Camp Bird Mine

The Camp Bird Mine is a famous and highly productive old gold mine located 5 miles southwest of Ouray, Colorado. The mine is within the Sneffels-Red Mountain-Telluride mining district in the San Juan Mountains. Camp Bird was the company town that grew up around the Camp Bird Mine, the fabulously rich gold producer that made its owner, Thomas Walsh, a companion of kings and his daughter, Evalyn, a confidante of presidents.

Walsh discovered rich gold ore in Imogene Basin above Ouray in1896 and began acquiring claims, more than a hundred, that he consolidated under the name of Camp Bird. Within a few years his mine was making $95,000 a month.

With profits from the Camp Bird, Walsh bought a mansion in Washington, D.C., and launched his wife and daughter in international society. Evalyn married Edward B. McLean, whose family owned the Washington Post, and each family gave the couple $100,000 pin money as a wedding gift. They spent it before the honeymoon was over. Evalyn Walsh McLean later purchased the Hope Diamond, which she had set in a necklace and flaunted in the faces of society matrons and shop girls alike, and devoted several chapters to the mine in her autobiography “Father Struck It Rich”.

The hundreds of employees at the Camp Bird lived well. The men slept in enameled iron beds and ate from china plates. Walsh provided them with the latest magazines and newspapers, which they read by electric lights. The piano in the miners’ recreation hall was purchased by mining magnate Harry Payne Whitney, who lost a poker game in which the players agreed the stakes were a piano for the miners.

Camp Bird is named after the “Camp Birds”, probably Gray Jays that ate many a miner’s lunch.

In 1902, Walsh, who had taken several million dollars worth of gold out of the mine, sold the Camp Bird to an English syndicate for a total of $5.2 million, $3.1 million in cash, $100,000 in stock, and another $2 million in royalties. He rewarded employees with checks of up to $5,000.

Under its new ownership, the Camp Bird continued to be profitable, and by 1916, when the first shutdown occurred, the Camp Bird had produced $27 million, with a profit of nearly $18 million. The mine produced about 1.5 million troy ounces of gold, and 4 million troy ounces of silver, from 1896 to 1990. At today’s prices, Camp Bird’s production would be worth over $8.5 billion dollars.

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