Colorado 1


Author: Michael Kelly


A decade after gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in California, a new rush was on as gold had been discovered in Colorado Territory. With the discovery of gold on Clear Creek by John H. Gregory in 1858-59, a torrent of prospectors began moving into Colorado. Once the magnitude of Gregory’s discovery was known, prospectors infiltrated the front range and beyond seeking their own golden riches.

Pikes Peak or Bust was heard across the land and the mountain became a symbol for weary immigrants and prospectors during the gold rush. Mining camps and boom towns sprang up on a moments notice as discoveries were made. Many still remain as ghosts to the glory of the Colorado Gold Rush. Some remain now as standing museums to a time when Gold was king. Central City, Blackhawk, and Cripple Creek survive today as tourist destinations and legal gambling towns in Colorado, catering to a different kind of Gold Rush. The gold rush inspired the creation of the Colorado Territory and ultimately statehood in 1876. Gold was being discovered all throughout the mountains of Colorado and with an influx of people, Colorado was growing and infrastructure soon followed. Railroads and Hard Rock mining soon replaced placer mining. The tenacity and perseverance of the miners in Colorado gave wealth to a fledgling state and we owe our very existence to the old time miners of the Colorado Gold Rush. 


Colorado became the 38th state of the Union on August 1st,  1876 by proclamation of President Ulysses S. Grant.  We are known as the Centennial State because we became a state 100 years after the Declaration of Independence.

The word Colorado means ” colored red” in Spanish and has a long history of exploration. Many Native American tribes crossed through Colorado, but the state belonged mainly to the “People of the Shining Mountains” the Ute.

Westward expansion and “Manifest Destiny” forced the Ute tribes and others onto reservations and began the process of dividing the land into what we now call Colorado.

Colorado has a rich and storied history. We have dinosaurs, ancient cultures and sacred places, old west outlaw history, railroad history, mining history, military history, and westward expansion history. It is mainly our mining  history that I’ll focus on as it is directly responsible for the growth and wealth we enjoy as a state today.

Colorado ranks 8th in size at 104,100 square miles. The state is geographically diverse and almost cut in half, the eastern being grasslands and Plains, and the western being the lofty peaks of the majestic Colorado Rocky Mountains. Colorado has 58 peaks over 14,000 feet in elevation with Mt. Elbert being the highest at 14,433 feet. We have the longest continuous maintain range in the world, the Sangre de Cristo Range, which stretches into northern New Mexico. Our average elevation is 6,800 feet and we average 300 sun days a year.

We have a rich mining history and old west history. There are over 1500 ghost towns and the mountains are covered with amazing relics left behind by the old time miners.

Doc Holliday’s grave is in Glenwood Springs, where he died on November 8th, 1887,  in the Hotel Glenwood from tuberculosis at the age of 36. It is unknown whether his body is actually buried here.

“Old Mose” the 60 year old King of the Grizzlies, was killed in Colorado on April 30th, 1904. He was one of the last, if not thee last Great Grizzly Bears in Colorado.

There is a Spanish Treasure ” Box full of gold” at the bottom of the Spanish Caves outside of Westcliffe,  Colorado high in the beautiful Sangre de Cristo mountains… IT HAS NEVER BEEN FOUND!!!


Colorado ranks 4th in gold production in the US behind Nevada, Alaska and Utah. Colorado gold production was 270,000 ounces in 1892, 660,000 ounces in 1895, peaked in 1900 at 1,400,000 ounces, and reached over one million ounces for the last time in 1916. Gold production was 300,000 ounces in 1922, and 200,000 ounces in 1928. The Gold Reserve Act helped increase production to 370,000 ounces in 1936. Production was 380,000 ounces before the War Production Board limitation order L-208 stopped gold mining in1942. Production resumed after WWII  with 168,000 ounces in 1947. Gold production was 66,000 ounces in 1960 and 22,000 ounces in 1967. Production reached 37,000 ounces in 1972 and 72,000 ounces in 1978.

Only one Colorado mine continues to produce gold, the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mine, at Victor, near Colorado Springs. It’s an open pit heap leach operation owned by Newmont Mining Corp., which produced 211,000 troy ounces of gold in 2014.

Colorado placer gold is mostly considered fine or flour gold with few large flakes and nuggets. There are areas of -200 to -400 mesh and areas where the gold is more coarse at -30 mesh with larger flakes and pickers.

Yes there are large nuggets to be found in Colorado!! As a prospector, don’t overlook the ounces of fine gold just to find 1 nugget! Fine gold adds up quickly if you stick with it and use your learned skills to find deposits and mine them efficiently.


Gem hunting in Colorado is exceptional and diverse. The third highest gem fields in the world are on Mt. Antero and Mt. White where they mine exquisite gem quality aquamarines, smokey quartz, and fluorite and much more.

Around the Lake George and Florissant areas in Teller and Park counties, world class amazonite and smokey quartz specimens worth hundreds of thousands of dollars are unearthed. There is a cool petrified forest near Florissant, Colorado that is amazing.  Beautiful fluorite crystals are mined in this area too.

The western slope of Colorado has beautiful quartz crystals, agate, garnets and many more minerals to find. Beautiful beryl and calcite crystals have been mined in the Arkansas River Valley. The old town of Calcite in western Fremont County was a great example of boom towns to bust as the mines played out and these towns disappeared. There are dinosaur fossils and bones to be found if you know what you are looking for. Colorado is a gem hunters dream destination.


The topography of Colorado is quite diverse, ranging from grasslands and Plains in the east to high mountain passes through some of the most rugged, unforgiving geography in the western USA.

A sturdy 4 wheel drive vehicle will be necessary to access many of the remote historic mining districts in Colorado. Many roads are not for the feint of heart.

There are also many areas that a 2 wheel drive vehicle can access easily and many with room for rv’s. An atv or utv can make it much easier and faster to access many of these hard to reach places. Be prepared with all you need should you break down. The high country of Colorado can be a very unforgiving place.

Working at altitude in the hot sun of Colorado is not to be taken lightly. Oxygen at sea level has an effective oxygen % of 20.9%, at 5,000 feet it drops to 17.3%, at 8,000 feet it drops to 15.4%, and at 12,000 feet it drops to 13.2%! If you are on Mt. Antero mining aquamarines and smokey quartz at 14,000 feet it drops to 12.3%. Please be aware that this is no joke, especially if you are from lower elevations and may be a bit “Long in the Tooth”!!!

For the most part, the terrain of Colorado’s gold bearing “mineral belt” is steep and rocky with deep canyons cut by cold water streams and rivers which swell to astonishing proportions during the spring runoff from the Alpine snow melt. The terrain can be ever changing as the seasons rearrange the earth and waterways.


The Colorado Mineral Belt is an area of ore deposits from the LA Plata mountains in South western Colorado to near the middle of the state at Boulder, Colorado and from which over 25 million troy ounces (778 tons) of gold were extracted beginning in 1858.

The belt is a northeast striking zone defined by: A proterozoic shear zone system; a suite of Laramide- aged Plutons and related ore deposits; A major gravity low; low crystal velocities; and high heat flow.

Mining districts include:

Central City- Idaho Springs District

Leadville Mining Districts

Sneffels- Red Mountain- Telluride District

The belt lies within a zone that has been geologically active at intervals beginning from near the time of crustal accretion in central Colorado at least 1.6 billion years ago until the present. Parts of the CMB follow shear zones of Precambrian age and the Paleozoic and Mesozoic. Igneous rocks intruded about 60 to 70 million years ago during the Laramide orogeny are associated with the belt and once we’re thought to be responsible for most of the ore deposits. Now many of the important ore deposits are thought to be genetically related to younger magmatism, some at least as young as about 25 million years.









Arapaho Bar-

Clear Creek-

Point Bar. Arkansas River-

Cache Creek-



DENNIS O’NEIL-                                  

PHOENIX GOLD MINE-                         



Colorado Mining Laws


General Mining Act of 1872

General Mining Law of 1872
Great Seal of the United States
Long title An Act to promote the Development of the Mining Resources of the United States.
Enacted by the 42nd United States Congress
Statutes at Large Sess. 2, ch. 152, 17 Stat. 91–96
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the House as H. R. No. 1016 byAaron A. Sargent (RCAon January 15, 1872[1]
  • Committee consideration by House Mines,[1]Senate Mines[2]
  • Passed the House on January 23, 1872 (voice vote[3])
  • Passed the Senate on April 16, 1872 (voice vote[4]with amendment
  • House agreed to Senate amendment on April 29, 1872 (voice vote[5])
  • Signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant onMay 10, 1872
Major amendments

The General Mining Act of 1872 is a United States federal law that authorizes and governs prospecting and mining for economicminerals, such as gold, platinum, and silver, on federal public lands. This law, approved on May 10, 1872, codified the informal system of acquiring and protecting mining claims onpublic land, formed by prospectors in California and Nevada from the late 1840s through the 1860s, such as during theCalifornia Gold Rush. All citizens of the United States of America 18 years or older have the right under the 1872 mining law to locate a lode (hard rock) or placer (gravel) mining claim on federal lands open to mineral entry. These claims may be located once a discovery of a locatable mineral is made. Locatable minerals include but are not limited to platinum, gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, uranium and tungsten.

Western miners’ codesEdit

“My claim, Sir!” A prospector defends his claim at the Comstock Lode, 1861.

Miners and prospectors in the California Gold Rush of 1849 found themselves in a legal vacuum. Although the US federal government had laws governing the leasing of mineral land, the United States had only recently acquired California by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and had little presence in the newly acquired territories.[6]

Miners organized their own governments in each new mining camp (for example the Great Republic of Rough and Ready), and adopted the Mexican mining laws then existing in California that gave the discoverer right to explore and mine gold and silver on public land.[7] Miners moved from one camp to the next, and made the rules of all camps more or less the same, usually differing only in specifics such as in the maximum size of claims, and the frequency with which a claim had to be worked to avoid being forfeited and subject to being claimed by someone else. California miners spread the concept all over the west with each new mining rush, and the practices spread to all the states and territories west of the Great Plains.[8]

Mining legislation before 1872Edit

Although the practices for open mining on public land were more-or-less universal in the West, and supported by state and territorial legislation, they were still illegal under existing federal law. At the end of the American Civil War, some eastern congressmen regarded western miners as squatters who were robbing the public patrimony, and proposed seizure of the western mines to pay the huge war debt. In June 1865, RepresentativeGeorge Washington Julian of Indiana introduced a bill for the government to take the western mines from their discoverers, and sell them at public auction. RepresentativeFernando Wood proposed that the government send an army to California,Colorado, and Arizona to expel the miners “by armed force if necessary to protect the rights of the Government in the mineral lands.” He advocated that the federal government itself work the mines for the benefit of the treasury.[9]

Western representatives successfully argued that western miners and prospectors were performing valuable services by promoting commerce and settling new territory. In 1864, Congress passed a law that instructed courts deciding questions of contested mining rights to ignore federal ownership, and defer to the miners in actual possession of the ground.[10]The following year, Congressional supporters of western miners tacked legislation legalizing lode (hardrock) mining on public land onto a law regarding ditch and canal rights in California, Oregon, and Nevada.[11]The legislation, known as the “Chaffee laws” after Colorado Territorial representativeJerome B. Chaffee, passed and was signed on July 26, 1866.[12]

Congress extended similar rules to placer mining claims in the “placer law” signed into law on July 9, 1870.[13]

The Mining Law of 1872Edit

The Chaffee law of 1869 and the placer law of 1871 were combined into the General Mining Act of 1872. The mining law of 1866 had given discoverers rights to stake mining claims to extract goldsilvercinnabar (the principal ore of mercury) and copper. When Congress passed the General Mining Act of 1872, the wording was changed to “or other valuable deposits,” giving greater scope to the law. The 1872 law was codified as 30 U.S.C. §§ 22-42[14]

The 1872 act also granted extralateral rights to lode claims, and fixed the maximum size of lode claims as 1500 feet (457m) long and 600 feet (183m) wide.[citation needed]

The Act of 1872 also set the price for land assumed under the mining act:

FORTY-SECOND CONGRESS. Sess. II Ch. 152. 1872. (approved July ninth, eighteen hundred and seventy) a patent shall issue for the placer-claim, including such vein or lode, upon the payment of five dollars per acre such vein or lode claim, and twenty-five feet of surface on each side thereof. The reminder of the placer-claim, or any placer-claim not embracing any vein or lode claim, shall be paid for at the rate of two dollars and fifty cents per acre, together with all costs of proceedings;.[15][unreliable source?]

It set the price of the land claim to range $2.50 to $5.00 per acre. This price set by law has remained the same since 1872.

Volume and worthEdit

The Mineral Policy Center estimates that mining companies extract $2 billion to $3 billion in minerals from public lands every year. From 1872 to 1993, mining companies produced more than $230 billion from lands claimed under the Act, according to the Mineral Policy Center.[16][17]

Some basic termsEdit

Mining claim posted: NO Prospecting, Panning, Sluicing… South Yuba River, California 2011 photo.

mining claim is the right to explore for and extract minerals from a tract of land.[18]

Claim staking is the required procedure of marking the boundaries of the mining claim, typically with wooden posts or substantial piles of rocks.[19] Each western state has slightly different requirements for claim staking. Once the claim is staked, the prospector documents the claim by filing required forms. Originally the forms were filed with the mining district recorder; today they are filed with the Clerk of the County in which the claim is located, and with the US Bureau of Land Management. Papers are likewise filed to document annual assessment work.[20]

lode claim, also known in California as aquartz claim, is a claim over a hard rock deposit.[21]

placer claim is a claim over gold-bearing sand or gravel, often along a stream or river.[22]

The mining law opens up land in the public domain, that is, federal land that has been owned by the federal government since it became part of the United States, and that has never been set aside for a specific use. Land dedicated for specific uses such as the White House lawn, national parks, or wilderness areas, is not subject to mineral entry. Land west of the Great Plains managed by the US Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management, unless designated as wilderness area, is generally open to mining claims. Federal land on or east of the Great Plains was generally acquired by the federal government through purchase, and so is not considered public domain, and is not subject to mining claims.[23]

The mining law applies to some mineral products, but not others, and the list has changed over time. Since 1920, the list oflocatable minerals does not includepetroleumcoal, phosphate, sodium, and potassium. Rights to explore for and extract these are leased through competitive bidding. Common construction material such as sand and gravel are obtained by purchase.[24]

All mining claims are initially unpatented claims, which give the right only for those activities necessary to exploration and mining, and last only as long as the claim is worked every year. For instance, the failure to prosecute the work on the tunnel for six months is considered the abandonment of rights to all the undiscovered veins on the line of the tunnels. In addition, at least $100 worth of labor shall be performed or improvements made annually. If this does not occur, the claim or mine upon which such failure occurred shall be made to relocation in the same manner as if no location of the same had ever been made. The original mining law gave miners the opportunity to obtain patents(deeds from the government), much as farmers could obtain title under theHomestead Act. The owner of a patented claim can put it to any legal use. The process of patenting claims has been perhaps the most controversial part of the mining law. Because of a Congress-imposed moratorium, the federal government has not accepted any new applications for mining claim patents since October 1, 1994.[25]

The 1872 law granted extra lateral rights to owners of lode claims. This gave the owners of the surface outcrop of a vein the right to follow and mine the vein wherever it led, even if its subsurface extension continued beneath other mining claims. This provision, also known as the law of the apex led to lengthy litigation and even underground battles, especially in Butte, Montana and theComstock Lode.[26]

Subsequent amendmentsEdit

The acquisition of mining rights on public land in the West is mostly governed by the 1872 act. Subsequent changes to the law include:

Provisions of the 1872 Mining Law were changed with the implementation of the 1976 Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA) effective as of January 1981. Many of the provisions of FLPMA revised the surface uses allowed on mining claims under the 1872 mining law by halting or restricting unnecessary or undue degradation of the public lands. The regulation portion of the FLPMA is found at 43 CFR 3809 (“Surface Management regulations”). These regulations were updated and the final rules published in December 2001. These rules effectively replace many of the 1872 Mining Law provisions and require mining reclamation, financial guarantees for reclamation to the Federal government, mining claim occupation permits and detailed Mining Plans of Operations to be submitted to the governing agencies before disturbing the surface.[citation needed]

Current controversyEdit

The Democratic control of Congress from 2007-2011 brought a new chair to the resources committee: Rep. Richard Pombo (R,California) lost the 2006 election and was replaced by Nick Rahall from West Virginia, who has been a strong critic of the mining industry.[33]

However others, such as Rep. Steve Pearce(R-New Mexico), ranking Republican on the minerals subcommittee and Rep. Don Young(R-Alaska) believe that the 2001 Surface Management regulations[34] address modern day concerns and that implementing further restrictions on the industry or imposing royalties would force even more of the domestic mining industry out of the country. As stated by Congressman Pearce, “Why would we as a nation want to send our metals and uranium mining off shore, then wind up reliant on foreign countries for the raw materials we need for our industries and new power plants. We need to learn from past mistakes such as our reliance on the middle east for our petroleum products.”[citation needed]

Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2007Edit

On November 1, 2007, the US House passed the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2007 by a vote of 244-116. The bill would have permanently ended new patents for mining claims, imposed a royalty of 4% of gross revenues on existing mining extracting from unpatented mining claims, and placed an 8% royalty on new mining operations. Mining of private mineral rights (including patented mining claims) would not have been affected. Seventy percent of the royalty money would have gone to a cleanup fund for past abandoned mining operations, and 30% to affected communities.[35] The National Mining Association maintained that, in combination with existing federal, state, and local taxes, the royalty imposed by the bill would have burdened US mining with the highest effective tax rate in the world.[36] The bill was not acted upon by the Senate, and died at the end of the 110th Congress in January 2009.

Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009Edit

The Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2009 was introduced in the US Senate by Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico), but died in committee.[37]

The proposed bill provided that the secretary of the interior will establish a royalty rate of from 8% to 15% of the value of locateable mineral production from any new mines on federal mineral lands. Mines in production on the date of the bill’s enactment would not be subject to the royalty. In addition, a reclamation tax of from 0.3% to 1%, the rate set by the secretary of the interior, would be levied on all hardrock mining operations, new and existing, on federal, state, private, and tribal lands. The royalties and reclamation taxes would be used to reclaim abandoned hardrock mines.[38]

The proposed legislation was backed by the Obama administration. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar stated “There is a new administration in town, and we want to see the 1872 mining law reformed.”[39] However, in 2010, Senate majority leader, Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), who was thought to oppose the bill as written, announced that, due to other legislative priorities, the bill would not be acted upon before Congress adjourned, and so the bill died at the end of the 111th United States Congress in January 2011.[40]


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also Gold Prospectors of the Rockies