The Legend of Silverheels

Text & photo by Jack Olson

Mt. Silverheels, Colorado
Mt. Silverheels from Kenosha Pass © Jack Olson

I first climbed 10,000-foot Kenosha Pass in the late ’60s, where I met a party from the Colorado Mountain Club. I joined the club, made new friends, learned about many wonderful places, and became a hike leader with the group. Among the things I learned was about nearby 13,829-foot Mt. Silverheels, named for the “Legend of Silverheels.” 

According to the legend, in the late 1800’s a dance hall girl in the gold mining camp of Buckskin Joe, south of the present community of Alma, was known as Silverheels. She was very popular with the miners and known as a talented dancer. 

Some versions of the legend say she was beautiful, while other versions claim she wore a blue or white mask to conceal her face. There are varying stories of how she acquired the name Silverheels, including one that says she arrived from Denver by stagecoach in 1861 wearing a veil and dancing shoes with silver heels.

A smallpox epidemic broke out in the camp. Many businesses, including dance halls, were shuttered. The miners stayed to protect their claims but many died and were buried in the Buckskin Joe Cemetery. Women and children were sent down to Denver. 

autumn color, aspen gold
Golden aspens glow against an azure Colorado sky © Jack Olson

However, Silverheels remained and nursed the ill miners, and when she danced she wore a mask which some say covered smallpox scars. The grateful miners raised money for her, but she left the area before they could give it to her, so they named Mt. Silverheels in her honor. 

According to the legend, even today you might see a black veiled woman in the abandoned cemetery, putting flowers on miners’ graves.