The History of Mining in Colorado

Mining is by far the most significant industry in the whole state of Colorado. Mining has been dominant in this state since the nineteenth to the early- twentieth century, and up until today, it has been an essential part of Colorado’s life. This activity brought up not only gold and silver but also a rise in the state’s social and economic status and political changes that brought Colorado to be an official US territory and became one of the United States of America in 1876.


  • In 1758, Antoine-Simon Le Page du Pratz, an ethnographer, historian, and naturalist, had his first sighting of gold on the north side of the Arkansas River. However, many people believed that Pratz’s map that helped depict the source of gold in Colorado is unreliable and very much uncertain.
  • In 1807, Zebulon Pike, an explorer, wrote in his journal about his encounter with gold nuggets shown to him by James Pursley. Pursley claimed that he saw the gold nuggets in the South Park region of Colorado. In 1848, more than 40 years after Pike’s encounter with the gold nuggets, rumors were circulating about gold being spotted in south-central Colorado in the modern-day town of Lake City.
  • Two years later, in 1850, Cherokee prospectors panned just a little amount of gold at South Platte River, Cherry Creek, and Ralston Creek. Later, William Green Russell and the Cherokee prospectors found gold at the Little Dry Creek.
  • In 1858, Montana City, the first settlement of modern Denver, was founded by William Green Russell and other gold seekers on the South Platte River. This site was established for them to find more gold. However, gold findings on this site were insufficient, so the settlement was abandoned after a year.
  • In January 1859, an ample amount of gold was found on South Clear Creek (Idaho Springs in the present day) by prospector George A. Jackson. The prospector tried to hide his discovery, but people ended up knowing about his discovery in the area. After that, prospectors were flooding the area, and findings were continuous in Colorado throughout the year.
  • In the year 1864, a substantial amount of silver was discovered in the mountains of Summit County. Many years after, in 1879, silver was found in the town of Leadville, which resulted in the growth of the silver mining activity in Colorado. $82 million in silver were mined during the Colorado Silver Boom. The US government purchased a massive amount of silver and used this as a currency.
  • In 1893, Colorado experienced economic devastation due to the revoking of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. Since the use of silver as the currency, many people complained that the gold-based currency’s value was degrading. So, the Sherman Silver Purchase Act was repealed, causing the price drop of the silver mining. Because of this, Colorado underwent a deep recession.
  • 1914 was the year of the Coalfield War or the Ludlow Massacre. Almost 12,000 coal miners, including their families, were involved in the strike in Ludlow. The Colorado National Guard was forced to fire machine guns and set fire to the tent city, where the striking miners and their families stayed, killing 26 people (miners, women, and children).

Other than gold, silver, and coal, many natural resources were also found in the state of Colorado. In the year 1862, Colorado’s first oil well was dug near Florence. Molybdenum, a metal that is essential in making rockets and different parts of engines, was discovered in Climax, north of Leadville, in 1879. This area became a large source of Molybdenum in the whole USA. Up until today, Colorado still produces a huge amount of Molybdenum. Near Montrose, in the year 1881, radium (used for medical purposes), vanadium (used to make steel alloys), and uranium (used for nuclear power) were discovered.

Colorado’s mining industry is significant in the country. It was the reason for Colorado’s booming economy in the nineteenth century until the early twentieth century, and it is one of the largest industries that affect the state’s economy. The mining industry also helped in Colorado’s industrial and technological advancements and contributed to the state and the nation’s development. Mining caused a lot of changes in Colorado. From the beginning of the establishment of a powerful state, flooded by many prospectors, to the founding of different areas, to many economic downfalls and some impactful wars and massacres, the mining industry molded Colorado’s state into what it is today.