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John F. Campion papers

Identifier: COU:297

Scope and Contents

The John F. Campion Papers is divided into seven series as follows: I. John Campion which includes personal information about Campion, his wife, Nellie, and their children John F, Jr., Helen, Phyllis, and Roland. There is also one file on Campion’s brother George F. Campion. The papers in this section give a glimpse into the Campion’s lives and interests. Information includes clubs and organizations John Campion belonged to, investment opportunities he received, a description of the 1907 electric car owned by Nellie Campion, and birth certificates and death notices for John, Jr. and Roland Campion. II. Correspondence John Campion corresponded widely with many well-known figures such Governors James H. Peabody and John Evans, Financier Charles Boettcher, and successful mine owner, smelting company executive, railroad executive and bank owner, Eben Smith. He also heard from miners, miners’ widows, and people in need of a loan, a job or offering information on investments, mines, and land. It is impossible to separate Campion’s correspondence into business and personal categories as his many business associates were also friends, colleagues, or social acquaintances and many of the letters discuss business and family. It is, however, impossible to separate the correspondence into business and personal since he socialized with the men and their families outside of business and the letters reflect that. III. Legal This series pertains primarily to mining: abstracts of title, contract agreements, claims, etc. Of several reputed court cases against Campion only one is fully available in the papers: James B. Belford vs. Leonard Ballou, Alexis M. Lay, and John F. Campion, et al. IV. Mining and Smelting John Campion kept meticulous records about his mining operations, sent and received coded telegrams about new prospects, and kept a notebook written entirely in Pitman shorthand, contents unknown. This series makes up the bulk of the collection and contains information on many different aspects of the mining and smelting process. Detailed records were kept on the amount of ore dug, where it was shipped and by what company for milling, the percentage of ores—gold, silver, copper, zinc, or iron—present, and the prospects for each mining area. There are payroll sheets that record the worker, the position—miner, fireman, foreman, etc.—pay per hour, and checks that were issued. In this series are the reports from the Thiel Detective Service and Pinkerton Detective Agency who were hired by Campion to stop high-grading, theft of high grade ore by miners, and to watch union organizers. The largest quantity of mining information concerns the Ibex Mining Company and Mine while the American Smelting & Refining Company dominates the smelter and smelting records. V. Publications These publications showcase John Campion’s interest in mining, engineering, outdoor life, and the political process. A number of the publications are parts catalogs for steam engines, compressors, and other mining equipment. Political publications include: Prince Edward Island Legislature, 1878, in which John Campion is listed, Session Laws: Laws Passed at the Ninth General Assembly of the State of Colorado, 1893, and Protection Echoes from the Capitol, 1888. VI. Journals, Ledger, Letterbooks These works contain lessee accounts, lessee bills, check stubs, journals, purchase order books, and letterbooks. There are twelve letterbooks belonging to John Campion, 1887-1913. There are three letterbooks of Kenneth L. Fahnestock, 1897-1911. These letterbooks are carbon copies of letters that have been bound into volumes. VII. Oversize Consisting of maps, blueprints, mine diagrams, ledgers, account books, newspapers (2) and drawings of Campion’s Twin Lakes home these items are either boxed or rolled. There are numerous insurance policies many of which were issued by Thomas R. Daly, John Campion’s brother-in-law, for London Guarantee and Accident Company Limited. The remainder of the rolled items is primarily maps and blueprints of mines, mine tunnels, and diagrams of geologic deposits.


  • Creation: 1875 - 1924

Biographical Note

John F. Campion (1848-1916) was a well-known Colorado mine owner, financier, and officer of a number of organizations ranging from the Leadville Power and Light Company to the Denver National Bank and the Denver Northwest and Pacific Railroad. As a civic promoter he assisted in securing the funds needed to build the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception in Denver and was one of the original founders of the Denver Museum of Natural History. He was born on Prince Edward Island, Canada in 1848.

John F. Campion, Sr. and his wife Elizabeth emigrated from Ireland to Canada in 1823 and settled on Prince Edward Island. There they raised a family of nine children, four sons and five daughters. One of the sons, Michael Brevort Campion (1821-1886), became a successful shipbuilder, owner, captain and was elected to represent his district in the Prince Edward Island (PEI) Parliament. Prior to 1862 Brevort moved the family, wife Helen (Fehan) (1826- ?), sons John Francis (1848-1916), George F. (1849-1925), daughters Mary Ellen (1854-1913), and Elizabeth Margaret (1857-?) to Sacramento, California. Sons John and George Campion returned to Prince Edward Island in 1862 to attend Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown. Sometime after their return, John and George ran away from school to join the United States military which was then engaged in the Civil War. John, whose records indicate enlistment at age 17 was probably only 16 but was accepted by the navy. George, age 15, was deemed too young and refused admittance.

After passing the necessary examination John F. Campion was accepted by the Navy and assigned to a position as assistant quartermaster. He was on duty on the ship, USS Dolphin, when it approached the entrance to the Savannah River after General Sherman’s army had completed its famous march to the sea. The ship’s arrival was memorable to Campion as there were many sunken vessels in the harbor to be avoided and the cotton bales on the docks had been set aflame. The USS Dolphin delivered the first dispatches Sherman received at Savannah. After mustering out at the end of the war Campion visited his parents in Sacramento, California. It was during his stay in California that Campion became interested in the development of mining properties and the mining industry.

Early in his mining career John F. Campion discovered the White Pine silver mine in Nevada but pressure from a large consolidating mining company drove him out with the loss of his entire investment, $5,000. Campion then moved to Eureka where he developed and sold mining properties gaining a substantial fortune in the process. John F. Campion, M. Brevort Campion, his father, and George F. Campion, his brother, moved next to Pioche, Nevada, where John bought the Pioche-Phoenix silver mine.

In January 1873 Campion was forced to defend the Phoenix-Pioche from a takeover by the Raymond and Ely mining concern. “As was typical of this type of difficulty in Pioche, both sides employed gunfighters to protect their interests.” The conflict was finally settled by the courts with Campion retaining possession of the property. After disposing of the Pioche-Phoenix Mine, he returned to Prince Edward Island and in 1878 was elected a member of the Prince Edward Island parliament. There Campion served one year as the representative of his district before returning to the United States. He arrived in Leadville, Colorado in 1879 with his father and brother, George.

John Campion’s mining successes were built on a thorough knowledge of geology and his undertakings were soon followed avidly by hopeful investors. The first properties Campion acquired in Leadville were the Elk and Lucy B. Hussey in the Down Town section. It was an area where the geological strata was broken and displaced by many faults. Campion’s mining expertise enabled him to predict the direction of ore deposits and find large veins that were highly productive. This wealth facilitated his investments in mining and other ventures that ultimately made him a millionaire.

By the 1890s John F. Campion had begun to realize the potential of the Leadville gold belt, and in 1891 he formed the Ibex Mining Company with A.V. Hunter, William Byrd Page, Max Boehmer, and August Meyer as directors. In 1892, James J. Brown and Eben Smith took interests in the operation, and a year later Charles Boettcher joined in. George Trimble, Charles Cavender, A. A. Blow, R. E. Goodell, John Routt, James B. Grant, and John Clark Mitchell were also mentioned as possible Ibex stockholders. The Little Jonny mine was a moderately successful mine on the verge of closing in 1891due to the presence of dolomite sand; the sand filled in any shaft that was dug. In an effort to salvage the mine, John Campion hired J. J. Brown, who solved the problem with bales of hay and extra timbering. As a reward for his efforts Brown became a minor shareholder in the Little Johnny which also made him a wealthy man. The Little Jonny was renamed Ibex Number 1 in keeping with John Campion’s practice of calling his mines after horned or antlered animals. Some of his other mines were Reindeer, Yak, Elk, Bison, Wapiti, and Caribou.

Having established himself as a successful businessman John Campion turned his attention to domesticity and in April 1895 he married Nella "Nellie" May Daly (1873-1922), daughter of Thomas Daly, founder of Capitol Life Insurance Company. After a honeymoon trip to Europe, during which they bought crystal glassware, statuary, and art objects, John Campion had a house built at 800 Logan Street in Denver. The house, built in 1899, was one of the first homes in the city to have electric lights in every room; the electricity was provided by an onsite power plant. By 1900, John Campion lived in Denver but maintained offices in Leadville. When John and Nellie were in Leadville they often entertained at their nearby Twin Lakes home. They had four children: John F. Jr. (1896-1923) Helen Margaret (1899-1947), Mary Phyllis (1901-1968) and George Roland (1902-1921).

In addition to his mining activities, Campion was well-connected in the business community in which he was both an investor and a colleague in an extensive web of corporate and class connections. He was an Officer of the Carbonate National Bank of Leadville, the Leadville Light Company, Vice President of the Seventeenth Street Building Company of Denver, Vice President of the Denver National Bank, Vice President of the Denver, Northwestern and Pacific Railway Company, President of the Northwestern Terminal Company and the Big Horn Mining and Cattle Company. He also founded the Ideal Cement Company and with Charles Boettcher established the Great Western Sugar Company.

John Campion was representative of 19th century capitalists in that his interests extended in a wide range of directions. After a single term serving the in the Prince Edward Island Legislature Campion avoided politics but was very active in civic life. He believed in supporting the sciences and founded the Denver Museum of Natural History and served as the first president of the board of trustees until his death in 1916. He also obtained taxidermist Edwin Carter’s collection of Rocky Mountain animals and in 1900 donated a collection of gold specimens to the Museum. John Campion’s gold samples are now the core of one of the world’s premier collections of native gold.

Among his other activities, John Campion was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, served as President of the Municipal Art League of Denver, President of the Denver Chamber of Commerce in 1898-99 and arranged for transfer of its library to what is now the Denver Public Library. Also, due to his assistance in procuring financing for the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception in Denver the bell in the east tower is dedicated to John F. Campion.

John Campion resided in Denver until his death on July 17, 1916. He is buried in the Campion mausoleum at Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Wheat Ridge, Colorado.

George F. Campion (1849-1925) George Campion was John’s younger brother and was with John from the beginning of his mining career. Records show that George, John and their father, M. Brevort Campion worked together to protect the Pioche-Phoenix mining claim from a hostile takeover. Later, George was manager, general manager, or superintendent at a number of companies John owned or controlled particularly the Reindeer Mining Company. His name appears on payrolls, checks, and numerous other documents in the collection. George also invested in mining interests such as the Fanny Rawlins Mine with other partners such as T. D. Kyle. While George became a successful miner/mine owner he never achieved the fame of his brother.

Kenneth L. Fahnestock (1862-1911) There are a number of documents including telegrams in secret code sent between John Campion and Kenneth L. Fahnestock in the John F. Campion Papers. Fahnestock was John Campion’s friend, associate, and sometimes business partner. The inclusion of the Fahnestock papers was a puzzle until a notice was located in a mining journal that Fahnestock died suddenly due to surgical complications from appendicitis in 1911. Whether John Campion retained the papers due to their value in his business dealings or other reasons is unknown. Kenneth L. Fahnestock held the rank of Colonel in the Colorado militia and was sometimes referred to as Colonel Fahnestock.


46 linear feet (62 boxes, 8 rolls)

Language of Materials



John Campion (1848-1916) mined in California and Nevada before making his fortune in the 1880s in Leadville, Colorado. He owned Reindeer, Caribou, and Ibex (better known as Little Johnny) mining companies and was the vice president of both Denver National Bank and the Denver Northwest and Pacific Railroad. The collection mainly encompasses Campion’s mining activities although there a number of items related to his personal life. Included are mining day books, mine and tunnel maps and diagrams, publications, payroll sheets, letterbooks, correspondence, legal documents, detective reports, ledgers and shipping reports for the period 1878-1922. Included the collection are the surviving papers for Kenneth L. Fahnestock, an associate, employee, and sometimes partner of Campion.


I. Personal, Business, Family

II. Correspondence

III. Legal

IV. Mining and Smelting

V. Publications

VI. Journals, Ledgers, and Letterbooks

VII. Oversize

VIII. Rolled Documents

Physical Location

A81 B7-E2

Rolled oversize materials on Rolls 1-8 relocated 2B by rolled oversize pegboard.

Processed by: Ellen Arguimbau, 1973 Reedited by: Kathryn Holt, April 2005 Reprocessed and Reorganized by: Marilyn Burns, 2015
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries, Rare and Distinctive Collections Repository

1720 Pleasant Street
184 UCB
Boulder Colorado 80503 United States