Love, Colorado: a Ranching and Mining Paradise

c 2023 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article are excerpted from Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County

The engaging, high-country community of Love began as a local ranch. With the coming of a toll road and later a railroad, however, Love blossomed into a well known community and pit stop on the way to the famous Cripple Creek District. The story of Love begins in 1875 when the Cheyenne & Beaver Toll Road was established. The road ran through the ranch of John Love, a young rancher who had homesteaded roughly five and a half miles west of the settlement of Clyde a few years prior. In the 1880 census, John and Charles Love are found on their ranch raising cattle. John Love also was the son of Colorado Springs postmaster Joel F. Love, who was appointed to that position in 1888.

Although ranching was the main staple at Love, mines began appearing in the area as the gold boom in the Cripple Creek District began in 1891. Early newspapers mentioned that Winfield Scott Stratton, destined to become the district’s first millionaire, stayed or stopped at the Love Ranch on his way to the area before making his millions. That wasn’t so unusual; Love’s ranch often served as a stopover for those traveling to and from Cripple Creek, and particular mention has been made that guests often became too intoxicated at the ranch to make it all the way to their destinations.

About half a mile from the ranch, a small community of was being settled by 1892. This place was alternately known as Beaver Park since it was situated along Beaver Creek. There was already a town called Beaver Park being platted closer to the Cripple Creek District, however, and the two were sometimes confused. When a graveyard was established, it was called Beaver Creek Cemetery. Unfortunately, the exact location of Love’s cemetery has proven to be quite elusive. Various graveyard directories for Teller County have pinpointed the place as being just northwest of Pringtime Reservoir on the old Love ranch. Most of those buried there are children, including the infant son of Henry Charles and Margaret Rathke, as well as Roy Harold McCallister, an eight-year old who died after an accidental shooting. The burials took place in 1896 and 1897, respectively. Other children buried in the cemetery include Ray Rathke, two babies from the Waters family and of course members of the Love family.

As the Cripple Creek District continued developing, an increase in traffic and population merited opening a post office in December of 1894. To avoid conflicts with Beaver Park, the new post office was christened Love. As rumors began that the new Colorado Springs & Cripple Creek District Railroad was going to be laying tracks near Love, the Colorado Springs Mill opened to service smaller mines in the area.

By 1896, John Love and his family had moved to Delta on Colorado’s western slope. The move may have been a wise choice, for soon Love was subject to the lawlessness often suffered by rural towns. Early in 1898, Constable Michael Hayes of the city of Victor went to Love to serve a warrant on Charles Nichols for some unknown crime. Nichols shot the officer, who died from his wounds. The killer was sentenced to life at the state penitentiary in Canon City. Six months into his sentence he tried to escape, but was apprehended. In June of 1899, Nichols tried to escape once again. This time he was successful, and because his wife still lived at Love, authorities banked on the outlaw trying to come home. A posse soon descended upon the village. “It is said that when Nichols is met by the posse, some one will shoot,” predicted the Cripple Creek Morning Times, “and it is rumored around [Cripple Creek] Nichols will never be taken alive, unless he is taken by surprise.” The next day, the paper reported that Nichols had indeed been apprehended, but at the town of Rockvale near Canon City. He surrendered without incident, but Canon City Deputy Sheriff Thomas Tobin was accidentally shot by another officer. He was expected to live.

One other bizarre incident marred the otherwise placid life at Love. On the same day Nichols was apprehended, a group of fishermen found the body of Adolph Huffman lodged against a large rock in West Beaver creek a mile and a half below Love. A scissor and tool sharpener by trade, Huffman had been seen some weeks before “lying behind an embankment apparently asleep, with his grinding machine standing nearby in front of a house at or near Love.” Nobody, apparently, had seen him since. Coroner Dunn of Victor and two assistants were called. Unfortunately Huffman was too decomposed to transport back to Victor for burial preparation, so the men loaded the body into a coffin and buried it near the spot where it was found.

Although most members of the community were ranchers by 1899, the occasional miner continued taking up residence as well. Love was remote enough, however, that the close-nit community had few worries about their village becoming a booming metropolis like those towns in the nearby Cripple Creek District. By 1900 Love still had its post office, as well as a store and a school taught by Miss Nora Smith. The population was seventy five, although citizens were listed in the Cripple Creek District Directory under the jurisdiction of the nearest town, Altman. Residents consisted of miners and timber men, postmaster and grocer F.W. Cady, and Samuel Cashmaker of the Love Saloon.

Love began declining in 1901, as evidenced by Postmaster Cady applying for a post office at Clyde. The post office closed in 1902, and the Cripple Creek District Directory still put the population at seventy five people. Most of them were miners, cowboys and ranchers. There was also a dairy serving up eggs, butter and cream. Love’s slow decline coincided with that of the Cripple Creek District. When the Colorado Springs & Cripple Creek District Railroad ceased service past the community in 1920, most residents moved away. Today the town lies within the privately owned Beaver Park Ranch. Nothing remains of the community except the old Love school and a wonderful old barn, which are both on private property.

The Story of Lanter City, Colorado

c 2023 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article appear in Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County, Colorado.

Alternately known as Lanter, Lantern, Lander’s, Landres and Landen, Lanter City hoped to become the next thriving metropolis in Teller County. Alas, the effort was a failure. The town first bore mention in 1896, but the few records about this long-gone community are obscure. Lanter City, and has been described as being located on Pikes Peak, near the toll road leading to the top of the mountain. BLM land records show the town to be located in the vicinity of Crystal Creek Reservoir, on Glen Cove and South Catamount Creeks. Roads from Lanter City probably led not just to Ute Pass, but also the Pikes Peak Toll Road and perhaps even Edlowe between Woodland Park and Divide.

 Around the turn of the century, the Fountain Creek Mining District was formed in the area that would later include Lanter City. Though only four miles square, the district was comprised of thirty eight claims. At that time, the land on which Lanter City was situated was owned by Henry Law. For three days, November 7, 8 and 9, 1900, surveyor L.J. Carrington surveyed, platted and laid out the town in the vicinity of the North Star Gold Mining Company. First, Second and Third Streets were intersected by Carrington, Main and Parshall Avenues.

 Lanter City’s desire to grow was indicated by a November, 1900 ad in the Colorado Springs Gazette. “Wanted,” the advertisement read, “Men and women to engage in all kinds of business at Lanter City in the Fountain mining district five miles north of Pikes Peak. One shipper and lots of good prospects. Take stage at Woodland Park. For information address Tyler and McDowell, Woodland Park, Colo.” The ad was presumably taken out by Robert Lanter, who appeared in various news articles about the budding boomtown.

Response to the advertisement was apparently positive, for on November 30 Robert Beers, who had purchased some nearby  land in 1891, platted his own Robert Beers Addition. The addition created 5th, 6th and 7th Streets, as well as Hartman Street. The new activity spurred more articles; the December 3rd edition of the Colorado Springs Gazette identified the “camp” as being located near Cascade in El Paso County, but “to the north of Pikes Peak.” In fact, the article wondered if Lanter City was not destined to be the next Cripple Creek. “Local mining men have been rather indifferent until very lately but it certainly must be admitted now that the camp…at least calls for respectful attention,” said the Gazette. Of particular interest, according to the article, was that gold was being found in the area. The news was enough to entice a group from Victor in the Cripple Creek District to hire one of their “experts” to go have a look. The man found several claims and figured that ore in the area was worth between $20 and $80 per ton.

In the end, county records show that Henry Law was able to sell only eight of the lots at Lanter City, to four different buyers. During the town’s heyday, however, there were twenty homes, a livery stable and a blacksmith shop. News of the town continued drifting into newspapers. “Ed Weston of Lanter City was in [Colorado Springs] Sunday,” read an article in January of 1901. “Mr. Weston, with Messs. McDowell, Foster and Wheat, have leased the Rico lode and will proceed at once to find what is in it.” On February 27, another article hinted a post office was soon to be established, but that never happened. Other news articles told of “Uncle Billy” Parshall who staked the Louise claim in April, and progress on the McCleary brothers’ mine in May. Also in May, fourteen more lots were sold at Lanter City. By October, plans were underway to build a steam plant on Lord and Dean’s claim just southwest of town.

Unfortunately, the gold mines around Lanter City simply weren’t enough to create the boom everyone was hoping for. Aside from gold mining, Lanter City’s other main industry was intended to be logging, until the Pike National Forest was established in 1907 and the homesteaders at Lanter City there came to be regarded as trespassers. Thus, in 1908 Henry Law bought back the lots of Lanter City and sold his city to the Empire Water and Power Company for just $3,000. The company planned to build four reservoirs, but eventually sold the property to the City of Colorado Springs in 1930. Lanter City was vacated for good, and five years later, South Catamount Reservoir covered about half of the old townsite.

Researchers Kimberly Carsell and Kimberle Long believed they found five or so ruins at the site in 2000, as well as a large “glory hole” at the south end of the valley. Any remaining  mines were sealed by the Colorado Division of Reclamation and Mining Safety in 2008. Today there is nothing left of the town, only a dream of what could have been.

The plat map for Lanter City shows what might have become the “next Cripple Creek”

Adeline Hornbek: Woman With Backbone

c 2023 by Jan MacKell Collins

Picture coming to a desolate, lonely place with little or no knowledge of the land around you. Imagine building a home in such a spot while securing some means of support and survival. You are alone with four children, and your nearest neighbor is two miles away. It is solely up to you to survive in a foreign and undeveloped land. For Adeline Hornbek, these imaginings were very real. Adeline is the most commonly recognized settler in the Florissant region, where she settled in 1878. Not only was she unique as the first homesteader in the area; she also stands out as a courageous woman who knew what she wanted and got it.

 Born in Massachusetts in 1833, Adeline (nee Warfield) married Simon Harker in 1858 in Arkansas. The couple was living in the Indian Territory of Oklahoma when their first two children, Frank and Anna, were born. By 1861 they were living in Denver, Colorado, and the following year Adeline filed for 160 acres of land two miles south of Florissant in Teller County. But they were still in Denver when another son, George, was born in 1863. The following year, Simon Harker died sometime after the Great Denver Flood.

Even without a husband, Adeline became prominent in financial affairs and managed to build up substantial wealth for a woman in her times. She remarried in 1866 to Elliot “Ellie” Hornbek and bore another son, Elliot Jr. But Elliot apparently left Adeline high and dry in Colorado Springs in about 1875. Two years later, Adeline and her children headed to the homestead property near Florissant.

Adeline built her impressive ranch house on her homestead two miles south of town, on what is now Teller County Highway One. Her wealth permitted her to build bigger and better than other homesteaders. Subsequently, the two story home, which still stands today, contains four bedrooms, a parlor and a full kitchen including a large pantry. Water was hauled from nearby Grape Creek for cooking and washing. Other buildings were built as well: a milk house, a chicken coop, a large corral, stables and a root cellar. The ranch was completed in about 1878, when it was valued at a whopping $1,200.

Adeline insulated her home with 1879 newspapers, many of which remain on the walls today. The papers also served to keep dust from blowing between the chinked log walls. In some areas, Adeline was able to wallpaper her walls, a luxury few women in her circumstances enjoyed. Also, most of the buildings and especially her home, were built with care that is indicative she hired skilled craftsmen to do the work. She was also able to hire at least two or three hands to help around the ranch. Besides raising cattle and horses, Adeline also grew potatoes, vegetables and hay.

By these means, Adeline was able to support herself while becoming a well-known citizen in Florissant. In 1880, she served on the school board, and even provided room and board to a local schoolteacher, Rose Cunningham. She also worked at the general store in Florissant, and was active enough in civic affairs she merited mention in both the Crystal Peak Beacon and the Florissant Eagle, both published in Florissant. All of her children except for Frank, who was now grown, continued living with her and worked as ranch hands. Adeline’s social life not only consisted of the time she spent in Florissant, but also through the occasional parties and gatherings she hosted at her ranch.

Five years later, only Elliott remained at home, prompting Adeline to hire three other ranch hands who lived on her property: James Reid, Frank Burnham and Elisha Woody. Adeline kept so busy that she likely rarely left the area, save for 1889, when her daughter, Anna, died in Meeker. Ten years later, Adeline something quite odd for the time: at the age of 66 she married Frederick B. Stizkel, a German immigrant who may have been in her employ. The marriage was not so strange, but notably Stizkel was nearly 20 years younger than Adeline. This, unfortunately, left her at odds with her family and even some of her friends.

In fact, so disgruntled was Adeline’s family that legend says they declined to buy her a headstone when she died from a stroke in 1905. For years, Adeline’s grave at Four Mile Cemetery was marked with a brass plate until the early 2000’s, when a marble gravestone was purchased for her. Left with the ranch, Fred Stizkel remarried in Cripple Creek in 1906, but was living in Denver when he divorced in 1909. He remarried again, and died in 1926. He is buried in Wheatridge.

After Fred left the homestead, historians tell that various ranchers – James Lafferty, the Harry family and Palmer John Singer – owned the ranch through the years . A “well house” was added to the kitchen in 1909, but much of the original ranch house remained virtually untouched. With time, the remaining outbuildings were torn down or fell into decay, except for the root cellar which remains dug into a nearby hillside. Other area buildings were moved onto the property, a project which continued after the National Park Service acquired the ranch in 1973 and opened the Hornbek Homestead for tours.

In 1976, workers restoring the ranch were dismayed to find that someone broke in during the night and stole the home’s contents. In time, both the antiques and the foundation have been replaced. The furnishings are simple but practical and represent how Adeline likely lived during her twenty seven years at the ranch. Unfortunately, a second incident happened in 2010 when, during the night, thieves stole six wagon wheels from two antique wagons sitting in front of Adeline’s home. Two other wagon wheels were destroyed in the effort to remove them. Both wagons also were damaged. A $1,000 reward was offered for any information about the theft, but the vandals were never caught.

Today, visitors are welcome at the Hornbek Homestead year round, but Adeline’s home is only open to the public on weekends between June and September, and occasionally at Christmas. It is well worth a visit to enjoy the legacy of a lady ahead of her time.

Image: The Hornbek Homestead in 2005. Copyright Jan MacKell Collins.

Glen Cove, Colorado: An Unknown Gem of Teller County

c 2023 by Jan MacKell Collins

Anyone who has driven up America’s Mountain, Pikes Peak, will surely remember passing Glen Cove. Housed in a sturdy looking log structure, the rest stop features a restaurant and gift shop near some mighty premier off-track skiing in winter and rock climbing and hiking in summer. Mile marker 13 marks the spot where, at a bit over 11,400’ in altitude, visitors can visit almost year-round to admire the stunning views about midway to the top of the peak.

What visitors might not know is that Glen Cove actually is located in that small portion of Teller County that the Pikes Peak Highway crosses through. That’s because the only way to access the highway is via the pretty little mountain community of Cascade in El Paso County. Interesting too is that Glen Cove’s history goes much further back than the structure seen there today.

The real story of Glen Cove begins with Frank Tweed, a Kansas transplant who toiled as a carpenter while working various diggings in hopes of discovering gold. The first time he appeared in Colorado newspapers was back in 1882, when he and his brother, Charles, picked up a couple of claims further west of Pikes Peak, on the middle fork of Salt Creek, or perhaps the South Platte River. The Leadville Daily Herald reported that the men had some “valuable prospects” there, working when they could while staying in Colorado Springs. By saying “Colorado Springs,” the paper might have been referring to Glen Cove, since Frank would build a cabin there in 1886. Glen Cove, however, was yet to be named at that point.

Tweed’s cabin was originally an expansive two-story, log affair built with local lumber and perched on a solid rock foundation. Its name originated from nearby Glen Cove Creek, which empties into Crystal Reservoir. Alternatively, the creek may have been named for Tweed’s place. Either way, people gradually became aware of the cabin, the only stop at that time along the precarious, rocky trail leading to the top of Pikes Peak. Tweed would eventually convert the cabin into a rest stop for travelers and their horses as they traveled the trail.

Historic records show that Tweed did not live at Glen Cove on a regular basis. During 1890 he was living in Denver and employed as a carpenter. He did, however, file for an official homestead comprised of 160 acres surrounding Glen Cove in 1891. Four years after that he married his wife, Anna (nee Williams) at Colorado Springs. Newspapers had little to say about Glen Cove until 1898, when the Rocky Mountain News reported that uranium was discovered in a gold vein some 800 feet from the top of Pikes Peak. A small gold camp formed, and it was noted that one of four tunnels for the mine was being built at Glen Cove. By then, there was a primitive carriage road leading to the top of the peak.

The mine does not seem to have advanced very far, and by 1900 Frank and Anna Tweed, along with their three-year-old son, Hayden, were living in New Mexico. The Tweed’s may have sold their Glen Cove cabin by then, which around the same time was turned into a hotel. A 1901 news article mentioned that R.J. Mansfield, his wife, and their daughter – all lately of Ohio – were visiting Colorado Springs from Glen Cove. As for the Tweeds, Anna divorced Frank in 1904 for non-support. Four years later she, too, filed for her own homestead in Otero County. The 1910 census found her in San Diego, where she told the census taker that she was a widow. But where and when Frank Tweed died remains a mystery. Anna died in Los Angeles in 1945.

In 1916, the Pikes Peak Auto Highway officially premiered. The Glen Cove Inn, as it was now called, remained a highly popular stop. Visitors could get a meal, get their bearings going up or down the road, and get a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside and rugged mountains. Visitors talked of eating delicious sandwiches and sipping coffee while warming themselves by the big stone fireplace, and dinner was also served.

By 1927, the name of the inn changed again, to Glen Cove Lodge, when the United States Forest Service took over the property. A few years later, Fred Tweed’s cabin was replaced with a more modern facility, although the “new” building remains rustic in nature and still sits atop the original stone foundation. Notably, Glen Cove Lodge was requisitioned by Camp Carson and Peterson Field during World War II, for physical training exercises in what is now a well-known ski area. Don Lawrie, who owned the popular Pikes Peak Ski Club at the time, capitalized on the requisition to host “the first all-military ski meet in history” at Glen Cove on April 23, 1944.

Sometime in 1961, Glen Cove and its cozy inn, now sometimes referred to as the Timberline Inn or the Timberline Cafe, came under ownership by the city of Colorado Springs. The inn was added to the Colorado State Register of Historic Places in 1999, and remains a great rest stop along the road up Pikes Peak—in fact, rangers ask that all visitors coming off the mountain stop to have their brakes checked at Glen Cove for their own safety before driving on.

In addition to skiing, hiking and rock climbing, Glen Cove also offers panning for gold and gems during the summer months. Inside, light fare is offered at the restaurant, along with snacks, bottled waters and sodas, coffee, and hot chocolate. There is also the gift shop with an assortment of hand-made items, jewelry, mugs, clothing, postcards and other items. Glen Cove also remains open year-round (weather permitting, of course), and remains a most unique place to visit.

Photo: Frank Tweed’s original cabin as it appeared at Glen Cove.

Divide, the Pinpoint of Colorado’s Historic Ute Pass

C 2023 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article have appeared in the Colorado Gambler magazine

As far as anyone knows, the Devil never made a pact at the crossroads in Divide. If he had, he surely would have lost, since Divide has sported nothing less than a fairly wholesome history for nearly 150 years. Never big but always prominent, the community has always served as a turnstile in Colorado’s high country transportation. The Ute Pass wagon road, dating back centuries as an ancient Native trail, cut through the center of town to traverse across the state. From Divide, travelers could access the Cripple Creek District, Denver, Colorado Springs, Leadville, and the western slope. Fresh horses, eats, drinks, and a room for the night were always available here.

Historically, Divide was originally known by a variety of names including Belleview, Theodore and Rhyolite. The Belleview Ranch (also known as Bellevue) was actually located just about a mile west of the town. The ranch functioned under the Crescent Cattle Company, which was run by James Husted. Now known as the Crescent Ranch, many of the historic buildings remain today as private homes. Allegedly, silent film star Tom Mix once worked as a ranch hand at the Crescent before launching his action-packed movie career.

Early pioneer James Loshbaugh is believed to have been the first settler at Divide when he opened a saloon in 1870. He also made rank as the town’s first criminal, after taking a shot at his daughter’s beau one night. The bullet missed its mark, hitting miner Walt Hughes instead. The unlucky Hughes had just recently spent two weeks trapped in a mine, living off candles and shoe leather until he was rescued. Not surprisingly, he also survived the gunshot.

By 1871, the Spotsweed & McLellan Stage was making regular stops at Divide to change horses before traveling on. Cattle were also frequently herded through town on their way to distant grazing grounds. Within a year’s time, Divide saw an estimated 12,000 horses and mules come through. Travelers came to know Divide as the last place to buy supplies before going on. A variety of entrepreneurs slowly began seting up shop to accommodate them.

In 1873, the Hayden geographical survey team officially pinpointed the summit of Ute Pass just west of town. The settlement became known as Hayden’s Divide, which was later shortened to Divide. How appropriate the name was, since this is where travelers divided to head west to South Park,  south to Cripple Creek, north towards Denver, or east to Colorado Springs. A post office was established in 1886. The first postmaster was Alice Hardy, who also ran a stage station and a hotel.

The post office and other structures were built in anticipation of the Colorado Midland Railroad, which reached Divide in 1887. Railway workers lived in local boarding houses while the less fortunate stayed in mobile shanties and tents. All were less than ample in comfort. Women were few, with the exception of Mrs. Hardy and Mrs. Hays, the latter whose boarding house took in as many as 50 men per night. Divide’s first depot was 896 square feet and contained a waiting room, freight room, and living quarters. A tiny telegraph office operated 24 hours a day. There was also a section house, a bunk house and a tool shed. 

The gold boom at the Cripple Creek District some 18 miles away in 1891 did much to enhance Divide’s economy. A few years later, the Colorado Midland built a spur, the Midland Terminal Railroad, which branched off to the Cripple Creek District. Travelers could now hop on the Midland Terminal, which featured about a dozen stops at various towns around the district. Divide merchants prospered as their goods were shipped to the 25 or so towns and camps surrounding Cripple Creek. In turn, ore from district mines was shipped out via Divide.

As of 1896, there were 100 people living at Divide. Businesses included J.S. Creswell’s saloon, J.W. Hardy’s lunch counter, Postmistress Mrs. William Hardy’s Hardy House Hotel, Neil Harkin’s drugstore, Kelly’s Saloon and Boarding House, C. Pederson’s livery stable, Mrs. Charles Rowen’s Hotel, and G.W. Sadler’s grocery store. Most all of that was lost, however, in November of 1898. Two boys playing with matches in a vacant building near Sadler’s set a fire which destroyed most of the business district at Divide, as well as a number of homes. 

Ever resilient, Divide quickly rebuilt, and added a school for the local children. Students trekked in from miles around, warming their homemade lunches on a cookstove in back of the schoolroom. By 1902, prominent businesses and their owners included Blacksmith A. Anderson, Justice of the Peace John Harkins, three hotels run by William H. Burnside, Annie Mathews and Mrs. D.D. Thomas, Littleton and Hergot’s Saloon, George Sadler’s general merchandise and mill, Postmaster G.H. Sharrack’s groceries and meats, and William Tate’s livery. The Divide Lumber Company also did quite a bit of business.

A larger depot was built in 1904. By then, there were even more businesses. Ironically, the only facet missing from this wholesome little town in its early years was a church. During the early 1900’s an itinerant Episcopalian minister, Dr. Bonell, started holding services in one of the saloons on Sundays. Between the collection plate and admission charged for family dances, Bonell had raised enough money by 1905 to build Saint David’s Episcopal Church. Today, the historic house of worship is known as the Little Chapel of the Hills.

The economy in Divide eventually slowed in conjunction with the mines of the Cripple Creek District, where gold was becoming more and more difficult to mine. In 1918 the Colorado Midland Railroad discontinued service west of Divide, although service on the Midland Terminal continued to Cripple Creek for some 30 more years. During that time, Divide continued to serve as a terminus for the Midland Terminal, but also became known for the rich soil in the area. Potatoes and lettuce became the name of the game as Divide quickly became known for its plentiful crops. The first gas station in the town’s history, Turner’s Texaco, opened in 1921.

Divide continued to prosper. In 1927 a Community Club formed. By 1938, the Coulson Ice Company had installed a giant hoist to meet the packing demands for shipping Divide lettuce. Unfortunately, the farms of Divide eventually depleted the soil. The last crops seem to have gone out with the Colorado Midland and the Midland Terminal, which made a final run through Divide in 1949. Today, the railroad grade can still be spotted on the south side of Highway 24.

In 1952, the Community Club burned following a New Year’s gala. It was important to the residents to rebuild this focal point of the town, which they did. Now called the Pikes Peak Community Club, the non-profit continues to serve the Divide area. Another surviving building is the little depot, which served as the Whistle Stop Saloon for many years. The school also survives at the one intersection in town, and had served many different uses over time.

By 1979 the population of Divide was 500, with several businesses. The settlement remained pretty much a sleepy, pleasant wide spot in the road until the onset of gambling in Cripple Creek in 1991. Slowly but surely, Divide experienced a new resurgence of life, despite not really needing one. The town has developed into a sprawling bedroom community over time and today hosts a shopping center and several modern businesses. It is also home to the Teller County Sheriff’s Office. As always, Divide has continued to stay on the map as a pleasant and useful rest stop for those passing through.

Image: The Colorado Midland Railroad arriving at Divide’s little depot.

Dairy, Mining & Crime at Spring Creek, Colorado

c 2023 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article are from Cripple Creek District: Last of Colorado’s Gold Booms and Lost Ghost Towns of Colorado 

Located on the outskirts of today’s Cripple Creek Mountain Estates west of Cripple Creek, Spring Creek’s early beginnings came from several mining claims in the area. While not exactly in the Cripple Creek District proper, the community provided important services to the residents of Cripple Creek and the rest of the district. The tiny hamlet was located along its namesake creek in a pleasant and quiet valley. The main road skirting the creek was dotted with tidy little houses. A wagon road cut through the valley between Copper Mountain and Mineral Hill, providing easy access to Cripple Creek.

Spring Creek’s beginnings are marked by its little cemetery, which was established in 1893. In all, fourteen to sixteen people were entombed there over time. Locals who spent time exploring Spring Creek as teens remember seeing five or six wooden grave markers, which have long since disappeared. Some also remember a wrought iron fence surrounding the graveyard. Today, even the one granite tombstone of the burial ground has been buried by the deep woods around it.

On the newspaper front, the first mention of Spring Creek was in the Cripple Creek Morning Times of December 6, 1895, when the Modoc Mine was recorded as selling a mining deed to the Spring Creek Gold Mining and Milling Company just a month before. There was little other news, as Spring Creek never grew large nor prominent. The community never did have a post office or even a newspaper. If it had, Jacob Abby most likely would have been postmaster since he was one of the longest residents of the community.

In the early days, Abby partnered with Ed Neppel. But it is Abby who is most often mentioned in a handful of notes about Spring Creek, and it is known he operated one of three dairies there. He also dabbled in mining, and with good reason. In January of 1896, the Morning Times revealed that the Mineral Hill Tunnel Company was “quietly” digging a tunnel from Spring Creek, through Mineral Hill and “directly to the new Midland Terminal depot in Cripple Creek.” Work had just started, but “solid formation has not been reached.”

In the end the tunnel never materialized. The only news in Spring Creek during 1896 was that Abby’s five year old son, Lloyd, died. The child was buried in the little cemetery, supposedly alongside two other siblings named Hazel and Clare. Later, Jacob named the Little Lloyd mining claim after his son. Other claims filed by Abby include the Little Annie, Little Ellen, Little Emma, Little Jessie and the Little Mary. Thus by 1897, Abby was better known as the partial owner of several mining claims.

Spring Creek was just far enough away from law enforcement authorities in Cripple Creek for some rather odd crimes to occur. On New Year’s Day in 1898, for instance, a most gruesome discovery was made at the home of Annie Robinson on Spring Creek. Robinson’s large log home, which was occupied by herself and two young children, had burned to the ground. A Morning Times reporter and neighbor, W.S. Carmele, investigated and found charred bones amongst the ruins. Then in June, the Times reported,

Officers last night effected the capture of the man who has been deranged for some days, and has eluded captures, staying in the country near Spring Creek. He was brought to this city and locked up, charged with insanity. 

Last, in August, stolen goods were recovered from the Spring Creek cabin of Sherman Crumley, one of three brothers who, the Morning Times charged, “have been responsible for many a depredation in this district for the past two years.” Crumley’s cohorts, a man named Purdy and one Charley Ripley, had already been apprehended following the theft of some saddles and harnesses from a Mr. Harker. Three days later, it was reported that sheriffs Frank Boynton and Tom McMahon had found more stolen goods in a cabin near Sherman’s Spring Creek home, known to be one of his “hiding places.”

The crime wave in Spring Creek had subsided by 1899, and newspapers reported only on the mines around the community throughout the year. Because it was not officially considered part of the Cripple Creek District, Spring Creek is not even mentioned in city directories until 1900 when the Abbys, plus forty other people, were listed as residing there. Jacob Abby now worked as a carpenter, but there also were two dairies, the Union run by Fred Desplaines and the Midway, owned by Charles Warner. Twenty three miners lived at Spring Creek too. Their children attended a schoolhouse on the south slope of Copper Mountain. Miss Alberta Smith, who lived in Cripple Creek, traveled over the saddle daily to teach them. There were also Edward Tealon and his nineteen-year-old wife Belle who ran a saloon. Belle’s brother, John Parr, was the watering hole’s bartender.

Jacob Abby continued dabbling in mining, but was trying his hand at farming by 1910. The total population of Spring Creek that year was around eighty people, but folks gradually began moving away as the Cripple Creek District’s mines began playing out. By 1920 the Abbys were at, or considered part of, Gillett where Jacob returned to carpentry. Mary died in 1927 and Jacob died in 1934.

Throughout the 1930’s and 40’s, Spring Creek continued to shrink, although many of the community’s cabins were still occupied as late as the the 1950’s and 1960’s. Around that same time, however, many of the buildings were dismantled or moved into Cripple Creek. One of them is located near Golden and B Street today. The remaining buildings at Spring Creek have silently sunken into the grass, and a few modern homes have appeared in the area since the 1990’s.

Image: Little Lloyd Abby’s grave as it appeared in 1996. c Jan MacKell Collins

Strange Happenings at Colorado’s Spinney Mill

c 2023 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article have appeared in Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County

As the gold boom at Colorado’s famous Cripple Creek District in Teller County during the 1890’s unfolded, scads of camps, big and small, were quickly established as hundreds of prospect holes appeared in the hills around the district. Although much of the activity centered in the vicinity of Mt. Pisgah, other outlying areas also were settled during the boom, at least for a short time. One of these was the ill-fated resort town of Beaver Park, which was platted but never really settled by 1893. In fact not much happened around Beaver Park at all, save for a couple of stamp mills – special mills constructed to crush gold ore instead of grinding it. One of them, Spinney Mill, was built by some men identified only as “Mssrs. Spinney.”

The Fairplay Flume newspaper at Fairplay, in its August 31, 1893 issue, would report that “the Spinney Stamp Mill at Cripple Creek has been started and is a complete success.” Accordingly, the Cripple Creek District’s first official directory in 1893 listed the mill as being located on Beaver Creek, some four and a half miles from Cripple Creek, just east of the budding railroad town of Gillett, and near the budding town of Grassy which would eventually be renamed Cameron. But while Spinney Mill was initially an important addition to the district’s gold boom, it appeared to fail to amount to much in the coming years, when other mills were constructed closer to the district’s mines. Even so, some mighty odd occurrences took place around Spinney Mill from time to time, just enough to merit mention of the place from time to time.

Although a few miners and millers lived at Spinney’s Mill, the first real news about the mill came during the district’s tumultuous labor war of 1894. Mine owners and managers wanted to extend the work day to nine hours at the same rate of pay, an idea which outraged miners. Their point was emphasized in January with the kidnapping of Isabella Mine manager D.E. or H.C. Locke, the first to implement the nine hour day. In January, the Buena Vista Herald reported that:

D.E. Locke, manager of the Isabella Mining Company, which property is located on Bull Hill, was met at or near the Taylor boarding house a few minutes after 10 o’clock Saturday morning, while on his way to the property, by about 100 miners, quickly taken from his cart, relieved of his side arms and walked down to the Spinney mill, where he was told to get down on his knees and solemnly declare that never, so long as he lived, would he again put foot on Bull Hill.

Locke started to protest, but upon being shown a rope he agreed to the demand. The manager was then escorted “down the canon [sic] several miles,” given his horse, and released with instructions to head for Colorado Springs without looking back. This he died, stirring up great excitement when he rode into town late that night.

In October of 1894, the Cripple Creek Morning Journal reported, Dr. S. F. Shannon and a Dr. Carrington had partnered to purchase Spinney Mill, which would be processing ore from Winfield Scott Stratton’s Independence Mine, as well as another property called the Plymouth Rock and Independence. Likely due to the wear and tear suffered by crushing rock, the Spinney Mill was “thoroughly retrofitted and improved” in 1895 as a small settlement sprang up around it. Referred to as “Spinney,” the camp was large enough to have a school, yet too small to have its own post office. It was simply too remote. 

Being so far from the heart of the Cripple Creek District made Spinney Mill a target for crime over time. On a July evening in 1896, for instance, three masked men stopped the Kuykendall stage just a quarter of a mile from Spinney Mill. Fourteen men, four women and driver George Worden were aboard when a man accosted the coach with a Winchester, telling Worden to stop and warning him, “If you pull a line [reign], I will shoot you.” Two other men then appeared, brandishing revolvers. The passengers were made to exit the coach and line up, whereupon the men’s pockets were emptied.

The women might have been robbed as well, but Mrs. Joseph Gandolfo of Cripple Creek fainted. This alarmed the robbers a bit, who instead turned their attentions to the coach. Thankfully, they completely missed two pocketbooks that had been hidden under the seat by their owners. The thieves allowed their victims to “go ahead” before riding quickly in the other direction. The coach resumed its trip to Cripple Creek—although two of the men actually remained behind to look for money they had discreetly tossed out the window upon seeing the masked men. The thieves, who came away with about $500 and ten watches, were believed to be three escaped prisoners from the Victor jail.

Spinney Mill hung on for a few more years, receiving another facelift in 1896 before the school was finally abandoned in 1898. The mill was still being used as of 1900 when a third lawless, yet puzzling, incident occurred. Laborers Ed Ash and J. Kirk were working at a pumping station near the mill when seven mounted masked men suddenly appeared. The group ordered Ash and Kirk to quit working and marched them to Spinney Mill. Five of the men rode off towards Cripple Creek, but the remaining two escorted Ash and Kirk to “the half way house” somewhere nearby. There, the kidnappers called their victims a couple of “lying scamps” and ordered them to walk to Colorado Springs and never return. Ash and Kirk continued on to Colorado Springs to report the incident. They were “beaten up some,” according to the Aspen Tribune, but otherwise unharmed. The mystery of why they were kidnapped remained unknown.

Only a few miners and blacksmith James Wells were living at Spinney Mill during 1900. Further evidence that someone still lived there came in 1901, when a sudden ferocious cloudburst broke the reservoirs of the Victor water works. “The great wave of water rolled down the gulch, wiping out three dwelling houses near the Spinney Mill and breaking against the new steel concrete dam of the Pikes Peak Power Company two miles below,” stated the Colorado Transcript newspaper in its May 22 issue. That was the last mention of Spinney Mill. Whatever was left of it was torn down 1905. It’s demise marked the end of the last of the earliest mills that once marked the Cripple Creek District.

Some believe the far-off ruins in this image may be Spinney Mill, but others aren’t so sure.

Winfield Scott Stratton, Colorado’s Mystifying Millionaire

c 2023 by Jan MacKell Collins

Colorado, and especially the Cripple Creek District, are well familiar with Winfield Scott Stratton, the man whose Independence Mine made him a millionaire almost overnight. Between that and his other mines, Stratton’s daily income once peaked at some $12,000 per day. Per. Day. But so unlike other rich mining men who openly flaunted their wealth, threw their weight around, and paraded around the world as some of the most affluent socialites of their time, Stratton’s money bothered him a great deal. So did the slew of women, both wicked and chaste, who hoped to wile him into marrying them, or at least giving them money.

A carpenter by trade, Stratton began dabbling in mining as early as 1874. Urged by his friend, Bob Womack, Stratton arrived in Cripple Creek in 1891 divorced, broke, and tired. He was, after all, already in his 40’s when he invested in the Independence Mine. Within an amazingly short time, Stratton was wealthy far beyond his means, or anyone else’s for that matter. But he never saw his wealth as a healthy asset. “Too much money is not good for any man,” he once said. “I have too much and it is not good for me.” So rather than join the elite jetsetters who built extravagent mansions along Millionaires Row in Colorado Springs and traveled the world, Stratton continued to live a somewhat simple life, preferring to donate his wealth rather than flaunt it. Carefully choosing his own charities, on his own time, was the ultimate power the man could excercise.

For nearly 11 years, everyone wanted a piece of the man who bascially hid from sight in his modest homes (first at the town of Indpendence and later in Colorado Springs), morosely sipping whiskey and finding ways to terrorize his female house staff. It wasn’t the women’s faults, by any means. It was just that, especially after he became obscenely rich, Stratton felt like everyone was out to get his money. And no doubt some of them were. Even today, the female historians among us must sometimes wonder if, had we known him, we could bring him out of his melancholy state, tame his temper, and perhaps even marry right into his fat pocketbook. Probably not. Although he immersed himeself in culture, Stratton was not so much prone to attending the theater, or any public affairs. His social activities, from what is known about him, tended to focus on floosies like the future madam Laura Evens of Salida and other wanton women. And, anyone familiar with the zodiac signs knows that Cancers (Stratton was born July 22) in general hide in their shells and will not come out no matter how long or hard you poke them with a stick. Only they can choose when to come out into the light of day, and Stratton was no exception.

In spite of his refusal to follow the Big Book of Societal Rules for Millionaires of the 1890’s, Winfield Scott Stratton was indeed a generous man. For a few years, his good deeds were the stuff of gossip and speculation among his peers and fellow citizens. There was the time, for instance, that he spied his laundress bringing his freshly pressed shirts to him on foot. Upon learning that the lady could not afford so much as a bicycle to transport her goods, Stratton was said to have purchased the two-wheeled vehicles for every washerwoman in Colorado Springs. He also was known to reward his favorite employees by purchasing homes for them. Such sweet stories were countered by the one about the time Stratton and some dame (allegedly Madam Hazel Vernon of Cripple Creek) stumbled into the prestigious Brown Palace Hotel in Denver during a wretched storm. Stratton was ordered by an imperious employee to remove himself and his muddy boots from the lobby. The temperamental tycoon retaliated by purchasing the hotel outright so he could fire the employee. But Stratton’s unbridled generosity during Cripple Creek’s two disastrous fires in 1896 is a bonafide example of how he really did care for those with less, and jumped without hesitation to the rescue for thousands of people.

The two infamous fires of Cripple Creek, which destroyed much of the town, happened within four days of each other during April of 1896. Lost were nearly the entire business district along Bennett Avenue, the red-light district along Myers Avenue, and hundreds of homes. Five thousand people were left with no house, no food, no clothing. Although some of them filtered over to the nearby towns of Anaconda, Elkton and Victor, supplies throughout the whole district quickly ran dangerously low. Stratton, who was in Colorado Springs at the time, had gathered with his fellow millionaires to listen to the news via the primitive telephone system. As the devastation of the first fire during the afternoon on April 25th was described in detail, Stratton jumped into action and formed a relief committee like no other. Billing everything to himself, he lost no time in procuring a special two-car train to make the needed trip to Cripple Creek. In the meantime, volunteers were rounded up to gather as many supplies as they could.

Within hours, cases of food, blankets, tents and clothing were stacked into freight wagons and hauled to the Colorado Midland Depot at nearby Colorado City. It is said Stratton even commissioned Colorado College students to collect more food door-to-door, and that the effort took every available loaf of bread in Colorado Springs. The train began chugging towards Cripple Creek at 5 p.m., with stops at Chipeta Park, Green Mountain Falls, Crystola and Woodland Park to pick up more supplies. As the train made its way up Ute Pass, well-wishers ran alongside, tossing even more items to workers on the cars. At Divide, the goods were transferred quickly to Midland Terminal trains as more items were added.

The sight of Stratton’s relief train chugging into Cripple Creek that night must have brought tears to many an eye. It took most of the night to distribute supplies, which were handed out at the Midland Terminal Depot on Bennett Avenue (one of only a couple of buildings to survive the fire) and loaded onto wagons. Another relief train departed Colorado Springs at 2 a.m. with even more supplies, including furniture, liquor and cooking utensils. Even more supplies were sent after the second fire on April 29 burned more homes and businesses. Whether he liked it or not, Stratton’s selfless act made him a hero to many in the Cripple Creek District.

Naturally Stratton’s actions generated a lot of hero worship for the man in Colorado Springs, as well. During his time there, Stratton shaped so-called “Little London’s” distinguished reputation as a city of wealth by providing land on which to erect such opulent buildings as the City Hall, the El Paso County Courthouse, the Post Office, and two other important structures he was associated with: the Mining Exchange Building and the Independence Building. In addition, he bought and significantly improved the Colorado Springs and Interurban Railway, and oversaw construction of a professional baseball stadium where the “Colorado Springs Millionaires” team played. It is doubtful, however, that he ever attended a game. In fact, about the only place he ever went when he left his home was to his office in the Independence Building just a few blocks away. And when a lavish banquet was later thrown in his honor at the prestigious Antlers Hotel in Colorado Springs, they say, Stratton stubbornly declined to attend.

For the rest of his life, Stratton remained as reclusive as ever. Curious is that he does not seem to appear in the 1900 census, anywhere. Odds are that he was holed up in his home on Weber Street in Colorado Springs (which sadly no longer stands), and outright refused to answer the door. That command would have been extended to his housekeeper, Eliza – the only one of his employees to put up with his shenannigans and who dared to talk back to him. It was a trait that Stratton would secretly admire. But by 1902, he was even more withdrawn and suffering from liver disease – the penalty for drinking like a fish in his efforts to escape from his wealthy status. He died on September 14 and, quite possibly against his wishes, was buried with much ceremony in Colorado Springs’ Evergreen Cemetery.

Stratton’s last great contribution was leaving money in his will to build the Myron Stratton Home, an expansive institution with beautiful grounds where orphaned children and the poor of El Paso and Teller counties could live and be treated with respect. He would be mortified if he knew that his last act of kindness was immediately cast into litigation for nearly 11 years as would-be heirs, supposed wives, and other so-called constituents battled over his fortune. In the end, however, the Myron Stratton Home won out and remains among the best assisted living facilities today, with private residences and other amenities seldom seen in the land of elder care. Today, Stratton’s buildings, a statue, Stratton Park, and other landmarks in Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek pay tribute to Winfield Scott Stratton. But it remains a shame that one of Colorado’s biggest, and most eccentric, philanthropists died without realizing the true appreciation so many felt for him, and his unwanted money.

Image courtesy of the Myron Stratton Home

Rufus Porter, The Hard-Rock Poet of Colorado’s Cripple Creek District

c 2023 by Jan MacKell Collins

Parts of this article are excerpted from Cripple Creek District: Last of Colorado’s Gold Booms.

“I ask no miracles of the muse,

I would not write like an old Khayyam,

The little talent that I use

Must show me only as I am.”

                        —Rufus Porter

As Colorado history goes, Cripple Creek District in Colorado remains at the forefront as the site of the last great gold boom in the Centennial State. Between 1891 and 1920, hundreds of mines, 25 towns and camps, three railroads, and thousands of people infiltrated a 24-square mile area, and generated a history quite unlike no other. Today, collectors of Cripple Creek memorabilia can consider themselves lucky to have the works of Rufus L. Porter among their treasures. From his arrival in Colorado in about 1915 to his death in 1979, Porter served as a blue-collar historian for the Cripple Creek District. Today, his home-spun yarns and poetry about life as it really was in the Cripple Creek District have survived in the way of columns for the Colorado Springs Gazette, as well as his own self-published books, as a crucial part of the District’s history.

Born in 1897 in Minnesota, Porter’s family had moved to Colorado Springs by the time his sister, Vera, was born in 1915. Two years later, Porter visited the Cripple Creek District and became enamored with the fading gold district. For a time, he remained in Colorado Springs, marrying his wife, Martha, and working as a coal miner in one of the 50 mines in the Rockrimmon and and Cragmoor area. By the time the Porter’s second child, Robert, was born in 1926, the family had migrated to Cripple Creek District where Rufus leased his own mine. Porter would later recall that the family initially stayed at the once-prestigious National Hotel in Cripple Creek, as well as the Baltimore Hotel in Victor, before moving into a house in Cripple Creek.

Following the death of their young daughter Doris, in 1932, the Porters returned to Colorado Springs for a few years (another daughter, also had died at the age of four years in 1925). Several years and two more children later, the Porter family returned to the Cripple Creek District. This time they settled in Goldfield, and Rufus went to work for the famous Cresson Mine. By his own account, he also worked at the Jay Gould Mine on Tenderfoot Hill, the Little Longfellow, and the Rigi. In between, he leased properties on Bull Hill and in other areas. He was working at the Vindicator Mine in 1940 when he fell 50 feet down the No. 12 shaft, breaking four vertebrae.

It took some two years for Porter to recover from his injuries, during which time he returned to Colorado Springs and eventually got a job as Chief Metallurgist for the Golden Cycle Mill. But he had also taken up a hobby, writing. For the next several years, Porter scribbled scores of poems and anecdotes about the Cripple Creek District, writing ballads about the people he knew and focusing on the District’s many colorful characters. In 1953, he published his first book, The Fiddler on Wilson Creek. The tome was a collection of poetry illustrated with historic images and Porter’s own photos depicting landscapes and characters of the district. A year later, a second book, Gold Fever, was published as well, and included tales of local folklore, as well as Porter’s recollections of his time in the District.

Now, Rufus balanced his time in Colorado Springs with extended trips to the Cripple Creek District, where he was known as the “Hard Rock Poet” and quite a colorful character himself. Of Cripple Creek’s annual Donkey Derby Days celebration in 1954, he would remember attending with his beloved donkey, Esau. “We won first prize in the whisker contest and second in the parade,” Porter he said. Those who remember the well-known billboards of the past advertising Cripple Creek will recall a miner and his donkey proclaiming, “Yonder is Cripple Creek!” That was, indeed, Rufus and Esau.

Sadly, Porter’s son Robert, a Navy veteran, was working in a local mine when he was accidentally electrocuted later that same time. Rufus battled his grief by even more. In the interest of discretion, Rufus rarely “named names,” preferring his own self-styled nicknames for the people whose stories he told. Thus the true identities of such characters as Bohunk Stan, Honest John the High-Grader, Greasy Miller of Gillette, Buffalo Brown, Old Man Oliver, Bathless Bill, Sloppy Frank and Kettle Belly Martin have been lost to history. Careful examination of the works, however, will also reveal several true historic figures—Sam Stumpff, Pat McCain, Dan O’Hara, and Tom and Ace Morris, just to name a few.

The characters in Porter’s books added much flavor to his perspective on the very real aspects of gold camp life. His often humorous anecdotes covered a wide range of real-life adventures, from fishing and hunting to high-grading, from gambling to ghost towns. He even had a favored camping spot, which he called “Poet’s Peak.” Porter was blatantly honest, too. Of the bawdy district of Cripple Creek in the face of government officials trying to ignore their naughty past, Porter wrote,

“Now sin and lust I ain’t defendin’,

But history must be fair,

And there ain’t no use in pretendin’

That Myers Avenue wasn’t there.”

In 1961 Porter published yet another booklet, Pay Dirt. As with his previous books, most of Porter’s stories were told with a tongue-in-cheek style. The tales could, however, occasionally take a gruesome turn. In writing of the “big Swede” who suffered a stroke and died in a shaft of the Golden Cycle Mine, Porter wrote, “…after workin’ for an hour without bein’ able to budge him, we decided that the only way we’d ever get him out of there was to saw his legs off. But by that time rigor mortis had set in…since he had no known kin we considered it more humane to leave him where he was…”

Following the closing of the Carlton Mill in 1962, Porter’s writings eventually caught the eye of the Colorado Springs Gazette editors, and he was hired as a regular columnist as he continued writing his little books. In 1966 he published a fourth work, The Saga of Dynamite Dan. Now, Porter’s tales earned him notoriety as a popular guest speaker and exhibitor of his own extensive gold ore sample collection. He also wrote several more books. Each effort supported Porter’s hope and theory that someday, the Cripple Creek District would boom once more.

In about 1978, for reasons known only to themselves, Rufus and Martha moved to Riverside, California. A scribbled note from Rufus to Colorado historian, author and Cripple Creek District Museum curator Leland Feitz in January of 1979 noted, “I am writing for Western Publications, Inc. Got a check for $150.00. By the way, I may be back next year. I don’t like Calif.” The letter included an historic photograph from the Cripple Creek District. “I’m going to have a print of it framed and give it to the museum in Cripple Creek,” Feitz wrote back. In response, Rufus typed a cryptic reply on Feitz’s letter on February 16, ending with, “Hope to hear frrom [sic] you soon. Rufus.” Later that day Porter passed away at the age of 81. His body, as well as that of Martha’s a year later, were returned to Colorado for burial in Colorado Springs.

Rufus Porter’s legacy has indeed lived on in the Cripple Creek District. His series of booklets were later published by his late nephew, Forest Porter, and are now highly collectible. And, after years of sitting forgotten, his charming little cabin in Goldfield is now privately owned and lovingly protected and cared for. Most interesting is Rufus Porter’s prediction that some day, the Cripple Creek District would boom once more, has come to fruition. Today, Newmont Mining is the largest gold mining operation in the state, and the City of Cripple Creek has legalized gambling. It’s a far cry from the days when Rufus saw two fellows spitting at a crack in the sidewalk for $20 gold pieces.

Special thank you to the memory of Forest Porter, a nephew of Rufus who corresponded with me regarding his charming uncle.

News of the World – Better Late Than Never

c 2023 by Jan MacKell Collins

Call me late (just never call me late for dinner, yuk yuk), but I just now got around to watching “News of the World,” starring Tom Hanks and a young German actress, Helena Zengel. It is true, this film came out in 2020. The plot centers on an 1800’s Civil War veteran who travels the west, bringing news to those without the benefit of such newfangled inventions of the future like television, radio and the internet. Ironic is that as late as I am giving my two cents about this picture, Hanks’ character, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, reads current and past events from newspapers that are actually months old by the time he reaches his various destinations. That said, I’m forgiving myself for taking so long to watch it.

I liked this film on multiple levels. For one thing, it brings to the forefront the unique fact that in the old west, there really were men who traipsed from town to town, bringing news and editorials to people who lived in remote areas. You don’t think Americans learned all at once that the Civil War was over, do you? They certainly didn’t, and even telegraphed messages – the fastest form of communication at the time which relied on Morse code – could only relay so much information at a time. Author Paulette Giles, whose book of the same name serves as the basis for this movie, was wise to set her story in the post-Civil War years when not everyone got the same message at the same time.

So, on to the story. Captain Kidd is rambling around doing his thing when he comes across an overturned coach. The only passenger appears to be a young girl (Zengel, in her first American role). Nearby, the Black driver of the coach has been lynched. As for the child, she is of German descent with blonde hair, a wide face and piercing sky-blue yes. Her name is Johanna. But the child speaks only Kiowa, owing to the fact that she was taken from her home after her parents were murdered sometime in the past. But her adopted Kiowa parents are dead too. What to do?

In so many westerns, grappling with the idea of a man coming across a child in need (think 1972’s “Jeremiah Johnson,” 1975’s “Against a Crooked Sky,” 1969’s “True Grit” and its 2010 remake, to name a few) has been regarded as a burden. How can you be a badass, or even a normal guy, doing what you need to survive, when you are suddenly encumbered by a child? In this case, Kidd has the wherewithal, and common sense, to see that it is his responsibility to take Johanna to the place she belongs: the home of her long lost kin. Doing so will require riding some rough roads strewn with highwaymen and other outlaws. On the back burner too are Kidd’s memories of his wife, whom he has not seen since he left for the war years before. But duty is duty as far as he is concerned, and he must deliver this little lost girl to the proper destination before moving on.

This is the part where I want to point out the virtues of Tom Hanks’ first role in a real, gritty, period western. We all know Tom, boy do we. He long ago mastered the art of his craft, with a slew of films illustrating the depth of his talent. These days, at the still-young age of 64, the actor himself has become almost a father-like figure in the film industry. But while other reviews have nailed him for acting like typical Tom Hanks in a Tom Hanks film, I didn’t care. I appreciated the aging Captain Kidd’s neutral approach to the task at hand. He reads his newspapers in a way that reminds me of the late Paul Harvey’s news commentaries, with a delivery that makes people automatically trust what he has to say. He is a voice of reason when his listeners vehemently object to the news he reads. In dealing with young Johanna, whose trust must be gained in order for the pair to survive, Kidd knows he must employ as much prudence as he can. If Hanks could not carry this role, I don’t know who could have done a better job.

One of the most poignant parts of the story is seeing how real the struggle is for Kidd’s conscience. He does not call the girl “Cicada,” her Kiowa name, and he is bent on returning her to her blood family, not the Natives she is obviously now more comfortable with. But when Johanna chirps out her sing-song words in Kiowa tongue, and employs survival skills she learned from the tribe, the conflict in Kidd’s face is genuine. And when she instinctively blurts out a German sentence, Kidd obviously feels even more uncomfortable. It is never spoken, but beautifully conveyed, that this man is truly torn between which of the worlds Johanna has lived in is the best one for her. Yet he knows how important it is for him to learn her words and teach her his, because communication is among the most vital survival skills this pair can share.

“News of the World” was filmed in New Mexico. It is a refreshing change to so many movie and shows that have lately fled film-unfriendly America to Canada in favor of more accommodating film commissions. I know New Mexico, and recognized a couple of sets, which gave this movie a comforting, familiar feel. The scenery is, as usual, beautiful. The costumes, sets, firearms, and most everything else used to make the film are authentic. The dialogue is flavorful. And for those who feel the storyline is a bit slow, I’m here to tell you that the wild west was not always wild. It could, on many levels, move at a very unhurried, steady pace that was akin to most lifestyles of the time. In our hurry-hurry world, that’s not really such a bad thing. So sit back, turns the lights low, and be willing to ride along the deliberate, often emotional path this story takes. You won’t be sorry.

Image courtesy IMDB.