Work was hard to come by in early Ridgway

An early glimpse into the life of Ridgway was provided to the late Roger Henn of Ouray in the form or letters written in 1891. The letters were written by John C. Bachelder to his brother Millard and sister Lida.

John Bachelder had been a conductor with the Kalamazoo and South Haven, Michigan, and struck out on his own for the Colorado frontier, landing in Ridgway. The following is one of those letters:


April 2, 1891

My Dear Brother, I hope you will forgive me for not writing sooner and for not coming to see you before I came out West but I was in a hurry, for I expected that my coming here as quick as I could get here would get me to work as soon as I got to Denver. But as it has turned out I might as well have stayed East for I have not done any work to speak of and have been here almost six weeks. Where I am now is about 400 miles from Denver and Denver is about 1,200 from Chicago — so you see I am quite a distance from Michigan — most too far to walk.

This place is a new town just started last August. There was only two houses here, now there is about 75, six stores, one drugstore and a hotel, partly finished. Board is high and you cannot hardly get a place to sleep. I am boarding on a ranch almost a mile from the depot. I have enough to eat such as it is, but when you come to talk about sleeping it makes me tired, for I could not put a dog in the East in the places I have to sleep here.

But you can’t help it for there is no other place. All the people you see here have their blankets and carry them with them from place to place. For when you start out in the morning, you do not know where you will be when night comes or what the weather will be. For you can start from here and go a few miles up the mountains and it may be snowing and blowing. And it only takes about 30 minutes to fill the track so that the trains cannot get through. I have been out with the snow plow two nights and four days since I came to Ridgeway (sic) and I have been here almost two weeks.

The train master talks very favorably to me and thinks he will be able to put me to work steady in a short time, but it does not look very favorable for me if I do not get work here soon. I do not know where I will go unless I go south, for there is no use going west any farther for mines are duller than they are east. There are thousands of idle men here in this country, the same as there are east, but I shall stay here for the present and see if I cannot get a run. For as soon as I can learn the road I won’t have to brake long.

They pay good wages but everything is high. You ought to see some of the places where they run a railroad here. They have hills here that are almost straight up. The passenger (train) draws only three cars and the freight trains only six. That is all they can get up with and they have big engines and good ones too. They charge 10 cents a mile fare and from 25 cents to 41.50 per hundred for freight. The branch is only 45 miles long but they do not mind that, for it is cheaper than when they had to draw the freight by wagons.

There is lots of mines close by here and very rich ones too. As soon as the snow melts on the mountains they will begin to rush the ore to the smelters and then business will be lively.

I never knew what it was before to get up in the morning and be all around through the day and not see a person I knew, but such is the case here …Goodbye,

J.C. Bachelder

Alan Todd is a 35-year newspaper veteran who lives in Ouray County. He can be reached at

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