First Draft: Telluride was once ruled by wealthy ‘savage’ Bulkeley Wells

A portrait of Bulkeley Wells, in his militia uniform. Photo courtesy of the Denver Public Library.



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A portrait of Bulkeley Wells, in his militia uniform. Photo courtesy of the Denver Public Library.

Bulkeley Wells as a more mature man. The photo is undated, and courtesy of the Denver Public Library.



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Bulkeley Wells as a more mature man. The photo is undated, and courtesy of the Denver Public Library.

Colorado National Guard members, believed to be near Telluride at the time of the miners’ strike. Photographer’s notation on the back reads, “Pinkertons settling strike.” Photo courtesy of the Dan Wheeler Photo collection at the Museum of Western Colorado.



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Colorado National Guard members, believed to be near Telluride at the time of the miners’ strike. Photographer’s notation on the back reads, “Pinkertons settling strike.” Photo courtesy of the Dan Wheeler Photo collection at the Museum of Western Colorado.

Telluride’s main street, probably a few years before the miners’ strike. Photo from the Dan Wheeler collection at the Museum of Western Colorado.



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Telluride’s main street, probably a few years before the miners’ strike. Photo from the Dan Wheeler collection at the Museum of Western Colorado.

On Jan. 4, 1904, a Daily Sentinel headline blared the news from San Miguel County:

“Martial Law Declared at Telluride.”

The reason was a mining strike that began the previous October over issues that had been festering since 1900.

At the center of the dispute was a man named Bulkeley Wells, manager and part owner of the Smuggler Mining Company and leading citizen of Telluride.

For a time in 1904, Wells was virtual dictator of San Miguel County.

Wells was called “courageous” and “a glamorous man” by supporters. But a Socialist Party pamphlet that backed the miners described him as “a gentleman and a savage.”

Wells was certainly wealthy, powerful and arguably glamorous in the early years of the 20th century — he was a polo player, member of the Masons and Elks, a host of elaborate dinner parties. A few decades later, however, he was destitute and alone. In 1931, in San Francisco, he shot and killed himself.

Wells was born in Chicago in 1872 and graduated from Harvard in 1894. He worked briefly for a New Hampshire manufacturing company and a Boston railroad firm before romance brought him fortune.

In 1895, he married Grace Daniels Livermore, whose father, Col. Thomas Livermore of Boston, was primary owner of New England Exploration. In 1899, that company purchased the Smuggler-Union Mining Co. for $1.5 million.

Bulkeley Wells was named vice president of the company, and moved with his wife and young family to Denver.

A brief synopsis of Telluride’s labor wars is listed below, from Roger Neville Williams 1977 book, “The Great Telluride Strike, Labor Struggles and Martial Law in San Miguel County 1901-1904:”

■ May 4, 1901: Telluride Miners Union No. 63, affiliate of Western Federation of Miners, declares strike against Smuggler-Union because the company refuses to pay $3 for an eight-hour day.

■ July 3, 1901: Gunfire breaks out between striking union members and scab miners working at the Smuggler. Two scabs and one union man are killed. Strike ends later that summer.

■ Nov. 19, 1902: Smuggler Mine manager Arthur Collins is murdered as he eats dinner at his house in Pandora (just east of Telluride). Wells moves to Telluride.

■ Sept. 1, 1903: Telluride Miners Union calls strike against the Smuggler-Union, Tomboy and Liberty bell mills.

■ Nov. 20, 1903: Gov. James Peabody orders National Guard troops to Telluride under command of Major Zeph Hill.

■ Dec. 22, 1903: Eighteen union leaders and strikers are arrested and sent by train to jail in Montrose. Within days, Judge Theron Stevens of Montrose orders them all released. Most return to Telluride.

■ Jan. 3, 1904: Gov. Peabody declares martial law. Hill’s soldiers arrest 50 men at the union hall, and place them on a train bound for Ridgway.

■ Jan. 11, 1904: At Hill’s request, Wells establishes Troop A, First Squadron Cavalry, of local citizens. Wells is captain.

■ Feb. 21, 1904: Major Hill withdraws with his men. Wells becomes supreme military commander of San Miguel County. He restricts freedom of assembly, closes gambling halls, censors the press and telegraph dispatches.

■ March 11, 1904: Martial law lifted, gambling halls reopen, deported strikers begin returning.

■ March 14, 1904 : Angry townsmen, led by Wells, ransack saloons, brothels and miners’ homes in search of union members. Seventy men put on train to Ridgway.

■ March 24, 1904: Peabody reinstates martial law. Brigadier Gen. Sherman Bell of Colorado National Guard moves to Telluride with 300 troops. Bell orders Wells to reactivate Troop A.

■ Late March, 1904: Miners Union President Charles Moyer and Western Federation of Miners leader Big Bill Haywood are arrested in Ouray on charges of desecrating the flag. Haywood is released but Moyer is transported to Telluride. 

■ April, 1904: Judge Stevens orders a writ of habeas corpus for Moyer, and demands Moyer be brought before his court. Gen. Bell responds, “Habeas corpus be damned. We’ll give ‘em post mortems.”

■ April 1904: Judge Stevens orders the arrest of Gen. Bell and Wells, but the Ouray County Sheriff is unable to do it. Wells warns: “Anyone who attempts to enforce Judge Stevens’ order will end up in jail”

■ April 16, 1904: Gen. Bell withdraws his troops. Wells is again in charge of San Miguel County.

■ June 6, 1904: Colorado Supreme Court upholds the suspension of Moyer’s writ of habeas corpus because Moyer had “kept alive insurrection and rebellion.”

■ June 15, 1904: Gov. Peabody again declares end to martial law. Bulkeley Wells tells any “idlers” to go to work or get out of town.

■ November 29, 1904: Strike is officially called off. Wells agrees to institute 8-hour day for $3-a-day pay at all Smuggler facilities.

Author Maryjoy Martin, in her 2004 book about the Telluride labor war, “The Corpse on Boomerang Road,” described Wells as “a peacock, all spangled, spurred and armed with a pistol.”

However, a 1918 book about Colorado’s leading citizens was far kinder: “Bulkeley Wells is possessed of rare courage, which, added to a keen sense of justice, is largely responsible for his success in dealing with great bodies of men.”

E.B. Adams, lawyer for the Smuggler-Union Company beginning in 1908 and author of a 1961 booklet titled “My Association with a Glamorous Man … Bulkeley Wells,” also said Wells was courageous. But, he added, “I suppose that a foolhardy man must be courageous.”

Adams didn’t touch on Wells’ involvement in the labor wars, but he noted that Wells divorced Grace Livermore, and married two more times. Wells left the Smuggler-Union company in 1923, but became friends with New York millionaire Harry Payne Whitney, who funded most of Wells’ mining and other ventures through the 1920s, Adams wrote.

But that money eventually dried up, and so did Bulkeley Wells’ glamorous life. A mutual friend told Adams he ran into Wells shortly before his suicide in 1931. He described the once-powerful man as an unsuccessful gambler whose clothes were so shabby “he would walk only through the alleys and back streets” of the city.

Bob Silbernagel’s email is .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).





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