North Georgia Miners

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Lacking sufficient capital to continue mining in Georgia once its rich surface (placer) gold deposits were exhausted, in the late 1850s North Georgia miners began spending the warmer months of the year looking for gold in the Rocky Mountains. A Georgian was the first to discover placer gold in Colorado. Another Georgian was the first to find lode gold. Both Denver and Helena, Montana grew out of a settlements established by Georgia gold miners.

Denver's roots lie in a settlement founded by Georgian William Greenberry (Green) Russell, whose discovery of the first placer gold in Colorado set off the nation's third gold rush. Shortly thereafter another Georgian, John H. Gregory, discovered in the nearby mountains Colorado's first lode gold. (Placer gold is flakes of gold washed from veins or lodes of gold in the mountains to the beds of streams in the valleys below them.)

Russell's family emigrated to Georgia from South Carolina in 1822, when Green was two years old. Like his father James, who had migrated from Pennsylvania along the foothills of the Appalachians looking for gold, Green and his younger brothers, John Riley, Joseph Oliver, and Levi Jasper, became gold miners. Not long after arriving in Georgia the Russells settled in Hall County not far from Auraria. When James died in 1835, Green became the head of the family, but he was not the only brother who had to go to work to support the family. Nine-year-old John, for example, went to work in a mine for 16 cents a day. Green promised his brothers that when they grew up they would get rich mining gold.

Word of the gold found at Sutter's mill in 1848 in California came to Georgia via a woman from Georgia who cooked for Sutter's crew. Because Green had both friends and relatives who were part Cherokee, it is not surprising that when he heard about the discovery of gold in California, he organized a party of men that included Cherokees and his brother John to go to California. Other Cherokees, under the leadership of Lewis Ralston, also made the long trek across plains, barren desert, and the rugged Rocky Mountains.

Pictured at the left is a recreation of the office of the Phoenix newspaper at New Echota, Georgia, capital of the Cherokee Nation at the time of their removal from the East. (A few hid in the mountains of North Carolina, and their descendants live there today.) The Phoenix was printed in the language of the Cherokee. The Cherokees were the only tribe to develop a written language. Despite winning a U.S. Supreme Court case allowing them to stay, they were forced to emigrate.


A very unpleasant task of Greenís youth concerned the Cherokees. Green was assigned to help round up Cherokees for removal to what was then called Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Ironically, in 1877, shortly before Green died, his brother John, who had settled in the Indian Nation to escape post-war hardship in Georgia, talked Green into joining him there. Unhappy with life in the Indian Nation, Green decided to return to Georgia once the weather was cooler. However, before the weather changed, he died.

In order to avoid the fierce Plains Indians, Green returned to Georgia from California by taking a ship from San Francisco to Panama. After crossing Panama by foot, mule back, and canoe, he took a ship to New Orleans. From there he took a steamer to Memphis, making the rest of the trip home by land. When he got back to Georgia, he delivered the first California gold to be minted to the U.S. Mint in Dahlonega. John bought land with gold he found in California and gave up mining to become a Lumpkin County farmer, merchant, and state representative.

The following year Green took his younger brothers to California via the sea route. To avoid disease in New Orleans, they returned to Georgia via Havana and Key West. When they got back home Greenís brothers announced that, like John, they were going to settle down. Green, too, settled down, purchasing from the Palmour family a plantation called Savannah located between Palmer and Russell creeks near Dawsonville. Levi enrolled in the Philadelphia College of Medicine and Surgery, a school which in that day trained many of Georgia's physicians. After he graduated, he returned to Georgia to practice.

Green Russell's Georgia home

Photograph of Green Russell's Savannah plantation taken a few years ago

Green's resolve to settle down was short lived. Finding himself financially pinched by the panic of 1857, he and Oliver took their cousins James Pierce and Sam Bates to Kansas, where they acquired land in its infamous Pottawatomie County. Leaving the other men there to put crops in, Green contacted some of his friends in the Indian Nation about organizing a prospecting expedition to the Pike's Peak country. The inspiration for organizing this trip was the fact that Lewis Ralson's Georgia relatives had told Green that on their way to California the party of Cherokees he led, as had Green, found gold in that region

Chief Vann of GeorgiaGreen and his party arrived at Ralston Creek in what is today Colorado, but was then the western edge of the Kansas Territory, in the spring of 1858. Most of the 104 men in the party were Georgians, Cherokees, and Kansans. The Cherokees quickly became discouraged and homesick and left. Subsequent desertions reduced the group to a mere 13. Included in this small band were Green, Oliver, and Levi Russell, their nephew Billy Odum, and their cousins James and Robert Pierce and Sam Bates.

Soon exaggerated stories spread by a passing trader about how much gold they had found at Cherry Creek set off the nation's third gold rush. As a result, when they returned from a foray to Wyoming, there were already several tents and Indian lodges at their Cherry Creek camp site. Leaving Levi to supervise the construction of the first white man's permanent dwelling in the Pike's Peak country, Green and Oliver returned to Georgia to purchase more equipment.

They were surprised on their trip back to meet a large number of people headed for Cherry Creek because winter, which was fierce in the Rockies, was coming on. Although prospecting in the icy, forbidding Rockies during the winter was dangerous and supposedly fruitless, in their absence another Georgian, John H. Gregory, tentatively located load gold in what was soon to be known as the richest square mile on Earth. He confirmed his find on May 6, 1859.

In contrast to Green Russell, John Hamilton Gregory has always beena man of mystery. Until recently here was no known photograph of him, and nothing was known of him after 1861. According to Colorado historian Caroline Bancroft, "he might very well have ridden into the Territory on the tail of Donati's comet in 1858 and ridden out again on the caboose of the Great Comet of 1864, for these years more than cover the certified record of the man." Green, it has been said, knew him in Georgia. In Colorado, he and Green sued each other. One of Green's descendants claims they did not like each other because Green was a Democrat and Gregory a Republican whose family fled to Indiana after the War broke out. The author concluded that Gregory was not the John Gregory, age 36, listed in the 1860 census in the Auraria District of Lumpkin County who it was claimed long ago in an article in The Georgia Historical Quarterly was the Colorado gold miner. The author concluded that he was probably the John H. Gregory, age 29, listed along with his wife Christina and two children, Frances and Sis, in the 1850 Census of Cherokee County.

In 1999, many years after the author of this article had published an article about Gregory in The West Georgia Review, members of a Gregory family began contacting her because they believed he was a member of their family. Eventually the Gregories provided strong evidence that that the Cherokee County John H. Gregory was the Colorado gold miner. The author's belief that he was the miner was largely based on the fact that the husband of a possible sister had the name of one of his partners, and another Cherokee Co. man living nearby also had the name of a Colorado partner. The author wondered if he might have been killed in the War Between the States. It turned out that, contrary to the Russell's belief, he had enlisted in the Confederate Army and had died in a prisoner of war camp. (The Russell's claimed Gregory was a Republican and fled to the North!) In June 2000 the author received a copy of a picture of John H. Gregory! You can click to a link at the bottom of this article to read one provided by a member of the Gregory family that contains the information about him that his family has unearthed, including the picture.

Named after John H. Gregory in Colorado were a point, a gulch, a street, a district, a hill, a creek, a canon, a hotel, three lodes, a diggings, and two mining companies. Gregory was known as the king of the little kingdom of Gilpin, home of Central City: "the richest square mile on Earth." Like the Russells, some have claimed he was from Auraria, Georgia. However, the Rocky Mountain News once reported that he was from Gordon County, Georgia. Some contemporaries said he was born in Georgia. Others said Alabama.

The Omaha Nebraskan reported that on October 17, 1860 that he had passed through on his way to Georgia. The Rocky Mountain News reported on April 3, 1861 that, "we had the pleasure of again taking by the hand our old friend John H. Gregory, the discoverer of the Gregory mines. He has just returned from his home in Alabama to spend another season in our mines." Did the outbreak of the War, as it did for Green, explain why he left Colorado, leaving valuable assets behind? (He also left unsettled a claim against Green.)

By the time Green and Oliver returned to Cherry Creek, several communities, complete with stores, had sprung up in its vicinity. Reporting on the goings on in these communities was a new newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News. To facilitate trade, a form of money called script was in circulation.

Green soon located his own gold lode in a gulch about three miles from Gregory's. Because water, which was in short supply, was used in mining, Green formed a water company. Levi became the secretary of the Auraria town company, the first of several town companies formed around Cherry Creek. Between it and neighboring Denver an intense rivalry soon sprang up. However, by 1860 the towns were merged under Denverís name, and the young Cityís star was rising fast. The same was not true of its Georgia residents.

The prospects of the once esteemed Georgia miners were fading because the rift between the North and the South caused "the Georgia miners," related Bancroft, "whose prestige had always been the highest because of their knowledge of gold," to be "shunned more and more. Gregory and Russell ceased to be venerated. They and other Southerners, fearing attack, remained close to their claims and worked quietly or began to skip away from mountain towns, unannounced."

The Russell's water flumes were cut several times at night. They were subject to threats, and once they had to call the marshal when their property was taken over. As a result, they decided to sell as much of their Colorado property as possible and go home.

By the time they were ready to leave, returning home had become quite difficult because militarily the tide had turned against the Confederacy in the Far West. After a string of victories, Confederate troops under General Sibley had suffered a defeat at Glorieta Pass in New Mexico which destroyed the South's dream of acquiring the Rocky Mountain gold fields and Pacific Coast ports.

The first disaster to strike the Russell party on its way home was smallpox. The second was being intercepted by a group of Union soldiers and Comanches, who had to be dissuaded from killing the Southerners. The Russell party was held captive by Union troops for four months. Then, after they took an oath of allegiance to the United States, their gold was returned to them, and they were released. Subsequently they slipped through Unions lines and returned to Georgia, where they switched their allegiance to the Confederacy.

Both Green's house and the nearby house his wife, who, like John's wife was one-eighth Cherokee, lived in after his death still stand. Beside Green's house are the graves of several members of his family which can still be identified, including those of his mother, wife, and son Thomas. (When Green returned home from Colorado in 1859, he found that three of his sons had died during an outbreak of dysentery.) According to Arch Bishop, a local amateur historian the author interviewed a few years ago, a grave marked only with a stone with an "X" cut in it is that of Green's part-Cherokee cousin, Sam Bates. Buried next to Bates, claims Bishop, is his girl friend. Nearby in another grave without a tombstone lies Green's nephew Billy Odum.

[Text and all but first picture above copyrighted by Carole E. Scott, 1996]

Go to "The Legend of John H. Gregory." This article provides much more information about Gregory and provides substantial proves that the Cherokee County John H. Gregory that, for a variety of reasons, the author of this article believes was the Georgian that discovered the first lode gold in Colorado is correct. (The author published a detailed article about why she thought this was the correct man in "The West Georgia Review."


vest.gif (25282 bytes) Pictured at the left is a vest that belonged toWilliam Brown (c1817-c1861). He and his brother Andrew were Georgia gold miners. (The picture is of William's son.)

Picture provided by Larry Brown

Click here to go to a geneological page that includes Green Russell.


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