Olga Little: A mining-era legend of the La Platas

Southwest Life

Olga Little: A mining-era legend of the La Platas

Ascending a mountain to honor the famous female burro-packer
Olga Little lived in May Day at the mouth of La Plata Canyon where the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad built a spur line. Routinely, she took 70-pound bags of coal off railroad cars and packed her burro string with a bag on top of each burro and one on each side.
Olga Little’s hardy burros hauled hay for other burros, which worked at high elevations in the La Plata Mountains deep inside gold and silver mines. Under Colorado law, burros that worked in mines received a month off each year to return to lower-elevation pastures to recover their eyesight.
A favorite among miners who shaved and dressed up when they knew she was coming, Olga Little visited almost all of the mines and miners in the La Plata Mountains. Once, she broke her leg when her horse took a tumble. The miner who made a toboggan for her and took her safely into Durango became her husband.
Olga Little and her pack train cross the La Plata River, probably at the ford near the Snowslide Campground in the San Juan National Forest. From there, she could have accessed many mines on the east side of the range.
Beginning her packing career in 1909, Olga Little burro-packed into the age of the first cars and trucks, which drove La Plata Canyon. Here, she poses with a local family. World War II and its restrictions closed many non-essential mines and ended her burro-packing into remote mines, but she continued to offer packing demonstrations for public ceremonies across the state into the 1960s.
At 11,426 feet, Olga Little Mountain is not the tallest in the La Plata Range, but it sits strategically between the top of Kennebec Pass and Junction Creek where Olga Little spent her career as Colorado’s only female burro-packer.
Courtesy of Andrew Gulliford

On a map, Olga Little Mountain is just east of Kennebec Pass and just south of the Colorado Trail, a segment of which she probably used for more 40 years to bring supplies to miners including food, medicine and dynamite.
If you go

Andrew Gulliford, professor of history at Fort Lewis College, will present “Western Women We Respect: Durango’s Own Olga Little – Colorado’s Only Female Jackpacker” at 1:30 p.m. July 18 at the Center of Southwest Studies as part of the center’s summer lecture series, “Women in the Southwest.”

Olga Little: A mining-era legend of the La Platas

Olga Little lived in May Day at the mouth of La Plata Canyon where the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad built a spur line. Routinely, she took 70-pound bags of coal off railroad cars and packed her burro string with a bag on top of each burro and one on each side.
Olga Little’s hardy burros hauled hay for other burros, which worked at high elevations in the La Plata Mountains deep inside gold and silver mines. Under Colorado law, burros that worked in mines received a month off each year to return to lower-elevation pastures to recover their eyesight.
A favorite among miners who shaved and dressed up when they knew she was coming, Olga Little visited almost all of the mines and miners in the La Plata Mountains. Once, she broke her leg when her horse took a tumble. The miner who made a toboggan for her and took her safely into Durango became her husband.
Olga Little and her pack train cross the La Plata River, probably at the ford near the Snowslide Campground in the San Juan National Forest. From there, she could have accessed many mines on the east side of the range.
Beginning her packing career in 1909, Olga Little burro-packed into the age of the first cars and trucks, which drove La Plata Canyon. Here, she poses with a local family. World War II and its restrictions closed many non-essential mines and ended her burro-packing into remote mines, but she continued to offer packing demonstrations for public ceremonies across the state into the 1960s.
At 11,426 feet, Olga Little Mountain is not the tallest in the La Plata Range, but it sits strategically between the top of Kennebec Pass and Junction Creek where Olga Little spent her career as Colorado’s only female burro-packer.
Courtesy of Andrew Gulliford

On a map, Olga Little Mountain is just east of Kennebec Pass and just south of the Colorado Trail, a segment of which she probably used for more 40 years to bring supplies to miners including food, medicine and dynamite.

Olga Little: A mining-era legend of the La Platas

Olga Little was a hardworking Western woman doing a man’s job as a burro-packer and requiring her to wear men’s clothing, including tall boots, jodhpurs and a cowboy hat.

Olga Little: A mining-era legend of the La Platas

Olga Little trusted her string of pack burros and they trusted her. Here, her burros travel on one of the many La Plata Mountain trails they knew so well.

Olga Little: A mining-era legend of the La Platas

As Colorado’s only female jackpacker, Olga Little provided a lifeline to mines and miners, especially in deep winter. Here, she leaves the Gold King Mine probably with a few tons of gold concentrates headed for the Durango Smelter.

Olga Little: A mining-era legend of the La Platas

From the top of Olga Little Mountain, Lewis Peak rises to the southwest. The executive secretary for the U.S. Board on Geographic Names encouraged the application to name the peak by saying in a letter, “I may be wrong, but I don’t think there is a feature in the country named for a woman muleskinner.” The name became official 25 years ago in 1983.
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