Tammy Curtis, Publisher
The first miners to reach the Colorado Rockies were disappointed more often than not. They often sacrificed their lives in the quest for the illusive mineral that led them westward. They made their way through solid rock passes on little more than horses and wagons. The hope to cash in with some of the gleaming treasure hidden within the mountains and live a better life guided them onward. Through the bitter winter cold and summer drought, the first miners fought to survive with the dream of wealth as their compass. Uprooting their families and heading west was what thousands of early settlers opted for, their journey’s each as unique as the circumstances that drove them.
While recently vacationing in Colorado, the majestic mountains that have witnessed life and death for centuries amidst their rugged terrain were not only beautiful, but also provided a fascinating look into the mountain people. But, perhaps the most intriguing thing witnessed was much more modest and lacking the awe and splendor of the city’s snow topped backdrops.
It was a small plaque designating the location of a historic newspaper office in Silverton. It was one whose story made me realize the ink that flows freely in journalist’s blood goes way back, perhaps to even before the Freedom of the Press was established. It has been living in the hearts of journalists for centuries.
Folks seek news, real news … just as they sought gold, oil, fame and anything else that would better their lives materialistically. News was a commodity and those who brought it to the small western mining towns were undoubtedly revered and trusted, much the same as modern day hometown newspapers strive to be today.
The La Plata Miner began publishing on July 10, 1875 after newspaper pioneer John R. Curry managed to haul an 1839 Hoe press over Stony Pass with the aid of only pack mules.
Curry was a Civil War veteran, serving in the 13th Iowa infantry. He was born in 1846 or 1847 in Yorktown, N.Y., and came west from LaMars, Iowa where he also owned a newspaper. At one point, when the town was cut off for several weeks due to snowstorms and avalanches, Curry had to publish the newspaper on blue wrapping paper obtained from a butcher in town. In 1889, the Silverton Standard was founded and the two newspapers merged in 1922. Curry eventually founded five newspapers in the area.
In its over a century and a half service to the area, the La Plata Miner covered infamous stories about mining fires, Spanish Flu, the shooting of a town Marshall, all this above and beyond the weekly news locals sought.
America survives and thrives because names of men and women like Curry … people most don’t even know. They are all seemingly ordinary people who do extraordinary things. They don’t run for president . play professional sports or become movie stars, but without them, the best of America would not exist or be documented as a part of history. A part of history future generations, like myself, will always seek.
Besides the obvious need for solid and truthful information about the local area, newspapers had a secondary purpose, one that carried on long after the linotype pressed letters had ceased to be as visible as they were hot off the press.
A local mining ghost town with many homes still standing was also part of a tour. Within several of these dilapidating homes, ones that had outlived their purpose decades earlier, were the remnants of the insulation that kept them protected from the bitter mountain air. Old newspapers lined the walls, again proving the importance of newspaper, even to early miners.
In today’s day and age, with digital and social platforms and a 24 hour news cycle, perhaps local newspapers aren’t as sought after as the Miner. But, still today the researched stories and in depth information stands above any digital, television or social platforms in the information provided to our readers. The increased subscriptions proves local newspapers are still a commodity and truth is still sought, something perhaps Curry had no idea would carry one years after his death in 1911.
Remember, newspapers are always history in the making.