1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Leadville

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LEADVILLE, a city and the county seat of Lake county, Colorado, U.S.A., one of the highest (mean elevation c. 10,150 ft.) and most celebrated mining “camps” of the world. Pop. (1900) 12,455, of whom 3802 were foreign-born; (1910 census) 7508. It is served by the Denver & Rio Grande, the Colorado & Southern and the Colorado Midland railways. It lies amid towering mountains on a terrace of the western flank of the Mosquito Range at the head of the valley of the Arkansas river, where the river cuts the valley between the Mosquito and the Sawatch (Saguache) ranges. Among the peaks in the immediate environs are Mt. Massive (14,424 ft., the highest in the state) and Elbert Peak (14,421 ft.). There is a United States fish hatchery at the foot of Mt. Massive. In the spring of 1860 placer gold was discovered in California Gulch, and by July 1860 Oro City had probably 10,000 inhabitants. In five years the total yield was more than $5,000,000; then it diminished, and Oro City shrank to a few hundred inhabitants. This settlement was within the present limits of Leadville. In 1876 the output of the mines was about $20,000. During sixteen years “heavy sands” and great boulders that obstructed the placer fields had been moved thoughtlessly to one side. These boulders were from enormous lead carbonate deposits extremely rich in silver. The discovery of these deposits was made on the hills at the edge of Leadville. The first building was erected in June 1877; in December there were several hundred miners, in January the town was organized and named; at the end of 1879 there were, it is said, 35,000 inhabitants. Leadville was already a chartered city, with the usual organization and all public facilities. In 1880 it was reached by the Denver & Rio Grande railway. In early years Leadville was one of the most turbulent, picturesque and in all ways extraordinary, of the mining camps of the West. The value of the output from 1879 to 1889 totalled $147,834,186, including one-fifth of the silver production and a third of the lead consumption of the country. The decline in the price of silver, culminating with the closing of the India mints and the repeal of the Sherman Law in 1893, threatened Leadville’s future. But the source of the gold of the old placers was found in 1892. From that year to 1899 the gold product rose from $262,692 to $2,183,332. From 1879 to 1900 the camp yielded $250,000,000 (as compared with $48,000,000 of gold and silver in five years from the Comstock, Nevada, lode; and $60,000,000 and 225,000 tons of lead, in fourteen years, from the Eureka, Nevada, mines). Before 1898 the production of zinc was unimportant, but in 1906 it was more valuable than that of silver and gold combined. This increased output is a result of the establishment of concentrating mills, in which the zinc content is raised from 18 or 20% in the raw ores to 25 or 45% in the concentrates. In 1904, per ton of Lake county ore, zinc was valued at $6.93, silver at $4.16, lead at $3.85, gold at $1.77 and copper at $.66. The copper mined at Leadville amounted to about one-third the total mined in the state in 1906. Iron and manganese have been produced here, and in 1906 Leadville was the only place in the United States known to have produced bismuth. There were two famous labour strikes in the “diggings” in 1879 and 1896. The latter attracted national attention; it lasted from the 19th of June 1896 to the 9th of March 1897, when the miners, being practically starved out, declared the strike off. There had been a riot on the 21st of September 1896 and militia guarded the mines for months afterwards. In January 1897 the mines on Carbonate Hill were flooded after the removal of their pumps. This strike closed many mines, which were not opened for several years. Leadville stocks are never on the exchange, and “flotation” and “promotion” have been almost unknown.

The ores of the Leadville District occur in a blue limestone formation overlaid by porphyry, and are in the form of heavy sulphides, containing copper, gold, silver, lead and zinc; oxides containing iron, manganese and small amounts of silver and lead; and siliceous ores, containing much silver and a little lead and gold. The best grade of ores usually consists of a mixture of sulphides, with some native gold. Nowhere have more wonderful advances in mining been apparent—in the size and character of furnaces and pumps; the development of local smelter supplies; the fall in the cost of coal, of explosives and other mine supplies; the development of railways and diminution of freight expenses; and the general improvement of economic and scientific methods—than at Leadville since 1880. The increase of output more than doubled from 1890 to 1900, and many ores once far too low in grade for working now yield sure profits. The Leadville smelters in 1900 had a capacity of 35,000 tons monthly; about as much more local ore being treated at Denver, Pueblo and other places.

See S. F. Emmons, Geology and Mining Industry of Leadville, Colorado, monograph United States Geological Survey, vol. 12 (1886), and with J. D. Irving, The Downtown District of Leadville, Colorado, Bulletin 320, United States Geological Survey (1907), particularly for the discussion of the origin of the ores of the region.