Treasure Mountain Mine and Animas Forks
Colorado

World Wars & The Santiago Tunnel (Part III)

PART III: WORLD WARS AND THE SANTIAGO TUNNEL

War in Europe did not slow the search for gold in the San Juan Mountains. In fact, the development of floatation technology made separating gold and silver from waste rock in the mills even easier. For the first time, low-grade ore was profitable to mine. When mines were under-producing, mills like the Sunnyside at Eureka reprocessed their tailings piles to recover ore unearthed years before.

This is one reason so few tailings piles exist today in the area. The other reason is that many of the tailings were simply dumped in the Animas River—an environmental nightmare that the EPA is still monitoring today.

This ruin was once the Toltec Mine, a producing gold and silver claim that operated into the 1940s.
This ruin was once the Toltec Mine, a producing gold and silver claim that operated into the 1940s. The Animas River is flooding with spring melt.

Gold Prince Guts Shipped to Eureka

Taken around 11,600 feet.
Taken around 11,600 feet.

In 1917, the defunct Gold Prince Mill of Animas Forks was disassembled and reincorporated into the aging workings of the Sunnyside. The following year, congress passed the Pitman Act, which artificially raised the price of silver to $1 per ounce when traded internationally. In the San Juans, silver occurs alongside gold, so the Act ultimately subsidized exploration for gold with inflated silver profits. Companies hired back furloughed miners and hundreds trekked north from Silverton looking for work. They found it.

However, with the population boom also came a massive outbreak of the Spanish Flu, which spread throughout the mining camps, killing hundreds. Perhaps due to the outbreak, many families moved north to Eureka, and in 1918, the year the Great War ended, 350 people fell asleep nightly to the music of the Sunnyside. It would not be silent again until the Pitman Act expired in 1922 and returned the price of silver to $0.65 per ounce. This caused most mines, and Eureka’s mill, to close.

By the time the Great Depression hit, the gulches north of Silverton were already mostly abandoned, but President Roosevelt reinvigorated the search for precious metals in 1934 when he signed the Gold Reserve Act into law, taking the country off of the gold standard and fixing the price of gold far above Depression levels.

One of the first mines to reopen was the Treasure Mountain operation and their Santiago Tunnel.

The Santiago Tunnel of Treasure Mountain Mine

Treasure Mountain Mine constructed many of the buildings that remain today in 1937: a bunk house, a boarding house, a compressor house, and a blacksmith shop.

There was a lot of action underground, too. Santiago Tunnel was just over 700 feet long and had just intersected the retired workings of the once-rich Scotia Mine, and it was not far from the Golden Fleece Mine. The strategy of the Treasure Mountain Mine was to find leftover gold and silver reserves left untapped by two of the biggest former producers on the mountain. Just two years later, the Golden Fleece was a part of the system and the miners began cutting perpendicular tunnels from the main line.

Golden Fleece Mine, between 1870 and 1890. Courtesy of Denver Public Library.
Golden Fleece Mine, between 1870 and 1890. The Santiago Tunnel intersected its old tunnels long after it was abandoned. Courtesy of Denver Public Library.

To process the rock coming from the tunnel, a small concentrator mill was built below the bunk house in 1940, the newest building that still clings to the gulch.

The Duncan House overlooks the Columbus Mill (left) and the Gold Prince Mill ruins (not picture, but to the right). Note the Columbus Mine itself above the mill.
The Duncan House overlooks the Columbus Mill (left) and the Gold Prince Mill ruins (not picture, but to the right). Note the Columbus Mine itself above the mill.

When World War II broke out, though, gold mines deemed “nonessential” had to be shut down within a week, by order of the War Production Board. It was a time when the nation needed steel more than gold or silver, and so most of the work in the San Juans halted. The one exception was the Columbus Mine, which was reopened in 1943, probably because its copper and lead reserves were needed for the war effort.

After the war, the Santiago Tunnel was worked briefly, but by 1948 it was totally abandoned, and remains so to this day.

But, if Treasure Mountain was not named for the Treasure Mountain Mine, which was never a major producer despite the fact it has survived the last half-century relatively intact, where does the name come from? It’s a strange story…