The Lost Hollingsworth Lode


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In the long and colorful history of the La Plata Mountains of southwest Colorado, the 19th Century pioneer John Moss figures prominently. John Moss was both prospector and entrepreneur. He made a number of strikes in the La Plata Mountains including the one that really got the mining district going and also successfully negotiated with the local Ute Indians for use of the country. John Moss left his mark on the La Platas and is commemorated by having a mountain named for him - Mount Moss. It is located about 5 miles north of the site of John Moss's original gold strike.

John Moss was in the La Plata country prior to the Brunot Treaty of 1873. While exploring the La Plata Canyon, Moss discovered rich deposits of gold. He collected samples of the ore and then traveled all the way to San Francisco to secure financial backing to develop a mining district centered in the La Platas. A banker named Tiburcio Parrott took him up on his offer - accordingly, the mining camp that sprang up near the mouth of the La Plata Canyon was changed from Camp Moss to Parrott City. Naturally, the mountain overlooking the camp was christened Parrott Peak.

Parrott City was founded by John Moss in 1874. The mining camp was initially based on the placer mining activities at the mouth of the La Plata Canyon. By the mid-1870's, prospectors were swarming into the area. One of the many prospectors who showed up in Parrott City during its boom years was a young adventurer named Milton Hollingsworth. Hollingsworth spent a number of years working in the local mines. He had followed veins in the Comstock, Southern Boy, and Cumberland mines and knew good ore when he saw it.

The turn of the 19th Century came and went and Hollingsworth still made his living in the La Plata mines. Then, one day in October of 1901, he made the strike of a lifetime. While hunting on Parrott Peak, along the ridge separating Root Creek from Snowslide Draw, Hollingsworth stumbled on a rich vein of sylvanite ore. Breathless with excitement, he looked around and took his bearings. From the ridge, he could see the Southern Boy Mine on the other side of the canyon. He had worked in the Southern Boy prior to his discovery. He could also see the tailings from the Gold King Mine on the south side of Lewis Mountain, near La Plata City. Hollingsworth descended the mountain with his pack filled with heavy ore.

The samples of sylvanite ore assayed out at $40,000 per ton! Hollingsworth was ecstatic. Unfortunately, when he attempted to relocate the vein, he was unable to find it. He searched for two summers and then finally broke down and took on a partner. Alas, the extra pair of eyes turned out to be no help at all. They never did find the vein of sylvanite. The Lucky Moon Mine is located in the same general area. Some geologists and mining men have suggested that Hollingsworth's lost lode is actually an offshoot of the Lucky Moon vein.


The La Plata Mountains have a venerable mining history extending back to the days of the early Spaniards. In 1765, a prospecting expedition led by Don Juan Maria de Rivera journeyed north from Santa Fe, eventually reaching the Gunnison River in present-day Colorado. Along the way, they passed through a range of silvery-grey mountains that rose up just northeast of the Mesa Verde country. This was the first official foray into the beautiful range of mountains that would eventually be called the La Platas. Eleven years later, an exploring party led by Fray Silvestre Velez de Escalante and Fray Francisco Atanasio Dominguez penetrated those same mountains on their way to California. Northwest of present-day Durango, the expedition encountered unmistakable signs of earlier Spanish mining activities, including evidence of Rivera's recent prospecting expedition, plus some older workings! It seems that Spanish prospectors were almost certainly working the La Platas prior to Rivera's 1765 expedition. In any case, it was Escalante and Dominguez who named the silvery mountains the "La Platas".

When it came to mining and prospecting, the early Spaniards had few peers. Their northward advance from Mexico City to Sonora was as much a prospecting expedition as it was a conquest. Indeed, the movement northward was fueled by successive mineral strikes, each discovery occurring further north than the previous one. In this way, the Spanish uncovered the great silver bonanzas at Zacatecas (in 1546) and at Santa Barbara, Chihuahua (in 1567). But for some unexplained reason their luck ran out north of the Sonoran border. It is a paradox of history that the Spaniards missed all of the major gold and silver deposits in present-day America.

It would be the American prospector who would reap the great mineral deposits of the West. In 1848, a member of Fremont's 4th expedition picked up some gold nuggets along a stream in the San Juan Mountains, northeast of the La Platas. In 1860, the first significant discovery of gold in the San Juans occurred in the Silverton area, about 35 miles northeast of the La Platas. In 1864, the Dolores River country was penetrated by a party of prospectors led by Robert Darling. Five years later, the rich Pioneer Lode was discovered near present-day Rico. This part of the San Juan Mountains, which lies only 15 miles north of the La Platas, would see many fabulous strikes in the coming years. Rich deposits were uncovered in 1870, 1878, and 1887.

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During the early years of the Dolores River rush, the nearby La Plata Mountains slumbered. Although prospected by the early Spaniards, the rich deposits of gold and silver that laced the mountains still lay undiscovered. Rumors of their existence were rife during the early 1870's. Finally, in 1873, the first discovery of rich gold deposits took place in the La Plata Mountains. The early miners found the richest deposits near Parrott Peak, Madden Peak, Lewis Mountain, and Diorite Peak. A number of mining camps sprang up in the area including Parrott City, La Plata, and eventually Mayday. Parrott City was one of the earliest mining camps in the La Platas. Founded by the famous prospector John Moss, the mining camp was named for a California banker who financed the development of the district. Parrott City boomed during the 1870's, but by the following decade the mines began to falter. By the early 1900's, the La Platas were virtually deserted. Then, during the 1930's, a spurt of mining activity occurred as several extraordinarily rich strikes were made in the area. The discovery of the fabulous Red Arrow Mine on the western side of Parrott Mountain and the rejuvenation of the Mayday District, just below the mouth of La Plata Canyon were the most important events in this new La Plata boom. Prospectors discovered extremely rich deposits of gold in the old Mayday District, including a single nugget worth $4000!

The La Plata Mountains have produced over 200,000 ounces of gold and a river of silver since 1873. The best mines in the district include the Red Arrow, Lucky Moon, Comstock, Cumberland, Bessie G, Isabel, Bulldozer, La Plata, Gold King, Mayday, and Idaho mines.