The Valley of Opportunity: A History of West-Central Colorado
BLM Cultural Resource Series (Colorado: No. 12)
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Chapter IV:

"Tell the miners for me I shall promote their interests to the best of my ability."

—Abraham Lincoln

Colorado's first permanent settlers were Mexican citizens who drifted into the state from New Mexico in order to make homes along the southern edges of Colorado. These farmers never came in numbers. In 1858, small gold deposits were found by Georgians along the South Platte River and these discoveries led to the permanent settlement of Colorado by Euro-Americans. Prospectors and miners were the first to people many parts of the state, west-central Colorado included.

The Gold Rush of 1859 occurred after William Greene Russell discovered small amounts of placer gold along the eastern slope of Colorado in 1858. Reports of these finds travelled "back East" to Kansas Territory and from there they were widely circulated. The "rush to Pike's Peak" caused great numbers of people, possibly as many as 100,000, to leave their homes and move west into the gold fields. The deposits were exhausted by 1860, and many prospectors were forced to search into the mountains for new "diggins." As these men spread out, new strikes were made in Gilpin County, South Park, and across the Continental Divide near Breckenridge. As previously mentioned, some of these gold seekers, such as Captain Richard Sopris, did penetrate west-central Colorado during the 1860's.

For the most part, they did not venture very far west of the Continental Divide. Their reports cited little of interest with respect to possible precious metals. Mineral fields and mining in the region remained almost non-existent in west-central Colorado for another fifteen years. [1]

The 1870's witnessed a new wave of mining excitement throughout much of Colorado's high country. Silver became the primary mineral produced during this decade. Starting at Caribou, Colorado, the silver boom spread along the Continental Divide's eastern edge, and then leap-frogged as far west as the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado. The richest mineralizations discovered at the time were the lead-silver carbonates along the Upper Arkansas River in California Gulch near Oro City, Colorado. Once uncovered in 1876, these deposits proved to be incredibly rich and relatively easily worked. Oro City changed its name to Leadville and a full scale boom swept the town by 1877. News of the Leadville strikes spread like wildfire and thousands rushed into the area. [2]

Many of these prospective silver barons arrived after the best claims had been filed. Rather than return to their former homes with empty pockets many stayed on and prospected elsewhere. Simultaneously, Hayden's reports and his geologic atlas of Colorado became available to the public. In search of guidance to new wealth these volumes were read avidly by the down and out miners of Leadville. [3]

In 1878, Leadvillite James Denning crossed Tennessee Pass into the Eagle Valley while hunting and fishing to supply fresh meat to the silver camp's population. During one of his trips, Denning noticed the similarity of Battle Mountain's rock formations to those around the "Cloud City." Upon returning to town, he related his observations to his employer, Robert L. Rohm. Rohm and his associates then grubstaked two prospectors, Mssrs. Kelly and Patton, to visit Battle Mountain and gather samples for assaying. The pair staked the Little Ollie claim on the mountain and returned to Leadville by Christmas, 1878. Ores brought back tested out rich in lead-silver carbonates. [4]

Kelly and Patton were not the first prospectors to visit the Eagle Valley. However, their discoveries did lead to permanent settlement of the area. [5] Legends date the first prospectors at about 1813, with the Astorians mentioned earlier. [6] In 1849, Buck Rogers and a party of Illinoians examined the valley on their way to California. [7] Seekers of riches combed the Eagle Valley during the 1860's, but being inexperienced, they found nothing. [8] By 1878, mining expertise in Colorado had developed to the point that Kelly and Patton's discoveries could be profitably exploited.

Throughout the winter of 1878-79, many Leadvillites made plans to prospect the Eagle Valley when spring arrived and travel became possible. In April, Rohm and his group set out from the Upper Arkansas Valley to Battle Mountain. Making the trek of 24 miles on snow-shoes, and using hand sleds, they arrived safely at the Little Ollie claim. Rohm promptly laid out the town of Red Cliff, Colorado, in anticipation of a rush. [9] Throughout April and into May, a stream of prospectors made the journey from Leadville. They successfully sought minerals from Tennessee Pass down the Brush Creek. The number of miners and claims grew to the hundreds. [10] To establish control and organization of the various claims as well as prevent "claim jumping" miners founded Red Cliff Mining District on May 19, 1879, at the confluence of Homestake Creek and the Eagle River. [11]

Red Cliff was the first of many towns formed wherever promising strikes were made. [12] In 1879, Eagle City, Astor City, Taylor City, Eagle River, and Horn Silver mining districts all were established in the Eagle Valley. [13] The next year Holy Cross Mining District, Pando, Gold Park, Mount Egley, Fulford, and Gilman came into existence. These camps enjoyed varied lifespans, many lasting only a few years as precious minerals played out and no other economic base could be found. [14]

Early Eagle Valley mining was a combination of placer gold digging and quartz or "hard rock" silver extraction. The gold supply ran out quickly and underground silver mining dominated the region during the 1880s. [15]

Following on the prospector's heels were the financiers and entrepreneurs. While these men were not the heroic loners with only a burro for company, they did play an important role in the development of Colorado's mineral frontier. News of the Eagle Valley finds' richness and quantity reached Leadville during 1879, and from there word spread around the state and nation. In the summer of that year, Henry A. Butters arrived at Red Cliff as an agent for Chicago investors interested in purchasing promising claims. He met with little success. The next year, Denver real estate promoters Walter S. Cheesman and George W. Clayton, along with Judge D. D. Belden, purchased the Cleveland Group, reported to be among the richest claims on Battle Mountain. These financiers helped construct stamp mills and a smelter to refine silver ore as well as fully develop the mines they owned. [16] At the same time, John W. Bailey organized the Gold Park Mining and Milling Company which control led most of the mines in the Holy Cross area along with a stamp mill to crush ore. 1882 proved to be the company's most profitable year and by the next year it had started into a severe decline as the veins pinched out. [17]

The Eagle Valley mining region remained an economic suburb of Leadville during its early years. In the 1880s and the 1890s, ore reduction facilities remained limited in the area because Leadville smelters paid premiums for lead carbonates that were necessary for efficient functioning of refining. [18] Furthermore, much of the Valley's trade went to Leadville, especially once the Denver and Rio Grande Railway reached Red Cliff, Colorado in 1882, thereby providing cheap, reliable transportation for bulk commodities such as silver ores and food stuffs. Leadville also offered a greater variety of goods and services than available in the Eagle Valley. [19]

Before the Battle Mountain discoveries, San Juan miners visited far west-central Colorado, coming as early as 1876. They opened salt mines in the Sinbad Valley. Interest in the area continued after a wagon road was built from Ouray to the salt deposits. In 1880, unidentified miners filed placer claims in the Sinbad Valley and the La Sal Mountains. However, little else is known of these activities. [20]

In 1884, a small rush occurred along the Grand River west of Grand Junction. The diggings played out quickly but not the optimism. As late at 1920, John Godle still prospected in Glade Park. [21] Hope notwithstanding, the streams and mountains along the Continental Divide proved more profitable for miners during the later nineteenth century.

A short time after prospectors from Leadville entered the Eagle Valley during 1878, other men travelled from the "Cloud City" to the Frying Pan-Roaring Fork region. Among the first to report promising minerals along the Roaring Fork were the charcoal kiln workers at Sellars Meadow, near Basalt, Colorado. [22] Their information, reinforced by Hayden's books, led prospectors to inspect the area during 1879. The first group into the region contained Philip W. Pratt, Smith Steele, and William L. Hopkins. Two members of this party, Steele and Pratt, located the first claims near what soon became Aspen, Colorado. [23] Soon after these discoveries, a second expedition, the Bennett Party, arrived at the scene. Charles E. Bennett led a group composed of himself, S. E. Hopkins, A. C. Fellows, and Walter S. Clark. These men also staked claims. [24] A third, unidentified company crossed the Elk Mountains and examined the Roaring Fork Valley that summer and was successful. [25]

In the late summer of 1879, Ute City was founded at the base of Aspen Mountain. Reports of the discoveries filtered back to Leadville grubstakers who then set about planning ways to develop the finds. Henry P. Gillespie became interested in the region, and during the winter of 1879-1880, after the Ute scare passed, started buying up certain claims at the advice of geologists. [26] At the same time, B. Clark Wheeler, a moderately successful mining promoter, also became intrigued with the Roaring Fork's mineral possibilities. He, Isaac Cooper, and a small band of men pushed off for Ute City during the winter, successfully crossed Independence Pass, and made their way to Aspen Mountain. On March 6, 1880, the group organized the Aspen Town and Land Company. [27] Through Wheeler's persistence, Aspen became the camp's accepted name, made officially so, when the U. S. Postal Service authorized the Aspen, Colorado Post Office. [28]

While Wheeler and his associates were founding Aspen, other men were scrutinizing the surrounding hills for silver veins. During late 1879, prospectors discovered rich ore at the head of Lincoln Gulch (Hunt's Camp), Independence (on the west side of the pass of the same name), Highland (later known as Ashcroft), and Schofield. [29] In 1880, Roaring Fork City, Frying Pan, Woody Canyon, Dry Pine, and Lincoln Mining Districts were formed. [30] Casey's Camp near Ashcroft was settled in 1882, only to be wiped out by an avalanche two years later. [31]

Independence, Colorado, preceded Aspen by a few years. Today little of that mining town is left. Photo by F. J. Athearn

For the most part, these mining areas developed slowly during the first half of the 1880s. Three essential problems confronted miners and mineral developers in the Roaring Fork-Frying Pan area. Mineral location was the first. Deposits were usually found at higher altitudes which meant long, severe winters and relatively short working seasons. Secondly, the long distances and rugged terrain between the mineheads and markets, usually Leadville, kept ore prices down. Finally, when ores were shipped before railroads arrived, only the highest grades could be hauled to the smelters profitably. [32]

Despite these problems each of the early camps proclaimed to the world that it was the next Leadville. From 1880 to 1884, Ashcroft, formerly known as Highland, led the area in silver production. The Tam O'Shanter and Montezuma mines proved to contain rich silver veins and the town prospered. By 1882, the community boasted daily stage service to Aspen, five saloons, two bawdy houses and two gambling halls. [33] Ashcroft's prosperity was short lived and by 1884, its position as leading producer of the Roaring Fork Valley was eclipsed by Aspen. [34]

That camp struggled for survival from 1879 until 1884, living on hope, determination and a small flow of silver from the mines. However, during the latter year, rich new veins were uncovered and Aspen entered a boom that continued until 1893. [35] Aspen's upturn began in November of 1884, when large, rich bodies of ore were found in the Aspen Mine. The operation was originally owned by H. P. Gillespie, but by that November, it belonged to David R. C. Brown and Elmer Butler. [36] The Aspen Mine's good fortune seemed to be contagious as other mines around the camp encountered new ore formations during late 1884 and into 1885. [37] The Emma, the Mollie Gibson, the Smuggler, the Durant, and other mines enjoyed part of this new prosperity. By mid-1885, the Aspen Mine was producing at a rate of $10,000 a day and during the first five months of that year, the Emma's operators brought over $375,000 worth of ore to the surface. The diggings yielded more raw silver than could be hauled out or processed. [38]

Leadville's smelters benefited from Aspen's new wealth. Pack mules transported the carbonates to the smelters, a distance of 40 miles. This process cost from $50 to $100 a ton. Snows closed the trail much of each year. [39] The North Texas Smelting Company opened a plant on the north side of Aspen in 1882, but finding little business, the owners sold out to Jerome B. Wheeler the next year. This new proprietor enlarged the plant and reopened it in 1884 as the Aspen Smelting Company. [40] Wheeler's mill's capacity was too small to handle the flood of business after 1884, and the Leadville refineries continued to profit from Aspen's fortune. [41] The trend became permanent after arrival of the Denver and Rio Grande Railway in Aspen during 1887, thereby assuring cheap, year-around transportation between Aspen and the Upper Arkansas smelters. [42]

clearing snow along railroad tracks
Keeping the Rio Grande open during winter was a constant challenge as this Leadville winter scene demonstrated. Photo by Colorado Division of State Archives

Capitalists to invest, support and develop the mines were as necessary for Aspen's success as the area's rich ores. This was true of all western mining during the late nineteenth century. Aspen was fortunate to attract many of these entrepreneurs from its beginnings. Two men in particular built the camp into a major silver producer. B. Clark Wheeler and Jerome B. Wheeler, no relation to each other, both promoted the town throughout the period. [43]

B. Clark Wheeler arrived on the Roaring Fork late in 1879 and spent the winter prospecting the area. When springtime travel was possible, he returned to Leadville and undertook the selling of Aspen. [44] In addition to founding the town, he went on a lecture tour throughout eastern Colorado talking up the potential of "Aspen over the Range." [45] Journalists notwithstanding, Wheeler's sales pitch attracted others to Aspen.

Henry P. Cowenhoven and David R. C. Brown, Central City, Colorado merchants, were among those who heard the call to Aspen. They decided to relocate their store to the camp in 1880, and arrived late that summer with their goods in wagons. [46] After a tortuous trip over Independence Pass, they set up shop on the Roaring Fork. The pair, Brown primarily, became interested in mining. [47] Typically, they would either grubstake prospectors or buy promising claims after the locators exhausted their small capital reserves and became frustrated. This was the way Brown became a half-owner of the Aspen Mine and others before the 1884 bonanza. From these purchases, he eventually made well over a million dollars and guaranteed himself a place in Aspen's elite. [48]

Another early arrival in town, H. P. Gillespie, a Leadville mining promoter, became another successful mine owner. Originally he went to Aspen to investigate the Spar Mine and other claims for A. E. Breed, former owner of the Caribou Mine near Nederland, Colorado. Gillespie was impressed by what he saw, invested his own money and encouraged his employer to do likewise. [49] The success of his early purchases made Gillespie a wealthy man and, seeking to diversify his holdings, he purchased ranches and other property down the Roaring Fork Valley. His El Jebel Ranch became the modern town of the same name. [50]

When reviewing the accomplishments of Aspen's early entrepreneurs, the name Jerome B. Wheeler must be mentioned. Wheeler came to Colorado from New York City where he was an official in the world famous Macy's Department Store. [51] He arrived in the camp during 1883, and immediately set out to buy up promising claims, such as the Smuggler that eventually yielded the world's largest silver nugget weighing over 1,800 pounds. [52] As mentioned, Wheeler also purchased and renovated the Aspen Smelting Company [53] and, throughout the 1880s and into the 1890s, was one of Aspen's leading mining magnates, building the Wheeler Opera House and other structures for the community. [54]

Aspen's business leadership, especially Brown, Wheeler, Wheeler, and Gillespie, could not finance the camp by themselves, and as a result, they sought outside investors during the 1880s. The men they attracted rarely chose to live in town, instead they stayed behind the scenes. [55] But their contributions to Aspen's success as a silver producer should not be slighted.

Jerome B. Wheeler hired Walter B. Devereux to manage his Aspen operations in 1883. Devereux was a trained mining engineer from Londonderry, Ireland, and was well connected in British financial circles. He proved to be an able manager as well as a financial asset to Wheeler's projects. Devereux's foreign associates invested heavily in many Roaring Fork projects at critical points during the decade. [56] In addition to Devereux, Wheeler helped convince Milwaukee ironmaker, and later Colorado Springs railroad builder, James John Hagerman to put money in various Aspen and Roaring Fork Valley mining ventures. [57]

As if not to be outdone by J. B. Wheeler, D. R. C. Brown, early on, entered the contest to attract outside capitalists to Aspen. He succeeded in interesting some of the biggest names in Colorado mining, at the time, in Roaring Fork companies. Among them were David H. Moffat Jr. and Eben Smith. Moffat was president of the First National Bank of Denver, and Smith was one of the best known mining engineers and managers in the state. These two men put money into many Aspen mines from 1882 until the nineties. Moffat and Smith began their investments with Leadville millionaire, Horace A. W. Tabor, in the Tam O'Shanter [58] and continued to back projects such as the Deep Mining and Drainage Company and the Franklin mine as partners of D. R. C. Brown and H. P. Cowenhoven. [59]

The money that men such as Moffat represented often proved to be the crucial factor determining the success of these ventures, however, they did find their way blocked occassionally. The problems they faced usually involved litigation of claims. Vague mining laws at the time provided many opportunities for the unscrupulous to sue, especially in regard to the location of a lode's apex. Often, rather than having a case tied up in courtrooms for years, the entrepreneurs would simply buy out the adjacent property owners. This did not always work and in the case of two rich Aspen area mines, the Tam O'Shanter and the Durant, litigation lasted for years, nearly bankrupting both sides. [60] Apparently, lawyers were the only ones to profit from these mines.

The courts were not the only pitfall for the bonanza kings in west-central Colorado during the Victorian Era. The Roman adage, "buyer beware" applied to any and all mining ventures. Many times holders of relatively worthless claims would "enrich" the ore, get glowing assay reports and then look for investors to sucker.

One such hoax took on spectacular proportions in Garfield County during the early 1880's. At the same time, gold and silver were discovered along the Eagle River and in the Roaring Fork Valley, other Leadville prospectors ventured onto the Flattop Mountains. The exact names and dates vary as to the actual discovery, however, news of the find made its way back to Leadville and Denver by 1882. Along with the reports came ore samples that when assayed proved high in silver content. During the winter of 1882-1883 surveyors went out on snowshoes to lay out a town at the diggings site. With arrival of spring, a true rush got underway and the town of Carbonate was founded. The area was known as the Defiance Mining District, too. As many as 3,000 people lived there at one point, but it was soon discovered that the ore taken to Denver had been "enriched." The true wealth proved to be non-existent and Carbonate was soon abandoned. One thing did come of this fiasco. During 1883, as the population peaked, Colorado's state legislature determined that a new county was needed and created Garfield County with Carbonate as the county seat. [61]

These problems and false hopes aside, the second half of the 1880s was a profitable time for silver mining throughout western Colorado. This was due in part to the new discoveries and the beginning of rail service to many towns, but moreover, active federal involvement in the silver market made mining pay, especially after 1890. In that year, the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, that obligated the Treasury to buy up to $4 million dollars of silver bullion each month, passed Congress. The metal's market value increased from less than $1 an ounce to well over $1.50 an ounce by 1893. [62]

The rising price of silver led to a new wave of prosperity in western Colorado. Roaring Fork and Eagle Valley mines enjoyed the boom, particularly Aspen which had become the center of silver extraction in west-central Colorado by 1890. The town's population grew from 35 in 1879 to more than 11,000 by 1893. Silver production averaged approximately $6.5 million dollars a year from 1889 to 1893. In the Red Cliffe and Battle Mountain areas the same prosperous scene was repeated. [63]

small mining operation
While Aspen may have been the biggest mining town in the Roaring Fork area, little places like this produced silver too. This mine is typical of Colorado silver mining. Photo by U. S. Geological Survey

The good times did not last. In 1893, changes in international finances and a drain on United States gold reserves led President Grover Cleveland to call for repeal of the Sherman Silver Act. His request was granted by Congress. This led to a precipitous decline of silver prices. Many mines closed and Colorado silver mining camps sank into a depression. Aspen and Eagle were especially hard hit by the Panic of 1893 and never regained their stature as centers of precious metal extraction. [64]

Minor revivals took place in both regions by 1898, however, the new goals were the non-precious minerals, such as zinc or lead, that made up a large portion of raw ores. Lead mining continued in Aspen until World War I. At Gilman, on Battle Mountain, zinc became the primary product of the mines. The zinc workings were sold to Empire Zinc Company in 1917, and continued well into the twentieth century as one of America's largest sources of that metal. [65]

If the Panic of 1893 wiped out the fortunes of many entrepreneurs, it also severely effected the miners who toiled in the shafts and tunnels. Young, native-born Anglo-American males were the primary population component of the camps during the early years. As areas matured, more of the miners were married men, having entered wedlock either before or after arrival at the mines. Also, foreign-born people contributed more to the population as time progressed. The United Kingdom, particularly Cornwall, Wales, and Ireland, was the leading source of immigrants to west-central Colorado's mines. Italians also came in significant numbers to work underground. [66]

The working conditions they encountered were cramped, cold, wet, and generally unhealthy. Mining in the 1880s, was carried on with no legal protection so far as employer liability or responsibility. Wages averaged from $3 to $4 a day for a 10 or 12 hour shift. When the whistle blew to signal the start of each shift, the wives no doubt wondered whether their men would return home at the end of the day of if a cave-in or gas explosion would occur. Possibly he might just be mauled by the break of a worn cable or an out-of-control machine. There was always the possibility that all the powder charges placed by the shift before had not ignited and his pick would find it and ignite a misfire. If none of these disasters befell the miner, there was always the chance he could be fired or laid off. To further shorten the life expectancy of these people, respiratory diseases were a fact of life. [67]

To eliminate these problems miners tried many solutions. Their efforts at unionization met with little success. Mine owners broke up these groups and blacklisted the organizers. Eventually the miners' wrath vented itself in the form of anti-Chinese activities. Orientals were warned to stay out of Aspen [68] and when one appeared in Glenwood Springs, he and his employer both received threats on their lives if the "Chinaman" did not "vamoose". [69]

Aspen Colorado, looking from Hunter Creek in 1887. Photo by Colorado Historical Society

The experiences and hardships of the hard rock miners in Aspen or Eagle were equally repeated in west-central Colorado's coal mines of the late nineteenth century.

Coal mining originally evolved in the region as a support industry for precious metal extraction. The majority of lands within west-central Colorado are underlain with coal. Most notably the Grand Hogback and Grand Mesa contain rich deposits. [70] Hayden's reports again served as a guide to the fuel beds. [71] Changes in smelting technology, coupled with increased refining activity, created a demand for coal and encouraged prospective entrepreneurs to open mines along the Frying Pan River and in the Huntsmen Hills southeast of Glenwood Springs.

In 1881, commercial coal quantities were discovered in the Roaring Fork Valley. It was not utilized at that time because Leadville's smelter operators preferred charcoal, which was cheaper to import. [72] Two years later Walter Devereux examined the coal beds south of Glenwood Springs hoping to find an adequate supply for the Aspen Smelter. The seams he examined ranged from 6 to 14 feet thick and he promptly filed claims on the land. [73] However, only small mining operations worked the area for the next four years.

James J. Hagerman, builder of the Colorado Midland Railway, and Jerome B. Wheeler of Aspen, realized the potential market for coal and in 1887, opened large scale mining in the Huntsman Hills. The park in which the seams were located was named Jerome Park at this time. To fully exploit the resource, Hagerman and his Grand River Coal and Coke Company (organized in 1883) built coking ovens along the Colorado Midland Railway at Cardiff near Glenwood Springs. [74]

Jerome Park coal proved to be of good coking quality and soon the plant at Cardiff was expanded. The demand for coke remained strong through the 1890s and eventually the Grand River Company built 240 ovens at Cardiff and another 50 at Marion, in the park. [75] At the height of operations, the mines produced 1,000 tons of coal a day and the company employed over 1,000 miners and other laborers at its mines and plants in Garfield County. [76] Fuel from Cardiff was marketed in Leadville as well as at Pueblo and, after 1900, to the beet sugar factory at Grand Junction, Colorado. [77]

Development of the Jerome Park—Cardiff collieries was paralleled elsewhere in the Glenwood Springs region. In 1882, John C. Osgood came to Colorado at the request of the Chicago Burlington and Quincy (CB&Q) Railroad to develop mines and coal deposits to supply the company with fuel. Upon arrival, he founded the Colorado Fuel Company and began investing in Huerfano and Las Animas County mines as well as mineral lands in the Grand Valley. The Crystal River Valley appeared promising and Osgood began to buy up or claim lands along that watercourse as well as Thompson Creek near Carbondale, Colorado. [78]

Colorado Fuel Company undertook development of its properties in 1886. Osgood planned a series of roads and ancillary facilities throughout the region. However, it was another corporation, the Colorado Coal and Iron Company (CC&I), that took the first steps toward exploitation of the Carbondale area coals. In 1886, CC&I opened mines along Thompson Creek and the next year started construction of a rail line, the Aspen and Western (A&W), to connect Carbondale with the mines. The plans called for coke ovens to be built at Carbondale, but after two years the entire operation closed because the mines were not as productive as originally thought. [79]

This turn of events left Osgood free to develop the Crystal River Valley as he desired. By 1892, Osgood's wealth had increased to the point that when a merger of his Colorado Fuel Company and the older Colorado Coal and Iron was proposed, he accepted and became president of the newly formed Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I). The year before the merger, Osgood purchased the Grand River Coal and Coke Company from Hagerman, Wheeler, and their associates giving his company a near monopoly of Garfield County's coal mining. [80]

1892 marked the beginning of serious efforts at development of Crystal River Valley coal fields. Osgood purchased thousands of acres of land at Coal Basin to serve as a primary source of raw material. He planned to mine coal at Coal Basin and then transport it six miles to the Crystal River where a coking plant and town were to be built. [81] Osgood's efforts slowed due to lack of capital and throughout the 1890s, Placita, Colorado, remained the Valley's largest mine.

Prosperity returned to west-central Colorado by 1898, in the wake of the Panic of 1893, and Osgood launched his grandiose scheme for the Crystal River region. He hoped to make his operations a model industrial community. The name Crystal River was applied to the stream known earlier as Rock Creek, but it was not until 1899 that the scope of Osgood's vision became apparent. He founded the town of Redstone, Colorado, along the river, eighteen miles south of Carbondale, to serve as headquarters and the coking site for the Coal Basin townsite and mines. Osgood started construction of his own palatial estate, Cleveholm, complete with a game ranch, about a mile south of Redstone. The Crystal River Railroad (CRRR) was built to connect the mines and coke ovens with the Denver and Rio Grande Railway at Carbondale. [82]

Redstone and Coal Basin commenced operation in 1900. The towns were typical company towns of the era complete with a company store (the Colorado Supply Company), clubhouses and recreational facilities, company doctors, a company sponsored brass band and several theaters. Newspapers were printed in both English and Italian. Homes were provided for both single and married workers. Many of the houses are still present in Redstone as is the Redstone Inn; former boarding house for single men. The washing plant, coke ovens and rail yard were on the opposite side of the river. By 1902, at its peak, Redstone had running water, sewers and electricity. [83] Osgood's dream was short lived. The market for coal and coke was over-supplied by 1900 and in 1903 operational cut-backs occurred. Within a few years, after Osgood lost control of Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, all mining activity at Redstone was abandoned. [84]

West of Glenwood Springs, along the Grand River, coal mines operated from 1882 until the end of the nineteenth century. During 1882 and 1883 William Devereux, William Farnum and George Mace located and claimed coal seams along the south side of the river in the Grand Hogback. [85] The Grand River Coal and Coke Company began development of its coal mines within a few years and the town of New Castle, Colorado, was built. Grand River Coal worked the mines until 1891 when Osgood bought the company and eventually merged it into Colorado Fuel and Iron Company. [86] At the same time he purchased more coal land and expanded his operations at New Castle. [87] Throughout the 1890s New Castle's mines continued in production, but by the end of that decade all but one had closed. Starting in 1895 a series of disasters hit the camp. The Vulcan Mine, in particular, was hard hit by fires and explosions. In 1895 a fire broke out but quickly was extinguished causing minimal damage. Just before noon on February 18, 1896 explosions rocked the Vulcan. The blast hurled timber and debris over a quarter of a mile into the Grand River. Fifty-three miners lost their lives. In 1897 fires and explosions resumed and only by diverting an irrigation ditch into the mine were the flames quenched. Sixteen years later yet another fire started and the Vulcan was closed permanently. This fire has never been extinguished. [88]

The first two decades of the twentieth century witnessed significant decline in coal mining activity throughout Garfield and Pitkin Counties. While disasters closed some operations, a general drop in demand had a more profound effect on the mines. Decreased silver refining, the primary consumer of the area's coal and coke, was a major factory in this demand decline. Redstone was the first to close, followed in 1910 by a suspension of operations at the Cardiff ovens. As the market remained depressed more and more mines ceased production. In 1916 Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, the region's largest corporation, dropped all operations in Garfield and Pitkin Counties and the next year all local CF&I mines were closed permanently. [89]

Mesa County coal mining during the late nineteenth century never achieved the scope of operation that other parts of west-central Colorado did. Production was for local consumption with little being exported. [90] Mining provided part-time work for many cowboys and farm hands. [91] The first mineral abstract in the Grand Junction region was filed in 1882 by J.A.K. Crawford, N. Pritchard and W.A. Lynch. Their plat covered a seam of coal located southeast of the townsite near the confluence of the Gunnison and Grand Rivers. The mine operated only a short time, supplying Denver and Rio Grande Railway locomotives with fuel. Grand Junction also benefitted. [92] Other would-be coal entrepreneurs were also finding and laying claims around the fledgling community. William Innis discovered the Hunter Seam and set out to develop it. George Smith worked his mine during the 1880s [93] as did the Grand River Coal Company. [94] However, the first massive coal mining was not attempted until the decade's close when William Carpenter opened the Little Book Cliffs mine about nine and one half miles northeast of Grand Junction. A camp grew up around the mine and Carpenter built the Little Book Cliff Railroad to connect his mines with the Denver and Rio Grande Railway at Grand Junction. His efforts never proved profitable as he was confined to supplying only local markets. [95] Over the years other mines opened and closed around Grand Junction but it was World War I that led to increased coal production, reaching its highest level in 1918. Because of their small size most of the Mesa County mines were not unionized and during 1918 and 1919 coal miner's strikes in other Colorado fields coupled with heavy wartime demand caused increased output in the valley. This prosperity was short-lived. The War's end, along with the abandonment of the Colorado Midland Railroad in 1919, resulted in temporary curtailment of coal mining around Grand Junction. [96]

In addition to coal and precious metals, other minerals were extracted from west-central Colorado between 1880 and 1920, chief among them, marble. Near the Crystal River's headwaters, Sylvester Richardson discovered marble in 1873 and the next year George Yule "re-discovered" it. [97] Ten years passed before anything was done about the deposits. During 1885 G.D. Griffith, a Welsh marble worker, opened a quarry to supply stone for the Colorado State Capitol Building. [98] John C. Osgood took steps to develop the quarries in 1893 when he sent a large block of marble to Chicago's Columbian Exposition to publicize his Yule Creek White Marble Company. [99] During his early twentieth century financial troubles, Osgood lost control of the marble and in 1906 Colonel Channing F. Meek purchased the Yule quarries and plant at Marble, Colorado. As president of the Colorado-Yule Marble Company he set about to expand operations at both the quarry and the mill while extending the Crystal River railroad line, known then as the Crystal River and San Juan Railroad, south to Marble, from Placita. The cost amounted to $3 million and by 1910 Colorado-Yule was doing a multi-million dollar a year business. Meek was killed in an accident on the marble tramway in 1912. [100] In 1913, J.F. Manning stepped into the presidency to fill Meek's position. [101] During the next year Colorado-Yule with help from Glenwood Springs Congressman Edward T. Taylor, received contracts to supply marble for the Lincoln Memorial. [102] This new business did not provide enough profit to keep the company solvent and in 1916 operations were suspended for six years. [103] The Vermont Marble Company bought the Colorado properties and reopened the quarry and mill in 1927. Three years later marble for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was fashioned from Marble Colorado stone. During the rest of the decade operations continued, however, in 1940 Vermont Marble management decided to close the mill and early the next year quarrying also ceased. [104]

While coal was America's source of energy during the late nineteenth century oil was growing in importance. As early as 1883 a farmer, C.P. Taylor, drilled for oil on his ranch near Fruita, but found little. [105] Possibilities of finding petroleum continued to intrigue people. Parachute, Colorado (Grand Valley) residents tapped a gusher in 1895 that caused great excitement, but the boom was short. By 1903 the wells were capped. [106] 1915 marked the last oil boom for west-central Colorado when Glenwoodites started looking for black gold. The Glenwood Oil Company sank wells near town but found nothing. [107] The region's oil and natural gas resources were not developed by 1920 primarily because coal was abundant and cheap as was electricity. Many wells remained capped to await later use. [108]

Another hydro-carbon that affected west-central Colorado's development was Gilsonite. This was a raw material for asphalt manufacture and while not mined in the region, Mack and Grand Junction became centers for Gilsonite shipping and refining activity in the early twentieth century. Barber Asphalt Company, with mines near Dragon, Utah, founded Mack, to serve as a transshipping point for the mineral, as well as headquarters of the subsidiary Uintah Railway. Presence of Barber Asphalt stimulated Fruita business activity during the period. [109]

Two other minerals were extracted from the hills of west-central Colorado between 1880 and 1920, however, these did not have a great effect on the area's historic evolution. Copper was one. It was mined from 1899 to 1902 in the Unaweep area and from 1900 to 1915 at McCoy, Colorado, also the scene of a minor placer gold rush in 1880. The diggings were small and the boom soon petered out. [110] The second mineral was Vanadium. The Sinbad Valley witnessed, with little success, Vanadium prospecting during the 1890s. [111] In 1902 Vanadium was found near Grand Junction but little interest was shown in development. [112] Seven years later searchers discovered radioactive deposits north of Rifle, Colorado, that were commercially exploited. World War I Vanadium needs led three companies to build plants in western Colorado during the war, but once the war ended and demand dropped, operations ceased. [113]

Mining activity in west-central Colorado from 1880 to 1920 gave rise to another industry—lumbering. Tree cutting started in 1879 along the Frying Pan River to supply Leadville smelters with charcoal. [114] Lumbering spread throughout the Continental Divide area during the 1880s as mines needed timbers and housing had to be constructed in mining camps. Timbering continued during the 1890s and early 1900s. By the turn of the century many of the area's hills and mountains had been denuded by the woodsman's axe. Especially heavily used were the mountains near mining camps. However, passage of the General Revision Act in 1891 and creation of Timber Resources limited access to the trees. [115] Lumbering in Mesa County started in 1881 on Grand Mesa. Commercial operations remained small, providing mostly for local business and housing needs as well as meeting some of the area's fuel requirements. [116]

Mining attracted people to west central Colorado. It provided wealth for some a livelihood for many and hardship for others. It helped cause the growth of lumbering but more importantly mining camp markets gave the impetus necessary for others to build transportation systems and farms in west central Colorado. While the mining industry was depressed by 1920 it was not dead. As demands for certain minerals such as Vanadium or oil increased, especially after World War II the west central part of the state witnessed another mining boom reminiscent of the 1880s.

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Last Updated: 31-Oct-2008