Book Review - Red Mountain
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Red Mountain, "A novel of the boom days in Colorado", was written by David Lavender, a native of Telluride, Colorado.
David Lavender's classic novel of the rich silver strikes between Ouray (Argent) and Silverton (Baker), Colorado is back in print. Based on actual historical events and places (but with a few liberties taken) his fast-moving book details how hero Johnny Ogden builds what is now the Million Dollar Highway to connect Argent with the booming Red Mountain Mining District. Johnny's intense enthusiasm, dedication and ambition help make up for his youthful mistakes.
Red Mountain is set in the San Juan (Called "St. John" in the book) Mountains of southwest Colorado during the mining boom of the 1870's and 1880's. Town names have been changed to, as the author describes, "release me from the tyranny of exact information". The story centers on the burgeoning town of Argent (Ouray) and the adjacent Red Mountain mining district.
Johnny Ogden is our hero in the story. A young visionary, Ogden's youthful energy and unwavering belief in the future of the district are channeled into an enormous road-building project linking Argent and the mines at Red Mountain. Years of work result in what is now known as the Million Dollar Highway leading south out of Ouray, Colorado. Johnny has to deal with complex business, social, and relationship issues while finding funding for his project.
Red Mountain captures the difficulties that the early pioneers faced while exploring remote mountainous regions. Indians were a constant problem. Food and supplies had to be packed in on burros and made to last all summer in the mountains. Hunger, cold, and injury were constant threats. Despite the difficulties, the lure of underground riches enticed thousands to risk all in the alpine valleys of Colorado.
As the book progresses, so does the development of Argent and the region as a whole. As early problems of Indians and supplies are improved upon, new challenges arise as mining struggles to become an industry. Significant outside capital is required to build roads, mines, towns, and eventually railroads. The influx of Capital creates yet another set of problems as locals face a struggle to retain some sense of control of local issues as ownership of infrastructure and industry shifts to remote investors.
The book captures the interesting rivalry between booming mining towns to attract capital, business, and travelers. Towns would send "runners" to junctions on stage routes to convince newcomers that their town was developing faster and had more business opportunities than the town on the other side of the mountains. Each town wanted to be the business and supply hub for nearby mines in the mountains, and the business leaders of these towns would go to great lengths to take business from its rivals.
The story culminates with the financial panic of 1893, the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, and the resulting crash of the silver mining industry.
Red Mountain is a must read for anyone with an interest in mining history or the history of southwest Colorado. A lot of research went into the social fabric, the advancing technology, the complex world of business finance, and the relentless push to develop mining districts during boom years of the 1870's and 1880's. The book really builds a sense of appreciation for the brave pioneers that conquered these mountains well over a hundred years ago, and built the towns that are now so famous for their history, Victorian architecture, and location among the alpine valleys and mountains of Colorado.