Gregory’s Diggings: The Richest Square Mile on Earth

Written by on August 16, 2016 in Southwest Characters - Comments Off on Gregory’s Diggings: The Richest Square Mile on Earth

One wild spring night in 1859, with a late season blizzard blowing in the mountains, a half-dead, red-headed man stumbled into a saloon in Golden, Colorado. The regulars and visitors ignored him, since the talk that night was all about the placer gold discovered by George Jackson in the sands of South Clear Creek. Little did they know that this ragged looking fellow with his battered pack and buffalo robe hadn’t just found placer gold (gold washed downstream from the source), he had found the source — the richest square mile on earth.

One of the locals felt sorry for the fellow and bought him a drink. Once he’d thawed a little, John H. Gregory introduced himself and told his tale. Gregory had been on his way to the gold fields in Canada, when he ran out of money. He stopped in Colorado and, after hearing rumors of gold, spent the next four months searching the mountains and streams for “color.” What he found was to turn Colorado upside down.

Not having any money, the men at his table that night grub-staked Gregory and followed him into the mountains a week later. There, they discovered “The Gregory Lode” in a gulch near what is now Central City. Within two weeks, the gold rush was on. Within two months, the population grew from under a hundred to 10,000 as people came seeking their fortunes. Other gold deposits were found in surrounding gulches and mining camps blossomed around them … places like Missouri City, Lake Gulch, Russell Gulch, Black Hawk Point, Chase’s Gulch and Enterprise City. By the middle of July 1859, between 20,000 and 30,000 people were living in the area and prospecting the richest square mile on earth.

There is a popular legend about how Central City got its name. According to the stories, William N. Byers, founder of the Rocky Mountain News was camped in the area. He suggested that a town be laid out in that vicinity, especially with so many people were pouring in. Since it was about half way between Nevada City (Nevadaville) and Mountain City he said it should be called “Central City.”

Not everyone in Colorado struck it rich, but those who settled in Central City were never hard up for wild times. In 1861 alone, Central City recorded 217 fist fights, 97 revolver fights, 11 Bowie knife fights and one dog fight. Amazingly, no one was killed.

The Gregory Lode was then, and is now, unique. It was the first and most productive of Colorado’s mineral veins. While not yielding as much as some of the later discoveries in the United States, its total output still surpasses that of any American lodes except the Comstock and two or three others in California. Among the noted mines in the area was the Fisk Mine, whose total production up to 1915 was 35 million dollars. And there were dozens of such mines, all producing huge sums of wealth.

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