So here's two lost mines near or on Marble Mountain in South Central Colorado.
La Caverna del Oro (The Cave of Gold)
Long before the white man ever came to the United States the legend of La Caverna del Oro, the Cave of Gold, was passed down from generation to generation by the Indians. When the Spanish explorers arrived in the fifteenth century, monks translated the legend and the gold was eagerly sought by the explorers.
Caverna del Oro, 13,000 feet high upon Marble Mountain, was believed, by the Indians, to be plagued by demons. However, in 1541, three Spanish monks from the Coronado expedition forced the Indians into slave labor to extract gold from the cave. Finally, the Indians staged an uprising against the monks and two of them were killed. However, the third monk, De la Cruz, convinced the Indians that he was able to subdue the "evil spirits? lurking underground in the mine. With the help of the slave-miner natives, vast amounts of gold were brought forth from the subterranean passages. Later, when the Indians had served their purpose, De la Cruz and his small group of surviving Spaniards killed the Indians, loaded up their treasure on pack mules, and fled south back to Mexico.
The cave was then left unexplored until about 100 years ago, when it was found again by Elisha Horn. Climbing on Marble Mountain, only a few miles from the town of Westcliff, Horn stumbled upon a skeleton clad in Spanish armor, with an arrow sticking out of its back. Painted on the rocks above the skeleton was a very old red cross, which can still be faintly seen to this day. Near the cross was the entrance to Caverna del Oro.
In the 1920?s, the cave was explored again by a Colorado Mountain Club led by a U.S. Forest Ranger. The Ranger had been told by a 105-year-old Mexican woman that there was gold buried deep within the cave. The woman said that when she was a child, she could remember journeying to the cave where miners would come out with loads of gold.
She claimed that within 500-700 feet of the cave entrance there was an oaken door, which was the entrance to the rich Three Steps Mine. She explained that the treasure lay behind this set of padlocked wooden doors. The Ranger and the club members explored the many rooms and passages in the cave, climbing down as far as 500 feet into the cave, but did not discover the wooden doors, nor any gold.
However, they did find many other interesting items, including a 200 year old ladder and a hammer which was made sometime in the 1600?s. Lower down on the mountain, hidden amongst the aspen trees the club members found the ruins of an old fort as well as many arrowheads, which were scattered about the hillsides.
Many people have since explored the cave and have uncovered other old items including a windlass (rope and bucket), a clay jug and a shovel left by earlier explorers or miners. In addition, one group found a human skeleton chained by the neck to a wall deep down in the cave.
Nevertheless, no gold has ever been found (or at least, none that anyone is talking about.) Some people think that the entrance by the cross might have been an escape route, rather than the true way in, and the "real? entry to the cave lies hidden lower down on the mountainside. Regarding the mystery of the wooden door, behind which lies the treasure, some theorize that the door has since been hidden by a rockslide.
La Caverna del Oro sits at 13,000 feet on Marble Mountain, just over Music Pass to the northeast of the Great Sand Dunes.
The Lost Skinner Mine
Towering high above the beautiful Wet Mountain Valley, the distinctive conical mountain known as Horn Peak rises up along the eastern spine of the Sangre de Cristo Range. Standing 13,450 feet high, Horn Peak and its smaller companion, Little Horn Peak (13, 143 feet), dominate the western skyline in this part of the Wet Mountain Valley. From the slopes of Horn Peak, the towns of Westcliffe and Silver Cliff are clearly visible on the valley floor below the mountain, while across the Wet Mountain Valley, one can make out the historic mining town of Rosita. The slopes of Horn Peak are drained by three streams which flow into the valley. These are Cottonwood Creek, Hennequin Creek, and Dry Creek. Dry Creek is distinguished for its small waterfalls halfway up the mountain.
Horn Peak, and Little Horn Peak, which rises up just south of Horn Peak, were both named for an early pioneer in the Wet Mountain Valley named Elijah (or Elisha) P. Horn. Elijah Horn was one of the 1st settlers in the valley. Arriving in 1869, Horn homesteaded beneath the peaks that bear his name.
1869 was indeed a memorable year for Elijah Horn. Situated as he was near the eastern flank of the Sangre de Cristos, Horn had plenty of opportunities to prospect the surrounding mountains. While wandering through the Crestone Range, south of his ranch, Horn stumbled upon a vast system of caves that came to be known as the Spanish Caves. Located in the Marble Mountain, Music Mountain, Milwaukee Peak area, the cave system may be the site of the legendary Caverna del Oro, home of a fabulous ledge of gold. A number caves occur in the area, many of them quite extensive. Near the entrance to one of the caves, Horn discovered a large red Maltese Cross painted on the rock wall. Below the cave entrance, he found the crumbling remains of an old fort. In the thickets nearby, Horn discovered a decomposed skeleton in rusted Spanish armor. Further search revealed
additional Spanish implements in the Music Pass area, 2 miles south of Marble Mountain. Horn came to believe that a long lost Spanish gold mine lay somewhere in the Crestone Range near the Spanish Caves. Unfortunately, he never found it. But Horn need not have looked so far south for a legendary lost mine. The peak towering over his ranch was home to one of the most famous lost mines in the entire region.
The Lost Skinner Mine was discovered by a prospector named George Skinner around 1863, a mere 6 years before Elijah Horn settled in the Wet Mountain Valley. Hailing from Illinois, Skinner had been prospecting the area since 1860. He was seen occasionally in the Wet Mountain Valley and in Denver, where he bought his supplies. After 1863, his visits to Denver changed. Now, he brought gold ore to sell!
Shortly after Skinner's discovery, his visits to Denver ceased. Indeed, it was as if he had dropped off the face of the earth. After a few years, his family grew concerned. In 1868, George's brother came out west to look for him. After many fruitless searches, he discovered an abandoned cabin on Horn Peak which contained a number of letters written by George! In one of the letters, George mentioned his gold strike, describing it as a "wonderfully rich mine". But as for George himself, there was no sign.
The following year, as Elijah Horn laid claim to the land at the foot of Horn Peak, George Skinner's brother returned to the very same area to search for some sign of George. That fall, he finally discovered the skeletal remains of his brother at the foot of a cliff in the Horn Peak area. Scattered around the skeleton was a large amount of gold ore and some weather-beaten equipment, including George's diary. George Skinner had finally been found, but his mine remains hidden, even to this day.
There is yet another similar story as well that I have to search my archives for.
They sound like the same story, any thoughts or further discusion?
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