Category Archives: Colorado History

Jack Haverly and His Colorado Towns for Suckers

c 2023 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article have appeared in Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County and Colorado Central magazine.

For Jack Haverly, life was truly an up and down affair. The man who gained fame and fortune on the theater circuit during the mid-to-late 1800’s was well known throughout America over his long career. But he also filed bankruptcy so many times that newspapers truly lost count of just how often Haverly found himself broke. It could be said that in his day, Haverly was a force to be reckoned with, an idea man who tried everything once and twice if he liked it. He was also said to be quite lucky, for as much as he was down, Haverly nearly always bounced back up. His many friends never hesitated to loan him money when he needed it, knowing he would pay it back the next time fortune smiled upon him again. “Jack Haverly was a fine man and a lovable character,” wrote Edward Le Roy Rice in 1911. “None did more for minstrelsy than he, and some of the greatest names in theatricals were once associated with him.

John H. “Jack” Haverly was born Christopher Heverly in Pennsylvania in 1837. As a young man he worked as a “train boy”, selling peanuts and candy on passenger trains. He also worked as a “baggage smasher” for the railroads, and did a brief stint as a tailor’s apprentice. By 1864 he had moved to Toledo, Ohio where he opened his first variety theater. A misspelling on a poster changed his name from Heverly to Haverly, and the new moniker stuck.

Acquisition of the theater in Toledo was subsequent to the formation of “Haverly’s Minstrels”, which gave its first performance on August 1 that year. Within a short time, Haverly was partnering with other promoters and visiting grand places across the United States and as far away as Toronto, Canada. During his travels, Haverly married Sara Hechsinger, of the famed singing duo known as the Duval Sisters. When Sara died in 1867, Haverly married her sister, Eliza, later that year. Neither marriage resulted in children.

Theater life appeased Haverly greatly. Over time he bought and sold numerous theater houses, and also headed up a number of traveling troupes. The man was also remembered by some as “a compulsive gambler and speculator” who sometimes threw his money away as quickly as he made it. Somehow, however, Haverly made it work. At the height of his career, he owned six theaters and an amazing thirteen road companies.

Haverly’s greatest achievement was probably in 1877, when he merged four of his minstrel companies to form “Haverly’s United Mastadon Minstrels.” After the fashion of P.T. Barnum and other entertainment promoters of the day, the “Mastadons” consisted of some forty performers and a marching band. Upon arriving in town for a show, the troupe would march up and down the streets, spreading themselves out as thinly as possible so that while performers marched through one part of town, the band played in the other. The Mastadons became so famous they even performed seventeen shows in London during 1880 alone.

It is unlikely that Haverly was with the performance in London, for he was busy discovering the mining boomtowns of Colorado around 1880. Folks around Gunnison remembered him as “famous theater and minstrel millionaire,” and a “colorful and key figure in the development of early Gunnison.” Indeed, Haverly “bought up fine ranch land just east of Gunnison, had a town named for him, invested heavily in silver mines at Gothic and Irwin, bought coal land up in Washington Gulch, and purchased several ranches and a sawmill up Ohio Creek.” The town of Haverly proper consisted of a group of claims, which the entrepreneur advertised “extravagantly.”

Although Haverly was initially welcome in Gunnison country, others took his claims of fortune with a grain of salt. At the nearby town of Irwin the local newspaper, the Elk Mountain Pilot, had nothing good to say about Haverly’s investments. “Take a man from his line of business and place him in a business entirely foreign to his own,” sniped the paper, “and he will surely make a wreck of it.” True to the newspaper’s prediction, Haverly’s first namesake town in Colorado ended up being “essentially a promotional scheme.” Newcomers almost immediately started squabbling over who owned what claim. Eventually, the forty or so miners at the camp “‘jumped’ the town and left Mr. Haverly ‘out in the cold.'” The town of Haverly survived for a few more years, taking on different names and residents until the place faded away altogether. Jack Haverly, however, had long ago moved on.

Haverly continued to conduct a successful theater tour in Colorado. Not only was he continuing his minstrel shows, but he began forming opera companies as well. The names of his shows generally changed as much as his address. In 1880, “Haverly’s Church Choir Opera Company” performed Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore at Barnum Hall in Greeley, the Central City Opera House, the Denver Opera House and the Tabor Opera House in Leadville. The outfit came complete with its own orchestra and starred such celebrities of the day as C.M. Pyke, Dora Wiley and Pauline Hall. Like everywhere else, Haverly’s show received rave reviews. Success was sweet; an 1881 article in the New York Clipper commented on sixteen of Haverly’s minstrel shows and opera companies. In addition, Haverly’s company had offices in Boston, Chicago, Denver and New York.

With so many troupes on the road, it was impossible for Haverly to travel with each one. Instead, he hired capable theater managers and road agents. In 1883, manager J.H. Mack accompanied the Colorado circuit. In February 1883 alone, the troupe—under the name “Haverly’s English Opera Company”—performed Strauss’s Merry War at the Colorado Springs Opera House, the Fort Collins Opera House, the Tabor Opera House in Leadville and the Tabor Grand Opera House in Denver.

Keeping up with his many traveling troupes could not have been easy, and Haverly often spread himself too thin to conduct his businesses well. In spite of the success of the Colorado circuit, his finances were soon taking a dive. Throughout much of 1883, the New York Times was full of articles regarding Haverly’s many legal and financial troubles. Haverly carried on, however, borrowing money to invest in various endeavors, paying back the money to his lenders, then losing everything all over again on a bad risk. By 1884 his fortunes were said to be beginning “their final collapse”. The enterprising man, however, wisely decided to start investing in mining as a means to make additional money. It is true, his love for speculation in the mines often proved costly, but at least he remained successful with his shows.

Throughout 1884 and 1885, Haverly’s shows continued performing in London and even Scotland. He was still dabbling in theater and doing quite a good job of it when he visited the Cripple Creek District in January of 1896. According to the Cripple Creek Morning Times, the minstrel man had “bade farewell to minstrelry several years ago, and when his face becomes sooty now it is from a miner’s lamp instead of a makeup box.” Haverly told the reporter that he planned to be in the area for a couple of weeks. “I came here to see if I couldn’t get hold of some property in this district,” he said. His plan was fortified with some extra cash he had lying around from his mining investments in Clear Creek County.

Within a short time, Haverly had purchased “a plateau known as Bull Hill when in the height of its prosperity,” according to the Hoosier State Chronicle in Indiana. Due to his rags-to-riches-to-rags reputation, however, few investors showed much interest in partnering with him. After some fast talking, Haverly was finally able to convince some prospects into having a look at his mines themselves. The properties did look mighty promising, enabling Haverly to acquire partners. The group filed a plat and divided up some town lots. They naturally named the new town Haverly. As reports circulated about the findings on Bull Hill, one hundred miners and several saloon keepers converged on the new town within just four days.

“Jack Haverly is rich again,” announced the Hoosier State Chronicles. The paper went on to illuminate Haverly’s up-and-down financial career, but ended by announcing that Lady Luck had smiled upon him once again. This time, he was said to have made upwards of $200,000 by investing in mines around the Cripple Creek District. Also, “the story has been further told in Chicago that Jack would soon be a millionaire.” The folks of Chicago remembered Haverly well, for at one time he purchased the controlling interest of the Chicago Jockey Club race track for a whopping $150,000.

From all appearances, Haverly was back on top. “Colonel Jack Haverly and associates have a shaft down 20 feet on a well-developed vein in Camp Haverly,” announced the Mining Industry & Review magazine in July of 1896. “A new steam hoist has lately been put in operation and ore is being saved for a shipment, which will be made sometime next week. A double shift of men  will be put to work on Monday.”

One source says that Haverly simply wanted no more than a town named for himself, platting the town, selling lots at high prices and skipping town. If the story was true, it may have been because Haverly was seeking vindication for having been swindled before. Yet no evidence of a swindle at Cripple Creek appears in local papers, although neither does news of the new town. In fact, Jack Haverly’s name is curiously absent from Colorado newspapers until June of 1897 when it was simply noted he was staying at the Sheridan Hotel in Telluride. The next mention of him came in September, when it was reported he was on his way back to New York via Kansas with a plan to get back in showbiz.

Haverly later declared that he had lost $250,000 by investing in the mines of Colorado. But he hadn’t lost faith in the entertainment industry. By 1898 his famed minstrel troupes were on the road again. He stayed in New York for only a short time, bouncing between there and Salt Lake City beginning in 1899. His last endeavor was starting a small museum in Brooklyn, New York in May of 1901. Just a few months later, on September 28, Jack Haverly succumbed to some longtime heart problems. His body was shipped back to Pennsylvania for burial. Newspapers all over the country published Haverly’s obituary, paying tribute to the flamboyant theater man who had entertained the country for decades. One of his good friends, writer Eugene Field, paid tribute to him in the New York Times with a poem titled “Memories of ‘Jack’ Haverly”:

‘Jack’ Haverly, ‘Jack’ Haverly, I wonder where you are.
Are your fortunes cast with Sirius, or ‘neath some kindlier star?
How happens it we never see your wondrous minstrel show,
With its apt alliterations, as we used to, years ago?
All the ebon aggregations that afflict these modem times
Are equally unworthy our prose and of our rhymes.
And I vainly pine and hanker for the joys that used to come
With the trumpets um-ta-ra-ra and the big base drum.
‘Jack’ Haverly, here’s a-hoping that some bright propitious star
Beams kindly down upon you, whereso’er your interests are,
For my heart is warm toward you for the joy you gave me when
I was a little rambling tyke; and I were glad again
To see you marching up the street with your dusky knights of song—
By George, I’d head the gang of boys that whooped your way along;
And I’d stake that all our plaudits and acclaims would over come
The trumpet ump-ta-ra-ra and the big base drum.

Today, theater history buffs fondly remember the man who entertained the world with his minstrel shows and opera companies. In the Cripple Creek District, however, Jack Haverly seems to have had the last laugh.

Goldfield, the Family Town of Colorado’s Cripple Creek District

c 2023 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article appear in Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County.

Of the many towns once located within the Cripple Creek District, Goldfield reached third largest in population during its time. While the city is now no more than a bedroom community of nearby Victor, Goldfield is recognized as one of the most active cities in the District during the 1890’s and early 1900’s. The city lies at an altitude of 9903′ feet on the outskirts of Montgomery Gulch, better known now as the Vindicator Valley. To the east, Big Bull Mountain hovers over Goldfield. To the west is the former town of Independence, surrounded by the ghost mines of Teresa, the Golden Cycle, the Portland #1 and #2, the Findley, the Independence, and the Vindicator.

Goldfield’s beginnings date to 1894 when three men, James Doyle, James Burns, and John Harnan struck it rich with the Portland Mine. The Portland’s name was derived from Portland, Maine, where the “two Jimmys,” as they became known, grew up. With the Portland in full swing the partners decided to form their own town. The men established the Gold Knob Mining and Townsite Company on a large pasture where, some twenty years before, a forest fire had left an expansive clearing.

By the time the new town was platted in January of 1895, Burns and Doyle had wisely changed the name of Gold Knob to the more attractive name of Goldfield. Burns was put in charge of the company, laying out the streets and selling lots, starting at $25.00 each. A number of mining claims were also made on the future townsite; because of that, property was sold with surface rights only.

Goldfield’s post office opened on May 5, 1895. Referred to as the “City of Homes”, Goldfield was a family town. Modern, wooden sidewalks graced the streets, and in later years locals said the Sunday school was the longest running institution of its kind in the Cripple Creek District. Indeed, unlike the wild town of Altman just half a mile away, Goldfield’s citizens were far more interested in establishing schools and churches than saloons. Two newspapers, the Goldfield Gazette and the Goldfield Times, set about reporting news of the day.

Not ironically, all of Goldfield’s town officials belonged to the Western Federation of Miners Union. Some of them had already been through a labor war in the district during the previous year. Perhaps the best-known union supporter in Goldfield was the first mayor, John Easter. There is no doubt that Easter was hoping for a civilized, prominent city in Goldfield. Not only did he immediately establish a fire department, but he also hired a city physician at $300 per year. There was even a “pest house” for confining those with contagious diseases (and almost immediately, pest house attendant Albert Pheasants was fired for coming to work drunk.). Everybody, from the dogs of the town to the few saloons, had to have a license and prostitution was strictly outlawed. A town engineer was paid to maintain the roads at $10 per day.

By the end of its first year, Goldfield had a population numbering 2,191 residents. This figure may have included the town of Independence, located across Montgomery Gulch and divided from Goldfield by the tracks of the Midland Terminal Railroad. Two of the main avenues, Independence and Victor, led to those two towns respectively.

By 1896 the population of Goldfield proper was a thousand people. A new mayor, Edward M. Sullivan, was elected as was a new marshal, Allen Combs. As with the pest house attendants, a city ordinance stipulated that the town marshal could be replaced if found too drunk to work. The ordinance was not without merit, since Goldfield had grown to include two assayers, an attorney, two boarding houses, one dentist, three groceries, one hotel, two meat markets, three doctors and three saloons. A reservoir made use of several natural springs in the area, supplying water to ditches under the sidewalks and fire hydrants on every corner in town. The Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad reached Goldfield in November. Passenger service between Goldfield and Victor, a little over a mile away, commenced soon after.

Goldfield continued to progress at a rapid rate through 1897. The F. & C.C. built a new depot, and by 1898 the city had street lights and telephone lines. The latter were provided by the La Bella Power Plant, constructed by railroad tycoon David Moffat. The plant was designed to provide power not just to Goldfield, but also to outlying towns and mines. Street car service was provided at five cents a ride. Those with their own transportation were made to obey the six mile-per-hour speed limit in town. Another city ordinance prohibited loud or profane language in public.

By 1898, Goldfield had reached its status as the third largest city in the Cripple Creek District. Water was supplied to the town of Independence across Montgomery Gulch. But Goldfield appears to be the exception to the typical frontier gold town. Social activities included lots of parades, picnics and concerts versus the usual saloons, shady ladies and shoot outs. In 1899, possibly in an effort to compete for the county seat of newly formed Teller County, Goldfield was officially incorporated. However, the loss of the county seat to Cripple Creek was not surprising.

By 1900, Goldfield’s population had risen to 3500. The Cripple Creek District Directory described Goldfield as a “lively little city,” which it was. Homes ranged from simple miner’s cabins to gaudy Victorian architecture, and were well kept with nice lawns. Each resident was responsible for keeping the sidewalk in front of their home clean of debris and snow. A local junk dealer provided trash service. Seven boardinghouses, a variety of stores, nine groceries, five doctors, nine restaurants and nine saloons served residents. Clark’s Opera House provided nightly entertainment. There were also several societies, including a Masonic lodge and the Red Men. Three railroads: the Florence & Cripple Creek, the Midland Terminal and the Colorado Springs & Cripple Creek District, afforded transportation. Twenty thousand tons of gold ore were being transported from Goldfield annually. In fact, it was estimated that three fourths of the ore shipped from the District went through Goldfield. With all these amenities, it could be said Goldfield made an exemplary city, save for one tiny incident. A Miss Luella Vance of Goldfield served papers on mining magnate Sam Strong at the close of his wedding to another woman. Luella’s claim was one of many imposed on Strong, a philandering womanizer and a drunk besides. Miss Vance received $50,000 to aid in the mending of her broken heart.

From all appearances, Goldfield retained its union status as a second labor strike loomed on the horizon in 1903. Interestingly, there does not appear to have been much strike activity within city limits. In fact, it would appear that rather than witness messy fisticuffs and battles within its refined city limits, Goldfield chose to handle things outside of town instead. When the National Guard was called to Battle Mountain in the midst of the strike, they quartered just above Victor. Yet a photograph of the settlement is identified as “Camp Goldfield.” Furthermore a “bull pen” was erected to imprison striking miners nearby, safely outside city limits. Even so, a number of citizens left town for safer pastures. One man named Jack Ried, however, worked as the town marshal after being shot during labor war scuffle in Victor. The injury resulted in the amputation of Ried’s leg. In Goldfield, he was fondly referred to as “Peggy.”

By the end of the strike in 1904, about half the homes of Goldfield were empty, just like they were at Altman and Independence. Of the three cities, however, Goldfield alone elected to start fresh. Accordingly, non-union citizens impeached the union city officials. Elected in their place were officers who played neutral parts in mining activities. By 1905, Goldfield was holding steady with a population of 3000. There were still three churches, four social halls and seven lodges, although a number of other businesses had fallen to the wayside. The last of the city’s many newspapers, the Goldfield Crescent, closed down its press in 1909.

As the mining boom of the 1890’s subsided, Goldfield’s population was dropping steadily by 1911. The business district dwindled down to one assayer, one barber, one dairy, four stores, four groceries, two meat markets, one doctor and two saloons. The downsizing was accented by the death of John Easter in 1914. Nearly every citizen of Goldfield accompanied the first mayor’s body to his burial at Sunnyside Cemetery.

Somehow, Goldfield stayed busy during the waning years of the gold boom. By 1915 the population was holding steady at 1,200, and new businesses in town included three auto garages – the start of a whole new era. Two churches and three lodges were still functioning, and little else changed save for the abolishment of the saloons with statewide prohibition in 1917.

With time, however, the whole district slumped as the mines slowly became too expensive to operate. The wooden sidewalks in Goldfield slowly disappeared. As they rotted or fell away, a popular pastime became searching the ditches underneath for long lost money or other items. It is said even a few gold coins surfaced on occasion. But Goldfield was slowly being forgotten. The post office officially closed in 1932, and book chronicling the infamous labor wars neglected to even mention Goldfield. Even the Cripple Creek Times Record stopped publishing Goldfield news after 1939.

By 1954, only 60 people still called Goldfield home. One of them was miner Rufus Porter, aka The Hard Rock Poet. Porter first came to the district in 1917. Now, he was writing a column for the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph, penning poems about the old days in the Cripple Creek District, and publishing his own set of history booklets. Among the characters in Porter’s Goldfield memoirs was Jack Condon, who once fought Jack Dempsey in Victor. It also was according to Porter that long after Goldfield ceased electing mayors, one Billy Butler became an honorary mayor for a number of years. Butler was also a former miner, and described as having a good heart and being respected by all who knew him. Upon retiring, Butler purchased a mimeograph machine and published his own newsletter.

Thirty-five people, including Porter, still lived in Goldfield during 1969. At that time Goldfield’s businesses had all closed, and it was officially considered a ghost town. Yet the city hall still contained its huge safe with “City of Goldfield” etched in gold leaf on its door. A few years later, however, the City Hall had been relieved of its safe, as well as valuable documents and ledgers, which began appearing for sale on various websites. In the meantime, some of the remaining homes and buildings began swaying with time. Some fell with an unheard sigh into the weeds around them. Still others retained much of their original flavor, lovingly looked after by the residents within.

Today, Goldfield’s city hall and fire station still stand. In the last forty years alone, citizens have garnered support for the preservation of Goldfield in the way of the Goldfield Restoration Association, along with assistance from the Cripple Creek District Museum and the Victor Lowell Thomas Museum. Thanks to their efforts, Goldfield remains as a charming bedroom community, its history intact.

Pictured: The author at Goldfield City Hall, circa 1985

Gillett, Colorado: A Gambling Man’s Town

c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article are excerpted from Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County

Before it was even a town, Gillett – located high in the mountains on the backside of Pikes Peak near the famous Cripple Creek District – was known by many names. Shortly after the town of Beaver Park was platted along today’s Highway 81 in 1892, a nearby suburb became known as West Beaver Park. Later, the name was changed to Cripple City. As the Midland Terminal Railroad built tracks from Divide, the name was changed again to Gillett.

The new city was renamed for railroad man W.K. Gillett, who, along with Henry Collbran, Irving Howbert and Harlan Lillibridge, were making big plans. The partners created the Midland Terminal Railroad, a spur of the Colorado Midland Railroad which would turn at Divide and head toward the Cripple Creek District (Gillett wanted to name the new railroad the “Cripple Creek and Gold Gulch Railroad,” but when the directors of the Colorado Midland objected to such a whimsical name, the moniker was changed to the Midland Terminal). The new company was officially formed in October 1893.

Early buildings at Gillett included log cabins but also hewn wood structures. The new town attracted such influential men as Albert E. Carlton, who had designs on a new freight company in Cripple Creek, as well as Charles Tutt and Spencer Penrose, two longtime friends from Colorado Springs who had already made much money in the copper mines of Utah. Gillett was the perfect place for the two young wealthy bachelors to build an entertainment mecca. Accordingly, Tutt and Penrose built an exclusive horse track and casino and called it “Sportsman’s Park.”

Gillett was platted on January 19, 1894. Of the budding city, “a site with more picturesque surroundings could not have been chosen,” crowed the 1894 Cripple Creek District Directory. Located in a vast meadow with stunning views all around, Gillett would be the first town reached by the Midland Terminal on its way into the Cripple Creek District. Plans were underway to build a $150,000 “railway hotel station,” meant to be a “resort hotel adapted for the comfort and enjoyment of leisure seekers and tourists, and for the residents of the district.” The main drag through Gillett was named Parker Street after First National Bank president J.M. Parker. The avenue was soon lined with tidy, false-fronted buildings and aspen trees which had been planted for accent. In anticipation of the railroad, a nice wood depot and telegraph office also were built.

The Midland Terminal reached Gillett as planned, chugging gloriously into town on Independence Day in 1894. A month later, the post office opened, on August 29. Since the mountains between Gillett and Cripple Creek were too steep on which to build a railroad, a stage road led to the latter town instead as the Midland Terminal continued building through Beaver Park and toward the city of Victor. On September 11, Pullman sleeper service began on the rail lines between Denver and Cripple Creek. Now, sleeper passengers could disembark at Gillett depot and catch a stage into Cripple Creek, or stay the night in town. Other travelers also stayed the night in Gillett before traveling on, bringing extra commerce to town.

Gillett did suffer minor social issues. Tutt and Penrose soon realized that their wealthy friends were quite content patronizing the elite Broadmoor Casino (the precursor to the fabulous Broadmoor Hotel) in Colorado Springs, rather than making the trek all the way to Gillett. Thus, the racetrack at Sportsman’s Park never opened for more than two days a week and eventually scaled down to just a few Saturdays in the summer. The newly-built Monte Carlo Casino suffered the same fate and was eventually converted to a school for the children of the town. Even budding madam Pearl DeVere initially purchased property in Gillett, but soon moved to Cripple Creek, where she became the city’s most famous harlot. Even so, a city jail was built at Gillett to imprison any lawbreakers who happened along. Outside of town, the newly erected Beaver Park Stamp Mill processed ore from the Lincoln Mine (alternately known as the Lincoln & Gibbons), as well as the King of Diamonds. There was also the Gillett Reduction Works. Additional employment could be found at the shops for the Midland Terminal.

In August 1895, the only “legal” bullfight in the United States took place at Gillett. The event was the brainchild of Joe Wolfe, owner of Cripple Creek’s prestigious Palace Hotel and described as a “sometime confidence man.” Wolfe partnered with Wild West performer and rodeo cowboy “Arizona Charlie” Meadows to form the “Joe Wolfe Grand National Spanish Bull Fight Company.” As a means to secure the support of the town council, Wolfe appointed them as the board of directors of his company. But it was Charlie Meadows who was Wolfe’s ace in the hole.

The six-foot-six tall, long-haired, mustachioed man from Arizona surely made a presence to the citizens of Gillett. Meadows’s career in rodeo began at Payson, Arizona in 1884. In 1888, he hosted a “cowboy contest” in Prescott where he earned a reputation as a “crack shot” and the “fastest man with a rope in the business.” A few months later, he was a winning participant in Prescott’s first rodeo.

Meadows used his skills and accompanying flair for finesse to eventually turn from rodeo cowboy to showman. For seven years, he had toured several countries with a Wild West show, worked with Buffalo Bill’s traveling troupe, and eventually formed his own show. He was well known throughout the West by the time he hooked up with Joe Wolfe. Together, the pair borrowed $5,000 to build a five-thousand-seat amphitheater at Gillett, print tickets and posters, and secure real matadors and bulls from Mexico for the event. Wolfe’s contribution to the town included the purchase of nine and a half blocks of real estate.

Almost immediately, people began voicing their opposition to the upcoming event. The Colorado Springs Gazette in particular published several editorials. “If it be illegal to import bulls for fighting at the Atlanta Exposition, surely it must be illegal to import them across the border for fighting at the Gillett Exposition,” argued one article. “Here is a chance for Francis Hill of the Humane Society to write to the Secretary of the Treasury, informing him that it is proposed to import bulls for the same purpose of fighting and ‘keep them out of El Paso County.’”

The authorities did ultimately stop the bulls and their keepers at the Texas border. But the matadors still came, and Wolfe and Meadows managed to wrangle some local bulls who were anything but the fighting variety. Things took an equally nasty turn when Wolfe invited renowned bunco artist Soapy Smith to set up his games of chance outside the entrance to the event. Soapy took so much money from his victims that some of them could not afford the $5 ticket to get in. Those who did gain admittance on the first day were shocked as the bulls were led to a cruel death. Fewer than three hundred spectators attended on the second day. On the third day, Wolfe and Meadows folded the show and were promptly arrested for animal cruelty. In all, the total proceeds were a mere $2,600.

Gillett citizens quickly overcame their embarrassment over the infamous Gillett bullfights. By late 1895, two daily trains were still bringing plenty of passengers to town, and citizens had their choice of four newspapers to read on the trip. As of 1896, 1,500 residents had access to numerous businesses, including three doctors and an amazing nine saloons. Father Volpe’s Catholic Church and a Congregational Church were built in 1897. By 1899 the Golden Crescent Water and Light Company, owned by the Woods brothers in Victor, was servicing Gillett.

Unfortunately, Gillett proved to be too far from the mines of the Cripple Creek District, and much of the town was eventually vacated. Even with eight trains passing through daily, the population in 1900 was only a little over five hundred people, including those living at nearby Monte Carlo Lakes. At least there were still a few bars, and the school still supported a handful of students with Miss Mary A. Wilson as principal. The Co-Operative Brick Company on the outskirts of town was supplying bricks for surrounding businesses, homes, and mines. Eventually, however, both the Lincoln and King of Diamonds mines played out, and the Beaver Park Stamp Mill became useless.

The 1902 district directory commented that Gillett’s “remoteness from the working mines has told against it, and at the present time its population is at a very low ebb.” A hopeful endnote stated, “It is not at all improbable that something may occur at any time which will ‘boom’ the town and make it one of the largest in the District.” But the numbers didn’t lie; the directory reported Gillett’s population at a mere three hundred people.

Gillett’s last newspaper, The Forum edited by Mayor James Parfet, closed in 1905. Now only 250 people remained in town, and neither church had a minister. The post office, run by Charles Adams for many years, closed briefly in 1908 but reopened six months later. The reprieve was brief, for the 1910 census counted only forty-four people living in town.

In 1911, old Gillett entered a new era as a ranching community when the Vetter family purchased much of the land there, and the post office closed a final time in 1913. Gillett’s once grand buildings sank into the ground, were torn down, or burned. Rufus Porter, the miner-turned-writer of the District town of Goldfield, remembered a man named Greasy Miller who lived at Gillett during its waning years. Greasy “burned down a score of houses by raking the ashes from the stove onto the floor. When the shack caught fire he’d simply move to another one.”

In time, some families moved their loved ones’ graves from the cemetery to other local graveyards. The pews and the pulpit from Father Volpe’s Catholic Church were moved to St. Peter’s Church in Cripple Creek. The old church was used as a hay barn until it burned in 1949, and in 1965 a flood from a dam break above town washed away Gillett’s remaining buildings. Today, Gillett is known as Gillett Flats. The decaying ruins of the church, which sit on private land, can be spotted from the highway.

A Christmas Past: The Wild West Part I

c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

Gazing at a classic Currier and Ives Christmas card today, it is easy to fall in love with the scenes depicting old-time wagons full of people bundled up against the cold and dashing through the snows of yesteryear. We love the romance of yuletide days of long ago, when families gathered around warm fireplaces, children marveled at their full stockings hanging from the mantle, and warmly dressed folks merrily brought in the Christmas tree or arms full of presents. But while we may love celebrating our yuletide holidays with the old-fashioned trimmings complimented by scented candles from Walmart that are meant to recall a day long ago, Christmas in the raw, untamed West was quite different from what we imagine it to have been.

It is true that during the 1800s, the holidays were celebrated in style in eastern, more civilized, cities. But the west was still quite young back then. There were no large malls, stores or internet shops to call upon for our Christmas shopping. Planes did not yet exist, and only the lucky could find or afford railroad passage to visit relatives. In the high plains and even higher mountains, cowboys and miners might find themselves stranded in storms with no company. In the barren west where few large towns flourished, cruelly cold conditions in the high country could include blowing snow and blizzards, making it difficult for families to gather, let alone survive, in a bleak and barren land. As for the holiday itself, a good old fashioned Christmas in the west was often meager with simple presents, simple fare, and not a lot to celebrate. There was, however, always hope for prosperity in the new year.

It is interesting to look at how our Christmas celebrations evolved as a country. Surprisingly, historians have found that Christmas in America was not really celebrated until the mid-1840s. One of the earliest references to the holiday was recorded in 1846, when Virginia Reed of the ill-fated Donner Party recalled that her mother selflessly saved “a few dried apples, some beans, a bit of tripe, and a small piece of bacon” for Christmas dinner, telling her children “eat slowly for this one day you can have all you wish.” Catherine Haun, one of thousands of new pioneers who who resided in a tent community on California’s Sacramento River in 1849, remembered keeping Christmas. “I do not remember ever having had happier holiday times,” she wrote. Likewise another pioneer, William Kelly—formerly of Britain—spent the holiday at a different California mining camp, where he was delighted at having seconds of plum pudding.

While settlements along the Sacramento and other places in early California were doing quite well, other areas remained sparse and lacking in any real settlement. The southern Colorado plains were still quite unsettled in 1854, when Fort Pueblo was attacked on Christmas Day by angry Utes after failed negotiations and the accidental spread of smallpox from Governor David Meriwether’s men. In the fray, every man at the fort was killed. The only woman, Chepita Martin, and two children, Felix and Juan Isidro, were taken captive. In time, thankfully, Pueblo and Colorado would eventually evolve with the rest of the west.

As Christmas traditions began catching up with the far away west, pioneers learned to simply make do with what they had to celebrate the holiday. They were inspired by the traditions brought by others from their native countries. The traditional song “Deck the Halls,” for instance, was first translated in America from a sixteenth century Welsh song in 1862. The popularity of the tune inspired people to decorate their homes with “boughs of holly” and other native fauna that included berry branches, evergreens, nuts and pinecones. And the tradition of placing mistletoe where couples could share kisses underneath its leaves is actually an ancient Greek tradition. Especially at the end of the Civil War, people were looking more than ever for cohesion in a difficult time. Celebrating Christmas meant the reintroduction of the comforting, celebratory traditions that immigrants to America brought with them from their home countries.

Christmas traditions became more and more important to pioneers as a sign of hopeful prosperity, warmth, love, and yes, status. Much like certain households today, Victorians in general went largely overboard when decorating. In many instances, not a fireplace mantel, banister, table, sideboard or doorway escaped garlands of evergreens peppered with cheerful red berries and jaunty homemade bows. Traditionally, making sure the decorations were up was the responsibility of the lady of the house; one 1896 magazine decreed that women who failed to go all out on the decorations was “a disgrace to her family.” Outside, the Christmas cheer spread with the introduction of the Yule Log, a Nordic tradition that entailed the men hiding a large, identifiable log in the woods, embarking on the chilly business of finding it with the rest of the family, and burning it (traditionally, a piece of the log was saved to being the following year’s Yule Log hunt).

After Christmas was declared a national holiday in 1870, folks in the west began really getting in the spirit of the season. Larger cities were forming, and with them came the kind of civilization many people yearned for. Now, folks could subscribe to St. Nicholas magazine, a highly popular periodical that was the brainchild of Roswell Smith in 1873. And slowly but surely, certain large chain stores like Sears & Roebuck and a smattering of others began publishing catalogs from which settlers in the west could order gifts, if they could afford them. It would be about a decade, according to most historians, before the tradition of bringing in and decorating a Christmas tree came along (on Christmas Eve, not the day after Thanksgiving). One of the reasons the tree made such a late debut was, not every household could spare an extra tree from their meager firewood stack, nor room in which to put it in their small cabins and homes.

Notable is that the Christmas tree decorations we know today were largely absent in the wild west. Rather, most decorations were of the homemade variety, fashioned out of colorful ribbon and yarn. Dried fruit, popcorn, homemade candy, cookies and nuts sufficed to make strings of garland, and it could be consumed after the holiday – waste not, want not. A star for the top might be fashioned from a piece of tin. Only those with money could afford the manufactured glass baubles that are highly collectible today. The most dangerous decoration of all? Christmas tree candles, which could easily light the tree on fire. San Francisco’s Morning Call reported on the death of one “Grandmother Fitzsimmons” in 1891, whose carefully decorated tree became a “sheet of flame” when one of the candles fell. Granny tried to save some of the trinkets, accidentally setting herself on fire.

In the west, a lot of thought went into giving practical, thoughtful and almost always handmade gifts by using what was on hand. Most pioneers were not wealthy by any means, meaning that they spent much of their time working to produce and make their own food, clothing, bedding, furniture, tools and other necessary items to survive. California pioneer Elizabeth Gunn wrote of filling the family stockings (literally stockings that were normally worn) with such practical items as “wafers, pens, toothbrushes, potatoes, and gingerbread, and a little medicine.” Other gifts included cake, candies, nuts, raisins and even “a few pieces of gold and a little money.” Lacking books to give, Gunn and her husband wrote their children letters to put in their stockings as well.

Other homemade gifts could include clothing, dolls made from cornhusks, embroidered handkerchiefs, hand-carved wooden toys, pillows and sachets. Lucky indeed was any family wealthy enough to order an item from a real catalogue, which had to be sent for many months before it was actually delivered. Remember that episode of “Little House on the Prairie” where little Laura Ingalls and her family are secretly shopping for each other for Christmas? And at the forefront is a new stove for her mother?? Yeah, that didn’t happen. In reality, the real Laura Ingalls Wilder’s gifts on one Christmas consisted merely of “a shiny new tin cup, a peppermint candy, a heart-shaped cake, and a brand new penny.”

Another misnomer about Christmas in the west is how families were able to gather each holiday season. That certainly was not always the case. In the case of Army wife Frances Roe, the lady tried her best to be merry with the other military wives around her who “sent pretty little gifts to me.” But Frances admitted she was homesick, and said she was sad that a Christmas box from her home, wherever that was, did not make it to her in time for the holiday. Men fared worse than women like Frances. In the Rocky Mountains during the 1840’s, for instance, the hills were alive with men from all walks of life. Married or single, very few of these hardy gentlemen had their family with them, unless their wives were sturdy Natives who knew how to live in the wilderness.

Mountain men, government explorers and trappers were just some of the men wandering around the west. The lucky managed to make it to a central meeting place for a small Christmas gathering. Natives, some of whom attended as well, called it “The Big Eating.” Writer and adventurer Bret Harte once old of a night of Christmas merriment among some cowboys holed up together in a bunkhouse. Will Ferril of Denver, Colorado, remembered spending the holiday during 1888 with “two or three” miners up in the high country. One cowpuncher was lucky enough to share a box of presents with his coworker. The gifts in that case were from the “camp tender” and included such luxuries as Arctic sleeping bags, candy, fruitcake, tobacco, wool socks, even books. To these men, finding a kindred spirit to spend Christmas with was essential to keeping their spirits up.

Those lucky enough to make it to a town in time for a holiday might find another kind of kindred spirit in the form of a shady lady. Most women of the night tended to celebrate Christmas day, and night, with men who needed their company. And many madams, including Lil Douglas of Bisbee, Arizona, Madam Millie of Silver City, New Mexico, and Rachel Urban of Park City, Utah (just to name a few) were fondly remembered for their annual Christmas parties for their gentlemen friends. Shortly before her death in 1909, Colorado madam Blanche Burton purchased a ton of coal for needy families at Christmas.

Stay tuned for A Christmas Past: The Wild West, Part II

Reflections on the Cripple Creek District Museum in Colorado

c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

One email, one phone call and one video, and I’m right back where I was in 1960-something and beyond.

It was summer, and my family was visiting Cripple Creek, the “World’s Greatest Gold Camp.” The high altitude made the air drier than the Arizona desert, but the sky was lapus lazuli blue and the sun warmed my skin. All four of us bore the markings of typical tourists with our ’65 white Chevy station wagon, our best ratty tennis shoes for walking on dirt, mismatched outfits and lightly sunburned faces, a tell-tale sign of campers who have been out and about for a while.

As we piled out of our car in a parking lot, a train whistle blew. Dad was barking orders while Mom guided us to the safety of a dirt path that served as a sidewalk. My sister and I were of course a couple of young swivel-necks, hopped up on candy and wandering off in every direction as Mom grabbed our shirts and hustled us along. I had a stomach-ache, but was helpless as I was guided past a large, 3-story building with a balcony at the top and on towards a charming looking little train station. I had just started reading, so the word “museum” on a sign we passed meant nothing to me.

The three of us—my mom, my sister and me—huddled in a little wiggly group as my dad went into the little train depot and came out with some tickets in his hand. We stepped up onto a little train, which took off within minutes. My mom warned me to keep my hands inside, which was no problem since my hands were busy holding my aching belly. Mom tried to interest me in the ride and the beautiful scenery, but I started crying. She held me close for the duration of the ride, after which we left Cripple Creek in a hurry and headed towards Canon City.

The year 1982 or so marked the first of many returns to Cripple Creek. I loved the town with its Victorian air and gorgeous old buildings. I remembered the train, and Mom reminded me how I cried with my bellyache while riding it. I had forgotten. I did remember the big 3-story building, with a sign above the door reading, “Cripple Creek District Museum.” There were other old looking buildings nearby and some shops, but our trip was hurried since we had driven all the way from Colorado City south of Pueblo. Besides, the streets were incredibly crowded. I vowed to come back, which I did soon after making Colorado my permanent home in 1984.

The Cripple Creek of the 1980’s was marvelous to behold. Just 90 years before, the city and the district around it was the scene of the last great gold boom in Colorado. Thirty-three millionaires came out of this place, where dreams were realized as often as they were dashed as people crawled all over the hillsides making homes in camps, towns and cities. For some 30 years, the  Cripple Creek District reigned as one of the best-known places in America, as well as other parts of the world. Groucho Marx, Tex Guinan, Jack Dempsey and a host of other early day celebrities came here at the beginning of their careers. And then it began getting harder or more expensive to dig or blast the hardrock ore out of the mountains, and people began drifting away.

For a time, the whole area saw a huge downsize in population, but the remaining property owners realized the benefits of tourism beginning in the late 1940s. Now, Cripple Creek’s Bennett Avenue was lined with shops, ice cream stores, restaurants, bars, and plenty of other interesting places. You could pan for gold, sit on a bench and watch the world go by, take your picture with an old miner named Nugget and his donkey, explore the ghost towns around town, or take a trip to nearby Victor—the only other city that was home to live people, shops, restaurants and another museum. Back in Cripple Creek was the biggest museum of all – the Cripple Creek District Museum. It was the largest museum in Teller County then, and now. That 3-story building I saw as a child was the former Midland Terminal Railroad Depot, now part of the museum, which has proudly sat at the head of Bennett Avenue since 1895.

Cripple Creek and Victor became an escape for me from the dreariness of Colorado Springs. It was hard to get a decent job (military wives from Fort Carson south of town were willing to work cheaper than the rest of us), and I bounced around a lot. For me, lover of all things historic and buildings that told stories, Cripple Creek and Victor were the “it” places to be. I fantasized about what it would take to be able to move there. Where would I work? In one of the shops, or seasonally for the melodrama theatre at the old Imperial Hotel? Could I make it there? Probably not, but then something happened that was both a boon and a curse to Cripple Creek: in 1991, the city was one of three in Colorado to legalize limited stakes gambling, and much of the proceeds would go to historic preservation throughout the state. A second boom began.

By working for various casinos as they opened, I was finally able to realize my dream of moving to Cripple Creek in 1994. My first home was actually a small A-frame perched precariously on a hillside seven miles from town, but I loved it there for a dozen glorious years. Four years later, I chanced to get a job at the Cripple Creek District Museum selling tickets. By now I was aiming for a life at a professional author, and the museum provided plenty of pictures, documents and artifacts to learn about. The longer I worked there, the more I fell in love with the place. There was of course the depot, but there was also a turn-of-the-century assay office in another building, and the Colorado Trading & Transfer Building – the only structure to survive two great fires Cripple Creek experienced within days of each other back in April of 1896.

The depot might have perished in the fires also, I later learned, but for the fire department wisely placing a train car on the tracks between the building and the adjacent hillside, and shooting fire hoses over the top of it to douse the flames as they burned part of the roof and began licking at the rafters. The depot had only opened the previous December, and it’s standard-gauge cars were integral to transporting millions of dollars of gold ore to Colorado Springs for processing. The only other train service at the time was the Florence & Cripple Creek, with narrow-gauge cars that ran a precarious route through today’s Phantom Canyon. The canyon was so steep that the trains required what they called “helper engines” to make the grade.

During the years I worked at the museum, I learned a lot about the Midland Terminal Depot. I learned that the railroad superintendents and their families once lived on the top floor. One of them, the Evans family, had a son who had been recruited to play for the Chicago Cubs – until he fell off the back loading dock and broke both of his arms. I loved to imagine what it was like for the families to open the door to the top floor balcony, giving them a birds-eye view of the city and the mountains beyond. How many feet, I wondered, had trudged up and down the gorgeous cantilever staircase snaking its way up through the middle of the building? I knew that between 1953 (when the museum opened) and 1967, a million museum visitors alone had walked those stairs, admiring the thousands of items on display. The true number then, must have been double, maybe even triple.

In honor of the Evans and the others who called the depot their home, the third floor was furnished as it would have been during the 1890s and early 1900s with a parlor, dining room, bedroom and an office that looked out over the railroad tracks. The office, once the working place of the superintendent, was and still is, dedicated to Ralph Carr, who was raised in Cripple Creek and was elected Colorado’s governor in 1939. The second floor was filled with mining memorabilia, a glass cases with Native artifacts, information about the tumultuous labor wars of 1894 and 1903, the switchboard for the telephone company in the original freight room, and mineral displays that the Smithsonian called “one of the finest collections in Colorado.” There also was a wagon belonging to Winfield Scott Stratton, the district’s first millionaire whose mines once brought in $12,000 a day.

The first floor also contained a freight room, as well as another room which was once displayed as a kitchen but became the Melodrama Room dedicated to the Mackin family. Dorothy Mackin (one of the founders of the museum) and her husband, Wayne, were the ones to begin producing melodrama shows at the Imperial Hotel & Theatre, and incidentally raised their family there. Their son, Steve Mackin, once told me that until he went to spend the night at a friend’s house as a child, he believed everyone had a lobby in their  home. The other room on the first floor contained displays about Cripple Creek’s early gambling history, as well as its saloons and bawdy houses—including the original wooden grave marker of Madam Pearl DeVere.

We had a lot of visitors back then, people from out of town who had never been to the Cripple Creek District, but also locals who had been coming there since they were kids. Some of them, in those early years, remembered and knew the history of the old depot and the other buildings in the museum “complex” (I use that word lightly, since it implies we were some modern museum with sterile buildings. That was certainly not the case). One day, while I was sitting at the ticket desk researching bawdy Myers Avenue in one of the city directories, a lone gentleman came in, bought a ticket, and quietly made his way upstairs. It was over an hour before he came back down, and he asked me what I was reading. I explained about the red-light district and that I was looking for women from Myers Avenue. He asked me a few more questions before a family barged in. They did not want to pay the paltry $2.50 each to go through the museum. They did, however, want to know where there was a cheap place to eat in town. I was giving them a list when the gentleman left.

A little while later a woman, who saw that $2.50 was well worth the price to see the museum, came down. “I see that Steven Spielberg was here,” she quipped. My eyebrows went up and I asked her how she knew this. He had signed his name on the guest register on the second floor, she said. We went up together and viewed the signature. But anybody could write that name even if they weren’t Steve Spielberg, I reasoned. Then the woman said she had just seen him herself, at a wine tasting in Aspen the day before. I asked her what he was wearing. She described my inquisitive visitor to a tee. It was all I could do to keep from closing early and going in search of him, but he had apparently purchased a couple of books at our gift shop and gone on his way.

We had more than just city directories in the way of a library, much more. A door from the gambling room led to the office, which became my very favorite room since that is where most of the documents, photographs, maps, newspapers and other important ephemera were kept. As I got to know my boss, Erik Swanson, and the man who founded the museum, Richard Johnson, I was able to talk my way into working in that room. Soon I was Erik’s “right-hand” woman, and graduated to archivist of the museum. People wanted to know about the history of the 25 or so towns of the Cripple Creek District, important  events, and their ancestors. It became my job to help them find out all they could. A few years later, I became Director when Richard died and Erik left after working at the museum for nearly two decades.

Maintaining a museum with five historic buildings (eight floors combined), expansive grounds, hundreds of thousands of artifacts, and everything else that goes with the largest historical depository in Teller County is difficult – yet we managed to do it with ten staff members, seven board members, and slew of volunteers. We cleaned and repaired artifacts, and tried to identify those that had not been accessioned in previous years. When a miner’s cabin and the former home of French Blanche were donated to us, we had great fun furnishing them the way they would have looked a century ago. Our gift shop also reflected a time long ago, with Victorian and Edwardian reproductions of dishware, old-fashioned candy, Native jewelry, and the largest book selection in the entire county.

Our parking lot was the finish line for the annual Donkey Derby Races. We thought up fun events to host, like fundraisers for other non-profits, art shows and holiday celebrations, and even public appearances by Wyatt Earp’s nephew at the Imperial Hotel. We made unique parade floats and were in at least two parades each year, where we often won first place ribbons. The floats were the cheapest way for us to advertise by getting out into the public and reminding people that this stellar museum was right in their midst.

It was, at the very least, positively refreshing, exhausting and time-consuming to work at the museum, but I loved every minute of it. Much like an addict, I ate, drank, breathed, slept and talked history (which I still do). Working at the Cripple Creek District Museum was truly my fix. And by the time I left there some ten years ago, I regarded the museum in its entirety as a grandmother, someone who needs you to help them stand now and then, whose shoes needed to be polished occasionally, or their old wardrobe patched to make it look new, or their hair smoothed back to look perfect under a feather hat.

Even though I have been gone for a long time, I still maintain a loving relationship with my “grandmother,” the museum. Like I did with others before me, people occasionally contact me wanting to know something about the place and its expansive displays. Or what all those keys go to. Or how, when or why we did something or other on the museum’s behalf. When you know an elderly relative for a long time, you learn everything about them from their mannerisms and preferences to what is inside their cupboards and closets. That is how I feel still about the Cripple Creek District Museum, my once-upon-a-time solace as the one place I could find my footing. You should go visit it. The admission fee is a little higher, but you won’t be sorry. Just be sure to take enough time on your tour for the spirits of the past to warm you and make you feel just like I did so many years ago.

Cripple Creek, A Name Steeped in Song Lore

c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article have appeared in The Colorado Gambler, as well as Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County and Cripple Creek District: Last of Colorado’s Gold Booms

As legendary as the history of Cripple Creek, Colorado is, it is no wonder the place has been immortalized in poetry and song. Local and national authors have addressed the district and its colorful past in numerous books, articles and poems. In the live entertainment circuit, there is a circle dance, the “Cripple Creek Shuffle,” which was choreographed by Larry and Terri Boezeman some decades ago which is based on the song, “Cripple Creek,” by Jim Rast and Knee Deep. There have even been two musical groups calling themselves the Cripple Creek Band. One is here in America ; the other, in Germany, put out its own album/CD in 1996.

Cripple Creek has also been paid tribute in a handful of songs. Many of them have grown obscure over time, but a few actually do more than imply a passing mention to the famous gold district on the back side of Pikes Peak. The three most popular of these are The Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek”, Neil Young’s
“Cripple Creek Ferry,” and the age old traditional tune, “Goin’ Up To Cripple Creek.” But whether any, or all three, of these songs are really about Cripple Creek, Colorado has remained up for debate among music lovers and history buffs.

Up on Cripple Creek she sends me
If I spring a leak, she mends me
I don’t have to speak, she defends me
A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one

—The Band

The 1969 rendition of “Up On Cripple Creek” by The Band was the group’s first—and only—song to make the American Top Thirty singles. Over fifty years later, Canadian musician Robbie Robertson’s catchy lyrics are still heard on classic rock stations all over the country. In Cripple Creek itself, the song has become a sort of mascot tune for the town. But is the song really modeled after Cripple Creek and the kind of place other people only dream of living in? Robertson says not. “‘Up On Cripple Creek’ is…somehow an extension of this American mythology, this Americana,” Robertson once told writer Peter Viney, “going, ‘We’re not dealing
with people at the top of the ladder, we’re saying what about that house out there in the middle of that field? What does this guy think with that one light on upstairs, and that truck parked out there? That’s who I’m curious about.”

However listeners conceived it, ‘Up On Cripple Creek’ has become a legendary tune in the history of rock and roll. The song has been recorded by several artists since its debut. Among them are Bill Monroe and Leo Kottke. But the easy melody and down home lyrics have made “Up On Cripple Creek” especially popular in Cripple Creek, where nearly every local band has included the song in their repertoire for decades.

Hey hey Cripple Creek ferry
Butting through the overhanging trees
Make way for the Cripple Creek ferry
The water’s going down,
It’s a might tight squeeze

—Neil Young

Rocker Neil Young’s ‘Cripple Creek Ferry’ appears to have nothing to do with Cripple Creek, Colorado. It is, however, an interesting addition to the renditions of songs connected to the gold district. The song debuted on Young’s 1970 album, “After The Gold Rush,” a far-reaching link, if you will, to the gold rush Colorado’s Cripple Creek District experienced beginning in 1891. And, since it came out only a year after The Band’s song, “Cripple Creek Ferry” experienced a similar success on music charts. More than likely, however, the song was styled after Cripple Creek, Virginia – although Mr. Young never seems to have commented on it either way. Located south of Wytheville, Virginia’s Cripple Creek is even home to a namesake river (not a creek) running through it. According to author Leland Feitz, the Cripple Creek in Virginia is also located in close proximity to boyhood home of Bob Womack, the little cowboy who is credited with discovering gold in Colorado’s Cripple Creek. When Womack’s family settled in what is now the Cripple Creek District, they may have named the area after their favored homeland. As for Cripple Creek, Virginia, the tiny post office closed in 2011 and the area is now referred to as an “unincorporated community.”

Hey, I got a girl at the head of the creek
Goin’ up to see her about two times a week
Kiss her on the mouth, sweet as any wine
Wrap herself around me like a sweet potato vine

Goin’ up Cripple Creek, goin’ on a run…

If neither of the other songs can be ascertained as being styled after Cripple Creek, Colorado, the old time melody “Goin’ Up To Cripple Creek” can. This traditional bluegrass tune has been a mainstay of Cripple Creek’s famous melodrama shows, as well as numerous plays, commercials and a number of musical groups. In fact the song goes back so far, no one even seems to know who wrote it anymore. In the bluegrass circuit, the catchy little ditty is often accompanied by a fiddle, banjo, or even a mouthbow. The instruments fit right in the with lyrics such as these:

Now the girls up Cripple Creek about half grown
Jump on a boy like a dog on a bone
Roll my britches up to my knees
Wade ol’ Cripple Creek whenever I please

The song, which appears to have been written circa 1917, has been performed a number of well-known artists, including Buffy St. Marie. Locally, Cripple Creek, Colorado’s own Danny Griffith, the musical director for the melodrama shows at the Imperial Hotel for many years, performed the tune at dozens of shows and even recorded it on an album. Today, the song continues to make a reprise at the melodrama shows that are now held at the Butte Theater. It is true, “Goin’ Up To Cripple Creek” is often written off as too old fashioned and even corny. It is, however, a lively little jingle worthy of recognition, if only because it is believed to have truly been written about the Cripple Creek of Colorado.

All-in-One: Grassy, Cameron & Pinnacle Park, Colorado

c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article are excerpted from Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County

Cameron was first known as Grassy, although it was sometimes misspelled on various maps as “Gassy” and “Gassey.” Less-than-astute historians have joked that the community was named after the digestive conditions suffered by a nearby rancher. On a more factual note, Grassy was so-named because it was located in a wide, grass-filled meadow at the edge of a forest. Mines of the Cripple Creek District were nearby and, unlike the hilly and steep streets of the most area towns, Grassy’s flat ground made it very easy to lay out.

   Grassy was almost named Cripple Creek when it was first founded. This was back when Cripple Creek as it is known today was divided by two separate towns, Fremont and Hayden Placer. The towns were ensconced in a heated battle over who would be first to secure a post office. Fremont wanted its name, but Hayden Placer took a competitive edge by choosing the name “Moreland,” a brilliant marketing move that implied that one could acquire “more land” by buying lots there. When the post office accepted Moreland’s name, Fremont founders Horace Bennett and Julius Myers took the competition one step further. In March of 1892, they filed a plat on the northeastern most section of the former Broken Box Ranch and called it Cripple Creek. Promotors Hayden Placer and Fremont had the last laugh, however, when the post office decided to simply combine them into one city and designated the post office name as Cripple Creek.

   In light of the post-designated Cripple Creek, Bennett and Myers changed the name of their platted Cripple Creek to Grassy when it was officially founded in February of 1892. The men had realized that Grassy could become an important mining and railroad hub. The town was officially platted on October 29, 1894 and was intended to be a large city. The main avenues were Prospect, Wolcott, Teller, Blaine, Cleveland, Townsend, Routt, Pitkin and Sherman, intersected by streets numbered one through five. The Midland Terminal Railroad intersected the east half of the town, with a tidy depot located on the southeast corner of Teller and 3rd. Stage services were offered for a time, wherein passengers were brought to the depot to ride the train to Divide and beyond. Meanwhile, the Midland Terminal railroad continued laying tracks headed to the rest of the Cripple Creek District.

   It was soon apparent that Grassy would not be developing very fast, for it was a tad too far from other, more important towns, in the district. A small portion of Grassy was vacated in August of 1895, and by 1899 the town in its entirety was up for sale. Enter the Woods Investment Company, comprised of budding millionaire Warren Woods and his sons Harry and Frank. The Woods boys were already making a big splash in nearby Victor, where they had built much of the town (and rebuilt it after a devastating fire in August of 1899). The Woods purchased the Grassy town site at a cost of $123,000 for 183 acres. The investment was solid enough, for surrounding mines had produced $250,000 in gold ore just that year. Miners, laborers, railroad workers, ranchers, and others were soon moving to Grassy.

   The Woods renamed their newly-acquired town. In July of 1899, the Cripple Creek Morning Times reported that the “Cameron Company that now owns the Grassy townsite, has changed the name of the place to Cameron. Several new houses are now in course of construction there. “Beginning on August 3, Cameron began appearing on the timetables as a stop along the Midland Terminal Railroad. Nice brick structures now lined Cameron Avenue. There were three saloons and even a newspaper, the Golden Crescent. Yet Cameron continued struggling to draw residents and visitors.

   Then, on August 10, readers of the Cripple Creek Morning Times saw a most interesting article. “Sunday an excursion will be run from this city to Cameron, formerly Grassy,” reported the Times. “Pinnacle Park, at Cameron, promises to be a very attractive pleasure resort.” What was Pinnacle Park, readers wondered. It turned out that the Woods had come up with a fabulous idea to draw folks to Cameron. They built a giant amusement park, Pinnacle Park, for the people of the Cripple Creek District to enjoy.

   Spanning thirty acres, Pinnacle Park was built at a cost of $32,500. Matthew Lockwood McBird, son of noted Denver architect Matthew John McBird, and who designed numerous buildings in Victor, was hired to draw plans for the buildings at the new park. McBird was perfect for the job, and was described as “a bit of a visionary, a dreamer and creator.” The fact that he never officially held an architect license in Colorado hardly seemed to slow him down. The man had learned well from his father, and assigned himself to building Pinnacle Park with vigor.

   McBird’s designs gave the buildings at Pinnacle Park hip roofs and angled logs to give the park a rustic look. The place afforded the amenities of any great amusement park: a large wooden dance pavilion with a bandstand, a picnic area, restaurants, carnival games, and an athletic field with seating for up to a thousand spectators. Football and baseball games were the main attraction. Nearby, a zoo exhibited native animals. There was also a playground with assorted popular rides of the day. Entrance to the park was gained via Acacia Avenue, and the Midland Terminal Railroad tracks cut directly through the middle of the park. Visitors came by rail, horseback and carriage, gaining entrance through elaborate wooden arches.

   The first Labor Day celebrated at Pinnacle Park was amazing indeed. Although plans were already in the works for a great festival with a “grand picnic,” the event was turned into a “benefit of the families of Coeur d’Alene miners” who were suffering through violent labor strikes in Idaho. The final plans for Labor Day would feature a baseball game among the Cripple Creek District’s teams. There were a number of other events as well, including greased pole climbing, a “slow burro” race, a sack race, a fifty yard “Fat Man’s” race, a horse race and a dance. Modest entrance fees were charged for everything in the effort to raise money for those in Coeur d’Alene.

   Neither the promoters nor the guests at Pinnacle Park were disappointed. The Labor Day celebration was deemed a great success, from a parade spanning twenty-two blocks which made its way from Cripple Creek, to the games, craft booths, lemonade and cigar stands and entertainment at the park. “The outgoing trains from Cripple Creek to Pinnacle Park were so crowded,” reported the Cripple Creek Morning Times, “that people hung on the sides and scrambled all over the tops of the coaches to get a place to sit.” Furthermore, a “solid stream” of wagons stretched from Tenderfoot Hill above Cripple Creek all the way to Cameron. What a site that must have been!

   In all, over six thousand dollars was raised for the mining families of Coeur d’Alene. Residents of the District came away from Pinnacle Park happy to have had such a day to relax with each other, with no incidents reported amongst the party goers. “It is doubtful if the people of the district ever appreciated before yesterday’s parade what a host of organized working men there are here,” concluded the Times, “or how many different trades and crafts are in the camp.”

   Cameron continued experiencing success. On September 30, an announcement was made that a new “broad gauge” railroad was planned from Colorado Springs to Cameron. The project was led by Irving Howbert and E.W. Gidding of the Cripple Creek District Electric railway, who had hired contractors Clough and Anderson to complete the work. By October, the school at Cameron had fifty two pupils. On December 8 a new post office was established. The name of the office was Touraine, however, “there being a Cameron in another portion of the state,” according to post office officials. The Woods Investment Company closed the year by announcing plans for the Gillett Light & Power Company, which would supply light to both the nearby city of Gillett, and Cameron.

   Interesting is that both the former town of Grassy and the new town of Cameron were listed in the Cripple Creek District directory in 1900. The reason was because the Woods had not yet filed a new plat map for Cameron. The growing population is exhibited by the fact that the Cameron School operated in town proper but a second town, identified as Lower Grassy School appears in the directory as well. Apparently, a portion of old Grassy now functioned as a suburb of Cameron. In Cameron proper, the downtown area offered an exciting array of business houses. The Arcade Saloon and the Cameron Club Saloon and Barber Shop attracted miners, while the more domestic could choose from a number of stores that included Butter’s Store, Home Bakery, Cameron Mercantile Co., G.G. Sweet & Company’s meats and groceries, Williams Dairy, and of course Pinnacle Park.

   As promised, citizens would also benefit from what the Woods called the Golden Crescent Water and Power Company. Within a year, running water would also be furnished to both Cameron and Gillett from Woods Lake. Yet it wasn’t until April 14, 1900 that the new and much improved Cameron was officially platted. C.L. Arzeno and Frank Woods were listed as principle officers on the plat map as Vice President and Secretary, respectively. Unlike nearby Beaver Park, whose naming of “streets” designated it as a blue collar town, Cameron’s roads were called “avenues” and named after local landmarks, including some important mines. The new names included Gillette, Hoosier, Isabella, Touraine, Damon, Pinnacle and Acacia. Just in case rich ore was found beneath the surface of the town, the Woods and Arzeno also wisely retained the mineral rights of all property within the town.

   Labor Day of 1900 appears to have been the record breaker of 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 at the park – nearly $32,000 in today’s money. For a few glorious years, thousands of visitors came to Pinnacle Park every weekend and holiday during the summer. An April, 1900 issue of the Aspen Daily Times also announced that the “continued discovery of gold in the vicinity of Gillett and Cameron confirm the theory so long urged that the Cripple Creek veins extend to an unknown distance to the north.” Mines around Cameron included the Elsmere, Lansing and Wild Horse.

   The Colorado Springs & Cripple Creek District Railroad, a.k.a. “The Short Line”, reached Cameron in March of 1901. A month later, the old post office name of Touraine was finally changed to Cameron. And once again, Pinnacle Park saw record attendance at Labor Day. For a time, it seemed as though Cameron would champion as a leading town in the Cripple Creek District – but that all changed in about 1903, when Cameron’s popularity began fading. The mines around Cameron began playing out and rumors abounded that the Woods boys were in financial trouble. Sales of residential lots at Cameron  came to a stop.

By the time the 1902-03 Cripple Creek District Directory was published, Cameron’s population had shrunk to around 300. The directory now described the town as “small” and located “on the site of the old Grassy settlement”. There was still an Episcopal church, a city hall, Kings Hall and three other clubs, but the business district had dwindled considerably to only a boardinghouse, a grocery, one doctor and the Cameron Crescent.

   The notorious, tumultuous labor wars of 1903-1904 in the Cripple Creek District in took a further toll on Cameron, which was located dangerously close to the center of the mining strikes. The Cameron Crescent went out of business, and in March, several blocks in town were officially vacated. A few months later, just five days into the labor strikes, “Big Bill” Haywood gave a rousing speech to a group of union men at a Pinnacle Park picnic. Haywood urged the miners “to stand with” the Western Federation of Miners until the strike against mine owners was victorious. But owing to the lack of news articles about Cameron during the labor strikes, it would appear that citizens wanted as little to do with the fracas as possible.

Cameron still had about 300 residents in 1905, but notably, neither of the two churches had a pastor and both congregations met at Town Hall. There was still a boardinghouse, general merchandise, grocery, hotel and shoe store, but Cameron was most certainly suffering a slow death. Even though there were a few more businesses in 1907, the population was only 200. The Colorado State Business Directory for 1908 reported the number of residents at one hundred. It would also be the last time Pinnacle Park, now under the management of one Thomas Morris, was listed in any directory. The park closed shortly afterwards. Cameron’s post office closed in August of 1909. A year later, only 50 residents remained in the city proper. By 1912, Cameron appeared as a suburb of Cripple Creek in city directories. Finally, in 1917, Cameron was vacated altogether. Children in the area were able to continued attending the Cameron School until it officially closed in 1921. By that time, only six pupils and their teacher, Miss Mannering, were left.

   The fancy log fence around Pinnacle Park, along with its quaint buildings, was eventually torn down. For years, the logs lay in a heap in the woods just off the former railbed of the Midland Terminal. Brick enclosures built to house bears and wildcats at the Pinnacle Park Zoo were the only remnants left until 2010, when they were dismantled in the wake of mining operations. The materials were stored by the City of Cripple Creek until 2014, when they were reconstructed at the Cripple Creek District Museum. By 2015, what was left of Cameron was quickly being buried under modern mining tailings, and the town is officially no more.

Barry, Colorado: An Early Town in the Cripple Creek District

c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article are excerpted from Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County, Colorado.

As the Cripple Creek District developed into the last official gold boom in Colorado, 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 what was called “a female aborigine” was unearthed. The remains were most likely those of the Ute tribe, since those Natives once favored the area as a summer hunting ground. The area where the woman was found became known as Squaw Gulch.

Leslie Doyle Spell, whose family had been living in Florissant, recalled moving to a new home at Squaw Gulch. “This was a two-room cabin,” he remembered, “with one room used for eating, sleeping and general use while the other was to serve as sleeping quarters for the men.” Spell also remembered a young woman, Emma Rickett of Florissant, who had been hired to help his mother. After Emma died “an agonizing death from blood poisoning,” she became the first woman buried in what was later Mt Pisgah Cemetery in Cripple Creek. There were other tragedies as well: Spell also recalled to small children who were killed by a bear soon after the family arrived in Squaw Gulch. “Quite often,” he said, “while sitting on the porch of our cabin or playing nearby, we would be startled almost out of our wits by the screams of panthers, or mountain lions, in the nearby forests.”

The primitive school at Squaw Gulch was a log house, built by and lived in by cobbler Fred Hackey. The first Christmas at Squaw Gulch merited mention in the Colorado Springs Daily Gazette, which remarked, “Christmas passed very quickly up here and, indeed it seemed hard to realize that it was Christmas. In the evening a dance was held in the loft over Sills & Mills grocery store in Squaw Gulch…a very pleasant evening and their first in Cripple Creek.”

In 1892 Spell’s father, William, donated a lot and building materials for a proper school. His only request was that, should the time come when the building was no longer used for a school, it was to be used for “inter-denominational church services.” Spell became a true leader of the early booming Cripple Creek District, eventually being appointed marshal of Fremont and Placer (which later became Cripple Creek), Mound City and Squaw Gulch. Squaw Gulch even had a small jail, built primarily for the son of a prominent rancher who often wandered home drunk from the saloons and dance halls in nearby Cripple Creek.

As the town grew, Spell remembered brothers Bill and Vint Barry coming to Squaw Gulch and renaming the town for themselves. While laying out their town, the brothers encountered one Andy Frazier, whose cabin sat right in the path of the new main road. Frazier refused to move, explaining his wife was expecting a baby at any moment and besides, he had squatter’s rights. The Barrys built a new house along the proposed street and presented it to Frazier as a gift. The property did not, however, include mineral rights. The Barry brothers might have decided to keep those for themselves, should gold be found in the town.

Spell’s account of the Barry brothers is confusing, since other sources claim that Barry was named for Horace Barry, one of the many prospectors who staked several claims and struck it mildly rich. By the time he came to the District, Barry had already been dabbling in mining for some time. The 1880 census verifies he was working as a miner in Silver Cliff, another mining town in southern Colorado. Upon founding his namesake town, Barry told others he believed the little village would become the “cultural center” of the district. Although Barry merely consisted of a few log cabins and some tents,  its founding father set off a wave of optimism that seemed to affect everyone who came there. Notably, Spell’s recollection came from his memories of actually living in Barry, so his story of the renaming of Squaw Gulch certainly deserves mention and perhaps further discourse.

However Barry was named, nobody seemed to mind losing the name of Squaw Gulch. Barry’s post office opened on March 1, 1892. The small town prospered. Surrounding mines were doing well, and many of Barry’s male residents were employed by the Blue Bell Mine. Shops, restaurants and two or three neat rows of homes lined the road up Squaw Gulch. There were also a slew of new residents. One of them was H. Susan Anderson. “Doc  Susie,” as she was later known, was born in Indiana in 1870. When her parents divorced in 1875, Susan’s father William took custody of Susan and her younger brother John. By the early 1880’s the family was living on a farm in Kansas, where Susan learned to “doctor” the animals around the homestead. The family also resided in Indiana and Iowa, where in 1892 William Anderson married Minnie Croy.

In early 1892 the Andersons moved to Barry, where William pursued mining interests. Shortly after their arrival, Susan and John were sent off to college. Susan’s chosen field was medicine. In 1893 she traveled to the University of Michigan to begin her studies. Midway through her classes, however, Susan’s father cut off her financial report. Susan persevered, borrowing money from a classmate and finishing her schooling. Despite contracting tuberculosis during her internship, Susan graduated in 1897. Upon returning to the Cripple Creek District, she opened an office in Cripple Creek and lived with her grandparents. Being the only female physician in town must have been difficult, but she began taking in more patients after managing to save a boy’s arm from amputation. By 1900 she was making plans to marry. When her fiance and father had some sort of falling out, however, the former broke off the engagement. A few days later Susan’s brother John died from pneumonia at the nearby town of Anaconda. The heartbroken doctor left the Cripple Creek District, finally managing to establish herself in the northern town of Fraser. Doc Susie lived in Fraser until her death in Denver in 1960. She is buried in Cripple Creek.

A more well-known citizen of Barry in the early days was Judge M.B. Gerry, the man who sentenced Colorado cannibal Alfred Packer to hang in 1883. Gerry was a member of Horace Barry’s Squaw Gulch Amusement Club, as were prominent rancher George Carr and well-known cowboy Bob Womack. Tongue-in-cheek advertisements for the club boasted “a membership of 400, of which 399 are from the high-toned aristocratic circles of Squaw Gulch.” Square dances and libations were offered up at the Club, and for a short time the place was the premier social center of the neighborhood.

Not surprisingly, the Squaw Gulch Amusement Club proved lucrative for the soiled doves who eventually flew into town. Les Spell remembered when a brothel opened in the vacant house next to the family home. The place maintained a low profile, and one of the girls had a little boy who often played alone in his backyard. One day Spell’s brother asked the boy to come over and play. The child replied, “No, my mother is a whore and says I am to stay home.” Another time, a cowboy was sleeping off a drunk at the house of his favorite call girl. As he slept, the gentleman’s mischievous companion donned his overalls and rode down Main Street on his horse.

Barry had other amusements too. There were two newspapers, Write Up the Camp and the Squaw Gulch Nugget. Articles might have included news on Horace Barry, who was investing in various mine interests and was an officer at Sam Altman’s Free Coinage Mine above Victor. Barry, however, was also suffering some setbacks with his investments. In January of 1893, The Aspen Daily Times reported that “John F. Newman filed this  morning in the district court a suit for $125,000 and legal interest from April 5, 1892, to the day of judgement against Horace W. Barry and Caleb W. Barry. The plaintiff alleges that he was the owner of 100,000 shares of mining stock of the Anaconda Mining & Milling Company at Cripple Creek until about April 5, 1892. That the defendant and other parties misrepresented the value of the stock b reporting falsely upon the output of the property and thus inducing the plaintiff to dispose of his stock for $5000.00 to the defendant, Horace W. Barry, and that he did not discover the intent to defraud him until October.”

Barry’s namesake town, meanwhile, was also being swallowed up by the new town of Anaconda at the head of Squaw Gulch. The town newspapers went out of business, and in December of 1893 the post office was moved to Anaconda. By 1894 Barry had been totally absorbed by the larger town. Horace Barry eventually left the area, and continued dabbling in mining. By 1899 he was in Denver, and in 1903 the Iowa Press-Citizen newspaper in his home state of Iowa reported, “The Valley Mining company today sued its general manager, H.W. Barry, M.I. Barry and Laura Barry Elmendorf, for $2,000 in damages, and asked for writ of attachment against Mr. Barry’s property and against certain shares of stock, now held by the other defendants. The petition avers that Barry made misrepresentations as to the title of certain property, and that he misused funds entrusted to him. The plaintiff further declares that Mr. Barry has disappeared from Silver Cliff.” Barry later surfaced briefly in Denver and California before disappearing altogether.

Image: Barry as it appeared circa 1893. Fred M. Mazzulla collection.

Bandits and Badmen: A History of Crime in the Colorado’s Cripple Creek District

c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

The following is excerpted from Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County, Colorado, Cripple Creek District: Last of Colorado’s Gold Booms, the Single Action Shooter’s Society and Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls: Prostitution in Colorado 1860-1930.

The last of Colorado’s great gold booms occurred in the Cripple Creek District, high on the backside of Pikes Peak, in 1891. Prior to that, the ranchers populating the area were hardly concerned with crime. The busy bustle of city life had yet to descend on the area. With the discovery of gold, however, the region’s status quickly turned from that of quiet cow camps and homesteads to several rollicking boomtowns within a short distance, each complete with the accompanying evils.

The growth of crime in the newly founded Cripple Creek District grew in proportion to the swelling population as prospectors, merchants, doctors, attorneys and a fair amount of miscreants descended upon the area. Marshal Henry Dana of Colorado Springs once joked that crime was down in his city because the law-breakers had all moved to Cripple Creek. He wasn’t far off. Already, rumors had circulated for some time that the Dalton Gang of Kansas had used the area as an outlaw hideout. As the district grew, the Dalton’s moved on to their fateful end in Coffeyville, Kansas.

But for every outlaw who left the area, there was another one to take his place. Bunco artists, robbers, thieves and scammers soon descended upon the district in great numbers. The Cripple Creek District was still in its infancy and would lack proper law enforcement for some time. Only after Cripple Creek ruffian Charles Hudspeth accidentally killed piano player Reuben Miller while attempting to shoot the bartender at the Ironclad Dance Hall did the city ban guns for a short time. But it was already too late. Cripple Creek’s outlaws were already blazing their own bloody path through history.

By 1894, gangs and undesirables were running rampant throughout the district. “Dynamite Shorty” McLain was one of the first bad guys to make the papers for blowing up the Strong Mine in the district city of Victor during labor strikes. There was a gang hanging around Victor too, headed by the Crumley brothers. Grant, Sherman and Newt Crumley, lately of Pueblo, found the pickings quite ripe and soon fell in with outlaw Bob Taylor and his sister Nell, Mrs. Hailie Miller, Kid Wallace and O.C. Wilder.

Sherman Crumley was especially susceptible to running with would-be robbers. In May of 1895, he and Kid Wallace were arrested after five armed men robbed the newly formed Florence and Cripple Creek Railroad. Apparently a “toady” named Louis Vanneck squealed after receiving less than his share of the loot, which primarily consisted of money taken from passengers. Wallace went to jail, but the popular Crumley was acquitted. Following the incident, the Crumley gang contented themselves with cheating at poker and rolling gamblers in the alleys. Sherman was also a known thief, often stashing his loot in abandoned buildings around smaller communities like Spring Creek just over Mineral Hill from Cripple Creek.

The Crumleys remained in the Cripple Creek District for some time, until Grant shot mining millionaire Sam Strong to death at the Newport Saloon in Cripple Creek in 1902. Grant was not without good reason, for Strong had suddenly pulled a gun on him and accused him of running a crooked roulette wheel. Still, the killing of a man was not a reputation the Crumley’s wished to sustain, and the threesome quickly moved on to Tonopah and Goldfield, Nevada. Grant quickly earned a fine reputation as a man about town, while Newt became quite respectable and even owned the fabulous, four-story Goldfield Hotel for a time. His son, Newt Jr., would become a state senator.

The activities of the Crumleys were actually quite minor compared to those of “General” Jack Smith and his followers at the district town of Altman. Miner, poet and Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph columnist Rufus Porter (aka the “Hard Rock Poet”) once wrote a ballad about the town’s first marshal, Mike McKinnon. The honorable lawman died following a gunfight with six Texans (but not, allegedly, before he killed all six outlaws). Porter may have actually been recalling an incident from May 1895, when outlaw General Jack Smith dueled it out with Marshal Jack Kelley. Smith had been running amuck for some time and had been warned by Kelley to stop trying “to run the town in his usual style.” On May 14, Smith wrapped up a night of drinking by shooting the locks off the Altman jail, thereby freeing two of his buddies, who were already incarcerated for drunkenness.

Smith wisely left town, but the next day, a constable named Lupton and one Frank Vanneck located him in a Victor saloon. “I want you, Jack,” Lupton said, to which Smith replied, “If you want me, then read your warrant.” Lupton began reading the warrant, but Smith appeared to go for his gun. The constable quickly pinned the outlaw’s arms while Vanneck shoved a gun to Smith’s chest. Smith was arrested with a bond of $300. He managed to pay the bond quickly, however, and was next seen riding toward Altman “with the open declaration of doing up the marshal who swore the complaint.” Altman authorities were notified as Lupton and Victor deputy sheriff Benton headed for the town. By then, Smith had already gathered a small force of men, including one named George Popst.

The bunch headed to Gavin and Toohey’s Saloon, where Smith started ordering one drink after another. Outside, Lupton and Benton met up with Marshal Kelley and set out in search of the General. Kelley “had just lifted the latch of Lavine and Touhey’s [sic] saloon, when ‘crack’ went a gun from the inside. The ball struck the latch and glanced off.” Kelley threw the door open and shot Smith just below the heart. From the floor, Smith fired and emptied his own gun as Kelley continued shooting him. Outside, Benton fired a shot through the window that hit Popst. “The latter may recover,” predicted the newspaper, “but Smith is certain to die.” Popst also died, about a week later.

Saloon shootings in the Cripple Creek District occurred with such frequency that sometimes, they were hardly regarded as newsworthy. An 1895 article in the Colorado Springs Gazette reported half-heartedly that Joe Hertz, a.k.a. Tiger Alley Joe, was shot above the Denver Beer Hall in Cripple Creek by Clem Schmidt. Hertz staggered down to the bar exclaiming, “That crazy Dutchman shot me!” A few minutes later, he fell to the floor and died. The Gazette neglected to follow up on the crime or make comment on its effect in Cripple Creek. The year 1896 did not prove much better for the lawmen of the district. General Jack Smith’s widow, a prostitute known as “Hook and Ladder Kate,” masterminded the robbery of a stagecoach outside of Victor. In early April, Coroner Marlowe was contending with the likes of J.S. Schoklin, who dropped his loaded gun in a saloon and subsequently fatally shot himself in the side.

On April 25 and April 29 during 1896, Cripple Creek suffered two devastating Cripple Creek that sent residents into a full blown panic as much of the downtown area and hundreds of homes burned. Folks hurried to rescue what they could in the wake of the flames. Thousands of goods and pieces of furniture were piled high in the streets. It was prime picking for looters and arsonists, the latter whom set even more fires to instill further panic so they could rob and steal. In response, firemen, police and good Samaritans beat, clubbed or shot the law-breakers as a way to restore order.

Petty crimes and robberies continued intermittently for the next few years, and brawls and gunfights were common throughout the district. Crimes increased dramatically when the Cripple Creek District rallied against Colorado Springs to form Teller County in 1899. El Paso County clearly did not want to lose its lucrative tax base from the rich mines of the district. Arguments over the matter turned into all-out screaming matches, fights, and shootings. Thus the newly formed county, with Cripple Creek as the county seat, found itself besieged with lawlessness, free-for-all fights in the saloons along Myers Avenue, and high-grading of gold which was so widespread it was hardly thought illegal.

For several more years, law enforcement continued grappling with the outlaw elements around the district. Incidents making the papers included the death of James Roberts, who was clubbed with a gun and left to die on the floor of the Dawson Club as other patrons urged him to the bar for a drink (a portion of Roberts’ skull, used in testimony against his killer, is on display at the Cripple Creek District Museum). Down in Cripple Creek’s infamous red-light district on Myers Avenue, prostitute Nell Worley was arrested for shooting at a man breaking down her front door. Nell was arrested  because the bullet missed its mark and hit a musician on the way home from the Grand Opera House instead. Luckily he was only injured.

Indeed, Myers Avenue was peppered with illegal gamblers, pick pockets and drunks who felt free to wave and fire their guns at will. The red-light district spanned a full two blocks, offering everything from dance halls to cribs, from brothels above saloons to elite parlor houses. Crimes, suicides, death from disease and frequent scuffles were the norm on Myers Avenue, where anything could happen – and eventually did. Today, Madam Pearl DeVere remains the best-known madam in Cripple Creek, and her fancy parlor house, the Old Homestead, remains one of the most unique museums in the west.

Over in Victor, vice-presidential nominee Theodore Roosevelt visited in 1900. His purpose was to speak to the masses of gold miners about the virtues of switching to silver coinage. Clearly, that wasn’t a great idea, and Roosevelt was attacked by an angry mob of protesters as he disembarked from the train. Cripple Creek postmaster Danny Sullivan is credited with keeping the crowd at bay with a two by four until Roosevelt was back on the train. A year later Roosevelt visited again, this time as Vice President. This time he was treated much kinder, although the apologetic city council of Victor kept him entertained for so long that he barely had time to visit Cripple Creek before departing.

When labor strikes reared their ugly head once again in 1903, citizens of the district found themselves pitted against each other. Union and non-union miners fought against one another. Neighbors stopped speaking to each other. Down in the schoolyards, even children fought on the playground over a debate they actually knew little about. Soon, miners were being jailed and/or deported from the district, and one time the entire staff of the Victor Record newspaper was arrested for publishing an unpopular editorial. Things reached a head when professional assassin Harry Orchard set off a bomb at the Vindicator Mine and blew up the train depot at the district town of Independence.

Now, corruption politics reared its ugly head. During a heated election debate in the district town of Goldfield, deputy sheriff James Warford was hired to oversee the elections. According to Warford, Goldfield constables Isaac Leibo and Chris Miller were shot in self defense when they refused to “move on.” An examination of the bodies, however, revealed both were shot from behind. Eight years later, long after the strikes had been settled, Warford was found beaten and shot to death on nearby Battle Mountain. His murder was never solved.

Within a few years, the Cripple Creek District’s gold would soon become too expensive to mine, and folks slowly began moving away. The sharks and scheisters moved on too, in search of fresh pigeons to pluck. It would be many more decades before legalized gambling would find its way to Cripple Creek, bringing a whole new, modern generation of eager residents, as well as the accompanying crimes.

For history buffs, there are still some mysteries remaining in the district yet. In Mt. Pisgah Cemetery at Cripple Creek, a wooden grave marker was once documented as reading, “He called Bill Smith a Liar.” Urban legend has it that after gambling was legalized, renovations of Johnny Nolon’s original casino in Cripple Creek revealed, a body in a strange shaft under the building. During the excavation of an outhouse pit at the ghost town of Mound City during the 1990s, remains of a perhaps quickly discarded revolver were found. These and other mysterious remnants still surface now and then, to remind us of the many other crimes the lively Cripple Creek District once witnessed.

Image: James Roberts’ skull remains on display at the Cripple Creek District Museum. Courtesty Jan MacKell Collins.

Clyde, Colorado began as an early stage stop

c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article are from Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County, Colorado.

   Prior to the gold boom in the Cripple Creek District, folks wishing to access today’s Teller County used a series of wagon and stage roads. The oldest of these was the Cheyenne & Beaver Toll Road Company which began in Cheyenne Canyon near Colorado Springs and joined what is today known as Gold Camp Road. The route was originally established in 1875. Two years later the name of the road was changed to the Cheyenne and Beaver Park Toll Road. At the confluence of Bison Creek and Middle Beaver Creek, a new wagon road veered off towards Seven Lakes, a resort just below the summit of Pikes Peak. A stage stop was established at this junction which would later be known as Clyde.

   Though only a stage stop, services at Clyde did include a place to stay for the night, as well as food, and libations. Clyde prospered as the last stop before the ascent to Seven Lakes. The road running by also prospered, its name changing again in 1879 to the Cheyenne, Lake Park and Pikes Peak Toll Road Company. With the gold boom in the Cripple Creek District beginning in 1891, the road through Clyde gained even more popularity as the shortest route to the district from Colorado Springs. Promoters, including the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, spent upwards of $18,000 to improve the toll road.

   Miners especially found Clyde a great place to escape from the throngs of people swarming the Cripple Creek District. As merchants of Clyde prospered from these and other travelers, a post office opened under the name Seward in August of 1896. The name was changed to Clyde in October of 1899, after the son of resident George McCarthy. The post office application explained that the office would serve 35 people but was expecting to serve 100 or more in time.

   The families at Clyde were of the hard-working variety with lots of children. Being far away from good medical facilities, unfortunately, took its toll on babies in this remote spot, resulting in a higher-than-usual mortality rate. Unable to afford tombstones, or to reach nearby established graveyards in winter, many ranch families simply buried stillborns or infants on the family property. Most of these graves were never marked and have subsequently been forgotten over time.

   The Colorado Springs & Cripple Creek District Railroad (CS & CCD), later called “The Short Line”, was built through Clyde in 1899 on its way to the District. The railroad was developed by mine owners who were sick of paying expensive freight fees to the Florence & Cripple Creek and the Midland Terminal Railroad, both of whom also extended to the District. Irving Howbert, president of Colorado Springs’ First National Bank at the time, convinced the mine owners they could finance their own railroad. Howbert, of course, became president.  The railroad was a limited success; even with the renowned Seven Lakes Resort above town abandoned, passengers still favored accessing trails to Pikes Peak from Clyde via the Short Line.

   George McCarty continued serving as postmaster at Clyde in 1900 while working on the side as a miner. The Cripple Creek District directory for that year notes that Clyde was referred to as Clyde City, a sign that locals hoped the town would grow larger. At the time, however, only a few miners were living there. Another resident was W.S. Gerber, a saw-mill operator who was renting a home from P. McNeny. The house was located next to the post office building which was owned by a Mr. Swink. In May, Gerber, hoping to cash in on insurance money for his household goods, burned both buildings (Gerber beat a hasty retreat to Nebraska but was arrested for the crime upon his return in January of 1901). Counting Gerber, the entire population, according to the 1900 census, only numbered twenty-nine people. And to McCarthy’s disappointment, the post office closed in September.

   Those who loved living at Clyde refused to die with the town. Over the years Clyde, as well as a number of satellite camps, remained home to several settlers who knew there were still plenty of ways to make a living there. One of the outlying communities was Saderlind, identified on a 1901 CS & CCD timetable as a stop between Rosemont and Clyde. The whistlestop was located roughly 2.2 miles from Rosemont and 6 miles from Clyde. How many people lived at Saderlind proper is a mystery, since they were counted as residents of Clyde and only appeared in the 1910 census.

   There were plenty of visitors to the area, too. Majestic Cathedral Park was just up the road. Area prospectors continued searching for gold. Ranchers benefited greatly from the wide meadows and ample water. And when Vice President Theodore Roosevelt passed through on the Short Line in August of 1901, the community was in a buzz for days.

   Soon, the Short Line was in hot competition with the Midland Terminal, which had been charging two dollars for a round trip ticket between Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek. A fare war started, ending when the Short Line successfully beat out the Midland at .25 cents per round trip. The resurgence of interest in Clyde was so good that Frank Cady, postmaster at the Love post office nearby, submitted a new application to reopen the post office at Clyde. Cady cited 140 people as living at Clyde, with the total number of people using the post office at 300. Clyde’s post office successfully reopened in September of 1901.

   With the post office back in place, a new rail station and water tank were constructed in November. There was also a school. There was also Cathedral Park, just around the bend from Clyde along the railroad. The “sublime scenery, fantastic rocks and cathedral spires” of this amazing formation beckoned passengers from the Short Line, which offered daily excursions to the park. Awaiting patrons was a dance pavilion complete with a corrugated iron roof, a five-room “dwelling” and two refreshment stands installed by the company. It was perhaps around that time that an artificial lake was constructed at Clyde for recreational purposes.

   What with people enjoying themselves looking at the natural wonders around Clyde, there was little crime reported until 1904, when assassins Harry Orchard, Johnnie Neville and Johnnie’s son Charlie camped near Clyde. The group was working on behalf of the mine owners during a most violent and tumultuous labor war in the Cripple Creek District. Orchard was orchestrating a plan to blow up the depot at the Cripple Creek District town of Independence, which the group did successfully on June 5. Thirteen men were killed and several others injured.

   Throughout the early 1900’s, Clyde’s population remained at a mere handful of residents. In 1905, when the number was around fifteen citizens, the figure included Joseph D. Schneider who had married his sweetheart, Elmira May Moore, in 1895. The couple homesteaded at Clyde in 1905 and Schneider worked as a section boss on the railroad. The family homestead, meanwhile, grew into a large ranch totaling 2,000 acres. In his early years Schneider was known as “difficult”. When he bought his first car he was in the habit of yelling “Whoa!”, cussing at the vehicle when he wanted it to stop, and even jumping from the newfangled machine when it went out of control. Later in life his demeanor softened.

   The population of Clyde remained at fifteen through 1908. Still on board were schoolteacher Miss J.E. Kenton, as well as station agent and postmaster Chas. F. Redman. But the tiny village could hardly justify its post office, which closed a final time in September of 1909. The number of people shot up to an amazing eighty three residents in 1910, but that number included numerous railroad workers who were likely temporary. Eighteen section hands shared quarters in the railroad’s section house, ten of them being Greek immigrants. Eight others were Japanese. Also living in Clyde was school teacher Harry G. Goves. Two other people worked at the Clyde  Timber Company. The McCarthy family was still there too, including young Clyde who was now eighteen years of age. Clyde and his brothers were employed as farmers on the family homestead.

   The 1910 census at Clyde is notable because at the time, several small satellite camps surrounded the community. They included Rosemont, Saderlind, Summit, Bald Mountain, Bunker Hill District and Seven Lakes. At Bald Mountain there were only five residents. They included prospectors Frosty Clemens, Frank Nelson and James Snodgrass, all widowers in their forties and fifties. Frosty Clemens in particular was a character of sorts whose name has become legend in his part of the country.

   Born in 1865 in Missouri, Clemens was allegedly a cousin of Samuel Clemens, better known as the prolific writer Mark Twain. By the time he arrived in the area, Clemens was a widower who apparently had been prospecting for some time. Local folklore cites that Clemens dug several mines but never found much in the way of fortune. Ultimately, according to legend, Clemens died in 1916 when “he pulled a permanent lid of gravel down over himself in one of his mines.” It is also believed that he built what is now known as Frosty Clemens Trail in Frosty Park.

   The Bunker Hill District was located on Bunker Hill between Bald Mountain and Rosemont. Residents of the district were all farmers, most of whom had departed the area by the time of the 1920 census.

   With the formation of Pike National Forest, a ranger station was built at Clyde between 1912 and 1917. The Cripple Creek District mines were dwindling, and fewer people were using the Short Line. When the dance pavilion roof at Cathedral Park collapsed during a heavy snow, nobody bothered to rebuild it. Former resident Glenora Meyers also remembered that the school house was just one room with 12 or so students. Those who still loved the peaceful paradise that was Clyde, however, maintained a number of homesteads in the area.

   Longtime homesteaders included Isadore and Minnie Meyers, who moved to Clyde from the Cripple Creek District city of Goldfield in 1914. The family home was a one and a half story cabin made from square logs. The bottom floor contained the front room, kitchen, and bedroom for the Meyers. Their many children slept on the second floor in a large room divided by a curtain for the girls and boys. A cellar was stocked with vegetables and canned goods. The outhouse was out back. Water was carried from Middle Beaver Creek across the road. The Meyers’ daughter, Glenora, remembered that “there never was any shortage of snow in winter. Sometimes, the snow drifts were so high that we could walk over the tops of the fences. Of course, to go anywhere, the road had to be shoveled out by hand or plowed out with what was called a go-devil. This was a triangular shaped contraption that was weighted down with rocks or sometimes with us kids and pulled by our faithful team of horses.” At Christmas and other times, the family would take a trip to Victor with hot rocks wrapped in newspapers to keep everyone’s feet warm.

   Beginning in about 1917, the Meyers alternated their time between Clyde and a nearby place they simply called “Camp” near Gould Creek. The family felled and sold timber at Camp. They were also farming by 1920. The family lived briefly in Colorado Springs, where Minnie died in 1926. Isadore continued living in both Colorado Springs and at Camp through at least 1940.

   A year after the Meyers first migrated to Camp, the telegraph office at Clyde closed. It was replaced by a telephone system so train engineers on the Short Line could talk with the dispatcher. In 1920, however, the Short Line ceased operations altogether, and residents of Clyde were counted in the population of Victor during the census that year.

   Today, the old stage road that preceded the Short Line meanders onto the private property comprising Clyde. Two miles from where Middle Beaver Creek has washed out, the old road is a home lived in by the Reifenrath family during the 1920’s. John Reifenrath is believed to have built the large log house, which contained four rooms downstairs and four bedrooms upstairs, each with its own closet. The 1920 census lists John, his wife Mary and their children Edward and Lucille living there. John worked as a farmer and stockman.

   Stories of Clyde reflect that there were still a number of residents there throughout the 1920’s. Around 1921, a particularly heavy rainstorm threatened to break the dams up at Seven Lakes. The children of Clyde were gathered in the second story of the ranger station, which was quite sturdy and thought the safest place to put them. Everyone survived, and in 1922 the old railroad bed gained new life when W.D. Corley purchased it at auction for $370,000. Corley, a coal operator-turned-capitalist, beat out three other bids, including one representing mining millionaire A.E. Carlton. Corley tore up the tracks, filled in the trestles, and turned the rail bed into the Corley Mountain Highway toll road. The toll was one dollar and on a good day, reaped $400 in fees.

   The toll road enabled others at Clyde to prosper as the area remained a popular picnic ground. In 1924 Jim and Helen Schneider moved into the former Clyde Pavilion and converted two of its rooms to living quarters. In 1927 a new post office application was submitted by the Clyde Eating House but was denied. During the 1930’s, Pike National Forest took over the Corley Mountain Highway, renamed it Gold Camp Road, and opened it for free to all.

   The Schneiders and their children continued living off the land. They grew hay, harvested block ice from some nearby caves, and traded hand-churned butter to Seven Lakes caretaker Clyde Reynolds in exchange for fresh trout. The Clyde School closed in 1936. The last teacher was Mr. McComb, who was known for his excessive drinking habits. Into the 1940’s, Clyde next served as a stopover for mule trains training soldiers from Camp Carson in Colorado Springs. The soldiers gave the Schneider children candy bars and bought moonshine from the family.

   For a time beginning in 1947, there was a hotel at Clyde called the Clyde Inn. One of the Schneider children, Hank, was now living with his wife Ida in the old school. Their furnishings in the large classroom included a grand piano from the Victor Opera House in nearby Victor. Also during that time, Chuck and June Bradley moved to the area and purchased much of Clyde to use as their family ranch.

   Clyde resident Frances Kramer remembered that the Clyde Inn was closed up and shuttered during the 1950’s. The hotel was later purchased by some investors from Colorado Springs, but burned to the ground on September 9, 1954. Clyde’s last school survived, however, and was purchased by Robert and Laverne Rayburn in 1954 for $1,500.00. The Rayburns installed a door between the attached teacherage and the schoolroom, expanded the kitchen and added a second bathroom, fireplace, back door and picture window.  

   The Bradley family, meanwhile, continued purchasing ranches, including that of the Schneiders, throughout the 1960’s. In 1974 Chuck Bradley subdivided lots at Cathedral Park Estates and tried to sell them, but the effort was in vain. Picnic tables that had been present at Clyde were dismantled by the Forest Service during the 1980’s even as Gold Camp Road remained a popular tourist destination. When Teller County commissioners attempted to close the old railroad tunnel outside of town in 1988, residents of Clyde and others complained until the tunnel was reopened.

   These days, the school and former ranger station are all that really survive of old Clyde. The historic area remains as private ranching property; folks driving down Gold Camp Road are cautioned to obey all no trespassing and private property signs.

Image: A 1933 picnic near Clyde.