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New Mexico Mineral Symposium
November 8-9, 2008


Mineral strike to meteor strike: Guffey and the Freshwater mining district

Steven W. Veatch, Dan Alfrey, Jo Beckwith, Becky Blair, Chris L. Peterson, Wayne Johnston, Maury Hammond and Roger Loest

This paper focuses on the geology, mineralogy, and mining history of the Guffey region. For the purpose of this study, the Guffey region defined by Bever (1953) will be used: "[A]n area of about 125 square miles in north-central Fremont County and southeast Park County in the Front Range of central Colorado. Its center is 34 miles by road northwest of Calton City." The town of Guffey is located 35 mi northwest of Cation City near Currant Creek in Park County, Colorado. The town of Guffey and the surrounding Freshwater mining district are central to this discussion.

The first people thought to occupy the Guffey area, based on lithics they left behind, were Early Paleo-Indians (before 5000 B.c.). Spear and arrow points, reflective of the Archaic Period (5000 B.C. to A.D. 500) and the early part of the Late Prehistoric Period (A.D. 500-1500), were discovered in the Guffey area.

Flaked stone debris ("chips"), or debitage, was found in various locations and represents Ute camping areas in the Guffey area. In addition to the debitage, there are culturally peeled trees in the Guffey area that record Ute harvesting of the cambium layer during late spring. The Utes harvested sweet-smelling bark from the ponderosa while on their way to summer camping areas, such as the fringes of South Park (A. Kane, pers. comm. 2008).

The Guffey area was explored by John C. Fremont when he was returning from California in 1844 (McConnell 1966). A few early settlers began to arrive in the vicinity in the late 1870s.

The town of Guffey and the Freshwater mining district are situated in a very scenic area near the base of three ancient volcanoes that have been deeply eroded. These volcanoes erupted 34m.y. ago, sending lahars flowing down their flanks, burying large redwood trees, and damming the river in the valley below. This dam created Lake Florissant, where a large deposit of Eocene plant and insect fossils formed.

The Guffey area is underlain primarily by Precambrian igneous and metamorphic rocks, which have been covered to the north, east, and west by post-Laramide extrusive rocks, forming the Guffey volcanic center. The Guffey volcanic center is part of the Thirtynine Mile volcanic area, the largest remnant of the Central Colorado volcanic field. The Guffey volcanic center—the largest volcanic center within the Thirtynine Mile volcanic area—is characterized by shallow plutonic rocks, ranging in composition from basalt to rhyolite, that form a central complex of domes near the town of Guffey (McIntosh and Chapin 2004; Wobus and Kroeger 1994). Students of the Keck Geology Consortium (Venzke 1988) have characterized the rocks of the Guffey volcanic center as latites, trachytes, and quartz trachytes, covered by a thick series of trachybasalt, shoshonitic flows, and lahars. The area is intruded by basalt dikes and small rhyolitic plutons.

One mile south of Guffey there are two mineral springs, Iron Spring and Yellow Soda Spring. Sediment from Yellow Soda Spring has formed a large mound more than 50 ft in diameter and more than 20 ft high. Spring waters bubble in the center of the apex of the cone. Anecdotal records mention that spring water once gushed out in a column 8 ft above the top of the cone. This phenomenon ended when several cowboys threw stones in the spring and obstructed the force of the flow. The water of Yellow Soda Spring at the apex of the cone was analyzed by the authors. The temperature was 63°F, had a pH of 7.1, and a salinity of -4,000 ppm. Using standard testing procedures, a Geometrix Scintilometer obtained the readings listed in Table 1. The highest readings were obtained over the pool of bubbling water (thought to be radon gas).

 Table1. Scintilometer readings at Yellow Soda Spring, Guffey, Colorado

Counts per second Location
20-25 Background radiation
30-40 Down at road below spring
150-250 Around different areas at the top of spring
250 and greater The highest reading over the pool of bubbling water


Today, Guffey is an unincorporated town with a post office. Guffey has a population of about 26 and is famous for electing various animals as the mayors. A cat named Monster was elected as the mayor of Guffey in 1998.

Guffey was founded by prospectors on a chance there might be another rich gold strike like the one in the nearby mining camp of Cripple Creek. The town was originally called Idaville and then Freshwater. Because there was another Freshwater in California, the town was then named after James McClurg Guffey (1839-1930), who was an oilman and capitalist (History of Pittsburgh and Environs 1922). By the time Guffey was incorporated in 1895 it was a bustling mining, lumbering, and ranching town (Eberhart 1969; McConnell 1966). There were several sawmills on the south end of town that did maintenance work on state fencing, telephone poles, and railroad ties. The Woodmen of America built the town hall. Guffey was also known far and wide for its dances, which included lots of fiddlers and other musicians. Cattle rustlers and outlaws operated in the nearby Black Mountain and Thirtynine Mile Mountain area. There was quite a mix of activity in this beautiful mountain setting.

Guffey became the center of activity in the Freshwater mining district where copper, lead, zinc, mica, feldspar, and other minerals were produced. It was during the gold rush years from 1895 to 1902 that the Freshwater mining district reached its high point and when Guffey had more than 500 residents and more than 40 businesses.

Although enormous gold discoveries were forecasted, it was the mining of other minerals that kept the small town going. Nearby cattle ranches and lumber operations sustained the small community during periods when mining brought in little money.

The Freshwater mining district was in the general area of Guffey. Production from the Freshwater mining district had not been recorded until the 1945 Minerals Yearbook reported production of 64 tons from two mines that yielded one ounce of gold, 83 oz of silver, 5,600 lb of copper, 100 lb of lead, and 2,600 lb of zinc (Vanderwilt 1947).
The Precambrian rocks in this district are host to the copper-tungsten-gold-zinc-lead occurrences of the Guffey district. A variety of ore and other minerals occur in the area (Table 2).

The Guffey area had many mines and prospects; however, the total production recorded for the district is minor—less than 10 tons of base metal and less than 200 oz of silver and gold combined.

The Betty mine, named after the owner's sister, was the most significant producer of the district. Bever (1953) reports a 300-ft-deep shaft "near the junction of a rhyolite breccia dike and a diabase dike, both of which have been intruded into injection gneiss." The Betty mine has malachite, azurite, and chalcopyrite. There are also significant amounts of pyrite, bornite, galena, and sphalerite and minor amounts of covellite (Bever 1953). Green spinel is abundant in the quartz-calcite-garnet amphibole rock. The spinel occurs as small, disseminated grains that create a greenish cast to the host rock (Bever 1953). Some octahedral of spinel attain a size of 1 in on edge. The mine machinery at the Betty mine was powered by a burro walking around in circles. Mr. Thiebold, the mine geologist in those early days, examined the mine's rocks in an ore house.

Other prospects near the Betty mine include the Copper King and Copper Queen mines. The host rocks of these mines are the gneiss unit. South of Guffey are several small tungsten prospects associated with a gneiss rock unit. Local pegmatites within the gneiss units have been mined for feldspar, mica, and beryl.

The Walter mine and the Charity mine were east of Guffey; the Annie Laurie was north of town. Other area mines included the Venture mine, which had a steam plant; the Black Diamond mine; and the Bessie mine, with a shaft more than 150 ft deep. The Mable Grace mine produced gold, copper, and mica. The Marguerite mine, 2 mi east of town, returned an assay of $594 per ton across a 3-ft vein in 1896.

Gold Hill mines, close to the town of Guffey, included the Hillside lode, Jim Crow lode, Daisy Douglas, Gypsy Queen, Daydream, Black Mule, Bellevue mine, and Dora V. The Carbonate King, next to Gold Hill boasted a 185-ft shaft and a 4-ft vein of high-grade carbonate ore carrying free gold in 1896. Ore from the Carbonate King was shipped to the Dell mill on Four Mile for processing.

One and a half miles west of town is the Moonlight Gulch area, where a number of good prospects were located, including the Liberty Bell (produced the first sylvanite ore in the camp). The Liberty Bell was owned by C. T. Case, nephew of J. I. Case, manufacturer of threshing machines. The Denver Times (August 7, 1896) described the vein as "29 inches in width, at a depth of 40 feet and from 50 samples assayed at over $3,000 a ton." Case was also reported to have shipped 2,640 lb of ore to the cyanide mill at Florence where he received $439.60. Case speculated in the district mines. He sold the Little-Ruth group, located on Little Ruth Mountain, to B. R. Glidden of Glidden Barb Wire Company and W. F. Lipke of Kansas City for $16,000 (The Denver Times, August 7, 1896). B. R. Glidden's relative, Joseph F. Glidden of DeKalb, Illinois, reshaped the American West with his 1874 patent for a simple wire technology (barbed wire) that helped ranchers tame the land.

Several prospects are known in the volcanic rocks of the Guffey volcanic center in the area north and west of the town of Guffey. They are mentioned by Vanderwilt (1947); however, there is no recorded information on the geological nature of these deposits.

The Freshwater mining district had a number of prospects, including the Little Jewel, Sweetheart, Little Beauty, Little Darling, Yellow Peril, Oro Find Lode, Black Beauty, Irine, Little Elsie, Little Susie, Emma B, Mary S, Willard, Pearle and Everlasting mines. Two brothers from Cincinnati, Ohio, organized the Andesite Gold mining and Town Company in the Freshwater mining District. The company owned 10 lode claims and held 160 acres of placer claims. The Denver Times reported in 1896 that more than 1,200 ft of development work was done in the claims and considerable ore had been exposed.

Located southeast of Guffey is the Micanite pegmatite district. This district, covering approximately 4 mil, is dominated by metamorphic rocks, mostly biotite-cordierite-sillimanite gneiss and schist (Wobus et al. 1979). In 1902 the United States Mica Company located several pegmatites and was in production from 1904 to 1907 (Hanley et al. 1950). The district remained inactive until 1934, when Colorado Feldspar Company of Canon City renewed activity. From 1934 to 1942 approximately 2,000 tons feldspar and 175 tons scrap mica were produced.

In November 1907 two cowboys were running their cattle in the hills around Guffey when they discovered what they initially thought to be an immense silver nugget (Pearl 1964). The men were J. T. Witcher, a Guffey-area rancher, and Robert L. Pope of Cation City. In fact, what they had found was a 682-lb iron meteorite.

This meteorite was eventually purchased by the American Museum of Natural History in New York (AMNH), but its exact path to that destination remains somewhat unclear. AMNH curator Edmund Hovey reports the acquisition in 1909 and states that the finders removed the meteorite from the mountains of Cripple Creek (Hovey 1909). However, a front page article from the Fairplay Flume (January 22, 1908), states that the meteorite was displayed for several days in front of Tanner's Grocery (presumably in Fairplay). It was then shipped (for $60) to the museum in New York. The AMNH records the purchase price as $1,500 (about $30,000 in 2008 dollars; today this meteorite would have a value of at least several hundred thousand dollars). The Guffey Meteorite remains prominently displayed in the AMNH Meteorite Hall.

In entering the meteorite into the AMNH collection, Hovey (1909) described it as a siderite, a "wholly metallic meteorite 36.5 inches long, 15 inches in maximum height and 8 inches wide." He gave its weight as 682 lb. The first published analysis of the meteorite was by William P. Headden, professor of chemistry at the Agricultural College of Fort Collins. Haedden identified the body as containing 89.8% iron, 10% nickel, and trace amounts of cobalt, manganese, chromium, copper, phosphorus, calcium oxide, and magnesium oxide (Headden 1908). Hovey entered a similar analysis into the AMNH records.

In the modern nomenclature, the Guffey meteorite is classified as an ungrouped iron, meaning it does not fit well into any defined category. It is sometimes considered an ataxite, an iron with high nickel content and not showing Widmanstatten patterns (Murphy 1999). This represents a rare type of meteorite. The Guffey is the largest meteorite that has been found in the state of Colorado.

At least 79 meteorites have been documented in Colorado. This is exceeded only by three other states: Texas, Kansas, and New Mexico (Matthews et al. 2003).

It took a special kind of person with strong determination and self-reliance to survive the boom and bust of mining and to make a living in Guffey and the Freshwater mining district area. Today this quiet little mountain community has fewer than 30 residents. The people still living there today reflect this pioneering spirit of independence. And Monster the cat is still serving as "Mayor."



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pp. 29-33

29th Annual New Mexico Mineral Symposium
November 8-9, 2008, Socorro, NM