Willoughby: All that glitters is not necessarily Telluride, Ophir or Spar
Legends & Legacies
Auto manufacturers try to capitalize on vehicle names. New model names tend to reflect the latest cultural interest. Because of this, a Kia commercial from the Super Bowl grabbed my attention. An SUV forded a river. Barely above water, the automobile hood brandishes the name Telluride.
I don’t know what football fans think of that name, but Aspenites know it as a ski resort, an outdoor community, a place for fun. Like Aspen’s, Telluride’s economic tendrils entwine with mining history. But the word itself grows from a little-known root.
For mining vocabulary, I turn to “A Dictionary of Mining, Mineral, and Related Terms” put out by the U.S. Department of The Interior in 1968, which defines tellurides as ores of the precious metals (chiefly gold) containing tellurium. Further, the reference notes that hessite, sylvanite, calaverite, petzite and nagyagite are tellurides of native silver and gold. Dear reader, are you still with me?
The town of Telluride was founded in 1878 under a different name, but changed to Telluride nine years later. The pioneers did not consult a dictionary; they knew their telluridic alphabet and wanted their town name to reflect it.
Names of several towns and claims leveraged the fame of renowned mines or their locations. Such desecration of intellectual property would land the namers in litigation land today. But at a time when mines dominated the national exchanges, this plagiaristic propaganda induced investors to buy stock.
Ophir, a Biblical name for a port on the Red Sea where gold was brought, whispered to investors, “Get your bucks.” During the American mining period, “Ophir” became synonymous with gold, and a number of California claims assumed the name. A town called Ophir once graced Castle Creek Valley, with an eponymous gulch and mining claim. The small settlement of cabins built from aspen trees housed miners who worked claims on the backside of Aspen Mountain. Despite the name, the mines in Ophir gulch uncovered no major ore bodies and yielded no gold. Over time, the miners moved uphill into the Little Annie Basin.
Aspen awoke to the Ophir-naming game at a relatively late time, when the word had accrued peak value. The name had featured in the Colorado gold rush of the 1860s. Then the Ophir mine in Nevada’s Comstock dominated gold mining news of the 1870s. The historic town Ophir, Colorado, holds on to this day. And if you search the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection for the term, 25,000 references scroll down the page.
For Aspenites, mention of the word “spar” may trigger a memory of Spar Gulch and crystalline winter snow. But Spar Gulch holds other sparkly stuff all year-round. According to the mining dictionary, the term, used loosely, refers to almost any transparent or translucent, readily cleavable, crystalline mineral having a vitreous luster. For instance, you may be familiar with the mineral feldspar, plentiful in the oldest rocks of the moon.
Cornish miners, many of whom settled in Aspen, called quartz “spar.” The term increased in significance when gold from the California rush was found in association with quartz. The presence of spar often foretold gold riches, but the name held no magic over Spar Gulch.
Owners who resisted the temptation to cash in on the name of a proven claim named their claims after themselves. But a claim located in the Richmond Hill district bucked both trends, the Good Enough. I thought I knew most of the claims in that area, at least their names, and I have good maps to locate them. I found only one reference to the Good Enough, from 1885. Had the mine succeeded, the name would be more amusing. However, miners dug 60 feet into the earth and did not find anything of value. Like Ophir and Spar, the Good Enough was not good enough.
Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Kevin Warner started his career with the U.S. Forest Service as a wilderness ranger in 2001. Now he’s taking over the key position as Aspen-Sopris District Ranger.