Summit Historic Yesterday’s: The crook of Carbonateville
Summit’s Historic Yesterdays
Editor’s note: This tale comes from Mary Ellen Gilliland’s humorous local history, “Rascals, Scoundrels and No Goods.” The book captures the high-spirited antics of shysters and shady ladies, swindlers and rogues of 1800s Summit County mine camps.
In 1879, the remote and untrammeled Upper Ten Mile Canyon burst into activity with the discovery of mineral riches at a site which later became the town of Kokomo. This town sprang up after the February 1878 discovery and mushroomed to 1,500 deliriously happy residents. Rich Kokomo, located above today’s Copper Mountain Resort on the way to Fremont Pass, soon had two neighbors, both on the other side of the valley, southeast of Kokomo. One neighbor, named Robinson after its founder who grubstaked miners from Leadville to discover its wealth, grew big and prominent enough to rival the county seat, Breckenridge. The other town became a flash in the pan but one colorful enough to be remembered.
Carbonateville, that short-lived neighbor to Kokomo in the upper Ten Mile Canyon below Fremont Pass, launched its history with larceny. (Let the reader sadly shake his or her head at this point.) An Oct. 16, 1879 Rocky Mountain News article related the sticky-fingered story of Anthony Blum, a Carbonateville banker who embezzled bank funds and left bank customers holding the bag.
The Merchants and Miners Bank of Carbonateville opened in February 1879 during the frenzied onset of the silver boom in the upper Ten Mile. Anthony Blum, president, partnered with A.H. Reynolds to start the $50,000-capitalized institution. Carbonateville had burst into being in 1878 on a plateau at the mouth of gold-rich McNulty Gulch. Leadville miners had struck gold there in 1860. The gulch relinquished $3 million in free (placer) gold its first three seasons, a stunning amount when a dollar bought a fine dinner and night’s hotel stay. Miners later abandoned McNulty Gulch. Then in 1878 hard-rock-silver discoveries spearheaded a second rush. Carbonateville exploded, quickly gaining 61 businesses, including six hotels, four grocers, seven saloons, two sawmills — and one bank.
The Merchants and Miners Bank enjoyed a brisk business in gold exchange, loans and customer accounts. Its president enjoyed community prestige. Then Anthony Blum yielded to temptation, writing himself handsome checks including a note for $800 “signed” by Mr. Boedecker and negotiated at the First National Bank of Leadville, according to Summit County’s first newspaper, the Kokomo-based Summit County Times. The $800 note alerted a Leadville bank official who queried Blum. The forger wrote a flurry of additional checks to Denver and New York banks. His felonious spree took place on Sept. 26, 1879, but Blum adroitly dated the checks Sept. 29, giving himself time to abscond. He established a phony mailing address as J.J. Weicher at Leadville for forwarding of mail and express packages.
Then Blum went to Leadville to buy some time. He planned to stage a drama. On a visit to the First National Bank he met with bank official Mr. Ordean, who had spotted the fraudulent $800 note. Blum “struck a doleful keynote of penitential wailing, said he ought to shoot himself,” the newspaper reported. He begged for time to make the $800 fraud good. The melodrama of Blum’s tearful hand-wringing swayed Ordean to keep quiet.
Back in Carbonateville, a warrant for the bank president Blum’s arrest was issued. The law shot a telegram to Denver authorities to request the embezzler’s arrest upon arrival there. Telegraph lines had just been constructed. Felon’s luck prevailed when the new lines immediately went down and the telegram never reached its destination. Blum padded his pockets with several thousand dollars in cash belonging to bank customers such as James Coffey, the Carbonateville meat market proprietor and James Gillin, a miner (he lost $250, a considerable sum in the time). The slippery Blum escaped, never to be found.
Mary Ellen Gilliland’s “SUMMIT, A Gold Rush History of Summit County, Colorado,” has captured the colorful gold rush. She details the misbehavior of history’s miscreants in her “Rascals, Scoundrels and No Goods” and recounts the story of the region’s first town in Breckenridge. Gilliland is also the author of the popular guide,”The Summit Hiker.” All are available from The Next Page Bookstore or online at alpenrosepress.com.
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