Gold King documents and map unearthed

While going down a wormhole the other day, I stumbled across a variety of documents on the Gold King Mine on the wonderful Mountain Scholar site. It was an exciting find for me because:

  1. I had never seen these documents before, and I’ve seen a heck of a lot of Gold King documents; and,
  2. These date back to between 1917 and 1925 — long after the mine’s heyday. Because the mine was struggling during this time, there wasn’t a lot of press in the local newspapers about it; and,
  3. They contain the best mine cross-section diagram that I’ve seen from the days that the mine was still active.



In other words, it’s just an additional handful of esoteric ore to add to the pile. But more than that, these documents are important because they could help answer the enduring question: From where does the water now draining from the Gold King Mine originate? To understand why the answer to that question is critical — and why it’s so hard to come by — you’ll have to read my book.

What we do know is that prior to the plugging of the American Tunnel by the Sunnyside Gold Co. with three bulkheads placed in 1996, 2001, and 2003, the Gold King Mine Level #7 was dry. Sometime after the bulkheads were placed, the Gold King adit (opening to the mine) began draining increasing amounts of acidic, metal-loaded water. It was this same water that came gushing out on that fateful day in August 2015.

It may seem like an open-and-shut case in which Sunnyside’s bulkheads are causing water that had drained from the American Tunnel to back up inside the mountain and enter into the Gold King Mine. And it is. But what is not known is which bulkhead(s) is/are causing the problem. And only when we know that will we know whose water is ending up in the Gold King Mine. Is it leaking in from the Sunnyside Mine pool? Or is it water that would have ended up in the Gold King Mine prior to the construction of the American Tunnel in the early 1900s?

It’s complicated, in other words, and explaining all of the intricacies would take, well, a book.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find the answer in these new (to me) documents, although there were a few small clues. I did managed to glean a few nuggets from the reports, however, such as:

  • I had read in other documents that the Gold King folks had drilled the American Tunnel into Bonita Peak some 6,225 feet before work was halted. But the pictured map from 1918 says the tunnel was 7,000 feet deep at the time (which would have put it directly under the Gold King).
  • Colorado mining reports indicated that the mine last produced ore in 1924 before shutting down altogether. But among these papers was a receipt apparently showing a shipment in December 1925.
  • And, finally, the clue to the aforementioned mystery. Though it’s a bit tangled, the text pictured below (from 1923) indicates that there was a lot of water encountered in Level #7 at one time, and that the water, instead of draining out of the Level #7 adit, was apparently “deep drained” by the American Tunnel. This lends more support to the notion that the water now draining out of the Gold King is “Gold King water,” rather than “Sunnyside water.” Screen Shot 2019-12-04 at 10.39.09 AM.png


Pick up your copy of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster (Torrey House Press, 2018) today, and get the full story of the Gold King Mine and a whole lot more.

RLS Front Cover FINAL_010418“(Thompson) combines science, law, metallurgy, water pollution, bar fights and the occasional murder into one of the best books written about the Southwest in years.”

Andrew Gulliford, historian and writer, in The Gulch magazine. 





  1. Just finished this great book, highly recommended. As a Colorado native, geologist and fisherman I found it very insightful. Should be required reading for those in the extraction industry, environmentalists, and anglers alike.


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