Brian Alers, Nederland. Dedicated to the memory of the “old time” prospector, one of the most unique characters in American history.
Part 2: The Pikes Peak Gold Rush
By December of 1858, there were about 1,000 men living in Auraria (now Denver), awaiting the spring thaw. As soon as they could, these prospectors would follow the placer gold up many of the streams emerging from the Snowy Range to the disintegrated oxidized residue of the gold-bearing veins, which they called the “mother lodes”.
The first discoveries in the mountains were made by hearty prospectors that could not wait until the spring thaw. They braved the winter storms to prospect far up into the uncharted terrain of western Boulder and Gilpin Counties. At the end of January, 1859, B. F. Langley discovered placer gold where a timber filled creek (Lump Gulch) met South Boulder Creek east of Rollinsville that he called the “Deadwood Diggings.” And by the end of March considerable gold was recovered.
Placer gold was also discovered in January of 1859 in Gold Run Creek, near present day Gold Hill. In June of 1859 Gold Hill established itself as Mountain District #1, Nebraska Territory. Mountain District #1 formed a provisional government, and it was the first governing body in the territory. Gold Hill is founded later in the year with 15 houses and 1,500 people living mostly living in tents. Gold Hill produced some 4,838 ounces of gold during this first year of mostly placer production from Gold Run Creek.
The first mention of gold from Boulder County may have been on January 7, 1859, when an Arapahoe Native American by the name of Cut Nose, showed about $50 (2.5 ounces) of shot gold that he claimed to have found in “a crevasse in the mountain” while he was hunting for elk and mountain sheep to mountain man Jack Jones, aka William McGaa. He later told the Missouri Republican on February 23, 1859 that the gold was, “a pretty fair specimen, from the size of a pea to a large buck shot”. Even though Cut Nose was never able to locate the crevasse again, there is a pretty good chance that this gold came from Boulder County, because the placer gold found in Boulder Creek was much larger in size (shot or scale gold) than the gold being found in most of the other creeks (float or flour gold) at the time.
The City of Boulder was laid out by a group from Nebraska City, including A. A. Brookfield, on February 10, 1859, and by the 20th of the month there were 60-70 houses being built. On February 12, 1859, Oliver P. Goodwin reported that “The Boulder district diggings, as far as prospected are the richest yet discovered, paying $3-$5 (0.15-0.25 ounces of gold) per day to the man, but one drawback, 280 men and not a single white woman.” These old newspaper accounts never mention is that for a prospector to make $3-$5, he needed to spend 2 days stripping and collecting the gold bearing material in preparation for washing out the $3-$5 in gold with a 25 foot long sluice box called a “Long Tom”.
In what could be the first published reference to mining in Nederland, John H. Buell reported on February 20, 1859, that gold was found for 25 miles up Boulder Creek. Only mule or pony packs could travel up Boulder Canyon so Dayton (later Nederland) was established as a trading post to supply the local prospectors. The first placer mine near Nederland was referred to as the “Jefferson Diggings”. The Grand Island Mining District (later Caribou) is established northwest of present day Nederland but the early prospectors were not on the lookout for silver.
In November of 1858 the Native Americans show George Jackson the hot springs near present day Idaho Springs, and later in January of 1859 he discovers placer gold in a branch of South Clear Creek that he named Chicago Creek in April 1859. They referred to the placer workings as the “Jackson Diggings”.
Thousands of gold seekers flocked to the Snowy Range in the spring of 1859 following the stock market crash of 1858 that left many penniless with nothing to lose. Most of the solders in Fort Laramie left for the gold fields and some Cherokee Native Americans even abandoned their buffalo hunt to search for gold.
The trip from Lawrence Kansas took about 20 days and the unpredictable weather caused lots of livestock loss. Handcarts were the first to leave because they did not have to wait for the grass to get green on the prairie to feed their animals. But the “snow was long on leaving” that spring in the Rockies and many were left living on “cactus and crow” without ever having struck a pick to the ground. As hundreds of people were arriving every day, just as many were leaving after seeing that there was no gold just lying on the ground. These discouraged prospectors often became furious and began turning back all who they met on the way back with tales of starvation, freezing and robbery.