Welcome to SKJ Travel ... my narrative travel blog where you can join me vicariously in adventures around the world. I tell my stories through both words and photographs. If you're joining me on a smart phone, click HERE to quickly access the archive and essays. People say to me all the time, "You should write a book about your travels." Well, my friends, this is essentially it. And in this age, an online blog is easier, displays a bajillion more photos, needs no publisher, and often reaches a broader audience than in print. Unlike a formal book or essay, though, I'm mostly just writing casually off the top of my head, but I hope, dear readers, you will feel as if I'm having a conversation with you. In the archives you'll find personal posts from some of my travels. To read my more formal articles and documentaries visit one of the blue buttons above or see the Travel Essays section. Friday Photos are typically updated weekly, and Tuesday Tales are updated sporadically. You can follow SKJ Travel on social media at:
Okay folks, today we explore a few mine sites around what today could pretty much be considered a ghost town, Nevadaville, in my next-door 'hood of Gilpin County.
I'll provide a little intro to the town if you're interested. Otherwise just scroll down through the pics of the old abandoned mines -- these are some of the best preserved sites we know of in the area (not purposefully preserved; time and nature have simply been merciful and stone structures are of course more hardy than wooden). The majority of the text info is scraped from a Nevadaville Historic Resources Survey from June 2015, available on the Gilpin County town website. Nevada Gulch, according to the survey, encompasses one of Colorado’s more significant mining landscapes. "The hills on both sides of the gulch were involved in Colorado’s earliest hardrock mining (1859), featured some of the state’s deeper shafts, and yielded millions of dollars in gold."
In a nutshell: the town of Nevadaville began as a gold rush camp in 1859 and grew into a full-fledged town by the 1870s. Like all gold rush towns, it experienced short-term booms and busts into the 1880s and 1890s, and then declined dramatically in the twentieth century until it was virtually abandoned by the 1930s. Whereas Blackhawk was the smelting and industrial center of the district, and Central City was the economic and social center, Nevadaville was the working class town where many of the district's miners lived.
As is common with many mining communities in the Rocky Mountains, Nevadaville seemed to spring up overnight. It came into existence only three weeks after John Gregory discovered gold in May 1859. The camp virtually merged with the other nearby camps of Central City and Black Hawk. Nevadaville was a very large Colorado town by 1860 standards with a population of 2,705, making it slightly larger than Denver. In 1864, the town opened a school with an initial enrollment of one hundred students. Even though Central City’s commercial district was only a mile away, Nevadaville contained businesses that met the majority of its residents’ daily needs. No banks were located in Nevadaville since the laws and regulations of the town designated gold dust as the legal tender “in the Miner’s Court, and in all commercial transactions.” About 175 ore stamps were in operation at that time, "and more than this number are idle for want of a supply of water." The stamps are what crush the ore in the mills with the simple "tools" of weight and gravity, and the sound of them operating, you might imagine, is very loud.
Nevadaville’s biggest problem was a good water supply, and this was what ultimately limited the town’s success. Despite improvements in the water supply, it was still inadequate and could not prevent the town from burning to the ground no less than five times during its history. The last fire was in 1914, and the town was never fully rebuilt. [from gilpintram.com] Daily wages for hardrock miners in 1863 were around $2.50 to $3.00 a day, which was not very extravagant, especially given that prices for food and other necessities in the mountain towns were quite high. (as is still the case today compared to towns on the flatlands)
Nevadaville had some of the deepest mines in the district; as a result, Cornish and Irish miners made up almost the entire population of the town. The Cornish miners gained their experience in hard rock mining in the tin mines of Cornwall. They first immigrated to the United States to the Lake Superior region, but moved on to the Colorado Rockies in the 1860s. Called “Cousin Jacks,” they made significant contributions to the field of mining and milling techniques in Gilpin County. They were considered expert and uninhibited hardrock miners. A natural result of this expertise was that many Cornish miners were also excellent masons. The vast majority of stone buildings and foundations in Black Hawk, Central City and Nevadaville, the Gilpin Tram walls, as well as the extensive system of dry stack stone retaining walls in the cities’ terraced system of streets were constructed by Cornish masons.
There were sometimes rivalries and animosity between the Cornish and Irish. An Episcopal Church was built in Nevadaville for the Cornish miners. The Irish miners, on the other hand, tended to live on the west side of town close to the Catholic Church in Central City. Of course there was a Masonic Temple in town, as they are quite common in the mountain mining communities. It still hosts lodge meetings to this day — the only lodge, apparently, located in a ghost town. I would like to see inside of it someday, it is supposed to still have the original wallpaper in the meeting room.
The first set of photos are of the Pozo Mine. Considering how prominent it is in the town's landscape and how photographed this shaft house is, there is a weird desert of information on it online. In fact, I found nearly nothing for all of the locations pictured here. I may not be a Googling genius, but any obvious search strings yield a sentence or so of text, and for the Pozo Mine, mostly just different versions of this photo below, which is taken from the road. I felt a little better about the situation when I read in one of my go-to online sources for Colorado mining towns, Western Mining History, the following in its entry for Nevadaville: "Details of Nevadaville's history are difficult to find as it was always overshadowed by nearby Central City, which was Colorado's most important city for two decades."
We'd driven by it so many times we eventually couldn't stand the mystery any longer, wondering what all the site might contain. So late one afternoon we checked it out, and here are a few of the fun finds.
The machinery below is an overshot mucker, aka a "widow maker." Compressed air powered, you drove it into the pile of rock from the last blast, the muck pile, and jiggled the scoop to get a full load then pulled the overshot lever to rapidly rotate the scoop arm backward throwing the rock into the ore car immediately behind. There were no safety features and it was known for falling over onto the operator.
Lots of other interesting machinery and mechanisms, rather picturesque to me. A small ore bin below.
The lines and contrasts in this building prompted me to try a couple shots in black and white.
Just like the Pozo, I could find next-to-nothing about the Prize Mine. Mostly just that there was another large vein right next to the Prize vein. We've explored this site a few times in summer and autumn. The first time we came upon it, although we knew there was some sort of building up here, we were so surprised by the size. Typically when we find things in our 4x4 vehicles, they are small affairs. This was pretty much gigantic for something so hidden away in the trees. It's basically right in town, but not visible from any "normal" road.
Below is a historical photo of Nevadaville from its mining heyday. Notice how the mountainsides are completely bereft of trees. This was common in mining towns to strip them bare of wood to use in building houses and mine buildings, for support timbers in the mines, etc. It is so much prettier now in ruins with so many trees grown back!
Below, a residential structure a stone's throw away from the Prize Mine shaft house.The furniture and amenities inside indicate a relatively recent abandonment of maybe just a few decades ago.
Another historical photo of the town in winter. It looks so quaint. But only a couple trees.
Another day, we found an access road from Nevadaville to this headframe that we had seen on the hillside from across the valley. I don't know what mine it is.
In reaching the headframe, we unexpectedly came across this large stone structure. I'm going to guess it's one of the Cornish-built remains. Impressively in tact on the one side. We parked Chewie here, where the driveable path ended, to walk to the headframe.
Now here's where it really got fun ... From the headframe we walked a little further on until we could see down in this valley this large structure. We'd not seen it on Google Earth nor from any other vantage point in the area. Although the previous structures were a bit of a surprise, we at least were expecting to come across *something* in our exploration. This was completely unexpected and quite large, as well. Again, I don't know what mine shaft or vein it serviced. There are so, so many in the area, and I haven't been able to find any maps that can tell me definitively. I will keep looking.
Fortunately I'd worn suitable footwear for trekking cross country, so we scrambled down the hillside to this little complex.
A little perspective on how big this boiler is!
Some historical photos below of hardrock miners in Nevadaville. They're working by candlelight 850 feet below ground! Imagine laboring deep underground with just a little dinner candle affixed to your head and a few spaced along the wall. Candlesticks could even be a work hazard. In a 1902 edition of the Gilpin Observer, we are informed that "Charles Hauser, while working in the Gardiner mine last week, ran a candle stick in the back of his right hand and was compelled to lay off for several days." Among other juicy tidbits of Nevadaville news, it was also observed in this edition that "Charles Horning went to Denver Tuesday to see his friend, Mr. McCann." Also that "Thurston Sowden this week received a fine large Dane. It is a dandy dog and his new master is very proud of him." I find this hilarious, that this is all printed in the society newspaper, and you paid money to read about your neighbors getting dogs and going to Denver. There are many such entries. Check it out yourself, I find it highly amusing: The Gilpin Observer December 11, 1902. You can see the whole archive here, and I'm sure there are many other similarly amusing old papers catalogued. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn90051548/issues/1899/
The guys inside the barrel coming out of the hatch door look almost comical. But theirs was an extremely hard and dangerous life notably lacking in humor. At least until they were able to spend a few wages at the saloon!
Lastly, I'll share a paragraph here from the website of the masonic lodge mentioned earlier, Nevada Lodge #4. I appreciated this description of the make-up of the early mining towns:
"It should not be inferred that miners were the only ones attracted by a gold discovery. There were five distinct classes of people who rushed to the site of a new strike. First is the prospector or miner who discovers and takes the precious metal from the earth. Second is the merchant who sells his supplies or services for the miner’s “dust” in legitimate trade. This class also includes the lawyer, doctor, preacher, builder, freighter law enforcement official and laborer. The third class is the saloon keeper, who furnishes the “firewater” so often the cause of trouble. Closely allied to the saloon keeper, is the fourth class, the gambler, who by his wits and nimble fingers separates the miner from his newly gained wealth. The last is the motley crowd, the thief, the highwayman and the murderer. These are the ones who wait until the miner or merchant who accumulates a “pile” and then go in and take it by force. There is yet a sixth group, small in numbers, which later comes on the scene and which exhibits the attributes of several of the other classes. From a position of seeming respectability and always within the law, one of this class seeks, through loans, followed by foreclosures of mortgages, to secure possession of property at a small price and sells at a big profit."
Read more articles in Three Hour Tour -- explorations in Gilpin and Boulder Counties
please note photos in this post may be viewed larger by opening in a new tab (right-click)
Jamestown is a mining town incorporated relatively late in the gold mining era of the region, in Boulder County, Colorado, named after a local gold miner, James Smith, and locally referred to as "Jimtown." A very small town now, a couple hundred residents, it lies nestled beside a creek (James Creek, of course) in a wide spot in the canyon. The Jamestown Mercantile is pretty much the place in town, the historic building decorated with fun old things. A nice bar and restaurant take up the inside. I've only eaten there once but the food was outstanding, as was the pineapple habanero margarita. They host live music on the weekends. I love our mountain music venues — small, historic buildings with happy people packed inside. There are a fair number in our greater area, the mountains west of Boulder.
Jamestown has a lovely cemetery that spreads up the hillside into the forest. We'd seen it on Google maps and it looked very straight-forward to find so I didn't print out any map or directions. In the canyon I had no cell reception, so we couldn't log into the maps from my phone and for some reason COTREX, which is our main source of trail info in the area, lost all my map data. So we had nothing to look at, just my memory of the map view on my PC. But come on ... it's a town in a small canyon beside a small creek, there just aren't a lot of places for a cemetery to be, there isn't a maze of roads. And yet, Erik and I couldn't find the silly thing and it became quite comical, us driving back and forth up and down the main street and the few side streets. People were sitting out on their porches and at the Mercantile just watching us. Finally we stopped and I got out and asked a grizzled old guy where to find the cemetery. We missed it because the road, behind a park, looks more like a bicycle path and we hadn't thought to follow it (especially because we were just in our little car, not a 4x4 vehicle).
What struck me about this cemetery over the other mountain cemeteries we've visited recently is how weathered the gravestones were and how many were actively being covered up and reclaimed by nature. Some of the ones in Gilpin County seem to have more conscientious and intentional upkeep. So there was something emotionally picturesque about this reclamation by nature. Maybe in some ways sad, but in other ways appealing, and let's face it, ultimately inevitable. So it's kind of like a window into that inevitability that is clearer here than at other places.
Therefore I have little to say about the graves and epitaphs, unlike in some of my other cemetery posts. This is primarily just a peaceful walk among the markers of anonymous lives.
Below, it's difficult to make out, but you can see ... J. (standing for John) Johns, born 1866 died 1913. I like how at the bottom of the headstone, around the word JOHNS grows the orange lichen, perfectly surrounding each letter that is left lichen-free. I wonder why the letters are spared while the stone immediately around them is so desirable to the lichen.
For hoots, a photo of Mr. Johns. I took it from Find-A-Grave, posted by John Hocking.
So there are stones that still stand obvious and prominent on the hillside atop the landscape, and those that are being digested right into it. I wonder how many have already succumbed. Ashes to ashes, and indeed dust to dust.
The thing I love most about the old mountain cemeteries is their organic layout (or perhaps they're spaces that have merely disintegrated from strict orderliness into a more peaceful-feeling layout like a creek lazily snaking through a flat valley) ... often there are no discernable neat columns and rows of graves spaced exactly so far from each other on either side. To walk through them now, it really is a meandering trail of lives lived and tears shed over their passing.
Griff Evans, born in Wales, became a well-known entrepreneur in the tourist industry in the 19th and early 20th century in Jamestown and particularly in Estes Park. His family built and then ran the Evans House Hotel from 1892 to 1905 in Jamestown. What I find so interesting about his gravestone (as I'm sure you can guess) is the well-defined strip of lichen, almost as if the tombstone was purposefully designed with this stripe. For some weird reason, it makes me think of wallpaper.
The Evans' were cherished members of Jamestown from the time they moved there from Estes Park in about 1890. Griff became the town's Father Christmas at its annual Christmas Eve parties as he fit the role both in spirit and appearance with the longest, whitest beard in town. Griff was also blessed with a musical talent and had studied to be a choir director back in Wales (why he left there for Colorado, I don't know). He played his accordian at church services and for entertainment at the family's hotel. The spread of regular entertainment at the Evans House was reputed to be quite excellent and widely attended. It included dancing, singing, speeches and debates, and literary society meetings (!). Many mountain mining camps were rough and unruly and rather base environments. The Evans family brought a significant degree of uncommon civilization to this community.
Winifred was his daughter-in-law.
The recipient of this gravestone — one of, if not *the* best-preserved of the 19th century stones within the cemetery — is the person about whom I found the most information and who is important as one of the founders of Jamestown in the sense that he and his buddy were the first to prospect in the area, in James Creek Gulch in 1864, while on a hunting trip from Blackhawk (a town right next to Central City of which I've written much in articles in my Colorado archive and Cemetery series).
Their initial prospect yielded a promising amount of silver and lead, so they then got a wagon and supplies back in Blackhawk, which included the ever-important group of pack mules — the unsung heroes in establishing many a mining camp and town in these Rockies — and came back to the area. They left the supply wagon as far as they could take it and then made their way with the pack mules upstream. It took three days and the work of five men with the mules to cut through a mere eight miles of brush and timber to where they would establish their camp. I am oft surprised in our explorations of this area how jungle-esque some places feel, more like a rainforest than our alpine forest.
Finally they sunk a shaft next to the creek to the required depth to survey: ten feet. They extracted a chunk of ore weighing nearly 20 pounds and had it assayed back at Blackhawk. It assayed high enough to spark a boom, and nearly 500 people rushed to the creek. Surprisingly, these people weren't rushing through the verdant forest of summer but the harsh snows of January. They rushed so impulsively and frantically that most didn't even carry adequate supplies, and they could get a wagon no further than the Knoop party, having to trek miles on foot. Most miners did not see the winter through at the camp, "starved out" for lack of supplies. Mr. Knoop, however, and a few others stuck it out.
Come spring, a couple men who had stayed discovered a rich vein of lead and silver. Somehow without mail service or a newspaper or telephones or radio or the internet, word spread like wildfire and another wave of people rushed to the area. Then snow arrived in the fall, and this time most of them just skedaddled right away. It reminds me of the elk I watched in Rocky Mountain NP running one direction, stopping to graze, then abruptly sprinting the other direction, stopping, then back the other direction.....
So the following spring, hardy and well-financed people determined to form a camp arrived. A stamp mill was constructed, and a steam-powered sawmill so that men could axe down hillsides of ponderosa and mill it into lumber for cabins and stores. Now a real camp could be established. In 1866 its citizens petitioned for a post office to be called Camp Jimtown. The U.S. government granted the post office but bestowed the title of Jamestown. I guess Jimtown seemed to informal to the starched white collar men at their big oak office desks! But locals have always, and still, call it that.
I guess we can surmise that our current word "pharmacy" is a shortened version of "pharmaceutist." I have to tell you, when I visit period museums or antique shops in the area, I'm always most amused by the variety of pharmaceutical bottles and tins on display — their ingredients and what they are claimed to cure, and the wording of the advertising. I don't know the exact year of this photo, but I would imagine sometime in the 1860s or possibly 1870s.
This is my favorite marker in the cemetery. So humble, yet clearly a marker, not a random stone. Decorated in lichen. I would be very happy to have any marker that might be left to signal, for a time, the fact of my existence, look just like this. But with a plethora of wildflowers surrounding it.
How many times have I said, "I intended this post to be mostly photographs ..." and then fall down a rabbit hole of history and random anecdotes and end up posting a novelette? Well, I don't know the actual number of times, but it's a pretty big number. But today, I am sticking to my intention! I just wanted to show you a very interesting hike we took up in north-central Colorado, just a hair beneath the Wyoming border near Wellington, CO.
Red Mountain Open Space has several loop trails that intersect, so ultimately you can make quite a hike of it. We walked about 8.5 miles. It's very easy terrain (a necessity for my knees), so including lunch and stopping to take photos, we took roughly 4 hours. Plus about 4 hours round trip driving, it made the perfect day trip. I was a little worried that the hike wouldn't be worth all the driving, but it definitely was. I imagine we'll return to pick up a couple of the other loops and I've since learned there are buffalo you can see in the area (not accessible directly from the Open Space, but in the area).
So I'm just going to take you along on our hike, in chronological order, to share this interesting place. I could have included fewer photos, but I wanted to give you a real feel for the varied terrain and how surprising it is to be packed into what is ultimately a relatively small space for such diversity. For the record, these are the trails we took, linking together to make our loop, though I can't tell you when we transitioned from one trail to another in the photos: Sinking Sun, Big Hole Wash, Salt Lick, Ruby Wash, short stretch of Bent Rock. I'm glad we walked the direction we did, as my favorite part of the hike was at the end, and it's always nice to end with the best. You can see immediately where the "Red" comes from in the naming of the Open Space.
This was mid-May, and at our house spring had not yet sprung. The aspens had not leafed out and only the earliest wildflowers had begun to poke their heads up. So we were pleased to get a flower fix. We don't see cactus much up in our 'hood either.
The path goes on very gently through this scrubby meadow through pale dirt heading toward pale hills. We started with blue sky.
Some more wildflowers to brighten our day along the way. The bottom is larkspur but I don't actually know what the lovely white flower is. (Not going to look it up; might fall down a rabbit hole.)
The terrain becomes a little more undulating with small arroyos and pinkening dirt. It acquires a distinctly Southwestern feel. Clouds begin to form on our horizon.
Back up into the grass and white rocks to the side.
Red starts to enter the landscape again in the distance. I'm beginning to think about the fact I didn't put any rain gear in our day pack, even though I brought it in the car.
Then just like that, within the space of one stride we are back in the Southwest but now with a deep red-colored dirt exposed and another set of sandy arroyos.
And ta-dah! The span of another stride takes us back onto a pale path and greening meadow. It is about now we are thinking about lunch and wondering what options for shade we will have.
This next transition may have taken two or three strides to complete, but once again we abruptly enter another landscape as if we have transported over to southern Utah or something. We were completely unaware that this type of landscape existed in northern Colorado. I'm hoping that wherever we stop for much might also provide shelter from rain should we need it! But the clouds did make for a very striking atmosphere of red, white and blue.
Alas, we did find a perfect alcove in which to have lunch, nice and shady. In spite of the name, Red Mountain Open Space, I have to confess, we still did not expect to be eating lunch in surroundings quite like this. I imagined more of a red mountain looming above a pine-treed forest or something. I only saw reference to this place from a post on Facebook, I really knew nothing about it except it had easy trails.
The eroding sandstone walls look like a giant game of Jenga being played by a whimsical Nature.
Now we emerge from the red canyon into another landscape of cottonwood trees lining a dry riverbed. The trail meandered in and out of the riverbed, and suddenly looks more green than the land we started out on.
Erik was stopped looking back down the trail the way we had come as I approached him and he blurted out a surprised, "Whoa!" "What?" I asked. "Look behind you!" he said. And ... whoa! An unexpected sight indeed. Enormous windmill blades rotating across the horizon. Maybe it's just the giant who plays the Jenga game sitting in front of his fan ... it was, after all, a pretty warm day.
Now we head into an area more lush, the path lined with very tall bushes. It must be gorgeous when they're in full bloom.
We head into a delightful, cool canyon lined with an unassuming babbling brook. Is this tiny stream the ancestor of the thing that carved down through this rock? Now the exposed layers give us an interesting glimpse into the geology that lies beneath the rolling hills and meadows. One doesn't always think about all the layers that lie below them, about how ancient our landscapes are and how dynamic our planet is — adding layers here, tilting layers there, flooding with seas, drying into deserts, all the while subtly shifting.
And from here we soon emerge back into open plain and our parking lot. Never a drop of rain fell on us. Or maybe one or two, I can't remember now. So you have completed a virtual hike through a large portion of Red Mountain Open Space. Hope you enjoyed!
In today's post, we'll take a look around the Catholic Cemetery at Central City. I believe it's the largest, at least in terms of space, on a hilltop full of cemeteries in this old mining district.
What I really find moving in these old mountain cemeteries is the sense of lonesomeness that I would not equate with loneliness. There are plenty of other graves around and many of the cemeteries are regularly visited, and there is the glorious mountain backdrop, but I love the way they are spaced out in the "wild" unmanicured landscape — in the meadows, in the aspens, beside the pines.
The first day that we took time to get out of our vehicle, instead of driving by as we have for years as we come out of or go into a network of 4x4 roads, was a late-autumn day.
We were actually a little stunned to see how far this cemetery stretched once we started walking around. Photos in this post are from that day and subsequent visits in spring.
Like all the other 19th-century mountain cemeteries, there seem to be a disproportionately high number of graves marked for children. Below are three girls, sisters who never knew one another. Two died at about two years of age and another at about six months.
Another memorial of three children born to the same parents. They lasted about 11 months, 1 year, and 13 years. The parents, Ignass Gundy and his wife, were both born in France, and must have had such high hopes for 13-year old George as he outlived his younger brothers. But then that life was snubbed out, too. I always presume, rightly or wrongly, that very young children died from illness of some sort or birth complications if very young. But I'm more intrigued by young teenagers, wondering if they were already working in dangerous mines or also contracted an illness or were victim of some other type of accident.
Another infant grave below, Julia Keyes was the daughter of Andrew and Mary. Mary died one month before her daughter died, who was only 2 months 24 days old at death. It must have been pretty hard on Andrew to lose both his wife and child in such a short span of time. Mary clearly didn't die in childbirth, but I wonder if complications from a difficult delivery could have been a factor. (See how these cemeteries set the curiosity on fire!)
Another babe, Emma Schneider, was laid to rest at nine months old. It's sad see the tombstone sinking into the ground into the indifferent jaws of native the plants. Obscurity for Emma lies just around the corner.
As it does for Mr. Gleason, one of the many who immigrated here from Ireland. During the years of the potato famine, it's said two million Irish sailed to America. Gold wasn't discovered in Colorado until 1858, so a lot of those buried here may have actually traveled to Central City from elsewhere in America. So many of them were imagining they would escape the hardships of mid-century Ireland, only to end up with potentially harder lives here in the mines.
I don't know as much about what situations other Europeans might have been trying to escape (speaking on a broad scale), or if their passage here was motivated purely by the sparkle of gold in their eyes. There are a notable number of Italians, Germans and Austrians. Two epitaphs are written in Italian below.
Michael Egger was born in Austria and married a girl from north Carolina.
A handful of other souls in their mountain peace.....
James Curran was born in Ireland. In this same cemetery, there is an Ellen Curran Flynn born in the same county (Waterford) of Ireland, one year apart from James. Are they siblings perhaps? Ellen’s husband, John Flynn, is also from Waterford, and another woman with the maiden name Curran born in Ireland (county not specified) is buried. She married a man who immigrated from Germany and became part owner of a couple mines in Gilpin County. Are all the Currans related? It's apparently a common surname in Ireland, so they could certainly be unrelated. But are they? Haha, these little mysteries always strike me.
But back to Ellen and John Flynn, who have really tickled my imagination … there are newspaper clippings referring to deaths of three of their sons who preceded themselves in death. Three very curious deaths. Their son, Joseph, died at age 22 when, according to the newspaper, he fell under a moving train in Idaho Springs (just over the mountain from Central City) and died of his injuries. Now how does that happen? Even in that time, I don’t think many people just randomly fell onto railroad tracks. Maybe he was drunk? Or maybe he was pushed?
That newspaper article mentions that the bereaved parents (John and Ellen) lost another son a few years earlier to “strangulation in the Brooklyn mine” (a gold mine in the district). There is no further explanation given for “strangulation,” and I so far haven’t found any articles about this incident. Does this mean another human killed him? Or perhaps a mine accident in which he was crushed in a way he couldn't breathe? Asphyxiation from toxic fumes, like he forgot to take a canary with him that day as a warning bell? The word choice is so cryptic, though it could have been used more commonly in that day, I don't know (like "apoplexy" is not commonly used now but was back then to indicate a stroke). Strangely, his name is not on the Flynn family tombstone with all the other children of these parents even though he apparently died there in Central City. Why? The mystery is killing me.
Yet another son, John (“Jack”) died in the Queen-of-the-West Mine at age 18. He was stooped over cleaning up a shaft after a detonation when a rock fell loose from above him and hit him on the back of the head near the base. According to a newspaper article, “Flynn commenced bleeding at the ears.” His partner placed him in the bucket and called for it to be hoisted up. He reached the surface and passed away shortly thereafter “without uttering a word after being struck by the rock.” No inquest was held; apparently all the other miners in the area felt there was nothing suspicious. But I dunno … one rock falling precisely on a fatal spot — three accidents for these brothers resulting in three suspicious-sounding deaths.
I really want to know who this John Flynn, their father, was who left Ireland. I feel like he was somebody against whom someone else had a vendetta for him and his family! Haha. Or who had been dealt a curse back in the homeland and fled to America to try to escape the curse! The news article about Jack’s death states that the grieving parents “have the sympathy of a large circle of friends.” So likely, it was just an unfortunate set of circumstances. Many circumstances and fates of miners of that era were, after all, quite unfortunate. It would have been more suspicious if it said the parents “kept to themselves” or were not well-liked, then I could imagine enemies who might push, strangle and clobber their family.
So one of my goals now in returning to these cemeteries is to count the number of nationalities I see. I think there are probably a wider variety in the Catholic and Central City cemeteries than in those of fraternal orders (which outnumber the non-fraternal ones). And another goal is to find the gravestone of Sebastian Zang in the Catholic Cemetery and of William Vine in the Central City Cemetery. There are photos of them on Find-a-Grave, so I know they are still standing. Why these two men?
First I’ll just say what can be divined about them from their gravestones. Vine was an immigrant from Cornwall, married a wife from Cornwall, and drowned in the Bates Hunter Mine in 1885 just a few months after a son was born to him. His first son had died already at 2 years old. His second son went on to outlive him by many years, and his widow remarried another Cornish man. Zang drowned along with Vine in the mine. I haven’t found any info on him, but the name had me curious. Zang is a surname in Mandarin. Many Chinese people assume English names because English people cannot pronounce their Chinese names. But according to a report from one of Colorado's public radio stations, KUNC, "Chinese population in Colorado from 1860-1890: at the time, there were only about 125 Chinese people in Gilpin County. They were considered the lowest ethnic group and relegated to the scraps from abandoned mines to find gold. They used a method called placer mining, commonly referred to as panning." So it seems unlikely he was Chinese. A little Googling revealed that it is also a surname in German, which I wouldn’t have guessed. This makes much more sense. There is even a town in Germany named Zang. His gravestone also includes another Zang, Adam, and from the birthdates I presume they are brothers.
As to my interest in these men … well, I read a ghost story about them. I first read the story in a book, then I found it online pretty much verbatim. But the two texts have different authors and neither one cites the other, so I don’t know who copied who, or if they both copied someone else. So I don’t know the true source but the story goes essentially like this: Zang and Vine drowned in the Bates Hunter Mine after an explosive charge inside the mine caused the shaft they were in to flood. [The two texts both misstate the death date; they say August 7, but the actual tombstones of both men say July 31.] After their demise, there were claims that their ghosts had spared two miners from certain death — one man from an explosion and another from an accidental fall, but it isn’t explained exactly how the ghosts interacted with the men to save them. Then there was a cave-in at the mine that endangered several miners. They all managed to escape alive, and supposedly they each said they had seen Zang and Vine holding back the crumbling walls and roof of the tunnel until the miners were able to run out unharmed. So they were not only helpful ghosts, but superhero-strength ghosts! As to why none of the other miners who died in the mine over the years were so benevolent in the afterlife, I can't guess.
I don't know why Zang and Vine gave up their heroic escapades after that when there were surely many subsequent accidents in the mine, but there are no further references to their ghosts. I guess holding up those walls was a lot of work and they became tired enough to rest in peace afterward.
So I mentioned in an earlier post that we recently spoke to a miner currently working in Central City who told us about the water that needed to be pumped out of the old shafts. That mine he’s working in is the Bates Hunter. I started looking more into it after reading this ghost story and remembering our conversation. This isn’t meant as a plug for the company reviving the mine, but what I found is quite interesting to me. The company has produced a whole series of videos on the reopening of the mine and the mill — work still in progress as of 2023, including interviews with all the workers at these sites. Honestly, they make good PR for the company coming across as running a very “wholesome” and environmentally conscious kind of operation. And maybe it is, but I think judgment will be reserved until they are up and operating to see what kind of impact they’re really having on the area.
According to them, the Bates-Hunter is the second oldest mine in the Central City mining district, which, I’ve mentioned in many of my posts, has been called “the richest square mile on earth.” They also say that only 15% of all the valuable minerals have been extracted from the area. So while I’m ambivalent about the idea of new industrial work intruding into what has become a rather peaceful old town (Central City more peaceful than the adjacent Blackhawk who has utterly sold its soul to casinos, while Central City maintains a more historical presence in spite of casinos), it is kind of cool to see a piece of history being resurrected. Not just any piece, but the history that settled this region and brought all these East Coast and European folk to end up living here and dying here in these cemeteries.
As romantic a vision as it is of the old miners toiling in the mines with their candles and canaries, this area and huge swaths of the Colorado Rockies were exceedingly noisy, dirty, bustling places most people would not want to live in now.
Anyway, these are a couple of the videos I found most interesting showing the old mine tunnels they are restabilizing and the old mill they are restoring.
I’m going to tack on here some photos of a tour we recently took on a random outing to Idaho Springs of the Argo Mill and Tunnel (we didn’t intend to end up here, but there we were and a tour was about to start, so in we went). Since I have just mentioned what noisy places these old mining towns were in their heyday, and also the persistent issue of water in the mines, it’s a relevant topic. If you are driving down I-70 by Idaho Springs you will see the tall red mill building on the side of the mountain from the interstate.
So more than 100 hard rock mines were being worked between Idaho Springs and Central City in the late 19th century, a spread of a little over four miles. As the shafts were dug steadily deeper, the mines of course filled with water to where eventually the cost of pumping water was the primary mining expense, sometimes too costly to continue production.
A Mr. Samuel Newhouse conceived of building a slightly inclined tunnel under the mines of the Central City district with a pipe to carry water away from the mines and empty at Idaho Springs, thereby eradicating pumping costs and letting gravity do the work instead. Additionally, the tunnel would be fitted with tracks to allow mining carts to carry the ore out downhill to the mill that would be built at the mouth of the tunnel in Idaho Springs, again sparing the cost of hoisting the ore out in shaft houses, and utilizing gravity instead. This was pretty revolutionary work for the time, a veritable technological wonder, and beginning in 1893 the Argo Tunnel took 17 subsequent years to complete. It was (they say) the world’s longest tunnel at the time of its completion in 1910.
Here are some historical photos inside the tunnel. The first one shows how there is both the water pipeline above and the ore cart tracks below. I had a hard time finding any source that would explain exactly the water system. One source called it a “flume” rather than a pipeline. This is only photo I saw online that illustrates both the pipe and the tracks. I can’t tell if the top of the piping is open like a flume or if it’s a closed pipeline.
The mill was in full production processing 300 tons of ore per day by 1913. People from all over the world came to tour the tunnel and mill complex. A narrow gauge railroad came right up to the mill and high-grade ore was loaded directly onto the train for transport to smelters and the rest went into the Argo mill. The tunnel is now sealed about 150 feet from the entrance but water continues to drain from the mines it connected to. Although the water is pumped through a water treatment facility before being released into Clear Creek, it’s still a Superfund site. The tunnel today still drains 700 gallons/minute! It’s closely monitored to ensure there is never another flood, which is what closed the tunnel in 1943 when some miners working in the tunnel blasted into an unused shaft that hadn’t been drained of water. All that water dropped down in a mighty wave, killing those miners and flooding the tunnel. The water blasted out of the tunnel like a fire hose for some hours. The flooding was so substantial that it caused Clear Creek to shift across the valley.
So the site lay abandoned until about 1970 when restoration of it began and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Today the Argo Mill is a museum with guided tours, and I believe there is more coming in the way of tourist attraction. It’s noted in the intro film of the tour that this is the only place in the USA that is both a Superfund Site and a National Historic Site.
Part of what is notable about Argo Mill is that because it was taking ore from so many different mines, this diversity of ore meant many different types of equipment were necessary for optimal processing.
Several varieties of ore crushing, vibrating and grinding machines were employed. One brute-force method was the twenty 1,050-pound stamps that pulverized gold-bearing ore so the “wheat” could be easily separated from the “chaff.” The noise from the mines and the mill, in particular these stamps, gave the valley a reputation as “Thunder Valley.” No earplug on earth could mitigate the noise of the stamp mill, and our tour guide told us that the men who worked nearest the stamps would go deaf within days.
Another type of extraction process used chemistry rather than physics. Different chemicals, notably mercury and cyanide, could be used in different processes to separate gold from other metals.
So, following are some photos I snapped inside the mill. My history lesson has been a little long in this post, so I'll spare you also an ore mill lesson! Even without explanations, I think the space inside the mill is pretty cool and the machinery is still impressive, and most of it is actually the original machinery, not reproductions, and you still get a feel for what a loud and bustling place it must have been.
This is a compressor outside the tunnel.
At the end of the tour, you get a little bag of river sand and a special pan like the placer miners used, and taught how to pan for gold. Unfortunately Erik and I didn’t stay to pan, as this whole afternoon had not been planned, we just ended up here via meandering and by the time the tour ended, it was past our kitties’ feeding time and it was the better part of hour’s drive home. But we got to take the sand home, so now we just need to find one of those pans somewhere! I bet there is a Youtube video to instruct us in the technique. I suddenly have a memory of when I was a kid, my family and I used to picnic at the Poudre River in Colorado and we used our frisbees to pan for fool’s gold. As a kid I thought that was pretty darn fun.
An endnote here that I got a lot of the info on the Argo complex from https://www.goldrushtradingpost.com/argo_mine___mill.