Michelle Barone
Cynthia Becker
Daniel Blegen
Liz Duckworth
Debra Faulkner
Mary Peace Finley
Lydia Griffin
Gail E. Haley
Joyce B. Lohse
Charlie Mac
Nancy Oswald
Sarah B. Rickman
John Stansfield
Steve Walsh
Dorothy Yoder

2003 EVVY Award Winner

First Governor, First Lady
was awarded the Best Biography awarded by the Colorado Independent Publishers Association.

First Governor, First Lady— John and Eliza Routt of Colorado by Joyce B. Lohse

Chapter 7 The Morning Star

"Lila! Lila! We struck it rich!!!"

It is easy to imagine an excited John Routt bursting through the front door and shouting the good news to his patient wife. How proud he must have been on that day in mid-April 1879 when he returned from Leadville to Denver to tell Eliza of his success. The Morning Star Mine was going to make them rich. All the hard work and sacrifice had paid off, and John Routt was coming home. The Rocky Mountain News, April 16, 1879, declared simply, "Ex-Governor Routt has returned from Leadville."

During the remainder of the year, almost $300,000 of valuable silver ore was extracted from the Morning Star. By 1880, the mine was paying about $72,000 a month. In an understated comment, the Rocky Mountain News, April 26, 1879, described Routt's new role: "The ex-governor of the state, Hon. John L. Routt, having bonded his mines in Leadville, is beginning to be regarded as a bonanza king."

John Routt had officially entered the select fraternity known as Bonanza Kings, a title bestowed upon those who found great wealth in the mining camps. To his friends, he would say, "I hitched my wagon to a star and won. One day, we broke into the 'blanket' of ore and my troubles were over."1

When Routt bought the Morning Star, it was a twelve-foot hole in the ground on the side of Carbonate Hill. By the time his crew reached pay dirt, the Morning Star's main shaft reached 100 feet into the earth. It had a 200-foot drift, a 4-foot pay vein, 3-foot pitch, and a 20-by-30-foot shaft house.

In an effort to keep control of mineral transactions, several mine owners organized a Mining and Stock Exchange in Leadville. According to Leadville's newspaper, The Eclipse, quoted in the Rocky Mountain News, April 30, 1879, "The movement recently inaugurated looking to the establishment of a Mining and Stock exchange in our city, seems to be taking substantial form. A meeting for its furtherance was held at the Clarendon hotel on Saturday evening, when about fifty names were enrolled as members." H. A. W. Tabor was president, and the organizing membership included John L. Routt.

Once the Morning Star began producing silver, the Routts were able to pay off their debts and invest in new enterprises. In August, John Routt became a director for another mining company, the Leadville National Mining and Milling Company. Built upon a capital stock of $1 million, it had branch offices in New York and Boston, with its headquarters in Leadville.

With money pouring in, John Routt began living the life of a Bonanza King in Denver. His first order of business was to present Eliza with $100,000, which she managed and maintained wisely, as he knew she would. He also bought her a fine Victorian mansion. It was an elegant residence at 327 Welton Street, on the corner Fourteenth Street, in the heart of Denver. The address was renumbered in 1887 and remained 1355 Welton thereafter.

Fourteenth Street was known as Governor's Row. Public officials and Bonanza Kings built fine mansions there, many exceeding the Routts' home in opulence. The dirt street composed of compacted sand and gravel was watered down frequently by the eighteen sprinkling wagons maintained by the city to keep the dust down from the traffic of elegant horse-drawn carriages. Sidewalks paved with diamond-shaped marble slabs lined the streets. In the twilight about an hour-and-a-half before dusk, residents paraded their carriages up and down Governor's Row, putting their fine horses and carriages on display. Tidy lawns were maintained with stunning flowering displays. Denver was booming.

The Routts' new home was purchased for $30,000 from C. B. Kountze and remained in the family as long as John and Eliza were living. The grounds were spacious, with a neatly maintained lawn and a garden full of beautiful blooming roses and other flowers. A tree grew in the yard from a twig transplanted from a walnut tree on the Hanks-Lincoln homestead, a reminder of the Routts' Illinois heritage and friendship with Lincoln.

A portrait of President Grant was prominently displayed as part of the eclectic Victorian décor of the beautiful home. Statuary and select samples of ore, marble, and granite from the mines were exhibited. Paintings by the Routt children adorned the walls. When John began raising cattle, he added a portrait of one of their finest imported cattle and a unique chair made of cattle horns.

The Routts became part of Denver's lively social scene of families made rich by mining. Prominent in that scene was Routt's friend, Lieutenant Governor Horace Austin Warner Tabor, who was widely known as the Silver King of Leadville. Tabor's mining investments in Leadville, including the Matchless Mine, made him enormously wealthy. His annual investment income was estimated at $4 million a year, with $1 million of that coming from the Matchless Mine. He enjoyed spending his newly earned money with flare and abandon.

Although they were quite different in character, Tabor and Routt lived parallel lives and held many experiences in common. They often appeared together at political and business events, as well as social gatherings. Tabor's grandiose wealth and heavily documented personal life, is a well-known part of Colorado history. Artifacts from his life lend valuable clues about the lifestyle and experiences of Tabor and his contemporaries such as the Routts, as well as the manner in which the families handled their newfound wealth.

A newspaper account tells of an extravagant party given by Horace Tabor and his first wife, Augusta, for the prominent citizens of Denver in February 1879. John and Eliza Routt assisted the Tabors with the party and in receiving their guests that evening. For the occasion, Augusta Tabor, who preferred to downplay their wealth much of the time, wore an elegant gown of black silk and velvet trimmed with canary-colored silk and diamond ornaments. Eliza wore a dress of dark green silk and with a velvet train, also decorated with diamond ornaments. Newspapers of the time delighted in describing the minute details of these functions. On this occasion, they described the conversation, décor, entertainment, food, and drink as spectacular, lavish, and unforgettable.

Those days of gold and silver strikes were exciting ones in mining camps such as Leadville. However, many accidents, which were not uncommon, served as a grim reminder of the danger and sacrifice necessary to maintain the production of precious minerals from the mines. Tragedy visited the Morning Star Mine in August 1879. The Rocky Mountain News reported the following:

Killed in Routt's Mine

(The Eclipse newspaper says) a man was instantly killed at the Morning Star mine, on Carbonate hill, by the caving in of dirt from the roof of a drift. The man was a German, and we did not learn his name. Later last evening, parties were down hunting for the coroner, but the inquest has been deferred till this morning. The body was taken to the man's home, but the inquest will probably be held at Rogers' undertaking rooms. The property in which the accident occurred belongs to Governor Routt and Joseph W. Watson.2

In April 1880, John Routt became president of the Morning Star Consolidated, which included seven separate mining claims on twenty-six acres in Leadville. The mines included in the company were the Morning Star, Waterloo, Halfway House, Forsaken, Buckeye Belle, Anchor, and Carrolton. His partners were Colorado State Treasurer George C. Corning and Joseph W. Watson, his manager at the Morning Star.

On March 14, 1880, the status of the Morning Star Mine was described in the Daily News.

The most productive mine yet worked on Carbonate Hill is the Morning Star and Waterloo consolidation. This the property of Governor Routt, J. W. Watson and George C. Corning, all three being now in New York, where a sale of the mine for three millions of dollars is now pending. The ore already mined from the property has amounted to over a million of dollars, and the underground workings have been conducted in a most systematic manner; pushing developments constantly ahead and exposing a great deal more mineral than has been taken out. The ore mined, in fact, has been mostly taken from development drifts and but little stoping has been done. The opening up and operating the mine has been under the personal supervision of Mr. Watson, who has had years of experience in mining and thoroughly understands its details. The timbering through the drifts and workings are particularly substantial and more attention has been paid to keeping the mine in good shape than to the surface improvements. The hoisting works, for instance, although good and substantial, are not extensive enough for so important a mine. To this fact is due the reason the shipments are not greater as the hoisting facilities are taxed to their utmost to raise the sixty or seventy tons of ore produced daily. The capabilities of the mine are far beyond this. At no time in the history of the mine has the property looked better than at present, or a greater amount of ore been mined. The extensive levels and drifts are being pushed forward as rapidly as can be, still opening out new and large bodies of ore, while the pillars of wealth left standing and already developed are left undisturbed for the future. The best of experts have made careful estimates of the amount of reserve already exposed in the mines, and in no case have any of these calculations been below three millions of dollars. During the month of February the shipments of ore amounted to 1,471 tons. During the first part of the month the shipments, owing to some delays were smaller than usual, while during the latter part, and so far in the present month, from sixty to seventy tons are daily handled. The recent purchase by the owner [Routt] of the Morning Star, of the Half Way House, Forsaken, Buckeye Bell and other claims located down the hill to the north, nearer to Stray Horse gulch, are also being actively worked. During last month, owing to timbering and repairing these mines, a great deal of ore could not be extracted. From both the new mines during February, there were shipped one hundred and thirty tons. The production at present averages twelve tons daily. Some very fine ore has been taken from the Half Way House. One lot of over four tons, shipped last week, netted $200 to the ton. These properties are being rapidly developed, and will soon add largely to the shipments.3

In 1880, Leadville mines produced 9 million ounces of silver as labor problems disrupted the mining community at Carbonate Camp. Miners became increasingly disgruntled about working twelve hours a day, six days a week, in unsafe and unhealthy conditions for three dollars a day. Owners might argue that they had worked for similar wages and under similar conditions when they started prospecting, but the boomtown economy meant workers had greater personal expenses. Rail service brought new supplies of cheap immigrant labor arrived daily, keeping wages down. The Knights of Labor had secretly organized The Miner's Cooperative Union in Leadville and a strike was imminent.

The situation came to a head when the workers in Horace Tabor's mines went on strike, marched down the gulch into Leadville, collecting some 4,000 men along the way. Smelter workers walked off the job to support the miners, bringing the total to 10,000 strikers. Tension escalated with threats of violence.

In 1878, Governor Routt had issued a proclamation incorporating the town, which Leadville citizens voted unanimously to accept. Horace Tabor, who with his wife, Augusta, had operated a general store and grubstaked miners when they first settled in Leadville, became first mayor and postmaster.

By 1880, Horace Tabor was lieutenant governor under Governor Frederick R. Pitkin. Although he preferred to have the title "Governor" used with his name, Tabor was never governor of Colorado. He was, however, very much in charge in Leadville where he organized his own local militia to maintain law and order. He called his militia the Tabor Light Cavalry and named himself commander, mobilizing his militia to subdue the strikers and to round up troublemakers. He also commanded that law authorities order miners back to work. The situation was volatile.

Governor Pitkin overruled Tabor's authority and militia by sending in David J. Cook, major general of the state militia, to help diffuse the situation. A conference between the miner's union and the mine owners was organized, and the meeting resulted in a peaceful agreement. Individuals who had resorted to violence and intimidation were not re-employed. Miners returned to their jobs with the same wages and working conditions, although management voted in favor of adopting a general eight-hour workday, which would become the prevailing law in the mining camp. As a result of the need for intervention by the state government, as well as his action against the community of miners, Horace Tabor's credibility was severely damaged.

During the three-week-long strike, production in the Morning Star Mine was suspended. Mine manager, J. W. Watson, and assistant manager, R. C. Facer, were in Denver during the strike. When peace was restored, the Daily News on March 14, 1880, reported that over a hundred men were lined up, waiting to apply for jobs at the Morning Star, once the managers returned and mining operations were resumed.

On October 7, 1880, the Rocky Mountain News, reprinting an article from the Leadville Herald, reported that Morning Star Mine employees presented a fine flag measuring 17-by-30 feet to the Morning Star Company. The large American flag was unfurled and conspicuously displayed from a flag pole over the east shaft building of the Morning Star Mine, and could easily be seen from all parts of the city. It was also reported that the mineworkers had organized a "Boys in Blue" club.

Perhaps the flag represented a peace offering, and the club represented newly kindled pride and solidarity, because the miners settled back into their work routine at the Morning Star. Still more reforms in wages and working conditions were to come, but Leadville miners had taken the first step in making their problems known.

In 1880, the Routts' friends, Horace and Augusta Tabor, experienced a personal crisis. Horace Tabor spent more and more time enjoying life as the Silver King of Leadville, away from his stoic wife, Augusta, whom he had safely deposited in a large home in Denver. On his own in Leadville, Horace spent money with abandon, built a lavish opera house, and fell madly in love with a beautiful young woman. (Recall the saying adopted by many of the Bonanza Kings that it takes one woman to help earn the fortune and another to help spend it.)

Many discarded pioneer women found themselves alone and penniless in the mountains, or on the streets of Denver. When Tabor sought a divorce from Augusta, she knew better than to leave herself open to destitution and would not agree to a divorce. Horace continued his relationship with his new love, Elizabeth McCourt Doe, known locally as "Baby Doe." Augusta eventually relented and unwillingly granted him a divorce that provided her a lucrative financial settlement, and Tabor and Baby Doe were married in 1883.

With so many changes and disruptions in the wake of financial boom in a rapidly growing and prospering state, Eliza Routt maintained consistency and solidarity in her own marriage and in the Routt household and family. Even though the Routts' situation was similar in many ways to that of the Tabors, John and Eliza's relationship, family, and household, as well as their social and political position, remained on solid ground and consistently above reproach.

"Uncle Johnny" Routt had a reputation for a generous nature and nonpartisan entertaining, and he teetered on the brink of careless spending at times. Eliza's sensible domestic management helped to keep her exuberant husband's excesses in check without compromising their lifestyle as public figures. Guests, political and personal, were entertained often in the Routt home.

One newspaper account suggested that Johnny Routt enjoyed cutting loose with the boys. During the Republican Convention of 1880 in Leadville, the Rocky Mountain News reported, "Thus far the convention marched on in its proceedings without impediment. When the nomination for state auditor was reached, Governor Routt, who had been around the corner, came in 'feeling like a morning star'. He had not made proper allowances for altitude, or possibly in the midst of the enthusiasm his drinks had been mixed."4

This quotation is especially interesting in the use of the phrase, feeling like a morning star, as an apparent simile for a hangover. On any account, Routt was well known for sharing his hospitality, enjoying the camaraderie of his friends and associates, and on occasion singing and drinking with them.

Early in 1880, at the age of 41, Eliza Pickrell Routt became pregnant. This pregnancy produced the Routts' first and only child together. Their daughter, Lila Elkin Routt, was born on November 11, 1880, and was given her mother's nickname, Lila, as her first name. Lila became the new center of the Routts' busy household and would grow up to become a favorite of Denver society. Educated in music, she would carry on her mother's interest in music appreciation through development and support of the Denver symphony and with her perfect soprano voice as a vocal soloist.

A little over a month after Lila's birth, on December 21, 1880, Eliza's "Grand Pa Pa," William F. Elkin, passed away in Decatur, Illinois. At age 86, his long and productive life of public service in Illinois had come to an end. Eliza's grandfather had filled the role of her father throughout her life. An important link to Eliza's family was gone.


  1. Albert B. Sanford, "John L. Routt, First State Governor of Colorado," Colorado Magazine (August 1926): 84. Albert Sanford, who later became curator of the Colorado Historical Society, was personally acquainted with John Routt in Leadville.
  2. Rocky Mountain News, 2 August 1879.
  3. Daily News, 14 March 1880, 6.
  4. Rocky Mountain News, 27 August 1880.

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