9. Silver Cliff: From Boom to Bust

Mile marker 1, Highway 96

 George Hafford first discovered silver in the area in June, 1878. Soon, hundreds of men hoping to strike it rich flooded the region. The city of Silver Cliff was incorporated in January, 1879. Soon houses, stores, and mills vied for space in once pristine meadows. One local mill treated 100 tons of ore each day from the Racine Boy mine, alone.

According to Joseph Powtahres, "the dwelling houses were mostly made of pine lumber the boards running straight up and down, the cracks battened by melted down and fluted out tin cans on the outside. On the inside, boards were covered with cheese cloth and the cheesecloth covered with wallpaper. They were two and three room affairs. Out of many of these meager appearing houses would come ladies dressed in the most expensive clothes, silk dresses and sealskin coats..."

Frank Miller arrived in Silver Cliff in 1879. He described the town as follows: "...every stagecoach and every freight wagon brought in newcomers to the camp. Gamblers and painted ladies rode beside professional men of culture and good breeding...Silver Cliff’s nightlife rivaled that of Leadville. The dancing girls were attractive, saloons numerous, and the gambling casinos played for big stakes."

In 1879, a correspondent for the Chicago Tribune wro“te: I'm a man still of the opinion...that there is enough free-milling chloride ore here to keep 1,000 stamp [mills] running 500 years...Silver Cliff...with inexhaustible stores silver, lead, and copper, in almost every valley, hill, and mountain, for many miles around; with immense
mills, and smelters already assured the great capitalists of the country, railroad facilities at her door...has future assured. And permanent city of 10,000 to 15,000 inhabitants may soon be expected. It now has about 2,000. There are 2 newspapers published here the Silver Cliff Miner, a week and the Prospector, a very spicy daily. The first-class hotels are the Powell and Carbonate.

By 1880, Silver Cliff was the third largest town in Colorado with a population of 5,040 people. Miners extra cover $3,000,000 in silver and copper by 1885. By then, most of the rich deposits had been exhausted. The city’s income from taxes dropped significantly. In 1885, the city council raised the tax rate. Many people moved their houses and business on rollers to Westcliffe to avoid the taxes. Today, the town’s population is no more than 350 people.