“The desire for gold is the most universal and deeply rooted commercial instinct of the human race.” Gerald M. Loeb
As the elevator dropped one thousand feet into the Mollee Kathleen Gold Mine, I took a deep breath. What if get stuck down here? After a two minute ride, the elevator opened and our guide welcomed us. I was inside a mountain, just like the old time miners who worked here one hundred years ago.
What is it that drives people to mine for gold? What makes them search the deepest recesses in the black darkness of the earth? Valued by all civilizations, gold is golden. In addition to being rare and portable, gold never corrodes.
After Bob Womack discovered gold on his property near Cripple Creek in 1891, the Colorado gold rush began. During the next nine years the population of the town grew from five hundred to 55,000. Unfortunately for Womack, he died a poor man. After squandering his money on alcohol, he never saw his fortune come to pass.
The same year Womack discovered gold, Mollie Kathleen Gortner took a walk. She sat down to rest and noticed an interesting rock formation. Using another rock, she broke off a sample. It was pure gold laced with quartz. She became the first woman in Cripple Creek to discover gold and strike a claim in her name. Her family operated the mine for over fifty years. The Mollee Kathleen Gold Mine Tour is America’s longest continually operated gold mine tour.
Lucky for us, our tour was conducted under electric lights. The early miners pounded their way through rock by candlelight. Our guide demonstrated the evolution of mining tools throughout the 1900’s. The work was extremely dangerous for little pay. Seventy percent of the workers attempted to steal gold, but few succeeded.
The Mollee Kathleen Mine, together with other area mines, produced over ten billion dollars of mined gold. The old timers carried out the large pieces of ore. Significant underground deposits remain which are now being surface mined by the Newmont Mining Company near Victor.
The Newmont Cripple Creek and Victor Mine offers public tours of its’ modern mining operation. Unlike the old time miners, Newmont’s employees are geologists, engineers, and environmentalists. The ore goes through a process of being crushed then leached with cyanide. We took a tour of this operation as well, and learned the company pours anywhere from seven to twelve bars of gold a week. Each bar weighs sixty-five pounds and is worth one million dollars. The company is required to restore the land to the way it was before the surface mining began.
The Colorado gold rush of 1891 still continues on Battle Mountain. After all, “gold is money; everything else is credit.” J. P. Morgan