Sunday, October 24, 2021

Route of the Silver KIngs

The Evansville Mine #1

Evansville with a slag heap and Prospect Mountain in the distance.

With my interest piqued by my first visit to Leadville in August I returned last week to partake of the mining museum and to add to my portfolio of photographs of Leadville’s abandoned mines. In Leadville’s heyday from 1879 to 1893 there were 2,800 patented claims, 1,600 prospects and 1,300 shafts. It was, in short, a big deal. The boom had a short but epic life and the opera ended with a whimper when the US Treasury stopped buying prodigious amounts of silver to back up its Silver Certificates. Then the value of silver didn’t support the high cost of extracting the mineral. The silver’s still there, pilgrim. You just can’t afford to extract it. The singing may have stopped in 1893 but the last diehard kept at it till 1999.

The remains of the Berndell and Witherall Smelter. Mount Massive looms to the west.

In 1879 there were 17 smelters. None stand today but the immense slag heap created by the Berndell and Witherall La Plata smelter testifies to the breadth and depth of a decade of pillage and plunder.

Hopemore Mine and Mount Evans.

Upper Oro Mine on Breece Hill.

Upper Oro and Blue Sky.

As I drove the Route of the Silver Kings I tried to identify and photographs the mines I missed in August. Given Leadville’s storied past I had expected to find the definitive map of the mines. Instead, thanks to a docent at the mining museum, I was armed with a suspect hand drawn sheet which was definitely not to scale. Couple that with the fact that almost none of the mines had signs. So, I’ve identified the mines with a high degree of uncertainty. Sometimes nailed it. Other time it’s a wild ass guess.

I am please to report that for the first time ever I have three subjects for my Telling Stories byline in Shadow and Light magazine. Last week I wrote about the lowly corral. And I have a story percolating about Mary Colter, the iconic architect of the Southwest and boom and bust Leadville is also a contender.

It's an embarrassment of riches. I guess I'll know which one wins the sweepstakes when I know it. I have a week to figure it out.


Blacks Crossing said...

It is no surprise that your work is being featured prominently in Shadow and Light Magazine. Congratulations on that. The story of Leadville and so many towns that came and went with the respective metals mined there are fascinating. I love the color (selective?) - Upper Pro and Blue Sky, as well as the Hopemore Mine and Mount Evans in the background. Evansville with a slag heap and Prospect Mountain has interesting motion to it. A great series and you are certainly worthy of the feature in Shadow and Light.

Steve Immel said...

Thanks Daryl. It’s still a horse race between Leadville, Mary Colter, the reason for my journey to Mesa Verde and Hovenweep, and corrals.