The Late Silver Boom Of Colorado
Overnight Silver Rush
Once known as “California Gulch,” the sleepy-eyed region of Leadville became the silver ore capital of the world, drawing in a population which grew nearly 40,000 strong. Boom towns just like Leadville sprang up overnight, all over the state of Colorado. The rise of these “silver cities,” brought the state an increase in population, and economic growth that would mark Colorado as the Capitalist’s state.
Before the silver rush, there had been the quest for gold. In 1874, miners in nearby Oro City found curious minerals intermixed within the sand of their find of gold. Following the trail of the strange lead mineral, the miners eventually discovered a number of mother lodes containing silver lead deposits.
By 1877, the Harrison Reduction Works Company already knew that smelters were the answers to removing silver from lead carbonate ore, and they quickly invested in Leadville and the great boom was on its way.
Before the introduction of smeltering and reduction, the town of Leadville thrived with restaurants, hotels, gambling houses and brothels besides thousands of mining shanties. Established as a city in 1878, Leadville grew into another decade, and it attracted great figures such as the famed poet OscarWilde, the elite socialite and actress Lilly Langtry, the wild west legend Doc Holiday, and president Ulysses Grant.
Unfortunately by 1880, the Little Pittsburg, a famous incorporated mine invested by stockholders ran out of ore and the reduction in the prices of silver ore caused the closing of mines and boom in Leadville came to end by 1893.
Residential figures such as Horace Tabor, who owned the local opera house and the Matchless Mine, Thomas Walsh who purchased the Grand Hotel in 1878, or investors like Jerome Chaffe and David Moffat who helped fatten the purses of their associates. These entrepreneurial minds were just a few of the independently wealthy citizens who influenced the city of Leadville and made their fortunes by way of the Silver boom.
There is one Leadville story, which stands out, giving us glimpse as to the supposed accumulation of wealth that many of the citizens had successfully acquired:“Molly Brown, wife of John Brown, the superintendent of the Little Jonny Mine, accidentally burned hundreds of thousands of dollars in the stove where he had hidden them. After this episode it was claimed Johnny went out and discovered another mine. Molly went on to fame after her voyage on the Titanic as the Unsinkable Molly Brown. She never confirmed or denied the tale of the burned money.”
In closing, there is one more fact that sums up the silver boom era. The great mining camps were the reason that many of the railroads had been built. Rather than the slow delivery by way of stagecoach and freight wagons, the railroads provided transportation for passengers, supplies for miners, building materials, coal for fuel and merchandise for the hardworking citizen. The development of railway transportation played a major part in the growth and development of Colorado communities, and with that being stated, it would be wise to consider that without the lure of the silver, the Centennial State would not be the established state that it is today.
- Otto Mears was a Russian immigrant who came to America and eventually helped build 300 miles of toll roads through the San Juan mountains. These roads led to the numerous mining town that linked together including towns like Silverton and Lake City. Other accomplishments include the establishment of newspapers and the latter construction of railroads around the turn of the century.
- Mary Hallock Foote visited Leadville in 1879. Her claim to fame was that she was an illustrator and author who wrote “The Last Assembly Ball” and the “The Led-Horse Claim”. She had a circle of established intellectuals that came to call, including another well-known author Helen Hunt.
(Wikipedia: The New Encyclopedia - Leadville, Colorado. Website Address: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leadville%2C_Colorado)
(Colorado: A History of the Centennial State, Abbott, Leonard and Noel, 4th Ed. Pg. 92 - 96)
(Ted Kierscey Collection: Early Images of Leadville - The Narrow Gauge Circle, The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, by Jerry Clark and hosted by Mark L. Evans, copyright 1995-2004. Website Address: http://www.narrowgauge.org/ncmap/excursion7_leadville.html)