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New York Times / Jan 8, 1877


From Our Own Correspondent

imrichDEL NORTE, ON THE RIO GRANDE, Dec. 27, 1876.
Over 8,000 fortune-hunters have flocked into the San Juan mines since the 1st of May. Ten good-sized towns have been built and about 20 camps, each numbering from 25 to 100 persons, established. The two or three settlements which were laid out a year or two ago have grown into cities. The country now contains as many as 12,000 inhabitants. This is a large population, when we consider the great drawbacks to settlement. The San Juan region was almost unknown four years ago. The Ute Indian reservation covered a large share of it. Very few white settlers had ventured in. There was very little temptation to explore such a wild, mountainous region. Even the hints about rich silver leads which the Indians had repeatedly made by displaying wonderful quartz, did not stir up much excitement. Other quarters were gaining the attention of the prospectors, and the scalping of Baker's party was still fresh enough in their minds to deter them from taking any great chances. But finally several squads of well-armed miners made their way into different parts of the country. They got along without any trouble, and when they came out, reporting very rich discoveries, and exhibiting some of the fruits of their search, almost a stampede for the San Juan country followed. This was in 1873. Del Norte was laid out thus far, and became a oldtimerbase of supplies. The success of the government in making a treaty with the Utes, by which they ceded that portion of their reservation which contained the mining districts, put away the greatest obstacle to its rapid settlement. The past two years, and more particularly the past season, have worked wonders. Del Norte, the place from which I write, although only on the borders of the "promised land," has grown into a city of 3,000 inhabitants, with a well-organized government, schools, churches, a bank, newspaper, and many large wholesale stores, besides a myriad of traders’ stands. There is no other large town within 100 miles, and such a brisk, bustling American air in a country almost wholly Mexican, as all South-western Colorado is, is as encouraging as novel. But the San Juan mines have built the town. And this is not the only base of supplies. Saguache, (Sa-watch,) north of here, and Cañon City, Pueblo, Trinidad, and Santa Fe, though distant from 100 to 200 miles further from the mines than Del Norte, are striving hard to secure this trade; and all have a share in outfitting parties who are going in, and supplying the merchants now established at the different mining towns and camps.

The railroads, too, are looking after the San Juan trade and travel in a lively way. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Company has circulated millions of their "San Juan Guide" throughout the East, and even in Europe, giving full information about the mines. This company finished its line to Pueblo, where it connects with the Denver and Rio Grande, last Spring. The Kansas Pacific also makes a bid for this business. The local railways are also confident that San Juan is worthy of their attention. The Denver and Rio Grande narrow-gauge line, which originally aimed for Santa Fe and El Paso, has during the Summer built from Pueblo south to Trinidad, and branching off from Cuctoras, midway between these two latter points, a line was to run to the foot of the Sangre de Christo range, where a town called La Veta has been laid out and is now quite a flourishing place. Since July this point has been the nearest railway station to the mines, stages and freighting teams having run daily to Del Norte. Meanwhile, the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railway, which three years ago was built as far as Morrison, the mouth of Bear Creek Cañon, 14 miles, has been working up the cañon toward Fairplay, having been reorganized under the name of the Denver and San Juan Railway Construction Company, with the intention of going into the south-western country and making Lake City its terminus until some good chance should show the way for its extension through to Salt Lake City. The Denver and Rio Grande Railway, disposed to keep the advantage already gained, has broken ground for laying the rails over the Sangre de Christo range to Fort Garland, and thence to Del Norte, expecting to reach this place by next Summer. It crosses the range through Veta Pass, and the station at its summit will be 9,300 feet above sea level, being the highest railway station on the continent.


Mines in the San Juan country are principally silver, though there are also gold districts. The latter --- Summit, Decatur, and Alamoca --- lie south of Del Norte from 40 to 50 miles. The chief centre is the Little Annie Mine, the camp where it is located being called Summit. The Government has a signal service station there, the only one besides Denver and Pike's Peak in the Rocky Mountain country. The gold mines have not been worked to any great extent as yet, and there are but few that can be called rich. The total product of the three districts during the past year has not been over $75,000. But all the old California and Montana miners who have been through the country have great faith that it will turn out wonders some of these days. One week’s "clean up" of the Annie Mine the past Summer was 25 pounds of gold, worth $6,000, from 50 tons of ore. But the great scramble is for desperadosilver, and the great districts are Animas, Lake, Eureka, Adams, and Uncompahgre. These lie in the San Juan Mountains, west of Del Norte, on both the east and west slopes, to some extent almost covering the summits, and at an altitude of from 7,000 to 15,000 feet. Going up from Del Norte, the first show of silver is at Cunningham Gulch. At Antelope Springs, 50 miles from Del Norte, the roads branch off, one going northwest, to Lake City, 35 miles, and the other directly west, to Silverton, 60 miles. These two places are the central camps of the five silver mining districts. Ouray, also, lying over the Uncompahgre Mountains, 25 miles beyond Silverton, is a point of some importance. These various districts cover a tract of country about 80 miles east and west by 30 miles north and south. The towns and camps lying within this area, besides those already mentioned, are Howardsville, Animas Forks, Eureka, Mineral City, San Juan City, and several of less note. There are three counties, La Plata, Hinsdale, and San Juan, all created by the Territorial Legislature of 1875, and a bill is now before the State Legislature for the creation of another county, to be called Ouray, out of San Juan County. La Plata, the largest county, occupies the south-west, bordering on New-Mexico and Utah, and there is not much of it within the silver belt. Its western portion is attracting attention of late as containing the San Miguel placers, the only gold gulch mines of any great promise in Colorado, except perhaps those about Montezuma, in Summit County, and Oro City and South Arkansas, in Lake. Its principal camp is Parrott City. Just outside the area mentioned other mining districts have been started, and the whole mountainous part of South-western Colorado is likely to be overrun by prospectors. Lake City, Silverton, and Ouray, as I have said, are the three largest places in the mines. They are from 25 to 40 miles apart. From Del Norte to Lake City its 85 miles, Silverton 110, and Ouray 125, but the latter being over the range, is easier of access from Saguache or Santa Fe. Lake City has the advantage in population, and the mines in its immediate vicinity are better developed, and more capital has been expended in tunneling, as also in works for reducing the ores, than in the other places. Lake City was started in the fall of 1874, and is now about two years old. A man named Hotchkiss had been looking about to see what he could find. He picked up several fine specimens of "float ore" on the site of the present city. One of these pieces was sent to California for assay, and found a run at the rate of $40,000 per ton. The Hotchkiss mine was staked out and worked, yielding richly. The long severe Winter coming on prevented much work. In the Summer of 1875 13 log-cabins constituted the town. The inevitable newspaper was first in the field, and in June the Silver World appeared. It was "struck off" in a mud-hut, and the editor, mounting his broncho, took the first edition through the thinly-peopled districts, and thence to Saguache, where it was mailed to Denver and other parts of Colorado. The first mail was brought in on horseback on the 20th of July. The population increased rapidly, brought hither by the fame of the mines. The record of the camp up to the middle of February, 1876, is thus depicted in a copy of the local newspaper:

"With a population reaching nearly 400, we have, up to this time, never had a death or a wedding; never had a Sunday school nor religious service of any kind; we have neither a doctor nor a lawyer; no dance-houses nor courtesans; had a printing office before we had a store or Post Office, and a public school before a saloon."

This may be considered an anomalous beginning for a mining camp, and speaks well for the quality of the first settlers. But the summer of the present year witnessed a wonderful transformation. Miners and capitalists, speculators and freighters, crowded in. The results may be rapidly sketched. Lake City now contains a population of 1,500, has 2 banks, 4 hotels, 52 stores and places of business, 15 lawyers, 10 assayers, 9 surveyors, and other trades and professions in proportion. Hundreds of valuable mines have been opened, reduction and concentration works erected, good wagon-roads up Heuson Creek and to other camps have been built. Town lots, which a year ago were not thought worth the jumping, are now held at from $500 to $1,000 each. There are news depots, jewelry stores, musical instruments, public schools, and churches, showing taste and refinement already among the people. Although business is quiet through the Winter, owing to the fact that large numbers of the mines will be shut down, yet preparations on a large scale are being made for the next season. The wholesale houses are arranging to stock up heavily, and expect to sell goods to all the camps and districts. The new wagon-road up Heuson Creek, built a cost of $30,000, will be finished, and daily stages will run to Silverton, reaching, also, Howardsville, Eureka, and Animas Forks. Reduction works are being built at several points in the neighborhood, and sawmills, planing mills, machine shops, and foundries are under way. All the mine owners are expecting great things, and will be prepared with more capital and better facilities for working the lodes all along the Heuson, Animas, Upper Uncompahgre, and Lake Fork. They spoke of Ouray as one of the coming camps. It is over the range, not easy to access from either Lake City or Silverton. It is reached better over the road from Santa Fe coming in on the west side of the mountains. It is likely to control the trade of the Uncompahgre district. At present the population is only about 250, but will be largely increased next season. There are projects for establishing a bank, reduction works, and other enterprises in the spring. There is a very fair wagon-road from Ouray to Saguache. Its altitude being about 6,000 feet, which is lower than Del Norte, it is a fair place to winter in and accessible the year round.

Silverton, the third city of the mines, has an altitude of 9,400 feet. The locality used to be known as Baker's Park. The situation is on a level patch of ground one and a half miles long and about three-quarters wide, surrounded by six towering peaks. Kendall Mountain, on the south, is 13,380 feet high, Sultan, on the east, 13,336, while Hazleton, Blair, and Galena Mountains are nearly as high. Four miles up the Animas is Howardsville, 9,700 feet high, a town of 50 cabins, and near by are Animas Forks and Eureka. In the Summer Silverton and its neighboring camps has a population of about 1,000; in the Winter hardly half as much. The mines about Silverton were the first silver mines opened, and the town, laid out two years ago, is the oldest in the San Juan country. Hundreds of claims have been worked in the immediate vicinity, and during the past season a great deal of tunneling has been done in neighboring mountains to cut the lodes. The place has a newspaper, several large trading-houses, and next season expects many other accessories of a large, live, mining city.

Some idea of the demand for supplies coming from these new towns and camps may be gained from a glance at the trade of Del Norte, though it is but one of several points furnishing goods to the San Juan country. Eight business firms dealing in miners’ supplies, groceries, and clothing, have had a trade amounting to $600,000 in the past year. There are about 20 other firms. The aggregate sales will exceed $1,000,000. Most of the goods have gone to Lake City, Silverton, Summit, Ouray, and Mineral City. As an indication of what is coming from the mines, I may state that the Bank of San Juan, located at this place, has bought during the summer $100,000 in silver from one of the smelters at Silverton, $75,000 in gold from the Summit district, and from Lake City and the Sangre de Christo mines about $75,000 more, making a total of $250,000. The product of the mines put into market the past six months has been about half a million dollars, of which all but $75,000 was silver. Ore taken out and ready for treatment at the different silver mines will exceed $2 million. Next year with mills and machinery in operation, it is believed that the San Juan region will send into market from two to three million dollars. What has been most needed are stamp mills and reduction works. As soon as enough of these are supplied to either buy the ores or treat them so that miners can realize cash from their labors, a great impetus will be given to the business.


The Mining laws are sufficiently strict to guard each man's rights, though in a new country like this the tendency of all the camps is to be a law unto themselves. Generally, the candid judgment of a squad of miners, though not backed by citations, is final, and more satisfactory than the decisions of courts. Interests sometimes unexpectedly clash. A tunnel company not long ago located a site near the centre of Burrows Park, and started a drift. They had not run over 15 feet when they struck a rich vein. As soon as this "lucky find" became known, a couple of miners set up the claim that the tunnel encroached upon the boundaries of a "prospect" staked by them some time before. The tunnelmen had hunted and found no location stake, and declined to give way. It was finally agreed to leave the point at issue to a miners’ mass-meeting. Everybody in that district was on hand. The meeting was organized, and the names of 36 men having been written on slips and placed in a box, 12 were drawn out, and this constituted a jury to try the case; witnesses were examined under oath, and after all were heard, they went out and viewed the premises, taking a surveyor with them. They decided that the tunnel company were trespassers and must vacate. The same meeting looked into a "mine-jumping" case, and issued a series of resolutions to the effect that it would not prove a healthy business to follow. Since that time there has been no jumping of mines. There is not much of a show for poor men in the mines. Owing to the high altitude in most of the district, Winter lasts from October to June, and there is not more than four months of the year when mining can be carried on without interruption; so there is work only during the Summer. The poor man may discover a good lead, but will be put to his wit’s end to get means to prove up his claim and work it. The chances are that he will go from bad to worse, getting poorer every day. If he is able to get out ore he will sell it to the millmen for a mere song, he is in such straits for money. It costs a good deal to live. At Mineral City or Ouray flour is worth $12 a sack of 100 pounds; bacon, 35 cents per pound; butter, 70 cents; potatoes come 4 to 6 cents per pound, and everything else about in that proportion. Del Norte, the nearest point of any considerable supply, is over 100 miles away. The roads on the east of the range are rough and steep -- sometimes in Winter wholly impassable. So at the various camps, they are obliged to lay in a Winter's supply of food and clothing. As the deep snows lock up the mines to so great an extent, large numbers come down to Del Norte, or go to Pueblo or Denver and spend the Winter, while some go East and take the opportunity to show some of their picked samples and stock up a company or sell a share or two in their mines. I have yet to meet a San Juan mine owner who does not feel rich. He always carries a few nuggets in his pocket, and has a sack full of ore handy. He talks glibly of mineral rock, pay streaks, and lodes, and, though frequently “dead broke" or "busted," as the prospectors more commonly call it, yet he names $50,000 as a trifling sum for a quarter-interest in his mine. He never wants to sell out, but is always ready to "raise a stake" for working capital. It is a hard matter to estimate the value of mining property, but basing it somewhat upon sales already made, it is probable that there are between Lake City and Ouray, including the district from Animas Forks to Silverton, 6,000 claims and 500 good mines, in all stages of development, some with the rock but slightly torn up, others with considerable tunnel shafts, all of which could be put into the market at an average of $20,000 each, making a total of $10,000,000. Were we to count in the thousands of claims taken up, most of them barely scratched over, and rate them at the expectant owners’ figures, it would foot up something like a hundred million. This might be thought wild guessing, but when we consider the fact that the Caribou Silver Mine sold three or four years ago for $3,000,000, and that 10 of the Gilpin and Clear Creek County gold and silver lodes have in the past five or six years turned out bullion to the amount of twenty millions, it is easy to see the good mines in the Rocky Mountain country are worth something.



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