A Cripple Creek correspondent says that by actual observance it can be stated that there are fewer lessees at work in the district than any previous time in the history of the camp, and while this fact has been universally attributed to the high royalties demanded, such is not altogether correct.
Royalties are no higher today than they were four or five years ago, when the lessees on Beacon, Raven, Gold and Bull hills could be counted by the hundreds. At that time a lease could be obtained in almost any locality for the asking, and very little was demanded in return, so long as the lessee kept digging.
At that time, too, bonds were obtainable and many a lease has been operated and the ground developed solely because the lessee knew well that once in ore, in no matter how small a quantity, he would have no trouble in disposing of his bond and lease at a big profit for the time and labor expended.
To-day a bond is out of the question. Again, owners of property are more exacting as to the number of shifts required, and the responsibility of the lessee.
At the time in mind, fifty shifts a month was considered an extreme limit. That a lessee should be required to install a steam plant and sink 200 feet more or more in the year would have been considered out of the question.
The ground had not been scratched then, and a majority of the leases were operated by windlass or whim at the best. To-day a steam or electric plant is an absolute necessity, a condition the poorer classes of lessees cannot stand for.
Another reason for the decrease is the consolidation of companies and interests. Five and even three years ago the bulk of the output was made by lessees. To-day they do not produce one-tenth of the two millions or more that the camp is producing monthly.
Take, for example, the west slope of Beacon hill, now to all intents and purposes owned by the El Paso company. This is a consolidation of the Fannie B., Little May, Kimberly, El Paso and Columbia companies. Every one of the claims of these companies had from one to a dozen sets of lessees working, and a majority of them were producing and shipping ore.
Only last week the last lease on this rich estate was acquired by the company, and the ground cannot now be leased on any terms. The company management deems it best to operate its claims alone.
This is only one instance. The Morse group on Battle mountain, one of the last purchases of the Portland company, was once a fruitful source of wealth for lessees. Now there are no known leases working on Portland ground.
The Zenobia, Garfield-Grouse, Specimen, Favorite, Orpha May, Lucky Guss and Pike's Peak have all made fortunes for lessees, but they now form part of the Stratton estate on Bull hill, and so far as the lessee is concerned have no existence.
The same state of affairs exists on Gold hill, where the Half Moon, Granite Hill, Arcadia, Lilly, Home Fraction and Abe Lincoln, all favorite stamping grounds for lessees, have been purchased by the millionaire, and will be developed solely by him for the companies of his creation.
Mr. Stratton is not alone in this policy. The practice of discontinuing the leasing system has become general, in nearly every case where a consolidation has been effected.
That the directorate of the consolidated mining companies formed of conservative and experienced mining men, the majority of whom have made their fortunes in this camp, believe it to be for the best interest of their stockholders, no one will question.
The camp is outputting as never before in its history, but it is the big corporations doing it.