March In Colorado History

Sepia photograph of Gold Hill from 1888
Gold Hill (1888) | Boulder Historical Society

Colorado historical headlines from the month of March include Gold Hill miners establishing Colorado’s first mining district, Reynolds Radio Company licensing Colorado’s first commercial radio station, President Hoover creating Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument, and a Georgetown miner becoming Colorado’s first recorded avalanche fatality.

March 7, 1859: Gold Hill miners establish Colorado Territory's first mining district

Members of Gold Hill mining camp in 1888
Members of the Gold Hill mining community (1888) | Denver Public Library

Colorado’s first mining district was established on March 7, 1859, by Gold Hill miners in modern-day Boulder County. They proudly named it “Mountain District No. 1.”

 

Three months earlier, Captain Thomas Aikans and members of his party were camping in the area of Boulder known today as Settlers Park. The Southern Arapahoe leader Niwot (or Left-Hand) had granted them permission to stay on native lands through the winter. While exploring the area above their camp, the Aikans party followed an old Indian trail to a tributary of Fourmile Creek. In the streambed they found gold.

 

News of the Aikans party’s discovery quickly spread to Denver. The Pikes Peak gold rush was already a frenzy and gold fever was in the air. Hundreds of prospectors flocked to the Aikans’ small mining camp, Gold Hill, to try their hand at mining the Gold Run stream. They too found gold.

 

As the population of Gold Hill swelled with prospectors seeking their fortune, Gold Hill became the first permanent mining town in the Colorado Territory. In February 1859, Boulder City was established adjacently to serve as a supply town. One month later, Mining District No. 1 was born.

Painting of Gold Hill by Muriel Sibell Wolle (1973)
“Main Street, Gold Hill” by Muriel Sibell Wolle (1973) | Denver Public Library

The most productive claim in the district was discovered in June 1859 by David Horsfall. He named it the Horsfall lode. Other claims proved to be productive as well. Within the first year, $100,000 in gold was discovered in the area around Gold Hill.

 

Like many of Colorado’s boom towns, Gold Hill’s glory days didn’t last long. By 1870 the population had dwindled from 1,500 residents to only a handful. With streambeds exhausted of placer gold, further mining efforts were difficult and expensive. The Civil War also took its toll, depleting the town of miners and resources.

 

All was not lost. When miners discovered tellurium, a chemical element used in metallurgy, in the nearby foothills in 1872, prospectors returned to the area. Dozens of log cabins were erected in Gold Hill, along with a grand hotel, post office, three general stores, seven saloons, and a variety of other businesses.

 

Despite this growth, the town was handicapped by its remote location and steep approaches. Mining activity slowed, then ceased when the mines stopped producing quality ore. Though Gold Hill’s population shrank, many residents remained. Over the decades, they’ve worked to ensure preservation of the town’s historic structures and rich mining history.

March 6, 1861: First recorded avalanche fatality in Colorado Territory

"Remains of a snow slide" by William Henry Jackson
Remains of a snow slide, William Henry Jackson (c. 1883-1900) | History Colorado

When miners flocked to the Colorado Rocky Mountains during the 19th century, few considered the risk of avalanches. Absent from their pre-Colorado life experiences were the destructive snow slides, that would claim hundreds of lives during the state’s heaviest mining years.

 

High in the North Fork valley of the South Platte, around 20 miles southwest of Georgetown, Colorado Territory’s first recorded avalanche fatality occurred on March 6, 1861.

 

The miner who perished in the avalanche shouldn’t have been there. Back in those days, miners feared the harsh conditions of winter and stayed away from the mountains until spring. Most found the trails to their claims impassible anyway. Only a hardy few stuck around during the darkest, coldest months. For that reason avalanche deaths were few; there simply weren’t people around to be swept away in them.

 

Everything changed in the late-1800s. Mountainous mining towns became more numerous and maintained year-round populations. Often they were built unknowingly in a slide path. Avalanche deaths skyrocketed.

"Remnant of snowslide" by William Henry Jackson
Remnant of snowslide, William Henry Jackson (c. 1882-1900) | History Colorado

In March 1884, the small mining town Woodstock in Gunnison County was struck by an avalanche that buried the town’s structures and killed 13 people. In February 1899, an avalanche swept through Silver Plume, razing the miners’ cabins and claiming the lives of 10 people. In March 1902, the Liberty Bell Mine in Telluride suffered significant loss of structure and life when an avalanche bulldozed the mill buildings, leaving 12 dead in its wake.

 

The list of avalanche deaths from the turn of the century goes on. In many cases, those who perished were left buried until recovery efforts could begin in the spring.

March 10, 1922: Colorado's first commercial radio station is born

William D Reynolds at Radio Station KLZ in Denver in 1923
William D. Reynolds broadcasting over radio station KLZ in Denver, Colorado (1923)

The first commercial radio broadcasting station in Colorado, KLZ, was licensed to the Reynolds Radio Company on March 10, 1922. President of the company, Dr. William D. Reynolds, had broadcasting roots that dated back to 1915, when he was issued his first license for an amateur radio station in Minnesota. Its call sign was 9WH.

 

During World War I, the government ceased operations for civilian radio stations. Reynolds shut down 9WH and moved to Colorado Springs. When the ban was lifted in 1919, Reynolds relicensed his amateur station and began experimenting with entertainment broadcasts.

 

Soon the call of other radio enthusiasts in Denver drew him to the city. There he established the Reynolds Radio Company, and obtained a license for a new amateur station called 9ZAF. Using upgraded technology, Reynolds broadcasted local concerts, weather forecasts, and Rocky Mountain News bulletins.

South high school choir singing for KLZ Radio in 1938
South High School choir performing for KLZ Radio | Denver Public Library

In December 1921, the Department of Commerce implemented restrictions affecting the operations of 9ZAF. Radio stations broadcasting to the public would be required to obtain a commercial license. Reynolds applied for the license under the Reynolds Radio Company.

 

When the license was granted in 1922, station 9ZAF was renamed KLZ and became the first commercial radio station in Colorado. Its broadcasts were expanded to include financial markets updates, children’s bedtime stories, and Sunday sermons.

 

When Dr. William D. Reynolds died in 1931, ownership of KLZ moved through different owners until finding its way to Crawford Broadcasting. The station was rebranded “KLZ Radio” and adopted a talk radio format. It can be heard today across Colorado on station 560 AM.

March 2, 1933: President Hoover creates Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
A portion of the Black Canyon of the Gunnsion (Carol M. Highsmith) | Library of Congress

President Herbert Hoover is often remembered as one of America’s least popular presidents. His contributions to the country’s nature conservation efforts, however, are lasting. During his presidency from 1929 to 1933, lands designated for national monuments and national parks grew by 40 percent. He was once quoted as saying, “Recreation grounds and natural museums are as necessary to advancing our civilization as are wheat fields and factories.”

 

As the Great Depression crippled the nation, Hoover pushed forward with his plans to establish a countrywide network of national parks and scenic driving roads. He believed Americans would benefit in productivity and health from spending time in the country’s places of natural wonder. He also hoped building roads to access the parks would serve as a tool for economic recovery.

 

On March 2, 1933, President Hoover established the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument. The Civilian Conservation Corps built the North Rim Road through the park, including five miles of roadway and several scenic overlooks.

People standing at scenic overlook at Black Canyon of the Gunnison in 1900
Scenic overlook at Black Canyon of the Gunnison (1900) | Denver Public Library

In the decades that followed, park visitation grew significantly. Local conservationists realized the need to protect the natural habitat from human impacts. Half of the monument was designated a wilderness area in 1976. Twenty years later, the monument was enlarged and redesignated a national park.

 

The 14 miles along the Gunnison River protected by the park are considered the steepest and narrowest miles of the Black Canyon, which measures an astonishing 2,000 feet deep, two million years old, and 48 miles in length.