SUNRISE – Nestled in Eureka Canyon of the Hartville Uplift sits the long-quiet town of Sunrise and its centuries of history waiting to be uncovered.
The picturesque old mining town was filled with 329 people from eight states, China, and Canada. They braved forecasts of a rain and snow to tour remnants of the town and learn more about its rich multi-cultural history.
What is known of today as “Sunrise” was discovered and developed as a copper mine just in time for the 1881 copper strike. A copper smelter was built in then-Fairbank (now known as Kelly Park in Guernsey). At that time there were 75 men working with pick axes, shovels, and mules, and after it was smelted into copper bullion, 50 armed guards were assigned to get it to Cheyenne by wagon. Soon the copper ran out and by 1898 it was re-sold and hit its boom with iron ore, boasting more than 400 employees and their families in its heyday.
A total of 43 million tons were mined from the ore bodies at Sunrise, including the Glory Hole, until the economy slowed and it shut down in 1983 and becoming a ghost town overnight.
However, the site’s historical significance goes back much further than the 1800s. That is the sparkling gem of Sunrise to Dr. George Frison, one of the foremost experts on Paleo-Indian Archaeology and a Professor Emeritus of the University of Wyoming. “[The Powars II site] is a unique site…like no other on the continent. It is the oldest [(and possibly largest)] mining site known of in either North or South America…The only one close in significance that I know of is on the southern tip of Chile.”
The Paleo-Indian red ochre mine at Sunrise is at least 13,000 years old and there have already been 73 intact ancient Clovis projectile tips found at Powars II – compared to three to five found at other well-known sites in America, said Frison. “It’s all here: Clovis, Goshen, Midland, Folsom - and the research is still ongoing. There is a lot we don’t know yet.”
“The site at Sunrise is important and has real potential [for] more [significant] research…in the future,” Frison added.
Among those gathered were two cousins, Galen Corrigan (of Laramie) and Robbie Benson (of Casper).
“We both had the same idea [to come see the town], I guess,” said Corrigan.
“Neither of us knew the other was going to be here, but this is [nice],” Benson said.
Both of their fathers were born in Sunrise and their grandpa, William J. “Bill” Corrigan, worked at the mine for many years.
Hartville resident Mark Russ came with his granddaughter, McKenzie, to see a bit of the local history; and Torrington resident John Vass used the plentiful red ochre rocks to paint his face like the long-ago Indian miners.
“I liked all the iron, sand and a pocket full of samples,” he said of his favorite part of the tour.
“It was phenomenal. The day turned out perfect, and I met a lot of great contacts that formerly lived here [who shared their stories,]” said owner and tour guide John Voight.
Though he’s done a lot of research to add to his knowledge of the area, it’s the stories of people who lived there that add to Voight’s wealth of knowledge of Sunrise. He encourages anyone who has any stories or pieces of memorabilia about the town or the mine to contact him so he can get it recorded for the future. Voight said he envisions the YMCA building at Sunrise being a repository of mining and archaeological history of the area.
The future looks promising in that regard.
“[Powars II] is in the process of becoming a national historic site,” Voight said, adding that he hopes there will be more archaeological funding available because of that designation, enhancing the current excavation and opening doors for the Paleo-Indian red ochre mine to qualify as world historic site. “We’re starting to get a lot of world attention now.”
Voight hopes to do a tour at least annually, and will do private tours as he is able.
“This site does not belong to me. It belongs to humanity,” Voight said of his effort to preserve the site for the future. “There will be work to do here 100 years from when we are all gone.”
The tour was a fundraiser for the Powars II site research. It is being studied on an all-volunteer basis and the money raised Saturday will help cover the cost of research, explained tour organizer George Zeimens. For more information, contact Zeimens at [email protected] or Voight at [email protected] or Dr. Frison at the Univeristy of Wyoming.