The Roscoe Placer, Jefferson County, Colorado
As appearing in The Gold Nugget, July 2008
by Beth Simmons


[ Roscoe Placer Operation drawing ] We all knew that the club's favorite placer grounds in Clear Creek Canyon had some history as a commercial venture, but little did we realize the extent of past operations there! Beth Simmons, historian and faculty member at U.C. Denver, and assisted by Katherine Honda, has researched the sources including the voluminous works of legendary geologist Arthur Lakes and come up with a story which gives a new meaning to every drive up Clear Creek Canyon.

In 1895, a group of Denver capitalists surmised that the millions of ounces of gold mined in the Central City area must have some representation in the deep gravels of Clear Creek Canyon. They, augmented with European capital, initiated a program to recover that gold. The project was known as the Roscoe Placer, although it has not yet been discovered who or what "Roscoe" was. Among the efforts involved was a 2,500 foot flume diverting all of Clear Creek around the workings. Remnants of that flume are visible today. The railroad up the canyon was moved again and again for mining access. Devices were employed such as the boulder elevator which, using water pressure, could lift boulders up to 11 tons out of the creek bed.

A small town was built just to house the workmen for the project. All of this was shown to us in slides made from early photographs and above all by the breathtaking draftsmanship of Arthur Lakes. With computer simulation, Ms. Simmons was able to superimpose or otherwise combine old data with recent photographs in stunning displays of "then and now."

The main target of the project was the deep gravel just above the bedrock. Indeed, the nearly vertically tilted layers of meta-sediment which form the bedrock surface, made natural riffles which may have been lucrative. Alas, there are no financial records of the Roscoe Placer and so we did not find out whether or not the project was a success. But in any case each time we drive past Roscoe Rock our imaginations will take us back past the current tranquility to the days of big time placer mining.

But the story did not end with the Roscoe Placer. About forty years later, in the depths of depression days, there was renewed interest in Clear Creek placering. Upstream of the Roscoe Placer were new developments known as the Humphreys Placer. This time there was the use of steam power. Dredging failed because the boulders were too big. Underground placering is always extremely dangerous, but that is one thing they also did--big time. They were aided by a new invention--the magnetometer, developed by Dart Wantland, which could locate black sands at depth. There is some indication that the project was a success. The yield for at least part of the job was reported at $0.61 per cubic yard. Workmen's pay was eight dollars for a ten hour shift and one dollar and thirty-five cents covered room and board. Those employed were probably very happy to get the work.

(Our thanks to Beth Simmons and Kathy Honda for an elucidating memorable story of history in our midst.)

Beth Simmons authored "A Quick History of Idaho Springs" and has submitted her second book, co-authored with Katherine Honda, "The Legacy of Arthur Lakes," to the same publisher, Western Reflections. Her doctorate research is the history of an Idaho Springs family, the Mosch's, and how their hands literally created the Front Range region as we see it today. The resultant video DVD, "Tahosa Territory," will soon be available at the Phoenix Mine. In 1895-1896, local geologist and mining reporter, Arthur Lakes, wrote four front-page articles about the bend in Clear Creek you know well at Roscoe, partially where the historically incorrect sign parking area is along US Route 6 eight miles west of Golden. This eye-opening presentation tells about the humongous development called the Roscoe operation and its aftermath, the Humphrey's Gold Operation.

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