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From Gold to Ghosts: A History of St. Elmo, by Peter Anderson

Review by Annie Hays

Local History – January 2002 – Colorado Central Magazine

From Gold to Ghosts: A History of St. Elmo, Colorado
By Peter Anderson
First edition copyright 1983
B&B Printers, Gunnison

ST. ELMO, one of Colorado’s most well preserved ghost towns near Mt. Princeton, was a typical boom and bust mining town of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Peter Anderson artfully weaves excerpts from local newspapers, including The Salida Mail and The Buena Vista Democrat, into an account of what life was like in St. Elmo when it supported some of the most prosperous mines in the state at the turn of the last century.

Anderson chose to divide his chapters thematically, rather than chronologically, giving detailed accounts of the goings on of the nearby Murphy mines, St. Elmo’s social life, politics, legalities, and the railroad dilemmas it constantly faced throughout its ups and downs as a town. The last chapter tells of the Colorado & Southern Railroad’s decision to stop service to St. Elmo, a decision that cut off all of the town’s ties to the outside world — quickly leading to its transition from gold to ghosts.

As a non-native Coloradan, I had a difficult time getting into the book simply because I am not privy to technical mining terms and do not have a great knowledge of railroads, the two driving forces behind small mountain towns at the time of St. Elmo’s inhabitance.

Still, the 100-page historical account provided a welcome break from writing my thesis, and I was delighted to find that the hard-core miners of that era soaked their bones in the Mt. Princeton hot springs just as I have done.

Although my unfamiliarity with mining and railroad history made it hard for me to get started on the book, as with many stories of the Colorado mining era, the recounts of thievery, drunkenness, fire, rape, and racism kept me reading into the wee hours of the morning.

–Annie Hays