The 20th Annual Conference of the Mining History Association was held in Creede, Colorado, June 3-7, 2009. The small mining town of Creede is located in scenic southwestern Colorado, just north of the Rio Grande River and east of the San Juan Mountains. Creede owes its existence to mining. It was established in 1892 after prospectors discovered spectacular silver deposits in the area. A colorful array of characters spent time in Creede including Bob Ford who killed Jesse James, gamblers “Poker” Alice Tubbs and Martha Jane “Calamity Jane” Burke, Marshall William “Bat” Masterson, and scoundrel Jefferson “Soapy” Smith. Today, its spectacular scenery and excellent trout fishing are among the attractions that have made the area a popular tourist mecca for those who enjoy the great outdoors. Main Street retains the look and feel of a western mining town while providing a variety of options for lodging, dining, and shopping.
The Conference Welcoming Reception, program sessions, and Presidential Luncheon took place in the community center facilities of the unique Creede Underground Mining Museum. It was the first time the Association actually met underground. Attendees toured the mining museum and also the Creede Historical Society Museum in downtown Creede. The Awards Banquet was held at the Rio Grande Club in the beautiful ranching area of nearby South Fork.
A highlight for attendees and tourists is driving, biking or hiking around the Bachelor Loop. This 17 mile road trip proceeds north through narrow Willow Creek Canyon past many historic mine and mill sites. Several stops along the road have large, well preserved mine buildings, ore bins, and cribbed walls. The Loop returns past the remains of the ghost town of Bachelor and the Creede Cemetery. The Silver Thread Scenic Byway links South Fork, Creede, and Lake City. Portions of both the Bachelor Loop and the Byway were included on Conference field trips.
CREEDE’S MINING HISTORY
The Rio Grande Valley provided access to the mining camps in the San Juan Mountains, including Silverton and Lake City. In 1883, the earliest discoveries in the Creede area took place at Sunnyside, a short distance west of present-day Creede. J. C. MacKenzie and H. M. Bennet located the Alpha claim. In 1884, James A. Wilson located the Bachelor claim, north of Creede. These discoveries met with little initial success. In 1889, Nicholas Creede and his partners located the Holy Moses claim along narrow East Willow Creek northeast of Creede. His additional discovery of the Solomon claim in 1890 formed the King Solomon District. The ore values at the Holy Moses Mine gained the interest and investment of Denver financier and industrialist David H. Moffat. Click here for a map of the Creede District.
More major discoveries were made in 1891 along West Willow Creek, north of Creede. J. C. MacKenzie and W. V. McGilliard located the Commodore claim. Theodore Renniger and Julius Haas, discovered the Last Chance claim. Nicholas Creede staked the Amethyst claim next to the Last Chance. George K. Smith and S. D. Coffin located the New York claim, a southern extension of the Last Chance. These discoveries, along with the Bachelor claim were all along the fabulous Amethyst vein.
Creede experienced a mining boom and the population swelled to 15,000. Many miners came from other San Juan mining camps including Silverton, Telluride, and Ouray. The town, then known as “Jimtown,” expanded outside the narrow canyons to its present location then known as South Creede. The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad was extended west from Wagon Wheel Gap to Creede in late-1891. The old and new parts of town were incorporated as Creede in 1892. By the end of 1892, the District was at its peak and had produced ore valued at over $4.2 million. The Amethyst and Last Chance Mines were the most important producers.
As the depths of the mines increased so did the inflows of water. In the early 1890’s, Charles F. Nelson’s Nelson Tunnel Company drove a drainage and haulage adit toward Bachelor Mountain but failed to encounter workable ore. The Wooster Tunnel Company connected the Nelson Tunnel to the Amethyst Mine. The Amethyst, Last Chance, and New York Mines paid royalties to the tunnel company for ore haulage and drainage. The Wooster Tunnel was later extended, as the Humphreys Tunnel, to the Happy Thought and Park Regent Mines. A haulage track on the surface connected the portal of the Nelson-Wooster-Humphreys Tunnel to the Humphreys Mill which was built in 1902 at the narrow junction of East and West Willow Creek. The Commodore Mine developed its own drainage tunnel.
The repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, the Panic of 1893, and associated drop in the silver price caused most mines to close and the population of Creede to decline. In the years that followed, mining had its ups and downs as the silver price fluctuated. In 1930 all mining ceased. In 1934, the mines reopened when the government pegged the price of silver. The Emperius Mining Company and Creede Mines controlled the district. In the 1950’s, the U. S. Geological Survey announced the potential of the Bulldog Mountain Fault as a mineralized vein system. In 1960, Manning Cox and Fred Baker staked claims along the projection of the fault. The Homestake Mining Company optioned the Bulldog Mountain properties in 1963 and began an extensive exploration program. Homestake’s Bulldog Mill began production in 1969. Other companies did exploration in the Creede District in the 1970’s but did not develop any additional production. The Homestake’s Bulldog Mine closed in 1985 due to very low metal prices.
The Creede District has produced nearly 5 million tons of ore yielding over 84 million ounces of silver plus substantial amounts of lead, zinc, copper, and gold. In recent years, a number of environmental restoration projects have been completed by the EPA, State of Colorado, and the Willow Creede Reclamation Committee. Fortunately, these efforts have preserved as many of the historical mining buildings and other features as possible. The rise in the price of silver in late 2000’s has once again made Creede a target for mineral exploration.
CLICK HERE FOR PROGRAM
Welcoming Reception, Creede Underground Mining Museum, June 4, 2009
Awards Banquet, Rio Grande Club, South Fork, CO, June 5, 2009
Presidential Luncheon, Creede Underground Mining Museum, June 6, 2009
TOURS AND FIELD TRIPS (PHOTO GALLERIES)
Volcanic Geology of the Eastern San Juans, June 3, 2009. Sorry, no pictures yet. See the publication by Thomas Steven and Peter Lipman in Readings and References (below).
Creede Mining District, June 7, 2011 (with additional Photos from the Bachelor Loop)
Wagon Wheel Gap Mining District, June 7, 2009
Creede Caldera and Sunnyside, June 7, 2011
Lake City Mining District, June 7, 2009
Creede and Mineral County Chamber of Commerce
Creede Historic Museum
Creede Underground Mining Museum
READINGS AND REFERENCES
Arthur Lakes, “Creede Mining Camp,” Mines and Minerals 23, no. 10 (1903): 333-335.
William H. Emmons and Esper S, Larsen, “Geology and Ore Deposits of the Creede District, Colorado,” U. S. Geological Survey, Bulletin 719, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1923).
Nolie Mumey, “Creede: History of a Colorado Silver Mining Town,” (Denver: Artcraft Press, 1949).
Edwin Lewis Bennet and Agnes Wright Spring, “Boom Town Boy in Old Creede, Colorado,” (Chicago: Sage Books, 1966)
Henry C. Meeves and Richard P. Darnell, “Study of the Silver Potential, Creede District, Mineral County, Colorado,” U. S. Bureau of Mines, Information Circular 8370, (Washington: Department of the Interior, 1968).
Thomas A. Steven and Peter W. Lipman, “Calderas of the San Juan Volcanic Field, Southwestern Colorado,” U. S. Geological Survey, Professional Paper 958, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1976).
“The Bachelor Loop,” a booklet published by the Creede Chamber of Commerce.
Richard C. Huston, “A Silver Camp Called Creede: A Century of Mining,” (Lake City: Western Reflections Publishing Co., 2005).
Tom Rosemeyer, “Creede: The Last Wild West Silver Mining Camp in Colorado,” Rocks and Minerals 85, no. 5 (2010): 396-413.
Creede’s Historic Main Street
Creede Underground Mining Museum and Community Center
Creede Historic Museum in the Railroad
Miners at the Commodore Mine Level 5 tunnel, c. 1900. (Courtesy of the Creede Historical Society)
Amethyst Mine and Mille, c. 1892 (Courtesy of the Creede Historical Society)
Last Chance Mine, c. 1883 (Courtesy of the Creede Historical Society)
Humphreys Mill c. 1904 (Courtesy of the Creede Historical Society)