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History in Our Area
The Forgotten Treasure under Standley Lake
Laurel Michele Wickersheim
Rawlene LeBaron, Front Range Chapter Past Regent
A century ago, claims of a vast blanket of gold beneath Standley Lake nearly prevented the lake as we know it from coming into being. Today, the controversy and treasure are long forgotten ... except by a few historians and treasure hunters.
In 1902, young Jefferson County, already planning for the future, filed plans for a reservoir at Standley Lake. This reservoir would be important for future needs for irrigation, as well as recreation. The county arranged financing for the project with W.E. Goldborough and associates of New York, and started buying surrounding property and rights of way.
Then, in 1905, the project was threatened when property owners along the western edge of lake bed refused to sell. Seven sample drill holes, they claimed, revealed a blanket of gold, about eight feet thick, at a depth of 800 feet. The gold assayed at about $30 per ton -- with gold prices at $20 an ounce in 1905, this was equivalent to 1 ½ ounces per ton. As George Bancroft later remembered, these test holes were in “sections 20 and 21, township 2 south, range 69 west.” The owners also reported finding coal at a depth of 700 feet, but since shallow coal was common in Colorado, this had only “faint futurist value.” They found oil in one drill hole, but this was probably “a small shale pocket of oil,” and was not pursued. The owners were not interested in the coal or oil, but they would fight in court for the gold. They formed a coalition and looked forward to a court battle.
Opposing the property owners was the Farmers Reservoir & Standley Lake Project, with attorney Milton Smith. To prove that the owners’ gold claims were baseless, Milton Smith retained one of the most respected mining and irrigation engineers in the West, George J. Bancroft. Bancroft was a Denver native and graduate of Stanford who had traveled the world studying mining. In 1900, he returned to Denver and was a consulting engineer for the Stratton estate, Phelps-Dodge Co., James Lake Irrigation Co., and others. He wrote numerous articles for The Mining Record and other newspapers, and, in 1908, he was appointed editor of Mining Science. His two daughters were a study in contrast: Caroline Bancroft, who continued her father’s interest in Colorado’s gold rush legacy with her numerous pamphlets; and Mrs. Robert LeBaron, who was a Washington, D.C., sophisticate. George Bancroft was just the expert witness the opposition needed.
At the condemnation hearing, the well driller testified so convincingly for the coalition that Milton Smith was forced to request a delay in the proceedings. With a decision tipping in favor of the property owners, Bancroft offered a compromise based on his study of maps of the area and S.F. Emmons’ famed mining monograph (“Denver Basin,” U.S. Geological Survey). With oil, coal, and gold at a depth of at least 700 feet, Bancroft suggested that Milton Smith should ask for only surface rights and let the property owners retain mineral rights at 500 feet or greater.
Smith later met individually with each owner and settled out of court. Jefferson County got its Standley Lake reservoir, the property owners kept their mineral rights, and details of the gold claim were not made public.
Years later George Bancroft met with one of the coalition property owners when he had to get a quit claim deed related to his grandfather’s estate. The coalition member was so helpful that Bancroft offered to compile a brief statement of their gold claim and was able to see their original findings. The gold was there, he said, but no one had been able to raise the money necessary to extract the gold.
Years later, Bancroft wrote:
". . . personally I think gold was encountered in all seven holes. I don’t think the results show a continuous blanket vein, like a coal vein. The ore was flint or flinty, and flint is always pockety. I checked the altitudes and depths of the gold discoveries. They could not be correlated to any one flat stratum. It is my opinion that there is a mineralized zone containing flint or flinty lenticles of gold ore in the area drilled at a depth of about 800 feet. The zone appeared to be 50 to 100 feet thick. As I recall it, some of the drilling “logs” showed one vein and some showed two veins. When the flint was encountered the sample was sent to an assayer. The values ranged from about $12 to $45 with gold at $20 an ounce, as near as I can recall the assays."
The Mining Record, November 11, 1943
Is there really a blanket of gold under Standley Lake? With gold approaching all-time high prices, the lake may be hiding a vast treasure.
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October 4, 2018