Silver had been discovered in Colorado in the 1860s, with early mining in Clear Creek Canyon at Georgetown in 1864. In the early days, the mineral was overshadowed by gold, however, and the low price of mineral meant that most mines were not profitable enough to operate.
The Colorado Silver Boom was a dramatic expansion of silver mining activity. It was a response to pressure from western interests which prompted the United States Congress to pass the Bland-Allison Act authorizing the free coinage of silver. It was due largely because of large-scale purchases of silver by the U.S. government authorized by Congress in 1878. The government demand raised the price of the metal to the point where many additional mines were profitable. The discovery of the Leadville district the following year resulted in a flood of new emigrant prospectors to many of the same mountain gullies that had been the site of the gold rush.
The boom started in 1879 with the discovery of silver at Leadville. Over 82 million dollars worth of silver was mined during the period, making it the second great mineral boom in the state, and coming twenty years after the earlier and shorter gold rush in Colorado in 1859. The resulting opulence was most lavish in Leadville itself. The boom endured throughout the 1880s, resulting in an intense increase in both the population and wealth of Colorado, especially in the mountains.
|Silver mines- Aspen, CO|
Miners often made higher wages than the average laborer, but the working conditions inside the mines were often very dangerous. Silicosis which, at the time, was incurable, ruined miners' lungs quickly. Many other hazards existed. Apart from the lanterns or tallow candles the miners carried, the mines were otherwise completely dark. Miners at the time were also subject to the threat of tunnel collapse, flooding and the lack of oxygen in the deeper areas of the mines. Often the miners brought caged canaries down with them; when the bird passed out, it indicated that the oxygen levels were dangerously low in the area. Mines were commonly very small and tightly spaced to save on the cost, effort and time it would take to expand the tunnels, and so resulted in the use of people of smaller stature and even children.
This 1899 map shows the locations of the greatest deposits of silver in the United States. From it, both Colorado and Montana had the greatest potential for being large silver producers. It is easy to see why silver became big business in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
The boom continued unabated throughout the 1880s and early 90s, years that gave the state many of the historic structures in its cities and towns. The government purchases of silver were subsequently nearly doubled by the 1890 Sherman Silver Purchase Act, further extending the boom into the early 1890s. The repeal of the act in 1893 resulted in a collapse of silver prices, bringing about an end to the boom. After 1893, many mining camps became ghost towns.
I have three novellas in the Sweethearts of Jubilee Springs series available. Although only Aaron in the first book is a miner, all three are related, and all three are part of the hypothetical silver mining town of Jubilee Springs.
Book 3: Aaron’s Annulment Bride
Book 6: Cat's Meow
Book 7: Bargain Bessie