Fires caused by a variety of sources broke out in Leadville from the smallest of incidents to entire buildings or blocks burning to ashes! Here are a few stories found by our researchers in writing biographies.
Louis A. Braham was on the path to opening the Great Western Clothing House in early 1879 in setting up the store and stocking it with products shipped in by rail and cargo wagons. By April, he was set up enough to open while additional shipments came through the month. Things seemed good until an advertisement on June 18th made it seem like all was not well.
A Change in Business.
Owing to a business change in our firm, by August 15, we offer our elegant and large assortment of clothing, gents’ furnishing goods, hats, caps, trunks, valises, miners’ goods, etc., at a tremendous reduction in price. Don’t let anyone excite or scare you into buying before examining our stock and prices.
Goods must be sold
This notice suggested that the store that Louis Braham had just opened a few months earlier was now on a path to closing. However, the next week, disaster struck! Louis’s store was one victim of an increasing fire that started in a nearby building. An extensive series of three related articles in The Daily Chronicle documented the wild details of the fire and what happened. Here is the first of the three related sections:
A $25,000 BLAZE ON CHESTNUT STREET.
THE ORIGIN OF THE CONFLAGRATION.
Horrible Death of a Human Being.
The Recovery of His Charred Remains.
Another Narrow Escape From Suffocation.
Heroism of a Juvenile Fire Laddie.
Behavior of the Department and Police.
Pointed Pencilings from the Post-Prandial Pyrotechnics.
At forty-four minutes past one o’clock this afternoon little tongues of fire were seen lapping up through the roof to the Miners’ Arms building adjoining the Miners’ Exchange Bank, on Chestnut street. It was first noticed by a Chronicle reporter and a Mr. Roberts, who were coming up the street on horseback. They both spurred up their horses to give the alarm, and when near State street police officers attempted their arrest for fast riding. They spurred past and thirty seconds after the alarm was sounded, both the Tabor Hose and Harrison Hooks were on the street, and not over two minutes elapsed before water was turned on the burning building. The fire originated in a sleeping apartment on the second floor of the Miners’ Arms saloon. The place is known as Kelley’s lodging house. The flames made rapid headway and communicated to the Coliseum Theater on the west, and from thence to the Empire lodging house over Louis Braham & Co.’s Great Western clothing store. The fire was confined to these three buildings. The first, or the building where the fire originated, is owned by Alderman Kelley and Mr. Tully, his partner. The Coliseum is owned by Mr. Charles Search, and the third building is owned by C. Goode.
… the conflagration at one time threatened, and, but for the prompt and efficient action of the fire department, a considerable portion of the business part of the city would have been destroyed.
… At one o’clock this afternoon a man named John Doyle went to bed in room No. 3, in Kelley’s lodging house, in the Miners’ Arms building. He had been drunk for two hours, as per statement of fellow lodgers, and was very drunk on going to bed. About half an hour later a man sleeping in the room adjoining was awakened by smoke and the crackling of flames. He leaped from his bed and bursting open the door to John Doyle's room found the flames leaping up the paper sides and crackling through the dry board floor above. Doyle was dead asleep. The lodger grabbed him by the arms and by main force dragged him from the room and thrust him through a rear window to the roof of an adjoining shed. About this time the firemen had a stream of water pouring over the building, the full force of which struck the drunken Doyle as he emerged from the window. This had the effect of sobering him sufficiently to allow him to walk. Instead of going away from the fire he re-entered the building and would have perished but for the timely rescue of a fireman. Once away he went among the crowd with no covering but his night shirt, and that drenched to the skin. Mounting an old shed he began cursing the firemen for preventing him from saving the building his clothing and the lives of many unconscious sleepers…
The second of the three related sections. Most of this section (omitted) is a long list of losses sorted by building then by business:
… The building next below the Coliseum is the property of Mr. Christian Goode. The upper portion was leased by Bank & De Manville and used as a lodging house. The loss here, being entirely by water, probably amounting to $500. Braham & Co. used the lower floor as a clothing and gent’s furnishing house, their loss being estimated at $5,000, entirely by water. A part of this floor was used by Happy Mose, as a cigar store, and his loss, also by water, is considerable.
The third section of the three related articles:
“Too many bosses” was the universal verdict.
Such a “waste of water” was never before seen.
The police made it hot for the merchandise thieves.
Reporters were given full swing inside the ropes.
There were lots of bare-headed women there, helping all they could—to make a noise.
…In the alley north of Chestnut street, from Harrison avenue to Pine, the wildest scene of disorder was enacted. Hundreds of curious people filed into the narrow opening, every inch of space being occupied. From the rear entrances of the several endangered buildings on Chestnut street, as well as from the front openings of those facing on the alley, scores of men, women and children, were rushing forth, loaded down with merchandise, household effects of every description, clothing, etc., each seemingly frenzied with the idea that there could be no safety in any of the structures within a square away. Express wagons were pushed through the excited crowd, loaded with miscellaneous truck, and driven away to no one seemed to know where, giving place to others with great rapidity. A large portion of the extensive stock of clothing of Louis Braham & Co. was, in this manner, saved from danger. There were many ludicrous incidents observed by a Chronicle reporter, not the least noticeable of which was the throwing of a valuable mirror from the second story of a house in the alley in rear of the Tontine. Other and less perishable articles were carefully brought down stairs in the arms of the excited female inmates. The thieves here first commenced their operations, taking advantage of the absence of the police, who were doing duty on Chestnut street. They were soon checked by the citizens, several of whom volunteered to see that the goods brought from the stores by suspicious looking characters were not carried too far away. Several pilfering rascals were severely handled by the crowd, and compelled to let go their plunder.
The wild explanations of what happened with the fire, putting out the fire, and the ordeals following certainly made for an exciting day, but one with a loss for Braham in addition to being in process of apparently closing the store, despite his extensive effort just months prior to establish the new Great Western Clothing House in Leadville.
“Like an Avalanche They Come! And the Rush Still Continues! The Crowd Increases Daily! Plenty of Bargains Still to be Had!”.
This was in reference to a “fire sale” following a fire [in the store]. Smoke damaged goods were often sold at discount prices after a being cleaned. This is something May seemingly specialized in as fires were a common occurrence in frontier towns like Leadville.