Aspen bucked political fashion then, too |

Aspen bucked political fashion then, too

Republican headquarters, on Mill Street behind the Wheeler Opera House, in 1900 Aspen. The photos in the window are presidential candidate William McKinley and running mate Theodore Roosevelt. (Courtesy Aspen Historical Society)

“Some unseen force is hard at work to hold back the figures until they are right,” reported The Aspen Democrat the day after the 1906 election. The charge was leveled against an official in Arapahoe County, where the vote count for several judges was very close. Election fraud was as much an issue then as now, and for good reason.

A century ago Aspen still had a fairly large population, and Pitkin County’s votes accounted for about 1 percent of the statewide tally. Pitkin County cast 1,979 votes in 1906 compared to 6,717 in 2006. However, in 1906 all but 338 of those votes came from Aspen. Most of the other votes were from the Watson precinct (Aspen Village area) and Redstone. Ashcroft boasted a dozen voters. Republicans made a clean sweep in 1906 but not in Pitkin County. As has often been the case, Aspen bucked the state trend and voted for Democrats. In the governor’s race Democrat Alva Adams garnered 40 percent of Pitkin voters while the winning Republican candidate received only 29 percent, barely ahead of the Socialist Party candidate. An independent candidate received about 10 percent. “Third party” candidates enjoyed near parity with the major parties during this period, especially the Socialist and Populist parties.Alva Adams was one of Colorado’s best-known politicians. He was elected governor three times with breaks between each term. The Ute Uprising took place during his first term. At the onset of his second term, in 1897, he had to deal with a miner’s strike in Leadville. Miners, who had made a deal with owners pressed by the Panic of 1893 to lower wages, struck to restore $3-a-day wages. The National Guard had been sent to defend the position of the owners. Just after taking office, Adams removed the Guard and established the State Board of Arbitration to settle future strikes.

Adams won again in 1904, the most contentious election in the state’s history. Each side accused the other of election fraud. In the Denver area, Democrats got more votes than there were voters. Republicans were accused of forcing thousands of immigrant workers to vote for their candidates or lose their jobs. The postelection fight continued into the Legislature. After a bitter battle, Adams stepped down as governor, the Republican runner-up was bypassed and another Republican, the lieutenant governor, was appointed as governor. Adams’ streak of three victories ended with his 1906 loss to Republican Augustus Buchtel, who during his two-year term regulated businesses and built many bridges, miles of highway, and state buildings.State office races got more attention than federal ones at the turn of the century. Of equal importance were judgeships, especially the state Supreme Court. During this business reform period, voters followed closely the rulings of state judges as well as the battles between capital and labor. The Western Federation of Miners, one of the first successful labor organizations, was especially involved in judicial races. Candidates were recruited, groomed and promoted by political parties. Every voter knew judges’ personalities, partisanship and judicial preferences. Democrats’ only statewide victories in 1906 were Supreme Court seats.

Nevertheless, Democrats swept local offices. The only Republican to win in Aspen was Henry Beck, who joined the 75 percent Republican majority in the state Legislature in electing Simon Guggenheim to be senator. Henry Beck immigrated to America from Sweden, worked in the Lake Superior iron mines and moved to Aspen from Leadville in 1892. He owned and operated a wholesale liquor business and invested in mining. Henry was the patriarch of generations of Aspen Becks. Guggenheim served one term and then moved to New York, where he assumed the presidency of the American Smelting and Refining Company and became a noted philanthropist.Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while a teacher for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. He can be contacted at

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