With all the attention recently on the Herald Democrat’s 140th birthday, we wanted to share some thoughts of our early editor, Carlyle Channing Davis, who was a newspaperman in Leadville from 1879 to 1896. He gave a first-hand view of the early days in Leadville in his book, “Olden Days in Colorado.” The book was written after ill health caused Davis to move to California.
His description of the early Leadvillians seems particularly apt.
“They were a brave lot of men who blazed the trails in Leadville, for it takes bravery and courage to break home ties and leave pleasant surroundings to rough it on the frontier. These were the men who went to the front, and the women who accompanied them were equally brave, courageous and true.”
Davis was in Leadville in time to see the mining industry boom. He viewed the Leadville Mining District before it was so named.
“The early great bonanza mines on Fryer Hill multiplied millionaires and gave great impetus to prospecting. Over the entire area, which later came to be designated as the “Leadville Mining District,” prospectors swarmed in all directions, and before the close of the second year, 30,000 claims, 300 x 1,500 feet in area, were considered worth patenting. Indeed, no man felt secure in his rights until they were confirmed by the land department of the government.”
Davis worked hard to get a post office building for Leadville, but it came after he had moved to California. This building, of course, now houses the Leadville City Hall.
“The federal post office building, the appropriation for which I labored so energetically for years to procure, came after my withdrawal from Leadville. A handsome structure was erected by Uncle Sam, and is the dominating architectural feature of Harrison Avenue. So far as I know it is the most elevated post office on the American continent, a trifle more than ten thousand feet above the level of the sea.”
In an era when female journalists were not the norm, Davis hired his first female reporter.
“I believe I enjoyed the distinction of being the first American newspaper manager to employ a female reporter. At all events, the results of the experiment were questioned by the contemporary press of the day. Kate Williams was the girl, and she made good on every assignment. The first was to report a race meeting, and her failure was freely predicted. But the unexpected happened, and, instead of being helpless on the ground, amongst the touts, the ticket and sheet-writers, solicitors and runners, starters and judges, she had a hundred men running to her with news of the track and the ponies and the betting game, that the average male reporters had to rustle for. She got all that was to be had, put it in good English, got it on the wire in time, and in all respects vindicated my judgment as to her capacity. Leadville men, justly proud of her, were ever ready to lend a hand.”
The Homestake avalanche was a well-known tragedy in Leadville’s early days and Davis was among those who found the victims in February 1885.
“The stillness of death pervaded the single room, although three human forms sat there as in life, while the outlines of another were silhouetted in a corner bunk, wrapped in a wakeless sleep! This was Jack Carroll.
Opposite each other at a table, with cards before them and in their hands, sat Temple and Summers.
The clock in the apartment had stopped at one minute past twelve, presumably midnight.
On the opposite side of the room, at another little table, sat Albert Morrison, as lifelike as when last I had seen him. He had been engaged in writing to his mother when the shock came, and the date of the letter showed that the visitation had occurred six weeks previously.
The sudden precipitation of thousands of tons of snow had created a vacuum within the cabin, and the death of the victims must have been instantaneous.
Leadville/Lake County may have experienced a real estate boom in recent years, but it is nothing compared to how land values increased during the early days.
“Realty values advanced in correspondence with the demand, and fortunes were made in the buying and selling of town lots. When, in the early part of ‘79, Col. W. H. Bush purchased avenue frontage one block beyond the Chronicle office, on the basis of one dollar a foot, many thought him crazy, but those same lots, three months later, were worth one thousand dollars a front-foot!”
Davis’ view of the early days in this city helps make them seem real some 140 years later.