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Home -> Chalkley J. Hambleton -> A Gold Hunter's Experience -> 6

A Gold Hunter's Experience - 6

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Geo. M. Pullman wanted to experiment on a load of the ore from our noted
Keystone lode, as it looked so rich. When it was going through the mill,
the amalgam piled up so fast on the copper plates and appeared so rich
that he at once came up to see me and proposed that we buy, on joint
account, the adjoining claim on the same lode, as I knew the owner and
had formerly had an option on its purchase. A few hours later, when they
had cleaned up and retorted the amalgam he came galloping up again on
the old mule to stop proceedings, as they got very little of value from
the amalgam, and that mostly silver. Thus that gleam of hope quickly
vanished also.

Late in June, with Tobias as a companion, I took a trip of observation
over the range into the wild regions of Middle park. We carried our
blankets, flour, bacon, coffee and sugar to last a week, also tin cups,
plates and spoons, a frying pan, gun, pistol, hatchet and belt knives.
Walking the first day slowly up the slopes through the pine forests,
around the head of Nevada gulch, and along the high ridge south of
Boulder valley, we camped for the night just below the timber line so as
to have fuel for a fire. A few tracks of Mountain lion were seen in the
afternoon. The trees grew smaller and smaller till the last seen were
old ones covered with moss and only a few feet high. After leaving the
line of timber growth, the ground for some miles was thickly carpeted
with mountain moss, then in full bloom in rich colors of red, white,
blue and yellow. In the afternoon we reached the top of a high peak on
the crest of the range where all was desolation, and nothing grew. The
peak was a vast pile of broken rocks and stones partly covered with
snow. To the North Long's Peak stood out above everything else. To the
East one had a grand view over a wilderness of mountain ranges and peaks
to the great plains in the dim distance. To the South, beyond a range of
other snow-capped peaks, towered Mount Gray. Within a mile of us in full
view, were seven mountain lakes from ten to a hundred acres in size, and
one of them, which was screened from the sun's rays by a steep rocky
ledge, was still solid ice from the freeze of the last winter. To the
west was visible a circle of mountain tops, thirty or forty miles away,
and surrounding the great basin, a mile below us in elevation, which
constituted Middle park. The afternoon was bright and pleasant, and we
decided to spend the night on the peak, to see the sunrise and enjoy the
view in the clear morning air. We made a bed with flat stones and rolled
up in our blankets for sleep. Then the wind blew over us and up through
the crevices in the rocks under us and soon our teeth were chattering
and we were chilled through and through. To keep from freezing we
climbed in the darkness, over the rocks and down the mountain side to a
sheltered nook, then rolled up and went to sleep. During the night I was
awakened by some animal sniffing about my head and pulling at my
blanket. A yell, a start and two or three stones thrown after him, sent
him off among the rocks, and I never knew what it was. At daylight we
again climbed up the peak, saw the sun rise, made a breakfast of bread
and sugar as we had no fuel to make a fire, and then started down the
mountain. The little streams and pools coming from the melting snows the
day before were now all frozen up.

By ten o'clock we were down where the vegetation was luxuriant, the
flowers in bloom and the butterflies flitting about them. Along the
stream that we descended to the westward, was a series of beaver dams
continuing for several miles, covering two or three acres each, with
breasts four or five feet high formed of logs and brush. Out in the
middle of the dams were the beavers' houses, partly under water and
rising a few feet above. Many of the logs, cut off by the beavers to
form the dams, and the stumps on the shore where they had gnawed down
the trees, were twelve to fifteen inches through. Further on we saw bear
tracks in the mud along the stream. When we camped at night we made a
bed of pine boughs, and over it a small shelter with branches of trees
cut with the hatchet. We built a fire on the side hill above our
sleeping place beside a fallen tree. In the night it burned through and
a log rolled down the hill over us, and we awoke with a sudden start. I
thought of bears and instantly seized my hatchet and knife for defense,
before realizing the true situation. Old skulls and bones of buffalo
were plentiful, showing that the animals had once occupied these fertile
valleys. On starting back we followed an old animal trail, the general
course of which was headed toward the range, though it wound around the
mountain sides and gulches in all directions. We felt sure it would lead
over the Snowy range at the easiest passage. After following it two
days, often climbing over and creeping under fallen trees, it brought us
through a low pass to the head waters of South Clear creek, whence we
had an easy trail down hill most of the way home.

Though far away from the seat of the civil war we did not escape its
excitements. The Southerners were numerous in the mountains, and of
course all sided with the South. They and the Northerners were very
suspicious of each other, and each party bought up all the guns they
could get in the mountains. During the summer of 1861 much fear was felt
that a rebel force might march up the Arkansas and, with the help of
their friends here, capture the whole settlement. But when the Southern
troops were defeated and driven out of New Mexico by the Union forces in
the following spring, all danger was over and "Pike's Peak" was loyal.
The Southerners gradually left to join the rebel army. We got news from
the East in six days, by telegraph to Omaha, the overland mail coach to
Julesburg, near the forks of the Platte, and by pony express from there
to Denver. St. Louis papers were eight days old and Chicago papers ten
days old when received.

One of the best known miners in our region was Joe Watson, who came from
near Philadelphia, in 1859, and he came to stay. Though quiet and
unassuming he was nervy, determined, persevering and persistent. He
discovered, staked off, owned and worked many claims in Leavenworth and
other gulches. Sometimes he had streaks of luck and often the reverse.
When lucky he would hire men to help him, when "broke" he would put more
patches on his clothes, sharpen his own tools, borrow a sack of flour
and work away. Some years later he discovered a really rich gold mine,
then worked a silver mine in Utah and became a millionaire. During the
spring of 1861 and the winter previous, he prospected in several of his
claims, but fortune was against him. In July, when most of the other
miners had left our gulch, he came back and quietly went to work in a
claim that he owned on the hillside a few hundred feet above our
cottage. In two or three weeks he took out from a narrow crevice two
cart loads of top quartz which looked like rusty iron (not having got
down to the pyrites), and he persuaded me to start up the mill and crush
it. Very soon the amalgam began to pile up on the copper plates as I had
never before seen it. The result of the "clean up" and retorting was
$1,000 worth of shining gold. The next run, out of the same mine,
produced but little gold, a good example of how that metal was found in
streaks and pockets. Watson paid his debts, got a new suit of clothes,
laid in a stock of provisions, and went to work again developing his
mines. It was related of him that he went to Philadelphia one winter to
try and sell shares in his mines, and that he wore a suit of Quaker
clothes, used the plain language, attended Friends' meetings, and had
good success in selling shares. Of these early workers I might name a
few more who attained wealth or prominence; but the great
majority--those who hoped and struggled and toiled without success, are

The rich strike in Joe's mine made quite an excitement. Some others were
inspired with renewed hopes and many visited the gulch to see the rich
mine they had heard of. There was a small army of miners marching
through the mountains constantly, going in all directions, leaving one
place for some other where rich strikes were reported.

I concluded to make one more trial in the Keystone, dig a little deeper
and see if the ore was any richer there. The result was a pleasant
surprise, and gold enough to more than pay expenses. I hired a gang of
men to work the mine night and day, and thus kept the mill going till
the water gave out in the fall. As I had no skilled assistant I had to
work at least sixteen hours a day in running the mill, procurring
supplies and superintending everything. Some runs proved the quartz to
be quite rich, though it varied greatly. We still believed in the theory
that it would grow richer as we went deeper. I arranged to mine all
winter and pile up the quartz for spring crushing.

In April, 1862, when provisions were nearly used up in the mountains and
the early spring supply trains from the East were about due, there came
an unusual fall of snow, eighteen inches deep, extending far eastward
over the plains, completely blockading teams and transportation. A
famine was threatened and people became panic-stricken. Flour rose as
high as $50 a sack, and one day a small quantity sold for eighty cents a
pound. Coffee and other things also advanced in price. We were on our
last sack of flour, and I decided that when that was gone the men must
all quit work and start eastward to meet the supplies on the plains. But
the incoming trains soon began to arrive in Denver, and provisions were
plentiful at usual prices.

When the mill was started up in the spring our hopes were dashed by
finding that the quartz taken out during the winter did not pay as well
as that of the previous season. The mine was down about a hundred feet,
and the last taken out did not pay expenses, so I discharged the miners
again. I was getting tired and disgusted with the whole business, and
realized that it was about time to return East if I were going back
there to settle down.

About the first of June, Mr. Ayres came out to spend the summer. He was
so delighted with the beauty of the scenery and novelty of the business
that he talked of sending for his family. The mountain sides were gay
with wild flowers in full bloom in gorgeous colors. The shining gold
that he could see taken out by several successful plants, delighted his
eyes and stimulated his imagination nearly up to the point of genuine
gold fever. His coming was of course a great relief to me by dividing
the responsibility and work about the mill. We ran the mill night and
day, crushed all the quartz that could be got and worked over a large
pile of tailings that had accumulated below the mill, which paid a small
profit. The summer's success was very moderate. About midsummer Mr.
Ayres bought out my interest in the enterprise, with the understanding
that I would remain till fall and assist him. He wanted to give the
business a further trial. I determined to return to Chicago and try to
take advantage of the tide of prosperity then beginning to rise in the

Mr. Ayres remained till late in the fall, then went to Chicago for the
winter and returned to the mountains early in the spring of 1863, to
give the business a further trial. But he did not do much mining or
milling. During that spring and the following summer a fever of
speculation prevailed all over the East, brought about by the war and
the deluge of greenbacks. It extended to mining stocks, and especially
to gold mines, as gold was then selling at a high premium--one hundred
dollars in gold bringing $260 in legal tender currency. Mr. Ayres
offered his plant for sale, went to New York in the summer and disposed
of it in Wall street for $30,000. The mill was never afterwards run and
I believe, none of the mines ever worked. Twenty years later I visited
Leavenworth gulch. The mill and all the houses and cabins of my former
days there had disappeared, and most of the old prospect holes and
mining shafts had caved in. One familiar sight, however, remained. A
load or so of black, rich looking ore was lying upon the ground unused
and uncared for at the shaft of the Keystone.

On the 22nd of October, 1862, I left the mountains and gave up the
mining business for ever. The next day at Denver I took passage for
Omaha, in a two-horse covered wagon, with a man and his wife who were
returning to their home in Baraboo, Wis., after spending two years in
the gold fields with only moderate success. Another man also took
passage making a party of four. Leaving the wagon to the man and his
wife, my fellow passenger and I slept on the ground in our blankets,
except occasionally, when near some ranch or settlement, we could enjoy
the luxury of a haystack. When two or three days out of Denver we had a
"cold snap" which froze the vegetables in the wagon and made sleeping
out very uncomfortable. The woman did the cooking and the men collected
the fuel. The other two men had guns and supplied us with small game. We
saw a few dozen buffalo, but they were too far off to shoot. One day the
two men went off on an all-day hunt among the distant hills, the
arrangement being to meet us in camp at evening. I drove the team, and
in the afternoon we came in sight of a camp of Indians with their lodges
set up near our trail. The only thing to do was to drive boldly ahead.
The woman sat on a seat well back in the wagon, and I sat forward with
my feet out on a front step. I hung up a blanket close behind me across
the wagon, so that the Indians could not see how many persons were in
it. As we approached the camp about a dozen of them came out on the
trail in front of us, motioning to me to stop and calling out, "Swap,
swap, swap," meaning for us to stop and trade with them, but intending
doubtless to find out how many were in the wagon, and rob us if they
dared. Suddenly, when within a few yards of them, I whipped the horses
with all my might, and drove furiously past and away from the camp. When
our party met at night, all agreed that the day's experience savored too
much of danger to allow the hunters to go out of sight of the wagon

We passed two or three camps of Sioux Indians along the Platte, but they
gave us no trouble. When driving through the trees and bushes in a
lonely spot about a day's journey below Fort Kearney, we suddenly met a
band of mounted Pawnee warriors, who stopped us and in broken English
asked where we were going, where we came from, if we saw any Sioux
Indians, how big the bands were, if they had many ponies and how many
days' journey they were away. We answered their inquiries, and they told
us to go ahead. They rode westward, doubtless to make a raid on their
enemies, the Sioux.

The weather was now getting cold; we approached the settlements and
enjoyed the haystacks. One night, while camping near an Indian
settlement on the Platte, I crawled well into the middle of a small rick
of hay. The Indians were tramping around it and over it and howling and
yelling all night, but I kept my berth till morning. We reached Omaha in
twenty days from Denver. There I said good-by to my traveling companions
and took stage for Iowa City, whence I could go by rail to Chicago. The
stage trip was two days and nights of continuous travel, except short
stops to change horses and get something to eat. We were packed three on
a seat, with no chance to stretch out our limbs, and no opportunity for
sleep, except such as could be obtained sitting upright and jolting over
the rough roads.

After an absence of about two and a third years, I reached Chicago in
the middle of November, 1862, a wiser if not a richer man.

After selling out my interest in the joint enterprise, I still had left
some fifty claims on various lodes in the newer gold fields of the Clear
creek region. Some I had pre-empted, and some I had bought in job lots
from miners who were "broke" or were about to leave the mountains. Some
had prospect holes dug in them and some were entirely undeveloped. They
may have been worthless, and they may have contained untold millions.
But I had given up the mining business. Some time after returning to
Chicago I was making a real estate trade, and we were a little slow in
adjusting the difference in values and closing the deal, and finally as
"boot" to make things even I threw in these fifty gold mines. Perhaps
this was a mistake and a squandering of wealth and opportunities. Had I
only kept them, and gotten up some artistic deeds of conveyance, in
gilded letters, what magnificent wedding presents they would have made.
And the supply would have been as exhaustless as that of Queen
Victoria's India shawls. In the long list of high-sounding, useless
presents, the present of a gold mine would have led all the rest.

In summing up the losses and gains of the expedition, I have to charge
on one side two years and four months of time devoted to hard work, with
many privations, and about $500 in cash which I was out of pocket. On
the other side, I had built up a fine constitution, increased in
strength and endurance, gained valuable business experience, learned in
a measure to persevere under difficulties, and to bear with patience and
fortitude the back-sets, reverses and disappointments that so often
beset us, and, finally, had learned enough not to be taken in by the
schemers who are constantly enticing eastern people to invest in gold
and silver mines
. Did the enterprise pay?

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