Gold Mining in New Mexico

New Mexico The gold-producing districts of New Mexico are distributed in a northeastward-trending mineral belt of variable width that extends diagonally across the State, from Hidalgo County in the southwest corner to Colfax County along the north-central border. From 1848 through 1965 New Mexico is credited with a gold production of about 2,267,000 ounces; however, several million dollars worth of placer gold was mined prior to 1848. Mining in New Mexico began long before discoveries were made in any of the other Western States. The copper deposits at Santa Rita were known and mined late in the 18th century, and placer gold mining began as early as 1828 in the Ortiz Mountains south of Santa Fe. In 1839 placer deposits were discovered farther south along the foot of the San Pedro Mountains. The earliest lode mining, except the work at Santa Rita, dates back to 1833 when a gold-quartz vein was worked in the Ortiz Mountains New Mexico was incorporated as a Territory of the United States at the close of the Mexican War in 1846, but, because of its isolation, the general lack of knowledge of the region, and the hostility of the Apache Indians, it was not until about 1860 that prospectors and miners were attracted to the region. All mining in the Territory was suspended during the Confederate invasion in 1861-62, and later mining was frequently interrupted by Indian raids. New ore discoveries in the middle and late 1860’s and in the 1870’s stimulated mining in the Territory. In 1865 placers and, soon afterward, quartz lodes were found in the White Mountains in Lincoln County; in 1866 placer deposits were discovered at Elizabethtown in Colfax County, and silver-lead deposits were discovered in the Magdalena Range in Socorro County. In 1877 placers and gold-quartz veins were found at Hillsboro, and in 1878 phenomenally rich silver ore was found at Lake Valley in Sierra County. Extension of the Southern Pacific and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroads through the southern and central parts of New Mexico from 1879 through 1882 was a great stimulus to mining. Rich silver ores were discovered in the 1870’s and 1880’s, and silver mining flourished until the shallow rich ores were depleted. In 1912 large-scale mining began in the Central district in Grant County and since then most of the State’s gold out-put has come as a byproduct from copper and other base-metal ores.


Lies just south of the New Mexico-Colorado border, has been an important
source of lode and placer gold. Small quantities of silver, copper, and lead have also been mined. The metal mining districts in Colfax County are centered in the Cimarron Range which is along the western edge of the county. Martin (1953) reported a total gold production for Colfax County through 1952 of 282,717 ounces. This may be too low; the amount credited to the two principal districts in this report totals about 358,000 ounces through 1959. The most productive placer deposits are in the Moreno Creek valley near Elizabethtown on the west side of the Cimarron Range, and the most productive lode deposits are in the Baldy (Ute Creek) area on the east side of the range, east of the Elizabethtown district.

ELIZABETHTOWN-BALDY DISTRICT: Copper float, found by an Indian on the upper slope of Baldy Peak, was exhibited at Fort Union early in the 1860’s. This was the first mineral discovery in the Elizabethtown-Baldy district, and some of the men stationed at the fort located claims where the float had been found. In the fall of 1866, men sent by the owners to do assessment work did some panning along Willow Creek and discovered rich placer deposits; a boom followed in the spring of 1867. Although some locations were made on lodes, including the famous Aztec lode, most were on placers. To provide sufficient water for placering, a ditch about 41 miles long was dug from the head-waters of the Red River and was completed in 1868. The placer deposits along Grouse and Humbug Gulches, tributaries of Moreno Creek, each yielded more than $1 million in placer gold and silver. Another $2 million worth of placer gold and silver was recovered from the valleys of Moreno and Willow creeks, and some gold also came from the gravels along Ute Creek. Graton estimated the placer production of the Elizabethtown-Baldy district prior to 1904 at $2.5 million, and C. W. Henderson estimated the production through 1929 at about $3 million (145,138 ounces). The total placer production through 1959 was about 146,980 ounces. Most of the lode gold of Colfax County has come from the Baldy area. Graton estimated production at about $2 million (96,760 ounces) through 1903. The Aztec mine, discovered in 1868 and one of the oldest and richest gold mines in the State, accounted for more than half of the early output. The lode mines were virtually idle from 1941 through 1959. Through 1959, total lode production was about 221,400 ounces, and total lode and placer production was 368,380 ounces.


Is in the center of the southernmost tier of counties in New Mexico. The total gold production of the county through 1959 was about 13,500 ounces; almost all production has
come from the Organ district, which includes the north end of the Organ Mountains and the extreme south end of the San Andres Mountains.

ORGAN DISTRICT: Ore was discovered in the Organ district in 1849 and from the time of discovery to 1952, the district produced copper, lead, silver, zinc, and gold valued at about $241/2 million. Of this total, gold amounts to about $242,227 or 11,435 ounces. Most of the gold output was before 1906; the district was inactive from 1951 through 1959.


Grant County, in southwestern Mew Mexico, contains several highly productive mining districts and ranks first in the State in the production of mineral wealth. The ore deposits are diverse and have yielded copper, lead, zinc, silver, gold, iron, manganese, and molybdenum. Total gold production of the county through 1959 was about 501,000 ounces. Before 1900 placers and oxidized ores were the chief sources of the gold, but from 1912 through 1959 much gold has been a byproduct of base-metal mining. The major districts are the Central, Pines Altos, and Steeple Rock
CENTRAL DISTRICT: The Central district, which includes Santa Rita, Hanover, Fierro, and Bayard, is in eastern Grant County and has produced copper, zinc, iron, lead, and small amounts of gold and silver. From 1904 through 1959 the entire district produced about 140,000 ounces of gold, mostly as a byproduct from base-metal ores. Gold production before 1904 is not known but presumedly was negligible.
PINOS ALTOS DISTRICT: The Pines Altos district is about 8 miles north-east of Silver City in the Pines Altos Mountains. Both placer and lode gold were discovered in 1860, and within 2 years about 30 lode mines were being worked. The Civil War and the postwar depredations of Apache Indians brought about almost complete abandonment of the camp for several years. In 1867, operations were resumed and they continued with brief interruptions until the late 1950’s. Gold was the principal product in the early years. Silver, copper, and lead later gained significance, and after 1912, zinc was of major importance. Gold production in ounces is summarized in the following table:


1860-1904                            69,445
1905-1929                            25,380
1930-1959                            10,150


Totals                                 104,975


The most productive placer deposits were found along Bear Creek Gulch, Rich Gulch, Whiskey Gulch, and unnamed gulches near the old Gillette shaft. The principal lode mines are on the east side of the Pines Altos Mountains; a few are on the upper western slope.
STEEPLE ROCK DISTRICT: district is in western Grant County, about 4 miles from the New Mexico-Arizona boundary. Shortly after the initial discoveries in 1880, the Carlisle mine was developed and by 1897 its production was valued at about $3 million in gold and silver . Production figures from 1897 through 1931 are not available, and although ore was shipped, the total production is believed to have been small. A fairly prosperous interval began in 1932 and lasted through 1955. During this period 34,050 ounces of gold, in addition to considerable silver, copper, lead, and zinc, was produced. The district was idle from 1956 through 1959.


Is in the southwest corner of the State, was part of Grant County until 1920. Its
chief mineral products are copper, gold, silver, and lead; through 1952 it is credited with a gold production of about 227,000 ounces. More than nine-tenths of this production has come from the Lordsburg district, which has yielded gold as a byproduct of base-metal ores.

LORDSBURG DISTRICT: is 3 to 8 miles south-southwest of the town of Lordsburg at the north end of the Pyramid Mountains. It includes the Pyramid camp on the south end of the district and the Virginia (Shakespeare) camp on the north end. Copper has been the most important metal mined, and gold and silver have been valuable byproducts. Recorded gold production of the Lordsburg district from 1904 through 1959 was about 223,750 ounces, of which about 189,000 ounces was produced before 1933. Prior to 1904 the total production of silver, copper, lead, and gold from the district had a value of about $500,000, but the amount of gold has not been ascertained. Prospecting for silver began about 1870; however, the major early interest in the area was generated after it had been salted with diamonds. The ensuing stampede resulted in discovery of a few silver deposits, but development lagged until the copper potential of the area was considered. After several years of sporadic exploration, the Emerald vein was developed in the early 1900’s, and by 1932 workings on this vein were the deepest in the State. The Emerald vein yielded nine-tenths of the ore mined in the district. Activity continued at a moderate rate through 1959.


Gold lodes are the most important deposits in Lincoln County. The total gold production of Lincoln County through 1959 was about 163,647 ounces; however, mining virtually ceased from 1943 through 1959. Although production has come from a number of districts, only the White Oaks and Nogal districts have produced more than 10,000 ounces of gold.
NOGAL DISTRICT: in the Sierra Blanca Range about 6 miles southwest of the town of Nogal, has produced minor amounts of placer and lode gold, mostly before 1908. Gold placers were found in Dry Gulch, northeast of Nogal Peak, in 1865, and lode deposits were found at the site of the American Lode mine in 1868. Mining did not begin, however, until this region was withdrawn from the Mescalero Indian Reservation in 1882. By 1910 ore worth about $250,000 had been mined, but operations declined thereafter. The district was mostly idle from 1936 through 1959. Total gold production was about 12,850 ounces; most of it was from lode mines.
WHITE OAKS DISTRICT: has produced about seven-eighths of the gold in Lincoln County. It is about 12 miles northeast of Carrizozo in the White Oaks Mountains, which form the northern continuation of the Sierra Blanca Range. A small amount of placer gold was produced intermittently in the 1850’s and 1860’s in Baxter Gulch. The gold-bearing vein deposits were not discovered until 1879 in what is now known as the Homestake mine. The Old Abe mine was the most productive in the district and reached a depth of 1,375 feet. The total production of the district through 1903 was $2,860,000. From 1903 to 1926 a small amount of gold was produced in most years, and through 1925 the total production was about $3 million; most of it was lode gold. Only small-scale activity was reported through the 1930’s, and the district was practically idle from 1941 through 1959. The total gold production of the district through 1959 was about 146,500 ounces of gold; most of it was from lodes.


Otero County, in southern New Mexico along the Texas border, is relatively poor in mineral deposits, yet a few small mines in the Jarilla district produced a total of about 16,500 ounces of gold through 1959.
JARILLA DISTRICT: The Jarilla (Orogrande) district is in the Jarilla Mountains about 50 miles north-northeast of El Paso, Texas in the southwest corner of Otero County The first prospecting was done in 1879, but little interest was generated until turquoise was discovered about 20 years later. Gold and copper lodes were mined on a small scale, and a little gold was recovered from dry placer operations. The most active period was 1905-1918; the district was dormant from 1948 through 1959.


Sandoval County, in northwestern New Mexico, is mostly west of the Rio Grande. Small amounts of gold and silver were produced from veins in the county, and copper has been produced from sand-stone deposits. The gold and silver came from the Cochiti district in the foothills of the Valles Mountains, about 80 miles west of Santa Fe.
COCHITI DISTRICT: was prospected in the 1870’s or 1880’s, but boundary disputes with Mexico dampened any early enthusiasm to locate claims. By 1889 much exploration was underway, resulting in the discovery of the Albemarle deposit in 1894. During a period of feverish activity from 1894 through 1904 more than $1 million in gold and silver was mined. In 1905 mining ceased and was never resumed except for brief flurries in 1914-16 and 1932-40 The district was mostly idle from 1941 through 1959. The total gold production through 1959 was about 41,500 ounces.


San Miguel County, in northeastern New Mexico, adjoins Santa Fe County on the east. Deposits of gold, silver, copper, lead, and zinc are found in the mountainous northwest corner of the county in the Willow Creek district. The total gold production of the county through 1959 was 178,961 ounces.
WILLOW CREEK DISTRICT: Almost the entire production of the Willow Creek (Pecos) district came from the Pecos mine, formerly known as the Hamilton or Cowles mine. Discovered in 1881, the deposit was developed slowly, and in the early 1900’s, it was developed primarily as a copper mine. Intensive exploration that began in 1916 later revealed large reserves of lead-zinc ore at depth. From 1926 through 1939, under the owner-ship of American Metal Co., the mine produced $36 million in gold, silver, copper, lead and zinc. Aside from minor activity in 1943-44, the district was dormant from 1940 through 1959. Total gold production for the district through 1959 was roughly 178,300 ounces.


Santa Fe County is in north-central New Mexico, along the western edge of the Great Plains physiographic province. Gold has been mined from placers and lodes along
the western boundary of the county in the Cerrillos Hills, Ortiz Mountains, and San Pedro Mountains. These ranges are circular in outline and were formed by doming of Carboniferous and Cretaceous sedimentary rocks by laccolithic sheets of Tertiary mon-
zonite porphyry. Gold placers were mined as early as the 1830’s; therefore, the early production can only be estimated. The principal gold districts are the Old Placer and the New Placer; each produced an estimated $2 million in gold. Total county gold
production through 1959 probably was between 150,000 and 200,000 ounces.

NEW PLACER DISTRICT: (San Pedro) district is on the west side of the San Pedro Mountains between the towns of San Pedro and Golden. Most of the gold production came from placers that were mined before 1880, but after 1904 there was also an appreciable output of lode gold. The placer deposits were discovered in 1839, 11 years after those of the Old Placer district were discovered. The placers are in Lazarus Gulch and in branches of Tuerto Creek near Golden on the west side of the mountains. It has been estimated that the New Placer district produced about $2 million (96,759 ounces) from beginning of production to 1904. This figure represents chiefly placer gold but it may also include some lode gold; figures on lode production before 1904 are not available. From 1904 through 1957 the district produced 2,931 ounces placer gold and about 16,000 ounces of lode gold. Total gold production was about 115,700 ounces. There was no recorded production from 1957 through 1959.

OLD PLACER DISTRICT: (Ortiz, Dolores, Cerrillos) district is on the east side of the Ortiz Mountains. Placer deposits were found in the Old Placer district in 1828–probably the first gold discoveries in New Mexico. Gold-quartz veins were discovered in the district 5 years later. The richest placers were found at the mouth of Cunningham Gulch near the
old town of Dolores where the gravels form a mesa, a remnant of the upper part of an alluvial fan. Lower grade placers were mined in Dolores Gulch, west of Cunningham Gulch, and on the south side of the Ortiz Mountains. Unrecorded but probably
small amounts of gold were mined from lodes which were known as early as 1833. Total gold output of the district is about 99,300 ounces, most of which was mined from placers before 1900.


Located in the southwestern part of the State, Sierra County contains many mining districts, which in earlier years made the county one of the foremost mining centers in New Mexico. Gold has been produced from numerous districts, but only the Hillsboro district has yielded more than 10,000 ounces. Total gold production of the county through 1959 was about 183,900 ounces.
HILLSBORO DISTRICT: (Las Animas) district is about 25 miles southwest of Truth Or Consequences. Both lodes and placers were discovered in 1877 and were worked intensively from 1884 through 1905. Mining was resumed from 1931 through 1942, but was spasmodic from the end of World War II through 1959. Estimated gold production from 1877 through 1931 at $2,200,000 (106,400 ounces) from placers and $4,700,000 worth of combined metals from lode mines. Total gold production through 1959 was probably about 149,000 ounces, roughly two-thirds of which was from placers. The gold placer deposits of the district cover an area of about 18 square miles of dissected alluvial fans east of the Animas Hills, about 6 miles north-east of the town of Hillsboro


Socorro County, in the west-central part of the State along the Rio Grande, contains a variety of mineral deposits valued mainly for copper, lead, zinc, and, to a lesser extent, gold and silver. In 1921 Catron County was formed from part of Socorro County, and much of the early gold output attributed to Socorro County came from the Mogollon district now in Catron County. Total gold production through 1959, excluding the Mogollon district,
was about 32,000 ounces, mostly from the Rosedale district. Though the Magdalena district is the most important camp in the county, its ores are rich in lead and zinc and have yielded less than 4,000 ounces of gold.

ROSEDALE. DISTRICT: is in the northern San Mateo Mountains in the southwest corner of Socorro County, about 25 miles southwest of Magdalena. Gold was discovered in the district about 1882. Development work was delayed by frequent Indian attacks, but operations began in the 1890’s and production was maintained until 1916. The Rosedale mine, the most productive in the district, was active from 1934 through 1937. No detailed early production figures have been found, but it’s reported that the district produced about
$500,000 (24,190 ounces) in gold through 1916. There was no placer production. No production was recorded from 1941 through 1959. The total gold production of the district through 1959 was about 27,750 ounces.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Gary Kindel

    Linda, you may use the info on your blog. I would appreciate a link back to the article to my site ;).
    Gary Kindel

  2. Unknown

    Planning a four month long adventure on the San Francisco River camping in the Apache SitGreaves Nat'l Forest. Putting in my inflatable boat at the town of Alma, New Mexico. Is there any gold in the San Francisco River ?

  3. Gary Kindel

    There no placer mines listed on the San Francisco River but depending how far you travel, there are placer deposits on the Gila River. Geology north of the San Francisco River I would not expect to produce much gold but you never know.

  4. Edward J. Holub Jr.

    Hi, Gary. I recently joined Gold Prospectors Association of America and I'd like to do some prospecting in N.M. Would I need special permission to pan in The Willow Creek Mining District near Tererro? Any help would be appreciated. Thanks. Edward J. Holub Jr.

  5. Gary Kindel

    Hi Edward sorry for delay responding. You probably need to make sure there are no placer claims in The Willow Creek Mining District near Tererro. I'll see if I can find any information but I would assume you will need permission even if you are BLM.

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