Placer Mines

Postcard of unidentified man panning for gold in Fair Play, Colorado taken in the early 1900s

Postcard of unidentified man panning for gold in Fair Play, Colorado taken in the early 1900s

Before any prospectors in Park County began excavating the mountains, they used placer mining to extract gold from the local waterways. On a basic level, placer mining is a type of surface mining that involves sifting through sediment and mineral deposits to extract and isolate valuable ore: essentially it's "panning for gold!" There are different types of placer mining depending on the environment and types of minerals sought.[1] 

View of Fortune Placer mine

View of Fortune Placer mine

You will see placer mines on beaches and in running water typically.[2] Running water placers are also called alluvium placers, referring to the mud within a running stream. Placer mines are used to recover some valuable minerals such as gold, diamonds, gemstones, and platinum.[3]

Placer mine and mining equipment near Alma

Placer mine and mining equipment near Alma

View of Montgomery looking up the valley

View of Montgomery looking up the valley

Placer mines began to appear all over Park County after 1861. Placer gold was found in Tarryall, Fairplay, Alma, Breckenridge, and Leadville.[4] A notable amount came from the beds of the Platte River.[5] Many placer claims existed to the south and west of Alma.[6] The mining town of Montgomery in Hoosier Pass had another small placer gold operation in 1911.[7] 

Snowstorm Dredge

Snowstorm Dredge

Two notable placer mines in the Alma mining district are Snowstorm, home of the famous Snowstorm dredge, and Cincinnati.[8] In 1882, the Alma Placer Mining Company owned roughly 640 acres of placer mines![9] The only hindrance is that this type of mining can only be conducted during the short summer months.[10]

[1] Editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries, ed., “Placer,” in The American Heritage Student Science Dictionary, 2nd ed. (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2014).
[2] George B. Clark, William Andrew Hustrulid, and John Lawrence Mero, “Mining,” April 25, 2017, https://www.britannica.com/technology/mining.
[3] George B. Clark, William Andrew Hustrulid, and John Lawrence Mero, 2017; Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Placer Deposit,” in Britannica Concise Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Britannica Digital Learning, 2017).
[4] Horace B. Patton, Arthur J. Hoskin, and Gurdon M. Butler, Geology and Ore Deposits of the Alma District, Park County, Colorado (Denver, COLORADO: The Smith-Brooks printing, 1912), 146-7.
[5] Patton, Hoskin, and Butler, Geology, 148.
[6] Patton, Hoskin, and Butler, Geology, 185.
[7] Patton, Hoskin, and Butler, Geology, 225.
[8] Patton, Hoskin, and Butler, Geology, 185-190.
[9] Patton, Hoskin, and Butler, Geology, 149.
[10] Patton, Hoskin, and Butler, Geology, 185.