Gold Fever, Big Mouths, Lost Fortune

Mining has always been a relatively dangerous career choice, but in the late 1800s it was even more precarious.

The facts were that, within five years of arrival, most Black Hill gold miners (and even those who traveled further west) would leave with less money than when they arrived. Combine this with cave-ins, black lung and lost limbs, and you really had to have 24 karat fever to consider spending even one year in the mine trade.

But the two men who owned Big Thunder Gold Mine – Julius Engle and Joseph Krupp – spent three entire decades drilling (thirty years of HAND drilling), with only one ounce of gold to show for all their hard work. At $25 an ounce, they kept going, but could never quit their day jobs as explosive experts.

As David, our tour guide at the Big Thunder Gold Mine, walked us underground and deeper into the mine, he shared with us the rest of the story of these two very close and quite persistent partners. But honestly, as he unfolded the details of their story, it actually made us understand their commitment even less.

They purchased the mine in the late 1800s while in their mid thirties. In the spring of their life, they must have been high on possibilities and probably had even higher hopes about the location of their newly claimed mine as their land rights appeared to put them in line with one of the largest known gold veins. But after ten full years of hand tapping a six-foot path through some 200 feet of stone, they found only one measly ounce of gold. Worse yet, they discovered that the vein they had hoped for, was in fact dried up.

Ten years of back breaking working for $25 in reward would send even the most steadfast miner back to their former career, in fact, even today I’ve seen grad students hide out in college or jump into other fields because they couldn’t make six-figure salaries fast enough. But not these two, they heard that another well-known vein might run through their stake, so on they went deeper into the shaft.

Twelve more years of digging resulted in no additional discoveries.

At this point, they had to be frustrated. After years of stealing fuses, dynamite and other equipment from their demolition customers, their revenue stream had begun to dry up like the gold veins they were chasing. Again, no one would have faulted these men, both in their 50s now, if they had packed it in and headed for greener pastures.

But NOOOOOOOOO…. ten more years later and now in their 60s, the cash strapped old men kept digging. Finally, they found the start of the vein they were looking for just off their property in an underground plot of unclaimed land.

After cashing in eight ounces of gold for an astronomical-at-the-time $225, the two men decided to go to the local saloon and have a few cold ones in celebration. As the whiskey flowed, so did their blather. They boasted about the enormous amount of gold they expected to find in that plot of land they did not yet own. As will often happen, bad things occur when you’ve had a bit too much of the ol’ cough syrup, and in this case loose lips sank fortunes.

Annoyed by the partners’ arrogance, a few men in the bar that night pooled their money and purchased the rights to the land that the men had boasted was loaded with priceless gold. And this is the most interesting part. The men who purchased the land didn’t have the money to mine it but they just didn’t want the partners to make any money; and mine laid dormant until the partners’ death.

Long story short, after geologists studied the land in recent decades, it was discovered that the find still in fact could hold hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars worth of gold.

Imagine working 32 years to strike it rich only to have one loose lipped drunken night take it all away from you.

This was one of the best tours on the trip with an interesting story and cool opportunity to see a historic mine. For more information about tours click here.