Bring back some good or bad memories


June 24, 2022

Stage Entering Red Mountain Town, Ouray County, Colorado, ca. 1885

This photograph of what appears to be an open-topped stage descending into Red Mountain was taken by legendary Western photographer William Henry Jackson (1843–1942) around 1885.

At 11,300 feet above sea level, built in terrain that could be rocky and rugged, marshy and muddy, frozen and buried in twenty-foot-deep snows, Red Mountain Town was never destined to become a long-lived town –– although to judge by some of the architecture of its later buildings, there were certainly people who wished otherwise.

In the late 1870s, miners began establishing camps in the Red Mountain District between Ouray and Silverton on both the north and south sides of Red Mountain Pass. Many of the camps were as ephemeral as the will-o-wisp, but after John Robinson discovered the Yankee Girl Mine in the district in 1882, a boom was spurred, and towns and camps seemed to sprout like mushrooms after a heavy rain. These included Sweetville; Red Mountain City, which was later renamed Congress; Rogerville, also known as Rogersville; Albany; Hudson, later called Barilla; Park City; Chattanooga; Guston; Ironton; and Red Mountain. By 1883, there were nearly forty producing silver mines in the Red Mountain District –– an area of less than eight square miles.

Red Mountain began life in the spring of 1879 as Sky City. It was soon moved when the summer thaw revealed that the town had been built in swampy soil. It was renamed Red Mountain Town after the move, and, after Red Mountain City’s name was changed to Congress by the Post Office, Red Mountain Town became known simply as Red Mountain. Mines around Red Mountain, most notably the National Belle, employed hundreds of miners, and the town was home to around a thousand people at its peak. The Red Mountain District altogether is thought to have a population of around 10,000.

By 1890, the population had declined to 598, but the town still maintained a telephone office, post office, a jail, two newspapers, numerous saloons, and a schoolhouse for the miners’ children. A great fire in August 1892 burned all of the (by then rather lovely) buildings on Main Street. Only the rail depot and the jail survived. The people largely rebuilt. But the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act and the Panic of 1893 nearly ended the Red Mountain and the entire Red Mountain District. Many mines closed, including Red Mountain Town’s all-important National Belle Mine.

Then another fire swept through in 1895. Only forty people still lived in town the following year. The nearby Guston Mine closed in 1897, reducing employment opportunities to almost nothing. Then railroad pulled out. By 1899, there were only twelve people living in Red Mountain Town.

The mines were consolidated and started up again in 1901, but they never really became profitable again. Yet the Red Mountain District remains the second greatest silver district (behind Leadville) in Colorado history.


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