This story is part one of Liberty Coin & Currency’s series “Great American Mines.”
On the outskirts of what is now affluent Aspen, Colorado, stands what was once one of the most prosperous silver mines in U.S. history: Smuggler’s Mine. Its history is filled with intrigue and tall tales — everything from dubious land claims and a sickly mule to the biggest nugget ever found.
As the alleged story goes, Edward Fuller and Con Allbright were prospecting near Aspen in the summer of 1879. The two men hit hard times when a brush fire destroyed all of their belongings. Concerned with their own survival, Fuller and Allbright were relieved when they found a camp nearby. The prospectors in camp helped them out with blankets, food, and other basic supplies. The next day, all of the prospectors headed out to look for silver together. They found a promising amount of silver, but after such an arduous journey that had left them without any of their own supplies, Fuller and Allbright decided to quit while they were ahead.
The two sold their share of what would become Smuggler’s Mine for $50 and a mule. According to the legend, the mule died the very next day. If the two adventurers hadn’t been so anxious to get home, they would have been very rich men. Smuggler’s Mine became one of the most productive silver mines in the world.
The first man to officially claim Smuggler’s Mine in 1879 was Charles Bennett. It’s not clear how Bennett came to be the claimant for the mine, but some stories state that Bennett claimed to have found the mine abandoned. Seeing as that version of events doesn’t match up with the most common story, many people speculate that Bennett saw that the mine was undeveloped, and took liberties with the term “abandoned.” The next year, Bennett sold the mine to B. Clark Wheeler and Charles Hallam, who went on to not only develop the mine but help build the city of Aspen as well. Though it took nearly seven years, and a series of legal battles, Smuggler’s mine went on to become a huge silver producer.
The silver ore was so pure and abundant that it was said you could see the silver without even digging. During the height of the Smuggler’s Mine’s boom, it was producing a fifth of the world’s silver. And it was at Smuggler’s Mine that the largest silver nugget ever found — weighing more than 2,000 pounds — was discovered.
Mining slowed dramatically in 1893 after the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, which had guaranteed the purchase of silver from U.S. mines, and had been a large factor in the success of Smuggler’s Mine. Though small-scale mining continued for years, the mine was never as successful again. Smuggler’s Mine has changed hands many times since then and was put up for sale again in 2012 for $9,000,000. It was proposed as a residential development. Imagine living at Smuggler’s Mine!
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