Ghosts of Clear Creek Canyon Colorado

In the summer of 2018 we traveled to the Centennial State for some adventure in the Rockies. Our primary objective; Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of course. We had a great base to operate out of, parking our travel trailer at our friend’s cabin between Buena Vista and Hartsel. This article covers Clear Creek Canyon in Chaffee County, which is north of Buena Vista on Highway 24 around Clear Creek Reservoir.

Photobombed in Vicksburg, Co. Dave Alexander, August 2018.

Located in present day Chaffee County, this area was inhabited dating back to the 15th century by the Ute tribe. Primarily residing in the Arkansas River Valley, the tribe lived off deer, buffalo, elk and other smaller game, along with mountain roots and berries. In the summer, the tribe would track game into the high country before retreating back to the foothills in the winter. Horses were introduced by the Spanish to the south who traded with them, giving the tribe opportunity to expand their hunting grounds. Other tribes noted in the region in the early 1800’s included the Arapaho and Cheyenne.

Kit Carson, Indian Scout

Kit Carson, Indian Scout

Also in the early 1800’s, French fur trappers and traders began hunting beaver here, although it was considered dangerous due to the presence of the Natives. Kit Carson reportedly wintered in this region as well during his younger days at Bent’s Fort.. The famous trapper, hunter, indian scout and later military man, was well known to the Ute, and they “soon knew him so well he visited their camps, sat in their lodges, smoked the peace pipe, and dangled their children upon his knee. The Indians liked him exceedingly, so that they often would listen to his counsel and advice.” That according to Charles Johnston in his 1910 bookFamous Scouts, Including Trappers, Pioneers, and Soldiers of the Frontier.

The Gold Rush of the late 1850’s brought thousands of prospectors to Colorado Territory, established in 1861. As more Europeans invaded, relations with the Ute tribe was varied. Chief Ouray was known to be amicable and even helped some settlers, however other Ute forced the interlopers off their land. A treaty in 1868 found the Ute tribe relocating to a reservation in Western Colorado Territory, opening up the land for more farms and ranches in the Arkansas River Valley.

One of our day journey’s in Chaffee County took us north of Buena Vista on Highway 24 to Clear Creek Reservoir. As you turn into the reservoir area on County Road 390, you are now entering Clear Creek Canyon. Just past the lake, you’ll enter a stretch of ghost towns that harken back to the mining days of the late 1800’s. This twelve mile stretch includes preserved mining camps, ghost towns and relics from the Silver Boom era.

Mining in Clear Creek Canyon began around 1867. The story goes that prospectors from Leadville were camping in the canyon and lost their burros. When they found their pack animals had wandered down the creek, they noticed gold in the creek bed. This would eventually start a boom by the mid to late 1870’s, with four large claims including Tasmania, the Fortune, the Banker and the Swiss Boy, all big ore producers in the midst of many smaller mines.

The first ghost town you come to on this stretch of road is Beaver City. There’s only a couple of cabins left, built around 1880, with the one right off the road being the only one we ventured to.

Circa 1880 cabin in Beaver Colorado. Photo by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

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