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Prospecting at the End of a Rope

(Editor’s note: Richard Perske is the author of  “Boom Town to Ghost Town: The Story of Fulford.” Since the book was published in 2015, Perske continues to dig deeper into the history of this Eagle County mining camp at the base of New York Mountain.)

 

Prospecting at the End of a Rope

By Richard Perske

Arthur Fulford, the daredevil prospector. (Courtesy ECHS and EVLD)

Art Fulford read the Leadville Herald Democrat of January 1, 1886 with a great deal of pride and personal satisfaction. The article titled “EAGLE’S CAPITAL” and described in great detail the town of Red Cliff, the county seat of Eagle County. The article cited several of Fulford’s recent achievements and gold mining successes. Nearby Battle Mountain was finally booming again and largely because of him. Art could well remember his earlier and less prosperous times in Colorado. Red Cliff had a pretty humble beginning as well.

 

Red Cliff had been established in 1879 and at that time was a remote silver mining camp in Summit County, accessed by trails and a very bad wagon road to Leadville. Red Cliff had its ups and downs as the silver mines on Battle Mountain were first discovered and the area boomed, then slumped. Early on, mine speculators and bad luck damaged the reputation of the town. However, everyone had faith in the mineral treasure in the Battle Mountain mines. Even that faith would soon be sorely tested.

The nearby Holy Cross Mining District had initially showed great promise as a gold producer. Numerous veins showing free gold had very good initial assay results. Speculators quickly sold their claims to large companies who made major mine investments, only to discover that the gold content diminished significantly a few feet below the surface. Eons of natural weathering and erosion had concentrated the gold mainly near the surface. The mining companies soon went bankrupt and pulled out, contributing to a general slump in Red Cliff mining investments.

Red Cliff had become noticeably cash-poor by late 1881 and the merchants were forced to extend credit to many customers. Mining was very risky business and the local smelter operation was a large part of the problem. The Battle Mountain Smelter Company in Red Cliff refined the silver ore output from the mines and was in dire financial difficulty. The smelter closed in March 1882, owing its workers four months unpaid back wages. The workers, merchants, and suppliers were owed nearly $40,000 and were very angry.  The smelter’s financial  manager F.C. Garbutt, unable to satisfy their demands for payment, wisely secured a horse and left town just ahead of a growing mob. That night the mob paraded on Eagle Street and lit a large bonfire to burn Mr. Garbutt in effigy. This was only the first blow to the town’s economy.  The Belden mine, the area’s best producer, was also forced to close and a dispute among the Denver owners put the mine in an extended period of receivership. Many Red Cliff men were idled and out of work in 1882. The economic slump would last at least 12 months.

On the night of September 22, 1882 nearly half of Red Cliff burned to the ground as the result of a disastrous fire that started at the Southern hotel, saloon, and dance hall located in the Strand building on Water Street.

This turn-of-the century photo shows a bustling Red Cliff business district. The Quartzite Hotel is on the right side, middle of the photo. (Courtesy ECHS and EVLD)

Red Cliff  managed to slowly rebound from these early misfortunes. The State Legislature established Eagle County in late 1883 and Red Cliff, the only town, became the county seat. By then the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad had finally reached Red Cliff providing essential ore freight, scheduled passenger coaches, and telegraph service to Leadville and the world beyond. The Battle Mountain lead and silver ore was now being shipped by rail to Leadville smelters. However, it was the efforts of a “daredevil prospector” named A.H. Fulford who found gold in the quartzite cliffs of Battle Mountain in 1884 that finally put the town back on its feet.

On October 12, 1884 Art and two partners discovered and located the Ben Butler mine high on a remote unclaimed cliff section of Battle Mountain. Bob Haney and Will Travers lowered Art on a rope to investigate the high cliff crevices and openings in the quartzite formation. He found a fissure vein that yielded high grade free-milling gold ore. Art sacked the ore and they hauled it up the cliff by rope. Art soon became known as “the daredevil prospector”. By December they were shipping the first gold ore produced from the Battle Mountain quartzite contact and a new gold rush was on. The Ben Butler quickly developed into a big gold producer and the partners were getting rich. In 1885 Art used some of his proceeds to buy interests in other nearby quartzite mines including the Gold Wedge, Golden Wonder, and Percy Chester. He also took on several local partners to help finance the costs of mine development. All of these mines became very good gold producers and Art was soon supervising 45 men developing the remarkable Percy Chester mine.

This 1898 postcard shows the D&RG Railroad narrow gauge track in Eagle River canyon. The Ben Butler mine is visible among the sharp-pointed rocks in the upper right corner. (Courtesy ECHS and EVLD)

In the two years prior to Art’s discovery the annual production of the Battle Mountain mines in both silver and gold was about $500,000. In 1885 gold production had doubled and in 1886 gold production alone would reach $420,000. Total ore production for 1886 would exceed $1,000,000. The economic impact of Art’s Ben Butler gold discovery on the town of Red Cliff and Battle Mountain mine production was huge. The cliffside quartzite gold formation was no longer being ignored. Red Cliff even had a new hotel named “The Quartzite.”

 

The discovery of rich gold ore in the Ben Butler quartzite spurred the development of other nearby claims that had not previously been worked. Renewed exploration of the quartzite fissure veins had quickly doubled the value of gold output on Battle Mountain, entirely due to Art’s amazing discovery. The nearly inaccessible claims in the quartzite cliffs formed a narrow band just below several well-established silver mines, the Eagle Bird, the R.L.R., and the Belden.  Art and his brother Mont took a lease on the nearby Ground Hog mine and made a considerable gold strike there as well.

Art supervised the construction and development of the Percy Chester mine and employed 45 miners. They constructed a 750 cable tram to deliver ore to the D&RG tracks below. When the miners encountered a large, flooded cave with promising ore, it was pumped and drained and the valuable heavy, wet ore delivered to a trackside building and dryer that Art devised. The mine machinery, ore trams, and pumps were run by steam engines.

In the spring of 1886, the camp was finally prosperous and booming again largely due to Art Fulford’s gold discovery in the quartzite. People were optimistic and many were sharing in the riches of Battle Mountain.

This drawing of Battle Mountain mining claims appeared in the Leadville Herald Democrat newspaper on June 1, 1890. The Ben Butler claim is on the right. (From the Colorado Historic Newspapers website)

(Want to learn more about Eagle County’s early mining days? Rich Perske’s “Boom Town to Ghost Town: The Story of Fulford” book may be purchased from the Eagle County Historical website, or at several retail outlets in the Eagle Valley.)

Who was Hume White…and why did he need an opera hat?

Sometimes local history arrives unexpectedly. In the case of Hume Stanley White, it was the donation of a collapsible opera hat that first piqued the Eagle County Historical Society’s interest in this Eagle County pioneer. When collapsed, the hat, which has an internal spring system, looks like a flattened black silk pancake. Pop it up, and it’s a shiny top hat, suitable for a society event. Couple that hat with a box full of yellowed papers that came from Hume White’s roll top desk, add in the research time made available courtesy of the spring of 2020 corona virus epidemic, and this pioneer story comes into focus.

George White [Courtesy of ECHS and EVLD]

  Hume Stanley White (the middle name comes from a prominent mining family in Idaho Springs), born in 1882, was the youngest son of George G. and Sarah Morton White. The Whites were adventurous pioneers. Originally from Kentucky, George served in the Confederate Army, that including a six-week stay in a Union prison. After the war, he pursued higher education with the goal of becoming a lawyer. He established both a large farm and a law practice in Missouri and married Sarah Anne Morton in 1867.

Sarah Anne Morton White [courtesy of ECHS and EVLD]

  Intrigued by tales of the mining  boom out west, the young couple and their children left their comfortable brick home in Missouri and headed to Colorado.

George quickly established a successful legal practice. In 1876, he helped write the Colorado Constitution. Eventually, his adventurous nature drew the White family to the bustling Leadville mining camp, where he served as a judge. In 1891, the Whites went exploring down the Eagle River, and found the country along Brush Creek (south of Eagle) promising enough to prompt them to file several homestead claims. Those homesteads encompassed 480 acres including what is now the heart of the Eagle Ranch subdivision, and rural properties farther up the creek.

Barn on Sarah White Ranch [courtesy of ECHS and EVLD]

  Hume was the youngest of the four White children. Born in 1882, he likely never really knew his father, who died unexpectedly in Leadville in 1884, at the age of 38.

The widow Sarah proved her strength and independence by establishing a cattle ranch on the Brush Creek property, where she raised her children. Determined to provide her children with a high quality education, Sarah’s success at the ranch, along with the money left by her husband, enabled her to send her children to boarding schools. The boys, Ben and Hume, completed their elementary education at Notre Dame. Hume spent his higher education years at William Jewel Academy College in Missouri, completing college in 1905, the same year that his mother died after a several-month illness.

Sarah White and Family [courtesy of ECHS and EVLD]

  The White brothers took over their mother’s ranching operation. Ben was particularly prominent in Eagle County’s agricultural industry. Hume was drawn to Denver, where for several years he worked as a newspaper reporter, including a stint at the Denver Republican working alongside the famous writer, Damon Runyon. Hume was not destined for a newspaper career. After he was “fired for his own good,” as he later recalled, he obtained a law degree from the University of Denver in 1911.

Hume began his law practice in Denver, working in the office of his father’s former law partner. In 1913, Hume married Genevieve Fisher Chilson. Several perfectly preserved engraved wedding announcements were among the papers in Hume’s rolltop desk.

From 1916 until 1920, he worked as a Deputy District Attorney, prosecuting criminals in the City and County of Denver.

But he always had strong ties to Eagle County, where he enjoyed the ranching, the hunting and fishing. When silver was discovered at Horse Mountain on Brush Creek in 1913, Hume was one of the investors in silver mines.

Hume White House, Eagle [Courtesy ECHS and EVLD]

  In 1920, Hume, Genevieve and their son George G. White II moved to Eagle to be nearer the ranch operation (Hume leased out his portion of the ranch.) He established a law practice in Eagle, and quickly became drawn into the county seat fight that had roiled Red Cliff and Eagle for nearly 20 years and through numerous court battles. The White brothers were prominent players in the fight. In 1920, Ben chaired the committee fighting to move the county seat down valley; and Hume was both a committee member and legal advisor. The papers from his desk include a flyer detailing a dozen arguments promoting Eagle as the better location for the county seat. Eagle finally won that battle in 1921.

Like his father, Hume was a skillful lawyer. The family memoirs claim he never lost a case. He was also a politically savvy Democrat. He represented Eagle County in the State Legislature from 1922-1924, a job that probably required the occasional use of a formal opera hat. His work included stints as the Eagle town attorney, Eagle County attorney, and a term as a District Court judge.

Hume was the vice-president of the First National Bank of Eagle County. He served on the Colorado River Water Conservation Board for 23 years, including the time during the late 1940s and early 1950s when the controversial Fryingpan-Arkansas water diversion project (resulting eventually in the construction of Ruedi  Reservoir) was taking shape. Hume White was well known in Democratic Party circles throughout the state; and in 1936 was a delegate to the National Democratic Convention.

Hume Stanley White [courtesy ECHS and EVLD]

Throughout his life, he was an approachable, integral part of the Eagle County community. In addition to his high-profile legal work, local newspaper columns report White’s adventures ranging from making a local splash by driving a large Thomas Flyer touring car into town in 1920 to his adventures fishing at Deep Creek, exploring Fulford Cave, and moving cattle to market throughout the decades. Hume was apparently a good sport. In 1945, he was one of numerous Eagle County competitors participating in a men-only “War Loan Beauty Contest,” a fund-raising event where people voted by making donations in the name of specific contestants. The newspaper suggested that Hume was attempting to capture votes by asking the local beauty shop to design a new hairdo for him. At that time, Hume White was quite bald.

Genevieve White died in 1951. Hume White retired from his law practice but remained prominent in county affairs. He died 1968. The opera hat and the desk drawer of papers are small artifacts of the accomplishments of a man who played a big role in Eagle County.

[courtesy of ECHS and EVLD]

Complied by Kathy Heicher

Eagle County Historical Society

April 25, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eagle County Pioneer Talk: Sarah Doherty September 21

Saturday, September 21, 2019, 2 pm

Eagle County Pioneer Sarah Doherty

First Christian Church, 1326 N. 1st Street, Grand Junction, CO.

Sarah Doherty was a frightened Irish immigrant when she first arrived at the Red Cliff train depot in 1883. An independent, unmarried woman, Sarah eventually homesteaded at Dotsero where she became known as the “Cattle Queen of the Badlands.” Hear her story at a special presentation by local historian Kathy Heicher for the Territorial Daughters of Colorado, Western Chapter. Free.

 

Happy Holidays!

The Santa of Christmas Past …

Santa Claus stopped in Red Cliff, Colorado on Christmas Eve, 1935, delivering bags of fruit, nuts and candy to each child, and promising to return later that night. The American Legion and Auxiliary, Battle Mountain Post No. 47 hosted Santa’s visit. He stopped at Clooney’s Store to greet the locals, and posed for a photo with his hosts.

The Eagle County Historical Society wishes you a Merry Christmas and hopes that Santa stops by your house, too!

Colorado Gives Day — December 4, 2018

Give where you live: Support the Eagle County Historical Society on Dec. 4

  It takes more than beautiful scenery and great skiing to build a healthy community. The Eagle County Historical Society is among dozens of non-profit organizations in Eagle County that work hard every day providing quality-of-life services for locals and visitors. Programs include educational and health services, housing assistance and cultural enrichment.

   Eagle County Gives, a coalition of 50 local and worthy non-profits, will once again participate in Colorado Gives Day on Tuesday, Dec. 4. This annual event simplifies philanthropic giving by providing a convenient on-line option for supporting local non-profits with a single website visit.

  Last year, the one-day event raised nearly $1 million for local organizations. Donors have the option of making contributions on the official Gives day, or scheduling donations in advance.

  Watch for posters, news articles, and sign -waiving volunteers in the roundabouts.  Take this opportunity to support your local community. Present and future generations will thank you.

  More information at eaglecogives.org.