The stampede to
Leadville. Setting type on Leadville Reveille. Developing a salted mine for
Tabor. A Western town during a mining boom.
Our little company of five was
still intact at Ouray when news of the Leadville mining boom began to filter
into the San Juan, and the urge to follow the stampede grew more insistent as
reports were brought in of fortunes made over night.
At last we hitched up our wagon, threw in our dunnage and supplies,
together with the sack of ore we had brought from the Wasatch Mountains, and hit
the trail to join the throng of pilgrims that were headed for the carbonate camp
from all points of the compass.
We laid our course up the
Gunnison River to the Powderhorn; then over the Cochetopa Pass to Saguache, at
the head of San Luis Valley. Driving
along the base of the mountains a flock of hundreds of wild turkey paraded ahead
of the wagon as we approached the watershed of the Arkansas River, but we had no
guns and when we ran after them and attempted to capture them with clubs they
took to the air with an angry gobble.
Arriving at Cleora, some of our
party got cold feet, and we changed our course for Denver. There we took the
sack of ore to the smelter, and our hilarity was unrestrained when a check for
$1047 was handed to me. There were five of us and in a wide open town like
Denver was in those days, $200 apiece did not last long.
I managed, however, to salvage enough to pay my stage fare part way, so
one night I boarded the blind baggage on the narrow gauge and got a free ride to
Canon City, where I took a seat by the driver on one of the Barlow &
Sanderson coaches for Leadville.
In the fall of '78 the Leadville
boom was well under way, and I joined the crowd that created the wildest
stampede that ever flocked into a mining camp. While two railroads were fighting
for the right of way through the Royal Gorge of the Arkansas, fourteen Barlow
& Sanderson six horse stagecoaches, loaded to the guards with passengers and
followed by two fast coaches carrying the express, were every day racing pell
mell into the carbonate camp.
I was sitting on the extreme edge
of the driver's seat with my legs dangling over into space. While the coach
swung around the curves in the road. About three miles from the village of
Cleora, I espied and object hanging from a tree over the roadway. As the coach
drew nearer, I saw that it was a man hanging by the neck in his red flannel
under-clothes, while under the same tree were the man's blankets where he had
evidently been sleeping. The driver
of the coach said to me in a low tome: "push that damn stiff off."
As the body was coming straight for me and nearly knocked me off my seat.
I had to use good judgment in pushing the thing away from the coach, but I
cleared it, and the body bumped against the side of the vehicle as we rolled
along. At Cleora we learned that
the man had murdered his partner the day before and the vigilantes had gone down
the road that night and promptly hung him up.
It was Thanksgiving Day, '78,
when I pulled into Leadville. Horace A.W. Tabor's prospectors, Rische and Hook,
had found the Little Pittsburgh, and the country storekeeper was already a
millionaire. That night saw the
opening of the Theatre Comique, and the whole town was on a jamboree.
Seats were at a big premium, but I managed to squeeze in among the jam in
the aisles. Tabor had the only box
in the house, and he was carrying a bag of silver dollars, which he tossed on to
the stage by the handful. Everyone
else seemed to have a load of the coins, which rained on the stage after each
skit. At intervals a super would gather them with a fire shovel, and it was safe
to say that $2500 to $3000 was divided among the actors that night.
As I had learned to set type on
the Pueblo Chieftain and other papers, I had no difficulty in getting a case on
the Leadville Reveille. This paper was engaged in guerrilla warfare with one of
the town cliques, which was so serious in character that the newspaper office
kept the doors barred and each compositor had a rifle standing against his case,
while Dick Allen, the editor, was armed with six-shooters.
Either the enemy had no relish for a fight or the daily spectacle of a
lynching be proved sufficiently deterrent, for beyond the nightly threats that
were handed in on paper, nothing happened.
The Reveille was making money and the printers got good wages for those
times. I was always broke, however,
for every Saturday night I deposited my waged in a bank run by a man named
"Faro." Shades of my paternal ancestors!
But the lure of gold was upon me,
and getting tired of slinging type I stated for the hills to prospect.
Walking down the road by the Little Pittsburgh Mine one day I met Tabor,
who had been inspecting the Vulture, a fraction of a claim between the
Chrysolite and the Pittsburgh, which he had bought from "Chicken Bill"
for $17,000. We stopped in the road
to talk, the upshot of which was that he hired me for $6.00 a day to do some
work on his purchase. I was to get two other men and sink deeper the shaft, then
down about sixty feet. We commenced
work next morning, having procured a windlass, bucket, and other tools.
The first bucket of rock that came up looked strangely familiar to me,
and I recognized the ore as having come from the Little Pittsburgh.
Climbing into the bucket I was lowered to the bottom.
There the ore was, plenty of it, all broken up and easy to dig, just
stamped down in the clay and made to look like a new-born bonanza.
It would have been, too, had it been "in place", but the
evidence of its having been put there by human hands was all too plain, Chicken
Bill had dumped several wagon loads into the shaft, and Tabor, who knew
practically nothing about mining, had not gone down the shaft, so that Chicken
Bill was able to hide the deception long enough to get his money.
My business then was to inform
Tabor of our discovery, which I did without loss of time, and told him that the
Vulture had been salted. He took the news complacently, and told me to clean out
the salted ore and stop work. I
thought that was a poor decision and told him so.
I said the claim was in a good location with mines surrounding it, and
that it would be good business to put the shaft down deeper with the idea of
striking the same contact that undoubtedly extended from the Chrysolite to the
Pittsburgh. Moreover, unless the
shaft were put down to mineral the claim would be open to location by anyone who
came along. A discovery of mineral
was essential before even a location could be made and recorded.
Tabor said, "All right, go ahead."
The second day after the
discovery that the Vulture had been salted, we had the shaft cleaned out and
were digging in virgin ground. We
sank two feet a day, and on the twelfth day the shots broke through into the
contact and we were on top of as pretty a body of silver-bearing sand carbonate
as ever greeted the eyes of a miner! The
sand had the dark grey color of sulphuret, and imbedded in the ore were boulders
of galena. The day was freezing
cold, and we had no building over the shaft, but a big log fire on the dump kept
us warm, and it was interesting to watch the silver bubble out of the ore, which
was close to the blaze. Anyone could see that the ore was rich, and I determined
to give Tabor a surprise by making a shipment to the smelter and handing him the
Leaving the two men to continue
hoisting the ore, I went down to Leadville and hired an ore wagon with four
horses, which I drove back to the mine. There
we loaded four tons of the mineral; I mounted to the seat, gathered the lines,
whipped up the horses, and headed for town.
When I arrived it was too late to get admission to the smelter, so I
parked the load of ore at the curb, unhitched the team, fed them their grain,
and then went around to find a bed and get my supper.
It was near midnight when I got
away from the "keno" game and went around to the place where I had
left the wagon and team. It was
gone! And I spent the rest of the night searching the town for my ore. At daylight I found the outfit in the yard of the city jail,
where it had been impounded for being abandoned on the city streets.
I was not locked up, but passed the time until the court opened under the
surveillance of the night watchman. Before
the Court convened, however, he pocketed my $5.00 and told me to
That afternoon I received $3890
for the wagonload of ore, and Tabor was delighted.
The news of the strike reached Chicken Bill, and that worthy immediately
claimed that he had been bilked out of his mine, but he subsided when he
realized that the game was up, and we thought he was lucky to get our of town
without being punished for stealing the Little Pittsburgh ore.
The Vulture developed into one of the big mines of Leadville, and Tabor
turned it over to its neighbor, the Chrysolite, for $2,800,000.
Leadville in 1879 was a wild yet
orderly town. It was only natural
that a city of forty thousand population suddenly thrown together in the
excitement of the stampede for riches should require stern measures for the
control of its inhabitants. Therefore,
it was upon the protection of the Vigilant Committee that the city depended for
the capture and punishment of the footpads and other malefactors. This committee was extraordinarily prompt and efficient in
dealing out justice, and it was not unusual to see three or four culprits
hanging in the jail when daylight began to appear. Gambling was wide open, great halls being crowded with the
devotees of faro, and the yell of "Keno!" followed by the cry of
"Oh, Hell!" from the disgusted players, resounded far into the night.
Fortunes were made in real estate in a few hours, and lots bought for a
song changed hands for thousands before the ink on the deeds was dry.
Everybody seemed to be well-provided with funds, and immense sums of
outside money were available for investment in the mines.
Prospects and just locations did not lack for buyers.
All deals were consummated for cash on the dump, and a prospector with a
few specimens of ore could obtain all the money he wanted, even in the Eastern
cities. I have known a sale to be
made in New York for $200,000, the only tangible evidence of the existence of
the mine being a lump of rich silver ore.