Frontier in Transition: A History of Southwestern Colorado
BLM Cultural Resources Series (Colorado: No. 10)
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Southwestern Colorado in the Modern Era

The modern era in southwestern Colorado's history, defined here as the years following 1920, can be seen as a continuation of the trends in use, occupation, and economic activity that had been established during the first two decades of the twentieth century. As has been discussed, the three most important developments in the years from the turn of the century to 1920 were in the involvement of the federal government in land use determinations; the advance of farming, ranching, and fruit growing as essential industries in southwestern Colorado; and the gradual decline of hard-rock mining. Between 1900 and 1920. the combined value of gold, silver, lead, copper and zinc output from southwestern Colorado's mines fell from $9,219,803 to $8,402,240. [1] During the same years, the number of farms in the region rose from 2,399 to 6,718. The shift of orientation to more rurally-based economic activities was also reflected in demographic changes. Although the population for the entire southwestern Colorado region increased by about fifty percent from 1900 to 1920, the most dramatic growth was witnessed in the agricultural areas of Delta, La Plata, and Montrose counties. In these three counties alone, the population jumped from 21,038 in 1900 to 36,738 in 1920, while in the mining regions of Hinsdale, Ouray, and San Juan counties, the population dropped from 8,682 to 4,857. [2]

While the twenty years following the turn of the century are important for the shift from mining to agriculture, the period is significant, as well, because of the federal government's initiation of conservation policies. The enactment of the Newlands bill in 1902, the completion of the Bureau of Reclamation's Gunnison Tunnel Project in 1909, and the creation of the San Juan, Gunnison and Uncompahgre National Forests in 1905, make the period from 1900 to 1920 important as an era of conservation. Federal activity in southwestern Colorado coupled with general economic diversification within the region during these years marked the beginnings of an era of planned development which replaced the nineteenth century concept of unrestricted resource exploitation. The historical significance of the basic changes described above lies in the fact that they have had lasting effects on human use and occupation in southwestern Colorado. In a fundamental way, the developments that took place in the first years of the twentieth century established a pattern of growth that forms the key to understanding the region's history in the decades that have followed.

The modern era in southwestern Colorado can be seen as two developmental periods; the first being the two and one-half decades after World War I, and the second, the years following World War II. The period from 1919 to 1940, were years of economic decline. Gold and silver mining and the coal industry staggered under the impact of constantly shrinking markets and falling prices during the 1930's. The value of production for gold, silver, lead, copper and zinc had fallen to $3,900,519 by 1930. By 1941, these production figures had risen only slightly to $4,538,270. With continually falling prices for agricultural produce and livestock following World War, the region's farmers and ranchers endured equally hard times during the 1930's. Between 1920 and 1940, the decrease in the number of farms in southwestern Colorado reflected this economic decline. From 1920, when the number of farms was listed at 6,718, farm properties decreased from 6,639 in 1930, to 5,488 in 1940. [3] The Great Depression years (1929-1939) did see, however, federal activity in the area. As over one-half of the land area within the region was under the jurisdiction of the government, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Public Works Administration, an agency created during the New Deal, initiated several water diversion, road, and building projects. As was detailed previously, the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 was implemented so as to provide federal supervision for ranching use of federal lands, and importantly, to stabilize a weak livestock industry dependent upon the forage resources on the public domain. In all, the twenty years following the conclusion of World War I passed with a determined, yet only gradual response to economic hardships. The 1920's and 1930's were years characterized by a perceptible slow-down in resource development. Yet, during the years following World War II, the quiet of the depression years gradually faded, and the region again experienced the excitement that new economic potential offered.

The period following World War II was one of new opportunities and the opening of new areas of resource development. The initiation of uranium exploration by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) during the late 1940's caused the renewed growth of the rare metals industry in western Montrose and San Miguel counties. Gold, silver, lead, copper and zinc mining was also revived in these years after having been given a boost by government fiscal policies during the Depression. By 1950, the value of these metals was $12,923,792, a figure almost three times that of 1941. The overall prosperity experienced in the United States due to post-war industrial production was also reflected in the recovery of agriculture. Although the number of farms in southwestern Colorado decreased from 1940 to 1950, the land used for agriculture increased. In that decade, farming land rose from 2,134,828 to 3,451,298 acres. [4] The tourist industry, by no means new to southwestern Colorado, did, however, grow in such proportions during the 1950's that it assumed a larger share in the economy of the region than it had formerly. Much of the growth in tourism resulted from the attraction of the area's national parks and monuments. Created in 1916, the National Park Service, under the direction of the Department of the Interior, supervises one national park and three national monuments in southwestern Colorado. Attendance to such areas as the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument and Mesa Verde National Park increased over three times between 1941 and 1953. [5]

The period following the conclusion of World War II, then, can be seen as the beginnings of a "new frontier" in the history of southwestern Colorado. The developments that took place in the 1940's and 1950's symbolized the entrance of a new era of resource development. Yet, the economic benefits that accompanied a potential new "boom" in the region necessitated a change in the attitudes concerning the best and proper use of the area's resources. The questions of use and development, first raised in the early twentieth century, continued into the modern era. The significance of such questions is the fact that answers and possible solutions to them are still being worked out today. The following outline of the history of agriculture, mining, tourism, and federal activity serves as a summary of modern development in the region and at the same time it may provide an introduction for present and future discussions concerning human use and occupation in southwestern Colorado.

The conclusion of World War I signalled an end to one of the brief periods of agricultural prosperity in the United States. War-inflated grain and livestock prices fell sixty percent from 1919 to 1921, and the reduction of prices and farm income during the early 1930's simply worsened an existing problem. The decline in agricultural economics on a national scale was reflected within Colorado. The livestock industry in southwestern Colorado experienced a reduction in quantities of animals as well as in values for range cattle. From 1921 to 1929, the number of beef cattle decreased from 162,329 to 130,187 and the value of livestock products on the region's farms declined from $13,076,817 in 1930 to $9,298,005 in 1940. [6] Similar depressed conditions prevailed in the area's fruit and vegetable industries. Between 1921 and 1930, for example, the value of all fruit produced in southwestern Colorado declined from $3,442,120 to $933,490, a total more than $1,000,000 less than Delta County's production alone in 1921. The region's potato industry, which accounted for over one-third of Montrose County's agricultural revenue in 1921, fell off after that year. From 1921 to 1930, the total value of potatoes produced in southwestern Colorado declined over $1,000,000; Montrose County's output slipped from $1,193,866 in 1921 to $463,040 in 1930. The overall picture for agriculture in the region from 1920 to 1940 was, indeed, grim. Although there was a gradual decrease in the value of crops harvested from 1921 to 1930, the period from 1930 to 1940 saw the value of crops harvested drop from $8,046,340 to $6,139,973. [7]

The effects of economic depression, during the 1930's, on the fruit and vegetable industries all but wiped out the protective measures attempted in cooperative management and marketing associations that were begun in the previous decade. The Colorado Potato Growers Exchange, a front range marketing cooperative, began operations in 1921, and early successes led to the establishment of associated offices in Olathe in 1922, and in Montrose in 1926. Cooperative warehouses were set up at Montrose, Olathe, and Delta at this time. The United Fruit Growers Association, centered in Palisade, Colorado, and operating in other western slope fruit growing regions in the early 1920's, was like the Potato Growers Exchange, ominously inactive during the 1930's as a result of the decline in fruit and vegetable prices. [8] Despite the failure of some cooperatives to effectively respond to depression conditions, a few collectives began operations in the 1930's. Supported by funding from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the Delta Cooperative was organized in May of 1934. In conjunction with the Mesa County (Grand Junction) Cooperative, the Delta group started the Delta Cannery Project in July of that year. Originally funded with $15,000, the 104 families involved with the Delta project attempted to revitalize the fruit industry in the Uncompahgre, North Fork, and Colorado River valleys. The cannery project failed, despite additional federal subsidies, as a result of a lack of fruit production during the economic crises of the 1930's. [9]

The effects of economic depression on Colorado's agricultural regions were accentuated, during the 1920's and 1930's, by drought conditions, and water shortages led to a reevaluation of state and interstate water rights. In 1923, New Mexico and Colorado officials agreed on the equitable diversion of waters from the La Plata River, and in 1929, the Colorado River Compact established a system of interstate water rights for seven western states. Federal water diversion and storage projects in southwestern Colorado increased after 1935 with the aid of Public Works Administration funding. One of the first achievements was a survey of the entire western slope region for possible Bureau of Reclamation projects. The Taylor Park Reservoir, in northeastern Gunnison County, was built in 1936 through a cooperative agreement between the Bureau and Uncompahgre valley water users. When completed, the reservoir covered 2,033 surface acres, and provided an important storage facility for Gunnison and Uncompahgre valley water needs. More recently, the Taylor Park area has become popular for its fishing, boating and recreational opportunities. The Vallecito Reservoir, another Bureau of Reclamation project, was begun in 1938. The large earthen dam built near Bayfield, at the junction of Vallecito Creek and the Los Pinos River, was designed to store sufficient water to irrigate some 65,000 acres along the Los Pinos River valley. Constructed at a cost of three million dollars, the water stored at the Vallecito facility is also used by the Southern Ute Reservation, in the vicinity of Ignacio. [10] More than a question of conservation, federal reclamation projects and other land use legislation, such as the Taylor Grazing Act, were motivated by a desire to promote economic recovery. Despite the benefits of these and other government measures during the 1930's, the stimulus for renewed growth came from demands brought about by war conditions.

During the period from 1940 to 1945, the value of all crops sold by southwestern Colorado agriculturalists rose almost threefold, from $3,291,870 to $9,365,928. The value of livestock on the region's farms showed similar increases during these years. Livestock revenues from southwestern Colorado's farms and ranches jumped from $10,033,118 in 1940 to $16,240,485 in 1945. Sheep and lambs from Montrose County, valued at $605,452 in 1940, increased to $2,862,974 by 1950. The number of cattle and sheep in southwestern Colorado also increased in the decade from 1940 to 1950. The area's potato farmers, after suffering through staggering price declines during the 1930's, saw renewed successes after 1940, when the value of their crops increased to $1,689,752 in 1943. One of the larger increases in southwestern Colorado agriculture was seen in fruit production. By 1945, the amount of apples produced in Delta, Montezuma and Montrose counties had increased by a total of 746,205 bushels since 1940. The peach crop from these three counties, which provided 21.7 percent of Colorado's 1940 harvest, accounted for 28.2 percent in 1945. The value of peaches grown in these counties alone increased by over $1,250,000 in the decade from 1940 to 1950. Ranked third in the state for dry field bean production, Montezuma County's percentage of Colorado's bean output increased from 9.6 percent to 10.9 percent from 1940 to 1945, while the prices returned for that crop more than doubled. [11]

Southwestern Colorado's agricultural industries illustrated a general trend towards recovery by 1950, after undergoing economic decline and depression in the 1920's and 1930's. As had been the case with the region's agricultural production, the mining industry followed a similar course during the period from 1920 to the 1950's. At the conclusion of World War I, mining in southwestern Colorado was a greatly altered industry, when compared to the years immediately following the turn of the century. In 1918, for the first time, the value of gold, silver, lead, copper and zinc produced in the state dropped below that of other minerals. [12] As gold, silver and lead producers experienced a decline in their mine and milling operations, many miners moved on to the "booming" carnotite and rare metal regions in western Montrose and San Miguel counties that had grown as a result of war demands for vanadium. In 1921, for example, carnotite and vanadium were mined at Redvale, Nucla, Vanadium and Sawpit in San Miguel County. Besides the Cashin mine at Bedrock, which produced copper and silver, the eight mines in Montrose County listed in the annual report of the Colorado Bureau of Mines in 1921 worked carnotite ores. [13] With the importation of Congolese uranium during the mid-1920's however, the demand for Colorado carnotite decreased. By 1930, most mines in the Paradox Valley's carnotite region had ceased operations. Southwestern Colorado's coal mining industry experienced new highs in the level of production in the years leading up to 1920. In one year, from 1919 to 1920, coal output in the region jumped from 682,621 to 883,359 tons. Yet, decline also characterized coal mining during the years after 1920. By 1924, coal production decreased to levels attained five years previously. In 1929, coal production for southwestern Colorado was 681,368 tons. [14] Another development in subsurface activity during the early 1920's was the location of oil fields in southwestern Colorado. Responding to new demands from industry and automobile drivers, wells were drilled in Delta and San Miguel counties as early as 1917, but proved dry. In 1920, a Colorado Geological Survey report stated that petroleum could be obtained in considerable quantities from Archuleta and Montezuma counties. During the following year, oil was struck at a test well in McElmo Canyon by the Midwest Oil Company. As a result of this excitement, approximately one dozen oil companies, principally Wyoming operators, had representatives in the field and were grabbing acreage as fast as possible. The test drilling in McElmo Canyon went on for another year and developed a flow of 2,000,000 cubic feet of wet gas. By 1921, many wells had been drilled in the Dolores River region and some petroleum was located, but due to the limited commercial quantity of those finds, a major oil boom never materialized. [15] Although new areas of mineral and metals development took place during the post-World War I period, the industry as a whole, experienced a reduction in output as a result of falling prices and economic depression in the late 1920's and 1930's.

Sunnyside Mill at Eureka Colorado Historical Society

In the years from 1920 to 1932, the value of all minerals mined in Colorado decreased from $76,037,896 to $25,800,227. [16] Despite this downward trend, several of southwestern Colorado's major mining operations remained at least partially active. From 1921 to 1930, for example, mines such as the Smuggler-Union near Telluride, the Camp Bird in Ouray County, the Sunnyside operations at Eureka, the Good Hope and Vulcan mines in Gunnison County and the Ute and Ulay mines near Lake City continued limited production. [17] These operations and others that were geared to the mining of gold, silver, lead, copper and zinc were given a stimulus towards recovery in 1934 when the federal government devalued the dollar. A direct consequence of this action was a sixty-nine percent increase in the price of gold and the revitalization of many gold producing regions. The renewal of gold mining after 1934 stimulated, in turn, copper, lead, and to a degree, zinc mining. In counties such as Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma and Montrose there was an increase in metals production during the period from 1930 to 1940 as more accessible lodes were exploited. Although the value of gold, silver, lead, copper and zinc production in southwestern Colorado rose only slightly during these years, the increase for these four counties was from $166,340 to $982,269. [18] Federal monetary policies also aided the silver mining industry. In 1930, the price of silver was $0.38460 per ounce, and by 1932, it had reached an all-time low, where the average price returned was $0.28204 per ounce. Producers were given encouragement by the passage of the Silver Purchase Act of 1934 which provided for the government purchase of silver in such amounts so as to balance the nation's monetary stock at a ration of one-quarter silver to three-quarters gold. The price of silver in 1934, as a result of this measure, rose to $0.773 per ounce, and caused an increase in the volume of silver worked from the older producing regions. [19] Federal involvement in the mining industry continued during the 1940's. Through a loan of $1,300,000 from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) in 1943, the Idarado Mining Company began construction on an extension of the 12,000 foot Treasury Tunnel in Ouray and San Miguel counties. With work completed in 1944, the company, the owner of the Black Bear mine near Telluride, which was served by the tunnel extension, increased output to such an extent that the RFC loan was liquidated one year after construction began. [20]

As silver and gold mining increased during the 1930's, there was also a gradual rise in other metal production. Due to military mobilization and armament construction in Europe during the late 1930's, demands for copper, lead and zinc increased. In 1938, Colorado ranked sixth among the states in lead production, with San Juan County providing more than forty percent of that total. The three chief zinc mining operations in southwestern Colorado at this time were the Rico Argentine near Rico, the Shendoah-Dives at Silverton, and the Callaghan Corporation at Whitepine. In 1940, Dolores County produced fifty-two percent and San Juan County accounted for twenty-seven percent of the zinc output for Colorado. [21] Although coal production in Colorado declined during the late 1930's, southwestern Colorado's output from 1934 to 1941 actually increased from 790,666 to 881,874 tons. In Gunnison County, the volume of coal mined during these years rose from 447,971 to 712,717 tons. The Crested Butte mine and the Somerset mine, the principal operations, accounted for a combined output of 314,630 tons in 1934 and 505,400 tons in 1941. [22]

The post-war years in the United States were ones in which the requirements of industry meant an expanded demand for energy resources. Coal production in Colorado reached an all-time high in 1943, but dropped off steadily following the war when the demand lessened and competition from oil and gas increased, [23] In 1947, oil wells were located near Chromo, in Archuleta County, and in 1948, a major "strike" occurred in Montezuma County, twelve miles west of Pleasant View. The first big well to come in was the Driscoll Number One, and reports said "the well's potential tested between 750 and 1,000 barrels of high premium petroleum and about 20,000,000 cubic feet of gas daily." By 1953, oil fields in Archuleta County had reported 234,000 barrels, and the gas fields in Montezuma County, near Mancos, and in La Plata County, near Ignacio, reported a combined output of 8,667,073,000 cubic feet of gas. [24] While petroleum exploration in southwestern Colorado increased during the post war period, coal production declined. In 1953, the output from the region's coal mines fell to levels similar to those of the depression decade. Gunnison County's coal production alone declined by over one-half from 1941 to 1953. The closing of the Crested Butte mine in 1952, and the diminished output from the Somerset mine accounted for this decrease. By 1960, southwestern Colorado reported only 456,001 tons of coal produced, with Gunnison County accounting for some 272,286 tons. [25]

The trend toward increased production in hard-rock mining during the late 1930's continued through the 1940's and the war years. The removal of government controls after the war caused prices and production to reach new heights. In 1948, copper prices had risen to $0.217 per pound, lead was $0.179, and zinc was $0.133 per pound. In 1950, Colorado's production of gold, silver, copper, lead and zinc was the highest in many years. During that year, San Miguel County was the largest gold producer in the state, the Telluride Mines Company, owners of the Smuggler, Union-Montana mining groups being one of the important contributors. In 1951, that operation was Colorado's third largest producer of gold, lead and zinc, while the Idarado Mining Company ranked first in gold, silver and copper production. The Shenandoah-Dives mines at Silverton were third in the state for silver production during that year. By the late 1950's, however, gold, silver, lead, copper and zinc production had again declined. The value of southwestern Colorado's output for these metals slipped to $6,814,005 in 1959. In terms of the state's metal production during the 1950's and 1960's, uranium, molybdenum and vanadium were, by far, the largest contributors. [26]

Southwestern Colorado's mining industry, during the 1950's, reflected America's entrance into the atomic age. A renewed excitement in the rare metals resulted from the Atomic Energy Commission's (AEC) 1948 program of uranium exploration on the western slope. Attention was focused on Uravan and the Paradox Valley, where carnotite ores had been mined early in the twentieth century. For the next two decades, uranium lured the adventuresome as gold and silver had some ninety years before, and thousands rushed into the southwestern Colorado region, spurred on by stories of rich discoveries. The AEC sponsored road building projects to isolated areas, and small towns such as Uravan, Naturita and Dove Creek prospered. Mills and reduction plants to process the uranium ores were authorized and set up by the AEC in Durango, Gunnison and Uravan. From 1948 to 1960, Colorado produced uranium ores valued at about $133,456,000. The value of uranium output in the 1960's gradually declined to approximately twenty million dollars in 1968, with Montrose and San Miguel counties accounting for over one-half of the state's total. [27]

The uranium boom of the post-World War II decades, like gold and silver mining in the 1880's and 1890's, left behind scars on the landscape, pollution and abandoned buildings. Uranium mining created new problems as well. Radioactive waste material, like the tailings piles that mark the site of the Durango mill, raised questions concerning the long range effects of such operations on the human population as well as on the natural environment. Besides its environmental and economic impact, uranium mining during the 1950's and 1960's illustrated a major transition within the mining industry itself. Modern uranium and vanadium operations took over the position of leadership once held by gold and silver in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although precious metal mining lost much of the alluring quality that characterized its past, the legacy of the early mining camps in southwestern Colorado, continued to play a part in the region's economy in the modern era. In a real sense, the tourist trade has acted as a tonic in the economic revitalization of areas once solely dependent upon hard-rock mining. An important modern development in southwestern Colorado came, in the twentieth century, when people learned that it was more profitable to work tourists than ore bodies. [28]

Tourism in southwestern Colorado actually began when explorers perceived both the economic potential and the rugged beauty of the region's natural resources. The first recreational publicity received for southwestern Colorado was made in the official report of Captain J. N. Macomb of the United States Corps of Topographical Engineers in 1859, when he predicted fame for the mineral and hot springs at Pagosa Springs. [29] By the late 1860's, journalists and artists were intrigued by the many rumors of potential adventure, and began to inspect the entire region's scenery with a thought to its possible exploitation. Ovando Hollister, as early as 1867, concluded that the connection of the Rocky Mountain region to the United States by rail transportation would open a "new world to science, a new field of adventure to money and muscle, and new and pleasant places of summer resort to people of leisure". The supposed curative climate and the rugged beauty of its scenery made southwestern Colorado a popular mecca for the tubercular, the sightseer, and the adventurous. During the 1890's, the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad was particularly active in seeking the patronage of middle-class tourists who could afford a quick trip through the west. An advertising budget of $60,000 per year was used to attract such people as junketeering school teachers to the "Around the Circle Tour", for which $28.00 would purchase a four-day, 1,000-mile loop through some of the best scenery in the Rockies. [30] The Durango-Silverton branch line, originally built in 1882 and now included in the National Register of Historic Places, remains in operation and serves hundreds of thousands of sightseers and railroad enthusiasts.

As southwestern Colorado attracted tourists and sightseers to its booming mining camps during the 1880's and 1890's, it also interested many who were intrigued by the discovery of an ancient civilization's architectural remains. When people learned of the archaeological ruins in the Mesa Verde region, a story of devastating vandalism unfolded. Dr. Jesse Nusbaum, (for years Superintendent of Mesa Verde Park), described conditions in the 1880's and 1890's as years of wholesale, commercial looting by "pot hunters". To meet increasing market demands for artifacts, these pot hunters caused destruction and loss of archaeological sites and their values, since they sporadically searched for salable loot by unscientific excavation methods. This type of vandalism was carried on for years, and it was not until the end of the nineteenth century that attention was given to protecting the ancient "apartments" at Mesa Verde. Protests by such groups as the Colorado Cliff Dwellers Association and by individuals like Mrs. Gilbert McClurg finally prompted Congress to address the problem at Mesa Verde. In June 1906, the Antiquities, or Lacey Act imposed criminal penalties for destroying, excavating or injuring any historic or prehistoric ruin, monument, or object of antiquity situated on lands under the jurisdiction of the United States. The President was also authorized to set aside, by proclamation, historic sites, landmarks or structures on government lands. Exactly three weeks from the enactment of the Antiquities Act, on June 29, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Mesa Verde Park bill, specifically ensuring the protection of the Mesa Verde archaeological ruins. In 1913, Cliff Palace was added to the park for its continued protection.

With the creation of Mesa Verde Park and other areas in the United States came a need for central control and effective management of those parks. On August 25, 1916 President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Parks Act into law, which provided for the establishment of the National Park Service under the direction of the Department of the Interior. The purpose of the service was to promote and regulate the use of national parks, monuments and reservations, to conserve the scenery, the natural areas, historic sites, and the wildlife within those areas, and to provide facilities for the enjoyment of the parks. [31] The Black Canyon of the Gunnison River was proclaimed a national monument in 1933, and the Yucca House and Hovenweep National Monuments in Montezuma County were created in 1923 and 1919 respectively. Beyond the commercial and recreational value of these areas, scientific research and the attempts to reconstruct the societies of ancient Coloradans have been aided by federal action.

Closely related to the increased growth of tourism in southwestern Colorado during the twentieth century was the development of modern transportation and the construction of a comprehensive highway system. Before the automobile, railroads had provided the necessary transportation facilities for both passenger and commercial traffic. In 1910, the peak of rail traffic was reached, and the high mark of railroad mileage came in 1914, when 5,739 miles of track existed in the state. [32] With the automobile came the necessity of providing well paved roads. By 1910, the State Highway Commission had been established. With the impetus given by the federal government's "Good Road Bill" of 1916, which provided matching funds for the construction of a national road system, the State Highway Department was created in 1917. [33] By 1920, a number of state roads had been built into southwestern Colorado. A section of road called the "Rainbow Route" ran from Salida across Monarch Pass and into Gunnison. That road, known today as Highway 50, then continued from Gunnison along the Gunnison River valley, crossed Cerro Summit, and dropped into Montrose. From there, the highway ran via Delta to Grand Junction, and connected with the "Midland Trail" in Utah. From Montrose, a major road was constructed south to Durango and into New Mexico. A portion of present-day Highway 550, the "Million Dollar Highway", which runs from Ouray to Silverton, affords a view of some of the finest mountain scenery in southwestern Colorado. Another major route into the region from the front range, Highway 160, was also built during the late 1910's. From the "Great North and South Highway" (known today as Highway 25), the state road ran west and south from Walsenburg over La Veta Pass and into Alamosa. From there, it followed the Rio Grande River to Del Norte, and by way of South Fork station, the road ran over Wolf Creek Pass. Descending from Wolf Creek Pass, the road dropped into the West Fork of the San Juan River valley, and went on to Pagosa Springs, Durango, Mancos and Cortez. From Cortez, the completion of a road north through Dolores, Rico, and Placerville added to southwestern Colorado another scenic section of highway. [34]

The automobile and the construction of a state highway system dramatically increased passenger travel for reasons of enjoyment. Between 1916 and the early 1920's, for example, the number of cars in the state rose from 15,000 to 300,000. The new access that the automobile provided to all parts of Colorado also contributed to a changing attitude toward the outdoors. The construction of roads to many areas of scenic, cultural and recreational interest opened the region's national forests and parks to increased tourist traffic. Cortez prospered because of its proximity to Mesa Verde National Park and its location on a major highway. As more and more tourists began to take advantage of the recreational opportunities offered in southwestern Colorado's national forests, a larger concern arose over whether these areas were being over-exploited. Men such as Arthur Carhart and Aldo Leopold developed organizations like the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club, whose purpose it was to advocate an ecological point of view. To such men and a growing number of Americans, wild nature was a resource that should be appreciated and approached on its own terms. In southwestern Colorado today, lands preserved within the West Elk Wilderness Area, the San Juan, Uncompahgre, and Wilson Mountain Primitive Areas are among the most treasured possessions of its citizens. [35]

Skiers near Irwin; March, 1883. Denver Public Library, Western History Department

One of the more contemporary and popular winter recreational activities in Colorado, skiing, actually began both as a form of enjoyment as well as a necessary mode of transportation. Ski races began as early as 1883 in such mining areas as Crested Butte and Irwin. In more recent times, skiing has contributed substantially to the economy of former mining towns like Telluride and Durango. These towns have actually become major attractions in their own right. Whether as ghost towns, such as Animas Forks or Capitol City, or as renovated districts, mining camps in southwestern Colorado continue to have an impact on the economy of the region. Beyond their economic successes, towns like Crested Butte, Lake City, Silverton and Telluride have also been recognized for their historic significance, and are presently included in the National Register of Historic Places.

The most recent stage in the history of southwestern Colorado can be viewed as the latest development of the area's resource frontier. Throughout the entire chronicle of growth, each progressive stage in use and occupation placed new demands on the region's resources. As time passed and as the needs of new generations multiplied, the number of resources developed in southwestern Colorado increased in like measure. The growth and development of the mining industry in southwestern Colorado from the mid-nineteenth century down to the present serves as an example of this trend. The excitement and successes of the early gold and silver mining frontier brought to the region its initial economy. Yet, as the value of these precious metals declined at the turn of the century, new demands for other metals and minerals such as copper, zinc and coal prompted the miners to begin development of these resources. The expansion of American industry and the demands for new forms of energy during the twentieth century has greatly extended the scope of mining in southwestern Colorado. The abundance of numerous metals and minerals within the region can afford industrial, scientific and governmental interests a wide range of potentially exploitable resources. Present-day demands for molybdenum near Mount Emmons, close to Crested Butte, alunite at Red Mountain near Lake City, carbon dioxide reserves in McElmo Canyon, and for coal along the North Fork of the Gunnison River near Somerset will cause the extensive development of these areas in the near future.

Southwestern Colorado is, however, more than a mining frontier, and its history is more diverse than the progressive development of one natural resource after another. Besides its vast potential for metals and minerals development, the region was and is a "conservation frontier". That national forests, wilderness areas, national parks and monuments were created, confirmed a changing attitude that the region's natural and cultural amenities should, in some way, be conserved and protected from over-exploitation. The history of southwestern Colorado is actually then, the chronicle of two resource frontiers; and the debate over what constituted proper land use has formed much of that history. From the time of the Ute Indian treaties and land cessions to the days when cattle and sheep ranchers fought each other and federal government officials over national forest grazing policy, the arguments over the proper use of southwestern Colorado's resources were basic in many episodes of the region's development. At present, the debate goes on. Residents of a historic mining town question the benefits and fear the environmental effects of proposed large-scale mining operations nearby. Questions, indeed, remain as to whether certain areas within southwestern Colorado should be used for mining, for sheep and cattle grazing, for skiing, whether their most appropriate use is limited or managed use or no use at all. The resource frontier and the conservation frontier lie today at the crest of a divide. Questions of whether new energy needs outweigh modern conservation and preservation requirements demand answers that will be mutually satisfactory to all involved. Southwestern Colorado lies again on the verge of yet another frontier and another transition, the nature of which will be shaped by present determinations, and the history of which awaits the interpretation of a future generation.

Chapter XI: Notes

1. C. W. Henderson, Mining in Colorado, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1926), pp. 95-96, 102.

2. For information on population and the number of farms in southwestern Colorado during the first two decades of the twentieth century, see: United States Bureau of the Census, Thirteenth Census of the United States, Agriculture, Vol. IV. Alabama-Montana (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1913), pp. 184-232.

See also: United States Census of Agriculture, Colorado, (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1927), pp. 203-259.

See also: Colorado State Board of Immigration, Year Book of the State of Colorado, 1920, (Denver: Welch-Haffner Printing Co., 1920), pp. 175-210.

3. For statistics on mining and agriculture during the Depression years, see: Colorado State Planning Commission, Year Book of the State of Colorado, 1941-1942, (Denver: The Bradford-Robinson Printing Co., 1942), pp. 85-86, 141.

See also: Colorado State Board of Immigration, Year Book of the State of Colorado, 1931, (Denver: The Bradford-Robinson Printing Co., 1931), p. 219.

4. For data on mining and agriculture during the 1950's, see: Colorado State Planning Commission, Year Book of the State Of Colorado, 1951-1955, (Denver: State Printers, 1955), pp. 347, 362.

5. See: Colorado State Planning Commission, Year Book of the State of Colorado, 1941-1942, op. cit., pp. 481-482.

See also: Colorado State Planning Commission, Year Book of the State of Colorado, 1951-1955, op. cit., pp. 414-416.

6. Colorado State Board of Immigration, Year Book of the State of Colorado, 1925, (Denver: The Bradford-Robinson Printing Co., 1925), pp. 118-121.

See also: Colorado State Board of Immigration, Year Book of the State of Colorado, 1928-1929, (Denver: The Bradford-Robinson Printing Co., 1929), pp. 138-139.

See also: Colorado State Planning Commission, Year Book of the State of Colorado, 1941-1942, op. cit., p. 88.

7. For crop and total harvest values for the years 1921 and 1930, see: Colorado State Board of Immigration, Year Book of the State of Colorado, 1921, (Denver: Eames Bros., State Printers, 1921), pp. 65-67.

See also: State Board of Immigration, Year Book of the State of Colorado, 1931, op. cit., pp. 64-65.

8. See: Alvin Steinel, History of Agriculture in Colorado, (Fort Collins: Colorado A & M University, 1926), pp. 327-330.

See also: Carl Ubbelohde, Maxine Benson, and Duane Smith, A Colorado History, (Boulder: Pruett Press, 1976), p. 295.

9. For a short discussion on the Delta Cannery Project during the Depression, see Charles M. Schweiso, "The Unemployed Cooperatives in Colorado" (M.A. Thesis: University of Colorado, 1935), pp. 49-50.

10. D. H. Cummins, "Social and Economic History of Southwestern Colorado, 1860-1948", (Ph. D. Thesis: University of Texas, 1951), pp. 667-668.

See also: Ubbelohde, op. cit., pp. 196-297.

11. Colorado State Planning Commission, Year Book of the State of Colorado, 1945-1947, (Denver: The Bradford-Robinson Printing Co., 1947), pp. 104-116, 216-217.

See also: Colorado State Planning Commission, Year Book of the State of Colorado, 1951-1955, op. cit., pp. 194-199, 340-341.

See also: Colorado State Planning Commission, Colorado Agriculture Statistics, 1943 Final 1944 Preliminary, (Denver: Bradford-Robinson Printing Co., 1945), p. 22.

See also: United States Census of Agriculture, Wyoming-Colorado, Vol. I, Part 29 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1946), pp. 80-92.

12. Colorado State Planning Commission, Year Book of the State of Colorado, 1941-1942, op. cit., p. 133.

13. State of Colorado Bureau of Mines, Annual Report for the Year 1920, (Denver: Eames Bros., State Printers, 1921), pp. 43, 49.

14. For statistics concerning coal production in southwestern Colorado from 1920 to 1929, see: Colorado State Board of Immigration, Year Book of the State of Colorado, 1925, op. cit., p. 147.

See also: Colorado State Board of Immigration, Year Book of the State of Colorado, 1931, op. cit., p. 199.

See also: Colorado State Planning Commission, Year Book of the State of Colorado, 1941-1942, op. cit., p. 151.

See also: Colorado State Planning Commission, Year Book of the State of Colorado, 1951-1955, op. cit., p. 371.

15. Several newspaper articles concerned with oil well exploration were found in the Thomas F. Dawson Scrapbooks, "Mining", (Colorado Historical Society, Denver, Colorado): Rocky Mountain News, September 13, 1921; and Denver Post, March 29, 1922.

See also: Cummins, op. cit., pp. 611-612.

16. Colorado State Planning Commission, Year Book of the State of Colorado, 1941-1932, op. cit., p. 133.

17. See: State of Colorado Bureau of Mines, Annual Report for the Year 1920, op. cit., pp. 38-49.

See also: State of Colorado Bureau of Mines, Annual Report for the Year 1930, (Denver: Bradford-Robinson Printing Co., 1931), pp. 51-59.

18. Colorado State Board of Immigration, Year Book of the State of Colorado, 1931, op. cit., pp. 218-219.

See also: Colorado State Planning Commission, Year Book of the State of Colorado, 1941-1942, op. cit., p. 141.

19. See: Cummins, op. cit., pp. 581-583.

See also: Colorado Writers' Project, Colorado: A Guide to the Highest State, (New York: Hastings House, 1941), p. 61.

20. Colorado State Planning Commission, Year Book of the State of Colorado, 1951-1955, op. cit., p. 363.

21 Cummins, op. cit., pp. 592-593.

See also: Colorado Writers' Project, op. cit., p. 60.

22. Colorado State Planning Commission, Year Book of the State of Colorado, 1941-1942, op. cit., p. 151.

See also: Notes transcribed by H. L. Scamehorn from the Colorado State Coal Mine Inspector's Reports, for Gunnison County, 1934 and 1941.

23. Ubbelohde, op. cit., p. 334.

24. Cummins, op. cit., pp. 611-613.

25. See: State of Colorado Coal Mine Inspector's Reports for Gunnison County, 1960.

See also: Colorado State Planning Commission, Year Book of the State of Colorado, 1959-1961, (Denver: State Printers, 1961), p. 490.

26. See: State of Colorado Bureau of Mines, Report for the Years 1950-1951, (Denver: State Printers, 1952), pp. 24, 30.

See also: Colorado State Planning Commission, Year Book of the State of Colorado, 1959-1961, op. cit., p. 482.

27. Ubbelohde, op. cit., pp. 334-336.

28. See also Rodman Paul, Mining Frontiers of the Far West, 1848-1890, (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1963).

29. Laura White, "Pagosa Springs, Colorado", Colorado Magazine, (IX, No. 3, May, 1932), pp. 89-90.

30. Carl Abbott, Colorado: A History of the Centennial State, (Boulder: Colorado Associated University Press, 1976), pp. 170, 182.

See also: Ovando Hollister, The Mines of Colorado, (Springfield: Samuel Bowles and Co., 1867), iv.

31. For a discussion on Mesa Verde National Park, the Antiquities Act of 1906, and the creation of the National Park Service, the author relied heavily on the work by John Ise, Our National Parks Policy, (Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 1961). For specific references to the above topics, see pages 145, 163-170, 185-192.

32. LeRoy R. Hafen, Colorado: A Story of the State and Its People, (Denver: The Old West Publishing Co., 1945), p. 338.

33. Cummins, op. cit., pp. 506-509.

34. See: Wilbur F. Stone, History of Colorado, Vol. I (Denver: S. J. Clarke and Co., 1918), pp. 583-584.

35. Abbott, op. cit., pp. 186-189.

See also: Ubbelohde, op. cit., p. 350.

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Last Updated: 20-Nov-2008