Mining and Ranching / Early Settlement / Westcliffe and Silver Cliff / Westcliffe Country

Mining and Ranching / Early Settlement / Westcliffe and Silver Cliff / Westcliffe Country (HM29EB)

Location: Westcliffe, CO 81252 Custer County
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Country: United States of America
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N 38° 11.484', W 105° 31.376'

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Mining and Ranching

For a time, the Wet Mountain Valley appeared destined for mining glory. Silver strikes at Rosita (about fifteen miles southeast of here) in 1872, Querida (about twelve miles southeast) in 1877, and Silver Cliff (six miles southeast) in 1878 created an ongoing boomtown buzz, each new discovery attracting fresh swarms of prospectors. But these "instant cities" declined nearly as quickly as they rose; the mines fizzled by the 1890s, leaving livestock as the valley's main asset. Cattle ranches had been in place since the late 1860s, well before the mining boom. By 1880 more than 13,000 head roamed this basin, more than half of them here on the
Beckwith Ranch. Ever since, ranching has reigned in this area, which today boasts at least six "centennial ranches" —operations owned by one family for more than a

Beckwith Ranch

In the history of Colorado's cattle breeders, Elton and Edwin Beckwith hold a place of prominence. The two well-born, well-educated Maine natives settled here in 1869 and developed one of the state's largest herds, more than seven thousand strong. Elton and his wife, Elsie, endowed their ranchstead with the air of an English country estate, complete with prim lawns, guest cottages, and a stately ballroom for formal dances.

They ran a vast spread of nearly three thousand fenced acres and acquired well-placed political connections (Elton served a term in the state senate). After their deaths (Edwin's in 1898, Elton's in 1907), their land was sold off in pieces. But local residents rescued the Beckwith ranch house, to be preserved as a tribute to the valley's ranching heritage.

Early Settlement

The Colfax Colony & German Settlement

For $250 (far less than it would cost to travel alone), German immigrants could escape the toil of Chicago's factories to join the agrarian colony of Colfax. Founded about ten miles south of here in March 1870, it was Colorado's first settled colony—which may account for its struggles. It didn't help that so many of the roughly three hundred colonists had no prior farming experience; financial mismanagement and internal friction only made matters worse. Within months, many families had left to start their own farms or ranches, and by the following spring Colfax had dissolved altogether, a worthy but failed experiment. Though short-lived, the community had a lasting effect on this region: Many colonists' families have remained here for generations, and Westcliffe's Hope Lutheran Church (founded by colonists in 1872) still has an active congregation.

English in the Valley


in 1870, the town of Ula (two miles south of here) gained renown as "the Briton's paradise." In the late 1880s, Irishman Reginald Cusack's nearby guest ranch brought still more British migrants to this region, some of them "remittance men" —younger sons of wealthy families who received allowances from their families back home. Cusack advertised in London papers for "youthful bachelors to come to learn farming," but the respondents generally spent their time hunting and traveling; most went home after a few months' adventure. Many stayed, though, and brought over their families, adding some touches of the English lifestyle (including formal-dress dinners and afternoon teas) to this hardscrabble frontier. A few of those English settlers still have descendants living in this area.

Westcliffe and Silver Cliff


Though one of the last towns founded in the Wet Mountain Valley, Westcliffe proved the most lasting and for a simple reason: it had the basin's only rail connection. Platted in 1880 by the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, the upstart settlement captured business from neighboring Querida, Rosita Ula, and Silver Cliff and within five years had steamed past them all to become the valley's largest community. Not that the ride was always smooth: Chronic flooding on Grape Creek repeatedly washed out the tracks,

forcing the railroad's closure in 1889, but it reopened in 1901 with a new line up Texas Creek. By the time the railroad closed for good in 1937, Westcliffe had established itself as a quiet, stable ranching town. Its scenery and relaxed atmosphere make it popular today among tourists and second-home owners.

Silver Cliff

Scientists have long puzzled over strange lights in the Silver Cliff cemetery. Perhaps they're faint glimmers of the town's early history, when its star shone as brightly as any in Colorado. The discovery there of "horn silver" (a particularly pure variant) in 1878 sparked a lightning-like boom; before the year was out Silver Cliff had almost 2,500 residents, and by 1880 it ranked as the state s third-largest city. But Westcliffe stole the spotlight one year later with its railroad connection, and Silver Cliff's lodes failed to meet expectations; though they continued to produce on and off for decades, they had much dimmer prospects. After years in the shadows, Silver Cliff enjoyed a fresh of new growth in the 1990s—flickering rays of hope for this historic community.

Westcliffe Country

{Area map of historical & geographical highlights}
HM NumberHM29EB
Series This marker is part of the Colorado: History Colorado series
Year Placed2002
Placed ByThe Colorado Historical Society, Colorado Department of Transportation
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Monday, July 16th, 2018 at 4:01pm PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)13S E 454207 N 4227180
Decimal Degrees38.19140000, -105.52293333
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 38° 11.484', W 105° 31.376'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds38° 11' 29.04" N, 105° 31' 22.56" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)719
Which side of the road?Marker is on the right when traveling South
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 63990 CO-69, Westcliffe CO 81252, US
Alternative Maps Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSR Maps, OpenCycleMap, MyTopo Maps, OpenStreetMap

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