The town of Crested Butte was incorporated in 1880, but settlers were in the area as early as 1874 looking for precious minerals, prior to this, the area had been known only to the Ute Indians who came into the area by way of the Kebler Trail from the high plains to the west, with the advent of the prospectors, the Utes were restricted to a reservation near the top of Kebler pass during the summers. As mineral development
increased, this concession was revoked.
The districts surrounding the area quickly grew into many mining camps where millions of dollars of gold and silver were extracted. Crested Butte served them as a logical and naturalcenter of supply.
By 1881 the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad had laid a line from Gunnison. However, the gold and silver boom was very short-lived—from 1880 to about 1885. New mining activity, less glamorous, but more substantial, formed the economic background for the continued growth of Crested Butte—fine quality bituminous coal. The first large coal mine was the Jokerville that was operated by the Colorado coal and Iron Company, later the Colorado Fuel and iron Company. In 1884 a tragic and terrific explosion ripped through the mine, closing it and claiming also the lives of 58 Crested Butte miners. In 1894 the CF & I opened the largest mine in the area and resumed operation as the largest coking interest inthe town, owning and operating about 100 ovens capable of coking two tons every 24 hours.
Coal operations in Crested Butte were curtailed drastically in the 1930s and 1940s. Finally in 1952 the Big Mine shut down. The Denver & Rio Grande pulled out its railroad line a year later. Those who remained in the town sought employment at other mining interests, principally the American Smelting and Refining Company which subsequently operated the big Keystone Mine, producing precious metals, lead, zinc and copper.
Also during this period of hard times Crested Butte began to develop a new base of economics—the winter tourist. In 1962 the town had its first ski area. The idea caught on and Crested Butte has attracted summer and winter tourists in increasing numbers ever since.
The Town of Crested Butte has always been known for its scenic setting, its mineral lodes, and its hardy citizenry. Scots- English-lrish stock predomenated in the early mining era. Central and Southern European stock sunk roots during the coal development period. By 1925, the town's population consisted largely of unskilled immigrant labor. Eventually these people owned and operated many of the local businesses. Some ethnic rivalry existed during these years; the Ku Klux Klan was briefly popular. But mostly the people found, in the words of one old-timer, that they were "one big family, not always a happy family, but still one family."