The Lost Mine on Slate Mountain


The state of Illinois was well represented in the 1849 gold rush to California. The state lent many of her sons to the swirling mass of humanity that moved westward during the 1849 rush. Before setting out for the California goldfields, it was common practice for men to organize themselves into companies for security and the sharing of duties. A number of Illinois companies were formed in 1849 including the Illinois and California Mining Company and the famous Jayhawker Company. The Jayhawker Company included men from Knoxville, Farmington, Henderson Grove, Galesburg, Lima, and Joliet.

Most gold-seekers from the northern and midwestern states elected to use the Oregon Trail as their pathway to California. Some 35,000 Argonauts used this route to the goldfields in 1849. A few of these gold-seekers used the southern routes. The Jayhawker Company started out on the Oregon Trail but deviated from it west of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Eventually they found themselves in some of the most forbidding country in North America - a place known today as Death Valley. Fortunately, they entered this inferno during the winter. Nevertheless, in the latter part of December, 1849, the Jayhawker Company finally struggled out of the valley, thus ending their incredible ordeal. Interestingly, a member of the Jayhawker Company may have been the discoverer of the legendary Lost Gunsight Mine, located somewhere in the desolate valley they had just crossed.

49er's from Illinois also figure prominently in another famous lost mine located in west-central Colorado. In 1849, a party of Illinois gold-seekers led by a prospector named Buck Rogers found themselves in the rugged mountains east of present-day Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Near the headwaters of a stream known as Brush Creek, the party found evidence of gold. Apparently, most of the company elected to continue westward to the California goldfields, but Buck Rogers and five companions decided to stay and work the deposit. By late fall, they had amassed a fortune in gold nuggets and dust.

But the miners had miscalculated and underestimated the rigors of the high mountain country. By the time they had gathered nearly $100,000 in gold, their supplies had dwindled to the critical point. Buck Rogers was chosen to return to the nearest post and restock their provisions.

It took several weeks to make the journey but when Rogers returned he found the campsite and mine entrance completely covered by an avalanche. Everything was gone - only the freshly scoured slate bedrock remained. The slate outcrop stuck in Roger's mind. He would always describe his mine and the surrounding country as "Slate Mountain." Unfortunately, he was never able to locate the portal of the mine.

In 1891, an old prospector working in the New York Mountain area stumbled upon a gold deposit on the slopes of the mountain. He claimed to have discovered Buck Rogers' famous "Slate Mountain" mine and had samples of gold ore to prove it. He showed them to a combination miner, prospector, and lawman from Red Cliff known as Arthur H. Fulford. The two men formed a partnership.

Unfortunately for Fulford, the old prospector was killed before the two could return to the mine. But Fulford wouldn't quit. He eventually discovered a deposit of gold in the Brush Creek area in 1892. But unfortunately Fulford was himself killed by an avalanche on New York Mountain shortly thereafter. Had Fulford discovered Buck Rogers' lost mine on "Slate Mountain"? No one knows, but the lost mine remains hidden to this day.


The history of mining in Eagle County, Colorado centers around the famous Battle Mountain District (which includes Gilman, Red Cliff, and Hornsilver Mountain) and to a lesser extent the Fulford District (which includes the mines and prospects on Brush Creek and Nolan Creek). The Battle Mountain District is Eagle County's richest mining district by far. Discovered during the early 1870's, the mines surrounding Battle Mountain poured out a fortune in gold, silver, and base metals. Gilman alone produced nearly 400,000 ounces of gold, 66,000,000 ounces of silver, and over one million tons of copper, lead, and zinc during its lifetime.

The Fulford District was first prospected by members of the 49'er party led by Buck Rogers way back in 1849. Nearly 40 years later, in 1887, a lone prospector named William Nolan discovered rich gold ore on a branch of Brush Creek that would later bear his name. Later that year, several bonafide mineral discoveries were made on Nolan Creek, among them the famous Polar Star and Cave mines. In 1890, another rich gold strike was

made in the area by prospector Dick Morgan. By this time, the fledgling mining camp known as "Nolan's Camp" had officially become known as Fulford. The camp was named for Arthur H. Fulford, a prominent Eagle County miner, rancher, and lawman who lived in the area.

Fulford's gold-mining heyday stretched from 1890 to 1893. Initially, the rich ore streaming out of the mines was crushed using a huge arrastre located near Fool's Peak Trail. But stamp mills quickly replaced the crude arrastre after a year or two. In 1893, many of Fulford's mines closed down but those producing payable amounts of gold and base metals managed to struggle on until the early 1900's. By 1912, Fulford was nearly dead but a combination of new silver strikes and the recovery of the silver market produced a short-lived boom that lasted another 6 years. Limited mining activities continued on and off through the 1940's, but by the middle of the century Fulford had finally expired.