Geology and Geography
The Telluride geologic formations took form between 30 and 40 million years ago, eruptions from a cluster of stratovolcanoes blanketed the area with ash beds and volcanic mud flows, reaching a maximum thickness of 3,000 feet. This cluster of volcanoes was located within an area that included the headwaters of the Uncompahgre River, Animas River, and Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. Today the rocks from these eruptions are called the San Juan Formation. At Telluride, they reach thicknesses of between 1,200 and 2,000 feet. It is the San Juan Formation that serves as the major host rock for the precious-metal deposits of the Telluride district.
Beginning about 29 million years ago, ash-flow eruptions broke out, first doming up the Silverton and Lake City areas as subsurface magma chambers filled, and then forming collapse calderas as the magma chambers emptied during large-scale ash-flow eruptions. Intrusion of more magma into the chambers renewed doming of the collapsed calderas in an episode of resurgence. Several rock units resulted from these eruptions and are collectively referred to as the Silverton Volcanic Group. The uppermost, capping volcanic rock in this part of the San Juans, is the Gilpin Peak Tuff of the Potosi Volcanic Group. It consists mostly of layers (multiple cooling units from separate eruptions) of welded volcanic tuff.
During these ash-flow eruptions, doming in the Silverton and Lake City areas was accomplished through faulting, leaving a series of partially overlapping structural features that resulted from different eruptions. Doming in the Silverton area was accompanied by the development of fractures radiating from the dome, with many extending northwestward into the areas now known as the Telluride and Sneffels districts.
It is well known that the Utes spent their summer in the Telluride Valley. It was a beautiful place with abundant game, fresh water, great fishing and a place where they could gather to renew old friendships, race horses, practice their religion and most spiritual manhood and womanhood ceremonies and generally have a great party—and, of course, have the opportunity to meet the girls and guys from over the hill. It has been said that as many as 500 Utes would ultimately end up in the Valley in a good summer.
That all ended in 1875 when the first white men took up mining in the Telluride region, but more on that later.
The oldest continuous residents of Colorado are the Ute Indians. It is not known exactly when the Utes came from the north and west and inhabited the mountainous areas of the present-day states of Colorado , Utah (which name comes from the Ute people), and New Mexico. We do know that the earliest Utes came into the present day United States along the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains. It is possible that the coming of the Utes was the reason for the Anasazis to move into sandstone caves of the area. Possibly, too, the Utes displaced or replaced those earlier peoples who had developed in the region from the early Basketmaker stage through the Developmental Pueblo stage and into the classic Mesa Verde period. Ruins of the ancient culture of the Anasazi are to be found throughout the present reservation of the Southern Utes. If the Utes tried to leave their mountainous area and go other places to get food, they found other Indian groups already there who would fight them to drive them out. To the east and northeast of the Utes were the Arapaho, Cheyennes, Kiowa, Apaches, Comanches, Sioux, and Pawnees. To the south were the Navajos and Apaches and only the Jicarilla band of Apaches were generally friendly to the Utes. To the west and northwest were the Shoshones, Snakes, Bannocks, Paiutes, and Goshutes.
The language of the Utes is Shoshonean which is a branch or a dialect of the Uto-Aztecan language. It is believed that the people who speak Shoshonean separated from other Uto-Aztecan speaking groups about the time of the birth of Christ. Other Indian groups of the U.S. who speak Shoshonean are the Paiutes, Goshutes, Shoshones, Bannocks, Comanches, Chemehuevi and some tribes in California.
Eventually, the Utes became concentrated into a loose confederation of seven bands. The names of the seven bands and the areas they lived in before the coming of the Europeans are as follows:
- The Mouache band lived on the eastern slopes of the Rockies, from Denver, south to near Las Vegas, New Mexico.
- The Capote band inhabited the San Luis Valley in Colorado near the headwaters of the Rio Grande and in New Mexico especially around the region where the towns of Chama and Tierra Amarilla are now located.
- The Weeminuche occupied the valley of the San Juan River and its northern tributaries in Colorado and northwestern New Mexico.
- The Tabeguache (also called Uncompahgre) lived in the valleys of the Gunnison and Uncompahgre Rivers in Colorado.
- The Grand River Utes (also called Parianuche) lived along that river in Colorado and Utah.
- The Yamparicas (also called White River) band inhabited the Yampa River Valley and adjacent land.
- The Uintah Utes inhabited the Uintah Basin, including the Great Salt Lake Basin.
Of the bands mentioned above, the first two (Mouache and Capote) make up the present day Southern Utes with headquarters at Ignacio, Colorado. The Weeminuches are now called the Ute Mountain Utes with headquarters at Towaoc, Colorado. The last four mentioned (Tabeguache, Grand, Yampa, and Uintah) now comprise the Northern Utes on the Uintah-Ouray Reservation with headquarters at the town of Fort Duchesne, Utah.
A long time ago, these seven groups of Utes were broken up into small family units for a large portion of each year. It was necessary to do this because food was scarce and it took a large area in the mountains to support a small number of people. Each family unit had to have a great deal of room since food-gathering couldn't be done so well in large groups. From early spring until late in the fall, these family units of Utes would hunt for deer, elk, antelope, and other animals; they would gather seeds of grasses, wild berries and fruits; occasionally they would plant corn, beans, and squash in mountain meadows and harvest them in the autumn. At that time, they did not have horses which would have made the hunting easier, nor did they have any tools except those made of stone. Each family unit used to follow a regular circuit during most of the year, going to places where they knew they could gather food for the winter.
Late in the fall, the family units would begin to move out of the mountains into sheltered areas for the winter months. Generally, the family units of a particular band of Utes would live close together during the winter. The Capote, Mouache, and Weeminuche would each live through the winter some place in northwestern New Mexico or northeastern Arizona. The Tabeguache or Uncompahgre would select some place between Montrose and Grand Junction. The Northern Utes would live at some place along the White, the Green, or the Colorado rivers. The winters were great social occasions for the different bands. There would be much visiting and many festivities. This was also the time when marriages would be contracted. For four days in early spring, the band would hold the Bear Dance, the most ancient and typical of all the Ute dances. Then each family unit would prepare to go its separate way until the next winter time. They would follow the migrating deer, antelope, and elk for food until seeds and berries began to ripen in the mountains.
This way of life was to change for the Utes when the Spaniards colonized and occupied New Mexico at the end of the sixteenth century. The reason for this change is that although the Europeans didn't have many of the plants of the Americas, they had livestock and it is livestock, especially the horse, which changed the life style. The Southern Utes made contact with the Spanish in New Mexico in the 1630s and 40s. At first there were peaceful relations between the two peoples and some trade was carried on. The Utes had dried meat and hides which they traded for knives and other metal utensils and agricultural products raised by the Pueblo Indians and the Spanish. Much of this trading was done at the annual fairs held at Pecos and Taos. The Utes, however, became much more interested in trading for horses. Horses were very expensive in those days and the Utes would trade even children to the Spanish for horses. (The Spanish generally trained those children to be excellent herders.) Possession of horses allowed the Utes to begin buffalo hunting on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains and the buffalo soon became one of their main resources, because it would provide them with many useful products: e.g., meat for food (one wouldn't have to work so hard gathering food); hides for tipi covers, blankets, clothing, moccasins, and bags of all kinds; sinew thread for sewing and for bowstrings; horn and hoof glue for many purposes. And with the horse, the Utes could more easily evade their enemies, transport their goods to a central camp where the women and children were protected, and range farther to hunt for food.
So the Utes no longer needed to spread out thinly in family units. They could live in larger numbers under a more powerful leader. The family unit continued to be the basic unit of society but the leader directed camp movements, hunts, raids, and war parties. In hunting the buffalo, the Utes came into frequent contact with the Arapahos, Kiowas, Cheyennes, Sioux, and Comanche who had many more horses than the Utes. The Utes needed more horses. So they became aggressive and warlike. Also, it was much easier to raid for livestock (sheep, goats, cattle) in New Mexico than to hunt deer and other animals, or to buy livestock. So the Utes became raiders, moving out of their mountain fortresses to raid other Indian groups or towns and villages to the south.
Early Discoveries and Mining History
Although the San Juans had first been prospected by trespassers on Ute lands, it was not until after the 1874 cession of the San Juans via the Brunot Treaty that serious prospecting was undertaken in what would become the Telluride area. During the summer of 1875, John Fallon examined the high country north of the upper reaches of the San Miguel River and located the Sheridan lode and several other claims (Hall 1889; Smith 1982; Nossaman 1989).
Within a year prospectors were drifting steadily into the area, staking claims, and eventually founding a small town named Columbia. The name didn't stick. The U.S. Post Office requested that the town be renamed--they were having trouble distinguishing letters addressed to "Columbia, Cal." from letters to "Columbia, Col." So the town was renamed Telluride, and today there is still controversy over how the name was chosen. Rickard (1907) says that the town was named because ora "stray occurrence of sylvanite, the telluride of gold and silver." Fetter and Fetter (1979) state that an 1888 issue of Mining Industry reported that a prospector found a chunk of gold ore in the San Miguel River and claimed that it was telluride ore. The Fetters, however, can't seem to leave well enough alone and promptly launch into a story of how the town might have received its name as a play on words taken from an admonition routinely passed on to travelers going into the area, "To Hell You Ride." This is not likely; and, while clever, it has not been helpful to serious inquiry.
For years geologists and historians claimed that the name didn't make any sense because there were no telluride minerals at Telluride. In fact, there are. Burchard (1883) reports tellurium at the N. W. H. Jr. mine. Both Burchard (1883) and Corregan and Lingane (1883) report that telluride minerals were found at the Flora mine. Bastin (1923) reports that both tellurium and selenium were found in the matte obtained by smelting concentrates from the Liberty Bell mine, but no reports were made of the minerals that contained these elements. Tom Rosemeyer personally collected gold and petzite crystals from the Argentine vein (Eckel 1997). More importantly, as far as the town's name goes, it is more important that people thought that telluride minerals had been found than whether the reports were true. Perhaps, in their eagerness to "grow" their town, they were clinging to a still-popular misconception that gold-telluride mineralization is the richest kind of gold mineralization. Moreover, as Duane Smith (pers. com., 1999) points out, the 1872 discovery of gold tellurides in Boulder County, Colorado, had caused a rush that the citizens of Columbia hoped would be repeated in their community.
Telluride did grow, slowly but steadily. It never boomed like most of the other Colorado mining camps, and it really never went bust. The Silver Panic of 1893 certainly put a damper on things and forced a great number of small mines to close, but there was enough gold in many of the veins to sustain mining. Within a decade of the silver crash, large gold production was pouring out of several properties. Between 1875 and 1990, the district produced 4,250,000 ounces of gold.
Large-scale mining required a relative ease of access not only to the mineral deposits, but also to the processes and markets that turned those minerals into metals and offered their sale. Additionally, secondary roads and trails were necessary to link mines and mills with primary transportation routes. The construction of these routes was usually up to the mining company. In the San Juans, as elsewhere in the nineteenth century, the problem of primary access was solved by rail transportation, but the solution came hard in these mountains.
Prior to the arrival of the railroad, all freighting was done by wagon or pack animal. By far the most important of the early San Juan freighters was Dave Wood. Wood's formula for success was to establish a connection from the Denver and Rio Grande's railhead to the outlying communities in the San Juans. What the railroad off-loaded Wood arranged to temporarily warehouse and then ship to the final destination. He also hauled back freight from the isolated mountain communities to the railhead. Because the railroad didn't begin serving Telluride until 1892, Wood provided the Telluride area with supplies for more than a decade.
In its heyday, the Dave Wood Transportation Lines had five hundred head of horses, mules, and oxen at work. Three of the best-known early-day photographs of Telluride show fifty-two of Dave Wood's mules loaded with nearly a mile of cable for the Nellie mine at the head of Bear Creek in the Iron Springs district (Wood and Wood 1977). Once when a young woman asked if Wood had "lived in these mountains very long," Wood replied, "Madame, I hauled these mountains in here." It was close to the truth (Mott 1946; Wood and Wood 1977).
The construction of the Rio Grande Southern from Durango to Ridgway was carried out by several crews simultaneously working on different sections of the route. In 1890, the northernmost section connected Ridgway first with Placerville on 10 October and then with Telluride on 23 November. This and other sections of the line operated independently of each other until everything was tied together, from Durango to Ridgway, in December 1891 (Ferrell 1973).
The first complete trip was made on 2 January 1892, but many months of labor were required to construct sidings, yards, short spurs, and depots; refine track alignment and ballasting; and construct a telegraph line. Connection was made with the mines and mills of the Telluride district via a 2.5-mile spur to Pandora, the site of the Smuggler Union mill and several terminal stations for aerial trams running down the mountain from the Marshall and Savage Basin mines. The Pandora spur was paid for by John Porter and J. H. Ernest Waters, two principals of the Smuggler Union Mining Company (Ferrell 1973).
It was 45 miles from Ridgway to Telluride and 117 miles from Telluride to Durango, for a total of 162 miles one way. At first, a trip over the length of the line included an overnight stop in Rico. Later, sleeping cars were added, and the schedule was adjusted accordingly (Crum 1942). By today's standards the trip seems to have been remarkably long. Nevertheless, the Rio Grande Southern filled a niche, and the county's total mineral production increased by almost one-third (Henderson 1926). Freight rates fell significantly during the first few years of operation. In 1892 only ore valued at $40 per ton could be profitably shipped by rail. A year later $20 ore could be shipped so as to make a profit (Canfield 1893).
Transportation to Telluride was only part of the story, and the story would be incomplete without mentioning transportation from mine to mill, which ultimately was solved by the introduction of the aerial tramway systems for which the San Juans have become so well known. Purington (1898) felt that aerial tramways had played an important role in increasing the district's production in the years between 1893 and 1898, and in retrospect these tramways define mining in this portion of the San Juans. Ore was brought down, and both the men and the easily loaded freight traveled up in buckets suspended from their wire rope cables. Before the end of the first decade of the twentieth century almost all of the major mining companies had come to depend upon aerial tramways to transport either ore or mill concentrate to its next destination.
The Smuggler Union Mining Company's mile-long Bleichert tram system running from the portal of the Bullion tunnel at a 10,915-foot elevation to its mill in the valley below at an 8,988-foot elevation, serves as an example of these systems. The tramway used 10,800 feet of heavy-weight carrying cable strung over fourteen towers between the two end points. The same length of lighter-weight pulling cable was used to propel the thirty-six buckets that ran along the carrying cable on a pair of tandem pulleys. The buckets were spaced out at 300-foot intervals, with each designed to carry 500 pounds of ore down the mountainside and lesser weights of supplies back up to the mine on the return trip. The buckets moved at a speed of 250 feet per minute, which is a little less than 3 miles per hour (Marshall 1952). Miners and managers alike sometimes rode the tram, especially in the winter and early spring when avalanche dangers made the tramways the safest route to the mines. Under almost any condition it was a spectacular trip.
Heavy, bulky freight for the mines still had to be hauled by teams of pack animals over the old, primitive zigzag trails to the mines. At the turn of the century, San Miguel County cut a 4-mile road to Savage Basin out of solid rock at a cost of $50,000. In places they couldn't cut through the rock, so they built a shelf supported with riprap timber cribbing (Storms 1911). For years burros and horse-or mule-drawn wagons followed this winding route to the mines; now passengers in four-wheel-drive vehicles simply turn their knuckles white.
Early-day mining was no picnic in the San Juans, and the area acquired a dark reputation for failed mining activities. In 1881, Theodore Comstock addressed the problem of mine failures in San Juan County, citing eight significant failures for which he blamed "fraud, negligence, or inexcusable ignorance upon the part of the promoter or manager, or both." Negligence and inexcusable ignorance often involved problems with the processing of ore.
Some ores are richer than others, and some are easier to extract metals from than others. This fact dominates all ore processing the world over. The ore of most of the Telluride district's mines could be divided into two classes--high-grade and low-grade. High-grade ore could simply be shipped to the smelter. In order to do this, however, it had to be hand-sorted into two piles, a slow and costly process. The low-grade pile, left over after shipping the high-grade, could be treated via stamp milling and amalgamation, or crushed and concentrated using some method of density separation, or both. The concentrate was then shipped to the smelter. In 1910, Mining Science stated that ore shipments from Telluride ran from 2,500 to 3,000 tons per month--one-quarter as high-grade, three-quarters as mill concentrates.
New ore-processing technologies came onto the market at a very fast pace during the 1880s, 1890s, and early 1900s. The process or equipment that was on the cutting edge one day might become completely obsolete in a year. Additionally, the process that worked well with the ores from one mine might fail miserably with the ores from another. Storms made these points in 1911 when he said that "the ores of the San Juan mines were of good grade, but generally diverse and complex in character-their successful treatment required a great deal of metallurgical skill." Mill managers were constantly experimenting with both processes and equipment and making what were hoped to be improvements. More than once, however, newly introduced processes were abandoned soon after their introduction.
During these years, the major improvements made in ore processing were the invention of concentrating tables, the introduction of the process of cyanidization, and the development of froth flotation. Each was revolutionary, each solved specific problems in handling the district's ores, and each increased the efficiency of processing, not to mention increasing profits. With the introduction of each change, however, large-scale remodeling of the mill plants had to be undertaken.
The need to improve milling processes was pointed out in 1896 by John Porter, president of the Smuggler Union Mining Company. In a paper delivered to the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers, Porter disclosed that his company's milling methods were startlingly inefficient--fully 40 percent of the silver and nearly 20 percent of the gold were lost in the process. (Porter 1896). Within a year the Smuggler Union had shut down its amalgamation plant and switched to concentration. Two years later the Liberty Bell added a 7-ton cyanide leaching plant to its mill (Henderson 1926). Telluride's mills changed processes time and again, building and rebuilding as needed--they were constantly struggling with the problem of trying to recover more metals from their ores.
By 1888 attorney Lucian L. Nunn owned Telluride's only bank, significant downtown real estate, and an interest in several mines. One of the mines, the Gold King in the Iron Springs district, was located above timberline and was so isolated that the cost of coal deliveries was eating up all potential profits of the operation. Nunn began to investigate the possibility of electric power at the Gold King. When his brother Paul consulted with George Westinghouse, the Nunns discovered that Westinghouse was building an alternating-current motor that would solve most of the major problems of this power source. The Nunns built a water-powered electrical-generation plant on the San Miguel River at Ames and installed the alternating-current motors furnished by Westinghouse at the Gold King. After extensive testing, the mine was switched to electric power, and the cost of operating machinery at the mine dropped from $2,500 per month to $500 per month (Lavender 1964).
Nunn established the Telluride Power Company at Ames, and soon the company was generating electric power not only for Telluride but also for most of the larger mines in the district. A couple of years later, power lines were run over Imogene Pass, and the Camp Bird mine was electrified (Henderson 1926). By 1897 the Telluride Power and Transmission Company was making the largest electrical transmission of power in the state. Eventually the company was developed into the Utah Power Company (Mott 1946; Lavender 1964).
In addition to the isolation that early-day mining operations faced during the winter months, each spring the avalanche season played havoc with mining operations in the district. The 1902 destruction of the Liberty Bell mine and mill buildings as well as their aerial tramway, and the 1924 destruction of the Black Bear aerial tramway, are often pointed to as the worst of these disasters. The Liberty Bell rebuilt and continued operations for more than twenty years, but the less-well-off Black Bear Company slowed to a crawl, reverted to leasing operations, and finally shut down in 1934 (Rickard 1907; Hillebrand 1957).
In truth, it was not uncommon for an avalanche to knock down a tram tower or two every year (Livermore 1928). The trams were usually out of commission for a week to a month, depending upon the extent of the damage and the cooperation of the weather with the repair parties. Some mining companies built V-shaped stone and cribbing structures in the slide pathways in an attempt to divide slides and divert them away from structures (Rickard 1907).
The Boardinghouses and the Town
Both Edward Pierce (1952) and David Lavender (1964) remember the ethnic mix of Cornish, Swedish, Finnish, and Norwegian miners in turn-of-the-century Telluride. Lavender also mentions the Italian and Irish railroad workers who came into the area to work on the Rio Grande Southern in the 1890s and then stayed on. Livermore (1928, 1968) recalled that many of the miners who worked for his leasing operation were either northern Italian, Greek, or from one of the Balkan states. Many of these men, as well as native-born American miners, depended on the mining companies for room and board. The larger companies worked around the clock and often had on-site boardinghouses, where four meals a day were served to accommodate three shifts of workers. Pierce (1952) could not recall any complaints about either the quality or quantity of food or the service. The mining companies realized that in order to hold their workers, good food was mandatory. Additionally, one of the Smuggler Union boardinghouses had a bowling alley, card tables, and a reading room with a fireplace, while another had pool tables instead of a bowling alley (Holland 1914).
Because the boarders were usually bachelors, their periodic nights on the town were a tradition that was remembered by the townsfolk years later. A grooming ritual got things started. First came a visit to W. B. Van Atta's store, the Up-to-Date Outfitter, where the celebrant purchased a new suit, shirt, tie, shoes, and hat. Then followed a trip to Harry Miller's Barber Shop, where a shave, haircut, shoe shine, shampoo, and bath set the stage for the evening to come. As more than a few establishments offered various entertainments, it would only do to take in all of them, starting with drinks at one establishment, dinner at another, more drinks and a little gambling at another, more drinks and a little dancing at yet another, and finally ending with one last drink or two and some female companionship at still another.
By one or two in the morning our once-splendent celebrant was probably in a state of complete disarray, with mud, whiskey, and chewing tobacco stains in all the wrong places. Additionally, he was probably now fully conversant with a horse beneath a lamp post, if not the lamp post itself. Somehow he got back to the boardinghouse, perhaps with Van Atta's financial assistance by advancing the fee for horse rental. The next morning arrived on time, and our now-dead-broke miner had to go back to work, swollen head or not. Life goes on. This is not to say that all miners lived such a life. Some saved their money, read good books, and eventually established themselves in their own businesses (Pierce 1952). Then, as now, such fine citizens were the backbone of the country, but life's more colorful stories usually come from the tales of the grasshopper, not the ant.
In 1891 the average price of silver was $0.99 per ounce. A year later the average price was down to $0.87 per ounce. The U.S. government was subsidizing the price of silver through the Sherman Silver Purchase Act while western mines were producing more silver than the market could absorb; the railroads were overextended, and the European countries also had their financial woes. As a result, the U.S. economy was generally weak. Through the spring of 1893, the market price of silver continued its slide down to $0.82 per ounce. The British decided that they had enough silver. On 26 June they closed their mint in India, which was one of the world's largest purchasers of silver, and the price of silver dropped to $0.62 per ounce almost overnight. The United States repealed the Sherman Act and bimetallism was dead. The price of silver fluctuated for a year, but the price remained low, hitting bottom at $0.61 per ounce in March 1894 (Blair 1980).
More than one hundred mines in the Telluride, Ophir, and Mount Wilson areas shut down--their lower-grade silver-bearing galena ores could no longer be mined at a profit (Canfield 1893). Ernest Waters announced that the Sheridan-Mendota would be shut down if silver fell below $0.50 an ounce (Marshall 1952). With so many mine closures, the resources of the Rio Grande Southern were strained to the limit (Marshall 1952). Telluride survived. It was the gold mines that pulled the town through.
On 2 May 1901, miners at the Smuggler Union went on strike. At issue was the Cornish fathom contract system that had been introduced by mine manager Arthur Collins in 1899. Instead of receiving a daily wage, miners were paid according to how many "fathoms" of ore they mined. A fathom was not a fixed quantity of rock, instead it consisted of a 6-foot-high by 6-foot-long ore block that was as wide as the vein. Thus workers who were mining in portions of the mine with a greater vein width were required to produce greater tonnage than those mining a narrower vein section. The miners union requested an end to the fathom system and the adoption of an eight-hour day. Collins refused to negotiate with the union miners, published a justification of the fathom contract system as a reply to the miners (Denver Times, 14 May 1901), and then closed down the mine. After a six-week period, during which the problem simply festered, the company brought in a crew of scab miners.
Things got out of hand on 6 July when a confrontation at the mine between the union workers and the scab labor force coming off their shift erupted into a gunfight that left four dead and several wounded. Among the dead was the mine superintendent. The rest of the scabs were escorted by the union miners up to Imogene Pass and told to never return if they knew what was good for them. The governor sent State Senator Buckley to investigate. After looking things over, he sent the following tightly worded message back to Denver: "No need to send troops. The miners are in peaceful possession of the mines".
The Smuggler Union replaced the fathom system with a standard $3 wage for an eight-hour day, and things calmed to a slow simmer. Then, in November, a fire broke out at the Smuggler Union surface plant and boardinghouse, and instead of taking immediate steps to safeguard the miners in the mine, management wasted precious time removing a stash of firearms. Heat and smoke from the fire were sucked into the mine and twenty-eight miners' lives were lost from suffocation. The miners blamed the loss of life on what they believed was Collins's negligence. No corrective actions were taken by the company, and the miners' attitude worsened.
A list of scabs compiled by the miners union fell into Collins's hands. In November 1902, Collins placed an ad in all of the town newspapers stating that the Smuggler Union would gladly hire any of the men on the union's scab list. The next night Collins was shot at his home near the company's mill at Pandora and died a few days later. Bulkeley Wells, son-in-law of Smuggler Union Vice President Thomas L. Livermore, was sent to Telluride to take over management of the mine.
On 1 September 1903, Telluride millmen went out on strike, demanding a reduction of their twelve-hour workday to eight hours. The manager of the Tomboy mill hired scabs, and the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) walked out in sympathy with the millmen. Hired gunmen appeared on the streets and Bulkeley Wells's newly formed San Juan District Owners Association requested that Governor Peabody send troops. A troop train of the Colorado National Guard arrived on 24 November, and WFM members were deported to Montrose. A guard post was set up atop Imogene Pass to keep union sympathizers out of the district. Wells formed a Citizens Alliance in support of the mine owners. On 16 December the mine managers posted new wages for an eight-hour day. The union miners and millmen were furious that scabs were now to receive what the union had requested.
Martial law was declared on 4 January 1904. More WFM members were deported. Wells took over command of the militia, replacing Major Hill. In March the governor recalled the troops. As soon as the train pulled out, the Citizens Alliance rounded up about sixty more unionists and deported them. The non-Alliance citizenry of the town requested that the governor return the troops and on 11 March they arrived back in town. Some of the deportees filed an injunction asking that they be allowed to return to Telluride, and, after a judge granted the injunction, a combination of Citizens Alliance members and the militia (outfitted with a Gatling gun) met the returning train with the unionists and held them hostage until a special train could be arranged to redeport them in defiance of the injunction. The troops left for good on 15 June. Over the summer, the Citizens Alliance continued to deport labor agitators, and, when there were no activists left to stir up trouble, things returned to "normal." The mine managers established an eight-hour day for all workers, and the WFM called off the strike.
Several years later, in a final act of defiance and revenge, an attempt was made on Wells's life when a union miner named Adams placed a time bomb under Wells's bed. Wells survived the blast even though he was blown completely clear of the house. The second-story frame porch where Wells slept offered little resistance to the explosion and greatly reduced the concussion of the blast, while Wells's mattress cushioned him from the blast while serving as a vehicle for a short but thrilling ride.
In an interview published in the New York Herald, William "Big Bill" Haywood explained the political philosophy of the Western Federation of Miners, by stating the following:
"We are socialists. The principles of socialism are the principles of our organization throughout the mountains. We believe in an aggressive campaign all along the line for uplifting of labor and the people in general. Here is one of our cards of membership; you will see printed upon the back of it in red ink, our creed, 'Labor produces wealth, wealth belongs to the producer thereof'."
With statements like this being quoted in the professional mining journals, it's little wonder that the mine owners felt threatened by the WFM (Engineering and Mining Journal, 1 September 1904). On the other side, the intransigence of Collins, the bombast of Wells, and the overall lack of good faith displayed by management on numerous
The occasions explain the distrust felt by the miners.
With the closing of the Liberty Bell, Smuggler Union, and Tomboy during the 1920s, the district's production dropped precipitously. Several smaller companies acquired the old properties, and when the government boosted the price of gold during the Depression, mining activity increased for a time. It was, however, the increased need for base metals (lead, zinc, and copper) during World War II that sparked a renewal of interest in the Telluride district. The Idarado Mining Company was formed by Newmont Mining Company and Callahan Lead and Zinc Company. Through their shared interest in the Resurrection Project at Leadville, the U.S. Smelting, Refining and Mining Company and Hecla Mining Company also gained interests in the new company. Newmont took complete control of the operation in the 1940s. Idarado was formed to mine base metals, but gold and silver production from the famous old Telluride properties has been considerable. The deeper portions of the Telluride district's veins contained only a marginal grade of ore. It was profitable for Idarado to mine these veins only because their regularity allowed a systematic and efficient operation. The Idarado mine shut down in 1979 and current zoning and development of the East End of the Valley have made it virtually impossible for the mine to ever re-open, at least on the Telluride side of the mountain. The Ouray side is another story and with the price of gold and silver at all time highs, who knows, we’ll all just have to wait and see how that one plays out.
Skiing: White Gold
The old Telluride locals had long skied on the Telluride Mountain and their were numerous efforts made to erect ski lift and cut trails. One of the earliest ski lifts was a rope tow and powered by an old Studebaker. It was a family affair.
In the 1960’s with the success of our neighbor mining town, Aspen, Telluride decided that it needed to market itself as a potential ski resort and actively look for investors. The town business and community leaders organized and raised “seed capital” for the marketing of Telluride as the “next Aspen.”
After numerous failed attempts and the loss of their seed capital, they did attract some Aspen attention which ultimately led to Joe Zoline, a Beverly Hills investor and former lawyer from Chicago to become interested. In 1969, Zoline with the active help of many of Telluride’s business people, succeeded in consolidating the land necessary for the application to the United States Forest Service for a permit to build the Telluride Ski Resort.
In February, 1972, a Town Meeting was called and held at the Nugget Movie Theater where U. S. Forest Service official announced that the construction permit for five ski lifts had been approved and the Ski Area Master Plan had been granted.
In December, 1972, the Telluride Ski Resort opened for business.
(For those interested there is a lot of anecdotal history on this website, since Scott Brown moved to Telluride in 1971, he was there and has done considerable writing on the “Early Days”. )
(Also, please read the History of the Telluride Ski Resort, published and written for the Telluride Times Newspaper by Scott Brown)