The Bare Hills, Furrow City and the Cripple Creek Scam

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in the Colorado Gambler magazine.

It seemed reasonable enough. If a Colorado cow pasture in remote ranch land could magically yield millions of dollars in gold and spawn the famed Cripple Creek District, certainly a nearby group of treeless hills could become a booming metropolis. At least that was what the promoters of Bare Hills City were hoping for.

Situated some 10 miles southwest of Cripple Creek along Wilson Creek, the Bare Hills are just that: a mass of rolling knolls covering three or four square miles that, by some freak of geographical nature, are barren of trees. Good ground cover makes this an ideal place for grazing cattle to roam. Over a century ago, pioneer ranchers from what is called the Four Mile region homesteaded in the area. As the gold boom at Cripple Creek unfolded, roads around Four Mile saw increased use as freight wagons, stage coaches and ranchers brought goods to and from the district.

By 1896, the dirt highway traversing through the middle of Four Mile was being called High Park Road. A new community, also called High Park, had been founded right near the Fremont and what would become the Teller County county lines. Just up the road was a much smaller hamlet called Gold Springs, named for some nearby mineral-stained ponds that sprang from the ground. And there was Bare Hills City, circa 1894 or perhaps even earlier, situated right in the middle of those barren hills. In fact, Bare Hills City was the first to establish a post office in April of 1896. Two months later, the Bare Hills Times newspaper was founded by V.S. Wilson.

High Park followed with its own post office in June, and its peak population was about 100 people. The newer city had at least one advantage over Bare Hills: Being located along the highway to Canon City guaranteed regular traffic and business. Bare Hills City was definitely located off the beaten path, in a remote area with no particular reason for one to pass through it. Only one road led to the Cripple Creek District, possibly via a trail between Espinosa and Long Gulch that eventually connected to today’s Shelf Road. Stage service was available on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

From Bare Hills City, there was also a commanding view of the Cripple Creek District. It may have been no more than that picturesque view that inspired the Bare Hills Land Company to set up shop. The company founders, headed by J.R. Gleason, tried to replace the name of Bare Hills City with the more enticing name of Furrow City after initial founding father J.W. Furrow. What the promoters didn’t tell, however, was how in March of 1896 Furrow had returned to his fledgling city from Cripple Creek somewhat inebriated. Upon his arrival, he learned of a man named Lupkins who was busy staking his own town—right next to Bare Hills City! Incensed, Furrow “went at once to Lupkins’ tent and calling Lupkins out, began to swear at him,” according to the Aspen Weekly Times. Next, Furrow pulled a pistol and fired at Lupkins three times. Lupkins returned fire twice, killing Furrow almost instantly. Lupkins was found not guilty by self defense. It was the first—and only known—killing at Furrow City.

Despite the killing of their leader, city promoters were undaunted. The Bare Hills, they claimed, were located on the same gold belt as the Cripple Creek District. After all, initial gold explorations revealed ore valued at $70 to $80 per ton. And to prove their point, the land company even promised a free mining claim with each lot purchased. In addition, the post office and a tiny livery stable were situated so that upon approaching the two buildings each visitor got a bird’s eye view of Cripple Creek nestled high up in its “bowl of gold”. Thus the Bare Hills Mining District was born, with its mentor mining district in clear sight. Before long, Gideon Thomas of Victor (another of the many towns in the Cripple Creek District) was making a tidy sum by hauling supplies to Furrow City. The Bare Hills Times, meanwhile, was purchased by J.W. Clark in 1897. And in November of that year, the Cripple Creek Chamber of Commerce was coerced into paying thousands of dollars to build a better road to the tiny town. Even freighting magnate Albert E. Carlton, one of Cripple Creek’s newest millionaires, contributed funding. The new road ran south out of Cripple Creek, passing over the saddle south of Mt. Pisgah to down to Four Mile Creek.

For about the next decade, the Bare Hills Land Company continued convincing naive speculators that the Bare Hills Mining District was sure to boom at any moment. Even when the newspaper went under and High Park’s post office closed in 1899, the land company refused to give in. Soon, however, rumors began circulating that Furrow City was nothing but a false claim of certain wealth in the midst of a bunch of cow patties.

In answer, Bare Hills’ promoters simply solicited out of state and began extolling the virtues of other minerals besides gold. A cyanide plant was constructed in May of 1899. At least one company, the Colorado Mica Mining & Milling Company, was formed in 1900 out of Duluth, Minnesota. The company held three claims and reported their mica was selling for $600 to $32,000 per ton. Copper was another commodity, as well as sylvanite and lead ore known as galena.

The 1900 census shows 57 people surviving at Bare Hills City, including physician Andrew Hayes. There were ten homes plus a sizeable boarding house. The postmistress was Josephine Ferguson; her father Colin was a mail carrier. There were also families, gold miners, laborers, teamsters and a blacksmith, as well as a sawmill. Bare Hills City was never incorporated. From all appearances, there was never a school, a church or even a store at Bare Hills, but there was a shed next to the post office where horses could rest while their owners caught up on the day’s news. Soon it was obvious that Bare Hills City’s economy was hanging on by a mere thread.

By 1901, the jig was up. The post office closed in June. Six months later, the High Park post office reopened to handle the overflow. One source states Bare Hills had a population of over 1,000 in 1905, but this number surely includes residents of Gold Springs, Four Mile and High Park. In fact, High Park remained a favorite stop for travelers through at least 1917. During that time the post office closed only one other time, from April of 1913 to September of 1914.

As for Bare Hills City, the tiny mining district did survive through at least 1906. In July of that year, the Cripple Creek Times featured a story headlined, “Bare Hills District Excites, Increasing Interest Locally”. The article made one last attempt to entice new investors. “The Bare Hills mining district is exciting considerable interest among local mining men,” said the paper, explaining that the Copper Queen vein was among the most promising mines. The mine had been located by one Carl Sextus and his associates, and was said to be traceable to Witcher Mountain and towards Cripple Creek.

It seems remarkable that the Grouse Mountain area [near Bare Hills City] would be part of the Cripple Creek District, for it is really a part of the greatest gold camp,” the newspaper insisted. Remarkable was right. Within just a few more years everyone was wise to the fact that no copper vein—nor any other vein, for that matter—extended to the Bare Hills from Cripple Creek’s riches. By 1910 Bare Hills City was pretty much abandoned. These days the remains of the town are located in the heart of a private and rural subdivision, and only a few crumbling log buildings remain.

The Cripple Creek District can be seen from between the two remaining buildings at Bare Hills City.

The Cripple Creek District can be seen from between the two remaining buildings at Bare Hills City.

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