Monthly Archives: August 2014

A match made in luxury: Cripple Creek’s Winfield Scott Stratton and Denver’s Brown Palace Hotel

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

According to one legend, Winfield Scott Stratton, the first and most famous millionaire of the Cripple Creek District, traveled to Denver during a particularly nasty storm in the spring of 1900. Upon stumbling into the prestigious Brown Palace Hotel, 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.

A more scathing story was that Brown Palace manager Maxey Tabor, son of former silver king H.A.W. Tabor, disapproved of a young vaudeville actress Stratton was courting while both were guests at the hotel. In fact, Tabor went so far as to suggest to the lady that she should leave the hotel, never to return. For that reason and no other, according to the Telluride Daily Journal, Stratton purchased the Brown to exact revenge, “and now they do say that Manager Tabor will be out of a job just as soon as the new owner moves into the second floor front suite.”

The third, more genteel story, is most likely a combination of the Tabor story and the truth: Stratton was in fact saving the Brown from foreclosure when he purchased the mortgage in 1900. The grand hotel had opened some years before, specifically built to cater to the rich, political and powerful men and women of the time. Carpenter and architect Henry C. Brown financed the project, naming the hotel for himself. As early as October 1, 1891, the Leadville Herald Democrat noted the hotel was under construction, but was already receiving guests on a limited basis.

The Brown Palace officially opened in 1892 and immediately became a prominent meeting spot for political conventions and important organizations of the time. Denver’s most elite hotel was constructed of Colorado red granite and Arizona sandstone outside, with decorative iron and Mexican onyx inside to create a sturdy structure that could stand for decades. Nine floors offered luxurious suites, ballrooms, meeting and banquet rooms, private clubrooms, restaurants and an expansive lobby that was visible via a wrap-around balcony extending to the eighth floor. High above, a 2,800 square-foot stained glass ceiling provided natural lighting.

There is little doubt that Stratton favored staying at the Brown for a number of reasons. Being a former carpenter himself, the mining magnate likely appreciated Henry Brown’s humble beginnings and admired architect Frank Edbrooke’s Italian Renaissance design of the hotel. Here, Stratton could easily find and meet with politicians, mine owners and other influential figures to discuss the state of affairs regarding gold mining and the future of America.

The Brown Palace also offered a safe retreat from the money-grubbing men and women of the Cripple Creek District and Colorado Springs who constantly vied for Stratton’s money and attentions. Upon staking the Independence gold mine at Cripple Creek on July 4, 1891, Stratton had literally become a millionaire overnight. Almost immediately a gaggle of newfound “friends”, gold-digging harlots and illegitimate heirs came forth, all wanting a piece of Stratton and his new fat wallet. Whether killing him with kindness or clamoring for his cash, Stratton’s fan club only served to embitter the man further and drove him to drink.

Stratton is known to have taken refuge at the Brown as early as 1896, when he joined others at a meeting to fight against silver coinage. W.H. Bush, manager of the hotel at the time, was also a mining investor and favored such meetings. Here, Stratton found colleagues whose best interests lay with the future of mining, not his own pocketbook. From his upstairs suite, he could relax in privacy, imbibe freely in his alcohol and recover from his hangovers via the hotel’s wonderfully refreshing artesian well, located some 750 feet underground. Fountains from the well once graced every floor.

Most unfortunately, running a place as swell as the Brown Palace came at a cost. The hotel happened to open just before the Silver Panic of 1893, which sent the nation into a devastating depression. By 1900 Henry Brown was struggling to make ends meet. Stratton, who had already earned kudos for extending money to friends, supplying Cripple Creek with needed goods following two devastating fires in 1896, and even assisting former millionaire widow Baby Doe Tabor with her Matchless Mine at Leadville, came to the rescue. In April of 1900, newspapers announced that Stratton had purchased the Brown Palace Hotel for a cool $1.5 million, regarded as an extremely good price even for the time.

Alas, Stratton may have saved the Brown Palace Hotel, but he could not save himself. On September 14, 1902, he died at his home in Colorado Springs. At the young age of 54, Cripple Creek’s favorite millionaire quite literally drank himself to death. The Brown Palace remained under Stratton’s estate for the next twenty years. It was then purchased by another key player in Cripple Creek history, the same Horace Bennett who platted the city, made a million dollars from lot sales, and for whom Bennett Avenue is named.

Bennett’s partner in 1922 was hardware magnate and philanthropist Charles Boettcher. The latter was already a part time resident of the hotel, which remained in the family until 1980. During the time in between those years, the Brown Palace has played host to no less than three presidents plus several dignitaries, governors, celebrities and others who have contributed to its enduring and endearing history. A favorite story: the time Zsa Zsa Gabor’s pampered puppy got lost in the heating ducts. The Queen of Slap was forced by other engagements to move on while hotel workers toiled to extract the dog and personally flew him to be reunited with Gabor.

Today, a stay at the Brown Palace Hotel continues to reflect everything Brown, Stratton, Boettcher and subsequent owners expected in a five-star, four-diamond hotel. Care of the 120 year-old structure is a great undertaking, but visitors can still relax with such amenities as Victorian rooms with modern comforts, historic décor including artifacts dating as far back as 1763, a polite and friendly staff, moderately-priced to upscale fine dining, and of course that excellent artesian water that now flows from every faucet. The four o’clock tea is an especial favorite among the ladies. For looky-lou’s, beware: the prestigious Brown does not allow anyone above the second floor to ensure the privacy of their guests.Brown Palace lobby

A Crooked Poker Table, Teddy’s Rough Riders and the Life of Ben Daniels

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

This article originally appeared in Frontier Gazette magazine.

Benjamin Franklin Daniels

Benjamin Franklin Daniels

Try as he might, lawman Benjamin Franklin Daniels was a schemer at heart. Born in 1852, Daniels lost his mother and six siblings at an early age. He moved with his father and stepmother to Kansas in 1863, striking out five years later for Texas. Daniels was convicted of his first crime, stealing government mules, in Montana in about 1870. After a brief stint in prison, he returned to Kansas.

At Dodge City, Daniels became a marshal under Bat Masterson. He also worked in Oklahoma and Missouri before landing in Cripple Creek, Colorado. All was well until January of 1897, when Daniels was accused of “tolerating” a crooked roulette wheel and poker table in town for a share of the take, while blackmailing both lawbreakers and respectable citizens.

The poker table with its cheating device disappeared, but a boy eventually found it in a prospect hole outside of town and alerted police. Daniels’ trial was the stuff of movie fodder: Bribes. Threats. Conflicting stories. Testimony by jailbirds who had paid Daniels for their freedom and the floozy who witnessed such transactions. Wrongful arrests. One man was run out of town for “talking too much”, and a fellow officer had been fired for questioning Daniels’ business. Daniels had even taken the crooked table home after it was found and tried to sell it.

Amazingly, Daniels was acquitted and wisely decided to move on, joining Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in 1898. Some quick training in San Antonio, and the lawman was off to fight in Cuba. Cripple Creekers quickly turned face. “Ben has a record,” the Cripple Creek Morning Times admitted, but went on to describe him as a man “who goes about his business of thief-catching as relentlessly as a blood hound.”

Daniels’ seedy reputation was redeemed when he personally saved Roosevelt’s life on San Juan Hill. The future president gratefully appointed Daniels U.S. Marshal in Arizona. A proud Daniels permitted the Morning Times to publish a letter to his wife in Kansas, describing his adventures and vainly ending with “Whoops! What a long letter for me to write. Just make me a leather medal.”

Those who knew of Daniels’ wicked past were not happy. Daniels’ former boss in Cripple Creek, Jacob Bloom, was quick to point out the Montana incident and Daniels’ former reputation as a “hold-up man”. Bloom claimed Daniels had run some shady establishments in Dodge City, calling him “an all-around bad man”. He also told of Daniels killing restaurant keeper Ed Julian in 1885 (for which he was acquitted), and the killing of a hotel keeper (for which he was never arrested). “Ben Daniels will not be marshal of Arizona,” warned the Durango[Colorado] Herald. “Mr. Daniels is guilty of the unpardonable offense of committing a crime, being found out, and serving a term in the penitentiary.”

Even Roosevelt was disappointed in his prodigy, saying, “You did a grave wrong to me when you failed to be frank…and tell me about this one blot on your record.” Daniels’ appointment as Arizona marshal was revoked, but Roosevelt continued his support. With his help, Daniels was made superintendent of Yuma’s Territorial Prison in 1904 and reappointed as U.S. Marshal in 1906.

When Roosevelt’s Presidential term ended in 1909, Daniels was politely asked to resign. He remained in Arizona, dabbling in politics and mining. In 1917 he presented Roosevelt with a “handsome cane beautifully fashioned from cow horns.” Ben Daniels died in 1923. Whatever his sordid past, he is still best remembered as the loyal problem child of Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.