Red Arrow roared during Great Depression
Original prospector stakes 16 claims near Mancos Creek
Courtesy of True Magazine
The Mancos Valley offered up “chunks” of golden rewards for Raymond Starr, founder of the Red Arrow Gold Mine, during the Great Depression.
The Earth was “harder’n the hinges of hell,” Starr described at the time, but million-dollar jackpots were being reaped nearby. He reportedly dug his first hole — about 4 feet deep — in the La Plata Mountains outside of Mancos in June 1933.
That November, The Denver Post reported “assays taken of the ore showed values running to $2,000 per ton.” Even more surprising, reports said geologists were amazed to discover the ore was nestled in layers of sandstone “iron-riddled with native gold.” Gold from the Red Arrow Mine was reportedly so pure it was shipped directly to the Denver Mint.
From 1933 to 1937, the Red Arrow mining operations netted $150,000. Needless to say, everybody in Southwestern Colorado eventually came to hear about the mine. In a 1965 True Magazine article, one Mancos resident described the pocket of boon in one word: “fabulous.”
“Mister, it was rich,” the magazine reported. “I can’t tell you how rich, but I seen ‘em carry rock outta there that looked like half gold.”
Born to Pennsylvania carpenter Charley Starr, Ray and the family migrated west in hopes of better days before eventually settling in Mancos. There they heard stories of fortunes coming out of the mountains in Telluride and Silverton. The fever quickly set in, and soon the Starr men, including brothers Howard and James, set out to strike it rich. Neither was a geologist.
Up a stream branching off Mancos Creek, the miners from Pennsylvania were able to find traces of gold flashes in their pans, but it was “slim pickens,” Ray Starr said in 1965. Then he followed the stream up another 300 feet. That’s where he reportedly uncovered a perfect arrowhead, chipped from a red stone, buried beneath some grass roots.
“When I scratched a little deeper, I found a rock with a chunk of gold sticking to it,” he continued. “The rock hadn’t come down from the hillside. It was in place. Then I knew I’d struck the lode. I called it the Red Arrow Mine.”
The Starr clan traced the vein for two weeks, staking out 16 claims to the mine. They reportedly unearthed “chunks of gold” from the mine “like plums from pudding,” raking in more than $6,000 on a single day. One nugget was reportedly 5 inches by 5 inches and shaped like the United States. It weighed close to 50 ounces. The largest nugget they found reportedly weighed more than 5 pounds.
Soon after, the spoils started to spoil. Crackpots, shysters and good-looking women reportedly sought out the Starr boys, begging, threatening and even demanding marriage.
“They drove me nuts,” Ray reportedly said. “I never carried a gun before in my life, but I started packing one then.”
The family was eventually forced to move out of Mancos for fear of reprisals when demands were refused. Many of the townspeople also reportedly suffered, taken in and sapped of their savings, as they gambled the luck from the mine would spread, True Magazine reported.
“Red Arrow brought a lot of misery to a lot of people,” a Mancos merchant told the magazine.
For the Starr family, legal bills quickly racked up as they filed lawsuit after lawsuit against multiple claim jumpers. They also didn’t have an economic adviser, and reportedly refused a $1 million offer from the United States Smelting and Refining Company to purchase the mine.
“We dug day and night – like it would last forever,” Ray Starr said. “And spent it as fast as we dug it.”
Unable to get blasting powder or other supplies during the world war, the mine was forced to close and quickly fell in disrepair. It was sold sometime afterwards to a man named Lukenheimer, a brass valve manufacturer from Cincinnati.
As for the red arrowhead, it too vanished. Starr said he showed it to everyone who wanted to see it, then someone slipped it into their pocket when he wasn’t looking.
The Red Arrow mine, the most recent discovery of commercial importance in the La Plata district, is on the west side of Gold Run, 800 feet northwest of its junction with the East Mancos River and at an altitude of about 9,350 feet on the western flank of Parrott Peak.
The La Plata Mountains have produced more than 200,000 ounces of gold and silver since 1873.