Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Dolores' seat: Mining and Rico, Ag and Dove Creek

Miners, agriculture interests frequently fought over seat

By Rob Carrigan, robcarrigan1@gmail.com

 It was Rico, of course, that first got the nod on February 10, 1881, to become the county seat when Dolores County was carved out of a part of Ouray County. The new county was bordered by San Miguel on the north, San Juan county on the east, and La Plata County on the south (Montezuma County had not been created until 1885), and Utah Territory on the west, according to Dolores County Historical Society.
"By an act of the general assembly which has just concluded its labors, the county of Ouray was divided and the new county of Dolores, with Rico as its county seat, created," read the Denver Tribune on February 15, 1881.
"It is 23 miles wide and forty miles long from east to west... Rico, the county seat, is located about 35 miles from the northern line of New Mexico, and about the same distance from the eastern line of Utah . Its altitude is 8,700 feet. It is 45 miles from Durango by trail, and the same distance from Silverton by trail. The actual distance from the latter place is 20 miles, and from the former about 30. It is situated on the east bank of the Rio Dolores, 20 miles from its source and forty miles above Big Bend by wagon road. It is 90 miles from Animas City or Durango by Big Bend, the only practical wagon road whereby Rico can be reached. There is a cut off via Bear Creek hill which may be traveled late in the spring, and thus some 20 miles of distance saved. There is a charted toll road from the Animas River to the Rio Dolores, known as Pinkerton or Scotch Creek trail, which when completed, will shorten the distance for wagons," said the Tribune.
Rico had been incorporated in 1879 and was a thriving mining town until the Silver Crash in 1893. After the Crash, much of the population moved on — though some mining continued. The Rio Grand Southern railroad was a part of Rico's history from its arrival in 1891 until it was discontinued in 1954. As Rico's mining future diminished, people moving into the western part of the county forced the issue of relocation of country seat to Dove Creek in 1945.
Miners and agricultural interests frequently have fought over placement of the seats of power in the counties of Colorado. The change from Rico to Dove Creek is only one of the most recent.
According to the Dolores County Historical Society, the Dove Creek area had started being settled around 1912 with ranchers and farmers moving into the area. "The western part of the country was one of the last areas in the United States to be homesteaded. The Stokes Brothers built a store around 1914-1916 (which was used as the courthouse from 1945-1953. There was a post office and many businesses in the early 1920’s, but the Town of Dove Creek was not incorporated until 1939," says the society's information.
Rico and Dove Creek are still the only incorporated towns in the county. However, there were other settlements and post offices in various locations over the years. Included are Dunton - near Rico; Cahone – southeast of Dove Creek, Squaw Point and Bug Point southwest of Dove Creek, Northdale, west of Dove Creek; Disappointment Valley, Lavender and Cedar; Burns, Egnar and Slick Rock in San Miguel County, Cedar Point, and Summit Point in San Miguel County Utah.
According to an economic profile produced in 2005 for Dolores County, "Western Dolores County was originally lush native grass that attracted livestock settlers beginning in the 1870s. By 1910 open range overgrazing had caused sagebrush to overtake native grasses in most of the area. In 1914 the Federal Government opened the area to homesteaders and dry land farming began in earnest. Most farming is high altitude dry land, with a strong emphasis on pinto beans and winter wheat. Dove Creek is known as the "Pinto Bean Capital of the World" for its long - standing production of high quality pinto beans noted for their nutritional content and extended shelf life."
The profile says the mountainous (eastern) part of Dolores County supplied a number of small sawmills with timber, and was the site of gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc and molybdenum mining in the Rico area, beginning around 1869. In 1876 the Pioneer Mining District was formed and mining became the main industry for the upper Dolores Valley and the Rico area. In 1879 the discovery of rich, oxidized silver ore was discovered on Niggerbaby Hill, Blackhawk Mountain, and the west slope of Telescope Mountain. This led to the incorporation of the Town of Rico and a 320-acre town site was platted out into streets and alleys. In 1880 the first wagon road was completed up Scotch Creek and Hermosa Park where it eventually led to Animas City and Durango. In 1891 the Rio Grand Southern Railroad (the Galloping Goose) pulled into Rico, and eventually connected the communities of Durango, Dolores, Rico, Ophir, Telluride and Ridgway. The railroad ran for 63 years until it was abandoned in 1954, according to the Economic Profile.
"In 1892 Rico had a population of 5,000 people, 23 saloons, 3 blocks of red light district, 2 churches, 2 newspapers, a theater, the Rico State Bank and many other stores and hotels. That same year the Dolores County Courthouse was built and Rico became the county seat, remaining so until 1946, when it was moved to the Town of Dove Creek. In 1893 Rico suffered a Silver Panic and many businesses were closed. By the turn of the century the population had declined to 811 people. The mining district had its ups and downs until 1926 when the Rico Company started to rebuild the mining industry. In 1937 the Rico Argentine Mining Company constructed a mill and eventually became the only surviving mining company of size. A sulphuric acid plant was constructed in 1953 and operated until 1965. At this time there were only about 300 people left in the town. From 1965 to 1971 the industry concentrated on lead and zinc mining and the population dropped to approximately 45," says the Profile.
According to "Colorado Place Names," by George R. Eichler, the name Rico developed after Col. J.C Haggerty's discovery of silver in 1879 and the rush of prospectors then. "Variously called Carbon City, Carbonville, Lead City and Dolores City, a meeting was finally called to choose a name. William Weston, then of Ouray, suggested the Spanish word Rico ("Rich") which was adopted." Dove Creek, is is said, was named for a nearby stream that, in turn, was labeled by an early freighter for the flocks of wild doves in the area.

Photo information:
1. Dolores County Courthouse in Dove Creek.
3. Dolores County Courthouse in Rico.

1 comment:

Erin Johnson said...

Thanks Rob for a great article!!