The county was the site of a silver rush during the 1870s. Thousands of men poured into the county during this time in the hunt for silver. Some of the notable mines include the Geyser Mine (on the north edge of the town of Silver Cliff), the Bassick Mine (near the ghost town of Querida) and the Bull Domingo (north of Silver Cliff).
During the late 1800s a railroad line was connected through the Grape Creek Canyon but was permanently closed after a few disastrous floods. The old railhouse has been turned into a historical landmark in the town of Westcliffe.
After the mines dried up, the population dropped considerably and was replaced by cattle ranchers. An extensive system of irrigation ditches were built throughout the valley. The tradition of ranching in the Wet Mountain Valley continues to this day.
The county is very rugged and would be virtually inaccessible without roads. The lowest point of the county is around in elevation, but most of the county is rugged and mountainous. The county seat of Westcliffe is about and along with nearby town Silver Cliff lies in the Wet Mountain Valley which sits at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the west reach heights in excess of with Crestone Peak being the highest at and 7th highest fourteener in Colorado.
A large percentage of the county is National Forest land in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on the west side and in the Wet Mountains on the east. The only lake of size is the Deweese Reservoir in the north end of the Wet Mountain Valley.
There were 1,480 households out of which 25.50% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 64.60% were married couples living together, 5.40% had a female householder with no husband present, and 27.20% were non-families. 23.80% of all households were made up of individuals and 7.90% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.36 and the average family size was 2.77.
In the county the population was spread out with 22.50% under the age of 18, 4.50% from 18 to 24, 23.30% from 25 to 44, 35.00% from 45 to 64, and 14.80% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 45 years. For every 100 females there were 104.30 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 102.00 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $34,731, and the median income for a family was $41,198. Males had a median income of $32,460 versus $20,868 for females. The per capita income for the county was $19,817. About 9.80% of families and 13.30% of the population were below the poverty line, including 20.10% of those under age 18 and 12.60% of those age 65 or over.
-District 1: Dale Hoag (Republican), serving from 1998-2006
-District 2: Dick Downey (Republican), serving from 2000-2008
-District 3: Kit Shy (Republican), serving from 2004-2008 which chance for reelection in 2008
There are several other public offices including Coroner, Sheriff, County Clerk and others.
Despite the surface appearance of a homogeneous political culture, there is considerable dispute among residents over planning. One segment of residents (which includes ranchers) would like to see the County preserved in its present state as a mountain paradise with its rural ranching culture, with strict limitation on development. Proponents are sometimes seen as "anti-growth" and "anti-property rights." Another segment of the population would like to see less government and less restrictions on growth and development for the growth of business and the economy. Proponents are seen as "anti-environment" or "anti-agriculture."