Archive for the ‘Mining Camps’ Category

Tucked away in Gamble Gulch about halfway between the towns of Black Hawk and Nederland, Colorado stand the sparse ruins of Perigo.  Perigo was a busy gold mining town in the latter years of the 19th Century and was home to several prosperous mines including the Golden Sun, Tip Top, Perigo and the Free Gold. A massive 60-stamp mill was erected at the town to crush the ores from the nearby mines.

Perigo had around three-hundred residents during it’s peak years. There was a general store, mine offices, the mill, several saloons, a social club and many private dwellings ranging from crude log cabins and tents to lavish two-story homes that would’ve been considered mansions in the day. Perigo’s social club put on plays and banquets, and tried on a number of occasions to entice the leading opera stars and actors from Central City and Denver to hold shows in the town- It is unknown, and doubtful that any ever accepted the offer.

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Perigo- A View Down Main Street Around 1890

When the mining industry collapsed in the 1890s Perigo began a steady decline into oblivion. The mines were all closed and the mill was shut down. Struggling on for a few more years was the general store that served the needs of those who still lived in Gamble Gulch, but soon, it too faded and was abandoned.

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Tourists visit the abandoned stamp mill around 1930

Sometime around the middle of the last Century a man purchased the entire town site, the mill, and all the remaining buildings and homes of Perigo.  The now ghost town of Perigo could still be visited and admired from the narrow and rocky road leading through Gamble Gulch.  Then one day the new owner was hit with a tax bill he could not pay. Gilpin County expected the man to pay property taxes on each of the structures on his property. He informed the county that all of the buildings were long abandoned and in various states of decay, but the tax man didn’t care, the law was the law and the taxes had to paid. Inviting the county tax assessor to Perigo, the owner showed him the rotten and collapsing buildings, but the county stood firm and demanded he pay up. A simple solution presented itself- If there were no standing structures on his property, the tax bill would vanish. So, unfortunately for old Perigo, the man filled the buildings at the town site with dynamite and blew Perigo off the map.

 

Today you’ll only find the twisted and shattered remains of the mill, some wood structures flat on the ground like a stack of popsicle sticks, a stone or concrete foundation tucked in the grass, and a couple of old tumbledown tin sided shacks being reclaimed by the earth.  One small Victorian era house still stands intact way back in the trees, and giant, still occupied, two-story Victorian style which may or may not be original to the site can be found near the mill wreckage.

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Colorado has plenty of ghost towns but what about “lost” towns- Towns that have disappeared entirely, or almost entirely from the face of the earth?  It is hard to imagine but there are “lost cities” here in Colorado. Cities and towns and settlements that have vanished almost completely over the years. Most appeared and disappeared with the boom and bust days of the gold and silver rush. Others were ranching and farming towns hit hard by the “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s. Still others came and went with the fortunes of the railroads.  These make up Colorado’s “lost cities” and below is a collection of then and now photos of six of them. (Click on the circles for larger images.)

1. Querida, Colorado

Querida in Custer County was once a booming mining town laid out at the base of the Bassick Mine.  Today nothing remains but one old house, some debris from other buildings, and the massive tailings pile from the Bassick Mine.

2. Independence, Colorado

There was more than one “Independence” in Colorado- This is the Independence in Teller County near Cripple Creek and Victor. Independence was one of many towns that sprawled out around the mining operations in the Cripple Creek/Victor area in the late 1890s. Today some mining structures and equipment mark the spot, and a one or two homes can still be found scattered among the workings. Most of the town however was buried under the tailings from the mine, or torn down.

3. Caribou, Colorado

Caribou was one of Colorado’s top producing silver mining towns in the 1870s and 1880s boasting a business district, hotels, saloons and schools. The silver crash of 1893 spelled doom for the thriving community located on a windswept mountainside eight miles above Nederland at nearly 10,000 ft. elevation. Most of the population left around 1895, but a few struggled on in the mines until around 1920. Today a couple of stone buildings and one tumbledown log cabin are all that mark the spot of Caribou- The rest of town having been lost to forest fires, dismantling, and the elements over the years. A few foundations can be found in the deep grass at the site but its hard to imagine thousands once lived here.

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4. Manhattan, Colorado

Deep in Larimer County northwest of Ft. Collins a couple of gold discoveries were made high on Elkhorn and Manhattan Creeks. Manhattan once had around 500 residents, but the ore was low-grade and there wasn’t much to be found.  An accident in a shaft took the lives of several miners in 1892, and shortly after Manhattan was abandoned.  Sometime in the 1950s or so, the Forest Service had the log buildings of Manhattan torn down.  All that marks the town site today is a tiny graveyard on a hillside where the miners from the 1892 accident are buried.

5.Berwind, Colorado

In the sandy foothills northwest of Trinidad numerous “company towns” existed. These towns were built by mine owners for their employees and their families. One of the larger company towns was Berwind. Berwind once had over 3000 residents, hundreds of homes, a two-story schoolhouse, railroad station, businesses, and a jail.  When the coal mines closed, the mine owners evicted the families and bulldozed the housing so they wouldn’t be taxed on the structures. Berwind Canyon today is lined with concrete foundations, staircases to nowhere, and modern day “Roman Ruins” overgrown with shrubs and trees. The tiny jail house remains and is guarded by a fat squirrel.

6. Carrizo Springs, Colorado

Carrizo Springs in the far southeastern corner of Colorado in remote Baca County was a very unusual place- It was a mining town on the great plains.  Around 1885 a group of prospectors from Missouri were looking for the Rocky Mountains and became lost as they traveled through Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and Kansas. When they had just about given up they saw hills and bluffs that they assumed were the Rocky Mountains. They began prospecting along Carrizo Creek and found some streaks of copper ore and a few streaks of silver as well. The Mexican ranchers in the area told the miners they were still a couple hundred miles from the Rocky Mountains. The miners decided to stay at Carrizo Creek and soon word spread of their strike. Around 1887 the town of Carrizo Springs was born, and one account says 2000-3000 people flocked to the settlement. Carrizo Springs lived a short, violent life. Cattle rustlers and horse thieves wandered through town from Kansas and Texas, gamblers and prostitutes set up shop in the saloons, marauding bandidos all the way from Mexico terrorized the town on occasion. Soon though it was realized the copper and silver ore along Carrizo Creek was poor and the town vanished. By 1889 Carrizo Springs was empty having lived only two years.  Today it takes a very sharp eye to spot anything marking the site- A few crumbling stone foundations, a weathered hitching post here and there, and shards of broken glass and porcelain on the prairie are all that is left.  No period photos of Carrizo Springs exist.

I just returned from a short but satisfying trip through the San Luis Valley of Colorado and a small chunk of northern New Mexico between Taos and Chama. I was out to snap a few photos of the past- The faces of the forgotten and forlorn buildings of the region- A region still very much alive, but where the past coexists side-by-side with the present.

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Garcia, Colorado

There is a unique energy in this part of the world. I can not describe it, but things just look and feel “different” in some way as you travel down the lonely stretches of blacktop that run the length of the San Luis Valley and North-Central New Mexico. There is something about this area and it’s vast openness and sweeping views, the surreal aspect of the Great Sand Dunes butting up against the jagged snow-capped peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the Taos plateau and the great defile of the Rio Grande Gorge that rips through the middle of it- This is an area of intense natural beauty and quiet, peaceful, solitude. Some even say this is an area of supernatural or otherworldly energy- Cattle mutilations, UFO sightings, and the “Taos Hum” which reportedly only about 10% of people can hear, are evidence of this theory.

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Hooper, Colorado

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Along a back road in northern New Mexico

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Mosca, Colorado

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Moffatt, Colorado

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Penitente Morada, Abiquiu, New Mexico

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Tres Piedras, New Mexico

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Garcia, Colorado

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Moffatt, Colorado

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18th Century Spanish Colonial Church, New Mexico

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Moffatt, Colorado

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Garcia, Colorado

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico

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Hooper, Colorado

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Costilla, New Mexico

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Moffatt, Colorado

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Abandoned Church, New Mexico

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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New Mexico

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Costilla, New Mexico

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

When most of us think of Colorado ghost towns we think of places like St. Elmo, Independence or Ashcroft. A few may even think of places like Buckskin Joe or South Park City which are modern tourist trap creations of old west towns using historic buildings brought in from other sites.  But, did you know there are actually over 600 ghost towns that can be visited in Colorado?  That number comes as a surprise to many.

So where are Colorado’s ghost towns that you don’t hear much about? They are everywhere in the state, they just take some detective work and a tank or two of gas to locate. So let’s have a look at a handful of the great Colorado ghost towns that you may never have heard of before-

1. Russell

Russell was a tiny mining camp and supply town at the west foot of La Veta Pass. There are still a handful of houses at the picturesque site (including one that is occupied) just off of Highway 160 between Walsenburg and Fort Garland. The remains of Russell are all on private property, but can be easily viewed from a large dirt turnout at the foot of La Veta Pass.

2. Powderhorn

I came across Powderhorn by accident while traveling from Lake City to Gunnison. Powederhorn was a small ranching and farming area, and, in the 1800’s was once the #1 supplier of potatoes and other root vegetables to the hungry miners 50 miles south in the San Juan Mountains. Powderhorn had a general store, and a large number of tiny cabins for the cowboys who worked the scenic valley. The Post Office at Powderhorn still serves the needs of the ranchers in the area. There are a lot of abandoned cabins and ranch buildings at the the site today, however they are all on private land. Powderhorn lies deep in Gunnison County on Highway 149 along Cebolla Creek.

3. Fondis

Fondis still has a few residents, but its businesses and most of the people left long ago. Fondis was a ranching and farming community, and a little bit of logging was done in the surrounding area too. The old wooden general store is currently being refurbished by a charity working with veterans. Fondis is at the intersection of County Roads 69 and 98 in Elbert County, east of Castle Rock in the rolling pine dotted hills.

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4. Engleville

Engleville is situated at the base of Fishers Peak near Trinidad on the far southern end of Colorado. It was a coal mining town, and there are many abandoned homes and small cemetery at the site which is on private property, but can be seen and photographed easily from Engleville Road south of Trinidad.

5. Ute Ulay

Sometimes called “Henson” Ute Ulay is the remains of the mining camp that surrounded the Ute Ulay Mine near Lake City in the San Juans. The buildings are on private property, but some limited access listed on signs at the site allow for foot travel in to some of the buildings. A restoration effort is ongoing, and it appears that once the preservation work is finished there will be more public access to the site. Ute Ulay/Henson is along the Alpine Loop (County Road 20) just west of Lake City in Hinsdale County.

6. Hawkinsville

Hawkinsville is one of the least-known ghost towns in the State. It was founded in 1868 by a prospector named Hawkins who found gold in the tiny creek that runs through the site. A few mines were built on the hillsides around the camp, and the area was worked from the late 1860’s to around 1920. Today Hawkinsville remains relatively well preserved due to it’s remote and difficult to find location. There are still newspaper clippings from the 1890’s-1910’s pasted on the walls, beds, stoves and other furnishings inside the remaining cabins. There’s no easy or direct route to Hawkinsville, and this helps protect the site. It lies in the sandy hills east of Granite, Colorado and getting there is via a maddening maze of 4×4 trails.

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7. Berwind Canyon

Berwind Canyon, southwest of the Ludlow Memorial/Ludlow Exit on Interstate 25 north of Trinidad is littered with the remains of numerous coal mining towns from the early 1900’s. There are so many foundations and walls in Berwind Canyon it almost looks like Roman ruins. Today only a handful of ranchers remain in the canyon, in its prime, Berwind Canyon was home to over 3,000 coal miners and their families. When the coal mining industry declined, the mine owners came through with bulldozers and leveled all the buildings to avoid paying property taxes on their abandoned mines.

8. Pie Plant

Pie Plant is a great ghost town tucked into a remote corner of Taylor Park in Gunnison County on the west side of Cottonwood Pass. It was a mining town dating to the 1880’s, and it’s hidden location has allowed it to weather the past century without much damage. The town’s unique name came from the wild rhubarb that grew along the creek nearby. In latger years after the mining died down, local cowboys would use the cabins while tending their herds in Taylor Park. Pie Plant is located north of Taylor Park Reservoir on a branch of County Road 742, look for the sign pointing the way to the town site.

9. Swandyke

Swandyke sits high on a mountain side above Breckenridge, and was one of many small mining camps along the Swan River drainage. A few people know about Swandyke, and normally the only photos of the town show the one large, relatively well preserved cabin that is just off the main 4×4 trail to the town. However, there is much more to Swandyke than just that one cabin, by hiking up the steep hill behind it, the ruins of numerous other cabins appear as well all kinds of debris from the mining era- rusty cans, broken bottles, mining equipment, boot soles, etc. A second cabin called “The Paris Cabin” dating to the 1890’s which has been shored up with cables in recent years sits nestled in the trees as well. To find Swandyke take Tiger Road out of Breckenridge, then Forest Road 354 (high clearance 4×4 trail) up the north fork of the Swan River.

10. Kingston

Kingston was a mining town at the far north end of the Pine Creek Mining District in Gilpin County about 10 miles northwest of Black Hawk, above the ghost town of Apex. Kingston dates to the 1890’s and once had  a large stamp mill and numerous cabins. An arsonist destroyed the mill building a few years ago, and time has taken a heavy toll on the cabins that once covered the hillsides around the mines.  There are a lot of log foundations, a rock foundation or two, and the charred remains of the mill at the site today. Getting there is by taking Elk Park Road west out of Apex towards Mammoth Gulch, then taking the left branch of the 4×4 trail to Kingston Hill. The ruins of Kingston are buried in the trees and on the hillsides in every direction.

 

 

A few days after my father had passed away unexpectedly, my brother and I decided we needed a road trip to clear our heads, reminisce about the old man,  and share some laughs. My brother asked me if we could visit southern Colorado, an area he had never seen before, and I gladly obliged. We hopped in the car and headed for the foothills in the area between Pueblo and Trinidad- Colorado’s great coal belt. I’d visited the region several times on my own, and I knew my brother would enjoy the scenery and history of the area.

We buzzed south down I-25 passing the huge, dormant, Colorado Fuel and Iron steel mills of Pueblo which line the interstate. These huge rusty, dilapidated, structures with their towering red brick smokestacks were once the backbone of Pueblo- Employing thousands of men through the years and providing a “life” for many families, families whose descendants still call the area home. Today, the giants are silent, their smokestacks crumbling, and the neighborhoods of tiny houses around them, still occupied by the proud families who sprang from the mills, sit in a state of slow, but steady decay, the windows of their corner stores and saloons boarded up, and one more empty house each time I visit.

Crossing the Arkansas River the Colorado scenery changes, and the arid rolling hills give off a totally different feeling than the rocky, pine covered slopes of the area closer to Denver. Here, Colorado takes on a definite high desert, “wild west” aspect. There is also a distinctly Hispanic culture in this area- This land was Mexico for many years, and prior to that it was Spain’s northernmost territory in the new world. The first settlers of the region, dating back to the 1700’s with a few roaming shepherds and ranchers, were of Spanish origin, and that culture remains strong to this day in these parts.

It is down in the narrow canyons and bluffs of this area, where the mountains meet the plains, that we found Colorado’s coal belt, or, more accurately, the remains of Colorado’s coal belt.  West of I-25, and south of Walsenburg to Trinidad lays an enormous coal pocket, and throughout these hills we find the trace remnants of the company towns that once stood here. Places like- Tabasco, Berwind, Starkville, Morley, Hastings, Tollerburg, Tioga, Cokedale…the list goes on and on. But one name stands out among the rest “Ludlow”.

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A simple sign along the interstate a few miles north of Trinidad reads “Ludlow Massacre Memorial Exit 27” I’d visited Ludlow once before, and snapped off a few pictures in haste as the sun sank behind the mountains in the west, but I’d wanted to come back and spend more time in this place.  I thought my brother would appreciate these hallowed grounds as well, so we took Exit 27 and just a mile or two west of bustling I-25 Ludlow came into view.  A few tumbledown buildings marked what was left of the main street in town, and the railroad tracks that hauled the coal out of the dumps here still pass by.

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To the north of Ludlow there is a small picnic ground with a few tall trees and a couple of sheds and a parking lot. Most people probably stop by just to use the public restrooms and to get out of the hot Colorado sun without ever noticing the fenced in area just beyond the picnic tables, and the monument of a man, woman and child within the fence. This is the Ludlow Massacre Memorial erected by the United Mine Workers of America to honor those who died in the massacre of April 20, 1914. There is also a strange steel door, painted white on the ground, within the fenced in area of the memorial. When opened there are stairs leading down into a dark abyss.

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What was the Ludlow Massacre? And why is it important that we all remember it? Why is it not taught in our school system?  Because Ludlow was dangerous to the ruling class of big businessmen. What happened at Ludlow changed the way American businesses treated their labor.

To simplify a long and complex story, the Ludlow Massacre was the tragic culmination of tensions between the working class and the managing class/governing class in what became known as the “Coal Wars” of 1913-1914. Massive social, political, and economic changes swept the country from the mid-1800’s through the early 1900’s as a result of the industrial revolution. Some got rich, some lost everything, while most toiled away for just enough to barely scrape by. Among the people most affected by these changes were coal miners across the country. The widening gap between the “haves” (mine owners, managers, and politicians in their pay)  and the “have nots” (the miners and their families) led to strikes, confrontations and armed clashes between the two groups, culminating in the April 20, 1914 massacre at Ludlow where eighteen people (mostly children) were murdered by the Colorado National Guard sent to protect mine owners and break the strike.

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Colorado National Guard and Mine Goon Squad at Ludlow 1914

Miners and their families were forced to live in “company towns” which were small private kingdoms bought and paid for by the mine owners. In these company towns, the mine owners controlled nearly every aspect of the lives of their employees. Mine employees were paid in virtually worthless “scrip” which were tokens or paper “money” that were only valid at the company store or saloon. The company store and saloon, were owned by the mine owners and they were generally stocked with cheap, poor quality goods that were sold at tremendously inflated prices to the workers. Often, the miners did not have enough scrip to pay for the necessities of life, so the mine bosses benevolently extended lines of credit to the miners and their families. These lines of credit were often over extended, and the miner had no choice but work whatever hours and shifts the mine owners demanded, because they were in such in deep debt to the boss. This was a way mine owners and their cronies turned the working class into indentured servants with no way out. The miners had little choice but to tolerate the conditions, as everything they had from their homes to the shoes on their feet and the food on their table was owned by the mine bosses.

Ludlow Railroad Station

Ludlow Railroad Station and Company Store

On top of the crippling economic practices inside the company towns, mine bosses also limited the freedom of speech, religion and education- Churches and schools were set up in the company towns, but they were staffed by preachers and teachers hand selected by the bosses. Private police patrolled the company towns and cracked down on anyone critical of the mine owners or the conditions in the town. These police were nothing more than brutal thugs and bullies who kept order and silence through fear.

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Conditions inside most company towns were awful. The powerful mine owners were allowed to get away with outright abuses and borderline slavery because, as is all too familiar today, the bosses had the money to pay off politicians and police who would then look the other way.

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In 1913 and 1914 life in the Colorado coal camps became intolerable, and the miners went on strike. A series of skirmishes and confrontations ensued, and finally, the mine owners called on their paid off politician friends to intervene. The Colorado National Guard arrived by rail to the numerous coal camps and company towns  that lined Berwind Canyon, among them Ludlow.

Ludlow Saloon

Ludlow Saloon

The striking mine workers and their families were living largely in a tent city at the time, and when hostilities boiled over between the striking miners, the company goon squads, and the Colorado National Guard, chaos ensued. Members of the Colorado National Guard and the company thugs who were aching for a fight opened fire on the striking miners, many of whom were armed as well. The gun battle between the two sides sent the wives and children of the tent colony running for cover. Many had dug pits under their tents as makeshift shelters in anticipation of such an event.

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A fire soon broke out in the tent colony, and amidst the smoke, flames and mayhem troops of the militia opened fire into the tent colony with an assortment of outdated military rifles and a few Colt-Browining M1895 “Potato Digger” machine guns. The screams of the wounded and dying permeated the miner’s camp.

When the bullets stopped flying, and the fires had been put out, the Red Cross arrived on the scene to find the charred battlefield still smoldering. As the miners and the Red Cross began to survey the damage, they came across a scene of unspeakable horror, when they found the scorched bodies of eleven children and two women in one of the makeshift pit shelters under a burned tent. The youngest victims of the massacre were found here, aged three months and six months old. In future accounts of the tragedy this became known as “The Pit of Death”. In all, eighteen men, women and children died in the Ludlow Massacre- some by bullets, some by fire. Among the dead lay the entire Costa Family.

“The Pit of Death”

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Public outrage and unrest ensued throughout the region as news of the slaughter spread as fast as the flames did across the tents of Ludlow. Riots, beatings, gun battles, and overall maniacal rage between the warring factions over the following days became known as the “Ten Day War”. Order was finally restored when the United States Army was called in to disperse the Colorado National Guard and the hired goon squads of the mine bosses.

The repulsive slaughter of the innocents at Ludlow turned the tables in favor of organized labor, and in following years working conditions for the “average” American greatly improved. The eight hour work day became industry standard. Overtime was paid for any hours over eight you worked in a day, and overtime was paid for any hours over forty in a week. Gone were the abusive company towns and the cut throat company store. Working conditions and safety measures improved across mines, mills and factories nationwide. Wages and benefits were drastically improved.

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For a few sweet decades following Ludlow, largely in part due to the efforts of labor unions and Federal legislation, life became better, and in many cases good for the average American worker. It seemed the only people unhappy with the changes were the large employers who saw a small dip in their profits as they were required to start treating their employees like humans.

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As always, things change. The average American, enjoying unprecedented wealth and free time to enjoy it, became more and more materialistic and competitive with their neighbors, who were also enjoying new found wealth and freedom. The rat race was born, and our great lust as Americans to “out do” or “one up” our neighbor to show them that we were the “best” or “more successful” then them began to alter our minds on a deep level.

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More and more American workers two or three generations removed from Ludlow began to ask for more hours, more overtime, a second job…because, driven by our own profane consumerism and “need” to be the best, we became willing to give up the eight hour day, or forty hour work week the families of Ludlow died for. Few of us had ever heard of Ludlow. Fewer of us cared. We wanted the biggest and the best of everything. No, we didn’t want it, we NEEDED it. We absolutely, under any circumstances, HAD to have it.

So, we burned the hard won rights of the Ludlow miners to fuel our incessant lust for new gadgets and status symbols. In the 1990’s, many generations removed from Ludlow, Congress quietly did away with the laws requiring employers to pay overtime for anything more than eight hours in a day. Almost overnight across industrial America, the twelve hour shift reappeared after many years under moth balls. With the twelve hour shift, only two shifts are needed, and the business owner saves money even if they pay overtime to the workers- Because the entire second shift of workers can be eliminated. No more hourly wages for the second shift, no more benefits packages, no more vacation time- By reverting to the two-twelve hour shift model, the business owner gets fat raking in the money that would have otherwise been spent providing a stable job with livable wages to the entire second shift.

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Sadly, we American workers, blinded and driven by our consumerism, greed, and societal expectation that we participate in the rat race wound up collectively in a mountain of insurmountable debt. So, when the big boys in the suits behind the scenes dictated that the workers would be required to work twelve hour shifts, those of us lucky enough to keep our jobs gladly accepted the offer. The bosses “rewarded” us with a four day work week in most cases, and blind to the monumental shaft we were getting, we all flocked forward with smiles on our faces thinking “Wow, eight hours of overtime every week and a three day weekend! This is the best!”

The fat cats got fatter, the middle class shrank with the elimination of the second shift, and those of us who held on to our jobs greedily accepted our “new deal” thinking we were doing alright.  But, just like before, greed and materialism blinded many. “Maybe I’ll start working a few Saturdays and Sundays, the boss always needs help, and I can use some more cash to pay down some of the bills…or better yet, to buy that new boat!” No boss has ever turned down someone willing to work seven days a week for half of the money they would have made on the old “anything over eight is overtime” law. So the average American thinks they are getting a good deal and making tons of money, when in fact they are earning less than they would have under the old laws, and the entire second shift is standing in the unemployment line sucking up welfare that comes out of, you guessed it! YOUR paycheck! Taxes give you less money, which means you have to work more hours to pay for the boat and the bigger house and the newest phone to “one up” your neighbor…and the only person making any money at all is your boss.

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Our societal illness has led us to back into the shackles of indentured servitude to our Employer-Masters. Without our Employer-Masters we are nothing, so we willingly accept their corrupt and one-sided “new deals” justifying the immense screwing we are allowing ourselves to get, because of our own greed. We stand blank-eyed and emotionless as our employers cut our benefits each year, and we jump for joy and dance like excited puppies, tails wagging when our Employer-Masters toss us a bonus now and then, or benevolently “offer” us overtime which we suck up gladly like the money driven whores we have all become. In the mean time our Employer-Masters are busy making deals behind the scenes with politicians and regulating agencies which allow them to keep pumping us full of chemicals and poisons long banned in other countries as known carcinogens. Safety measures are skirted by the suits, and we all think they care for us because they give us ear plugs and safety glasses and paint yellow lines on the floor so we don’t get run over by forklifts, all the while the walls, roofs and pipes of America’s factories are crumbling and just months away from caving in a crushing the workers beneath them.  All those bonuses and overtime wages represent but a small fraction of what the boss man is pocketing each month in savings by working us like dogs, eliminating the second shift, skirting environmental and safety laws, and allowing our nation’s facilities to crumble in order to save a buck or two.

Our yearly wages, bonuses, overtime and benefits are but a small fraction of what we COULD HAVE all made if we had remembered the lessons of Ludlow and stood up for the rights won following the massacre. Instead, we became complacent. We allowed the laws to be changed, we allowed ourselves to become blinded by consumerism and greed, and now, we’ve allowed ourselves to become indentured servants again- Like the miners of Ludlow.

Unlike the miners of Ludlow, I don’t think the average American worker today has the backbone to stand up for what is right, and to put their life on the line for it. The rich will get richer, the middle class will continue to shrink, and the poor will grow by leaps and bounds.  Perhaps, sometime in the distant future, when things get so bad again as they were at Ludlow, the American worker will rise up and fight, but it won’t happen today in our current mindset- The lesson of Ludlow has been lost, and the few who know of Ludlow don’t care…at least not right now at this moment.

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It is my personal opinion that everyone, especially those with children, before working that next day of overtime, or three more hours because the boss asked you to, go visit the memorial at Ludlow. Read the names of those who died at the hands of their employers. Pause and stare hard at the names of the innocent children, some so new to this life they had yet to speak their first words. Then, open that heavy white steel door on the ground and gaze long into the black abyss- “The Pit of Death” where those eleven children were found dead. Then ask yourself what is truly important in your life- Overtime for that next toy to impress the neighbors or spending the day on the back porch grilling hot dogs with your kids instead of being at work? Does that black pit you just looked into represent the abyss of your own greed and materialism? Will you stand up and say enough is enough? Or will your insatiable greed for “things” enable the monster that will one day eat your children?

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“Remember when one gazes long into the abyss, the abyss gazes long into you.” -Nietzsche

As I sit on my balcony above Central City, Colorado, I look west and watch the sun sink behind the high snow-capped peaks to the west.  Yesterday I was hiking a slope on those very mountains following a grueling two-hour 4X4 trek in my ugly old Range Rover. The “road” I traversed was the old stagecoach line that ran from Central City to the mining camps of Alice, Fall River and then on to Georgetown in the heyday of the Colorado gold rush. Along it’s way, the stagecoach passed over a high windswept knob at roughly 11,500 ft. elevation. Covered by only a handful of scrubby, wind blown pines, low patchy grasses, lichens, and surprisingly in the summer months, a dizzying array of beautiful and fragrant wildflowers of all shapes, colors and sizes, lay “Yankee Hill”.

Wild flowers of all shapes, sizes and colors at Yankee Hill

Wild flowers of all shapes, sizes and colors at Yankee Hill

Rumor has it Yankee Hill was named after Union sympathizers that poked around at the ground looking for gold and other precious metals on the hill during the Civil War. Soon, a settlement or more likely a small camp sprang up on the slope and declared itself  the town of “Yankee Hill”.  Very little is known about the earliest days of Yankee Hill, although it is clear that people were there looking for gold as early as 1860. The Russell Brothers of Central City fame had even constructed a canal across Yankee Hill bringing water from Fall River to Russell Gulch by the early 1860’s- a truly amazing feat if you have ever seen the hellish landscape between Yankee Hill and Russell Gulch.

One of the two remaining cabins at Yankee Hill

One of the two remaining cabins at Yankee Hill

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Square nails in the cabin wall

Square nails in the cabin wall

As time passed Yankee Hill scratched out a name for itself an important stagecoach supply and rest stop on the road to and from Georgetown and Central City.  A hardy bunch managed to bust through the crust of the hill and locate a few paying veins of gold, silver, copper and iron ores.  Prospect holes, or “coyote holes” dotted the hill, and many are still visible today along with some of the larger, more profitable workings.

Steel button from a miner's coat

Steel button from a miner’s coat

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Root cellar

Root cellar

One of the two remaining cabins at Yankee Hill

One of the two remaining cabins at Yankee Hill

Bed frame

Bed frame

Nature takes her course

Nature takes her course

Room with a view

Room with a view

The citizens of Yankee Hill, whipped by endless winds, vicious electrical storms, blizzards and every other imaginable alpine hardship some how hung on to their precarious post on top of the world, and made it work.  The people lived in any imaginable type of shelter- tents, huts compiled of the low scrubby pines on the hill,  sturdy log cabins, dressed lumber houses, rock huts, even caves and dugouts composed of both rock and timbers.  By the 1880’s what few records exist suggest Yankee Hill had a hotel and at least one saloon, the stage stop, and a handful of other mining related businesses. In the late 1890’s a couple of mills were erected with concrete foundations in an attempt to make refining the low-grade and complex ores of Yankee Hill profitable, but, they were of little success and by 1905 the mines had all closed down and Yankee Hill was abandoned following 45 very hard years of existence.

Columbines

Columbines

Cellar full of debris

Cellar full of debris

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Part of a "false front" to an old building

Part of a “false front” to an old building

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Very little is known of the people and businesses in Yankee Hill. No photographs exist to show what it looked like in it’s prime. The few people who passed through Yankee Hill or lived there are long deceased. What little we can glimmer into the past of Yankee Hill comes from minimal and spotty records, a newspaper clipping, an old story told long ago. Yankee Hill is largely a Colorado mystery these days.

Mine "cut"

Mine “cut”

Three rock foundations showing the site of three miner's dugouts

Three rock foundations showing the site of three miner’s dugouts

Collapsed mine building

Collapsed mine building

Stumps of trees cut over 100 years ago to build the town and shore the walls of the mines

Stumps of trees cut over 100 years ago to build the town and shore the walls of the mines

But there is one interesting story surrounding Yankee Hill and it involves a legendary man that, like Yankee Hill, has been forgotten by time.  His name was Willie Kennard, a black man and former slave. Kennard was freed from slavery sometime prior to the Civil War and he joined the U.S. Army where he worked as a weapons expert for reportedly 25 years.  At the ripe old age of 42, Willie Kennard found himself in Colorado Territory looking for work. the year was 1874.

An advertisement appeared in the Rocky Mountain News seeking a town Marshall for Yankee Hill- the town’s previous Marshall having been shot dead by an outlaw, murderer and rapist by the name of Casewit who had terrorized Yankee Hill for around two years.

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Another faint reminder of the past

Another faint reminder of the past

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Kennard traveled to Yankee Hill to investigate the rumors and respond to the advertisement he had read. The townspeople were stunned at the sight of a black man arriving in Yankee Hill, and the town council was even more shocked when he informed them he had come to be Marshall.  After some tense negotiations the council agreed to give Kennard a shot at being Marshall of Yankee Hill and he sworn in to duty.

Stormy skies over one of the 1905 mill foundations

Stormy skies over one of the 1905 mill foundations

Nature reclaiming herself

Nature reclaiming herself

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Rock foundation

Rock foundation

Among Kennard’s first matters of business was to hunt down the rapist and murderer Casewit that had held Yankee Hill in a state of siege for so long. Kennard soon found Casewit playing cards in the town saloon and as Casewit went to draw for his guns Kennard pulled his twin .44 caliber Colts and fired on Casewit. The bullets from Marshall Willie Kennard’s .44’s pierced the leather of Casewits holsters and damaged his guns rendering them useless.  Casewit was placed under arrest, tried the next morning for the rape of a 15 year-old girl and the murder of her father who had come to her defense. Found guilty, Kennard ordered Casewit hung, and from a beam behind the blacksmith’s shop the villain Casewit met his end.

Chimney from long gone cabin

Chimney from long gone cabin

The slope where the town of Yankee Hill and Marshall Willie Kennard once stood

The slope where the town of Yankee Hill and Marshall Willie Kennard once stood

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As for Marshall Willie Kennard- He remained at his post in Yankee Hill until 1877 when racial tensions overlooked Kennard’s record as a fair and just lawman. Kennard was either removed from his post, or resigned to avoid conflict. Willie Kennard left Yankee Hill in 1877 and was never heard from again. No photo exists of Kennard, and no record of his burial is on record. As mysteriously as the “Black Marshall of Yankee Hill” arrived in Colorado, he disappeared into the pages of history and Wild West lore.

Today, Yankee Hill is just that- a hill.  The literal “winds” of time have toppled what few permanent structures once marked the spot.  Grasses and wild flowers and tiny pines struggling to survive dot the hillside and have swallowed up much of the remains of the town.  Here and there you’ll see very trace remnants of human habitation- a tumbledown rock foundation, an old rusty nail, a tin can, broken porcelain or a shard of glass.  But mostly, nothing. And each weekend in the summer throngs of 4X4 enthusiasts and ATV riders buzz past the site, unaware they are riding over the streets Willie Kennard once restored order to with his lightning fast .44’s over 140 years ago.

Rock foundation

Rock foundation

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I visited the site twice this week, and took photos of what little is left before it is all gone.  A made a crude map of what ruins I found and how the town may have been laid out so long ago.  I even found one lonely grave high on the windswept slope of Yankee Hill marked “RF”.  It is hard to imagine people lived and died and gun battles were fought on this isolated, rocky stage so many years ago.

Satellite view with location of structures still visible (barely) at site of Yankee Hill

Satellite view with location of structures still visible (barely) at site of Yankee Hill

The lonely grave on Yankee Hill

The lonely grave on Yankee Hill

Yankee Hill will soon fade into obscurity, these are some of the last photos that will record the site before it is totally reclaimed by time and earth. Today, the only residents of Yankee Hill are a few marmots that peer at you curiously from their rocky thrones high above the valleys below, and colony of chipmunks and ground squirrels that have turned the hollowed out stumps of trees cut down over 100 years ago into a metropolis of their own.  We are often told and taught that once a man cuts down a tree or digs a hole, or clears a patch of land for a building or a roadway, that that damage can never be overturned- Man’s destruction is final and nature can not recover.  Yankee Hill is living proof that nature is resilient and vibrant and strong, and can and will recover from our abuses if given the chance.  Yankee Hill began as a mystery, lived as a mystery, and soon when she is reclaimed by nature, she will die a mystery.

Chipmunk in his Alpine Skyscraper

Chipmunk in his Alpine Skyscraper

A curious marmot investigates what I'm doing

A curious marmot investigates what I’m doing

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Rock and log cabin remnants

Rock and log cabin remnants

 

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