Archive for the ‘old west’ Category

Just got home from another mini-vacation to Victor, Colorado and was once again impressed and amazed at all of the things I found that I had missed on previous trips. Missing little details is easy to do in a town that once had a population of 12,000 around 1900, which now has about 400 residents. Whatever you do, however, DO NOT call Victor a “ghost town” I made that mistake once and only once. A week’s worth of hate mail and  subsequent explaining and apologizing, and I was back on in good graces with the locals!

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Panoramic Painting of Victor circa 1900

 

Victor has always caused me mixed emotions- On one hand it heartbreaking to see so many empty store fronts and vacant properties, I imagine how beautiful and bustling this town must have been in its heyday, when it even boasted a fancy “San Francisco” style trolley line known as the “Victor Inter-Urban Railway.” On the other hand, I love Victor as it is, and would be devastated to see the gentrification that has destroyed so much of Colorado happen here- I want Victor to retain its character, and anymore in Colorado, “character” is too often bulldozed to make way for luxury condos and coffee shops for people with no ties to Colorado and no respect for the State’s history.

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Victor in 1899, the building on the left is the Victor Hotel which still welcomes guests today

A huge amalgamation of abandoned, occupied, old and new (mostly old though) and a sense of a mining boom town suspended in time best describes Victor, Colorado, sister city of the more famous Cripple Creek, just six miles away around a mountain of mine tailings. Preservation efforts have been carried out or started on a number of the buildings around the town, and visitors can still stay in the historic Victor Hotel, comfortable, large rooms, with great views and giant arched windows are available for a very reasonable rate year-round. A couple of small cafes, The Side Door and The Mining Claim 1899, and a the Fortune Club Saloon (the Fortune Club also offers rooms) serve the needs of hungry and thirsty visitors as well as the locals, many of whom work at the nearby Newmont gold mine. A few antique and gift shops, a liquor store, and a tiny general store round out Victor’s business district. The most impressive building to be found in town (in my opinion) is the old Masonic Lodge, be sure not to miss it!

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A view looking west down Victor Avenue, the Victor Hotel is the tallest building on the right. Several blocks of largely vacant storefronts radiate out, north and south, from Victor Avenue.

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Part of the Victor business district, note the “Undertakers” advertisement

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Masonic Lodge

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A look downtown and you can imagine what it must have been like in 1900

One thing you will quickly notice about Victor are the stunning views of the rugged, snow-capped spires of the Sangre de Cristos Mountain to the southwest- The view of the Sangres can not be beat from the 4th floor rooms of the Victor Hotel.

(Click Here for Victor Hotel Website) 

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View of the Sangre de Cristos Mountains from the 4th floor rooms of the Victor Hotel

Another aspect of Victor that first-time visitors may find unusual is the large amount of wildlife that freely roam the town, deer and foxes, unconcerned with the people and cars around them. And, almost as if trained, it seems the wildlife prefers to use the painted crosswalks in town when crossing the road- I have been entertained watching this numerous times! Just a reminder though, never ever, ever, feed the wildlife, they are still wild animals, no matter how tame they might appear. Human food harms wildlife, it also causes wildlife to associate humans with food, which is bad for both us and the animals, just don’t do it. Enjoy the critters from a distance and take only photos.

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This well-behaved fox and its family are regular fixtures in downtown Victor

 

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From my hotel room window above I watched this fox use the crosswalks every time it needed to cross the streets in town, take it slow driving through, there are lots of animals roaming town!

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The deer in Victor have the same street smarts as their fox neighbors

Vintage advertising and forlorn, antique mining machinery can be found all over the town. Adding to Victor’s unique personality is the fact that mine shafts exist right in the middle of town! When you find a rich vein of ore while excavating the foundation for a building, you forget about the building and get into the mining business! One the east edge of town a colossal two-story red brick schoolhouse with an imposing flight of stairs leading to its front door dominates the view. Below the school is the “Gold Bowl” a football field built many decades ago- The entire project was paid for with gold ore excavated while leveling the playing field!

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Vintage advertising abounds in the streets of Victor

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A small fraction of the vintage mining equipment scattered about Victor

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An old tractor

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This beautiful old Buick watches over things from a ridge above town, deer tracks nearby

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The old Colorado & Midland train station in Victor

North, east, south, and west of Victor’s business district are rows of Victorian era residences. Many occupied year-round, others occupied seasonally, and plenty abandoned and forlorn. You can take one look up and down the streets and sense what a beautiful town Victor was in its prime. The people here lived a good, comfortable life, before the mines went bust.

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Trapped in time

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Remarkable woodwork on this old beauty!

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Withered beauty

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If walls could talk

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Craftsmanship which has weathered the harsh winds of time

 

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Mine tailings in the middle of a row of homes

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Once called “home” by a miner and his family

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The old Texaco at the edge of town hasn’t plugged a flat or changed oil in many years

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A  doe deer inspects the “skinny” house on the east end of town

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And a minute later….the buck deer arrived

Victor, Colorado, now only a shadow of its former glory is truly a gem to visit if you are a history buff or interested in the history of mining. Victor and Cripple Creek, Colorado were the heart of a massive gold-producing district from around 1895 to 1930s. Mining structures, debris, and abandoned and occupied homes and businesses dating to the boom years radiate out in all directions from Victor. Newmont Gold which still operates the sprawling mine nearby along with Teller County and various historic/preservation societies have teamed up to construct a series of walking paths that wind their way through many of the old mining areas, which give visitors an up close look at the structures and equipment used 100 years ago.

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Miners at the Vindicator just north of Victor, today a foot path leads you to the ruins of the mill in he background of this photo, much, much more impressive in person!

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The towering remains of the Vindicator north of Victor, a foot path I didn’t care to walk in the snow leads below for an awe-inspiring view of this enormous ghost structure

 

If you find yourself in the Colorado Springs or Canon City, Colorado area, be sure to plan a day trip to visit nearby Victor and soak up this town’s very unique atmosphere and wonderful sights!

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Locals

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A handsome fella

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At first glance it is hard to believe Goldfield, Colorado once boasted a population of over 3,500 residents when the nearby Portland Mine provided ample employment opportunities around 1900.

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The Portland Mine at Goldfield in its prime around 1900

The ebb and flow of mining is a brutal life of boom and bust, in Goldfield, as in nearly every mining town and camp in the West, the ore played out that coupled with the Federal Government abandoning the gold standard, the town withered and faded away. Today, Goldfield still struggles to hang on, a handful of residents, some retired, some weekenders, some descendants of earlier miners, and a smattering of coyotes, deer, and foxes still occupy a number of homes in this boom and bust town.

 

Newmont Gold is reworking the tailings piles from yesteryear nearby, as well as carrying out new large-scale mining operations which has also brought a few folks back to town, but for the most part, Goldfield is fragile, wind-blown remnant of a forgotten era. The splintered wood and cracked cornices, peeled paint, and shifting foundations stand today as silent witnesses of grander times in Goldfield. The highlight of the town in the City Hall and fire station, built in 1899, which stands guard over the town, its weathered and flaking yellow paint an ode the gold that once brought life to this great Colorado ghost town.

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Preserved in a state of “arrested decay” in recent City Hall, built in 1899, looms over Goldfield

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Another view of the combination City Hall and Fire Station

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Goldfield’s residential streets are a combo of abandoned and occupied dwellings

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A 100-year-old miner’s shack with the Newmont property in the distance, providing work for modern-day miners who rework the tailings piles of yesterday’s mines for microscopic gold which could not be harvested with the primitive  techniques of the 19th Century. Newmont employs hundreds at decent wages, reworking the “waste rock” of 100 years ago.

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A little elbow grease and we’d have a winner!

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A seasonal home in Goldfield, boarded up for the winter

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This beautiful old Ford and the house behind still have lots of promise!

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Many years since a fire warmed the hearth of this Goldfield house

2019 Ghosts of Colorado Calendar by Jeff Eberle $14.99 CLICK HERE!

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If walls could talk

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On the south end of Goldfield is the short-lived suburb of “Hollywood” which was swallowed by Goldfield’s expansion. Hollywood was actually a suburb of nearby Victor, about a mile away in the boom days. Hollywood was soon swallowed by Goldfield when the Portland Mine boomed.

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One of Hollywood’s nicer homes

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On the north end of Goldfield sits this impressive two-story, occupied until recent years as evinced by the satellite dish. This home is where the “suburbs” or “satellite camp” of Goldfield known both as “Indpendence” and “Hull City” was located. Just south lies the Vindicator Mine.

Ghost Town Guide Books and Photography by Jeff Eberle- CLICK HERE!

 

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The Vindicator, a truly impressive structure, photos do it no justice. It is an enormous building.

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A “fancy” house at the old Indpendence/Hull City site

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Close-up of the fancy house

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Home of the mine boss and his family, occupied until the early-1950s

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Another “satellite” camp of Goldfield was Bull Hill where the hardscrabble miners lived in retired railroad cars on the windswept side of the hill.

No rhyme or reason to these, just 15 old abandoned buildings in northern New Mexico I came across on my recent road trip. Lots and lots of old abandoned buildings in northern New Mexico, these are just a few. Enjoy!

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1. Holman

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2. Roy

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3. Trujillo

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4. Mt. Dora

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5. Folsom

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6. Grenville

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7. San Ignacio

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8. Farley

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9. La Manga

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10. Rabbit Ears

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11. Clayton

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12. Holman

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13. Mills

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14. Folsom

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15. La Liendre

The prairie land of northeastern New Mexico is home to a large number of ghost towns and among them is the old ranching center of Mills. Located on Highway 39 eleven miles north of Roy, New Mexico, Mills is a wide spot in the road with a handful of picturesque homes in varying states of decay. A tiny Post Office which dates back to 1889 is still open, serving nearby ranchers, and sits along the one dirt street that runs north-south through town. Other than the Post Office, Mills rests quietly, a silent reminder of better days in Harding County.

 

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Took advantage of the first snow of the season to go grab some photos of the historic Knights of Pythias Cemetery above Central City, Colorado. Enjoy!

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Once a year, around the second or third week of September I make a pilgrimage to a very tiny and almost forgotten town in Colorado- Vicksburg. Some call it a ghost town, but to me, it does not fit the bill, Vicksburg is different, it doesn’t feel like a ghost town, although almost always void of human presence when I visit, and having only once in my yearly pilgrimages seen another soul in town, it’s well-cared for, and none of the cabins are ramshackle or in disrepair.

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Vicksburg, founded around 1880 and named for Vick Keller, an early prospector and resident of the town, sits just beyond the eyes’ reach, off of Chaffee County Road 390 which follows the path of Clear Creek, and across the road from the Missouri Gulch trail head. A tiny parking lot and a steel gate are located at Vicksburg itself, or you can park at the Missouri Gulch trail head lot. From either parking lot you will not be able to see Vicksburg, which is less than a hundred yards away hidden amongst the trees. On busy summer weekends, hundreds of campers, fisherman and hikers drive right past Vicksburg without even knowing it exists. To me, this is what makes Vicksburg so special- You literally can not see the town until you are standing in the middle of it!

From the iron gate at the little parking lot along County Road 390, a short, maybe 50 yard walk, takes you into a dense aspen and pine grove, you’ll first notice a tumbledown outhouse, then some old cast iron mining machinery which has been painted with a protective grayish primer to ward off the winds of time. Then, you will start to see the cabins that make up Vicksburg.

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A neat and tidy row of low-roofed log cabins is situated along a lone lane with ruts worn in it decades ago by horse drawn carriages and wagons. On both sides of this lane, towering Balm of Gilead trees, planted in the late-1800s offer a shady canopy for the sleepy town hidden within- In mid-September that canopy turns golden and fiery orange, and fallen leaves drift down the lane on gusts of wind. Other than the wind, all is silent and serene.

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All of the cabins in town have been restored or maintained and are privately owned and used as summertime hideaways. Running the length of the lane is a wooden fence, simple wooden mailboxes nailed to posts line the way. On the edge of town, near the parking lot, are two cabins which have been dedicated as museums and are open to the public during the summer months, the yard around these two cabins is filled with antique mining equipment, old wagons, and other daily items of a long-ago time when Vicksburg, and it’s contemporaries of Beaver City, Rockdale, and Winfield along Clear Creek were more boisterous than they are today.

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Vicksburg, to me, is as magical as it is frustrating- I personally think Vicksburg, at any time of the year, but especially in the early-fall, is the embodiment of paradise, solitude, and peace. But, trying to capture the magic of Vicksburg on film is maddening! This little gem is so shadowy and overgrown, the cabins so low to the ground in relation to the towering Gilead trees, that it is impossible to snap a photo that catches the idyllic and almost “lost in time” or “fairy tale” setting of Vicksburg. What you see with the eye, can not be seen in any photo I have ever taken. Vicksburg is a place you just have to see for yourself!

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Several times throughout the course of the year I am contacted by individuals asking me about metal detecting or relic hunting at ghost towns, numerous times I’ve also had individuals who want to share their finds with me, or ask that I share them on my Facebook page or on blog. Unbeknownst to many, metal detecting and relic hunting at ghost towns, mining camps, old structures, etc. on public lands is a felony offense.

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It has been my standard practice to politely inform these people of the Federal laws protecting historic sites over 50-years-old, and inform them of the harsh consequences they face if caught in the act- A felony charge with fines ranging from $500 to $20,000 and/or up to one-year in prison. In most cases those who have contacted me are unaware of these laws, and thank me for alerting them prior to their planned adventures. In some instances however, I get the more confrontational types who want to challenge me (as if I am the one who wrote the law) and argue the law. And, often, I get the lame old “Well I won’t get caught” or “Does anybody really enforce it?” response, which is discouraging.

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A rusted button at an old mining camp, tempting to pocket, but by the word of the law it is illegal

Lately, I have experienced a noticeable increase in people asking about metal detecting and relic hunting at ghost towns. One of the cool, behind the scenes features of my blog is a record of “search terms” people have used while visiting my blog, and “metal detecting ghost towns” has become a popular search term much to my dismay. I understand the allure of snooping around an old cabin or town site and seeing what you can find- I’ve been there, done it. It is a romantic vision in many of our minds that we’ll be the one to stumble across a rusted Colt pistol, or an old gold coin under the floorboards of a cabin. We are not vandals out to destroy anything, our intentions are good and it is a fun hobby, we are focused people looking for something cool to hang on the wall. I get it, I’ve done it, but I now know we can’t do it. Relic hunters, as harmless as our intentions are on the surface, take a severe toll on our historic sites, and, by the word of the law, relic hunters and metal detectors are one in the same with the vandal who tears down the wall, or the arsonist who burns the old building. If it is on public land, i.e., National Forest, State Lands, or BLM lands, we can look, but we can’t keep, and we can’t excavate. If we find relics we can enjoy them, but we have to leave them at the site where we found them.

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It is frustrating, and there is great temptation, after all, who will notice if I take a handful of square nails, or it won’t hurt that building at all if I take that old doorknob, or somebody threw these bottles in the dump a hundred years ago, what’s the big deal if I take them home? If it was only one of us who did that, it would not be a big deal, but multiply that by one hundred or one thousand and in a decade there will be nothing left of our ghost towns and historic sites- And this does not even take into account the natural ravages of time and weather, forest fires and floods, and the still rampant vandalism and arson that has always plagued our ghost towns.

I myself was unaware of these laws until the last ten years or so,  and I myself am guilty of taking objects I found on public lands prior to my knowledge of the laws. There are several on the books- the American Antiquities Act of 1906 and numerous revisions to said law, the National Historic Preservation Act 1966 with revisions in 1980 and 1992, the Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act, Archaeological Resources Protection Act, Abandoned Shipwreck Act, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

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The Wapiti Mine Office and General Store 2016

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The Wapiti Mine Office and General Store after vandals ripped it down 2017

All of these laws were designed to protect our cultural heritage and our Nation’s rich history, so that it may be enjoyed by our children, grandchildren and generations yet to come, but many do not know about these laws, and some do not care, viewing the laws as largely unenforceable measures, and governmental overreach.

As my involvement in the historic site/ghost town field has grown over the years I have become acutely aware of the reason for, and the need for these laws- Recently, in the last three years, I have witnessed the destruction of several historic structures in Colorado, I have witnessed a family of four, mother, father, and two young children, deface an historic and clearly marked “PROTECTED” mill building with graffiti, I have seen an entire rusted automobile disappear from the Sego ghost town in Utah…after it had been defaced with graffiti the year before, and I have stood in shocked disbelief as I watched a family from Minnesota climb over a well-marked, protective fence erected by the Forest Service so they could “touch” ancient Native American rock paintings with their hands.

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This old coupe which had sat at Sego, Utah for 60 years was illegally hauled away in 2017.

As our society grows increasingly ignorant, uneducated, and self-serving, the need for these protective laws will only increase, unfortunately, enforcing these laws is nearly impossible without the help of others- As ghost-towners, road trippers, and history buffs, we all need to help spread the word that metal detecting, relic hunting, defacing, damaging, or taking anything, even the tiniest nail or shard of pottery from historic sites over 50 years located on public lands is illegal. Permits to metal detect and relic hunt at historic sites are available and are Federally monitored- Normally, permits are only issued to actual, historic or archaeological research parties, and not private citizens. What you do on private land is entirely up to the discretion of the land owner and the parties involved.

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Vandalism right next to a sign asking visitors NOT to destory the historic Magnolia Mill in Montgomery, Colorado.  This is not art, this is vandalism.

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Furthermore, we are the first line of defense of America’s history, our history- If you see someone relic hunting, defacing, or destroying a historic site, either kindly inform them of the law, or if you do not want to confront someone, get photos and their license plate number and turn it over to the Forest Service in the area. It is a difficult thing to do, but the Forest Service can not possibly patrol every site every day, so it up to us to protect our historic and cultural heritage.

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A family I witnessed defacing the Magnolia Mill right in front of the signs. I turned their license plate number into the Fairplay Ranger Station and they launched an investigation.

Take only pictures. Enjoy our heritage, don’t destroy it!

American Antiquities Act of 1906

16 USC 431-433

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That any person who shall appropriate, excavate, injure, or destroy any historic or prehistoric ruin or monument, or any object of antiquity, situated on lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States, without the permission of the Secretary of the Department of the Government having jurisdiction over the lands on which said antiquities are situated, shall, upon conviction, be fined in a sum of not more than five hundred dollars or be imprisoned for a period of not more than ninety days, or shall suffer both fine and imprisonment, in the discretion of the court.

Sec. 2. That the President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments, and may reserve as a part thereof parcels of land, the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected: Provided, That when such objects are situated upon a tract covered by a bonafied unperfected claim or held in private ownership, the tract, or so much thereof as may be necessary for the proper care and management of the object, may be relinquished to the Government, and the Secretary of the Interior is hereby authorized to accept the relinquishment of such tracts in behalf of the Government of the United States.

Sec. 3. That permits for the examination of ruins, the excavation of archaeological sites, and the gathering of objects of antiquity upon the lands under their respective jurisdictions may be granted by the Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, and War to institutions which the may deem properly qualified to conduct such examination, excavation, or gathering, subject to such rules and regulation as they may prescribe: Provided, That the examinations, excavations, and gatherings are undertaken for the benefit of reputable museums, universities, colleges, or other recognized scientific or educational institutions, with a view to increasing the knowledge of such objects, and that the gatherings shall be made for permanent preservation in public museums.

Sec. 4. That the Secretaries of the Departments aforesaid shall make and publish from time to time uniform rules and regulations for the purpose of carrying out the provisions of this Act.

Approved, June 8, 1906