Mining museum loses one of its donkeys

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A donkey that offered golden moments to visitors at the Western Museum of Mining & Industry died in late December from a chronic illness. Oro, which means “gold” in Spanish, along with his companion, Nugget, had helped educate the public about mining heritage even though neither donkey had a mining background.

Oro and Nugget were part of a wild herd of donkeys — called “burros” everywhere else besides Colorado — that roamed the Sonoran Desert, which covers parts of Arizona, California and Mexico. The U.S. areas of the desert and the burro herd that lives there are managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

“They occasionally thin the herd and put the burros up for adoption,” said Dave Futey, museum education director. “The museum adopted both donkeys with the help of Long Hopes Donkey Rescue in the summer of 2001.”

Since their adoption, Oro and Nugget made fast friends in the community, especially among local children.

“Donkeys have been iconic to the gold mining industry,” Futey said. “First we have the prospector and his donkey, carrying loads but also a companion. Then we have the donkeys working in the underground mines. They were taken into the mine as young animals and they lived out their lives underground, doing the heavy hauling until they were replaced by compressed air trammers.”

Donkeys were also used above ground to grind the gold ore into tiny pieces prior to chemical processing.

“They attached them to an Arastra, a device that uses a large stone to crush the ore,” Futey said. “The donkeys walked around in circles all day. Of course, donkeys were used to grind other things as well, such as grain.”

Oro’s life as a teacher was cut short at a fairly young age for a donkey. He was about 16 years old.

“Donkeys can live into their 30s,” Futey said. “Oro is buried in a cemetery for animals located in eastern El Paso County. Of course, we still have Nugget and we’re encouraging people to visit him. He loves carrots and ginger snaps.”

The museum board is considering getting another donkey as a companion for Nugget.

“Donkeys prefer being in a herd even when that herd is only two animals,” Futey said.

For more information about the museum and its remaining donkey, visit www.wmmi.org.