J.E. Carson (recorded elsewhere as Christopher J. Carson) discovered promising float samples southwest of Lake City, Colo., in 1876. Returning to the area after exploring near Leadville, he staked the Bonanza King and other claims in 1881.
By 1882 Carson Camp was hopping. Straddling the Continental Divide at around 12,000 feet, it boasted 150 claims and more than a dozen prosperous mines, including the Bonanza King, St. Jacob, Bachelor, George III, Maid of Carson and St. Lawrence. The St. Jacob alone produced more than $1 million in ore over its lifetime. While silver was the principal target, the ore also yielded gold, lead, copper and zinc.
Its remote location and extremely harsh winters hindered development. In 1887 work crews finally roughed out a road, best suited to pack trains, from Lost Trail, on the Atlantic side of the divide. In 1890 they made an equally difficult wagon road from Lake City, on the Pacific side.
In 1892 The Creede Candle noted, “Carson is directly on the Continental Divide, about half of the camp on either side of the apex.” The Candle also reported on the wintertime transport of ore by toboggan, as well as the death of one Robert Smith, who was warming giant powder on a forge at the Legal Tender, when the powder exploded.
The economic Panic of 1893 slowed development of the Carson mines until miners discovered rich gold deposits in 1896, particularly at Channing Frank Meek’s George III and Bachelor mines on the Lake City side of the divide. This renewed development gave rise to the lower camp becoming known informally as Bachelor Cabins. The older area on the Lost Trail side remained Carson.
In 1898 the St. Jacob Mine was working three shifts, produced $190,000 and built a new boardinghouse and smelter. Within two years more than 400 people lived in the Carson district.
Labor troubles heated up in southern Colorado in 1902, and Meek lost interest in gold mining, turning his attention to the Yule Marble quarries in Marble. By the end of the year a Gunnison newspaper reported that Carson was practically deserted, and the post office closed in 1903. In 1909 a visiting geologist found only six resident prospectors, and by 1910 the official population had dropped to 20.
Author Muriel Sibell Wolle visited Carson on horseback in 1946 and was briefly trapped in the deserted town by an electrical storm. She returned in 1948 and was again caught in a storm that old-timers said was drawn by iron deposits.
Robert L. Brown’ 1963 guidebook of Jeep trails to Colorado ghost towns described the route to Carson as one of the worst in the state. The road has since seen improvement due to periodic attempts to rework the mines, but access still requires high clearance. The lower camp, on private land but accessible to the public, comprises several well-preserved buildings, now sheltered under metal roofs. Only a few dilapidated log structures remain on the Atlantic side of the divide.
Originally published in the April 2013 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.