August 18, 2009

Silver Mining in Colorado

You know, living in Colorado, I'm surrounded by so much history from the "old west," and it's difficult to know where to focus my research efforts for my books. Sometimes, I feel like a goldfish with a 5-second memory or a little baby with a 2-minute attention span. :) So many amazing things, so little time, and far too many books to write.

One series I have, though, focuses on a family of siblings whose parents have died and left them a ranch in southwestern Colorado. They owned a silver mine though before the ranch, and although they no longer run it, they are still taking profits from it. The first book features a newspaper reporter who travels from Chicago to investigate some unique coins that originated from their mine.

When I researched the background, I realized that individual mines would often press distinct markings into the silver mined from their claims. This fascinated me, as I always thought the metal was mined then sold to the mints to be turned into money. But it seems this wasn't the case when silver was first discovered.

Silver mining in Colorado has taken place since the 1860s. In the past, Colorado called itself the Silver state. Nevada also calls itself the Silver state; in reality, the US state which has produced the most silver is Idaho. Of course, since Colorado became a state in 1876, it became the Centennial State. :) That's around the setting for my books too, so although silver plays a part, it isn't the driving force.

In fact, the ranch is the primary focus. What keeps things entertaining is the 3-some cast of characters who worked for the Wilde family at the mine and now work at the ranch. Boomer, Shorty and Molly. They provide comedic relief for the tensions throughout the book, but are also full of useful information when this reporter comes investigating.

At first, I thought having the family sell the mine, but then it wouldn't have worked with the plot, as they'd have no claim to the contents in the mine and no rights to investigate or give permission to the reporter to take a closer look into things. So, I had to shift my focus a little and do more research into the silver mines in the area.

Who knows? Perhaps another series will focus on the mining industry instead of it being a sidestory. There is certainly more than enough information out there and enough fascinating characters from history I could use as inspiration.

By far, the largest largest silver-producing district in Colorado is Leadville, and it wasn't discovered until 1874. Cumulative production through 1963 was 240 million troy ounces of silver, 3 million troy ounces of gold, 987 million tons of lead, 712 million tons of zinc, and 48 million tons of copper. I caution you if you want to go looking there, though, as it's located at over 9,000 feet above sea level, so the air is quite thin. That didn't seem to hurt the production numbers though.

Today, the largest current source of silver in Colorado is as a byproduct of gold mining at the Cripple Creek & Victor mine, a large open-pit heap leach operation owned by AngloGold Ashanti at Victor, Colorado. In 2006, the mine produced 4.0 tons (130,000 ounces) of silver. That's a LOT of silver! Just imagine how much work it would have taken for some of the original mines to produce that amount. Amazing to think how far we've come from the original strikes.

It's been a lot of fun doing the research. Now, I just need to sell the series, so I can see it in print and get paid for doing the research. :) Work is always far better when you can make money doing it! And when I do sell these books, I can come here to offer free copies. Right now, I've sold Colonial era and Industrial Revolution books. Not exactly "westerns".

But if there's interest, I can still offer a drawing to those who comment...perhaps in September or October. If you're interested, let me know by leaving a comment here. I'd be happy to give a way a copy of the books I have.

* photo copyrights:,,


Molly Noble Bull said...

Dear Tiff,
You article was very interesting. I learned some things.

Tiffany Amber Stockton said...

Thanks, Molly. It barely brushed the surface of all the fascinating facts, but I hope it at least sparked interest in those who want to learn more. :)

Linda said...

I would love to win a book on mining in CO. I love things about the beginnings of the West, preferably historicals. If you have a drawing, please enter me. Thanks.

Linda said...

Don't know if mine went through. I am interested in mining in CO. I love stories, preferably historicals, of the West. So if you have a contest, Please enter me.
desertrose5173 at gmail dot com

Anonymous said...

I would like to read a book set in Leadville. I grew up not far from there and remember my grandfather telling all about the area. He told me that when they took out the old wooden sidewalks during the WPA projects, they recovered millions of dollars worth of silver that had fallen through the cracks. My gandfather worked on that project. Colorado has a very colorful history. I bet you had a good time researching your subject.

Tina Dee Books said...

Joye, I think Jeanne Marie Leach wrote a book set in Leadville (Shadow of Danger).

Great article, Tiff!

Jackie said...

I would love to read a book about the Colorado silver mining. I just finished reading Ann Parker's book Silver Lies set in Leadville....a very informative book with a good story.

Tiffany Amber Stockton said...

Wow, Joye! You have direct connections to history in Leadville. If I can sell these books, I might just be contacting you for research detail. :)

And Jackie, thanks for that tip on Silver Lies. It could help with some additional details for my series.

Seems there's interest. Now, I just have to find someone to publish them. :)