Oldest Western Hemisphere mine

Rhett Breedlove
Posted 4/26/24

TORRINGTON – The Goshen County Historical Society met at Platte Valley Bank at 7 p.m. Tuesday for a brief discussion of local history within the county.

Present at the meeting was society …

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Oldest Western Hemisphere mine


TORRINGTON – The Goshen County Historical Society met at Platte Valley Bank at 7 p.m. Tuesday for a brief discussion of local history within the county.

Present at the meeting was society president, Mary Houser, along with local archeologist, George Ziemens. Roughly two dozen patrons were present and ready to learn yet again another intriguing part of Goshen County’s remarkable and lengthy past.

Guest speaking at the event was none other than Chugwater native, John Voight, who would give an in-depth and passionate presentation of memorable facts regarding the 225-acre abandoned mining town of Sunrise.

Ziemens notably gave Voight an appropriate, yet quite humorous introduction on the latter’s significant personal and professional background.

“Well, we don’t know much about John Voight,” Ziemens joked. “I know he was raised on a windy ranch over Chugwater Wyoming, and he’s got one leg shorter than the other. His left leg is just a little longer than his right.”

The audience responded with some slight applause and laughter.

“Later on, he went to the University of Wyoming and studied music,” Ziemens continued. “After that, he went over to the Middle East and knobbed with royalty, princes, and probably camels too. All the presidents will tell you after he left the Middle East it’s been awfully unsettling. From there he tried to come back to Cheyenne to buy the whole city, but only bought the downtown area. So, he got into something he didn’t know what he was getting into and bought the oldest mine in America. We are talking 14-15 thousand years old.”

It should be noted from the late nineteenth century until 1980, the mine was used largely for iron ore and operated by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company. During that time which spanned just over 80 years, building structures were developed, new shafts were dropped and new mining techniques were heavily evolved. 

Voight would end up purchasing the mine in 2011 in a winning bid over Chinese officials. According to Voight both parties initially wanted the property purely for business purposes, as the iron ore being produced was highly substantial.

Concurring with the words of his longtime friend and colleague, Voight would explain the original idea of a business venture would quickly turn into over a decade of significant archeological discovery.

 As Voight would put it bluntly before the Society, the amount of history his mine actually holds could not possibly be fully explained over the course of a one-hour evening presentation. Additionally, Voight would add the mine is far more appropriate to be seen and felt rather than talked about verbally.

“So, what I have to do and what I have to understand here is what you folks want to know tonight about Sunrise,” Voight began. “I don’t know what your interests are and we don’t have much time, so we need to determine what we are talking about tonight.”  

Voight would inquire before the society how many members had actually been to the mine and participated in one of its tours. Voight would explain each tour and give an enlightening account of the mine’s history relating to geology, archeology, unearthing, and even sociology.

“But I’m not going to talk about that tonight, because those who have not been on our tour, I want you to come,” Voight continued. “But we can talk about things which will pique your interest. I’ve done a lot of things, but this thing about when I walked into Sunrise has been the most surprising of all the things I’ve done.”

“When I bought it, I thought it would be my last adventure,” Voight said. “I love choosing adventures and oh good God what an adventure it’s been. The guy who owned Sunrise before me clued me in. I was raised in Chugwater and grew up 60 miles away from the mine. I didn’t know about the town, but I kept in touch with the previous owner and eventually bought it. The Chinese were trying to buy it at the time, and I beat them out. They were trying to buy it for iron. So many serendipitous things have happened since I bought it, and I guarantee the Chinese were not interested in the sociology or archeology. Nonetheless, I did prevail in getting the property and not the Chinese, so that is a blessing for our society and our culture.”

Voight would then go on to present both verbally and visually the extensive amount of historical and archeological discoveries dating back thousands, even billions of years in a location right between Goshen and Platte Counties.

Along with an impressive assortment of artifacts on display, Voight would vehemently present such discoveries have been providing mankind with essential progressive tools for centuries.

“This probably is the oldest continuous mine site in the Western Hemisphere,” Voight stated. “Once in a while, if you are lucky, something comes along very special and very important. We homo sapiens have been always using iron. Wherever we are we are messing around with iron oxide. That’s a very important part of who we are. If it’s 40-50 thousand years ago, we have found it in Sunrise, Wyoming. We make tools. That’s how we survived. They were stone people, and we are going to be the iPhone people. But we do make tools to survive, and you make the best tools needed in order to survive. It’s very important we take care of these things when we can, and study them when we can. Back then everything was huge. We little humans were out killing enormous animals with spears, courage, or even stupidity. But because of our tool-making ability is how we’ve survived. When something like this comes along once in a great while folks, you have to save it for humanity.”

“All these artifacts were in this mine. Strangely enough with all these projectile points, we still have theories as to why they are in there dating all the way back to the Paleoindian Period. It’s a fascinating place, and there is nothing like it. I try to be enthusiastic about it because it’s so very important, it’s so close and it’s in Sunrise folks. It’s right here.”

Voight was met with extensive applause of acknowledgment and gratitude at the conclusion of his presentation.

Ziemens would once again speak on behalf of his colleague, recognizing the incredible historic impact evolved from an intelligent business venture, to preserving Wyoming’s storied history and humanity.

“It’s private land,” Ziemens said. “According to state law if it’s private property the land belongs to the owner, and the artifacts belong to the owner. But with John, it was always, ‘This doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to humanity.’ He is very exceptional as well as unusual. Usually, people want to keep those artifacts, but John is an unusual person. We are so very lucky to have you, John.”

The meeting ended at 8:15 p.m.