After gold was discovered in the region, American miners started moving in illegally in violation to what had been confirmed as Ute territory by the Treaty of 1868.
The Ute peoples spent several years trying to protect their land from invasion by gold-hungry prospectors, but their representative Ouray and his wife Chipeta were manipulated into ceding 3.7 million acres of land by Felix Brunot, chairman of the Board of Indian Commissioners, who never followed through on his promise to return Ouray’s captive son in exchange for the American right to mine the San Juan Mountains.
Once the Brunot Agreement was signed, American mining operations began in earnest. Rico was one of the towns that popped up and boomed in the 1880s, reaching a population of 5,000 in 1892.
The very next year, however, Rico’s fortunes turned when a silver panic hit the town. As the price of silver plummeted, most businesses closed, and by the end of the century the population had dropped to 811.
Rito’s prosperity was gone as quickly as it had come. One of the few businesses that remained were the lumber camps.
In a few decades following the treaty-breaking expulsion of the Ute, who had lived sustainably in southwestern Colorado for hundreds of years, warned the mining and lumber industries about a man-eating mountain whale of Lizard Head.
No one believed the indians who thought they made up the legend to try and scare the white settlers away. Land-locked Colorado is not the first place you think of when it comes to marine looking land mammals.
But in the early 20th century, American lumberjacks told all sorts of stories about “fearsome critters”, and one of them was the Slide-Rock Bolter, a terrifying mountain creature.
The tale of the Slide-Rock Bolter comes to us from William Thomas Cox, the State Forester who claimed the woodsman came under attack in 1910 and his story was published in Fearsome Critters of the Lumberwoods.
The Slide-Rock Bolter’s story is set in southwestern Colorado. Cox worked with forester Coert du Bois, who drew the illustrations, and botanist George Bishop Sudworth, whose Latin taxonomical names for the creatures:
In the mountains of Colorado, where in summer the woods are becoming infested with tourists, much uneasiness has been caused by the presence of the slide-rock bolter. This frightful animal lives only in the steepest mountain country where the slopes are greater than 45 degrees. It has an immense head, with small eyes, and a mouth somewhat on the order of a sculpin, running back beyond its ears.
It has enormous grab-hooks, which it fastens over the crest of the mountain or ridge, often remaining there motionless for days at a time, watching the gulch for tourists or any other hapless creature that may enter it.
At the right moment, after sighting a tourist, it will lift its tail, thus loosening its hold on the mountain, and with its small eyes riveted on the poor unfortunate, and drooling thin skid grease from the corners of its mouth, which greatly accelerates its speed, the bolter comes down like a toboggan, scooping in its victim as it goes, its own impetus carrying it up the next slope, where it again slaps its tail over the ridge and waits.
Many a draw through spruce-covered slopes has been laid low, the trees being knocked out by the roots or mowed off as by a scythe where the bolter has crashed down through from the peaks above.
American violation of the Brunot Agreement provoked violent retaliation, which led to the expulsion of the Ute peoples to Utah in 1881. This left their heavily forested homeland open for exploitation.
The forests of southwestern Colorado were felled at first to support the mining industry, but by the time the mines were abandoned the demand for timber for railroads was high enough that logging remained profitable.
The New Mexico Logging Company acquired the cutting rights for the prized western yellow pine that grew near Rico and proceeded to raze the land.
The lumber regions are contracting. Stretches of forest that once seemed boundless are all but gone, and many a stream is quiet that once ran full of logs and echoed to the song of the river driver.
Some say that the old type of logger himself is becoming extinct, and all that is left is a description and sketch some of the interesting animals which they eyewitnessed.
No such creature had even been photographed and no remains ever discovered.