Abe Lee first discovered gold in California Gulch on April 26, 1860. Nearly 161 years later, we celebrate the storied legacy of the town Lee helped found by way of Leadville History Month.
The Herald will observe Leadville History Month throughout April with stories on an Irish poet, a minor league baseball team, a vigilante-led lynching and a riverside boom town that is still inhabited today.
In this week’s edition, we travel back to April 1882 when Oscar Wilde visited Leadville. A reporter for the Leadville Daily Herald recounts Wilde’s backdoor arrival at the Clarendon Hotel, his case of altitude sickness, and the aesthete’s performance at the Tabor Opera House.
“The voices that live in your mountains have not alone messages of freedom,” Wilde told the crowd gathered at the opera house. “They speak another language, which the artist must catch and foster in forms of beauty that will never die.”
Next week, Editor Emerita Marcia Martinek will recount the rise of the Leadville Blues, a minor league baseball team who played in Leadville in the late 19th century.
And in the April 22 newspaper, Leadville’s Wild West days will come to life through the Leadville Weekly Herald’s retelling of the lynching of Edward Frodsham and Patrick Stewart.
“Lot thieves, bunko steerers, foot pads, thieves and chronic bondsmen for the same and sympathizers for the above class of criminals: this is our commencement, and this shall be your fate,” read a note pinned on Frodsham’s dead body. “We mean business and let this be your last warning.”
The newspaper will wrap up Leadville History Month with an article on Granite’s boom and bust written by Office Manager and Copy Editor Hannah Cary.
The Herald aims to not only celebrate Leadville’s history this month, but to display some of the different ways Cloud City’s past is told.
Our history coverage comes from many places — from the leather-bound books in the newspaper’s basement, from Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection’s digitized archives, and from external journalists, historians and photographers that hold no connection to the Herald. Each of these sources tells Leadville’s history a bit differently.
Leadville’s late 19th century reporters narrated the town’s history with vigor, often embellishing on facts with flashy language better suited for a novel than a newspaper. In this month’s article reprints, one reporter describes the languishing “lah-de-dah” of Oscar Wilde’s words; another compares the vigilante committee that hung Frodsham and Stewart to a corporation, wagering that both lack a soul.
What the Herald might have lacked in impartial accuracy in the 1800s it made up for in drama. Each 19th century article is a piece of history in itself, a glimpse of the fast-paced tempo of our rough and tumble town.
More recent sources, like Jean and Don Griswold’s “History of Leadville and Lake County” and Rocky Mountain PBS documentaries, offer a more even-keeled presentation of Cloud City’s legacy.
When the Herald’s staff writes original history content for the newspaper, we aim to utilize sources of all kinds in an effort to patch together the quilt of our past.