Born of mining, died under fire: Chihuahua’s history
Chihuahua’s brief history of less than 10 years starts in 1880 when miners moved there in droves to capitalize on the silver-rich Peru Creek valley. A few years before development in Chihuahua began, miners “scrambled over Argentine Pass – sometimes on hands and knees because of blockbuster summit winds – to reach the lodes,” according to Mary Ellen Gilliland, a local historian who wrote a history of the town for Gary Miller, who purchased property there in 1997.The beauty of the area’s silver samples attracted miners to the lodes – and caused pilfering by individual residents – but topography created challenges in transporting the goods. The town was platted with a well-planned grid that lined streets up with the four points of the compass. Streets named “Spruce, “Hill” and “Mill” and 54 buildings were quickly erected. Located three miles northeast of Montezuma, the town became one of the busiest in the mining district with more than 200 residents, three saloons, three restaurants, two hotels, a post office, a general store and a barber who did 100 shaves, shampoos and haircuts on the first day of business.In the summer of 1880, a newspaper reporter wrote, “Scores of white tents, blue flannels on the clothes lines and camp fires glowed at nightfall for miles along the Snake, down to and beyond Chihuahua.”Chihuahua became an incorporated town in July of that year when 117 voters turned out to polling places. That same month, a frustrated census counter couldn’t get an accurate figure because new people arrived daily.The origin of the town’s name remains unknown, but Gilliland wrote that residents discussed changing it to “a word that the average citizen can pronounce.”In the first year, three men were hanged without a trial when two citizens were murdered. Despite that, the school with 24 students was hailed as “Summit County’s best” and residents enjoyed a lively social scene.Argentine Pass provided the main transportation route until 1883 when the Denver, South Park & Pacific railroad opened a line to Keystone, reducing the price of transporting silver. In 1889, a forest fire destroyed the town, “scorching its trees and blackening gravestones in its tiny cemetery,” according to Gilliland. Only a few buildings on the edge of town escaped the fire. While some residents moved to Montezuma, the town was never to be re-built.More information on Chihuahua’s history, including its notable citizens, can be found in Gilliland’s book “SUMMIT, A Gold Rush History of Summit County, Colorado.”- Kim Marquis
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