COBWEB CORNERS: High-grading at the gold mines

By Mel McFarland

       I have talked over the years about one of the biggest problems in the Cripple Creek District. Called “high grading,” it consisted of employees stealing the best ores from the mines.
       Many a night's entertainment was paid for in the streets of the district with high-graded ores. You may remember a story I once shared about a miner who actually never did any mining. He had a system for attributing his ore to a fictitious mine. He was not discovered until some curious miners wanted to find out where his jackpot was located. They trailed him through the hills around the district. At the end of a week, he had a wagon load of ore, but they never saw a mine! He had been picking up stashes of high-graded ore all along the way, and they had hardly noticed until the wagon was filled!
       I find it interesting that the primary solution to high-grading took almost 15 years to be accepted. In 1907 the owners of the primary mines in the district began following a system that Golden Cycle near Goldfield had started (originally attributed to Winfield Stratton at his Independence mine). It was a changing room. The men would enter a room and change into clothing provided by the mine. Before leaving at the end of their shift they would change back. Different mines had variations, including having the men walk through a shower between the rooms with their mine clothes and street clothes. The sludge that resulted was processed with the ore. Indeed it contained gold dust. Not only that, but the clothes were regularly burned, and the ashes were processed too. This method slowed, but did not end high grading in the mines.
       In the early days, the ore was shipped to the mills in locked box cars. Later on, when the ore was of low value, it was shipped in open cars. Every morning the Midland Terminal took cars up Arch Street to the mill. The crews on the trains knew how to spot a good piece of rock. Many a brakeman would add to his day's wages by picking out good ore as he passed over the ore loads. Some of the guys had their own milling operations in a shed in their back yards. Some even produced jewelry using this gold!