2011 Mining History Association Field Trip
June 7, 2009
June 7, 2009
MINING HISTORY OF LAKE CITY
Before the white man arrived in the Lake City, Colorado area, it was the domain of the Ute Indians. The Spanish claimed the territory until Mexican independence in 1819. Mexico ceded the area to the United States in 1849. While gold was first discovered about 1842 by a member of Fremont’s party, the Utes controlled the area. The influx of white men that followed the 1858 Colorado gold discoveries spelled doom for the Utes who were removed from the San Juans in 1873. Avoiding the Utes, Henry Henson, Albert Mead, Charles Goodwin, and Joel Mullen discovered the Ute and Ulay veins on August 27, 1871, along what would be called Henson Creek. With concern about Indian hostilities over, they returned to the area in 1874 and opened the Ute-Ulay Mine about four miles west of current-day Lake City. It became a major silver producer.
In August 1874, Enos Hotchkiss was under contract to the legendary Otto Mears to build a wagon road from Saguache to Lake City. He discovered a rich gold vein above Lake San Cristobal that became the Hotchkiss Mine. It was later renamed the Golden Fleece. By the end of the year a reduction works was operating in Lake City. News of the discoveries spread and a rush to Lake City brought hundreds of miners and prospectors to the area in 1875. In 1876 the Ocean Wave Group opened two miles further up Henson Creek beyond the Ute-Ulay. The Excelsior was located in 1878 in the Capitol City area. A daily stage coach connected Lake City via Capitol City and Engineer Pass to Animas Forks and other mining camps in the San Juans. The Crooke and Ocean Wave smelters were completed in that year.
The early-1880’s saw a number of new mines being opened and the premature promise of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad building a line to Lake City. In 1881 the population of Lake City was 2000. This boom lasted three years until the Ute-Ulay was temporarily shut down. During the boom, the Golden Wonder was opened in Deadman Gulch two miles southeast of Lake City. This was the site prospected in the winter of 1874 by Wilson Bell, James Humphries, Frank Miller, George Noon, Alfred Packer, and Israel Swan. In April of 1874, Packer alone showed up at the Los Pinos Indian Agency. Shortly thereafter, prospectors discovered five bodies of men from Packer’s party. Flesh had been removed from them and presumably eaten. Parker confessed with three different stories. He escaped from the County Jail in Saguache only to be found nine years later and returned from Douglas, Wyoming for trial in Lake City in March 1883. Although he was convicted and sentenced to hang, the sentence was thrown out by the Colorado Supreme Court. He was tried again in 1886 and sentenced to 40 years in prison. He was released from prison in 1901 and died in 1907 in Littleton, Colorado. Today the site of the Packer Massacre has a marker 2 miles south of town. Packer’s guilt or innocence is still being debated.
In the late-1880’s, Lake City was booming again. The railroad finally reached town in 1889. The Golden Fleece Mine had shipped a single car of ore valued at $50,000. By 1890, twenty mines were shipping ore. In 1891, the value of production at the Ute-Ulay was $400,000. Following the 1892-3 recession, the mining activity picked up again. In the late-nineties, a number of new mines opened in the area of the Golden Fleece. In 1887, the Hidden Treasure Mine, near the Ute-Ulay, became a major producer. Click here for a list of mines in the Lake City District (1911, Irving and Bancroft).
In 1899, the workforce at the Ute-Ulay was composed mostly of Italians. Labor unrest was supposedly sparked by rumors that management intended to institute a policy of employing only white miners, excluding Italians who were considered non-white. The single men were also required to live in the costly, company boarding house. In March, a strike was called by eight of the Italian miners. At the same time, the Lake City Armory was robbed and several rifles were taken. Failing to reach a quick settlement and fearing violence, the Sheriff asked the Governor for help. The Governor sent in four companies of infantrymen and two of cavalry. The Italian Counsel went to Lake City to help negotiate a settlement and avoid bloodshed. The strike was settled but the Italian strikers were fired. Afterward, a newspaper ad for additional miners carried the message “Italians need not apply.”
Readings and References
John Duer Irving and Howland Bancroft, “Geology and Ore Deposits near Lake City, Colorado,” U. S. Geological Survey Bulletin 478, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1911).
“The Lake City Story,” a brochure distributed by the Lake City Visitors’ Center.
Photo Credits: Mike Kaas