. The mines were in operation for several years before activity ceased, although the Coyote Mine was still being worked as late as 1892. A few areas on Silver Mountain are still under claim today.