Ghost Town Wednesday: Shafter, The Silver Capital of Texas

This area of Texas is home to just a handful of residents these days, but once boasted a population of four thousand.  The town was named for Colonel (later General) William R. Shafter, commander at Fort Davis, and located about eighteen miles north of Presidio.  It became a mining town after rancher John W. Spencer found silver ore there in September 1880. Shafter had the sample assayed and found it contained enough silver to make it profitable to mine – profitable enough for Shafter himself to invest.  Spencer had thought it prudent to share his secret with Shafter since the area was prone to periodic Indian attacks.  Protection would be needed to carry out successful mining operations. Shafter called upon two of his military associates, Lieutenants John L. Bullis and Louis Wilhelmi to join his venture (and clear the area of unfriendlies).  The following month Shafter and his partners asked the state of Texas to sell them nine sections of school land in the Chinati Mountains.  Eventually only four sections were purchased, but lacking capital the partners leased part of their acreage to a California mining group.  Shafter later obtained financial backing in San Francisco and the Presidio Mining Company was organized in the summer of 1883. The company contracted with Shafter, Wilhelmi and Spencer individually to purchase their interests, each receiving five thousand shares of stock and $1,600 cash.  Bullis had purchased two sections in his wife’s name, but when the company’s manager William Noyes found deposits on the Bullis acreage (valued at $45 per ton), a dispute arose.  Bullis claimed the two sections had been purchased outright...

Ghost Town Wednesday: Whitehorn, Colorado

According to a Fremont County, Colorado web site the population of Whitehorn was less than ten as of 2014.  Accounts vary, however, as to who founded the town in the mid-to-late 1890’s.  In one account prospector Dennis Patno came to the area in February of 1897, struck gold and started a rush to the area in the mountains northeast of Salida.  In yet another account the town was founded in May of 1897 by Arthur L. Whitehorn – according to a 1901 article published in the Whitehorn News, he was indeed the founder. Whitehorn had recently been appointed as U.S. Deputy Mineral Surveyor in Pitkin County, having also mined around the Tin Cup area.  He set up his assayer’s tent at the camp some miners humorously referred to as “Suckerville”.  However, the specimens he examined were promising enough and soon the town named in his honor began to be laid out. As soon as word spread of a gold strike, miners began to flood the area.  Initially, forty plots priced at fifty cents each were laid out and drawn by lots.  In those days gold strikes were reported throughout the region, especially in the Denver and Colorado Springs newspapers.  It was big news and correspondents were sent to cover it firsthand. By June there were already about two hundred miners living in tents and shacks or in the twenty-some buildings which had already been erected.  Edward M. Kraus was appointed as postmaster by the end of July, more than enough to make the town of Whitehorn “official”.  By that time about one thousand people were receiving mail there. The...

Ghost Town Wednesday: Lone Star, Texas

  This ghost town in northeast Cherokee County was first known as “Skin Tight”.  According to legend the community got that name after cattle buyer and merchant Henry L. Reeves opened a store.  It’s believed the name was due either to Reeves’ “close trading tactics” or perhaps because he worked as a trapper and animal skinner. The town had begun to take shape in several years earlier in 1849 when Hundle Wiggins settled there after the Texas Legislature created Cherokee County in 1846.  Reeves built a store there in the early 1880’s and on June 13, 1883 a post office was established under the name “Lone Star”.  Not long afterwards Reeves moved to Smith County and was shot to death in Troup on June 13, 1886. By 1885 Lone Star had grown to a population of 160 with a cotton gin, gristmill, sawmill, general store and school.  The town was somewhat isolated but the town continued to grow steadily.  Both Woodmen of the World and the Masons established chapters in the small community. By 1890 there were three mercantile stores and a millinery shop in the business district.  In 1893 a fire swept through the business section of town and destroyed all but two buildings.  The fire started in the offices of Dr. J.E. Rowbarts, who died in the fire.  No one was ever able to determine the exact cause although it was common knowledge the doctor kept a cannister of black powder in his office. The town was rebuilt quickly and resumed its growth, reaching a population of three hundred by the mid 1890’s, aided in part by...

Ghost Town Wednesday: Lulu City, Colorado

This ghost town, now located in Rocky Mountain National Park, was founded in 1879 after Fort Collins merchant and entrepreneur Benjamin Burnett heard about a silver strike in the mountains west of Fort Collins near the headwaters of the Grand River (later Colorado River).  Burnett sent out prospector John Rigdon to investigate the claims. Rigdon went over Thunder Mountain (later renamed Lulu Pass) and camped in a beautiful park situated at an elevation of 9,400 feet.  There he began to prospect, initially finding a vein of silver and lead.  After returning to Fort Collins and having the ore tested down in Denver, Burnett decided to personally investigate. In the summer of 1879 he loaded up a wagon and took his family to the park.  He wasted no time in laying out a town, and an ambitious one at that.  One hundred blocks were platted, with sixteen lots per block.  Streets were numbered first to nineteenth and the avenues were named Ward, Mountain, Riverside and Trout.  The town was named in honor of his daughter Lulu. Burnett was assisted by a man named Godsmark, building a store and erecting log cabins.  He returned to Fort Collins, loaded the wagon with supplies for the new stores and brought back six large mules.  There was, however, no road per se.  His son Frank later described the arduous trek: The route traveled to Lulu City was from Fort Collins up through Livermore, Long Cabin to Manhattan, through Manhattan west to Old Baldy.  There are two peaks of Old Baldy and the road went between them on the west through the top of the...

Ghost Town Wednesday: Cornucopia, Oregon

Gold was first discovered near the Idaho border in eastern Oregon in 1884 by Lon Simmons.  The town of Cornucopia, which in Latin means “Horn of Plenty”, sprung up – said to have been named after the mining town of Cornucopia, Nevada.  In July of 1885 five hundred men had already converged on Cornucopia, “quite a village”, reported the Morning Oregonian: There is no doubt about the mines.  They are very rich.  Gold is being brought in every day and to see the rock is to be convinced that the mines are a big thing.1 Miners reported veins so rich that big nuggets would tumble right out of the rocks.  Over the years sixteen mines produced 300,000 ounces of gold, although one source estimates that eighty percent of the gold ore body still remains.2 The early years from 1884 to 1886 produced the biggest gold booms, the town expanding with general stores, saloons, restaurants and hotels.  However, unlike many other western mining towns, Cornucopia was a fairly tame place it seems with only a few killings (and suicides). Cornucopia was situated in a mountain valley and known for its extremely harsh winters.  During the winter of 1931-1932 one resident had kept meticulous records, indicating that by early March of 1932 over twenty-eight feet of snow had fallen.  Massive slides were most common in the month of March as the snows began to melt. In February of 1916 a snow slide buried a bunk house, but no injuries were reported after occupants were dug out.  In January of 1923 a mother and her two children were killed when snow slide...

Ghost Town Wednesday: Indianola, Texas

Indianola is referred to as the “queen of Texas ghost towns” and could actually be filed under two Digging History Wednesday categories – ghost towns and wild weather.  German immigrants began settling in the area in the mid-1840’s and in 1846 the town of Indian Point was established.  The location was ideal as a deep-water port during the Mexican War and was the chief port of debarkation for thousands of European immigrants who would settle the western parts of Texas. After the area was surveyed and lots were sold the town began to grow.  In September of 1847 the post office opened and a few months later stagecoach service was established.  The nearby town of Karlshaven had been home to some of the first European immigrants (Germans) and in February of 1849 the two communities merged and became known as Indianola. With its rapid growth Indianola won the right to be the center of government for Calhoun County.  Hotels, newspapers and other businesses were added and in 1853 the town was incorporated.  By 1860 the town’s population was over one thousand, and although there were few slaves in the area, residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of secession. As a strategic deep-water sea port Indianola was targeted by Union forces.  On October 26, 1862, Union gunboats bombed the port, looted the town and occupied it before withdrawing about a month later.  Union forces returned again in November of 1863 and remained until the following year. Following the Civil War Indianola continued to grow with its status as the second largest Texas port.  By 1875 the population had grown to more...