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Pikes Peak or Bust

The Colorado gold rush was the surge of prospectors racing to Pikes Peak in 1858-59.[1] Many people were finding gold in the area in the past, such as Native Americans, trappers, and explorers, but in light of the California gold rush, prospectors were going over the lands with a fine-toothed comb, unfortunately, some of the first companies that traveled through Pike’s Peak, missed the gold.[2] After gold was struck, miners were having a rough time establishing camps. The scarcity of food and hazardous weather proved difficult. Many of them would construct make shift cabins, and nearly endangered the deer and elk population in the area, due to limited supplies. Even though there were riches to be found, most people went home broke and famished. [1]

Missed it by That Much

Before the news broke out that drove thousands of miners to Colorado, there were three parties that surveyed that land at different times in 1858. There was Green Russell’s party from Georgia, John Easter’s party from Kansas, and Captain John Prices’ party from Missouri. They found some gold, but they didn’t feel it was enough to stay in the area, so they moved forward.

A few people from each party decided to stay and build camp in Pikes Peak out of hope they would find something more. They decided to establish some mining camps, El Paso, which is now Colorado Springs, and El Dorado. After a few months of developing these towns and not finding a substantial amount of gold, they decided to move on.

By the following year, prospectors were starting to find significant amounts of gold, which drove more and more prospectors to enter the area. This motivated Anthony Bott and George A Bute from the John Easter party to return to the area and establish Colorado City in August of 1859.[2]

From Missouri to Massachusetts

When there was confirmation that gold was found, the news broke out like wildfire. Aspiring miners from Missouri to Massachusetts, and everywhere in between, were driven to travel west for a chance at riches. The news was enticing, but it was also misleading,

“While some small quantities of “float gold” had been panned along the South Platte and its tributaries, no large amounts of any consequence had been found in 1858. Most of the thousands who would go to the mountains were doomed to failure, frustration, and futility.”[3]

Even though there were newspaper articles, letters from miners, and how-to-guides being circulated, confirming the presence of fine drift gold, a lot of misinformation caused most prospectors to go home empty handed.[3]

The Path to Riches

Unless you were from Missouri or Kansas, you had a mighty trek ahead of you.  The significance of Missouri is that it was home to many of the trails’ starting points. The trails that ran through the state were the Sante Fe from the south and the Smoky Hill from the west. The only other major trail was the original Oregon trail from the north.

Smoky Hill was by far the most popular. According to many guide books and newspaper articles, this was the most direct path to Pikes Peak. The path also went through many settlements, many of which didn’t care for travelers. Even though the Smoky Hill was the shortest path, some pioneers found it to be a dangerous and difficult trek,

“They were lost and had virtually no food left. To add to their troubles a severe snowstorm occurred. Soon the party of seven split up, three of the men pushing ahead, leaving behind a group of four, the three Blue brothers and a man named Soley. Before long two of them were too weak to walk. The four ran out of provisions and subsisted upon boiled roots, grass, and snow for eight days….only five of the 16 who had left Fort Riley had reached the gold fields.”[4]

On the other hand, supporters of the route claimed that travelers who had difficulties with the Smoky Hill trail weren’t properly equipped with provisions.[4]

The Centennial State

This gold rush is responsible for establishing many of Colorado’s most prominent cities. Colorado City and Colorado Springs were established by the earliest prospectors. When a significant amount of gold was found in Central City, the population grew to 60,000 people by 1860, and towns like Denver and Golden grew to become substantial mining towns.[5] As a natural progression, a government was established and a new territory was created in October of 1859 called Jefferson. It wasn’t recognized by the United states, and two years later, in February of 1961, it was officially reorganized as the Colorado Territory.[6]

In the first four years since the gold rush began, the territory has produced 30 million dollars worth of gold.  By 1868, Central City produced about $50,000 a week. Meanwhile, more mining opportunities were being discovered, with the San Juan silver mining district, finding iron in the mountains, and coal fields by Denver.[6] Before the gold rush, there was no interest in settling in this area, but less than a decade later, the economy and population blew up, giving birth to a new government leading up to its eventual statehood on August 1st, 1876, just 28 days after the Centennial of the United States.[7]

References

  1. http://shelledy.mesa.k12.co.us/staff/computerlab/Western_CO_History_Gold_Rush.html
  2. http://history.oldcolo.com/colorado-history-stories/53-colorado-city-its-start/115-first-gold-rushers-to-pikes-peak-1858-1859
  3. http://www.kancoll.org/khq/1956/56_4_lindsey.htm
  4. https://www.kshs.org/p/kansas-historical-quarterly-the-pike-s-peak-gold-rush-and-the-smoky-hill-route/13151
  5. http://www.westernmininghistory.com/articles/11/page1
  6. https://books.google.com/books?id=_zw4AAAAMAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
  7. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=70540

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