Taking its name from the Caribou Silver Mine located outside of town, the community of Caribou was an active mining settlement and boomtown that survived from the 1870s until the great Depression of the 1930s.
As early as 1861 prospectors had discovered placer gold in their sluices while they panned for gold in the creeks and streams below Caribou. Tracing these leaving upstream, they eventually discovered the first significant silver veins in what would become the Caribou Mining District. Sam Conger and five partners staked the Caribou and Conger claims in 1869, and the mines were so successful that they brought up nearly $8 million in silver before they closed in 1884. The town was founded in 1870 and had nearly 400 full-time residents by 1871. There was a church, three saloons, a brewery and an independent newspaper, the Caribou Post.
In 1871 the mine was sold to a group of Dutch investors, though they were quick to find out that the best ore had already been mined out and the mines were nowhere near as profitable as they had first been. The mines limped along until they were purchased by a pair of Denver businessmen, Jerome B. Chaffee and David Moffat. The final descent of the town was rapid, with a major fire destroying most of the buildings in 1879. From a peak population of 3,000 people in 1874, there were fewer than fifty residents by the 1920s.
The Caribou Mining District gave Colorado the nickname of "The Silver State". When President Ulysses S. Grant visited Central City, Colorado in 1882, 70-pound bars of silver, mined and smelted in Caribou, were used to line the President's path through the city.
Today, Caribou is a ghost town with only a handful of ruined buildings still remaining. It is more desolate than other mining towns that have retained a small population, such as Gold Hill or Sunshine, CO, and the town site is slowly reverting back into a natural state. From a good vantage point you can still see the outlines of many foundations and trace the layout of the once bustling mining town. There is still an active mine in the area, since the Caribou and Cross mines were acquired by a private investor in the 1980s, and the massive pile of mine tailings to the west of the town site serves to emphasize the history of the area.