Historical Colorado Event

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Historical Colorado Event

Historical Colorado Event


Leadville's story, as with all mining towns, begins with geology. Leadville (also called, in various incarnations, Magic City and Silver City) is situated on the western slope of the mountains of the Mosquito Range in the upper Arkansas River Valley, nearly in the middle of Colorado. The mineralization around the city, created by rich hydrothermal solutions seeping into local geologic faults, is diverse—ranging from gold and silver to zinc and iron. At 10,188 feet, making Leadville the highest incorporated city in the United States, Leadville came into being at the intersection of two Ute Indian trails that were later widened to accommodate horses and wagons. One trail came over Frémont Pass, the loftiest in North America, from the east. To the west is a magnificent view of the Sawatch Range, home to the two highest peaks in Colorado. Mount Elbert measures 14,433 feet and Mount Massive, 14,421 feet. Southeast of Leadville, running some seven miles in length, is California Gulch.(Voynick,1996)


It is in California Gulch that initial settlement took place when gold was found in April 1860, sparking a gold rush. A prospector by the name of Abe Lee, along with some companions, had crossed the snowy Mosquito Range, entering into the upper Arkansas River Valley, and started to prospect in the gulches upstream. On discovering gold in one of the gulches, Lee exclaimed to his companions, “Boys, I have all of Californee right here in my hands!” The area of the gold strike was thus named California Gulch.(Herr,1996)

Within three months of Lee's discovery, four thousand prospectors were working in California Gulch. This number swelled to ten thousand by the time summer came. During the next five years, California Gulch earned more than $5 million in 1865 prices. By 1866, California Gulch was all played out, as all gold near the surface had been collected. In 1868, the discovery of the Piner Boy Lode in California Gulch brought the opening of the first underground gold mine and another gold rush. Gold miners began to hard-rock mine into the mountainsides between 1868 and 1875 on a small scale. (Wyman,1979)

In 1875, two miners, William Stevens and Alvinus Wood, sent out samples of the heavy black sand that the gold in California Gulch was being found in. They were curious about its mineral content, and to their delight, the test results showed that the sand was made up of 27 percent lead and contained up to fifteen ounces of silver per ton. This discovery sparked a silver rush in 1877, and mining shifted from searching for gold to more widespread hard-rock mining. Miners began to drill and blast into the mountainside to get at the veins of silver.

Active prospecting over the entire region commenced in the spring of 1877, and the development of rich and productive mines from that time on advanced rapidly. At the beginning of this era of prosperity, the settlement consisted of a few log cabins on the edge of California Gulch, with an estimated population ...
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