[Historical Profile] The Pike’s Peak Gold Rush and Colorado Territory – by Steven F. Mehls (Legends of America – 1984)

Legends of America

The mountains of northeastern Colorado held vast treasures of silver and gold, and it was here that initial discoveries of those metals were made. While fur trappers used the area’s animal wealth, they did not know about or were not interested in the resources beneath the ground. Some mountain men like James Purcell reported finding gold in streams they trapped.

During his 1806 trip, party members found small amounts of placer gold in various river beds. Almost 40 years later, William Gilpin, while accompanying John C. Fremont’s expedition, discovered the yellow metal in northeastern Colorado’s creeks. Forty-niners on their way to and from California prospected the region with some success. Colorado reported finding gold in 1853. Five years later, members of Captain Randolph Marcy’s detachment panned the mineral from Cherry Creek. Yet, not until the late summer of 1858 did a “rush” start.

There were other prospectors in northeastern Colorado during the summer of 1858. Most famous was William Greene Russell, who led a party of Georgians to the South Platte River that year. Russell was involved in mining since the 1830s, participating in Georgia’s gold rush and traveling to California during the excitement of 1849.

Russell passed through Colorado on his way west, and after his experiences on the Pacific Coast, he remembered the promising-looking streams of the central Rocky Mountains. During the winter of 1857-1858, Russell formed a party in Georgia to prospect the South Platte River.

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