Written by: Don Alexander
From 1941 to 1945 the rugged mountains of Eagle County, Colorado and Camp Hale were the temporary wartime home for more than 14,000 U. S. soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division. These soldiers were trained as special ski troopers, the elite alpine combat unit who went on from Camp Hale to battle with stubborn Nazi soldiers in the rugged mountains of Northern Italy.
Today there is very little left for the traveler to see of Camp Hale, while driving along Colorado Highway 24 between Redcliff and Leadville. A few concrete foundations are visible as faint reminders of former wartimes; and, a roadside turn-out with a bullet riddled sign telling a brief story about the former camp, are all that remain to be seen.
If that is all there is to tell about the former Camp Hale, and the men of the 10th Mountain Division, no need would exist for the numerous searches I've made in the abandoned and ghostly mining camps dotting the nearby mountains and canyons.
There is more to tell about Camp Hale and events which almost certainly took place during the heyday of the facility when many soldiers were receiving their ski trooper training.
What I am about to reveal to you began, for me, when I was in Leadville for the purpose of researching county documents for information on some silver mining properties I was considering leasing. Having completed all I could do for the day, I decided to go to Leadville's best restaurant, have a toddy and a good steak, call it a day and in my motel room review the information I'd been able to garner at the Court House. To my surprise the steak house was crowded with men I judged to be all about the same age...all hoisting drinks and having good times on what appeared to be a special occasion of some kind. It was a very special occasion because this was, as I quickly learned, the advance party for a reunion of the 10th Mountain Division and the men who had trained at Camp Hale.
I worked my way through the crowd of men and finally bellied up to the bar and ordered what I had decided would be my one drink before leaving to find another place to eat. I had only taken a couple of swallows of my drink and lit up a smoke when, before I realized it, I was tuning-in on a conversation taking place directly in back of me. The men were standing right in back of me and were talking rather loud to overcome the noise in the crowded bar. I was able to overhear a conversation which caused me to put aside the business which had originally brought me to Leadville and spend the better part of the next eight-weeks searching for what I call "Tons Of Silver."
Mind you now, I'm not the kind of guy who'll, at the drop of a hat, jump into something... especially something like lost or buried treasure. Principally, for the past four years, I'd been mining gold and silver on a small scale in Colorado, without much fanfare, and eating pretty well.
Absolute Faith and Conviction
Getting back to the story, it was the absolute faith and conviction in what was said, by those men talking in back of me, as well as the history of the Colorado silver mining country, that convinced me what I was hearing was not something conjured up with the aid of alcohol but actually did take place and in all probability does exist.
The GIs of World War II were drafted or accepted as volunteers into the military from every village, town and city in the U.S.A.-- the men of the 10th stationed at Camp Hale were certainly no different. Fate, or the odds of chance, however played an important part in the story I overheard that night--the story I am about to tell you. How else could it all be explained... the just right combination of personnel and the specific set of circumstances surrounding the ski trooper training camp!
Camp Hale's isolated location far from the capital city of Denver, bitter cold mountain winters with deep and drifting snows, arduous and exhausting mountain training for these ski troopers, wartime gasoline shortages, rationing of critical supplies and generally "no place special to go" brought on many a hot stove discussions and bull sessions about any and everything. These discussion sessions lead to the development of friendships that eventually led to the planning and execution of a wartime venture yielding "Tons Of Silver."
No illicit operation like this, either in peace or wartime, could ever have stood a remote chance of success without certain highly skilled technical people playing key roles. And, our thanks must go to Uncle Sam for the marvelous manner in which men from all walks of life were so perfectly drawn together, as did happen at the place called Camp Hale.
Camp Hale Overheard
Here's the story I overheard that night in Leadville. One person involved was Gus, the only living son of a long-time silver miner from Leadville, and Gus was also an experienced silver miner. Woody, a staff sergeant, was either a geologist or a mining engineer from Idaho whose knowledge and experience certainly must have contributed immensely to the success of the project undertaken. And finally there was a young man named Andrew, from Ohio, who was studying chemistry at the university when he decided to enlist and become a ski trooper in the 10th Mountain Division. Others necessary to carry out the mission were a very vital supply sergeant and several company clerks to properly juggle paperwork in order that this group always be given some special training assignment to perform in a remote area with no one to observe their real activities.
From what I overheard, the other members of this elite group had no particular skills vital to what was undertaken except that all who did participate were disgustingly healthy and physically strong young men.
My guess is that Gus and Woody, possibly with Andrew, got the ball rolling by somehow looking over old mining dumps and poking into then closed mines (recall that mining of silver and gold was non-essential to the war effort and prohibited by a regulation from the government) for leads to overlooked riches of silver and gold. That these three GIs found what they were looking for, there was no uncertainty among the veterans of the 10th who stood talking in back of me. By using what must certainly have been juggled paperwork at the camp the group was able to obtain all the skis, snow shoes, tools for drilling, digging and hauling plus the explosives necessary to carry out their operation, from the military supply depot of Camp Hale.
Somewhere in the mountains between Camp Hale and Leadville this enterprising group of GIs uncovered an extremely rich silver vein which they mined for a period of time, the veterans standing behind me had no doubts about this.
By using abandoned or closed mines and small mills, most of which had some sort of equipment left behind, this team of soldiers from Camp Hale was able to mill most of the high grade ore they'd mined and smelt the concentrates into ore bars-- all stashed safely away for post war recovery by those who would survive the ravages of WW II. The operation went smoothly for awhile but eventually the crew's luck began to run out: one soldier was killed by a broken winch cable that literally sliced the man's body in two and another GI was trapped and died beneath the rubble from a collapsed head wall of a mine tunnel. Their records probably reflected that the "injuries," which resulted in the soldier's deaths, "were sustained during classified training accidents in arduous mountain terrain under adverse weather conditions."
Death and Confidants
All good things eventually must come to an end and so did the secret mining operation. Orders to ship out were finally received, the 10th Mountain Division went to Northern Italy. The ski troopers of the 10th engaged very stubborn German forces in several battles where nine enemy divisions were wiped-out. The lives of more than 990 good men of the 10th were lost in these battles...including every last member of the elite mining group who mined, milled and stashed the "Tons Of Silver."
Just how did these tough old ski soldiers know that this all happened the way they said it did? They knew the soldiers involved because they had lived and fought with all of them. They knew the group to be a tight lipped team who always drew the same off-camp training assignments, knew the team somehow always managed to get furloughs at the same time; and they knew that each man had big plans for post war years.
The fighting in the rough mountains of Northern Italy did not claim all of the lives of the members of the mining team in one battle-- rather, one by one they died in the fighting with the Germans. And so, according to the veteran members of the 10th who stood behind me talking, the two surviving members of the mining group, fearing their own deaths were imminent, made decisions to select a comrade and confide enough of the details of the illicit mining operation, as well as the where-abouts of the cached "Tons Of Silver", to enable the confidants to locate and recover the stashed treasure after the war. The two soldiers, who, as part of the group, had helped mine a treasure of silver were killed in the fighting. The two chosen confidants did survive the war, returned to civilian life, and did travel to the area of Camp Hale to search unsuccessfully, it was said, for the silver treasure.
I Believe It's There
All of what I had heard fits. It made sense to me! I believe that the "Tons Of Silver" mined by the men of the 10th is there waiting to be found and recovered-- to make a man wealthy for the rest of his life.
I am not unknowledgeable of the fabulously rich silver mining history of the Leadville area, i.e., Tabor, et al. I strongly believe the mine illicitly worked by the Camp Hale soldiers/miners was located near Leadville and that perhaps the mine had not been abandoned in the legal sense of the word but only closed under Regulation L as non-essential to the war effort. If this should be the case, it could be these soldier-miners pulled off one hell of a robbery without a single shot ever having been fired.
But where's the cache?
Since that night in the Leadville bar I've spent a lot of time quietly looking, searching for the "Tons Of Silver" which I believe must surely be hidden waiting to be found. I've not found the silver cache but I've found some rusted tools which I believe could have been hidden by the group.
Cache Of Silver Bars
Where is this cache of silver bars supposed to be? Since I've had three major back surgeries, and can no longer mine or get out an actively search for the cached "Tons Of Silver", I'll tell you the remainder of what I overheard that night in the Leadville restaurant bar. Obtain maps of Eagle and Lake Counties, showing both the locations of former Camp Hale and Leadville, now draw a straight line connecting these two points. Now do the same with/on appropriate topo maps and you will have both a general and a specific map of the search area/terrain. Somewhere along the lines you have drawn look for a high canyon with an old mine up on the South face where there is supposed to be a jeep road or trail leading to the dump and mine buildings. This is the location of the "Tons Of Silver." The secreted location of the ore bars is supposed to be in a hole which was blasted into the stone back wall of one of the buildings (it's built into the side of the mountain). That is it! I never found the right canyon and I know that a topo map may or may not show the particular mine in question. Knowing also the severe winters in the high mountain country of the Colorado Rockies and the steepness of the terrain in question, it could well be an avalanche has destroyed, or forever covered, the mine and buildings with slide debris... maybe not! I believe this happened as I heard the men of the 10th say it had happened and I believe the "Tons Of Silver", a treasure of silver ore bars, is waiting to be found. To you who decide to search for this cache I wish both luck and success. I hope you find the "Tons Of Silver."
Written by: Don Alexander
Copyright - November 23, 1988
originally published in
Popular Mining Magazine