Sunday, July 11, 2010

Alma Study Group Tours Buckskin Gulch July 10, 2010

The Alma Study Group conducted a tour of Buckskin Gulch. The tour started at the Buckskin Cemetery where we met a number of people from Alma.

The Buckskin Cemetery is located about 1.2 miles west of the Town of Alma just off Park County Rd. 10. The wooded cemetery's graves are located without much organization. Some grave markers predate the dedication of the land by President Roosevelt in 1902. A number of graves are marked only with 2 sticks tied together to create a crude cross, others are unmarked, and some have granite or marble headstones inside metal or wooden fencing. Originally, the cemetery  was  the last stop for people who had lived in the town of Buckskin or worked in Buckskin Gulch.

According to legend a smallpox epidemic struck Buckskin. Overnight the miners and their families became very sick. Wagons hauled the dead each day to the cemetery. Business stood still and the saloons were silent. There was a desperate need to tend the sick. A dance hall girl that never gave her real name, but was known as Silverheels, met that need and went from cabin to cabin caring for the sick and dying. Those who survived were left with pitted and scarred faces. Silverheels was soon overtaken by smallpox and was in turn cared for by the surviving townspeople.

A Colorado Columbine marks an unknown grave
Eventually the epidemic passed and mining resumed. The heroism of Silverheels did not go unnoticed. According to the story often told and long remembered, the miners collected some money and went directly to Silverheel’s cabin to present her the money. Silverheels was gone—there was no trace of her. She did not want to be found; her face had been horribly marked with scars of smallpox and her beauty had been sacrificed for the sick and dying of Buckskin Joe. The money was returned to the donors, and a mountain was named in her honor—a lasting tribute to Silverheels.

Today nothing remains of the town of Buckskin Joe. Gone are the streets, saloons, gamblers, and miners. Some of the gold remains hidden in the gravels, waiting for discovery by recreational gold panners. But not everyone is gone—some say that a veiled woman walks through the Buckskin Joe cemetery on certain dark nights, caring for the graves of stricken miners who died so long ago of smallpox, a woman whose name was never really known.

Original watercolor of the Paris Mill by Marge Breth
After the cemetery visit, we then made our way up the gulch to the Paris Mill. We were taken inside to see the stamp and ball mills. Constructed in 1894, the Paris Mill is a large multi-level structure with aerial tramway connections to mines in the mountain above. The Paris Mine was one of the richest strikes in the Alma District, producing gold, silver and lead ore for decades. Time, and the unstable price of minerals, forced the closing of the mine and mill in 1951, following nearly 100 years of operation.
Five Stamp Mill
The mill was activated again briefly in the 1970s by the Mount Bross Mining Company to re-process old mine waste piles, but was effectively abandoned shortly thereafter. Most of the original equipment is still in place, although partially vandalized and stripped. Originally powered by a steam engine that drove a leather belt drive shaft to run equipment throughout the mill, it was converted to steam-electric operation after the turn of the century. Many of the old drive shafts, giant belt wheels, electric motors and motor mounts are still in place, although all the valuable copper has been stripped. The machinery still contained in the building is representative of several different generations and methodologies. Present in the mill building are a stamp mill, ball mill and a rod mill. The stamps, partly disassembled, are rare in Colorado mills.

Ball Mill
Based on the history of the Paris Mill in the Park County Historical Archives, a story of boom and bust, like so many mining operations, is to be found. Changes in ownership, management, lack of coal, wood or water, conversions to various ore processing methods all played into both the operation and closure of the mill and mine over and over again.

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