miners lamp heading lamp
In 1875, prospectors slipped over the rocky shoulders of the San Juan Mountains from Silverton in an unending search for pay dirt, staking placer claims in the pristine valley of the upper San Miguel River. On August 23, 1875, brothers Lon and Bill Remine, and a group of eight other men located and recorded the first placer claim in the area. Others weren't satisfied with nuggets and flakes. They dreamed big dreams of mother lodes and great strikes. They scratched and clawed into the rock of the surrounding basins, and later that year John Fallon sparked the dreams of hundreds with his discovery of the Sheridan group, recorded October 7, 1875. The "Eureka!" cry cut loose, reverberating east and west, and mining gave birth to Telluride.

Colorado was still a territory in 1875, a year of expectation and hope, of unrest and discovery. Ulysses S. Grant was in his second term as president. The South still stumbled beneath the reconstruction policies of the "Radical Republicans," while Mark Twain published his hugely popular, "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer." In the rest of the world, uprisings against Turkish rule in Bosnia and Herzegovina were met with promises of reform from the sultan, while Russia's military might swelled to 3,360,000 men. Great Britain built up her army to 113,000 and sent the Prince of Wales to visit India. P. E. Lecoq discovered gallium, a new element, and the beloved Hans Christian Andersen died. Yet in the remote regions of the upper valley of the San Miguel River, only the great mineral strikes held importance.

Telluride never suffered the extreme fluctuations of prosperity and population of a typical boom camp. Development of mineral veins brought investors, but because Telluride was predominantly a silver camp with lower grade ores, there was no great influx of prospectors. The silver claims of Fallon and others that eventually were consolidated as the Smuggler-Union were slowly but steadily developed. The town established in 1878 as "Columbia" soon changed to "Telluride," and the general assortment of banks, churches, saloons, outfitters, newspapers, and hotels sprung out of the mud. The railroad arrived in 1890, allowing for a quiet increase of activity in the decade of the 1890s, yet not in the frenzied beehive manner of Cripple Creek or other gold camps.


The important mines gave Telluride her breath, filled up her soul, and kept her heart beating. Without the hundreds of miners employed by the Smuggler-Union, Sheridan, Liberty Bell, Tomboy, Alta, Gold King, Hidden Treasure, Japan, Argentine, and the rest, the town would have sunk back into the dirt, for the place was isolated, remote, lonely, and harsh.

"Transcendent peaks separated Telluride from the rest of the world. She was a boisterous town, loud with the booming vigor of 1,300 miners, intoxicating in the noise of saloons, gambling dens, and hurdy-gurdy dance halls whose energy splashed into the streets late in the night. The atmosphere vibrated with the braying of hundreds of mules and the music of scores of accents. The flags of Finland, Sweden, Tyrol, Italy, Ireland, England, and elsewhere painted the sky in the ethnic quarters of town. Opera houses, churches, and fraternal organizations goaded the wild edges toward civilization, but men and women flowed in and out of the camp like a steady surging tide. They came for riches or anonymity, burrowing deep inside the majestic peaks, disappearing deep inside the distance of a place on the edge of nowhere…"
[From the book, The Corpse on Boomerang Road: Telluride's War on Labor 1899-1908, Western Reflections Publishing

Telluride remained a mining town until the mines finally played out only a few years ago. She changed her face to a resort town, a festival town, a shining creature embraced by art and poetry and music all year long. Yet the miners gave birth to her, and now that their voices are silenced and the great mines are closed, it is our desire to create a memorial to the men who worked here within the belly of the earth. It is important that their song of the pick and hammer is never erased from the heritage of Telluride, that their work and sacrifice for just wages, safe working conditions, an end to child labor, and the establishment of an eight-hour day is never forgotten. It is especially important that those who died while working in the mines, those who gave up their lives trying to save others in mine disasters, and those who were instrumental in saving hundreds through their own selfless work are held up as the heart of what made Telluride what she is today.

Copyright by TMM 2005 [No part of this material may be used without permission of TMM]

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