The Patchwork Maps That Helped Prospectors Track Mining Claims in the American West

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Aug. 28 2014 11:11 AM

The Patchwork Maps That Helped Prospectors Track Mining Claims in the American West

The Vault is Slate's history blog. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @slatevault, and find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

These maps were part of a Pocket Mining Atlas, compiled by Edwin Bolitho for the Engineering and Mining Journal and printed in 1880 in New York. The atlas was available to prospectors (or any other interested parties) for the price of a dollar. (The remaining maps from Bolitho’s atlas can be seen on the David Rumsey Map Collection website.) 

In 1872, a new Mining Act straightened out the complicated mess of property rights that had developed in the American West, where prospectors had been pulling minerals out of federal land for decades. As part of the new statute, miners who had staked previous claims could be grandfathered in (depending on their particular circumstances). Miners staking new claims would have to adhere to the government’s guidelines regarding size of claim.

Advertisement

This circumstance would seem to explain why the maps of Colorado’s Leadville District (whose silver rush began in 1878) and South Dakota’s Deadwood (which was established in 1876, after gold was found in the area in 1875) feature a regular pattern of similarly-sized claims. The Comstock District, in Nevada, where gold was mined beginning in 1850, has a wider variation in claim size. 

The maps also show how miners tended to name their claims: after home (“Pennsylvania,” “Staten Island”); women (“Jenny,” “Ana”); or the ups and downs of Lady Luck (“Last Chip”; “Hope”). 

DeadwoodMap

David Rumsey Map Collection.

ComstockMap

David Rumsey Map Collection.

CaribouHill
Silver was discovered in Caribou, Colo., in 1869.

David Rumsey Map Collection.

SilverCliff
The silver-mining town of Silver Cliff, Colo., grew throughout the 1870s.

David Rumsey Map Collection.

LeadvilleMap

David Rumsey Map Collection.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Outward
Sept. 22 2014 4:45 PM Why Can’t the Census Count Gay Couples Accurately?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 9:17 PM Trent Reznor’s Gone Girl Soundtrack Sounds Like an Eerie, Innovative Success
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 22 2014 4:34 PM Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.