Highlands Ranch High School - Mr. Sedivy
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By David "Young Buck" Sedivy
Gilliland, Mary Ellen, Summit (Alpenrose Press, Silverthorne, Colorado,1980)
Mary Ellen Gillilandís, Summit, is a historical account of present day Summit County
during itís mineral rush days. The author covers the "rush days" extensively
but begins her account literally over 70 million years ago, with the creation of
Coloradoís 240 mile mineral belt, and a geographic description of Summit County boundaries
and features. The combined actions of volcanoes, earthquakes and glaciers are described.
From the first Spanish explorers with Coronadoís 1541 expedition to famous beaver
trappers and mountain men, the reader is given an overview of the first white men
in the region and follows with a chapter devoted to the areas first inhabitants,
the Ute Indians. After explaining the gold rush of 1859, the mining history of the
Gilliland sights many other authors throughout the book with excerpts from their
writings describing various events and people. She starts by describing the major
towns, as they were, in Summit County; such as Breckenridge, Dillon, Frisco, and
Montezuma. The descriptions contain subjects like, how the town came to be, the number
of saloons, the daily hardships endured, and the colorful personalities that called
theses places home.
Once you have the general history of these locations, the book becomes very detailed
on mining. A "mining tour" is given on each specific district with directions
on how to get to the sights of old. Famous and not so famous, mines are described
in detail with stories about their history enhanced with excerpts from old newspaper
articles, letters and books. Information is given on the types of mining that was
done, the minerals that were being mined, as well as,the booms and the busts that
they all endured.
Those busts lead to the next section which is devoted to Summit ghost camps. The
reader is given a less detailed description of the many mining towns that disappeared
after the silver crash of 1893 or were devastated by avalanches or fires. Many of
the mining camps in Summit County experienced the boom-bust cycle so quickly that
little to no information on their brief existence remains.
The transportation question is then addressed. Gilliland describes the use of ox-drawn
freight wagons, stage coaches, mule trains and the like. The passes that were crossed
and the roads going over them. The toll roads did a brisk business before the arrival
of the train at Breckenridge in 1882. Railroad access changed the way of life in
Summit County and Gilliland takes the reader through the laying of the sometimes
dangerous, narrow gauge tracks to the rivalry between the Denver & Rio Grande
and the Denver, South Park and Pacific railroads. The railroad section has many classic
pictures of the trains and accidents usually resulting from bad weather conditions.
The reader is taken on a imaginary train ride boarding in Frisco and eventually crossing
over the summit of Boreas Pass. April 10, 1937,"... a sentimental crew of old-timers
manned Summitís last railroad train." (Gilliland,226)
Having lived in Summit County for several years, I found this book intriguing. This
book has enabled me to appreciate the area in much broader fashion because many of
the locations I had enjoyed while I was there now have names to go with the faces.
Gilliland wrote the book in a very easy to read manner though her tendency to repeat
herself became aggravating at times. However, I realize the book was written as a
guide to be referenced quickly by section and the repetition was necessary to give
a compete description about the specific area.
In the beginning of the book Gilliland refers to Fall Leaf and how he enticed the
Lawrence party with, "a pouch of placer nuggets."I prefer a goose quill
with gold dust. The personal accounts and photos located through out the book enhance
the enjoyment while reading. It is amazing to see how large many of the mining operations
and towns were; now little or nothing remains of them.
In the chapter on the initial history of Breckenridge, the author recounts the story
of Barney Ford and supports the version not accepted by my mentor. She does however,
show that there is some justice in the world when in 1964, the Board of Geographic
Names officially changed Niger Hills name to Barney Ford Hill.
Summitís first boom came as a result of placer mining but those claims quickly panned
out after 1863. It seems as though every placer mining area in Colorado claims the
most gold came from their area; this area is no different! In my opinion the silver
rush days, lode mining, and other enterprising methods of removing minerals made
this book interesting. Summit miners began using hydraulic mining- turning high-pressure
hoses against the hillsides to flush out gold bearing dirt into giant sluices. Many
bald sections on mountains that I thought were avalanche chutes, I now know are the
results of hydraulic mining. The section on gold dredges that were used from the
early 1900ís to 1942 is truly fascinating to me. Little did I know that the Blue
River, which I fish frequently, was once chewed up by huge barges churning up gravel
as deep as 85 feet. Wow! This will give me more to think about when the trout are
not biting. Gilliland tells of the remains of the Reliance; a gold dredge beached
in a meadow. I hope to visit this sight this summer.
So much of the silver rush history of Colorado is focused on Leadville and it was
interesting to read about some of the other towns that prospered during the silver
days. Having spent many days hiking around Montezuma, Sts. John and the Peru Gulch
Area; itís hard to imagine that there was once large, thriving communities with smelters
and stamp mills. Gilliland also touches on the "oldest profession" and
tells of Montezumaís favorite soiled dove- "Dixie." Buckskin Joe (or somewhere)
might have had itís Silverheels, but Montezuma had "Dixie" and her girls
who cared for bachelors during the 1918 flu epidemic.
The book contains "mining tours" to get back into the hills to see the
ruins of many of the old mines and Gilliland takes a responsible approach by advising
people to always take a topographical map, altimeter, compass and to never take more
than a photograph. However, she says how much fun it is to explore old mines but
gives no warning to stay completely out of them. I feel this should be stated more
than once because people are stupid.
I wish trains still ran through Summit County. Reading about the hardships people
encountered coming over the passes on horses, in wagons and stage coaches was inspiring
but the chapters on the trains were great. "The Little Engine That Could"
was alive and well. I would have liked to see the Leslie rotary snowplow trying to
fight through the snows of 1888-89. I was not aware of the miles and miles of track
that once existed throughout Summit County. Iím sure it was a gloomy day when the
last train made itís run.
Gilliland, in my opinion, gave a well-researched edition on Summit County mining
history. This is not an intellectual book of reference but a guide for people wishing
to get a laymanís knowledge of the area and to develop an appreciation for an era
gone by. This book is an easy read and a valuable resource for someone interested
in a better understanding of Summit County.
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