Written by: Brandon Ortega
Famed Spanish Conquistador Hernando Cortez once said, "We Spaniards know a sickness of the heart that only gold can cure." For centuries, gold has attracted the attention of individuals around the world. In the 19th century two major gold rushes occurred in the United States, sparking the relocation of millions of Americans who traveled thousands of miles in hopes they would strike it rich. The first was the California Gold Rush in 1848; as the mines in California began to deplete of the precious metal, word spread of a new gold rush in Colorado, which started in 1859. This blog will focus on the Colorado Gold Rush, which is often considered the largest gold rush in American history.
William Green Russell was the first to discover a small placer gold deposit in 1858 near the South Platte River; his discovery sparked the Colorado Gold Rush, which was met with the theme phrase "Pike's Peak or Bust." The newest discovery of gold drew the attention of both coasts. Miners in California began to travel east to the Rocky Mountain region and easterners saw an opportunity to search for gold without having to make the extremely long and dangerous trip to California.
Mining towns sprung up nearly overnight. Their formation occurred so rapidly that there was no time for local town governments or law enforcement to be created. Exemplifying the fast growth of the boomtowns was Central City, which had a population of more than 6,000 by 1860. Life in the mining boomtowns was extremely rough and rowdy with saloons, gambling halls, brothels, and public hangings. Larger cities formed not far from the boomtowns, which included Denver City (originally named St. Charles), Auraria (now lower downtown Denver), and Fountain City (later to be named Pueblo).
Colorado was lucky the gold rush occurred at the moment it did. During the Civil War, Colorado was forced to make do with whatever money it could come up with on its own. Assayers, such as Clark, Gruber and Company, privately produced gold coins for local use. These coins were supplemented by paper currency issued by banks in larger cities such as those previously noted.
($10 gold piece issued by Clark, Gruber and Company)
In 1891, another major gold discovery was made in Colorado, this time around the area now called Cripple Creek. In 1900 the gold production in this area peaked at 878,000 ounces. After 1900, production decreased with the mine closing in 1962. A town that in the prime days of gold production boasted more than 35,000 residents dwindled to just 600 by 1990, according to the Hotel Nicholas, which is one of the long standing hotels in the Cripple Creek area.
In 1991 the state approved Cripple Creek as a low-stakes gambling town, helping to rejuvenate the local economy and increase the number of residents in the area. Additionally, gold mining resumed again in 1995 and continues today with the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company, which produces an average of 250,000 ounces of gold per year. Cripple Creek and a few other mining towns such as Fairplay, Georgetown and Breckenridge continued to exist after the mining ceased. Many towns became ghost towns, and the only remains are aged structures.
(Miners came from all around the country in search of riches)
It seems there will never be a lack of interest in gold. That is why this year Fred Holabird will present twice on topics about gold during the ANA Summer Seminar. During session 1 of "Legends in Numismatics," Holabird will present, California Private Coiners of Territorial Gold: The Real Issue behind Supposed Purity Issues and Platinum. Also, during session 1 of "Light from Many Lamps: All-Star Numismatic Symposium," Holabird will be one of 16 presenters. His topic is titled, The Gold Behind Colorado Territorial Gold Coins: A Look at the Placer Gold Deposits of the Pikes Peak Rush of 1859-61.
For those hoping to strike it rich in Colorado during their visit, try your luck in Cripple Creek. On June 22, the ANA is offering an optional tour that will shuttle Summer Seminar students (21 and older) to the Cripple Creek casinos. If you don't feel like gambling but wish to see the riches of Colorado, have fun descending 1,000 feet underground during the Gold Mine tour, which is offered June 23 and June 30. ANA Summer Seminar is filled with educational and entertainment opportunities. For a complete guide of all ANA Summer Seminar courses and activities go to www.money.org/summerseminar.
(The Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine is America's only vertical-shaft gold mine tour)