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Author’s Note:

I wrote nine nonfiction books on western subjects before I turned to fiction. Colorado Ghost Towns and Mining Camps is my favorite, because it allowed me to prowl the Colorado mountains with my daughter, Povy Kendal Atchison, who took the pictures. We were foolhardy. Instead of a four-wheel drive vehicle, I drove a BMW 2002. Povy, then in high school, was too young to drive, and neither of us could change a tire, but something protected us, maybe ghosts. I know we encountered one ghost. We were in the cemetery in Breckenridge when Povy came across a home-made grave marker. It was a glass-fronted box whose contents, probably a photograph and maybe silk flowers, had crumbled to dust. The paint on the box had weathered away, and no name identified the person buried there. At the instant Povy clicked the shutter of her camera, the wooden cross on top of the box broke in half. After going to town and buying glue, we returned to the cemetery and repaired the cross, tying the pieces together with a ribbon, because we knew that a ghost out there did not want to be forgotten.

“Sandra Dallas, an active writer of Colorado history, brings her expertise and sense of humor to good use as she describes 147 of Colorado’s more colorful communities that flourished at some time between early 1859 and 1899…. Atchison’s expertly executed photographs record the present appearance of most of the camps. Altogether, this mother-daughter joint effort is a well-turned-out, brief introduction to these communities.”

—Western Historical Quarterly

Colorado Ghost Towns and Mining Camps


Prospectors lured to the West in hopes of striking it rich settled a thousand towns in the Colorado mountains. The cry of “Gold!” or “Silver!” or a few flecks of color in a tin cup sent them to remote, often inhospitable locations to search for the precious metals.

Close on the heels of the miners were the merchants, the gamblers, the prostitutes, the washerwomen, the capitalists, and the con men. Together they turned the mining camps into bustling towns where saloons never closed and the safest place for a man to walk after dark was down the middle of the street with a gun in each hand. Sandra and her photographer-daughter, Povy Kendal Atchison, include 147 ghost towns in Colorado Ghost Towns and Mining Camps.

The book is lavishly illustrated with 290 photographs. In addition to those by Povy and early historical photographs, rare photos from the 1920s and 1930s are included. Some of Povy’s superb photographs evoke nostalgia with views of abandoned buildings deteriorating amid meadow wildflowers. Soon nothing will remain but the Colorado landscape, with the eternal mountains towering close by.


Colorado Ghost Towns and Mining Camps


Poking through the debris of a moldering cabin on the Swan River near Breckenridge a decade ago, I spotted the remains of an ancient packing box. As I picked it up, the rusted nails fell out and the fragile carton broke apart, revealing an address written in a strong hand on rough board:

Tom Earley
Middle Swan, Colo

There is no Middle Swan, Colorado, and I can find no evidence that there ever one was one. In all its glory, Middle Swan may have been only this single desolate cabin.

And Tom Earley? There is no record of him, either. Perhaps he was just another lonely, faceless miner who came west from Ohio or Mississippi, who found blossom rock — the outcropping of a vein — and mined it for enough money to go home with a silk hat and a gold watch. Maybe he died during the long winter, or went mad; some of them did. Most likely, he just moved on.

In truth, Colorado had a thousand Middle Swans (and many times that number of Tom Earleys), camps birthed by men with cries of gold or silver, settled with a rush of hope and greed, and deserted when the dreams, like the ore, played out. One in ten, or one in a hundred, of these towns lived to be important — Central City, for example, and Aspen. Some, like Swandyke and Crystal, were prosperous for a time and then were deserted, leaving picturesque, ghostly ruins. Most, like MIddle Swan, have been crushed into the earth by a hundred brutal winters.

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