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Leadville Boom Days International Pack Burro Race
Leadville Boom Days International Pack Burro Race. Photo courtesy Leadville Boom Days

Leadville Boom Days

This August celebration of the mining boom in the Old West features a parade with gunslingers, a bicycle race, a softball tournament, an 1880s costume "mosey" down the avenue race, a costume contest, and cocktail waitress race. Given that a prospector and his burro signify mining, the festival's main event is its International Pack Burro Race. In the race, burros carry packs weighing 35 pounds and are led, not ridden, by a 15-foot rope to the summit of Mosquito Pass, which is North America's highest pass at 13,183 feet above sea level, and back over a 21-mile course. Other mining-related activities are jackleg drilling, spike driving, and hand mucking contests.

The first burro race in which the town of Leadville participated jointly with the town of Fairplay was run in 1949. Their jointly run race continued for 20 years with the race route going over Mosquito Pass from Leadville to Fairplay one year, and vice versa the next year. In 1970, the Leadville Boom Days committee was formed and Leadville produced its own burro race and celebration called Boom Days.

Burros were uniquely qualified for prospecting. They cost little to acquire and feed, since they eat everything from lush grass to sagebrush. Only a camel can go longer than a burro without water. The animals are also as sure footed as mountain sheep. A prospector often hoped that his burro might kick over a rock or two, disclosing the site of rich ore. The burro is stubborn, which makes the race more interesting. Wagers are made on the correct time for completion, and the "prospector" leading the burro which comes in first wins $1,000.

Boom Days reputedly takes its name from the legendary prospector and miner, Roscoe G. (Boom) Pack, who in the late 1870s was known for his frequent and speedy trips up the steepest hills and back. In 1897, the town council decided that Leadville needed a summer celebration to boost the economy, which was suffering from a sharp drop in silver prices. The celebration was planned around a race into the hills, called the World Championship Pack Burro Race. No one finished the race in its first year. Despite the poor beginning, the race continued. Each year an official souvenir Boom Days belt buckle honors an important or historic feature of Leadville. Produced in limited quantities in both silver and brass, buckles have featured renditions of pack burros and the "black cloud" mine. A local artisan, Ted Mullings, has designed the buckles since 1976.

Documentation includes newspaper stories, a 1996 Schedule of Events, seven garters, two souvenir best buckles, a brochure, 39 slides, and a history of the event.

Originally submitted by: Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Senator.

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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