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The Elk Mountain pilot. [volume] : (Irwin, (Ruby Camp), Gunnison County, Colo.) 1880-19??
Alternative Titles:
  • Gunnison news-champion and Gunnison republican
Place of publication:
Irwin, (Ruby Camp), Gunnison County, Colo.
Geographic coverage:
  • Crested Butte, Gunnison, Colorado  |  View more titles from this: City County, State
  • Irwin, Gunnison, Colorado  |  View more titles from this: City County, State
  • Ruby Camp, Gunnison, Colorado  |  View more titles from this: City County, State
Lacey & Phillips
Dates of publication:
  • Vol. 1, no. 1 (June 24, 1880)-
  • English
  • Colorado--Crested Butte.--fast--(OCoLC)fst01223761
  • Colorado--Gunnison County.--fast--(OCoLC)fst01207566
  • Crested Butte (Colo.)--Newspapers.
  • Gunnison County (Colo.)--Newspapers.
  • Archived issues are available in digital format from the Library of Congress Chronicling America online collection.
  • Available on microfilm from the Colorado Historical Society.
  • Published in Crested Butte, Colorado <Dec. 11, 1884->.
sn 86063397
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The Elk Mountain pilot. [volume] June 24, 1880 , Image 1


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Elk Mountain Pilot

Irwin, Gunnison County, Colorado, was a mining town that in its boom years from 1880 to 1882 boasted 23 saloons, the only brass band in Gunnison County, and every manner of gambling device. Five thousand people lived in Irwin during the summer, and 2,500 wintered there despite the deep snow, as much as 20 feet. Some accounts have it that prospectors felled trees in the snow for their cabins, and once the spring thaw came there remained fifteen-foot stumps. Other Irwin inhabitants added segments to their stovepipes as the snow piled on the roofs, to find, in the spring, they had twenty-foot chimneys. But the harsh winters and treacherous terrain did not dissuade those who were drawn to the town and its highly productive silver ore mines.

Jonathan E. Phillips and Jonathan L. Lacey saw opportunity in Irwin and made their way there to start its first—and only—newspaper. Leaving their posts with the Rosita [Colorado] Index and ordering a printing outfit from Chicago, Phillips and Lacey hauled some of their Index equipment by ox team from Alamosa, Colorado, toward Irwin in May of 1880. After a journey of six days and 40 miles, they found themselves stranded at the snow line three miles from the town. They decided that once snowshoes could be made, they would carry the equipment across the range, through the deep snow, to its destination. With type blocks in their pockets, paper strapped to their backs, and pieces of the hand press tucked under their arms, Phillips and Lacey snowshoed their way up the 45-degree ascent and down into Irwin. Journalist George A. Crofutt described their resourcefulness as being "peculiarly western, evincing pluck, energy and perseverance, American to the extreme."

The two men set up the press in a log cabin and printed the first issue of the Pilot on June 17, 1880. The Gunnison Review reported:

The Elk Mountain Pilot … made its first appearance Wednesday evening. The boys had a severe experience in getting into that camp, and encountered many difficulties in getting out their first issue, but despite all, they have issued a handsome and spicy paper, which was duly appreciated by the wide-awake people of the camp. The first six copies were sold at auction, bringing $158, the first $55, and the others smaller sums, making a handsome purse for the enterprising, plucky publishers.

Initially, the Pilot reported regional mining news, tales of profitable strikes of coal, and mineral market prices. During the boom years, as Irwin thrived and grew in population, the paper also published local news and social events, sporting news, and a town-gossip column called "What Baldy Sours Would Like to Know." By 1884, however, the boom was over, and the population of Irwin had dwindled significantly. Lacey, who had bought out Phillips in 1881, packed up his press and moved the paper down the hill to Crested Butte. The last Irwin-based Pilot was published on May 10, 1884, and without missing a single issue, Lacey printed the next Pilot in Crested Butte on May 17, 1884.

The staunchly Republican Pilot was the main paper in Crested Butte during its run. It had a number of editors and publishers, including J. W. Rockefeller, who, besides bringing electricity to the town in 1889, was the president of the bank, mayor of nearby Gunnison, and a member of the state senate. The paper changed ownership eight times before Josephine L. Wise, formerly of the Crystal Silver Lance, became editor from 1914 to 1916, and twice more until a Gunnison newspaperman, Charles T. Rawalt, purchased it in 1918 and was publisher until 1933. Rawalt sold the paper to another Gunnison publisher, Henry F. Lake, whose son, Rial Lake, took over in 1948 upon his father's death. The younger Lake sold the paper in the same year, and the Pilot ended publication in July 1949.

Provided by: History Colorado