Glimpses of Past & Present : John H. Gregory, Man behind the mystery

Pam North, Central City.  He was the man who started it all – the one who discovered gold in the gulch between what are now the cities of Black Hawk and Central City. Yet surprisingly little has been known and written about him, other than in the context of his gold discovery. Recent research has shed considerable light on who John H. Gregory was, and yielded a previously unknown photograph as well.

A Southerner of Scottish descent, John H. Gregory was born December 20, 1820 to Griffin and Cynthia Gregory in Pendleton District, South Carolina. The family then moved to Cherokee County, Georgia in the early 1830s, just after the 1832 Gold Lottery in that area. They settled in the Wildcat and Sixes districts, where many gold strikes were being discovered.

Gregory learned the skills of gold mining from his father, becoming well-versed in mining procedures and mining law. While the extent of his education is unknown, he was literate, and his signature appears on the deeds of his many transactions. He was always well-advised by attorneys in his land dealings, but became adept himself at contract law. While apparently an outgoing individual, he nevertheless was discreet about his business, which contributed to his success.

By 1850, Gregory was the owner of a 1,000-acre plantation on the Etowah River of Cherokee County, and had married Christina Payne. Through the course of the marriage, they had five children: Francis, Mary Jane, Howell Cobb, William, and Harriet.

In 1855, Gregory was arrested in Cherokee County according to Superior Court records, for betting and playing cards in various games such as poker and Faro. This presumably occurred while he was socializing with the miners, something he believed helped him to be successful in the mining business.

Gregory sold his plantation, and moved his family to Gordon County, Georgia. The 1857 and 1858 county tax records there list the value of Gregory’s property as $21,000. His brother-in-law, Robert Reese, also made the move with his own family, and by 1860, both families had moved again, this time to Marshall County, Alabama, where Gregory’s father and grandfather also resided.

The year of 1843 had marked the peak of the Georgia gold rush, and output gradually decreased as the placer mines played out. Tales of great gold discoveries on the Pacific slope of the Sierras had begun to filter into the area.

In 1858, Georgia miners, led by William Green Russell of Auraria, Georgia, had found some gold in the foothill streams along the Rockies, and had become Colorado’s first pioneers. Gregory heard of their discoveries in 1859 while he was wintering at Fort Laramie, Wyoming, en route to some Canadian gold mines, and he immediately went in a southerly direction.

Following the Vaquez fork of the South Platte River, he prospected his way up the canyon, pursuing the most promising direction at each fork of the stream until he eventually reached what is now known as Gregory’s Gulch, and found the “color” he had been seeking. Beset by a heavy snowstorm at this point, during which he nearly perished, he was forced to return to Auraria (now Denver) for provisions.

After consultation there with Dr. Levi Russell (Green Russell’s brother) and other Georgians, all agreed that Gregory’s find had great promise. Gregory at this point was destitute, and it took him several weeks to return to the gulch from which the blizzard had driven him. He was able to find the spot again, and upon his initial panning, which immediately yielded about four dollars’ worth of gold, he found his anticipations realized, reportedly saying, “My wife will be a lady, and my children will be educated.”

After he had panned $1,000 worth in three days, he ceased operation, fearful of being robbed. At that point there were only 17 men in the gulch, but the number would swell dramatically almost overnight, as word leaked out to the world about Gregory’s strike.

Gregory was hailed for his perseverance and his mining ability, and  his fame brought hordes of men to seek his company and advice. Although constantly bothered by them, he was ever friendly and polite. He also was shrewd in his business dealings, making sizable profits.

Although he soon sold his initial strike, he continued to be involved in the mining activities of the area, often with a partner. He spent time intermittently in the gulch vicinity for about three years, mostly when the weather was hospitable, returning to winter with his family. Finally, in 1862, he apparently concluded most of his business dealings, collected money due him, and left the area.

Colorado wasn’t the best place for a Southerner to be, as the Civil War had begun, and Gregory’s reputation had moved (whether from his politics or from his behavior is uncertain) from hailed hero to that of being a drinker and a gambler.

One valuable legacy he left behind was the first list of rules for the Gregory Mining District, drawn up with the collaborative efforts of Dr. Joseph Casto. These rules later became laws, quickly copied by other mining districts, and were finally incorporated into Colorado statutes.

Gregory returned in September, 1862, to Alabama, a perilous process, since all customary routes to the South were held by Union forces. On September 26, 1863, he enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private in Company H, 65th Georgia Infantry, and was captured on July 3, 1864 at Marietta, Georgia.

Sent to Camp Morton Prison at Indianapolis, Indiana, he died there of chronic diarrhea on January 22, 1865, and was buried in Green Lawn Cemetery. His wife and children continued to live in Alabama until one daughter, Mary Jane, married, and the family moved to Erath County, Texas. His wife, Christina, died there on April 13, 1905, and was buried in Lower Greens Cemetery.

Dimension finally has been added to the persona of a man who had so much influence on the origin of mining in Gilpin County. It’s about time.

Resource:  Research by Patsy Bradbury and members of Gregory family.