The gold rushes of the 1800’s spurred immigration, migration, settlements and businesses of all kinds in several areas of the United States (and the world). Gold mining actually proved unprofitable for the majority of miners and mine owners, however a few became extremely rich by it, and that was enough to keep men and women dreaming and searching for the mother load. Merchants and transport companies made huge profits and often mines that were lucrative enough, expanded to include these other services, therefore double and tripling the money they made.
Mines were often started by an individual panning for the gold. A simple process of washing the gold out of the sand and gravel with a ‘pie pan’ shaped wash basin. Once it was determined there was significant findings, the individual would set or file a claim and perhaps build a sluice box or rockers, and most likely hire or partner up with other miners. Though the investment at this point was relatively minimal, the work was hard, usually too much for one man to handle. The gold in the stream beds would usually be gathered rather quickly, leaving the miner to search for the vein that had fed the creek bed findings, or move on.
When searching for the feeder vein, more men would be needed to tunnel into the earth, find and transport the ore. Here more capital was needed as well and miners often sold out their claim to larger operations who’d then oversee the extraction of the ore, delivering it to stamp mills, where they’d crush the large rocks, and eventually to the smelters where the gold would be extracted from the other telluride minerals. Sometimes these minerals proved more valuable or plentiful than the gold. Many once gold mines evolved into silver mines, or even lead, zinc, or copper mines.
Though many advertisements lured folks to the gold mines with promises of nuggets lying on the ground like apples falling from trees, that was far from the case. Mining towns of the old west were some of the roughest places, Tombstone, Deadwood, Telluride. In many of those places it wasn’t the miners causing trouble, it was those striving to ‘make it rich’ by relieving the miners of their hard-found gold.
In March of 2013 Inheriting a Bride will be released by Harlequin Historicals. The story is about Kit Becker who travels to Colorado to claim the gold mine she’d inherited from her grandfather. There she not only meets Clay Hoffman, her grandfather’s partner, but learns family secrets that tear her apart. I dedicated that book to Chris Ralph, a man I will most likely never meet in person, but after I stumbled across his blog, he and I conversed through email and phone conversations, and he taught me more about gold mining than I could have ever hoped to learn.