_standard_header 171. ColoradoNative
171. ColoradoNative
issue = 77
ColoradoNative No. 10 Copyright Pubsource 2019
ColoradoNative No. 88 Copyright Pubsource 2019

01. Foreword -- The Braille of Colorado History

SAY! "Colorado doesn't need another mine," wrote a Breckenridge reader in a letter to the editor. "Newcomer," we wondered? If you grew up in Colorado, like we did, you tend to take mines and old mine workings for granted. Our parents used to drive us through the mining districts on the way to visit relatives, past numerous mine dumps, waste piles, abandon mills, and old railroad beds that once linked mines with distant mills and smelters. It wasn't an alien or ugly landscape; it was the landscape of family history and dreams. The dumps in Leadville, the gravel beds in Fairplay, and the mines on Aspen Mountain were integral parts of our family stories. Our relatives worked in mines. Those people got along with less so we could have more. And they taught us to dream. Dennis' Grandpa Ralph DuBe' was a miner, working his claims near Aspen, Jamestown and Ward. His wife's family had worked mines in Quebec, Minnesota, Montana, and Wyoming. Dennis' Grandpa Jeremiah Harrington worked the mines, too. The Harrington ancestors dug copper in Ireland, followed the mine jobs across the Atlantic and across the U.S., finally working the mines beneath Leadville. Dennis' brother Mike helped pull coal out from deep beneath Hayden for 17 years, and cousin Billy Harrington still works for mining companies in Leadville. Rocks are not just a fascination of Dennis' side of the family. One of Jude's favorite childhood memories is "helping" her dad, John, and his brother Wendell pan and mine for gold near Durango one summer. The brothers had stayed up late night after night studying maps and diggings, and had purchased a mechanized crusher to separate gold from its surrounding rock. After a lot of work, they produced one pile of gold dust, which everyone admired under a fluorescent light in a dark closet. What Jude remembers most is not that her dad and uncle thought they had struck it rich -- they had not. But she marveled at how two grown men could dream such dreams. And, yes, some how, shortly thereafter, Wendell went back to driving a bus and John went back to installing and fixing car washes. We should understand those who feel angry when they look at the century-old mining waste around the state. One mountain is beautiful, the next is scarred by the activities of miners, now long departed, who came and took the wealth and left behind waste piles, abandoned roads, and derelict buildings. We know those miners took what they wanted, and left a mess for others to clean. But there's more than one side to this story. Did the writer from Breckenridge wear a gold wedding ring? Drive a steel car? Have mercury-lead fillings in her teeth? Brush those teeth with fluoride toothpaste? Write the letter on a computer made from petroleum and sand and copper? Yes, she did. Just like us. Our whole civilization is built on metal mining, and to dig a mine, you've got to move some dirt. It's hard not to think of mining when thinking of Colorado. The Great Seal of the state features a miner's pick crossing a hammer, because it was the hot economic engine of mining that drove the early "development" of the state. And our families were part of that era. Yes, some old mines are heavy polluters, dumping thousands of tons of toxic metals into our water every year. Spring snow becomes acid as it runs over the mine waste, dissolving poisons and washing into streams. And the Mined Land Reclamation Board is cleaning the mess up, one mess at a time. At the same time, we get a prickly, goose-bumpy feeling, when standing on the top of some forgotten high-altitude mine dump. It was our people who dug those holes. Those dumps, those vanishing mining towns, are the traces of our ancestors, the Braille of Colorado's history. And that history is slowing disappearing, as grass and sunflowers and condos sprout where once miners toiled and died. Even as the work of fixing our Grandfathers' sins goes on, the rest of Colorado is suffering from today's "progress": population, growth, traffic, congestion, noise and air pollution. We shouldn't be surprised. Colorado's history is the history of taking. Bought from the French, who had pilfered it from native Indians, Colorado was stripped by trappers and buffalo hunters and lumberjacks and cattle barons and miners and railroad companies, who started towns and cities, all where quiet prairies or alpine meadows once stood. Now the taking occurs when we divvy up the state's land into little real estate empires, and sell them for condos and castles -- places to house the million new residents who've moved here in the last 20 years, bringing their own dreams. We don't know if Colorado needs another mine. And we don't know if Colorado needs more condos. We suspect not. However, we do know we will always need moms and dads and grandpas and grandmas who teach their kids to dream. Can we find a way to dream that doesn't require making a mess of this wonderful world of ours? We should be so lucky. ----------- (This article was published in the January 2000 edtion of the Sunset Report, and was reprinted in the July 2000 issue of Mining Engineering, a publication of the Society of Mining Engineering.