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Oct 12

The Life and Times of Charles Boettcher: The Roaming Years (Original Post Date 5/31/17)

Posted on October 12, 2017 at 7:49 PM by Laura Wilkins

After a decade of unprecedented growth and unabashed profiteering, Leadville’s economy slipped into a mudslide. By early 1880, the motherlodes were nearly depleted, triggering unexpected mine closures and plummeting stock values. As unemployment grew, so did the tension between the local merchants and the miners. After Governor Frederick Pitkin was prevailed upon to issue a proclamation of martial law to restore peace and order to the tumultuous town, both the mine owners and workers took a step back to reevaluate their day-to-day operations. 

This enabled Leadville to extract a record $17 million worth of ore in 1882. While others were encouraged, Charles sensed the good fortune wouldn't last. Even though he never owned one of the nearby mines outright, he'd already made his first million from a diverse portfolio of claims, shares and other investments. After serving briefly as a County Commissioner and trustee of the Leadville Mining and Stock Exchange, he was ready for a new venture. 

In the spring of 1882, Charles, Fannie and Claude traveled to California to visit Herman and his family. Stopping in Fort Collins on the way home, they learned about the prospect of cattle and horse ranching from Fannie’s uncle, who was about to drive a herd up to North Park, the former hunting grounds for the Ute and Arapahoe tribes. After surveying the meadows in this lush basin, the Boettcher’s filed a homesteading claim for what would eventually become the 180-square-mile Bighorn Ranch. 

During the winter of 1883-84, severe weather and a shortage of feed killed more than half of the livestock. This unfortunate oversight was quickly remedied by digging irrigation ditches to ensure enough hay could be grown for future grazing. After this fiasco, Charles and Fannie persuaded her brother-in-law, John Riggens, to move his family from their farm in Kansas to take over management of the 1,000 purebred horses pasturing on the ranch (soon to be replaced by the more profitable cattle). 

In 1884, Charles purchased a wholesale hardware business in downtown Denver, relocating it to 402 Lawrence Street next door to Daniels and Fisher’s dry goods store (his long-time neighbor on Harrison Street).  He quickly expanded his inventory to include agricultural, building and railroad supplies as well as home furnishings. Hiring an on-site manager, he returned to Leadville to wrap up some loose ends.

Focusing his attention on strengthening the local economy, he offered to help finance bringing electric lighting to the town.  Next, he joined the Carbonate Bank’s board of directors, hoping to attract investors to back ongoing mining and smelting operations. During this period he made invaluable connections that not only helped him survive the looming Panic of 1893 but forged lifelong partnerships with other forward-thinking businessmen, most of whom ended up with him in Denver where he rolled out the next phase of his life.