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The Rocky Mountains & Winter Mining

“Pikes Peak or Bust” became the motto for the Colorado Gold Rush (formerly known as the Pikes Peak Gold Rush). Pikes Peak is the tallest mountain in Colorado— standing at 14,115 ft. elevation, served as a reference point for the early prospectors that moved westward upon hearing of a second chance to strike gold—ten years after California’s Gold Rush.

But rather, for many, that motto evolved to Pikes Peak AND bust. The eastern emigrants were often poorly prepared for the winter mining conditions that the Rocky Mountains bore onto its new settlers.

Seasonal Mining

Colorado owes its statehood to its abundance of gold; it was initially still a part of Kansas and Nebraska territories until it became so densely populated with prospectors. Towns big and small started to emerge all along the eastern slopes of the Rockies, and in the early days of Colorado’s Gold Rush, the lack of official mining laws caused discrepancies between neighbors.

A common trend for families was to settle in the mountains during the warmer months, then take a break during the winter by moving to the Denver area. This allowed for “claim jumping” to run rampant. This means that others often seized the plot of land someone claimed as their own to mine.

Claim jumpers used the winter as a chance to get ahead, even if that meant betraying friends. For instance, claim neighbors convinced a fellow miner that he couldn’t keep his daughter in the mountains for the winter. The father took their advice and brought his daughter to Denver, but found that these same people stole his claim to the land while he was gone.

This phenomenon occurred on a larger scale too, as other organizations had jumped entire districts.

Enduring the Winter Mining Conditions

The risk of claim-jumping hardened miners; the threat led to a need for year-round supervision and work. This was no easy feat—the depth of snow and frost impacted the progress miners could make. But this didn’t stop them from trying.

The miners dug whenever possible, and the rest of their time was spent gathering necessary provisions and staying warm. There was plenty of wild game to hunt, but miners often missed out on luxuries such as flour, coffee and bacon.

The trek to get these supplies was not worth it to the miners. Even a team of oxen found the landscape too difficult to maneuver around. The cold would freeze toes, fingers and ears if without fire for too long. Yet still, winter mining prevailed, as the promise of riches kept the hopes of miners high despite the conditions.

The Argo Tunnel

The winters became more bearable as mining districts became more organized and thoughtful. In fact, mining no longer had to be out in the open anymore, as mining tunnels were etched into the landscape.

During your tour of The Mighty Argo, you’ll find that our tunnel is actually quite warm, even in the winter months. The tunnel protects against the elements, guarding workers against nasty winter mining conditions that threatened the early settlers.

For more information on The Argo Mill & Tunnel and the Colorado Gold Rush, check out our blog! Better yet, book a tour with us for a first-hand look at Colorado’s rich history.