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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Red Mountain Town: A Retrospective On Mining Life In 1879

On a Red Mountain Town Chamber of Commerce day, Aspen, the wonder snow-dog, Bobbie, Aspen's "mom," Tamara, and Your's Truly, snowshoed through what's left of Red Mountain Town and its tumbled down mine-shacks. Most of the buildings are losing the battle to remain upright to Father Time and the burdens of Old Man Winter, as they slowly take them to their grave board by board. 

Here is a historical account of Red Mountain Town written by Mark L. Evans that I think you will find interesting. As you read it, try to put yourself in that late 1800's time period... living 11,000 feet above sea level, without modern conveniences and machinery to deal with the one hundred feet of snow that fell every winter. 

(Editor: Note the landmark rock formation in the above photo from 1891 and the same in my photo below. That's all that's left of Red Mountain Town proper today.)

Red Mountain Town 
There was also a lot of "town site promotion" occurring at that time. Many (newspaper) editors, in an effort to promote their town, exaggerated the facts a little. This was done to impress the surrounding towns, and to attract new business. The motive was essentially a sense of loyalty to ones hometown...

Red Mountain Town was first settled in 1879, when silver deposits were found nearby. First called Sky City, the town was moved from its original location a few hundred yards to the site of Rodgersville in 1886. The reasons for the move were several. Rodgersville was closer to the National Belle Mine, and Otto Mears' toll road. I think the real reason was a simpler one. The first construction began in Red Mountain Town during the dead of winter. When spring finally made its appearance, the town's residents found they had built in a very swampy area.

Some authors would have you believe that Red Mountain Town was originally called Congress. Congress (Red Mountain Town) was actually a different town that was located 5/10s of a mile south of the top of Red Mountain Pass along present day Hwy 550. The Congress Mine was located 3/4 mile east of Red Mountain Pass. Although a number of buildings were in the area, including a large boarding house, it was never considered a city or town. 

Much of the confusion concerning the two Red Mountain settlements was exacerbated by the way that early newspaper accounts referred to the towns. Editors made references in their articles to "Red Mountain" leaving off the "Town" or "City" in the stories. I will concentrate on Red Mountain Town on this page and leave the history of Red Mountain City to a separate page.

Regardless of the above confusion over town names and locations, almost everyone in Congress and Red Mountain City ended up in Red Mountain Town. The reason was simple. Congress and Red Mountain City were both located on the wrong side of Red Mountain Pass. The lion's shares of the mineral resources were located on the Ouray side of the pass in the Red Mountain Mining District. There is one popular account that would have us believe all of the citizens of Congress moved to Red Mountain Town because a popular local establishment moved. When the Slover and Wright Saloon moved to Red Mountain Town, it is said the inhabitants naturally moved with it to be close to their tower of strength. 

In 1883, the rivalry between the Red Mountain Town and Red Mountain City was at its peak. The topic of the two Red Mountain settlements was discussed on every street corner, and in every saloon. As stated above, Red Mountain City was in San Juan County on the south side of Red Mountain Pass, whereas Red Mountain Town could be found in Ouray County on the north side. 

During this period, the editors of the two respective camp's newspapers exchanged jabs almost weekly. Red Mountain City, on the south side of the county line, came out the loser in the battle. The U.S. Postal Service was to be the final judge in the disagreement. When the name of Congress was assigned to Red Mountain City, all was said and done. Others suggest this name was given because one of the main streets in Red Mountain City was called Congress St. Whatever the reason, the change of names did not please the residents of Red Mountain City. The editor of the Red Mountain City newspaper responded with the following:

CONGRESS is our Post Office
CONGRESS is our address
Arrivals are increasing every day
The snow is disappearing rapidly
CONGRESS, San Juan County, Colorado!
We have a daily mail -- Tom Williams carries it.
Another week will see a thousand more men in the district.
Half of the population of Hudson Town (Red Mt. Town)
is sporting women and their pimps.
A good span of mules cannot pull an empty wagon over the range
from Silverton to Hudson Town (Red mt. Town)
by the proposed Cement Creek route."

In the above quotation, you will notice the editor referred to Red Mountain Town as Hudson Town. This was the case whenever he mentioned it. This is probably due to Red Mountain Towns proximity to the Hudson Mine. It seems in an effort to be sarcastic, the editor gave the name of the nearest mine to the rival town just as the postal service had Red Mountain City. In a follow up to the above he wrote: "A large number of our exchanges continue to address us at Red Mountain City and are carried to Red Mountain Town and frequently lay there a week before the thickheaded postmaster sends them back... All our exchanges will please change their addresses to "Congress, San Juan County" and thus avoid delays."

In the end, the spoils of this war of words went to Red Mountain Town. By 1887, only a hand full of people still lived in Congress and Red Mountain City was a distant memory. One source suggests that the only reason Congress or Red Mountain City ever existed was the greed of the merchants in Silverton. This would suggest that they wanted to get the trade of the miners in the Red Mountain District. Unfortunately for Congress and Red Mountain City, Red Mountain Town was much more conveniently located near the miners of the district.

By 1890, Red Mountain Town had a population of 598 with its own telephone office, two newspapers, schoolhouse, post office, and many saloons. They had three newspapers available, and a new escape proof jail. The jail was built on bedrock, and did not have windows. I am sure one night in this jail would sober up even the most sturdy of miners after a night of entertainment gone wrong. The walls of the old jail are still standing today. This seems to confirm the stout construction of the little building.

Part II and more photos upcoming...


  1. Mark, always in your shorts, eh? Love the photos. Gorgeous! Almost (but not quite) want to do the snowshoe. -Two not so wise ones.

  2. I've always wanted to try snowshoeing. It looks so quiet and peaceful and empty. Do you see other people out snowshoeing very often?

    You have taken some very beautiful photos.

  3. Would it have been more adventurous being born in 1852? Have you ever wondered
    what it would be like if you lived in the U.S. 100 years earlier? In my case, I would have been born 1852 and gladly missed being in the Civil War because I was to young. At age 20, I could jump on a train and in 1872 homesteaded Kansas and interacted with Indians and Cowboys.

    By 1888, I would be that 36 old guy sitting on the mule in the Red Mountain town photo. My wife and 7 kids (2 died of illness) live in a small house that me and my neighbor constructed. I count the silver bars coming out of the mines, which sure beats plowing the dirt in Kansas. After I make my fortune, I think I'll head to a quiet town in California.

    It's now 1913, and how time flies. I didn't make my fortune in silver on Red Mountain, but had enough money to move and open a tool shop in Los Angeles making wheel hubs for carriages and automobiles. These automobiles: Buick,Oldsmobile and Cadillacs are the coolest thing to hit California. Horses are out of favor with their constant feeding and these automobiles have quite the speed and range. We just need more roads to go places. My youngest son joined
    the army because of the talk of war in Europe.

    So much has changed since I was born in 1852: trains, electricity, telegraph,
    automobiles, sewer systems, airplanes and now bigger weapons. I worry for my
    son, that they can drop bombs from an airplane to kill him. How big can the
    bombs get?
    I expect to live until 1940, I wish the government would come up with some kind
    of monthly check to help when I retire or better yet pay my expensive doctor
    bills. There is talk in Washington of a federal income tax, what is that all
    John Q

  4. Ah, please send us some snow (don't tell Chris I wrote that). Actually we'd all like the extra moisture. It's been another warm dry winter which brings back too many memories of last year's drought. We've enjoyed the beautiful snow journeys that you have been sharing though and thanks for the interesting history lesson!!

  5. The pictures through the doorways with the sunlight are just beautiful. What a great place to go hiking.

  6. Awesome pictures and a very interesting history of the area. Thanks for taking us along.

  7. Wise Guys,
    Shorts have been replaced with long pants now... minus 10 in the old Crevice. Burrr. I want to take you on a snowshoe!!! It doesn't matter what the temp is if you are moving/hiking. You'll be warm enough, maybe too warm. See ya soon.

    Travel Bug,
    We try to go where "other people" are not... so no, we don't see a soul some days. Ergo the "peaceful." Thanks! T. B..

    John Q,
    Ah, I see the photos prompted you to wax poetic. You really did what I asked readers to do... imagined yourself in those days. Thanks for sharing your dream with us.

    Chris and Mindy,
    It is a winter of extremes... too cold here and vice versa there. Thanks for going to Red Mountain Town in the wintertime... I know you guys have been there in the summertime.

    I enjoy taking photos through a series of windows or doorways... to me it's symbolic of Life's Journey. thanks

    Geo and Suz,
    Thanks guys... enjoy your above normal temps :))


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