c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins
Portions of this article first appeared in the Colorado Gambler magazine.
The name of Highway 67 in Colorado is a bit deceiving. The road was originally a thoroughfare that took folks to the famed Cripple Creek District. In Victor, the District’s second largest town, one could catch the Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad into the southern part of the state. Later proclaimed as Highway 67, today’s road still travels through the Cripple Creek District. At Victor, the “highway” turns into the scenic dirt road of Phantom Canyon and follows the old railroad grade to Florence.
Drive over Highway 67 between Cripple Creek and Victor today and you will cross the Arequa Gulch Bridge, a behemoth stretch of steel and pavement traversing a great canyon. Built in 2001 for $8 million and measuring 250′ high, it is the tallest non-suspension bridge in Colorado. The bridge offers two vastly contrasting views: the gigantic dirt tailings from the Cripple Creek &Victor Mine to the north, and the untouched, pristine landscape of Arequa Gulch with a stunning view of the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the south.
Long ago, before the mine and before the bridge, Arequa was one of 25 towns once located in the Cripple Creek District. Arequa was not only the oldest community in the area, but also played an essential part in the formation of the district and the gold boom of 1891.
Back in 1873, a man known as “Uncle” Benjamin Requa had a general store and eatery at Fountain, south of Colorado Springs. Requa, Croft & Co. did a booming business even then, advertising frequently in local newspapers. Born in about 1835 in New York, Ben Requa was quite the nomad. The year 1863 found him in California, where he enlisted to fight for the Union during the Civil War. By 1864 he was at Calabasas Arizona, an ancient Papago Indian village that had also served as a Mexican garrison before becoming a military base.
Following his discharge at San Francisco in 1866, Requa next made his way to Colorado. He is first mentioned in newspapers in April of 1873, when the Colorado Springs Gazette noted he was visiting Colorado Springs from Fountain. He was active in local affairs and owned a lot of property, as illustrated by many real estate transactions around Fountain in the early 1870’s.
Bob Womack, whose family owned a ranch south of Colorado Springs at the time, was certainly familiar with Requa. It was at Requa’s store that Womack chanced to meet up with Ferdinand Hayden’s U.S. Geological Survey party in the summer of 1873. Womack told the men of his gold discoveries in Cripple Creek and invited them up to take a look for themselves. It took a year, but Ben Requa was able to assist Womack in gathering nearly 100 men to make a gold-seeking trek to Cripple Creek. The group blasted a tunnel near Eclipse Gulch, located about halfway between present-day Cripple Creek and Victor. The area was christened the Mount Pisgah Mining District. Later, Requa’s party concluded that it was indeed possible there were rich ore deposits in the area. If only they knew that the District was destined to be the last of Colorado’s great gold booms!
It could be said that Ben Requa’s interest in mining did much to support Womack’s claims. Just a short time before his trip to the district, Requa discovered a silver mine on Cheyenne Mountain near Colorado Springs. In September of 1874 he also filed a claim in the name of Requa & Brown Mining Co. in the Mt. Pisgah Mining District. Two years later, Requa & Croft purchased a mill at Silverton and assisted in forming the Colorado Springs Mining District. In December of 1876, Requa also took a trip up north to the Black Hills to have a look at some prospects.
Whatever his dreams of finding the mother lode, however, it appears Requa ultimately missed out on the gold at Cripple Creek. The last mention of Requa & Croft in local newspapers was when they sold more property, possibly their store, in December of 1877. The 1880 census, however, recorded Requa still living in Fountain. By then he was a widower (it is speculated he married twice and may have had two daughters), was still employed as a merchant and was living with the family of J.B. Riggs, another prominent citizen. It is believed Requa had other relatives in the area, but the man himself simply disappeared after 1880. He may have retired to Missouri, drawing from his military pension and living his life in obscurity. Whether he was even aware that the Requa Gold & Silver Mining Company was established in the Cripple Creek District in 1892 remains unknown.
What is known for sure is that, in honor of Ben Requa, the gulch nearest the Mount Pisgah Mining District was named Requa Gulch. The namesake town wasn’t far behind. By then Bob Womack’s family had relocated to the district and was living on the old Broken Box Ranch near the gulch. In February of 1892 real estate tycoons Horace Bennett and Julius Myers platted towns at both Cripple Creek and Requa. Lots were sold for a total profit of $320,000. Streets in Requa were gallantly named after past presidents of the United States.
Even at this early date, Requa and its nearby gulch somehow became alternately known as Arequa. No one can pinpoint just how that “A” got in there. Some attribute it to mispronunciation or even bad spelling on Bob Womack’s part. Either way, the name stuck even as confused pioneers continued referring to the area under both names. The town, meanwhile, continued to grow at a rapid rate. The Requa Savage Gold Mining company was established on nearby Beacon Hill in May of 1894. A post office was established at Arequa in July of 1894, but was discontinued a mere two months later. Postal records note “establishment rescinded” but give no reason. There was also a cemetery at Arequa. By December of 1895 Arequa consisted of about 90 acres in Requa Gulch and was already surrounded by several mines.
One of Arequa’s earliest claims to fame was that it may have been the very location from which Cripple Creek (the actual creek itself) was named. An 1896 article in the Quarterly Sentinel, while admitting to confusion as to the origin of the name, offered this story: “…a little old house, still to be seen in Arequa…was occupied by a family from Posey County, Indiana, who were one day invited to a dance by some distant neighbors. The Posey County lady answered that ‘We kain’t go; all broke up; Sam’s down with th’ rumatiz; Betsy’s got th’ fever; Jake’s got ‘is arm broke; old Pied (the cow) broker ‘er laig, and the hosses is run off…But if you all ‘ill come over to Cripple Creek, we’ll he’p ye out th’ best we can fur yer hoedown.’” Similar stories, often involving the Welty family who were neighboring ranchers to the Womacks, have also been handed down to explain the naming of Cripple Creek, but time and yarns have obscured the true origins of the creek’s name.
More mines bearing Ben Requa’s name continued to pop up. The Arequa Gold Mining Company was formed in January of 1896, followed by the Arequa Mill in 1898. Ben Requa’s name does not appear on the board of directors for either entity. Interestingly, advertisements for the mill were among the first to feature that mysterious “A”. And although the town of Arequa included the “A” by 1899, Requa Gulch did not.
Despite its promising and primary status, Arequa never topped more than 100 residents. The terrain was too rough for building and the area too far from the mines. In time, Arequa came to be surrounded by the communities of Eclipse, Elkton and Beacon. In 1900, the total population of these four towns was 2,500. The town’s best claim to fame was actually the Arequa Mill, a chlorination plant built at a cost of $532,000. The mill was located at the end of the Gold Coin tunnel and was used to process at least some of the gold which came from the nearby Cresson Mine. A $500,000 hydroelectric power plant was also constructed to run electric trains in the Gold Coin tunnel. There was also the Gold & Globe Mill in Arequa Gulch.
Not much else of note happened in Arequa, save for an incident in 1904 when Mrs. J. W. Gladden shot her husband to death. The couple had been separated for several weeks. Gladden went on a drinking spree and assaulted his neighbor, Frank Harris, before violently storming into the couple’s home. Mrs. Gladden was arrested, and newspapers neglected to mention the outcome of her trial. In fact, so small was the community that it is recognized only in the 1910 census. The 99 residents there included 36 families. Most of the employed were occupied as miners, with the exception of two carpenters, two dairymen, three teamsters and 21-year old actress Maud Palmer. By 1914 the Gold Dollar Mine owned 52 acres of the Arequa townsite, although the Requa Savage Mines Co. was still in business as late as 1916.
By 1920, Arequa was considered a suburb of Victor and was pretty much abandoned. Arequa quietly melded into the handful of ghost towns favored by tourists until about 1971, when the Cresson Mine was purchased by the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mining Company. The new conglomerate expanded its operations to include Arequa Gulch. The ruins of the Arequa Mill were visible as recently as 20 years ago, but are gone now. There is also no record of just when the occupants of the tiny Arequa Cemetery were uprooted and transferred to Sunnyside Cemetery in Victor (in fact, there is speculation that the older part of Sunnyside Cemetery is indeed the old Arequa Cemetery). As for the town, it was buried under tailings ponds decades ago.
Today, only one building is standing as a tribute to Arequa.