Alfred Bennet Iles



Alfred Bennet Iles 

     The original locators/owners of the Addie S were Alfred Bennet Iles and William J. Shiek

     The only thing we know about W. J. Shiek is a reference to him as "of the Denver Fire Brick Company" which appeared on page 2 of the March 17, 1883 edition of the Red Mountain Pilot.  Fortunately, the comprehensive research of the foremost historian of the local area provides us with some insights of Alfred Bennet Iles, through the following excerpts2:

     “The publishers of the San Juan Herald had some help from the very first issue in the person of a strapping young compositor and pressman named Alfred Iles - another 1881 arrival who was to have a long-standing involvement with Silverton and the San Juan Mountains. Alfred Bennet Iles was 25 years old at the time, having been born in Cheshire, England, October 11, 1855, where his father served as steward of Cholmondeley Castle. The elder Iles was basically a property manager, but was also an expert cricket player, and is said to have taught King Edward and Czar Nicholas I how to play the game. The younger Iles apprenticed for two years as a tombstone cutter in Scotland, then joined the British Navy for a couple of exotic years in the Indian Ocean. By the time he mustered out, his family had come to the United States, where his father established a hotel at Colorado City and attempted unsuccessfully to homestead the hot water sources at Manitou Springs. Alfred's older brother Harry had gone to Pueblo as foreman of the Chieftain newspaper, and the contact produced an occupation for the younger Iles, who quickly moved from printer's devil to typesetter to press operator. His shipboard experience netted him the job of firing a cannon captured in the Mexican War for the July 4, 1876, festivities at Pueblo.

     “Iles had actually been in the Silverton area on a couple of occasions prior to his first local mention as a compositor for the San Juan Herald. His 20s were typical for a curious young man in the San Juans. He roamed considerably, looking for a place to light, and while the only source we have on his activities is his own fanciful personal memoir, [Note: Alfred B. Iles, "The Log of a Sea-Going Pioneer," Unpublished Manuscript, n.d., provided through the courtesy of Victor and Cecilia Gensheer and Vicki Gensheer Kirkpatrick. Iles' reminiscence is somewhat inconsistent in its accuracy, and his knowledge of San Juan history from his presence at a type case much of the time gives the feeling he may have inserted himself in a number of stories. While his account of the killing of marshal D.C. Ogsbury-covered in Chapter 22 of this volume-is grossly inaccurate (he was probably not in Silverton for the event), there is nonetheless a ring of truth to a good deal of his recollection.] the work contains some fascinating possibilities which deserve at least passing scrutiny. Iles left Pueblo in the spring of 1877 for Lake City, worked for a short time on the Silver World, then joined a bridge building gang on the Henson Creek road as a means of getting deeper into the San Juans. When the gang finished its contract at Rose's Cabin, lles shouldered his bedroll and walked over the range to Animas Forks, and slept on a billiard table there the night of July 3, 1877. He walked on through Howardsville and Silverton and on to Ouray, noting that a foot log was the only bridge over Bear Creek Falls at that time. Iles worked for a time for the young San Juan Sentinel at Ouray, but decided to return to Lake City in the fall. He collected what mail was bound in that direction, and left in seemingly good weather with no provisions. A storm closed in on him before he had crossed his first major ridge, and he wandered lost in the storm for nearly five days. At one point, he figured he was very near Lost Trail Creek above the Rio Grande, but in fact he had circumnavigated Ouray, never more than 20 miles away from the settlement at any time. That odyssey was ended, Iles claims, when he stumbled across a tent in the snow, occupied by a grizzled character who fed him, told him of five companions who were out hunting in the snow and had not returned, and gave him life-saving directions to the Uncompahgre Ute Agency below Ouray, which he said was ten miles away. Iles says the man was Alfred Packer. This would have been nearly four years since the fabled Packer incident and, if true, would mean Packer was still leading a reclusive life in the Southwestern Colorado mountains as late as the winter of 1877-78.

     “Iles remained in Ouray that winter, prospecting with Charley Morris and becoming an American citizen at age 22 in order to be able to locate claims. He recalled assisting with the recovery of the body of young George West, and sheds some interesting light on the circumstances of that tragic death.  West had started a hay ranch in what is now known as Ironton Park, and supplied the market at Ouray by running burros down the treacherous Uncompahgre Canyon. West had purchased a grindstone in Ouray. but was unable to pay for it after the 1877 growing season. Although the trail to the park had been closed by snow, young West was so terrified of his creditor's threats to have him jailed that he set out for the park to return the grindstone to the merchant. When West failed to return, Iles and others went in search of him. They found a shoe near the junction of Poughkeepsie Creek and Red Mountain Creek, and traced a trail which bore evidence that West had frozen a foot, cut the shoe off and was trying to get down to Red Mountain Creek to thaw the extremity. At the base of one of the waterfalls in the canyon, the saddened men found the body of West encased in ice and frozen to the rocks. The mass was chipped free, whittled down to a manageable size, then carried down the canyon to Ouray, where the thawing was completed and the body shipped to the family back East.

     “Iles moved around a lot during 1878, working for a time at the Crooke Smelter in Lake City, returning briefly to Ouray, prospecting in the Salt Mountains, and winding up in the fall where the action was - at Leadville. He put in his time on the Leadville Reveille, but mining was getting in his blood, and he claims to have encountered Horace Tabor on the trail to the Little Pittsburgh one day. Tabor had been inspecting the Vulture, a fractional claim he had just purchased without much inspection. Iles talked Tabor into letting him work the shaft on the property, and the journalist-miner wrote that he not only exposed the salting of the hole-supposedly done by the infamous promoter "Chicken Bill"-but drove the shaft to a depth that did expose the valuable ore eventually extracted from that claim. Iles remained in Leadville the following year, moving back toward the San Juans during the winter of 1879-80 and being present en route at Irwin when that camp's first newspaper was produced, although he did not work on the Elk Mountain Pilot. He prospected around Silverton during 1880, but Iles' treatment of the entire decade is so severely condensed in his memoir it's difficult to discover an accurate sequence of events. He claimed to have had three near misses in avalanches during the winter of 1880-81, but none of the three slides are substantiated by any other source. The first was while working at the Belcher Mine on Sultan Mountain, where he said seven men crossing the draw between the boarding house and the mine were caught in an avalanche; two were killed and Iles himself was buried with only one arm protruding from the snow to alert his rescuers. The second was ostensibly while Iles and Rasmus Hanson were carrying mail from Mineral Point to the Alaska Mine in Poughkeepsie Gulch. The men's escape, as recounted by Iles, was spectacular. They had triggered a slide behind them as they snowshoed into the basin of Lake Como from California Gulch. The two sped down the slope, using their single poles only sparingly for braking, and beat the thundering snow to the lake, skiing across the frozen lake just in time to turn and see the avalanche crash through the ice and lose itself in the deep waters of Lake Como. The third was reportedly as Iles was taking a 45- mule pack train to the Genesee Mine at Red Mountain. A slide struck in a "harmless" place, killing 35 of the animals; one of the carcasses protected Iles from suffocation. [Note: The Genesee was not in production of that magnitude that early, so that slide likely occurred later than 1881. The Lake Como avalanche was pure poetry in its recounting, and may have been just that. Iles is quite specific about recalling the La Plata Miner coverage of the Belcher Basin slide in 1880-81, however, and it appears that issues which report the slide and the spring recovery of bodies may both be missing from surviving files, which would mean two more fatalities need to be added to the indeterminate number claimed by the east face of Sultan Mountain through the early years.]

     “Iles never mentioned working for the San Juan Herald in his recollections, but he was definitely on hand at the type cases when Silverton’s second newspaper came into being in June, 1881, working through the fall, then spending the winter as foreman for the Durango Record. The Herald’s co-tenant Leong Sing Lee was probably the only Oriental laundryman in Silverton during 1881, although several of his countrymen did appear for the new prosperity the following year...”2




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