Category Archives: Anaconda Colorado

Anaconda, an Early Town of Colorado’s Cripple Creek District

c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article appear in Jan’s 2016, book, Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County.

As the Cripple Creek District developed during the 1890s, thousands of miners flocked to the region seeking fortune. Within an incredibly short time, hundreds prospect holes dotted the landscape. In one area, located roughly halfway between Cripple Creek and Victor, the body of “a female aborigine” was unearthed. The remains were most likely those of a Ute Indian, since those native Americans once favored the area as a summer hunting ground. The area where she was found became known as Squaw Gulch.

By about March of 1892, the Anaconda Mine above Squaw Gulch was producing $50,000 in gold each month. The company was officially incorporated on June 21. David Moffat, the famed Colorado railroad tycoon, was president. The mine was not without its problems as principle officers of the company fought with each other over who got what, and the mine was shut down at least once. While the Anaconda struggled, other good producing mines followed, including the Mary McKinny just a few months later, and the Doctor Jack Pot and the Morning Glory in 1893.

Along Squaw Gulch, a series of small towns formed. The two earliest communities were Mound City and Barry which sat on either side of a wagon road traversing Squaw Gulch. Quite suddenly, a new camp emerged in Squaw Gulch, at the foot of Gold Hill. Without much aplomb, the Aspen Daily Times of May 20, 1893 simply mentioned that the “town of Anaconda, near Cripple Creek, has taken out incorporation papers.” At least the Daily Times was impressed by the town newspaper which began two months later. “The Anaconda Herald is a new candidate for newspaper favors at Cripple Creek. It is very ably edited by A.J. McNasser.”

It was not long before there was some news to report. On an August night in 1893, Larry Cavanaugh ended an all night drinking spree by coming home, knocking his wife to the floor and threatening to cut her throat. He also threatened to kill his brother in law, George Cosen. Mrs. Cavanaugh managed to escape to Cosen’s house. On her heels was her husband, who kicked in the door and went after Cosen with a revolver. Cosen “picked up his rifle and shot the intruder dead,” reported papers throughout Colorado. The news said Cosen was arrested, but that he would most likely be released.

Indeed, Anaconda had blossomed practically overnight into a real town with the accompanying violence of any western town. The 1893 directory lists Anaconda’s first mayor as Dr. A.A. Smith, with trustees consisting of U.G. McCrackin, James A. Doyle, Chas. A. Keith, J.C. McKenney, F.C. Hathaway and W.M. Armstrong. A second newspaper, the weekly Mining Standard run by W.A. Bray, soon replaced the Herald. Hotels, drugstores, groceries, physicians and lawyers put out their shingles. Three saloons—Good’s Place, Mayer & Cook and Page & Allen’s X 10 U 8 sample room—kept the blue collar workers happy. The Anaconda Dance Hall  and the Barry Club also provided entertainment. There also were churches, a school and a jail. There was even a music teacher and dressmaker living in town. Not bad for a town of only 200 people.

In December of 1893, Anaconda managed to snatch the post office from, and absorb, the nearby town of Barry. Another community, Mound City, was absorbed as well. The Anaconda post office officially opened on December 7, 1893. M. Lehman, who also ran a “gent’s furnishings” store, was postmaster. Barry resident Leslie Doyle Spell remembered the small jail at Anaconda, a two room affair built of rock from the nearby creek bed and filled with mortar. On a night, temporary marshal Tom Flanagan jailed a miner known as “Big Kelly” for being drunk. Flanagan had installed his prisoner and was playing poker when Big Kelly suddenly appeared at his elbow. “Tom whirled and said: ‘I thought I put you in jail,; whereat Kelly answered: ‘You didn’t expect to keep a hardrock miner in a jail like that, did you?'” It turned out that some local children, including Spell, had found an old  knife and given it to Kelly to dig his way out through a weak place in the mortar. Flanagan duly marched Kelly back to the jail and made him crawl through the hole, telling him to stay put or the marshal “would come back and give him a good licking.” Kelly stayed put for the rest of the night. Spell recalled that many years later he was telling this story in Bisbee Arizona. “An elderly man spoke up,” he remembered, “and said, ‘That’s a true story, men. I was playing poker with Tom at the time.”

Unlike Altman and other places in the Cripple Creek District, Anaconda seemed rather unaffected by the labor strikes of 1893-94. Even in Squaw Gulch, there were few places for miners to build a stronghold like they had at Altman. Rather, Anaconda’s miners seemed a bit more open to—or afraid of opposing—owners of the Anaconda mine who wanted them to work an extra hour for the same pay. In March of 1894, it was announced that the Anaconda Mine was one of the few who would reopen and hire anti-union employees to work there. While not all of Anaconda’s miners were for the change in policy, when the strike was settled a few months later citizens simply resumed their daily lives with little trouble or comment.

In 1894, Anaconda was becoming an important part of the Cripple Creek District, and incorporated. The population consisted of about 1,000 people “who enjoy their cosy [sic] life snug in the embrace of the hills,” according to an 1894 directory. More billiard halls and saloons were now present, but more respectable businesses such as the Delmonico and Keystone Restaurants, hardware stores, attorneys, doctors, and others outnumbered them. As Anaconda grew, both the Midland Terminal Railroad and the Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad were running a most heated race to reach the Cripple Creek District. The F. & C.C. won, with a passenger train chugging into nearby Cripple Creek on July 1, 1894. The next day the train continued on to Anaconda, only to derail and cause a spectacular crash close to town. Two passenger coaches and the baggage car went over the edge of a trestle. Twenty one people were injured, and W.G. Milner of Leadville was killed.

By 1895, upwards of 2,000 train passengers and visitors passed through Anaconda each day. Enter Jimmy Doyle, a former fireman, would soon to strike it rich at the famed Portland Mine and become a future mayor of nearby Victor. But his beginnings in the Cripple Creek District consisted of advertising his assaying services in newspapers throughout 1895. The city was still growing, and in May, the Blue Bell addition was added for more housing. Now, Anaconda even had a baseball team, and by November, the Midland Terminal Railroad tracks had reached one side of town.

Prizefighting became a popular pastime in Anaconda beginning in 1896, when newspapers announced that Billy Woods and Jim Williams would be duking it out for a purse of over $3,000. The fight was forgotten a few weeks later, however, when the city of Cripple Creek just a few miles away burned in not one, but two fires. Refugees from the fire crowded into Anaconda, tripling business at the post office. In the months following the fires, after the temporary visitors had returned to Cripple Creek, the Cripple Creek District directory of 1896 guessed there were roughly 1,800 people living in Anaconda. City businesses now included a blacksmith, drugstore, general merchandise store, laundry services, a livery, a meat market, shoemaker, two barbers, two confectionaries, two dressmakers, two dry goods stores, two physicians and two restaurants. There were also four grocery stores, and six bars to quench the thirst of locals. Guests of the town had two hotels and eight boardinghouses to choose from. There was even a justice of the peace and a notary public. Around town were about twenty six mines, plus a sampling works, stamp mill and three assayers.

Also in 1896, a new newspaper, the Assayer, was met with approval. “Mr. [C.P.] Brooks, it is needless to say, knows how to  make a bright and newsy paper,” commented the Leadville Herald Democrat. The article proved to be an understatement, for the lively Mr. Brooks kept readers entertained with plenty of news, and a good dose of editorial comment to boot. On January 13 of 1898, the Greeley Tribune noted that “Charles P. Brooks, who was reported a few weeks ago to be in a dying condition at Anaconda” had also become editor of the Cripple Creek Prospector newspaper in Cripple Creek. Greeley was, incidentally, Brooks’ former hometown. The Elbert County Banner also had something to say about Brooks’ character: “The editor of the Anaconda Assayer has been having a high old time with the mayor and town board of that camp. But he seems to be plenty for them even they do pummel him around and draw guns on him when he attends town council.”

Brooks’ antics aside, life at Anaconda throughout the late 1890’s remained rather quiet. Newspapers reported on a $250 robbery at John Knox’s saloon, the accidental deaths of various miners and a foiled ore robbery attempt at the Doctor Mine in 1897. Six trains were still coming through town daily. And in August Dr. Coleman, a local druggist, was digging a cellar behind his home and hit a rich gold vein.

Indeed, things were very bright for Anaconda at the turn of the century. The Cripple Creek Morning Times‘ New Year’s Day edition  of 1899 had much good to say about the town, calling Anaconda “a well governed little city with no debt and where the people are prosperous and happy.” The writer went on to claim that “There is no place in the state more picturesque, and as a ‘summer camp’ it has no equal.” Compliments were showered upon the peace-loving population as well. “The old-time notion that a  mining city must in the nature of things be ‘tough’ does not obtain in Anaconda,” the paper went on, emphasizing the point by mentioning a “splendid” school system with over 400 students.

By 1900 the Anaconda Mine was a major producer.  The town proper had become the fourth largest in the Cripple Creek District, even as the population remained at around a thousand residents. Even so, Anaconda was still considered a “young” city. The impressive downtown area spanned two blocks with false-fronted buildings housing churches, hotels, lawyers, an optician, pharmacies, physicians, saloons, stores and a nice, white wood-framed school house. Residents also enjoyed telephone service. The Anaconda School’s principal was E.E. Morris. Nellie Riggs, Maud Sheldon and Alida Colwell were employed as teachers. There was also a volunteer fire department at the Town Hall. Irving Douglas was postmaster. Baptist, Methodist and Catholic Church.

Anaconda unwittingly became home to a handful of people who eventually became famous in their own right. One of them was Josiah Roberts, who was ten years old when his family lived in town in 1900 (some websites claim Roberts was born in Anaconda. In 1890, however, neither the town or the Cripple Creek District existed yet. Roberts’ World War I draft registration verifies he was actually born in Rockvale, Colorado). By 1920 Roberts had  moved to Los Angeles, where he went to work for motion picture companies. When he died in 1971, he was noted as a cinematographer who had worked on the films “White Shadows in the South Seas” in 1928 and “Eskimo” in 1933.

Other famous residents included Judge Melvin B. Gerry and Dr. Susan “Doc Susie” Anderson who became citizens as Anaconda swallowed up Mound City and Barry, respectively. But the woman who really turned heads at Anaconda was the later-known speakeasy queen, Texas Guinan. Mary Louise Cecelia Guinan, as she was then known, came to town with her mother in 1902. Mother and daughter were there to visit Mrs. Guinan’s sister, Mrs. Margaret Conley.

During her extended stay, Tex began playing the organ for the local Sunday school. But she also began dressing a little too modern for the standards of young ladies of Anaconda. Not only were her outfits a bit too revealing, but she also wore rouge and makeup. Next, she lined up a series of suitors, whom she would date once or twice before casting them aside. Those who complained were given the same response that would soon be Tex’s tradmark saying: “Oh, you poor sucker.” It was probably at Anaconda that Tex met John Joseph Moynahan. The 1900 census verifies that John was in town visiting his uncle, John O’Brien. Later that year, Moynahan was hired as a cartoonist with the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. He also may have invested in real estate in Cripple Creek, where the now-defunct Moynahan Street was named for him.

By 1904 both Moynahan and Tex were in Denver, where they married on December 4. The couple later divorced and went on to marry others; in the meantime, Texas Guinan eventually made her way to New York where she found work as a chorus girl and started appearing in short films starting in 1917. She also ran a series of successful nightclubs and speakeasies during the prohibition era. The name of one of them, the Culture Club, was later used by a popular British band during the 1980’s. Tex appeared in more than thirty films before she died in 1933. A film, “Incendiary Blonde”, profiled her lively and interesting life in 1945.

Anaconda boasted “good schools and several churches” in 1902, with a population of about 1,000. George Horton was mayor. Notably, there was no pastor at the Baptist Church, nor the Methodist Episcopal Church,  when the Cripple Creek District Directory was published. Instead, Reverend Father Victor was overseeing the Catholic Church. Three lodges, the I.O.O.F. Ivanhoe Rebekah Lodgw No. 60, Miners’ Union No. 21 and White Swan Council No. 31, D. of P., were available to members. Other businesses included a wagon maker, a drugstore, a dry goods, a boardinghouse, a hardware store, a meat market, one tailor, a doctor, one realtor, one shoe store, a stationary store, two restaurants, two barbers, two cigar stores, three assayers, three fuel and feed stores, three saloons, and four groceries.

Like many towns across the west, Anaconda suffered a fire that was almost the town’s undoing. On November 11, 1904, a fire began at Nelson’s Grocery at 11:30 p.m. The flames had been growing for some time before they were discovered by Edwin Irwin. News of the fire was reported as far away as Los Angeles, where the Los Angeles Herald warned the town was “in danger of total destruction by fire.” One block of the downtown had already burned, with many other in danger. A lack of water pressure combined with strong winds spelled disaster, even after a bucket brigade was formed. Anaconda’s volunteer fire department finally called Cripple Creek for help. Many buildings, including the city hall, were dynamited in an effort to stop the flames, but in the end every building south of the railroad tracks through town burned. Only one of them was insured. Newspapers guessed the damage to be between $50,000 and $60,000.

In spite of nearly being burned out altogether, Anaconda did survive for a few years more. The town still had “good schools and several churches” in 1905, and the Cripple Creek District Directory for that year did offer this disclaimer: “A large portion of the business section of Anaconda was recently burned and owing to its nearness to the city of Cripple Creek there is considerable doubt of its being rebuilt.” Nonetheless, the population still hovered around 1,000 people. Lyman Cornwell was mayor. Two of the three churches had no pastor. There were, however, still three lodges surviving. Businesses included one cigar store, a drugstore, one dry goods, one saloon, one shoe store, two physicians, two grocers.

Anaconda would continue to downsize in the coming years. There were 130 residents left when the post office closed on March 31, 1909. In 1911 the post office reopened during a small surge in mining, and 200 people called Anaconda home in 1912. Only a confectionary store and a grocery, however, represented the business section. Five years later, the post office closed a final time. By 1920, any remaining residents of Anaconda were listed as part of the nearby town of Victor in the census. A few mines did continue to survive around Anaconda. One of them was the Mary McKinney, which finally closed in 1953 after producing $11 million in Gold.

For years, Anaconda’s main street was an empty dirt road with a few buildings scattered about. The Mary McKinney’s huge cribbing paralleled the highway. In Squaw Gulch, only faint remnants of Barry and Mound City could be seen, including the jail. Beginning in 1967, the Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad in Cripple Creek brought visitors on a four mile scenic tour from Cripple Creek to Anaconda. The trip dead-ended at the old blacksmith barn for the Mary McKinney, one of the few relics left of Anaconda. A year later, the CCVNG recovered the former Midland Terminal Depot at Bull Hill and moved it to their property in Cripple Creek.

Anaconda remained a highly popular spot for history buffs and ghost town hunters. Tragically, however, in April of 1984 Anaconda made the news when 23-year old Wayne Tease, of Colorado Springs, suffered a fatal fall down an old mine shaft at the Mary McKinney. Due to the depth of the shaft, one thousand feet, authorities could do little to retrieve the body short of slinking a camera down the shaft to identify Tease. The only thing his family could do was erect a small memorial to him at the shaft where he died. Over time, the story took on some interesting twists. It took Tease’s mother fourteen years to obtain a death certificate for her son. Then in 2011, it was discovered that modern mining operations by the Cripple Creek/Victor Mine were slated to cover the shaft. Although the mine offered to move the memorial, the family objected since the shaft was considered by them to be a grave for their son. After negotiations which lasted a year or better, and with no law to stop them, the mine proceeded with their plans. Today there is barely anything left of Anaconda, nor the little valley below it which once led to Shelf Road, which is still used to access towns south of the Cripple Creek District.

Image: Famed Colorado photographer William Henry Jackson captured Anaconda during the 1890s. Library of Congress.

Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County (Colorado), Introduction

c 2018 by Jan MacKell Collins

This is an excerpt from Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County (History Press, 2016)

Introduction

   The great gold rushes which helped settle the West are ingrained in American history as some of the most exciting times our country would ever see. Beginning in 1848, the California gold rush set off a most spectacular run of booms and busts as more and more pioneers headed west. Other states—namely Oregon, Arizona, Idaho, Montana and the Dakotas—would follow suit as gold was discovered within their territories. Colorado also was a big contender, beginning with the Pikes Peak Gold Rush of 1859.

   Colorado’s initial rush was so-named because prospectors heading to the region used Pikes Peak, elevation 14,114′, as a landmark. The peak, which towers above Colorado Springs on one side and Teller County on the other, was named for explorer Zebulon Pike. As the so—called Pikes Peak Gold Rush unfolded throughout the 1860’s an ancient trail, used by local Ute Indians, wound up through a pass at the base of the peak.

   Eventually dubbed Ute Pass, this trail became known as one of the quickest ways for easterners wishing to access the western slope of Colorado. A few rest stops popped up over time, mostly ranches but one or two mail stops and supply outlets too. By the time El Paso County was formed as one of Colorado’s original counties in 1861, Ute Pass became known as the gateway from Colorado City (a supply town west of today’s Colorado Springs) to the western goldfields.

   Pioneers and early surveyors making their way up Ute Pass found some homesteads already settled by squatters. Legal homesteaders were allowed to settle on 160-acre tracts of land starting in 1873. Those who claimed land in the open, high-altitude parks at the top of Ute Pass primarily used it for ranching, but increased traffic also created a need for supplies, lodging and postal routes.

   Gold discoveries at the world—famous Cripple Creek District in 1891 altered the sleepy ranches and high plains on the back side of Pikes Peak dramatically. An extinct volcano, so large it actually imploded in on itself rather than erupting, had long ago created a most unique field of rich minerals that had melted, flowed into the cracks and crevices caused by the explosion, and hardened over time. Ranchers within this “caldera” included the Womacks, whose son Bob was sure there was gold in the area.

   When young Womack was finally able to convince everyone of the rich gold deposits, prospectors by the thousands flocked to the new boom as more towns were established both within and outside of the Cripple Creek District. The Cripple Creek District directory of 1894 perhaps described it best:

“Over the quiet hills and vales there came a change. Where once no sound was heard save the halloo of the herdsman, clatter of hoofs and horns and jingle of spur bells, there came the crushing, rending roar of dynamite, tearing the rocks asunder, the curnching and grinding and rattling of wheels, the shouting of mule drivers and feighters, with sounds of saw and axe and hammer. A town grew up like magic, prospectors thronged the hills,—and there was solitude no more.”

  Largely due to the gold boom, a series of other mining districts, camps, towns and cities sprang up throughout the western portion of El Paso County. Some of these places never evolved further than being small camps where miners lived and worked. Others were founded as whistlestops with the coming of the railroads. Still more bloomed into thriving metropolises which in time rivaled bigger cities in Colorado and beyond. A few were settled with high hopes of becoming large cities, only to fold within a few years or even months. Some towns never even made it off the ground.

   City directories for the Cripple Creek District began publishing in 1893, but due to the transient and ever—moving population, it was a limited effort at best. “The first edition of the Cripple Creek Directory is now placed in circulation,” announced the editors of the first directory, but added that “In the compilation of this book the publishers have been careful to exclude the names of non-residents. The general makeup of a new town is such as to make the work very difficult; however, we will say that neither labor nor expenses has been spared to make this directory complete and accurate, and we believe it will prove reliable.”

   The people who flocked to these places were an amazing bunch. Not only did they consist of prospectors and miners, but also builders, laborers, lawyers, merchants, doctors and dentists, teachers, stock brokers, laundresses, bartenders, prostitutes and many others. The population of the area swelled and shrunk accordingly as those who couldn’t gain good work or prosperity moved on. For every person who left the district, however, another one took their place.

   In 1899, after a long hard fight with El Paso County, city officials in Cripple Creek successfully formed Teller County. The new county was carefully carved from parts of El Paso, as well as the other surrounding counties of Park and Fremont. Teller County measures a mere 559 square miles, but within its boundaries dozens of camps, towns and cities were formed during the 1890’s and early 1900’s.

   The Teller County of the turn of the twenty-first century was rife with historic events, including two labor wars and a heated long—time battle against illegal gambling. Get-rich-quick schemes, insurance frauds, historic fires, murders and more have made for a most interesting history. More than a few honorable figures, including Colorado Governor Ralph Carr and a slew of celebrities also called Teller County home. For a time, the Cripple Creek District made Teller County known to folks worldwide.

   Because the giant caldera forming the Cripple Creek District is comprised of long-hardened minerals settled in fissures and cracks, hard-rock mining was primarily employed in Teller County. Placer mining, wherein a fellow with a pan scooped up river sand and shook out the gold, was far less common. Thus in time, digging, blasting and processing ore in the Cripple Creek District became harder and more expensive. Gold miners fell under the impression there was little more gold to be had that was worth digging for, and people began moving away from the Cripple Creek District. Subsequently, the rest of Teller County downsized as well.

   In an attempt to lessen the perils created by the Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Gold Reserve Act in 1934. Doing so raised the price of gold to $35 per ounce. Although there were still some working mines in the county, even these dwindled away in time. Times were changing; railroads were shutting down, wagon roads were falling out of use, historic ranches were changing hands and many of the towns established on behalf of the gold boom were being abandoned.

   By the 1950’s, not much was going on in Teller County, at least to the observant eye. As the towns and camps faded away, surviving places such as Woodland Park, Cripple Creek and Victor turned to tourism as a new industry. Museums were established as residents of Teller County looked for ways to draw visitors to the area. The cap on the price of gold was finally repealed in 1971 by President Richard Nixon. The repeal came about as new techniques to extract hard-rock gold were being employed.

   A renewed interest in mining, combined with increased tourism, kept Teller County alive. Of particular interest to many tourists was exploring the old ghost towns left behind. While the Cripple Creek District remained a key destination to see such places, others slowly faded away. A few were incorporated as part of local ranches or were subsequently purchased by private interests.

   It is only within the last twenty five years or so that many more ghost towns have fallen in the wake of modern mining operations and in the name of progress. Even so, history buffs, local residents and others who hold Teller County near and dear to their hearts have worked tirelessly to support the history of these places. While many of the towns may be gone, each place still has lots of stories to tell.