Lafayette’s connection to the “Champion of Silver” and the 1891 Silver Brick Case

Interests vying for low-priced public lands in the 1860s, including land that would eventually become Lafayette, could be classified into three categories: Settlers seeking opportunity, railroad companies seeking right-of-way, and speculators desiring to exploit minerals.

Area settlers and experienced farmers such as Adolf Waneka, Hiram Prince, James B. Foote and Mary and Lafayette Miller comprised the first category. The second category was dominated by the Union Pacific railroad company which, between 1864 and 1902, patented over 6,000 acres of public land in and near Louisville and Lafayette.
The third category, those interested in the minerals laying below the surface, included coal speculators Francis P. Heatley and Edward Chase, who ran a billiard hall on Blake Street in Denver. Heatley and Chase owned the land where Old Town Lafayette sits, which they sold to town founder Mary Miller and her husband, Lafayette, in 1868.

Early Lafayette’s most prominent property owner, also a coal speculator, was Colorado pioneer Harley B. Morse (1830-1892). A few months after his arrival in Colorado in 1860, the Connecticut native, lawyer and goldseeker began acquiring mine properties and mineral rights. He helped found Central City, formed the Gold Treasure Mining Company and owned nine mine claims in Gilpin County, including the Indiana, Sun and Moon, Parole, Kitty, Mammoth and Dead Broke mines.

In 1866, Morse purchased 400 acres in Boulder County along Rock Creek south of Lafayette, an area that encompassed both sides of the creek from the confluence of Rock Creek and Coal Creek south to today’s Dillon Road. The land was a 1/4 mile east of the Miller’s stage stop, which was located just south of today’s U.S. 287 and Dillon Road. Morse’s motivation may have been Joseph W. Marshall’s well-publicized 1859 discovery of coal 6 miles west of the confluence of Coal and Rock creeks.

Morse gained national prominence in 1891 as a “champion for silver” after challenging the Federal government’s 1873 demonetization of silver. Morse’s challenge was termed the “Silver Brick Case.” Prior to 1873, the United States purchased silver for minting coins at a standard rate of $1.29 per ounce. With a glut of silver coins filling up government vaults, the United States enacted the Coinage Act of 1873 and moved to the gold standard, dropping its guaranteed $1.29 per ounce silver purchase price. The move caused silver to plunge to as low as 45 cents per ounce. Banks and consumers viewed the one-ounce dollar coins minted at silver’s market rate — especially anything less than $1 per ounce — not worth the coin’s stated $1 face value. Because of this, demand for the coins, and demand for silver, plunged.

Morse believed that the usage of both gold and silver for currency was a Constitutional mandate, and was clearly perturbed by lost revenue — the gap of 84 cents per ounce — that he felt the government owed him.

In 1891, Morse traveled to the Philadelphia Mint, presented a 100-ounce brick of silver to the Superintendent of the Mint and demanded that coins be minted at the $1.29 rate. The Superintendent refused, so Morse appealed to the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia and argued that the U.S. Congress had acted unconstitutionally by demonetizing silver. The district court eventually denied Morse’s claim. Morse died in Connecticut a year later.

Silver Brick sources: Salt Lake Mining Review, June 30, 1920; Aspen Daily Times, Jan. 3, 1893; Aspen Daily Chronicle, June 20, 1891; Leadville Daily Chronicle, Feb. 13, 1891; Bureau of Land Management GLO records; Boulder County Clerk and Recorder; “Appendix to New Map of Colorado,” by Axel Silversparre, 1882; Pioneer Association of Gilpin County.