San Miguel County Colorado Gold Production
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By A. H. KOSCHMANN and M. H. BERGENDAHL - USGS 1968
San Miguel County is in southwestern Colorado and extends from the west boundary of Ouray County to the Utah-Colorado border.
From 1875 through 1959 the county produced 3,837,000 ounces of gold in addition to large quantities of silver, lead, zinc, and copper. It ranks third among the gold-producing counties of the State.
The first recorded discoveries of gold and silver in San Miguel County were in 1875 on the Smuggler vein (Purington, 1898, p. 755-756). After this discovery many additional mineral locations were made, but because of the inaccessibility of the area and distance from railroad transportation very little ore was mined or shipped before 1881. Prior to 1882 production was less than $50,000 annually (Henderson, 1926, p. 226), but by 1888, output had increased to $1 million annually. Mining activity was stimulated further in 1890 when the Rio Grande Southern Railroad was completed from Ridgeway to Telluride. The panic of 1893, during which the price of silver dropped, caused a minor decline, but mining again increased in 1895 and gold production alone was valued at $1,421,159 (68,755 ounces), almost double that in 1894. This was the first year the value of gold production exceeded $1 million; from 1901 through 1919 it generally averaged more than $2 million annually (Henderson, 1926, p. 226), and from 1920 through 1926 more than $1 million annually. The lowest gold production in the county since 1882 occurred during the depression years, 1929 through 1933, when the annual production dropped below $100,000 (4,838 ounces). From 1934 through 1959 the annual production for most years has exceeded $700,000 (20,000 ounces).
Placers in San Miguel County have been of minor importance and have yielded only about 9,700 ounces from 1878 through 1959.
Three districts in San Miguel County are important sources of gold the Ophir, the Telluride, and the Mount Wilson.