Colorado History and Genealogy Project

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Lake County Colorado ~  1870

This is one of the mining divisions, and one of the largest counties in Colorado. It lies west of the Rocky Mountains, and has Summit County on the north, Park and Fremont on the east, Fremont, Saguache and Conejos counties on the south, and Utah on the west. This vast area, over 16,000 square miles, is walled in on the west and south by the Sierra Madres and Uncompahgre mountains, and its surface broken by a continuous series of spurs and ranges, extending from the Rocky Mountains to its western and northern boundaries. The main southern branch of the Rio Colorado, the Gunnison River and its tributaries, traverse the county from its eastern and southern limits to its northwestern corner, and the head waters of the Arkansas flow along its eastern limits, from the base of Mt. Lincoln, its northeast look-out tower, about 100 miles, to the canon of that river, near the foot of South park. It is along this river, and on the head waters of the Gunnison, that the principal settlements, mining camps and mining districts are located.

Lake has no continuous extent of level lands, but embraces a series of valleys and small parks, which contain millions of acres, well adapted to agricultural industries, and the greater portion of its entire area is suitable for stock raising, from its mild climate, abundance of water and superior grasses. Although farming and stock raising have not yet been engaged in to any extent in Lake County, these will be among its important resources when it is fully developed and densely populated. This county, with its millions of acres of valuable timber, agricultural and grazing lands, numerous water-powers, extensive belts of gold lodes, and vast areas of gulch and placer diggings, has but few inhabitants, and is but partially explored. The only settlements or improvements of any importance have been created by gulch mining, mostly along the head waters of the Arkansas, near its source, and are included in a belt along the eastern limits of the county, commencing at the base of Mt. Lincoln, and extending south and east along the Arkansas, to the cañon of that river.

The settlement of this region dates back to 1859 and the inhabitants were more numerous in 1860, 1861, and 1862 than they have been at any other period in the history of the country. The first settlers were gulch miners and prospectors, and their operations were conducted mostly in the following locations, in and about which are all the towns and mining camps worthy of note in the county. Commencing with the most important gulch mining district, California gulch, which has been extensively worked, with large yields of the precious metal, we will enumerate a few of the most important: Colorado gulch, Iowa gulch, Cache Creek diggings, Georgia bar, Kelley's bar, Bortchey's gulch, Gold Run gulch, Gibson's gulch, Oregon gulch, Lake Creek gulch, Lost Canon gulch, and Sacramento flats. There are many other gulch and placer diggings besides the above named, all on the tributaries of the Arkansas and head waters of the Gunnison, and quite a number of lode discoveries, but we have no data concerning them. They are nearly all included in the following mining districts, some of which were organized as early as 1859: Lake Falls, Westphalian, Independence, California, Sacramento and Adams. As mining enterprises in these districts are now almost at a standstill, a detailed history of them would not be interesting to the general reader. Their story is about the same as that of every similar division in Colorado. First, wonderful discoveries of unheard of treasures; great rush of miners, with great expectations, followed by disappointment and failure, not in finding the precious metal in actual paying quantities, but in not finding it in anticipated quantities; bad management and fraudulent speculations, and then almost abandonment, not because gold did not exist abundantly, but because it took patient and skillful labor to obtain it. The principal settlements and towns are all in these mining districts, and though now almost depopulated, formerly numbered their inhabitants by thousands, which they will do again when proper measures are taken to develop the actual resources of the county.

The only towns worthy of note are Granite, Dayton and Oro City. Dayton is most beautifully located at the head of Twin Lakes, near the main range. These lakes are the largest bodies of tranquil water in Colorado, and remarkable for the rare beauty and sublimity of their surrounding scenery, even in the "Switzerland of America." They are, together, about two miles in width, and five miles in length, separated by a strip of forest land, about one-fourth mile in breadth. They give the name to the county, and tourists, who have visited them, acknowledge all attempts at description of their wonderful beauty, and the grandeur of the surroundings, as futile. All lovers of the rare or beautiful in nature, who visit Colorado, should not fail to witness the Twin Lakes.

This portion of the county is reached by good wagon roads from Fair Play and other points in Park County, and by trails from Summit. The roads reaching Lake County from Park County, all pass through South Park. The one from Fair Play to Dayton crosses the Montgomery spur of the range north of Buffalo peaks, and winds along a tributary of the Platte, and makes the passage of the mountain at a low point; and on the western slope follows a tributary of the Arkansas. This route is available at all seasons, and with further improvements in the present road, would admit of the passage of heavily laden wagons, without difficulty. The best route, however, is that via Canon City and the Colorado salt works, across the range south of Buffalo peaks, where the elevation of the pass is not more than 600 feet above South Park. The passage of the range, at either of these points, presents no barrier to railroad communication, and when Lake County's resources are taken advantage of fully, the iron track will connect her with the plains; and, without doubt, that time is not remote.

The lode mines of Lake present similar features to those of the western slopes of the range, and no doubt equal, and perhaps surpass them in richness and extent; but, as before stated, they have not yet been operated to any extent. It is impossible, from entire absence of data, to give any approximate estimate of the amount of gold taken from the placer and gulch diggings of Lake County, but it has been considerable, and still her gulches and placers have only received partial development, and but little is known of their great extent and value. Altogether, this vast area of all sorts of mineral, grazing and farming, and timber lands, belongs mostly to future explorers and settlers, and will hereafter afford the historian ample material for statistics and observations. At present we can only record the great natural advantages of the county, and dwell upon her wonderful system of rivers, mountains and valleys, and the endless variety of geological formations, strata and fossils, which present themselves everywhere.

Rocky Mountain Directory & Colorado Gazetteer

Source: Rocky Mountain Directory and Colorado Gazetteer, 1871, S. S. Wallihan & Company, Compilers and Publishers, Denver, 1870.

 

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