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             Silver Cliff, once a silver boom town, is located in the Wet Mountain Valley. The first permanent settlers arrived in the valley in 1869. The following year a colony of more than 100 German families from Chicago took up homesteads in the valley. The search for mineral wealth would soon bring prospectors into the region. The mining boom near Rosita created a demand for a new county and Custer County, named from General George Armstrong Custer, was created in 1877 from what had been part of Fremont County. The town of Ula was the first county seat. A few months later Rosita became the county seat.

            Silver Cliff came into being when silver was found on a sheer cliff beside the present location of the town. In June 1878, it was discovered the dark greasy-looking rock, when melted, turned out to be 75% silver and was given the name horn silver. Silver Cliff’s “boom” then began.

            Silver Cliff became an incorporated town in January 1879. The Silver Cliff Town Hall and Fire House constructed in 1879 and  early 1880 held the first town meeting in the new town hall on April 10, 1880.


            Silver Cliff is indicative of the “boom and bust” cycle that was typical of many Colorado mining communities in the late 19th century. Perhaps the best description was provided by Crofutt, in his 1881 Grip-Sack Guide, who described Silver Cliff as “the infant of September 1878, the mushroom of 1879, and the giant of 1880.” By 1881, estimates of the number of people living in Silver Cliff ranged from 6,000 to 16,000. The official census, conducted in June 1880, listed a population of 5,040. This figure placed Silver Cliff as the state’s third largest city, behind only Denver and Leadville.

           Despite its large population, the terminus of the D&RG RR was placed a mile to the west in 1881, securing the existence of Westcliffe.  And by 1882, the process of decline for Silver Cliff had begun. The mining boom was over, and with the closing of mines and mills, businesses began to close and the population decreased. Many businessmen and home owners put their buildings on rollers and moved them to Westcliffe. Abandonment of a nearby railroad line in 1888 further isolated the town and by 1900, the official census records listed a population of 576.

Zebulon Pike Expedition encountering the

Wet Mountain Valley in winter Jan 16-27, 1807

17th January, Saturday.- …"the woods from the skirts of the mountains appeared to be at no great distance, I thought proper to march for it; in the middle of said prairie, crossed the creek, which now bore east. Here we all got our feet wet. The night commenced extremely cold. When we halted at the woods, at eight o’clock, for encampment; after getting fires made, we discovered that the feet of nine of our men were frozen, and to add to the misfortune, of both of those whom we called hunters among the number. This night we had no provision. Reaumer’s thermometer stood at 18 1-2° below 0. {-10° F}.” - Pike Journal

They were camped at Horn Creek for five days and forced to leave 2 men there with frost-bitten feet [later rescued]. They were in the Wet Mountain Valley for 11 days dealing with cold, snow and lack of food and provisions.

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