Harvey was born on August 16, 1851, on a farm near Buffalo in what is now West Virginia. The son of a farmer and one-time member of the Virginia legislature, he was educated in a log schoolhouse during the Civil War, then went to the Buffalo Academy for 2 years.
This deeply ambitious young man was a teacher by the age of 16. While teaching school, he studied law and briefly attended Marshall College. At the tender age of 19 he was admitted to the West Virginia bar.
He practiced first in Barboursville and then in Huntington, West Virginia. While in Barboursville, he successfully defended a white man on trial for marrying a black woman (interracial marriage was then a crime in most states) by asking, “can anyone in this courtroom prove that this man has not a drop of colored blood in his veins?”
Then in 1875 Harvey moved his law practice to Gallipolis, Ohio, where he met Anna Halliday. The couple married a year later. Over the next decade the Harveys were constantly on the move. Two of their children were born in Cleveland, Ohio. Then Harvey moved to Chicago, where he was attorney for a millionaire banker. A third child was born during a return to Gallipolis. But Harvey still was not satisfied.
In 1883 he made a business trip to California for a client. Harvey combined this trip with a vacation in Colorado. Impressed, he decided to give up law and move his family to the mining country of southwestern Colorado.