Chaffee County Colorado Gold Production
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By A. H. KOSCHMANN and M. H. BERGENDAHL - USGS 1968
Chaffee County is near the central part of Colorado. It borders the Continental Divide on the west and extends eastward across the valley of the upper Arkansas River. Through 1959 the county produced about 370,500 ounces of gold, mostly from lode deposits. Placers and base-metal ores yielded small quantities of gold.
Among the earliest gold discoveries in Colorado were placer deposits in early 1859 near the headwaters of the Arkansas River in Chaffee County and along Cache and Clear Creeks near Granite (Henderson, 1926, p. 9). By late 1860 most of the stream valleys in the county probably had been prospected, and gold placers were reported in places along the Arkansas River from Buena Vista southeast for 25 miles to the Fremont County line and in the northern part of the county near Granite and northward into Lake County. Other placers were found along Lost Canyon Gulch, Chalk Creek, Cottonwood Creek, Pine Creek, Bertscheys Gulch, Gold Run Gulch, Gilson Gulch, Oregon Gulch, and Ritchey's Patch. The relative importance of these stream placers is not given, but through 1869 Chaffee County is credited with a production of placer gold amounting to $400,000 (Henderson, 1926, p. 107). The small estimated annual production— $80,000 or less through 1904—indicates that there were no rich placers, and the large number of placer deposits listed above indicates that few if any of them had a large production. The deposits along the Arkansas River and Cache Creek near Granite probably were the most productive, but whether they produced more than 10,000 ounces cannot be ascertained. Some of this production probably came from placers just north of Granite in Lake County.
The date of the first discovery of lode deposits in Chaffee County has not been recorded. There was some lode mining in 1867-68 and the lode mines at Granite produced $60,000 in gold in 1870 (Henderson, 1926, p. 43, 107). The large lode deposits were not discovered until the early 1870's and later, and very little work was done on these deposits until 1883, when railroad facilities became available. Mining activity was accelerated during the 10 years following 1883 and continued at a high level until the close of World War I, after which production decreased rapidly. Gold mining remained at a low ebb through 1959.
About 15 districts in Chaffee County have produced gold, but of these probably only the Chalk Creek and Monarch districts have produced more than 10,000 ounces. Henderson (1926, p. 107) credited Chaffee County with a gold production through 1923 valued at $7,401,354 (358,072 ounces), of which $1,548,179 (74,900 ounces) represented placer gold and $5,853,175 (283,172 ounces), lode gold. Most of this production was achieved before 1904 when reliable and fairly complete records were not kept, and the source of much of this gold can only be conjectured. Total gold production of Chaffee County through 1959 was about 370,500 ounces. Most of the lode gold came from the Chalk Creek district, but an appreciable amount, probably 50,000 to 75,000 ounces, came from many small mines and districts scattered throughout the county.