Monthly Archives: April 2014

Woman’s Work: A Look at Victorian Professions

c 2014 By Jan MacKell Collins

“One night I saw something that put a little sense in me…I was sitting at a little table eating when a woman came in…I looked up at her and thought she was the prettiest woman I ever saw in the Creek…As she got up to leave, I looked up at her and almost fell out of my chair with shock. The side of her face towards me, from her forehead on down to the neck, had been slashed three or four times with a knife. Her neck was slashed all on one side. It was terrible.”

~ Lizzie Beaudrie
Cripple Creek dance hall girl
circa 1898

Historically, romanticism has run rampant about women’s roles in the American West. Documentation such as Lizzie Beaudrie’s, however, tells us that women were not respected as a whole and were often victims of violence. And so, while the gentler sex was often regarded as such, the same were expected to make their way in a harsh world without fuss or fight.

A great many single women in turn worked hard to maintain some sort of lifestyle for themselves. The possibilities of employment were extremely narrow by today’s standards. Cooks, clerks, stenographers, nurses, dressmakers, maids, milliners, laundresses, prostitutes, teachers, wives—all were low paying jobs which offered no advancement and some inherent dangers. The combination of low income and a lack of services made for a hard and thankless life.

But although the woman’s wall of will constantly found itself up against the barrier of suppression, it somehow persevered. One feminist who proved this point was English travel-writer Isabella Bird. In 1873, Bird arrived in Colorado to have a look around. Amazingly she traveled alone much of the time and was unarmed, most extraordinary for a woman of her time. Her companions and hosts included the wealthy and the poor, desperados and ranchers. Most of these were men.

Isabella Bird’s determination to make it in a barren and primitive region would later serve as an inspiration to women like Emily French. Emily, initially a ranch wife on the Colorado prairie, was one of many women who suffered from an unresponsive husband. When she found herself divorced from Marsena French at the age of forty seven in 1890, Emily was forced to do housework in order to support her disabled sister and two children. Sometimes food was scarce. Other times, Emily ached so badly from the cold she could hardly perform her duties. Despite an educated background, Emily could find no other work. Emily did have the luxury of a set of false teeth made of wood, and managed to even secure a date now and then. For the most part, however, Emily spent many lonely days as a woman in a man’s world.

In fact, Emily French had it good compared to the lowest form of poverty. This included thousands of prostitutes, whose complaints often fell on deaf ears. A 1901 issue of the Colorado Springs Gazette reported on the trial of Joe Huser in Cripple Creek: “The complaining witness was Cora Wheeler, a colored woman of Myers Avenue, who alleged that Huser struck her in the face with a hatchet.”

Violence and hardship aside, a number of women did strive to make a career for themselves. Many were successful; witness the number of female boarding house proprietors in the Cripple Creek District in Colorado at the turn of the century. There is no doubt that Mrs. Mollie Kathleen Gortner set precedence when she staked one of the first mining claims in the District in September of 1891. By 1893, the Women’s Gold Mining Company had also incorporated in Cripple Creek under the laws of Colorado. An ambitious undertaking, the Women’s Gold Mining Company included officers Miss A. Grimes, President, Mrs. A. Reynolds, Vice President, Miss Mary E. Gover, Treasurer, plus officers Mrs. Lucy G. Pierce of Peabody Massachusetts and Mrs. Joan Hanford of San Bernadino, California. The capitol stock of 800,000 was divided into single shares at ten cents each. It is no surprise that the principal mine of the company was known as the “She”.

More obscure professions fell to women like Mrs. N.H. Chapman, a writer who lived in Victor, Colorado in 1900. Anna Blair and Belle Miles were both artists who resided in Cripple Creek in 1902. Miss Fay Barnes was a “china decorator”. Mae Connor worked as a florist. Mrs. Julia O’Neill worked as a matron at the County Jail. Miss Mayme McAfee was among the musicians in Cripple Creek. Mrs. Kathryn Bates was a voice culture teacher.

As women toiled their way through the Victorian era, a light at the end of the tunnel appeared with the celebrated fame of Annie Oakley. Born in 1860, Annie overcame an abusive childhood to become one of the greatest sharpshooters in the west. During her career she literally made millions performing in exhibitions and traveling with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. Annie’s modesty was overshadowed by her contemporary appearance: short skirts and a refusal to tie up her dark curls. Despite her outward appearance, Oakley made no secret of her conservative lifestyle and her devotion to husband Frank Butler.

By the time Annie passed away in 1926, the celebrated markswoman had amassed a lengthy resume and fortune. Surely as women around the world read the obituary of Annie Oakley, they somehow found hope and encouragement to continue taking charge of their lives.

Julia Skolas cropped

Julia Skolas was one of a number of women who found a way to make a living in a man’s world. During the 1890’s and early 1900, Skolas was a most prominent photographer in Cripple Creek, Colorado.

Will the Real Etta Place Pleeeese Stand Up?

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

Parts of this article are excerpted from Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains (University of New Mexico Press, 2009)

Of all the outlaw ladies who hitched up their skirts and traipsed after outlaw Butch Cassidy’s notorious Wild Bunch, Etta Place remains the most intriguing. Maude Davis Lay, Ann and Josie Bassett, Laura Bullion, Lillie Davis Carver, Annie Rogers Logan, a handful of other miscellaneous wives and a plethora of respectable rancher’s daughters certainly deserve recognition for daring to date the notorious gang. But it is Etta who stands out as the most sophisticated, beautiful and mysterious, and her story—or lack thereof—has fascinated historians for decades.

The simplest facts are these: Etta Place had a brief courtship with Butch (nee Robert Leroy Parker) before becoming the girlfriend of Harry Longabaugh, alias the Sundance Kid. She accompanied Sundance and Butch to Bolivia for a few years, ultimately returned to the United States, and disappeared into obscurity. The rest of Etta’s story is a true mystery that has been speculated on by hundreds of researchers, historians, writers and even the Pinkerton Detective Agency who tracked the Wild Bunch all over the West and beyond. Three burning questions remain to this day: Where did she come from? What was her real name? And what became of her?

Pinkertons believed Etta was born between 1875 and 1880. Theories as to her origins are numerous. She may have been Laura Etta Place Capel, the illegitimate daughter of actress Emily Jane Place of New York who was a distant cousin of Sundance’s mother, Annie Place Longabaugh. Her father may have been George Capel, the Seventh Earl of Essex from England. When the unwed Emily became pregnant George fled to Wyoming and began rustling cattle under the alias George Ingerfield. Etta eventually joined her father and but fell in with her father’s outlaw friends after George was killed at Tombstone in 1892.

Others say Etta was born in Pennsylvania. According to an alleged autobiography penned by the lady herself in 1928, she was born November 25, 1876 near Dublin, Ireland. Or, she may have been Ann Parker, a cousin to Butch Cassidy. Pinkertons identified Etta as Ethel, Eva and Rita. They also believed Etta’s parents might have resided in Texas. Historian Donna Ernst, a niece of Sundance, believed Etta may have been Ethel Bishop, a prostitute in San Antonio at the turn of the century. Others think she worked for Madam Fannie Porter in El Paso.

So how did Etta meet Butch and Sundance? One story reports that Butch rescued her, at the age of 16 and going by the name Laura, from Fannie Porter’s and took her to Utah to live with a Mormon family named Thayne. There, Etta took the name Hazel or Ethel and taught school for a short time before meeting the Sundance Kid. In 1970 a man claiming to be Sundance’s son said Etta’s real name was Hazel Tryon, the half-sister of his mother Anna Marie Thayne. Neither Hazel nor Anna appear in census records, but Etta later used the alias Anna Marie Place. Longabaugh Jr. also claimed Etta abandoned her husband and two children to run off with the Wild Bunch.

Another historian, Art Davidson, agreed with young Longabaugh’s claim that Etta died in Oregon. Davidson also claimed Etta had an older sister, Marion Bennion, and a brother named Hiram who was really the Sundance Kid. Marion, said Davidson, eventually married Butch Cassidy and gave birth to a daughter who later became a silent film star. At least one author maintains that Butch and Sundance first met Etta Place in 1893, when they used money from one of their robberies to pay her tuition at the State Normal and Training School in New York. After graduation Etta worked in Telluride, but soon found the life of a teacher boring and rejoined her outlaw friends at Robber’s Roost in 1895.

Most historians agree that In 1896, Butch Cassidy and Elzy Lay were living in a cabin north of Vernal, Utah. After Elzy married his companion, Maude Davis, the couple shared the cabin with Butch Cassidy and a woman thought to be Etta or Ann Bassett, a local rancher’s daughter. Maude later said Etta was one of the most beautiful women she had ever seen. The foursome remained at the cabin until March of 1897.

Three years later Etta was still in the picture, this time as the girlfriend of the Sundance Kid. When Butch and Sundance decided to high-tail it to South America, the latter convinced Etta to come along. Traveling with a woman would provide good cover for the outlaw pair, Sundance explained to Butch, and besides she was a good cook and housekeeper. She was also adept with firearms.

The winsome threesome spent three weeks in New York prior to their departure, during which time Sundance and Etta spent some time at a convalescent spa in Buffalo. The couple also had their portrait taken at DeYoung’s studio and took a jaunt up to Niagra Falls. With Butch, they also visited Tiffany’s. Etta ended up with a $150 gold lapel watch and Sundance bought a diamond stickpin. In February of 1901, the trio checked out of their West 12th Street boarding house and checked in for passage on the S.S. Herminus for Buenos Aires.

Although her time there was sporadic, Etta appears to have influenced how the outlaws lived in South America. During their time at a ranch house in Cholila, a burgundy-and-gold brocade wallpaper adorned the walls. Primo Caparo, an Italian immigrant who spent a night at the ranch in 1904, later recalled, “The house was simply furnished and exhibited a certain painstaking tidiness, a geometric arrangement of things, pictures with cane frames, wallpaper made of clippings from North American magazines, and many beautiful weapons and lassos braided from horsehair.” Caparo also noted that Etta was well-dressed. She was reading when he arrived, but later made dinner. There was also a white picket fence in front of the cabin and curtains in the window. The threesome also kept a springer-spaniel.

Opposite from Etta’s feminine influence were descriptions of her noting that although she was an elegant woman she “never wore dresses, just pants and boots.” She was also described as “good-looking, a good rider, and an expert with a rifle, though not with a revolver.” Although one rumor claims Etta may have had an affair with a neighbor, news of her dedication to Butch and Sundance floated back to the United States. Etta assisted her outlaw men in at least one robbery, but she also returned to the States with Sundance on numerous occasions. The last of these was in 1906, when Etta and Sundance evidently parted company. Sundance returned to South America and Etta disappeared into obscurity.

Although several theories speculate on what happened to Etta—two of the strongest accounts leave her in Denver or San Francisco—one thing is clear: she was not with Butch and Sundance when they allegedly met their end in Bolivia in 1908. So where did she go? Butch supposedly later told his family (who maintained the outlaw did not die in Bolivia) that Etta moved to Mexico City with Sundance.  Fort Worth newspaper editor Delbert Willis claimed Etta was actually one Eunice Gray, a Fort Worth prostitute who died when her Waco hotel burned in 1962. Other historians have placed her at Florence, Arizona.

More outlandish stories of Etta’s ultimate fate include marrying an Irish adventurer and actually killing Sundance, marrying Elzy Lay and living out her life in La Paz. Or marrying Sundance and retiring to Wyoming or Chile. She could have been Janette Magor, who wed a Paraguayan government official before running an Arizona sanitarium. She might have been the mother of Betty Weaver who led her own gang of bank robbers during the 1920’s and 30’s. The stories, from bloody endings to obscure motherhood, go on and on.

lines have been compared time and time again looking for similarities. This particular controversy has been carried on for years; most recently the majority conclude that Etta and Ann could not have possibly been the same person.

Alas, the love affair between historians and Etta continues to this day. The enigmatic lady’s true story may in fact never be known, must to the angst who love her and admire her adventuresome spirit. The on-going mystery just seems such an unfitting end for the lady who was indeed the Belle of the Bunch.


Etta Place and The Sundance Kid. This photograph, taken in New York City in 1901, is the only verifiable portrait of the mysterious Etta Place. Courtesy Pinkerton Archives.

Blanche Burton, Queen Madam of Colorado City and Cripple Creek

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article are excerpted from Jan MacKell’s book, “Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls: Prostitution in Colorado, 1860-1930” (University of New Mexico Press,

If prostitution is the oldest profession, who was the oldest prostitute in Cripple Creek? The answer would be Blanche Burton, the very first soiled dove to haul her petticoats to town.

Blanche appears to have got her start in Colorado City, now the west side of Colorado Springs. According to census records, she was born in Ireland in November of 1865 and came to the United States in 1881.She was once married to a prominent Kansas man who later moved back east. The couple had a son and a daughter. The boy died in an explosion, and the girl was placed in a convent.

Blanche first appears on record in Colorado in 1889, at the seasoned age of thirty. That year, court records show she was accused of running a house of ill fame in Colorado City. The loophole Blanche dove through to gain her release was quite clever, as her defense successfully argued that she couldn’t possibly run a “house” of ill fame because she actually lived in a tent.

But such harassment was common in Colorado City, and so when word came of a gold boom in Cripple Creek, Blanche took the opportunity to move up there. She and her tent arrived in 1891, where an immediate friendship was struck up with Bob Womack, founder of the gold boom itself. The charming cowboy took Blanche under his wing and encouraged her to pitch her tent and set up business near his cabin in Poverty Gulch.

Almost right away, Blanche discovered the value of being street-wise in Cripple Creek. One of her customers, aptly named Tim Hussey, had been paying for Blanche’s services by giving her interests in his mining claims. An investigation by Womack revealed that the 27 one-eighth interests were all from the same claim. Despite this and other gold camp schemes, Blanche appears to have done well during her first two years in Cripple Creek. She had a limited education, but she could read and write. For several months, she held the title of the first and only madam in town.

By 1893, Blanche was operating a parlor house over a saloon on Bennett Avenue, one of two main business drags. One time Womack rode his horse up the front steps of her parlor house. Whenever Bob fell ill, Blanche would send her girls to his cabin to take care of him. In the meantime, Cripple Creek had turned into a rough and tumble boomtown. Younger girls, some in their teens, came and set up business too. It is not unlikely that Blanche may have felt lost or even left out as newcomers literally poured into the city limits and “old-timers” like herself were forgotten. When Marshal Hi Wilson demanded that all ladies of the evening remove themselves from Bennett Avenue to more discreet quarters on Myers Avenue, Blanche had enough. Upon departing from Cripple Creek in 1894, she considered herself officially retired.

Or did she?

Back in Colorado City, Blanche next took up residence at 812 Colorado Avenue, just around the corner from the northernmost part of the red-light district. But word of Blanche’s reputation spread through town. Three years away, especially in an immensely popular town like Cripple Creek, did little to quell any rumors about her profession. With time, Blanche became a noted recluse with no visible means of income. In 1902 she moved one house over to 816 West Colorado. Also living at the house in 1902 was Miss Blanche Bell, and it is entirely possible that Ms. Burton may have been in business after all with her own small parlor house.

Either way, Blanche continued to contribute to her community and live quietly. All around her, Colorado City seemed in a constant ruckus what with the railroad, progress, and authorities trying to close down the red light district where she herself had once worked. In January of 1909, three mysterious fires wiped out the red light district almost completely, but it was quickly rebuilt. The fires may or may not have had something to do with Blanche’s ultimate fate.

On December 20, 1909, Police Chief McDowell and Patrolman Morse were on an evening stroll when they noted a person who appeared to be on fire running into the middle of Colorado Avenue. The men immediately grabbed the victim and used their overcoats and snow to extinguish the flames. Most of the clothing was burned off, and closer examination revealed it was Blanche Burton laying in their arms. Upon carrying her into the house the men discovered a hanging curtain, called a portiere, also in flames. Surprisingly, the fire was small and extinguished quickly. A broken oil lamp lay nearby, providing the last clue to the mystery.

Two physicians, Dr. G.S. Vinyard and Dr. G.B. Gilmore, were called to the Burton home but there was little to be done. Blanche lived long enough to tell everyone that just a year and a half earlier her barn had burned. Her horse and two dogs had been killed, and in trying to rescue them she almost died herself. The men tried to get her to reveal her true name if there was one, as well as the address of the daughter she allegedly had. Supposedly, Blanche said that her daughter lived in Illinois but nothing more. She died just after 5 a.m. the next morning before she could give any other information.

No doubt the men may have wondered why Blanche chose to mention her burning barn, but they also wondered why a man was seen running west on Colorado Avenue shortly before Blanche’s accident. The man was never identified, nor was there any cash in the house. Furthermore, authorities failed to find any bank accounts in Blanche’s name.

Blanche Burton may have been buried a pauper if it weren’t for fellow madam Mamie Majors. The bold Miss Majors paid for Blanche’s funeral, which was conducted from Beyle Undertaking Rooms on Christmas Eve. Surely it was a sad and grief-stricken party who accompanied Blanche to her grave in Fairview Cemetery. Even the public and the press felt sympathy for the reclusive harlot. The presiding minister praised Blanche’s good heart, explaining that the day before her death she had purchased a ton of coal for needy families in time for Christmas. Her obituary in the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph was headlined, “Did Much Good.” The article stated that Blanche was a good nurse and always ready to respond to those in need.

In the years following, Blanche and her counterparts were all but forgotten until Bill Henderson came along. Henderson, formerly the mayor of Colorado Springs, took a special liking to the naughty (but deceased) ladies of Colorado City. Members of the Garden of the Gods Rotary Club were so moved by a speech Henderson gave, they decided Blanche should have a proper gravestone. Accordingly Richard Wilhelm of Wilhelm Monument Company donated the stone, which was erected in 1983 on the anniversary of Blanche’s unfortunate death. It remains today, bearing an appropriately wise inscription based on a poem by Frank Waugh:

Pioneer Madam
The sins of the living
are not of the dead

An unidentified harlot from Colorado's past.

An unidentified harlot from Colorado’s past.

The Wanton Women of Prescott, Arizona

C 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

When Prescott made headlines in 1864 as the first capitol of Arizona Territory, the news created an influx of the usual gold miners, merchants and of course soiled doves, a hidden staple to any boomtown economy.

Prescott’s shady ladies first made news in 1868 when the Arizona Journal Miner reported a shooting at a brothel on Montezuma Street, better known as Whiskey Row. Such reports would increase as more prostitutes settled in Prescott. Of the women plying their trade in 1870, at least three of them soon met a bad end. One was Jenny Schultz, who was killed at her bordello at Cortez and Gurley Streets in September. In November, Ellen “Nellie” Stackhouse was strangled at her brothel on Montezuma. Then there was Mollie Shepherd, who purportedly sold her brothel for thousands of dollars.

In 1871 Mollie boarded a stagecoach with her cash, but between Wickenburg and Ehrenberg the stage was robbed. All were killed except Mollie and army paymaster William Kruger. The two were ultimately suspected of the robbery, but lack of evidence set them free. Mollie and Kruger went to California, where they actually received celebrity status. Later, however, Kruger claimed Mollie died of wounds she received during the robbery—initially reported as only powder burns. When no record of Mollie’s death was found, the investigation turned back to Kruger, who mysteriously disappeared. Nothing was ever heard of the couple again, save for a man by Kruger’s name who was killed by a stray bullet at a Phoenix hotel in 1872.

By 1873, the red light ladies of Whiskey Row were in full swing. Tombstone sheriff Johnny Behan’s wife would later testify that her husband “openly and notoriously visited houses of ill-fame and a prostitute at said town of Prescott” that year. Another famous visitor was Big Nose Kate and her paramour, Doc Holliday, in about 1879. By 1880 there were approximately 18 prostitutes in Prescott proper. The red light district was located mainly along Granite Street but some girls were also said to be working on Leroux Street. The red light district was nicknamed “Whoretown.”

One of Prescott’s best known madams was Lydia Carlton, who ran a brothel for many years on Granite. Her 2-story house featured bedrooms and social rooms, and she charged about twice as much as other brothels. The house also served liquor, and customers were expected to purchase drinks both before and after choosing their company for the evening. Lydia also required her customers to be inspected for venereal disease prior to doing business and turned infected customers away.

In 1887 prostitution in Prescott was still a mere misdemeanor, allowing women to operate with relative ease. By 1900 there were approximately 100 girls in the red light district. A new Arizona statute even allowed cities to legalize and regulate their own red light districts. In 1901 the statute was amended to prohibit brothels from being located within 250 yards of a public building or 400 yards of a school. In 1902, the city began requiring weekly health exams. The new rules kept prostitution arrests in Prescott considerably low.

By 1910 the number of prostitutes in Prescott was shrinking, largely due to social pressure from church organizations but also the law. Only about 20 soiled doves remained in Prescott, including Madam Grace Watson and two dance halls. With Arizona entering statehood in 1912, authorities began cracking down even more. Stricter ordinances in 1913 included prohibition of building new brothels. By October, many girls had left town.

In 1918 authorities at Fort Whipple gave official orders to close the red light district. The post was joining numerous other military outfits throughout the west who were tired of their soldiers contracting venereal disease, going AWOL and coming off leave with bruises and black eyes. Despite the crack down, however, newspapers reported a murder at Nellie Stewart’s bordello in 1919. In 1928 Madam Irene Brown’s house was raided. The following year, the former Golden Eagle Saloon was converted to the Rex Arms. The Rex and another place called the Hazel Rooms operated as clandestine bordellos. Prostitution continued to flourish in smaller numbers, and it was not until 1947 that County Attorney David Palmer was able to crack down and eliminate prostitution in Prescott altogether.

IMG_1823 Virtually nothing remains of Prescott’s notorious red light district today. The corner of Goodwin and Granite Streets, where numerous cribs and the Union Saloon once flourished, is now a place for shops and restaurants.


Urban legend or not? Bigfoot in the High Country of Colorado

C 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

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

It’s a question that never grows old: Is Bigfoot out there? Commercials, movies, television shows, documentaries, books, and most important of all, photos, have focused on a legendary primate-type critter who stands between seven and ten feet tall and enjoys lumbering around in the woods. He is generally described as smelly but gentle-appearing, walking with slow-moving gracefulness or loping through a field. In some instances he looks casually at the observer but doesn’t appear the least bit interested in the humans who spot him.

At night, some claim, you can hear his haunting screams echoing through the remote backwoods. Some have said he grunted at them during an encounter. Others say he is responsible for making knocking noises with large pieces of wood in the forest. Still others have given reports of having rocks thrown at them and witnessing feasts by the beast on wild game. Depending on the region, this giant ape-like being goes by Sasquatch, Yeti or, in Colorado, Bigfoot.

Bigfoot sightings have in fact been going on for centuries all over the world, including the United States. According to the official Bigfoot Field Researchers Association, Hawaii is actually the only state without one. Delaware and Rhode Island rank the next lowest with only five sightings each. Washington State ranks first with 577 sightings since 1996. California comes second with 427, and Oregon has had 235.

Indeed, the Pacific Northwest was where the first Bigfoot sighting in America occurred, clear back in 1811. But in the great ranking of the most sightings, it is interesting to note that Colorado takes 8th place (the state is actually tied with Georgia at 115 sightings). The first time anyone reported seeing a Bigfoot in Colorado was in Jackson County, when a hunter watched two of them stalk an elk way back in 1926. For many years Teller and Park counties, nestled next to each other and surrounded by plenty of remote forests, took first honors above the rest of the state with numerous sightings. Increased populations and mining activity in Teller County especially have  changed the numbers only slightly in recent years; these days Park County leads with nine sightings, while Teller, Lake and Conejos counties have each had eight. Nearby El Paso County follows with seven sightings.

“Bosh!” say some who staunchly deny the big hairy guy exists at all. Enough reports have surfaced, however, to merit looking into the matter further. Take 1972, for example, when a couple hiking in the Lost Creek Wilderness observed a creature squatting near a pond. “When he stood up erect and looked at us we knew it was not a bear,” stated one of the witnesses. Although the couple was unable to obtain a photograph on subsequent visits, “Unsolved Mysteries” television show covered the incident in a segment during the early 1990’s.

Closer to Cripple Creek were two sightings in the 1970’s, one during the day by two brothers hiking and another by a young girl camping with her family. Both happened on the west side of Pikes Peak. In the latter instance, the creature was peering into a camper trailer when the girl awoke and came face to face with it through the screened window. “I quickly pushed the curtain closed and laid there completely paralyzed with fear,” she recalled in later years. The woman also remembered hearing a “chatting” noise that first awoke her, and that the next morning the apples and potatoes had been stolen from the back of the family truck. During that same time, other hikers noted large footprints in the snow on the backside of the Peak.

Just a few years later, in 1981, a mine watchman near Cripple Creek was badly shaken when he spotted a tall, two-legged creature near one of the mine buildings. In 1984, another young girl spotted the long-armed hairy man walking amongst some cows along Phantom Canyon Road. More tracks were found near the Cripple Creek watershed in 1986. And in 1987, two Florence boys working at a donut shop watched “a very large hairy looking thing” sauntering down the main drag on two legs in the dead of night.

By then, Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin’s famous film documenting Bigfoot for the first time had been debated over for some twenty years. Even today the seconds-long footage of a hairy beast strolling along a creek in 1967 infatuates researchers everywhere. Gimlin recently theorized the incident might have been a hoax, especially since hundreds of such have been perpetrated over the last 40 years.

In 1987, for instance, Green Mountain Falls resident Dan Masias claimed to have seen two Bigfoots booking down the road in front of his home. When unidentifiable hair was found on the door of a home that was broken into, the story began making international headlines. Masias’ last sighting was in 1992, but rumors circulating that he confessed to faking the whole thing slowed down the amount of witnesses coming forward for a few years.

Once things cooled down, the Bigfoot sightings made a reprise. Cadets at the United States Air Force Academy reported seeing and hearing a Bigfoot from Jack’s Valley above the base throughout the 1990’s. Four accounts in Teller, Douglas and El Paso counties in 1997—including one along Ute Pass—plus four sightings in as many surrounding counties in 1998, and the big guy was back on top. In December of 1999 a trucker spotted one south of Colorado Springs. During the fall of 2000, people reported hearing “eerie human-like calls” and finding footprints in the Pikes Peak National Forest. Also, a tribe of Romanian gypsies near Fairplay beat a hasty retreat after a seven-foot tall creature appeared at the edge of their campsite.

The sightings continued. In May 2001 a woman and two small children living near Lake George distinctly heard an animal emit a blood-curdling “rooster-dog” howl outside their home. A month later, when a nine-year-old boy spotted a Bigfoot at the first rest stop along the road to the top of Pikes Peak, officials had already half-jokingly posted a sign warning of Bigfoot sightings. Finally, a hunting guide and three other people heard the rumble of an unidentifiable animal, heard something knocking logs together and found large but melting tracks in the snow off Gold Camp Road near Victor in November.

During 2002, reports in El Paso and Park counties told of hearing eerie screams, including one that was in response to a hunter’s elk bugle. There were two more sightings in 2005. The first was in January near the Crags Campground, where some mighty large footprints were photographed in the snow. Then in October of 2005, employees of the Arrowhead Gold Course off Range View Road in Douglas County saw a “huge whitish gray figure” peaking at them on Hole #13. And in May of 2006 a hunter saw a Bigfoot walking in the hills west of Fort Carson.

More recently, in August 2010 a woman delivering newspapers west of Buena Vista during in the early morning  hours was startled to see “a large upright dark figure” cross a two-lane highway in just three steps.  And in May of 2012, two women on an evening hike near Bailey watched as a creature measuring seven to eight feet tall and standing upright ran from them into the woods. And for every sighting reported on the BFRO website, numerous others – such as huge tracks found in the snow near Cripple Creek during the winter of  2012 – do not get reported.

Going by all accounts, the Bigfoots of the Pikes Peak region have been seen, heard, or left their tracks at all times of the year. They seem to favor steep and forested terrain. Upon seeing humans they usually exhibit a gentle curiosity before moving on, rarely venturing nearer. Now and then they let out a screaming howl, sometimes in answer to the call of another animal. And, they tend to be a bit smelly. Most of the many websites covering the phenomena advise to be at the ready with a camera if you see one. None of the sites say what to do if you really do see one, but those who believe ought to have some extra fun hiking and camping this summer.

Bigfoot sign Pikes Peak

Enough sightings have been reported along the route up Pikes Peak in Colorado that officials finally posted this sign some years ago.

Cameron & Pinnacle Park, the Playground of Colorado’s Cripple Creek District

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

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

In a high meadow between Victor and Cripple Creek, mining operations have obscured the ghost of a playground past.

During the 1890’s, when the Cripple Creek District emerged as the final winner in a series of gold booms throughout Colorado and the West, residents of the District’s 25 towns and mining camps worked hard for their money. Luxuries were few, with little time to relax and really enjoy life. So when the town of Cameron was born in a beautiful high meadow near Victor, the amusement center of Pinnacle Park was built to relieve the stress of everyday living. If only for a short time, Pinnacle Park served as an entertainment nucleus in Teller County.

It could be said that Cameron was technically one of the first cities in the District when it was formed in about February of 1892. Back then, however, the dream of Cameron and what it could become was just that: a dream conjured up by competing real estate investors. In the mad scramble to bring civilization to the former high country cow pasture, two towns—Hayden Placer and Fremont—were quickly established along the actual Cripple Creek itself. Soon, each fledgling community was battling for the strongest foothold, beginning with post office nominations. In the case of Hayden Placer, a post office established under the name Moreland was marketed to emphasize the community’s expansive property to prospective buyers.

In answer, Fremont founders and Denver real estate investors Horace Bennett and Julius Myers took the competition one step further. They filed a plat on the northeastern most section of the former Broken Box Ranch—actually the future site of Cameron—and called it Cripple Creek. The flat, expansive meadow would provide for the makings of a large metropolis, they reasoned, and those wishing to buy real estate would surely choose that over the steep hillside where Fremont and Hayden Placer were located some three miles away.

Alas, the endeavor was for naught. Within a short time Hayden Placer/Moreland and Fremont combined into one city anyway, and the name Cripple Creek was applied to them both. The original Cripple Creek faded so quickly that its funny little sidebar to the District’s history was forgotten almost immediately. It is interesting to speculate what could have happened had the original Cripple Creek remained in place. At the very least, the higher town would have been more easily accessible to the railroads who later served the area.

But in fact the “first” Cripple Creek remained empty until the Woods Investment Company from Victor purchased the land in 1899. By then the area was alternately known as Gassy, as well as Gassey and Grassy. The latter name fit best, since native grasses grew high along the meadows and rolling knolls of the area. With the Woods’ purchase of the land, folks began moving up to Grassy. A small, rural population merited mention in the 1900 Cripple Creek District Directory. By then, both the Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek District Railway (CS & CCDR) and the Midland Terminal Railroad (MTRR) skirted through the area, with offshoots to several other district towns.

Even as the Cripple Creek District was peaking in 1900, Grassy was first known only as a whistle stop on the railroads. But the Woods Investment Company was a veteran in the district. Headed by brothers Frank and Harry Woods, the company had already platted the city of Victor some years before and already owned the Gold Coin Mine, plus several other mines, in the district. Taking advantage of the gold boom, the Woods Brothers next founded the town of Cameron on the Grassy site. The origin of Cameron’s name is unknown, but it was a sure winner with two railroads chugging through it. A former stage stop was converted into the Midland Terminal Depot, and a new terminal was constructed for the CS & CCDR.

The latter railroad, alternately known as the Short Line, became known for its pragmatic efficiency. While the MTRR offered both freight and passenger service to Colorado Springs, the CS & CCDR offered riders a more scenic route that included ten tunnels and high mountain vistas. When Vice President Theodore Roosevelt took a ride on the Short Line in 1901, he expressed his satisfaction with the view by exclaiming, “This is the ride that bankrupts the English language!” No expense was spared on the railroad cars, which sported ornate club cars and jaunty yellow boxcars. Because Cameron had connecting trains to Cripple Creek and Victor, the place soon became a popular stopover for tourists wishing to rest or for miners going to and from their jobs.

Cameron’s status quickly grew to be that of a semi resort town. Learning from the devastating fires that destroyed the downtown sections of Cripple Creek in 1896 and Victor in 1899, Cameron built its small business district of brick. The well-known architect M. Lockwood McBird, whose designs the Woods used for many of the businesses in Victor, was also employed at Cameron. Most business houses were located along Cameron Avenue, including three saloons to appease thirsty miners. A newspaper, the Golden Crescent, was published for a short time at Cameron.

Not far from town, the Woods Brothers next built a giant amusement area, Pinnacle Park, for the families of the Cripple Creek District. The park spanned thirty acres and cost $32,000 to create. The amenities of any great amusement park of the day were there: a large wooden dance pavilion with a bandstand, a picnic area, restaurants, and arcade area for throwing balls at “rag babies”, and an athletic field with seating for up to a thousand spectators. Football and baseball games were the main attraction. Nearby, a zoo exhibited animals native to the area, including bears. There was also a children’s playground with swings and other attractions. Visitors could access Pinnacle Park by rail, horseback, carriage and on foot. Even the occasional automobile made an appearance at the elaborate log-framed entrance.

Labor Day of 1900 appears to have been the record breaker for attendance at Pinnacle Park, when an astounding nine thousand people attended for a day of festivities. Admission was ten cents per head, yielding $900 for the day. For a few glorious years, thousands of visitors came to Pinnacle Park every weekend and holiday during the summer. But despite Pinnacle Park’s popularity, Cameron’s resident population never exceeded over 700 people including the nearby suburb of Spinney Mills. Aside from Pinnacle Park, the town was just too far away from the District’s mines and other communities. Unable to make a profit, Pinnacle Park eventually closed. Soon after, the mines around Cameron began playing out and the rumor spread that the Woods boys were in financial trouble. Lot sales at Cameron dwindled considerably, a sure sign of death in the gold boom era.

By 1903, the population of Cameron was visibly shrinking as the Cripple Creek District was launched into the second of two notorious labor wars. Cameron was located dangerously close to the violent strikes taking place at nearby Altman and Bull Hill above Victor. Even after the strike was settled in 1904, Cameron continued suffering a slow death as residents drifted off to other communities. As of 1910, the population had diminished considerably and few people made their way to what was left of Pinnacle Park. The remnants of Cameron receded quietly into the tall grass and scattered pines.

The fancy log fence around Pinnacle Park, along with the pavilion, and accompanying amusements, was finally dismantled. For years a pile of the former natural log pillars were still visible below the undergrowth and the pine and aspen which grew to surround much of the site. Over the next century the meadow sat empty again, with only a few mining buildings scattered throughout the area. The city streets were no more, the business district and homes long gone. In the trees, several rounded brick and rock enclosures, once used to contain bears and wildcats at the zoo, could be found if one knew where to look. These were dismantled and moved by the City of Cripple Creek in 2010 with the plan to reconstruct them, as modern mining endeavors did away with the high grassy meadow. Today, no other clues exist of Cameron and its once popular Pinnacle Park.


The legendary bear caves at Pinnacle Park before they were moved in 2009.