THE BOOM- Early Mining
"Men are cheaper than timber. Wood for shoring is dear and scarce.
Greedy men are cheap and plentiful."
the earliest beginnings when the crust of the earth was being formed
in a chaos of fire, and at intervals later during dramatic changes
and upheavals on and beneath the surface, intense heat flashed metallic
substances to steam and, when later condensed, these molten metals
flowed into crevices and defiles in the common rock to solidify into
veins and lodes deep within the ground.
As the forces of wind and water wore away the surrounding area, they
also ate gradually at the weathered ores, washing them downstream
only to be dropped at slack-water areas, there again to be covered
by overlying muck and sand, and to eventually form another vein or
lode. Sometimes, in pre-history, these ancient stream beds were lifted
high above the surrounding areas, only to be chewed at again by more
modern stream systems.
This was the precise situation facing the prospector in the early
sixties in the Front Range of the yet-to-be -formed State of Colorado.
These men had only three ways to discover the treasure they sought;
panning of the heavy metals the stream had dropped, searching for
"blossom" or oxidized outcroppings in the native rock, or
by the simple expedient of driving a by-guess-or-by-gosh hole into
the ground and hoping for a strike.
The more experienced (those from Georgia and veterans of the California
Rush) used a combination method known as "watching the float"
which in a more sophisticated form is still used today. The prospector
would pan up the stream until he ceased to find any color in his pan.
He would pan back until the "float" appeared again. At this
point he moved up the bank of the stream sinking small shafts to keep
track of the float until one shaft no longer showed evidence of metallic
ores. Here he would cut across between the last two shafts in hope
of hitting the main vein.
Once the main ore body was found, the miner would tunnel, or "drift"
along the vein, cribbing or timbering as delivery to the crude processing
mills of the day. Remember, if you please, that the miner had no power
excavating machinery of any sort. He used an eight- or sixteen-pound
"jack" or "double jack," and with great effort
drove drill steel into the rock in order to place giant powder. Once
this was done and the "round" was blown, he more than likely
had to wait several hours for the air to clear of smoke before he
could again enter his mine and "muck out" his high grade.
Eight to ten feet a day was extraordinary progress in the Georgetown
area under those conditions.
Many such mines were extremely dangerous because proper supports for
tunnels were seldom used. It took time to cut trees for timbering,
time that could better be used to gouge the precious metals from the
earth. It can truly be said, that in the early mining days around
Georgetown, owners and operators considered men at $2.00 a day, cheaper
than timber. Needless to say, many men died, due to poorly built and
greedily operated mines
The high grade or "pay" had to be further processed in a
crushing operation. The early pulverizing implements were primitive
Spanish arrastres, consisting of two large rocks, the bottom one flat
and the top one attached to a pole so that oxen or other animals could
revolve it. The ore was thusly crushed and the gold or silver was
separated from the debris by washing in pans.
Later, the more efficient "stamp mill" was introduced This
consisted of heavy weights, raised by mechanical means, and dropped
on the ore. Ball mills were also used Here the ore was placed in a
large iron sphere which revolved on a shaft. Within the sphere, intermingled
with the ore, were cast-iron balls that battered and crushed the high
grade to a point where again the gold or silver could be extracted
with the good old pan or sluice.
All milling of ores in the earliest days of the Pikes Peak Rush depended
upon the hydraulic action of water In the larger operations, where
it was more efficient to bring the water to the ore than vice versa,
miles of ditch and crude flumes and aqueducts were constructed it
order to wash debris from the heavier metals. Some times, where stream
banks and softer cliffs were believed to contain gold or silver, pressure
nozzles, called "giants' were used to knock down and separate
the treasure from the overburden.
The visitor to Georgetown and its contiguous mining district is constantly
amazed at the scars and dumps that cover the mountainsides. This visual
evidence of early mining under the most primitive conditions proclaims
to the modern world a physical stamina and stubbornness not known
in this day of sophisticated machines and high wages. We cannot help
but admire the tenacity exhibited by these men of a century ago even
when we realize the they, for the most part, followed false dreams,
and the greed was by far the driving force that gave impetus to that
Still, many were adventurers, pure and simple, who felt that the search
itself was the important thing and seemed vaguely disappointed when
Lady Luck treated them to a rich strike. A majority of those fortunate
ones ultimately sold their claims for little or nothing and continued
on into another wilderness following yet another dream. It can only
be said, in retrospect, that early mining in the Georgetown district
was indeed an arduous and dangerous undertaking that required great
stamina and no little ingenuity, for while much of the work saw new
an continued improvements in method, the mining continued to depend
almost exclusively upon the brawny muscles of the individual and would
so be for at least another half century.