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July 25, 2013
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Ghost town legally abandoned, ceded to U.S. Forest Service

In 1882, years before she was born, Elizabeth Rice Roller’s grandparents moved from Boulder to a small and short-lived mining town in the mountains near Montezuma called Chihuahua.

Her grandmother became the teacher at a school that served two towns, and her grandfather opened a boarding house frequented by lumberjacks and miners drawn by the irresistible lure of silver. Later, one of the boarders, Elizabeth’s father, married the proprietor’s eldest daughter.

Today, Roller’s memoirs of her family’s history in Chihuahua are one of the only remaining accounts of life in the once-thriving high-alpine village near Argentine Pass.

According to official records, a devastating fire swept through the area in 1889, destroying most of the town. The crash of the silver market in 1893 emptied out much of what was left.

There is no record now of elections, taxes being levied or any kind of official activity in Chihuahua in more than 100 years, and county officials have initiated proceedings to legally abandon the town.

“We have the responsibility to oversee municipalities that don’t really exist any more, but do in a legal sense,” said Andrew Cole, of the Secretary of State’s office. “The last actual mayoral race (in Chihuahua) was conducted in the 1800s.”

The town was officially incorporated in 1880, and a mayor, recorder and board of trustees were elected to govern it. It was a time when “it seemed the hills were full of (silver ore) and the adventurers thought they had reached their goal,” Roller writes in “Memoirs from Montezuma, Chihuahua, and Sts. John,” published by the Summit Historical Society with her family’s permission.

At its height, Chihuahua consisted of approximately 50 buildings, two restaurants, a hotel and the boarding house belonging to Roller’s grandparents, the Carleses. Carles also acted as a justice of the peace, performing marriages and settling disputes between neighbors. He and his wife eventually left the town, relocating about a year before most of it was destroyed by fire.

But Roller’s father, not yet married to her mother, lived there with his sister when the devastating blaze broke out.

“Father, my aunt and her two children worked feverishly to save their homes,” Roller wrote. “By my father’s directions, they soaked quilts and blankets in the stream and covered roofs and much of the side walls and continued to pour water over the buildings as the fire raged around them. Their isolated location as much as their labor saved the cabins, which were among the few that remained after the fire.”

The silver crash came a few years later, driving many people out of Chihuahua and, by Roller’s account, out of Summit County.

But one unhappily married couple, the Mitchells, reportedly remained, even as the little town disappeared around them. Both were miners, who excavated separate claims and eventually came to hate each other so much that Roller said she could not remember a time when they were on speaking terms.

“If it were necessary to communicate with her husband, Mrs. Mitchell never spoke to him directly, but conveyed the message to my father or me or even the dog or cat or some inanimate object,” she wrote. “Passerby (sic) told of violent arguments which ended with Mrs. Mitchell armed with a pick or shovel pursuing the poor man around and around the mine.”

It is unclear exactly where the remains of Chihuahua, if they exist at all, are located. Any private property within the town boundaries now belongs to the federal government. U.S. Forest Service officials have confirmed that there are no current residences or residents in the town, according to a Summit Board of County Commissioners resolution authorizing a petition for abandonment.

Under state statute, a county attorney can initiate the procedure to abandon a town if it has failed to hold any kind of election or maintain a town government for five or more years. Still, the undertaking is unusual and requires a public hearing of the application for abandonment.

A public hearing on the abandonment petition for Chihuahua is slated for 11 a.m., Aug. 22, in the Blue Spruce Room at the Secretary of State’s office in Denver, when evidence and testimony will be heard.


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The Summit Daily Updated Jul 25, 2013 08:34PM Published Jul 25, 2013 08:34PM Copyright 2013 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.