Western Kansas Gold
From the earliest period of recorded history gold has had a strange fascination for the human race. To secure the yellow metal, man has undergone all sorts of hardships. The lure of gold led Coronado in 1540-1541 on an expedition into North America in search of the wealthy province of Quivira. For centuries, rumors of gold in what is now Kansas have been repeatedly circulated. DuPratz's 1757 map of Louisiana shows a gold mine marked at the mouth of the Little Arkansas River. Possibly, the location was not a mine at all, but where, years before, a party from New Mexico encountered Native Americans. The tradition was that the lone survivor made his escape after burying a large amount of money and treasure. In 1836, Jesse Chisholm guided a party to the area in search of the elusive wealth and later other parties made investigations, but without success. Frequently, tales of buried wealth along the Santa Fe Trail came forth as elusive "caches" near present-day Dodge City.
Early in 1858, reports were circulated of gold being discovered at Cherry Creek, located at the foot of the Rockies in what was western Kansas Territory. The trickle of gold seekers heading west soon turned into a torrent. Kansas newspapers were filled with stories about gold, some real and most imagined. Reminiscent of the 1849 stampede of '49ers to Sutter's Mill in California, hundreds were lured to the mountains. The prospectors soon learned that "all that glitters is not gold" and some of the wagons that had gone west bearing the slogan, "Pike's Peak or Bust," creaked back home relabeled, "Pike's Peak and Busted."
Again, in 1896, there were reports of gold being discovered in Kansas. Stories claimed that gold was found at Hollenberg that assayed out at $10 to $20 per ton. Once more the gold seekers were doomed to disappointment and the crowds departed as quickly as they came, leaving Hollenberg to return to being a quiet village in Washington County.
About the same time as the Hollenberg discovery, there was a report of tin being found along the upper course of the Smoky Hill River. No tin was found, but ore bearing a low percentage of zinc was discovered. A 200-foot shaft was sunk and during experimentation with the shale, a metal was found bearing a strong resemblance to gold.
Quickly, a company was formed in Topeka for the purpose of making an extensive investigation. Professor Ernest Fahrig of the Philadelphia Commercial Museum came to Kansas to examine the shale. The shale value was $3 to the ton and a special mill was constructed at Topeka for the reduction of the ore. Several prominent Topekans invested in Trego and Ellis county lands, among them were: John R Mulvane, banker; Cyrus K. Holliday, the founder of the Santa Fe Railroad; W. A. L. Thompson, hardware merchant; and Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice, Frank Doster. The Trego "shales" were closely examined by Professor Erasmus Haworth of Kansas State University and Waldemar Lindgren of the United States Geological Survey. Both were skeptical as to the metal being gold and thorough tests demonstrated that their skepticism was founded on scientific facts. The Trego gold, while having the correct color, was lacking in specific gravity. When its true character became known the project of mine development was abandoned. The amount of zinc found in the shale was so low it could not be mined for a profit.
With some people, the hope of finding gold in Kansas may linger, but the majority of its citizens believe the real gold mines of the state are her grain fields.
Entry: Western Kansas Gold
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: November 2004
Date Modified: April 2013
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