What To Know Of The Pioneer Mining Days Of Telluride

What To Know Of The Pioneer Mining Days Of Telluride

Telluride is one of the most stunning and historic Wild West mining boom towns tucked away in the mountains of Colorado.

View of Historic Downtown Telluride

One of the most beautiful and charming towns in Colorado’s stunning San Juan Mountains is Telluride. The town was once a silver mining camp on the San Miguel River, but today it is a sort-after alpine resort town famous for skiing. Telluride is an essential part of any Colorado Rocky Mountain road trip. Arguably, Telluride is today one of the most beautiful small towns in the United States.

But as beautiful and impressive as Telluride is, it also boasts a true Wild West history and was one of the more isolated mining boom towns. These days it is a ski resort town (although perhaps not quite as famous as the upmarket resort ski resort town of Aspen also in Colorado).


Founding & Mining Boom Years Of TellurideTelluride From Above

Europeans first to arrive in the area were Spanish explorers in 1765. More Spanish explorers came over the next 11 years. But the Spaniards were likely driven out of the area by the Utes of the area, although there are few records of this time. The Utes would go on to own and govern these ancestral lands until they were forced to since a treaty with the US government in 1873.

The first gold was found at Telluride in 1875 and the town was founded in 1878. This was preluded by the Pike’s Peak gold rush of 1858 — which marked the first gold to be discovered in Colorado (near Denver).

View Of Historic Telluride
PM Simmons / Shutterstock

View Of Historic Telluride 

At first, the town of Telluride was called “Columbia” but that led to some confusion with a town in California of the same name. In 1887, it was renamed Telluride after the gold telluride found in Colorado (although telluride minerals were never actually found around Telluride).

Telluride was slow to develop relative to other boom towns on account of its isolated location. It was only in 1881 that a better toll road was opened which permitted wagons to access the town (previously it had only been pack mules). The Rio Grande Southern Railroad arrived in Telluride in 1891.

During its mining boom, Telluride was a source of zinc, lead, copper, silver, and gold.

Related: Forget Aspen: Why You Should Visit Colorado’s Breckenridge Instead

The Wild West Story Of TellurideTelluride, Colorado

During the 1890s, Telluride was known as a remote, hell-raising, boom town (although even in the early days it had a tourism industry).

Telluride also experienced some quintessential Wild West stories; it was here that Butch Cassidy robbed the San Miguel Valley Bank in 1889. It was his first recorded major crime (he made off with an impressive $24,280).

He had moved to Telluride ostensibly in search of work, although some believe it was to deliver stolen horses to buyers there. He then led a cowboy’s life in Montana and Wyoming before returning to Telluride in 1887.

Butch Cassidy went on to be one of the most famous train and bank robbers forming a gang called the “Wild Bunch.” Eventually, he fled to Bolivia with the “Sundance Kid” and his girlfriend Etta Place.

They may have died in a shootout with the Bolivian Army there in 1908. The stories and legendary exploits of the “Wild Bunch” have been immortalized in film and other media.

The town almost became a ghost town after the 1893 Silver Crisis, although it soon after experienced a second boom.

Visitors can learn about the Wild West and the boom years of the town at the Telluride Historic Museum. The museum is open seasonally (during the winter and summer but typically closed in the fall and spring).

  • Admission Fees: $9 – Adult

Related: 10 Of The Friendliest Towns In The United States

Visiting Telluride And What To Do There Today

Today visitors can still see plenty of weathered ruins of old mining operations that speak to a time gone by. They dot the hillsides around the town. The Telluride Historic District continues to transport people back in time and takes up a significant part of the town. Today Telluride retains its feel of being a quintessential western mining town.

Via Ferrata in Telluride, Colorado

Via Ferrata in Telluride, Colorado

Another of the must-do activities in Telluride is climbing the Telluride Via Ferrata — at least for those without a nervous fear of heights. Those who would like a more conventional hike can consider hiking the steep but stunning Jud Wiebe Trail just out of town.

Either way, Telluride is a sight for sore eyes. It sits in a box canyon with steep forested mountains around it. One of the more stunning local natural attractions is the Bridal Veil Falls at the head of the canyon.

Parking is difficult in Telluride, so a better option may be to park in Mountain Village and take the free gondola that connects with Telluride.

In the summer, visitors should hike and explore the picturesque San Juan Mountains, and in the winter, Telluride is transformed into one of the leading ski resorts in the nation.