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History Detective: Get ready for the Kansas gold rush

by Carolyn Newman

GOLD FIELDS OF WESTERN KANSAS (COLORADO) — If your aim is to reach the gold fields at Pike’s Peak and Cherry Creek quickly, bring along just your pick and gold pan on your horse, the advice booklet of 1859 says. You may then make $2 to $10 a day in gold dust (no nuggets).

To be more successful, however, you’d have to arrive better prepared.

If you are not acquainted with the process of gold mining, you should first learn how to separate the gold from the soil and sand. Learn to use a Long Tom, a wood chute with cleats 12 to 18 inches apart on the bottom, to catch the gold when you wash the dirt down. There is no cut lumber at the mines, so bring your Long Tom with you in pieces to be constructed on the spot and you might make $20 to $40 a day. Lumber is selling here at 50 cents a foot.

Right now, from the middle of March to the middle of April, is a good time to head west from points further east. Starting any earlier means there will not be enough grass for your animals. Warning: wood is scarce from Leavenworth to Bent’s Fort. Substitute buffalo chips for building fires.

If you are coming from New York, take the train at least to Chicago or Omaha. Then a stagecoach or river steamer further on. Next, buy your oxen and mules in Iowa. It takes only three days to reach Omaha City from Chicago. To St. Louis from Chicago it costs $7.50 if you ride second class. From Boston, it costs $26.

Four miners coming out can supply themselves for mining and provisions for six months, including two yokes of oxen and one wagon, for $140 per man. Bring a stove with you, not only for cooking, but also for drying off the sand from the workings. You will blow off the sand from the gold.

Chicago prices for supplies: $1.90 per 200 lbs salt, flour is $4.75 per barrel, and beans are 65 cents per bushel. Out here, beans are 20 cents a pound, brought up from Taos. Whiskey in Chicago is 35 cents per gallon.

Watch your eastern newspapers for first-hand accounts from the gold fields. One group reported to St. Louis finding gold in considerable quantities 13 miles east of Fort Garland. John Baker wrote home not to overload your wagon coming out “some of the worst roads I ever seen…You will do well to bring milch cows. Money can be made at that.” Also be sure to bring carpenter tools, as “there will be any amount of business for builders next season.”

There you have it. You’re ready to go pan for gold in old Kansas. Good luck.

Information is from the 19-page booklet with a fold-out map “Guide to the Gold Fields”. 1859. Thanks to John Carlson for lending it to the History Detective, a service of the Huerfano County Historical Society 719-738-2840.

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