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September-October 2010

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Creede: The Last Wild West Silver Mining Camp in Colorado

The Creede mining district, located at a lofty elevation of 10,000 feet, is situated near the headwaters of the Rio Grande in the scenic and rugged San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. Although silver was discovered in the area in 1876, it did not cause much excitement until 1889 when Nicholas C. Creede and his two partners found rich silver ore near East Willow Creek and staked a claim named the Holy Moses (Huston 2005). The deposit turned out to be a short-lived bonanza, but within a year word about the rich strike spread, starting a rush to the area. It was not long before additional rich silver ore was found along West Willow Creek in veins that would later be known as the Amethyst vein system (a.k.a. Amethyst fault system), host to such well-known mines as the Amethyst, Last Chance, Commodore, and Bachelor. The mining encampment grew from a small settlement to a town of more than ten thousand people in just a few short years due to an influx of miners, merchants, and a motley assortment of Wild West characters who gravitated to mining boom towns. In 1890 the settlement was unofficially named Creede (Mumey 1949) in honor of the discoverer of the rich silver ore. The boom days that followed lasted from 1890 through 1893 and turned Creede into one of the last notorious Wild West silver mining camps that brought fortune to some and financial ruin to others. The town, which is the county seat of Mineral County, was the center of mining activities for the district and from 1891 through 1985 produced 85.7 million ounces of silver (Huston 2005).

Creede did not turn into a ghost town as did some other Colorado mining camps and now thrives on a well-established tourist industry. A visit to the historic mining camp can be easily made by taking Colorado State Highway 149 that branches off Highway 160 at South Fork, Colorado. The highway continues past Creede, following the Rio Grande and climbing over the Continental Divide and into Lake City, Colorado. The route is now called the “Silver Thread Scenic and Historic Byway” and takes the visitor through some of the most majestic scenery in Colorado.

Tom Rosemeyer has mined and collected minerals in the San Juan Mountains for the past forty years and is now semiretired from the mining industry. He is still active in Colorado mining and mineralogy, doing research and collecting at localities in the San Juan Mountains.

 

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