The Gunnison Country
The Gunnison Country, one of Colorado and the American West’s most beautiful mountain regions, has a fascinating history. Located on the Western Slope of Colorado, the Gunnison Country includes high alpine valleys and parks, some of the finest hunting and fishing in the nation, 14,000-foot-high mountains, and a rich history in mining, cattle, and recreation.
Ute Indians were native to the Gunnison Country, with the Los Pinos Indian Agency located thirty miles southeast of present-day Gunnison. While the Indians roamed through valleys and mountains, fur traders or “mountain men” made their appearance as early as 1810. These rugged beaver trappers gained great wealth by selling pelts at high prices. Explorers and surveyors, such as John Fremont, Ferdinand Hayden, and John Gunnison, were next in the area, surveying overland trails and railroad routes.
The decade of the 1860’s brought placer miners to the many streams of the Gunnison Country, and several million dollars of gold were panned out of Washington Gulch, the Crystal River, Armstrong Gulch, and Gold Creek. In 1874, Sylvester Richardson, a utopian dreamer, founded the Gunnison colony near the Gunnison River in an alpine valley 7700 feet in elevation. Richardson’s dreams of an agricultural community faded because of a 70-day growing season, so early residents turned to ranching. Soon, irrigated hay meadows appeared in the Gunnison Valley and the region became famous for its cattle.
The late 1870’s and early 1880’s in the Gunnison Country saw an enormous silver-mining boom. Between 25,000-40,000 people flocked to the region. Smelters were built. Two major narrow-gauge railroads arrived, and one mining camp after another appeared, with 3,000-4,000 people in each. The greatest of the silver camps were White Pine, Irwin, Tin Cup, Gothic, and Pitkin. When the silver panic of 1893 hit these camps were barely able to stay alive. The two great towns of the Gunnison Country – Crested Butte and Gunnison – had more than just silver to rely upon. They were railroad, smelter, and supply towns. After the turn of the century, cattle, coal, and the creation of Western State College in Gunnison sustained the region. Always a great recreation center, the Gunnison Country today is famous because of skiing at Crested Butte, outstanding hunting and fishing, and other outdoor activities.