Mr. T. A. Rickard, state geologist of Colorado, lectured on the Cripple Creek gold fields to the members of the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy last night. In 1892 he said, when Cripple Creek first began to be talked about, the name seemed only provocative of derision—to-day the magic baptism of golden discovery made it sound as alliterative and impressive as the most exacting historian could demand.
He then proceeded to give a very detailed and interesting account of the development of the mining industry of the district, of the physical features and geology of the locality, and of the various ores and minerals met with, and their treatment. The statistics he quoted proved most convincingly the growth of the field.
From 1859 to the end of 1898 Colorado produced 9,512,242 ounces of gold, valued at $196,618,054; 362,526,541 ounces of silver, valued at $326,482,532; 1,001,702 tons of lead, valued at $87,131,457; and 48,089 tons of copper, valued at $10,742,167. Of the whole United States output last year, Colorado accounted for 34 per cent of gold, 38 per cent of silver, 26 per cent of lead and 2 per cent of copper. The total mineral production at the present time, inclusive of coal and iron, was reputed to be worth $55,000,000 per annum. The mines employed, 80,000 men out of a population of about 520,000.
Until 1892 silver mining was the principal mineral industry, but since that year the development of Cripple Creek had placed the gold output in the van. This can best be shown by arranging the figures in tabular form:
The dividends declared by the Cripple Creek mines in 1898 amounted to $2,596,144, but to this figure must be added the profit made by properties not owned by public companies and also those held by numerous leasing parties, bringing the total dividends to fully $3,000,000. Out of the 121 American mines quoted as dividend payers on the New York stock exchange 38 are in Colorado, and 23 of these are at Cripple Creek.
Dealing with the future of the field, Mr. Rickard asked if the record of 1898, when out of the total production of $13,500,000, 22 per cent was distributed in dividends, was to be the height of achievement? It was less difficult to foretell the career of a young man than the future of a mere child. Cripple Creek had grown to full manhood, having passed safely through the ills of its adolescence, and had developed a distinct character of such stability that one was justified in prophesying a career of increasing success. The present boundaries of the productive portion of the district were approximately identical with the area occupied by the andesite breccia and other rocks of the volcanic complex. This covers about 10 square miles. It was undoubtedly the proper territory for further exploration, and no part of it offered greater promise that the line of contact separating the breccia from the granite. Nevertheless, the geological conditions outside this circumscribed area were such as to forbid hasty conclusions discouraging to prospecting in the granite which surrounded the district on all sides.
The recent discovery of pay ore in Grassy gulch and on Copper mountain were suggestive of the probable extension of the boundaries of the field. It was known that the phonolite dykes which were associated with the productive lodes of the central area extended into the outer granite. Indeed, several rich mines were wholly in the granite at distances varying from a few hundred feet to over 2,000 feet from the breccia. It was not extraordinary that the vicinity of the contact of the granite with the breccia should be a favorable environment for large bodies of ore. The contact must have been, at all times, first a line of weakness, next a line of movement and consequent fracturing, and finely a line of water circulation. Thus there existed the conditions which experience and observation indicated as being most favorable to mineralization, especially when to these was added the penetration, across the contact, of bodies of volcanic rock such as the dykes of andesite, basalt and phonolite. Although comparatively little ore had been found lying immediately upon the contact, there was plenty of proof of the fact that the lodes crossing it had been beneficiated. Similarly the phonolite dykes, when they passed out into the granite, had afforded a line of weakness along which fracturing had subsequently occurred, forming shattered planes and lines of maximum porosity permitting of the circulation of the underground solutions which precipitated the precious metal.
Every added page of evidence only further confirmed the view, held by the lecturer early in the infancy of the camp, that Cripple Creek corroborated to a striking degree the most modern explanations of ore deposition chiefly associated with the name of Posepny. What of the deep? Would increasing depth be accompanied by impoverishment? This was not asked with the timidity of a few years ago when the lodes had only been followed 200 or 300 feet in vertical descent, and it was forseen that they would eventually cut into the granite under the breccia. At that time the future of the district was uncertain, and many cautious men held back in fear of unfavorable developments.
It was obvious that the mines near the edge of the depression occupied by the breccia would penetrate into granite by sinking their shafts or by extending their levels. It was very satisfactory to be able to record the fact that magnificent ore bodies had been found in at least two properties upon veins which had been followed downward into the underlying granite. Nor was this surprising in view of the discoveries made during recent years in the granite south and west of the contact with the breccia. If good ore were found in the granite at a horizontal distance of 2,000 feet from the mass of breccia, why should it not be also found at a similar vertical distance below the same formation?
All the evidence to hand went to show that wherever the dykes had broken through the rocks of the volcanic complex they had permitted of ore deposition, and that therefore the possibilities of future discovery were not limited to the present restricted known productive area. If the mines of the district were old, deep or worked out, one would be timed of foretelling a continued and advancing yield of gold, because the brutal facts of experience did not countenance the popular idea of increasing richness with depth; but the mines of Cripple Creek were young comparatively shallow and only fractionally explored. Each month's development, whether in a lateral of a vertical direction, uncovered ore reserves previously unsuspected save by those to whom painstaking observation had given a clue.
There was every probability that the near future would see the introduction of capital from the outside, because the production of the district had attracted the attention of the larger financial centers. Nor was this anything but desirable. If the sale of the mines meant the retirement of the present owners, their withdrawal from mining operations and the transfer of the properties to absentee capitalists, the benefits of the change might well be questioned; but it was a fact that those who controlled the best mines also owned several smaller undeveloped claims, and the result of a sale of any of the big properties would mean the liberating of large sums of money to be used for the opening up of promising young mines, which now were either idle or incompletely explored.
The mining men of Colorado had been bred in the atmosphere of gold-seeking, and the acquirement of riches usually only led to larger operations. It was unnecessary to cite examples. They were a part of a local history. If the growing reputation of the district should thus lead to the investment of large sums of money, the immediate result would be greatly to augment activity in exploratory work, and in the wake of this greater development there would come, inevitably, discoveries of an importance eclipsing those the yield of which was the basis of the present productiveness.
The steady betterment in economic conditions tended continually to decrease the working costs and to make a commensurate addition to the tonnage of ore available for exploitation. This was the story of all modern mining regions. The Rand illustrated it; Kalgoorlie accentuated it.
There was no immediate probability of any radical change in methods of ore reduction or transport, but there was a tendency in several directions to diminish the expense of handling low grade ores. Two railroads tapped the district, and the competition prevented rates of transport being unduly high. The building of a third line was probable, should the production of the camp increase as it promised. Electric haulage was also likely to become a factor in reducing this item of expenditure. The increased capacity of the mills, due to their steady enlargement and the better arrangement of the machinery, was permitting them to buy ores which at one time were considered to have no commercial value.
Thus five years ago the minimum rate for freight and treatment was $12 per ton, while to-day it was $7 per ton. During the same period the smelter rates of treatment had dropped from $15 to $6.50 per ton. What a reduction such as this meant, and how great a tonnage of low-grade material it transferred from the category of rock to ore, would be appreciated by those who had watched the growth of other districts.
The lecturer had seen the development of more than one of the great gold fields of the globe, and looking back upon the brief history of that development, he recognized that those which had proved permanent shared certain characteristics in common. In the general persistence of the ore bodies in the size and continuity of the lode channels and in the economic conditions favoring an easy realization of the values contained in the ores. Cripple Creek exhibited the features of a great field, and afforded the promise of a future which would eclipse the achievement of the first eight years of its existence.—London Financial News.