Geology buffs dig history of Colorado mining towns
VICTOR, Colorado – Steve Veatch knew his ancestors settled in the tiny Teller County mining town of Victor, but he didn’t know much else about the community on the south side of Pikes Peak. So Veatch joined fellow members of the Lake George Gem and Mineral Club to do some digging.
Three hundred hours, $700 and multiple field trips later, Veatch and his club fellows had compiled a historical record of Victor which a local geologist hails as “the best single source” for detailed information on the town.
Veatch presented the research in July at Victor’s Gold Rush Days. His audience of seven watched a slide show outlining the history of this town below Pikes Peak on Battle Mountain – did you know Victor once had 37 saloons, 29 hotels, 18 grocery stores, 16 doctors and a hospital, and was the fifth-largest city in Colorado?
On a personal note, Veatch discovered that his great-grandfather was a gold miner who moved to Victor in the 1890s and mined the Elkton mine.
His grandmother remembers hearing the miners: Each morning as they set off for work, the Welsh- and British-bred men would sing ancient mining songs handed down from families in Europe. And Veatch learned that his grandfather grew up in a mining community in Boulder.
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“I have mining heritage on both sides,” he said. “I was genetically predisposed to pursue mining interests.”
After the slide show, the group piled into a bus for a field trip to visit historic mines in the hills above the town.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said Laura Moncrief, a genealogist from Divide who came on the tour. “So much of this gets torn down, thrown away, because there was a generation before mine that were more interested in making money and surviving.
“We’re lucky that we have some resources and are interested in this type of thing.”
The two-hour driving tour looped around the American Eagles Scenic Overlook – where a historic mining headframe and other century-old buildings tell Victor’s mining history – and past modern open pit cyanide mining operations to several of the region’s deserted mines, including the Cresson, Vindicator and Independence.
Veatch shared geology and history tidbits at each stop, often enlisting the help of 84-year-old Ed Hunter, a Victor resident who has been in the mining industry since graduating from Colorado School of Mines shortly after World War II.
“To be able to see it like this is just amazing,” Hunter said as he looked at the contrast between buildings from the old Vindicator mine and the modern mining operation. “I started out with mine cars underground. To go to a 300-ton truck – my god.”
Victor is the second town Veatch and his team have profiled. The team’s first project started two years ago when a resident of Guffey asked Veatch to prepare a slide show on the geology of the unincorporated Park County town. He agreed and recruited fellow club members to help out.
Veatch, a part-time professor at Colorado School of Mines, taught the other project members how to do things like interview and conduct Internet research. Then off they went.
The team collected oral histories from older town residents, scoured newspaper archives for stories from the past and collected old cemetery records. They looked at old photographs and historical Sanborn fire insurance maps. Sanborn started creating detailed drawings of U.S. communities in 1867 that are now considered research tools for historians.
The team also traveled around Guffey examining rock and mineral structures. They even discovered that a spring near Guffey produces radioactive water.
The Guffey project was so popular with the team that it decided to tackle Victor, profiling it last year.
Currently, the team is finishing its third profile, this time examining Alma, a town of about 200 people near Fairplay. Again, they are making discoveries: From newspaper archives, the team uncovered the forgotten town of Timberline, which existed in the late 19th century but isn’t recorded in any history books, Veatch said.
They’ll present the Alma research in late September at Alma Community Church and at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology.
“I find both of these pieces very well written and accurate,” Tom Huber, a UCCS geography professor who read the Victor and Guffey project abstracts, said in an e-mail. “There is technical detail, but the pieces are both accessible to the intelligent lay person who is interested in these areas.”
Veatch said the experience has taught him a lot more than just Guffey and Victor history. He has learned about Colorado and group projects in the process.
“Not so long ago this was all wilderness, and the only law out here was provided by mining districts and miners,” he said. “It’s also interesting to learn that people from all types of backgrounds can do just about anything they want, if they’re given the right direction and shown how to do it.”
The team plans to continue adding towns to the project. It will profile another town next year, although Veatch isn’t yet sure what town.
“That will come up somehow,” he said. “Somebody will say: ‘Hey, what about this town?’ “