Sunday, November 3, 2019

Ozymandias: A Scientist’s Reflection

By Steven Wade Veatch

There are many ways to view and understand our world. Science provides theories, psychology exposes human nature, philosophy assesses reality, religion shapes faith, and literature offers insight. Poetry shines light into the dark recesses of our lives, revealing essential truths about us and to us.

Poetry inspires me; it is one way I experience and understand the world. Poetry’s highly charged words make the speeding bullet of my life slow down so that I can enjoy the best parts of living.

One of my favorite poems is the sonnet “Ozymandias” that Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote in 1818, when Egyptian archaeology was in its infancy. Ozymandias is the Greek name for Ramses II, arguably one of the greatest Egyptian Pharaohs. Ramses II erected magnificent statues of himself to ensure his immortality. The text of Shelley’s sonnet follows:

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias King of Kings;
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

This poem does a lot of work. Its dancing words distill life down to its essence; and, in fourteen lines, it yields a dense architecture of meaning.

What are the meanings in Shelley’s poem? First, there is the message about the decay of empires over time. Ozymandias represents despotism and tyranny. The crumbling, ancient statue underscores the fact that power and glory are brief—they do not last; even though the “shattered” face of Ozymandias, with his “sneer of cold command,” his “wrinkled lip,” and his “frown” survived through the millennia, the great Egyptian Pharaoh no longer commands anyone.

Second, the poem is about the fleeting nature of life, fame, and fortune. “Ozymandias” shows the ephemerality of our existence and what survives, what fades, and what vanishes.

Through the poem I sense the endless desert; where sand reaches in all directions around “that colossal wreck, boundless and bare.” The word “boundless” in the poem describes time—it has no bounds. The poem also shows that every person is subject to time. In the case of Ozymandias, the passing of time took its toll on him and his kingdom, leaving a crumbling, lifeless statue drenched in silence, gripped by parching heat, and surrounded by somber swirling sands. Everything is gone. Gone. The sculptor who made the statue is gone, Ozymandias is gone, and the traveler seeing the ruins is gone. Shelley’s poem pushes me to consider what is left, and what is not; what is important, and what is not. The sobering thought of the fate we all share—death, decay, and ultimately ceasing to exist, looms large.

Poetry teaches. It brings ideas and understanding. It delivers discovery. It crafts beauty despite the chaotic landscape on which life plays out.  And through “Ozymandias” I concede the time-bound nature of humanity—knowing that at one point I will disappear from the Earth and be forgotten—a stark reminder to live for what matters. Poetry is a pause in my hurried and hectic life—an oasis to find some measure of truth in my journey, even if only for a brief time in the swirling, shifting sands of life.

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Cresson Mine: The Untold Stories

By Benjamin Hayden Elick and Steven Wade Veatch

The Cresson mine (figure1)—situated between Cripple Creek and Victor, Colorado—was established in 1894 (MacKell, 2003). No one is certain who started the mine, but records show that two brothers, insurance agents J.R. and Eugene Harbeck from Chicago, were early owners. After a hard night of drinking, they sobered up the next day and learned of their new acquisition (MacKell, 2003). The Cresson Mining and Milling Company was organized a year later, in 1895, to raise capital and operate the mine (Patton and Wolf, 1915). The mine continued operating through several leases with low but steady proceeds.

Figure 1. Early view of the Cresson mine, Cripple Creek, Colorado. 
Photograph date circa 1914, courtesy of the Cripple Creek District Museum. 

The Cresson mine became profitable when Richard Roelofs, a known mining innovator, was hired by the Harbecks as mine manager in 1895. Roelofs wrote on an undated letterhead: “I was a prospector, a leaser, a miner, an assayer and chemist, an underground shift boss, foreman, superintendent and then general manager of one to the greatest of Colorado’s mines” (Roelofs, n.d.).

Roelofs (figure 2) was a newcomer to Colorado, as many were when the Cripple Creek gold rush ignited in 1891. He moved to Cripple Creek in 1893 with his wife Mabel. They had one child, Richard Jr., who was born on August 19, 1894 in Cripple Creek.

Figure 2. Richard Roelofs, manager of the Cresson mine. 
Photograph date 1914, courtesy of the Cripple Creek District Museum.
Not only did Roelofs have to manage the Cresson mine, he had to raise his son alone. Shortly after the birth of Richard Jr., Mabel left her husband and went to Philadelphia, taking their infant son with her. She left Cripple Creek to pursue riches. Then, in July 1895, police arrested Mabel Roelofs for passing bad checks (Keels, 2018). Richard Jr. was sent back to Cripple Creek to join his father. Mabel Roelofs later fled to New York, where she continued a life of crime working con after con.

As authorities began to close in, she committed suicide by poisoning in 1908 (Keels, 2018). Richard Roelofs, in his employment contract, earned a percentage of the Cresson mine’s profits, making him a very rich man. If Mabel Roelofs had stayed with Richard, she would have shared in his fabulous wealth.

Roelofs introduced new technology and mining techniques at the Cresson mine, including an aerial tramway he designed that transported ore to a railway at the bottom of the large hill on which the Cresson sat. The tramway reduced the costs of transporting ore (Sprague, 1953). Roelofs deepened the shaft and enlarged the mined-out voids, or stopes. The Cresson’s stopes were the largest in the district, at almost 100 m in width and hundreds of meters high. It is estimated that several houses could fit inside the stopes of the Cresson (Jensen, 2003; Sprague, 1953). Roelofs’s work allowed the Cresson mine to be debt free by 1911, and it earned $150,000 annually between 1912-1913.

Miners discovered the famous Cresson vug by accident on November 25, 1914 (Smith Jr., Feitz, and Raines, 1985). While following large ore shoots on the 12th level, miners broke into the large chamber, or “vug,” which was in the shape of a pear (Patton and Wolf, 1915). The vug was approximately 12 m tall, 7 m long, and 4 m wide. The walls were lined with delicate, sparkling crystals of gold tellurides; however, many had fallen to the floor—disturbed by nearby blasting (Jensen, 2003).

The ore minerals in the vug were mostly the gold tellurides sylvanite and calaverite. Sylvanite is comprised of gold, silver, and tellurium, while calaverite contains only gold and tellurium. The tellurides within the Cresson vug occurred as crystals, varying in length from 1 to 3 mm. On some crystals of calaverite, pure gold was found, suggesting chemical alteration (Patton and Wolf, 1915). These ore minerals penetrated beyond the surface of the vug into the surrounding rock to depths of up to 1.5 m (Mehls and Mehls, 2001).

The gold camp was soon buzzing with conversation about the vug, and word of the discovery spread across the nation. National newspapers said the vug “staggers the imagination,” and another paper declared it “the most important strike ever made in the Cripple Creek District” (Various period newspapers: Cripple Creek District Museum, n.d.). This astonishing discovery supported Cripple Creek’s claim that it was the “World’s Greatest Gold Camp.”

The vug, and a considerable amount of Cresson ore, was a part of the Cresson pipe, or blowout. The Cresson pipe is an elliptical cylinder of lamprophyric material (mafic rocks) 100 to 150 m in diameter (Jensen, 2003). The lamprophyric matrix graded into a lighter colored carbonate matrix (Jensen, 2003). The entire blowout is encased inside a diatreme, a carrot-shaped volcanic complex, emplaced in the Oligocene (~ 30 Ma) that reached deep into the crust (Jensen, 2003). The perimeter of the pipe produced 2,000,000 ounces of gold, indicating major deposits of gold-bearing solutions along the contact between the Cresson pipe and the diatreme (Jensen, 2003).

The gold ore from the vug was so valuable that Roelofs quickly took measures to prevent theft or high grading. He ordered a storehouse built underground (on the same level as the Cresson vug) into an old drift and secured it with solid steel doors. Bags of gold ore were stacked by hand and securely locked inside. A newspaper article described the magnitude of ore as “they had stacked between 80 to 100 tons of the phenomenally rich ore at the time of my visit, and from all indications, will continue stacking this ore for some time” (Various period newspapers: Cripple Creek District Museum, n.d.). At times, up to $500,000 (1914 value, or $36,250,000 in today’s dollars) worth of gold ore was stored there.

The Cresson vug’s valuable gold ore also needed special handling. Roelofs hired guards to protect the vug and ore. The guards watched over the ore on every part of its journey through mining, transportation, and processing—keeping it safe from thieves. Two to three armed guards worked each shift underground, providing constant protection to the ore and vug. To prevent high grading, Roelofs allowed only two of the most trusted and senior miners to work the vug at a time, and always under close supervision.

The Cresson mine took precautions to secure the ore while it traveled on the railways to smelters. These measures included locked box cars and guards carrying sawed-off shotguns and rifles, who rode inside and on the top of the cars (Newton, 1928). Accounts claim that gold ore was scraped off the vug’s walls and then shoveled into large canvas bags (figure 3). It took four weeks to mine the vug out (Cunningham, 2000).

Figure 3. Canvas bags of gold ore from the Cresson vug are brought to the surface. 
Men are getting the bags ready for shipment. 
Photograph date 1914, courtesy of the Cripple Creek District Museum. 
There were two main grades of ore from the Cresson vug: the first grade included ore worth over $5,000 (1914 dollars) per ton and the second grade from $1,000 to $1,500 (1914 dollars) per ton ("$10,000,000 Strike in Cresson Mine Proves Again that Colorado is the Paradise for the Gold Hunter," 1914, p. 5). The higher-grade ore had 250-plus ounces of gold per ton, while the second grade of ore had 75-plus ounces per ton, based on the 1914 gold price of $20 per ounce (Historical Gold Prices, 2015).

In all, a whopping 60,000 ounces of gold was recovered from the vug (Hunter, 2002). The total value of the vug’s ore in 1914 gold prices was $1,200,000 (Smith Jr., Feitz, and Raines, 1985). Based on today’s gold values, the vug’s rich ore would be worth over $87,000,000.

The discovery of the Cresson vug prompted other mines in the district to deepen their shafts, since the vug was found on a deep level of the Cresson. Mine owners also expanded exploration in their mines.

Roelofs, at the age of fifty, sold out in 1917 and spent the next 30 years comfortably in New York while spending time abroad, mostly in Paris Richard. Died at the age of 82 in 1939 (Sprague 1953).

The Cresson mine was operated for 66 years, finally closing in 1961 (Munn, 1984). After finishing as one of the top producing mines in the district, its buildings were torn down and the head frame and its machinery were moved to a park in Victor.

In the early 1990s, exploration geologists discovered a 2.5 million-ounce gold deposit in the same area as the historic Cresson mine, called the Cresson deposit. The Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company submitted permit applications in 1994 for open pit mining of the Cresson deposit and surrounding areas. Mining started in December 1994, and by the end of 1995, 76,500 ounces of gold were produced. The Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company is still mining the area today under the ownership of Newmont Goldcorp with headquarters in Greenwood Village, Colorado.

The original Cresson mine shaft is long gone, and in its place is the Cresson open pit at 518 m deep (Poulson, personal communication, 2019). Newmont will deepen the pit another 91 m for an ultimate depth of 609 m. At this point, a portal for underground exploration is planned at the bottom of the pit. This project is planned in two phases. In phase one, a decline drift is planned with 762 m of easterly exploratory drifting underneath the Cresson pit. The intent is to establish drill bays at the end of the drift for core drilling below the historic Orpha May and Vindicator mines. The estimated cost of this phase is $26 million. Phase two includes 3,048 m of exploration drifting and positioning core drilling bays at an additional $100 million cost. The goal is to prove the potential for underground mining projects. If Newmont Goldcorp’s investment council approves this plan, the project would start as early as the first quarter of 2020 (Poulson, personal communication, 2019).

The Cresson mine took its place among the important mines in Cripple Creek as a result of its early establishment in the district, an innovative mine manager, expansive underground workings, and the discovery of the rich Cresson vug. Mining continues at the Cresson today.

References Cited

$10,000,000 Strike in Cresson Mine Proves Again that Colorado is the Paradise for the Gold Hunter. (1914, December 30). Denver Post, p. 5.

Cunningham, C. (2000). Cripple Creek Bonanza: From Gold to Gambling. Ridgway, CO: Wayfinder Press.

Historical Gold Prices. (2015). Retrieved from Only Gold:

Hunter, E. T. (2002). A Thumbnail Sketch of the Cripple Creek/Victor Mining District's History.
Manuscript on Newmont Gold Corp website:

Jensen, E. P. (2003). Magmatic and Hydrothermal Evolution of the Cripple Creek Gold Deposit, Colorado, and Comparisons with Regional and Global Magmatic-Hydrothermal Systems Associated with Alkaline Magmatism.  PhD Thesis. Departement of Geosciences, University of Arizona.

MacKell, J. (2003). Cripple Creek District: Last of Colorado's Gold Booms. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing.

Mehls, S. F., and Mehls, C. D. (2001). Goin’ Up to Cripple Creek: A History of the Gold Belt Byway. Lafayette, CO: Western Historical Studies.

Munn, B. (1984). A Guide to the Mines of the Cripple Creek District. Colorado Springs: Century One Press.

Newton, H. J. (1928). Yellow Gold of Cripple Creek: Romances and Anecdotes of the Mines, Mining Men, and Mining Fortunes. Denver: Nelson Publishing Company.

Patton, H. B., and Wolf, H. J. (1915). Preliminary report on the Cresson gold strike at Cripple Creek, Colorado. Golden: Colorado School of Mines Quarterly. Vol 9, No. 4, p. 199-217.

Poulson, B. (2019, Febuary). Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mine . (S. Veatch , Interviewer)
Roelofs, R. (n.d.). Undated letter, Cripple Creek District Musuem. Retrieved 2018.

Smith Jr., A. E., Feitz, L., and Raines, E. (1985). The Cresson Vug Cripple Creek. The Mineralogical Record, Volume 16, p 231-238.

Sprague, M. (1953). Money Mountain: The Story of Cripple Creek Gold. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Various period newspapers: Cripple Creek District Museum, n.d. (n.d.).

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Timeless Trees at Florissant, Colorado

The huge petrified Sequoia stumps near Florissant stretch the limits of my understanding. I’m left with only wonder, like a poem I can’t explain. Under the dominion of a clear blue sky, the afternoon light ricochets off the stone, displaying the myriad beige and brown hues of the fossil stumps. Their stony surfaces contrast with tufts of grass that surround them. The nearby orange-red bark of ponderosa pine and the scent of the forest adds another layer of magic, while silent mats of pine green moss cluster in the shadows.  Pale lichens cover some of the stone tree rings.  The warm summer air buzzes with insects.

Figure 1. View of the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument's 
iconic "Big Stump." Photo by S.W. Veatch.
For me, the stone trees are a portal where the past joins with the present, and time seems to have stopped.   I imagine how it all began 34 million years ago when a cluster of nearby volcanoes, once dormant, erupted.  It started with a blast of ash and fiery molten rock shooting out from awakened vents. The air became heavy and dark, as plumes of grey ash hazed eastward towards what would become Florissant. Rainfall mixed with loose sediments on volcanic slopes, forming mud—the color of morning coffee—that rushed down the slopes of the volcanoes at speeds of up to 90 miles an hour. Ash rained out of the sky and mixed with the spreading mud. The mud popped and hissed, while it spilled over ledges, covered rocks, and stretched heedlessly into the Florissant valley.

A wreckage of plants and animals tumbled in the mud’s advance as it invaded the forest of tall Sequoias. It turned the area into a surreal, harsh, hellish place, wiping out local populations of oreodonts, rhino-like brontotheres, and small horses. Birds, struggling to dodge the devastation, flew skyward from the branches of trees that stood above the mud. Tendrils of steam rose out of the jumbled mess of mud that surrounded the bases of the trees. The weight of the mud pressurized and squeezed the wood.  Over time, silica in the mud penetrated the wood, leaving behind the remnants of the ancient forest we encounter today.

I first saw the petrified trees when I was in grade school. I came back often with my family to look at them again.  This relic stone forest changed me. I studied fossils and rocks because of them. And I learned from them. I now realize how mankind is a force of nature and how we can alter landscapes, just as the ancient mud and ash did so long ago at Florissant. Our addiction to fossil fuel has altered our planet’s atmosphere and contributes to changing global climate. Florissant’s Sequoias are extinct because of climate change, and these trees encourage us to contemplate our annihilation as the planet experiences rates of extinction not experienced since a meteor wiped out the dinosaurs.
At the stone stumps, I take a few minutes to listen, where the sounds of the chirping birds, chattering squirrels, and the soft whispers of breezes exist with the noises of development—homes being built, cars moving and dogs yapping. I can also hear the petrified forest—it speaks of an Earth that is always in a state of change, but this protected ancient forest (a national monument now) also provides a place where change slows down, at least for me. As I look at the fossilized trees, I sense a calm as they release me from my ego and create an awareness of the wonderful things I can discover outside of myself.         

Figure 2. Dynamite was used the early twentieth century to expose this stump.
The use of explosives resulted in the shattered texture of the stump and
required the use metal bands to hold it together. Photo by S.W. Veatch.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019


By Steven Wade Veatch

American bison, also known as buffalo, once roamed El Paso County’s spacious prairies.  By the time the Colorado territorial legislature established El Paso County in 1861, the bison were largely gone; their sun-bleached bones marked their passing.

Across the nation, these animals once numbered over 60 million; and by the close of the 19th century, only a few hundred remained. What caused the near extermination of the bison is a subject of debate. Three essential factors have been under consideration in this debate.

First, buffalo hunters slaughtered the slow-grazing bison for their hides and left behind the rest of the animal to decay in the blazing sun. The rotting flesh gave off a smell of primal origins. A. M. Bede, a county judge in North Dakotas, remembering his pioneering days on the northern plains said, “The county out here used to look like a charnel house with so many skulls staring at a man and so many bones that newcomers felt nervous, and in some cases, could hardly plow the land” (Henninger-Voss, 2003). Buffalo hunters sold hides for about $2.00 to $3.50 each ($51 to $89 in today’s money). In towns, workers were busy stacking bison hides for shipment by rail. (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. This 1878 photo shows 40,000 bison hides at the Rath & Wright's hide yard in 
Dodge City, Kansas.These 6-foot-tall, hulking animals could weigh as much as 2,000 pounds, 
run up to 35 mph, and quickly turn to fight with their horns. 
Photo: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration public domain.
Second, the building of the railroads contributed to the extermination of the bison because hunters killed them for meat to feed the workers. “Buffalo Bill” Cody shot over 4,200 bison for this purpose in the late 1860s (Andrews, 2016). The railroad also made it possible to ship millions of hides back to markets in the East. Some railroads provided special excursions where travelers shot bison from train windows. By 1870, the Union Pacific railway line divided the Great Plains bison population into two sections, one on either side of the railroad: the southern herd was killed by 1875, and the northern herd was largely killed off by 1885 (The Library of Congress, n.d.). Very few bison remained after this period.

Third, the government ordered the Army to kill bison in order to starve Native American tribes into submission. To hasten this procedure, the Army hired buffalo hunters to kill bison in large numbers. This attempt at obliteration was effective in destroying the food source and placed the Native Americans in dire strait. The Native American population, by the end of the 19th century, numbered 237,000; down from about one million from the previous century (Slaughter of the Bison, 2011).

What is not debated, however, is that in 20 short years, near the conclusion of the 19th century, America’s bison herd was near extinction. Historians estimate 31,000,000 bison were killed between 1868 and 1881.

Fig. 2. Swiss painter Karl Bodmer depicts Native Americans hunting bison.
The painting is part of Bodmer’s collection to illustrate Prince Maximilian of Wied's travels
in the interior of North America, circa 1836. Public domain.
Countless wild bison once thundered across El Paso County’s prairie (El Paso County Government, 2010). Sometimes, as the evening yawned, the deep quiet of the prairie would be broken by the sound of bison hoofbeats as they disappeared into the dusk. Now, only the spirit of the hoofbeats resonating remains, a timeless essence as old as Pikes Peak These herds in El Paso County did not survive the intervention of the buffalo hunters. Its prairie became a graveyard of bison bones from the slaughter of these animals. Early El Paso County settlers, facing difficult times, would go out onto their land and collect the scattered bison bones left by buffalo hunters and sell them. Bison bones were used for industrial purposes that included making fine bone china, fertilizer, and for sugar refining ("Time Line of the American Bison," n.d.).  These bison bones could earn the El Paso County homesteader from $2.50 to $15 a ton.

Not long after the pioneering photographer William H. Jackson took the photo in Figure 3, the bison had vanished from Colorado’s eastern plains, killed for their hides. The near extinction of this magnificent animal is one of the ugliest episodes in the history of American wildlife (Andrews, 2016).

Fig. 3. A pile of bison bones near Colorado City. El Paso County, Colorado. 
Bison bones were collected by homesteaders and ranchers and then sold for industrial purposes.
This brought in much needed cash. This photograph was taken in 1870 by W.H. Jackson
while he was part of the United States Geological Survey of the Territories.
 Credit: US Geological Survey. Photo ID JWH000895.
It is hard to imagine that bison once numbered over 60 million. These animals barely survived annihilation. Today, there are about 25,000 bison in public herds (Time Line of the American Bison, n.d.).

On May 9, 2016, President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act, designating the bison as the national mammal. The bison joined with the bald eagle to represent the United States (Andrews, 2016).

References Cited
Andrews, E. (2016, May 13). Bison Selected as the Official Mammal of the United States. Retrieved from

Bringing the West’s wild bison back from the brink – The Denver Post. (2015, January 23). Retrieved from

El Paso County Government. (2010). 2010 Citizen's Guide to El Paso County Government.

Henninger-Voss, Mary. (2003). Animals in Human Histories: The Mirror of Nature and Culture.  Boydell & Brewer, Limited: Suffolk.

The Library of Congress. (n.d.). The Buffalo Hunter. Retrieved from

Time Line of the American Bison. (n.d.). U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Retrieved from

Phippen, J. W. (2016, May 13). Kill Every Bison You Can! Every Bison Dead Is an Indian Gone. Retrieved from The Atlantic:

Slaughter of the Bison. (2011). Retrieved from Inter Tribal Bison Council:

Wednesday, April 24, 2019


By Steven Wade Veatch

The dawn was cool and crisp on an October morning in 1877 when George and Gilbert Searight, supposedly looking for better opportunities, herded 14,000 unruly longhorns from Texas onto an area ten miles west of Casper, Wyoming. This site, where the North Platte flows through a valley between Coal Mountain and Bessemer Mountain, is where the Searights opened up their vast, open-range Goose Egg Ranch (North Platte River, 2019).

A Texas Longhorn is known by its distinctive horns. 

The longhorns wandered far and wide over the open range as far as the eye could see. The Searights brought another 13,000 head the following year and, on a final cattle drive in 1879, brought 16,000 more head from Oregon (North Platte River, 2019). The Searights thought these large herds of cattle would give them a chance at success.

The name of the ranch came from an interesting story told around the flickering campfires of Wyoming. Some say during the first spring out on the range, some cowboys discovered a nest of Canada Goose eggs. The men brought the eggs back to a grizzled camp cook, “Old Over Slope,” to fry up for their breakfast. The wily old cook got his name from his lack of ears—frostbite took them (North Platte River, 2019). After breakfast and much debate, the cowboys decided they should call the land the “Goose Egg Ranch,” a fitting name for the new cattle operation. This tale may be true. If not, it should be.

Six years after the Searights started the Goose Egg Ranch, they built a substantial ranch house on a rise near a bend on the north bank of the Platte River.  The Searights had the lumber, hardware, and other materials used to build the ranch house hauled in by freight teams from Cheyenne, a trip over 225 miles on rugged, dusty roads.
The Searights completed the ranch house in 1883 and built it like a small stone fort, designed to withstand an Indian raid. It was, however, left alone by the Indians. It seems the Searight brothers kept the peace with the local tribes.

Searight and his brother lived in the ranch house until 1886, when they saw what was coming like a freight train—the overproduction of cattle by the large Wyoming ranchers. This caused beef prices to fall during 1886. Searights sold out to the Carey brothers and the Swan Land and Cattle Company before the bottom fell out (Hunt, 2019).

A postcard view of the Goose Egg Ranch house. 
Wooden ranch buildings are in the background. 
From the collection of S.W. Veatch.
Searight timed the sale just right. Besides the tumbling cattle prices, the summer of 1886 brought an intense drought that dried up the pasture. These adverse conditions resulted in the overgrazing of rangelands.

Also, Searight sold out in time to sidestep the winter of 1886-1887 that devastated Wyoming's cattle business.  Snow started falling on November 13 and continued for a month (Cattle Trails, 2019). In mid-December, temperatures warmed enough to change the snow into slush. Then, in late December, temperatures fell to almost 30 below zero, changing the slush into a slab of ice. January 1887 brought the coldest spell in memory and a relentless blizzard tore through the area for three days. One cowboy wrote:
It was all so slow, plunging after them through the deep snow . . . . The horses' feet were cut and bleeding from the heavy crust, the cattle had the hair and hide wore off their legs to the knees and the hocks. It was surely hell to see big four-year-old steers just able to stagger along (Episode 7 "Hell Without Heat", 2001).
As ranchers gathered in saloons to discuss their heavy losses, Searight was counting his cash. Some ranchers lost up to 20 percent of their stock.

Things would never be the same on those Wyoming grasslands, and Searight made the right decision to sell. Cattle prices fell like a rock, and the weather turned bad. But there was a larger, lasting change coming to the range—homesteading, which brought the systematic taking of land, the placement of barb wire, and the end of the open prairie. Change also came to Searight’s Goose Egg ranch house. As a sentinel on the grasslands, it operated as a hotel, then a restaurant, and as the setting for part of Owen Wister’s novel, The Virginian.

Time took its toll on the stone ranch house and it deteriorated over the decades. Despite efforts to save the ranch house, the owners demolished it in 1960. Today, nothing remains of the Goose Egg ranch house.

Cattle Trails. (2019, February 13). Retrieved from Wyoming Tales and Trails:

Episode 7 "Hell Without Heat". (2001). Retrieved from The West: The Georaphy of Hope (Rocky Mountain PBS):

Hunt, R. A. (2019, February 13). Wyo History. Retrieved from Wyoming State Historical Society:

North Platte River. (2019, February 13). Retrieved from Wyoming Tales and Trails:

Thursday, March 7, 2019

To Stop a Thief: A Letter Warning Cripple Creek’s Winfield Scott Stratton

By Steven Wade Veatch

It began with a letter that Augustus Dominick Bourquin, a Colorado prospector, wrote to warn Winfield Scott Stratton, the Cripple Creek mining mogul and owner of the Independence Mine, about one of his employees at the mine.

W. W. Stratton (1848-1902) came to the Cripple Creek Mining District in 1891 when he was 42 years old and staked the Independence Mining claim on July 4, 1891. The Independence was among the major producing mines in the district and made Stratton a multi-millionaire. This image is in the public domain in the United States.

Bourquin’s letter is an exceptional illustration of a primary source that offers a first-hand eyewitness account of events. It helps us take a front-row seat to the unfolding of history. Bourquin’s letter is among Stratton’s historic papers that are stored at the Western Museum of Mining and Industry in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

In his letter, Bourquin warns Stratton that one of his employees, John Stark, is a thief. According to Bourquin’s letter, John Stark was an unscrupulous man that committed acts of larceny wherever he went. Stark even raided the caches of clothes and supplies miners left covered with rocks along the trail on their way to the Klondike goldfields, depriving those miners of necessary supplies. Bourquin’s letter also mentions the problem of high-grading or theft of gold in the Cripple Creek mining district. Here is his letter:

Aspen, Colo. Oct. 17th, ’98.
W. S. Stratton
Victor, Colo.

Dear Sir—
I feel that it is my duty to give you a little of the history of a man who is now in your imploy [sic]. A man who has proven himself a thief on every occasion where he has had an opportunity to pilfer from others. That man is no other than John Stark. Mr. Stratton, I returned in Aug. from the Klondike and was a partner during the winter with Stark. There was [sic] four of us in partnership on a lay, or lease, on Bonanza Creek.[1] Stark began pilfering aboard the steamship Cleveland on his way north from Seattle.[2] Stole his winter supplies from one of the Mercantile Co’s at Fort Yukon.[3] He robed [sic] one of our partners of every dollar of gold dust he had, on the pretense, that he, Stark, would take it down and deposite [sic] it with his own in Dawson.[4] Stark skipped the country between two days and carried off all the dust, leaving our partner stranded in Dawson where he is today.
Stark robed [sic] caches of clothing and provisions whenever he had an opportunity, against my protest. He stole clothing and provisions from the cache of some poor fellows who had to walk out of the country during the winter on account of a shortage of food. Stark robed [sic] me of nearly $200 of which I cannot recover as the theft was commited [sic] in Canadian Teritory [sic]. [5] The Mercantile Co. who he robbed in Fort Yukon were [sic] on his track in Dawson, when he, under an assumed name, left Dawson between two days in a small boat, about June 1st.
Stark often spoke of his work on the Independence mine. Said he has some rich ore from the mine; one piece worth eighty dollars. Spoke of your keeping detectives around all the time but they were not sharp enough to catch anyone. Said he had cut a rich streak of mineral fifteen inches thick and timbered it in, with the help of the Super, hoping someday to get a lease on the ground. According to his statement the superintendent stood in with him, but his name I have forgotten. This unscrupulous scoundrel spoke very disrespectful [sic] of you at different times. Said you had nicely furnished rooms in Cripple for no other purpose, that he knew of, but to take lewd women and have a good time. Mr. Stratton, I have given you simply an outline of the methods practiced by that scoundrel, that you may not be deceived by him. I regret to hear that he has secured a trusty position on your property when there are more worthy people to be had. I can make an affidavit to thease [sic] statements should you desire.
Very respectfully,
A.D. Bourquin

Although it is clear from the letter that Bourquin had a negative attitude toward Stark based on his alleged dealings with him, perhaps we can judge the veracity of his claims by studying Bourquin’s life story. Augustus Dominic Bourquin was born in 1852 in Tidioute, Pennsylvania. Known as “Gust” to his friends, this free-spirited young man craved adventure and excitement. 

Figure 2. Photo of A.D. Bourquin (1852 to 1899). His father was Swiss and his mother was French. Bourquin was noted in the Aspen newspapers as being a principal in the Austin Mining Excavating Company.  Photo source: Robert Clark (great-grandson). Used with permission. 

In 1875, Bourquin first moved west and worked a placer mine in Arizona. Later, he worked in the mines at Red Bluff, California and Reno, Nevada. Bourquin returned home in the fall of 1877 and worked on the family farm in Pennsylvania (Bourquin, 1951). Next, he traveled to Kansas in 1879, where he homesteaded (Bourquin, 1951). Bourquin moved to Kansas at a bad time—a drought held Kansas in its dry and dusty grip. The Manhattan Nationalist, on April 25, 1879, had this to say: “The wind made the bleeding soil of Kansas sift through a pine board on Monday [April 21]. The poor housekeeper that had just shaken carpets and cleaned windows, sighed mournfully as they [sic] saw the sand heaps on windowpane and floor (Malin, 2018). This relentless drought ended his days of homesteading, and in the spring of 1880, Bourquin, along with his two brothers George and Jess, traveled west as they drove a team of mules and a wagon to Denver (Clark, 2018). The brothers then sold the mules and Bourquin trekked to Aspen, Colorado. He operated several mining claims in the area and served as councilman for the City of Aspen (Clark, 2018).

Bourquin caught a bad case of gold fever and joined the Klondike Gold Rush. After spending a season in the Klondike washing gold-laden gravels in Bonanza Creek, he returned to Aspen, Colorado.

Bourquin died a few months after he mailed his letter to Stratton. He had caught the flu while working on a mining claim and died five days later, on Jan 14, 1899, at the age of 46 (Clark, 2018). The Woodmen of the World, a fraternal benefit society designed to provide insurance and financial security for its members, buried him in the Aspen Grove Cemetery in Aspen, Colorado. Bourquin’s family then moved his body to the Red Butte cemetery after it opened in 1900. His mother Celestine is buried in the same plot, along with his brother Amos, Amos' wife, and their daughter.

And so, a letter reveals a first-hand account of an episode in the writer’s life. The letter led to research that painted a portrait of the writer, A.D. Bourquin, who spent a life well-lived as a miner and adventurer. He followed the trails that pointed to gold and silver deposits, no matter how difficult the passage.  All regarded him as fine man and a pioneer who guided his family to the West.

Although we will never know if Stratton answered Bourquin’s letter, it is known that John Stark, after his adventures in the Klondike, returned to the Cripple Creek Mining District and worked as Stratton’s foreman at the Independence Mine. Eighteen months later, Stark was promoted to superintendent of the Independence Mine (The Fortunes of a Decade, 1900). It seems that Stratton did not read Bourquin’s letter or believe what it said about his foreman, and as a result, we may never know the facts that surrounded Stratton’s decision to ignore the warning in Bourquin’s letter.


Andrews, C. L. (1916, January). Marine Disasters of the Alaska Route. The Washington HIstorical Quarterly, 7(1), 21-37. Retrieved December 2, 2018, from
Bourquin, G. M. (1951, October 22). Letter to Edna Florence Bourquin Reynolds.
Clark, R. (2018, December 2-5). Great-grandson of A.D. Bourquin. (S. Veatch, Interviewer)
Malin, J. C. (2018, December 1). Dust Storms: Part Two, 1861-1880. Retrieved from Kansas Historical Soceity:
McLaughlin, L. (2018, Devember 7). Yukon History. Retrieved from Hougen Group:
The Fortunes of a Decade. (1900). Colorado Springs: Sargent and Rohrabacher for the Evening Telegraph.
What Was the Klondike Gold Rush? (2018, June 28). Retrieved from Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Site:
Woodin, W., & Spude, C. H. (2016). All for the Greed of Gold: Will Woodin's Klondike Adventure. Seattle: Washington State University Press.

Notes on the letter

[1] On August 16, 1896 prospectors discovered gold on Bonanza Creek, a tributary of the Klondike River in Canada’s Yukon Territory. The watercourse became the center of the Klondike Gold Rush (1897-1898). This discovery triggered a stampede of thousands of prospectors and fortune seekers to the area (What Was the Klondike Gold Rush?, 2018).

[2] The Cleveland, operated by the North American Trading & Transportation Company, was one of many steamships that carried passengers to and from the Klondike goldfields (Woodin & Spude, 2016). The company sold fares only to the “hardiest of men.” The demand for a ticket was high. After leaving Seattle’s docks, the Cleveland went as far as Fort St. Michael, where a connection was made with river steamers that took passengers and goods up the Yukon River to the mines. Fort St. Michael was established by the US Army in 1897 to establish order during the Klondike Gold Rush and served as a major gateway through the Yukon River to the area. In 1903, the Cleveland was lost in the Bering Sea and was never recovered (Andrews, 1916).

[3] Fort Yukon, during the Klondike Gold Rush (“Starvation Winter” of 1897–1898) took in 200 prospectors from Dawson City who were short of supplies (McLaughlin, 2018).

[4] Dawson City, the center of the Klondike Gold Rush, began in 1896, where it displaced a native encampment. The city grew into a busy place of 40,000 by 1898. A year later, after the gold rush ended, its population plummeting to 8,000 people.

[5] The stolen $200 is equivalent to $2,855 in 2018 dollars.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Uptop: A Winter Poem

By Steven Wade Veatch

A winter wind blows swirling flakes of snow
that blankets the quiet town of Uptop. 
Light from a coal-oil lamp casts
a golden glow down a silent, powdery street.

People of Uptop long for spring days;
the shifting realm of white to robust green
when flowers spread a chorus of colors
in an alpine crescendo.

For decades they came over highland passes;
searching for gold in streams or silver in veins.
Others started ranches where the grass was good. 
And each one tamed the mountain wilderness.

The depot built by section hands still stands 
that once met fortune seekers coming over the Pass.
Today the rails are gone and travelers are rare.
Only a few stay in the small town of Uptop.

On Sunday at the Chapel by the Wayside
a church bell rings—renewing spirits
of humbled hearts who stay another year,
in the forgotten town of Uptop, Colorado.

Directions to the ghost town of Uptop, Colorado:
Two turnoffs to Uptop ghost town are located off Hwy 160:
• 20 minutes east of Ft. Garland, CO: turn at mile marker 276.
• 15 minutes west of La Veta or 20 minutes west of Walsenburg: turn at mile marker 281.