Category Archives: Cripple Creek Colorado

Cripple Creek, Colorado : A ghost seeker’s paradise

c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

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

From the haunted rooms of historic structures to the wanton spirits of the mountains, Colorado has always been alive with ghosts of the dead. They roam the places of their former lives, invisible to most. Some seem to no longer know why they are in that half-world, wandering aimlessly and hopelessly forgotten. Others, in their quest to be remembered and finish tasks they left behind, make their presence known to a selected few of the living. Or do just a selected few choose to see what many will deny is there?

It is true, every camp, fort, village, boomtown and city in this state has its own ghastly group of tragic and sometimes frightening apparitions. The historic Cripple Creek District of Colorado in particular seems to have its own ethereal share of manifestations and specters. Random inquiries during a stroll down Bennett or Victor Avenues inevitably unearth a plethora of twisted tales, both old and new. Most natives of the district, as well as the newcomers of the last 30 years or so, can be enticed to tell of some experience they’ve had, or some experience someone else had, or even some experience they simply know of.

Some of Cripple Creek’s ghost lore can be attributed to nothing more than a promotional gag, told again and again until most believe such rot. Other of the tales, however, have an eerie ring of truth, accompanied by a chill down one’s spine. Hundreds of ghost sightings have surfaced over time, with new ones popping up regularly. The district fairly seethes with its overpopulation of the undead. This makes a most curious aspect of the ghosts and goblins in the Cripple Creek District. Why are there so many?

The answer may lie in Cripple Creek’s colorful and incredibly fascinating past. For some 130 years, people have come here seeking wealth and success that was guaranteed by promoters, developers, idealists and even friends and family. Especially in the old days, fantasy often turned to an ugly reality by way of bad mining claims, bad decisions and bad habits. Within the high rolling hills of the district, dreams were won and lost in a day. The violent and cruel hands of death visited often, and many a heart shattered beyond all repair from a variety of ailments.

It is no wonder then, that the Cripple Creek District seems rife with spirits. When the mining boom began its decline, folks who had clung so hopefully to their dreams here finally dispersed. But they didn’t do it in droves like in many other boomtowns. Rather, abandonment of the Cripple Creek District was slow and gradual, spanning over a period of ten years. As families scattered to the winds, they left behind mere shells of their former lives here.

For many decades, the numerous ghost towns in the district remained as silent sentinels. The empty buildings seemed so badly to want someone to come in and use the goods and furniture left there. But only the ghosts remained, wandering the empty rooms and treading the quiet streets, determined that the occasional visitor or remaining resident might take notice of their frustrating plight. Homes were said to be haunted, and some found themselves crossing the street to avoid walking by certain abandoned buildings.

Even those residing in business buildings were not safe from the occasional unearthly visit by a former occupant. The handful of year-round citizens came to know of certain places inhabited by spirits. During Cripple Creek’s tourist resort years beginning in the late 1940s, ghost stories became as well known as stories stating historical fact. The folklore merely added to Cripple Creek’s charm, and everyone, including several specters, seemed agreeable to this chapter in the city’s wonderful history.

Then came legalized gaming in 1991. Almost over night, Cripple Creek and the district around it was crawling with real live humans. They were excited with anticipation of what this new enterprise might bring. Old buildings were entered for the first time in decades. Their innards were removed as new carpet was laid and fresh paint stained the walls. One of Cripple Creek’s former favorite past times, gambling and drinking, was revived with vigor. Surely some spirits rejoiced as folks resumed doing what they themselves had done a century before.

This time, however, the gambling houses and sampling rooms were quite different in atmosphere. Accompanying the Victorian bar setups, glass chandeliers and flowing staircases were machines, wonderful colorful slot machines operating on electricity and making enough noise to indeed wake those of the dead who were still sleeping. The electric energy which burst into life on Bennett Avenue was enough to send Cripple Creek’s spirits into a frenzy. At last, someone was waking up the past and remembering those who had been forgotten.

Before long, casino workers were reporting unexplained incidents left and right. Tip jars were moving, sometimes dashing right to the floor in a terrific bloom of glass and money. Voices, footsteps, squeaks and grunts were being heard. Fleeting glimpses of unknown creatures were constantly caught from the corner of one’s eye. There were cold drafts in hallways and unseen physical forces on stairwells. Perfume wafted up in empty rooms, and music was heard when there was none playing. One casino even caught an incorporeal visitor on a security camera, sitting at a slot machine in the wee hours of the dawn!

Now, some 30 years after gaming has come to Cripple Creek, the city is slowly changing. The ghost town look of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s is evolving back into an appearance more like the city had a century ago. Notable is that some historic structures have fallen in the wake of this progress, with newer buildings taking their place. But one thing is sure: Cripple Creek will not disperse its ghostly residents. They’ve already been rattling about for over a century, and the clanging and banging of a newly awakened town can only strive to bring them out even more. The spooks and spirits are here to stay, and they will remain long after we are gone. It is only when we pass to that other mysterious world ourselves that we might get a taste of what it’s like to be a ghost in Cripple Creek.

Image: Look closely at this photo of modern day Cripple Creek, and you might just see some ghostly folks from the past. Image enhancement by Jan MacKell.

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.

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.

Bison Park: Victor, Colorado’s Private Playground

c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

This article is an excerpt from Collins’ book, Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County, Colorado.

Local legend records Bison as a logging camp dating to the 1860s and located between Cow Mountain and Pikes Peak near today’s Cripple Creek District. The east fork of West Beaver Creek feeds today’s Bison Reservoir, which, in turn, drains into Bison Creek running south. In 1874, Quincy King, who had just recently discovered the eventual nearby resort of Seven Lakes, partnered with two other men to form the “Smith, King and Unrue” mining claim in Bison Valley on the east fork of Beaver Creek.

The few mine diggings aside, Bison Park remained a pristine and most scenic area. Here, a road wound through lush trees to a quiet, wooded valley which opened into wide green meadows. Amazingly beautiful rock formations towered around the valley. Cabin ruins in the woods today attest to times when people worked or lived in the area. The remaining treasures also include a small Victorian home, built as a caretaker’s house in 1893. The spacious floor plan allowed for two bedrooms, a parlor, a dining area and a kitchen.

As the Cripple Creek District gold mining boom got under way, real estate men flocked in droves to settle small towns throughout the area. On July 2, 1895, a plat map for the “Bison Park Town Site” was surveyed by R.W. Bradshaw and filed in El Paso County. The map reads more like an advertisement, with the following description:

“Bison Park is a romantic and picturesque place. It is in the main mineral belt south of the Peak and is already surrounded with good mines. It is also on the established route of the [Colorado Springs & Cripple Creek District] Railroad. Hence it is destined to become a town of considerable importance. Moral: Buy lots while they are cheap.”

Alas, the railroad declined to pass by Bison Park’s remote location, and the plat map shows that the town was vacated in September, 1895. The scenic valley was not lost, however, on the nearby City of Victor. In July 1901, the city proposed purchasing 213 acres of the park from the owner, a woman named Mary Miller, for $10,000. The plan was to build a reservoir as a water supply for local residents. The Altman Water Company, which already sold water to Victor, raised a slight ruckus at the idea. In the end, however, the city successfully completed the purchase. Bison Reservoir was constructed in about 1901. Several mining claims—namely, the Park Placer, Park Placer No. 2, Old No. 9 and a small portion of the Maggie A—were covered with water. As for Bison Park, the area remained as gorgeous and pristine as it ever was.

In more modern times, Bison continues to serve as Victor’s water supply but is also home to the Gold Camp Fishing Club. Membership to the club is extended to only Victor property owners, who take much pride in maintaining the area’s natural setting and historic sites. Much of the park is surrounded by BLM land. Numerous members actively volunteer their time, money and labor to Bison Reservoir. The grounds are frequently the scene of weddings, memorials, fishing tournaments and a host of other activities. In essence, visitors to Bison respect the land and its surroundings so that future generations can enjoy this natural playground for many years to come.

Please be respectful of this historic area by refraining from trespassing beyond the locked gates at the entrance.

Image of Bison Reservoir c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins.

The Short-Lived Life of Lanter City, Colorado

c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article are from Colllins’ book, Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County, Colorado

Alternately known as Lanter, Lantern, Lander’s, Landres and Landen, Lanter City hoped to become the next thriving metropolis in Teller County as the nearby Cripple Creek District boomed during one of America’s last great gold rushes. But alas, the effort was a failure. In about 1896, Lanter City first came into being and was described as being located on Pikes Peak, near a toll road leading to the top of of “America’s Mountain.” Roads from Lanter City probably led not just to Ute Pass between Colorado Springs and Woodland Park, but also the Pikes Peak Toll Road and perhaps even Edlowe between Woodland Park and Divide.

Around the turn of the century, as the Cripple Creek boom continued, the Fountain Creek Mining District was formed in the area that would later include Lanter City. The effort was just one of many, made in hopes that the amazing gold riches from the Cripple Creek District extended further. Though only four miles square, the Fountain Creek Mining District was comprised of thirty eight claims. At the time, the land on which Lanter City was situated was owned by one Henry Law. For three days, November 7, 8 and 9, 1900 surveyor L.J. Carrington platted and laid out the town in the vicinity of the North Star Gold Mining Company. First, Second and Third Streets were intersected by Carrington, Main and Parshall Avenues.

Lanter City’s desire to grow was indicated by a November, 1900 advertisement in the Colorado Springs Gazette. “Wanted,” the ad read, “Men and women to engage in all kinds of business at Lanter City in the Fountain mining district five miles north of Pikes Peak. One shipper and lots of good prospects. Take stage at Woodland Park. For information address Tyler and McDowell, Woodland Park, Colo.” The ad was presumably taken out by Robert Lanter, who appeared in various news articles about the budding boomtown.

Response to the advertisement was apparently positive, for on November 30 Robert Beers, who had purchased some nearby  land in 1891, platted his own Robert Beers Addition in Lanter City. The addition created 5th, 6th and 7th Streets, as well as Hartman Street. Not much happened, however, until 1900 when Lanter City at last made the newspaper. The December 3 edition of the Colorado Springs Gazette identified the “camp” as being located near Cascade in El Paso County, but “to the north of Pikes Peak.” In fact, the article wondered if Lanter City was not destined to be the next Cripple Creek. “Local mining men have been rather indifferent until very lately but it certainly must be admitted now that the camp…at least calls for respectful attention,” said the paper. Of particular interest, according to the article, was that gold was being found in the area. That news was enough to entice a mining group from Victor in the Cripple Creek District to hire one of their “experts” to come have a look. The man found several claims and figured that ore in the area was worth between $20 and $80 per ton.

County records show that Law was only able to sell only eight of the lots at Lanter City, to four different buyers. During the town’s heyday, however, there were twenty homes, a livery stable and a blacksmith shop. News of the town continued drifting into newspapers. “Ed Weston of Lanter City was in [Colorado Springs] Sunday,” read an article in January of 1901. “Mr. Weston, with Messs. McDowell, Foster and Wheat, have leased the Rico lode and will proceed at once to find what is in it.” On February 27, another article hinted a post office was soon to be established, but that never happened. Other news articles told of “Uncle Billy” Parshall who staked the Louise claim in April, and progress on the McCleary brothers’ mine in May. Also in May, fourteen more lots were sold at Lanter City. By October, plans were underway to build a steam plant on Lord and Dean’s claim just southwest of town.

Unfortunately, the gold mines around Lanter City simply weren’t enough to create the boom everyone was hoping for. Aside from gold mining, Lanter City’s other main industry was intended to be logging, until the Pike National Forest was established in 1907 and the homesteaders there became considered trespassers. In 1908 Henry Law bought back all of the lots of Lanter City and sold his city in its entirety to the Empire Water and Power Company for just $3,000. The company planned to build four reservoirs, but eventually sold the property to the City of Colorado Springs in 1930.

With the city officially deserted and owned by Colorado Springs, Lanter City was vacated for good. Five years later, South Catamount Reservoir covered about half of the old townsite. Researchers Kimberly Carsell and Kimberle Long believed they found five or so ruins at the site in 2000, as well as a large “glory hole” at the south end of the valley. Any remaining  mines were sealed by the Colorado Division of Reclamation and Mining Safety in 2008. Today there is nothing left of the town.

High Park City was on an Early Route to Colorado’s Cripple Creek District

c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

This article is excerpted from Collins’ book, Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County, Colorado.

If nothing else, the road on which High Park City was located served as the first route for prospectors and other travelers to make their way between the Arkansas Valley and the Cripple Creek District—the latter being the last of Colorado’s great gold booms. Today, High Park Road is alternately known as Teller County Road 11 and eventually leads to Canon City. Passengers on this road enjoy a scenic drive through high country meadows dotted with both historic and modern homes.

The High Park City & Cripple Creek Toll Road was first incorporated by John K. Witcher, R.K. Potter and S.P. Maderia of Cripple Creek in 1896. An alternate route skirted around the base of Mt. Pisgah outside of Cripple Creek and through Box Canon, with an intersecting road leading to what would soon be High Park City. The area around High Park seemed lucrative enough. It was a good place to raise cattle. Area farmers could grow crops and sell their goods in the booming Cripple Creek District some twenty miles away, but also at Canon City. The area also proved good for prospecting. J.M. Kellogg was locating claims around High Park for the firm of Barbee, Bastian and Kellogg in January of 1896, and gold ore from the Red Oak Lode was assaying at $23.00 per ton. Within a few weeks, more prospectors were converging on the spot. The Cripple Creek Morning Times of February 6, 1896 reported that three other miners by the names of Grant, Wagner and Griffith were busy prospecting there.

Prospectors, ranchers and farmers would all benefit from the newly proposed High Park City, although mining was a primary focus. “Robert Boath was in yesterday from High Park and reports a flourishing condition of things, both as to mining prospects and as to High Park City,” said the Mining and Industry Review magazine in February. “The location of this new town is about one mile west of Four Mile and near the old Wicher [sic] sawmill. A number of buildings are now underway and a livery barn, hotels, restaurants and other enterprises will soon be open for accommodation to the public.”

As in the case of other towns which lay outside of the Cripple Creek District proper, everyone was hopeful that the already sizeable goldfield would expand as more gold was found. “A good deal of prospecting is being done in the neighborhood of High Park some ten miles west of Cripple Creek,” reported the Colorado Transcript newspaper in far-away Golden. “The district is constantly spreading out.” At the time, High Park City seemed destined for greatness. Even before it was platted, T.P. Rigney of Cripple Creek was already selling lots at the townsite.

High Park City was formally platted on March 5, 1896 by the Greatest Gold Belt Mining Company. Streets bore the names of local minerals including Trachyte, Porphry [sic], Granite and Phenolite, intersected by Doubleday and Rope Avenues. There was also a High Street and Main Street. Progress was quick, as reported in Leadville’s Herald Democrat a few weeks later. “High Park City, one of the new mining camps in El Paso County, now has a dozen buildings completed and as many more in process of construction.” Notable is that Teller County would not be formed for another three years.

The post office at High Park City opened in June of 1896. The population was guessed to be around one hundred people. But in spite of wagon and horse traffic flowing through High Park City regularly, there wasn’t much to report. In the end, mining prospects were not as good as expected, and the post office closed in June of 1899. The 1900 Cripple Creek District directory described High Park as a “small settlement between Cripple Creek and the Bare Hills. ” In fact, the Bare Hills post office, in Fremont County, was now serving citizens of High Park City. It is no wonder, since business had slowed down considerably. According to the directory only eleven men lived there, some with wives and children. Others, such as rancher Joseph Stinger and prospector Thomas Hilliard, were identified as living three or four miles from town.

The 1900 census is a bit more telling about the residents of High Park City. They consisted mostly of ranchers and farmers. In town, there were two boarding houses run by Mary Mitchell and Minnie Allen, respectively. The presence of a cook indicates there might have been a restaurant. The population also included a sawmills owned by Robert K. Potter and Nelson Hackett, a veterinarian, a bookkeeper, a school teacher and two wood choppers, but only six miners. Almost all of the residents were married and had children.

For a time, High Park City did experience a brief resurgence, and the post office reopened in 1902. When postal authorities closed it again in 1913, local residents rallied for a protest. The post office reopened once more in 1914. Finally, in 1917, as the Cripple Creek District mining operations continued closing and people left the area, the post office closed one last time. That was the end of High Park City, which today is no more than a wide spot in the road. No buildings remain.

Image: Famed photographer William Henry Jackson captured this photo of cowboys branding calves in High Park City. Courtesy Jan MacKell Collins.

I’ve Been Shot! Film Making in Colorado’s Pikes Peak Region

c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article have appeared in Kiva and the Colorado Gambler magazines.

If the experts are correct, over 300 films have been shot in Colorado over time. Narrow that number down to movies that have been filmed in the Pikes Peak region, and the estimate seems small. For well over a century, the wild, enchanting landscapes around Colorado Springs, Cripple Creek and Canon City have been catching the eye of prominent film makers from around the world. Thomas Edison, for instance, is credited as the first film producer to realize the potential of Colorado’s scenic wonders. In 1891, Edison produced the first ever moving picture. Shooting live film was a new and difficult process, and Edison’s films in those early days only averaged between 30 seconds
and two minutes in length. But they fascinated theater goers who had never imagined it was possible to capture people moving on film.

In 1897, Edison had fine-tuned his techniques enough to send an employee, James Henry White, out West to shoot motion picture films. White’s first stop was Colorado, where he filmed a number of short, unscripted scenes. His earliest attempt in El Paso County lasted 2 ½ minutes and depicted cattle being forded across a stream and branded. Other efforts recorded Ute Indian dances, downtown scenes of Denver and an obscure piece known as “Cripple Creek Float.” The projects immediately caught the eye of local railroad companies who saw commercial value in them. The idea of producing an actual story on film was not far off.

Edison’s real breakthrough in Colorado came with the 1898 production of a 45 second film called “Cripple Creek Barroom”. The scene depicts a number of men drinking and playing poker while being served by a “barmaid” who was actually a hefty man dressed in women’s clothing. A drunk enters the room, knocks the hat off of one of the customers, and is unceremoniously escorted out by the crowd. Although it was actually shot at Edison’s Black Maria studio in New Jersey, “Cripple Creek Barroom” was important for a number of reasons. First, it shows how Cripple Creek was indeed famous across America. It was also the first time a film maker actually created a story on film. Today, “Cripple Creek Barroom” is considered among movie buffs as the first western ever filmed.

Other filming locations would take place in Colorado. In 1902, the Selig-Polyscope Company of Chicago followed the trail of Edison by establishing their own agent in Colorado. His name was Henry H. “Buck” Buckwalter, a Denver photographer who jumped at the chance to try film making. Buckwalter also took several photographs in and around Cripple Creek. On the side he also ran his own projecting company
and during the summer months showed his own projects, as well as movies sent to him by Selig, in Denver and Colorado Springs. Over the next six years, both Edison and Selig-Polyscope shot more films in both Colorado and their respective eastern studios.

Another famous film that has survived the era was Edison’s 1903 production called “The Great Train Robbery”, a four minute western that was filmed in New Jersey. Buckwalter countered with two more projects: “Girls in Overalls,” filmed on location in Gunnison and “Tracked by Bloodhounds; or a Lynching at Cripple Creek”. Both features were eight minutes long, a record since most producers did not believe an audience’s attention span would allow for sitting still so long. “Tracked by Bloodhounds” was especially interesting, since it was filmed around Cripple Creek in April 1904. Like “The Great Train Robbery”, the film involved murder and a posse chase, ending in a shoot out and subsequent death of the villain. Backdrops included downtown scenes of Cripple Creek.

At the time the filming took place, the Cripple Creek District was in the throes of a violent labor war. Buckwalter and Selig saw little action while filming in April. But when professional assassin Harry Orchard blew up the train depot at the district town of Independence in June, Selig made the most of the incident. Certain advertising for the movie’s premier insinuated that the events in the film were real, and that the villain was actually a striking miner instead of the tramp that was portrayed. Newspapers across the nation, already aware of the explosion at Independence, further exploited the film in merely trying to get to the truth.

Later in 1904, Buckwalter produced another film called “Holdup of the Leadville Stage”.
This movie was actually filmed along Ute Pass and in the vicinity of Bear Creek Road.
Buckwalter managed to get the Colorado Springs Gazette to run a detailed news-like story about the “real” hold up. Only at the end of the story did the paper let readers off the hook: “The robbery was committed in broad daylight and posses immediately started in pursuit and this morning they will be photographed in moving pictures and the most exciting film ever made in the mountains of Colorado will be completed.”

By 1907 Colorado was becoming a film mecca and Buckwalter moved to Golden to shoot more films. In 1911 Selig relocated to American City, located above Central City. Three films were shot there, and at least one was sensationalized in the Gilpin County Observer as an actual bank robbery. In the fall Selig relocated again, this time to Canon City. The first Selig film shot there was “The Telltale Knife”, starring Tom Mix. From 1911 to 1914, more movies were filmed in Canon City and surrounding areas. By then, the standard movie ran about 15 minutes. Most of them used the same crew of actors,
namely Tom Mix, Joe Ryan, Josephine West, William Dunn and Myrtle Stedman.

After winning the Royal Gorge Rodeo Championship in 1909, Mix initially worked as a film technician before his wild riding and shooting stunts won him parts in the movies themselves. His first film appearance for Selig had been as a bronco buster in the documentary “Ranch Life in the Great Southwest”. In his off time, Mix worked and drank at several local watering holes. They included saloons in Hell’s Half Acre (now known as Brookside outside of Canon City), Prospect Heights (now a suburb of Canon City) and the Canon City Elk’s Lodge. Occasionally, Mix’ drinking sprees landed him in jail at Prospect Heights. In Cripple Creek, part of the district’s folklore revolves around Mix working at various bars in town, as well as performing ranch hand duties at the Crescent Ranch near Divide.

Despite Mix’ growing stardom in Canon City, attention turned to Cripple Creek once again in 1912 with the production of another silent Western called “At Cripple Creek”. Details as to the producer and location of this film are obscure. The script was written by Hal Reid and starred Wallace Reid, Sue Balfour and Gertrude Robinson. Throughout the rest of 1912, Selig continued churning out short westerns from Canon City. They included “Jim’s Vindication” about a man who is framed for robbery and flees while
trying to clear his name. Tom Mix is noticeably absent in this film, having opted not to renew his contract and moving on to Hollywood. In his stead, Selig introduced actress Myrtle Stedman, as well as actor William Duncan who wrote and produced the project. “Jim’s Vindication” was followed by two more Duncan productions, “A Ranger and His Horse” and “Buck’s Romance”. Both films starred Myrtle Stedman with Duncan as her leading man.

In 1913, a final Duncan production was released by Selig titled “Matrimonial Deluge”.
Selig eventually moved to Prescott Arizona and went on to produce several other high action packed films. Upon his departure from Canon City, the Colorado Motion Picture Company was formed by ex-Selig employees, including actors Josephine West and Joe Ryan. The Canon City Chamber of Commerce held a contest to see who could come up with the best logo for the company, with A.R. Livingston of the Empire Zinc Company and one Alva Wood taking honors. Colorado Motion Picture titles included “The Range War”, “Across the Border”, “The Hand of the Law”, and “Cycle of Destiny”. Today, only one known film survives. Ironically it is the company’s first production, “Pirates of the Plains”. Like its predecessors, “Pirates” was shot in Canon City and released in 1914.

Not to be outdone, Colorado Springs hurried to compete with Canon City’s film industry. Plans were announced in May of 1914 for the arrival of Romaine Felding, the highest paid actor/producer in the world at the time. Fielding intended to shoot some films on location, including the Hagerman Mansion which is today’s El Paso Club. Fielding remained in Colorado Springs from June through August. Whether he actually shot any footage is unknown, but his sudden departure may have been influenced by the July drowning of actress Grace McHugh and cameraman Owen Carter in the Arkansas River during the making of “Across the Border” at Canon City. While crossing the river McHugh’s horse stumbled, tossing her into the water. Carter jumped in, and the two managed to crawl onto a sandbar before the cameraman lost his footing and the couple went under once more. Their bodies were later found downstream, and it was said that McHugh’s mother won a court case against the Colorado Motion Picture Company. That was the end of film making in Canon City for the time being.

With Canon City out of the picture, so to speak, Colorado Springs filmmakers continued churning out movies. Notable is that Silver Dollar Tabor, the ill-fated daughter of silver king Horace Tabor, surfaced in town and began working as an actress for the Pike’s Peak Motion Picture Company sometime around November of 1914. The job did not last long and Silver moved on, but not before scoring a supporting actress roll in a production of “The Greater Barrier”. Filmed at Colorado College, this provocative movie about a white girl and her Indian beau addressed interracial dating and no doubt raised some eyebrows.

In the meantime, the Pike’s Peak Photoplay Company was emerging as another important Colorado Springs film company. One of their film locations was the former Heidelberg Inn in Ramona, a now defunct suburb of Colorado City. The closed up barroom was used to film a number of westerns over one summer. The building itself was razed in 1921, but movies continued to be shot in the Pikes Peak region throughout the 1920’s. In 1925 a few movie scenes were filmed for a Warner Bros. production of “The Limited Mail” around Canon City. They included footage of the Royal Gorge and even a train wreck. But the ideal location had lost its appeal for the time being, especially with the premier of “The Great K & A Train Robbery” in 1926 starring Tom Mix, Dorothy Dawn and a very young extra hired by Mix: John Wayne. Most of the scenes were shot in Glenwood Canyon, far away from Canon City.

The depression era did much to squelch movie making for about a decade. Then Tom
Mix died in a car crash near Phoenix, Arizona in 1940. But the mid-40’s found directors back in Colorado, striving to make spaghetti westerns with world wide-appeal. Productions included 1947’s “The Marshal of Cripple Creek” starring Red Ryder and 1948’s “Canon City”, starring Charles Bronson and based on the actual escape of 12 inmates from the Colorado State Penitentiary. When the crews left, a local man named Karol Smith established the Canon City Motion Picture Committee and produced a location manual to be sent to Hollywood producers. The ploy worked. In 1950, the first film to premier in Canon City’s new film era was “Vengeance Valley” with Burt Lancaster and Slim Pickens. “Vengeance” was followed by “The Denver and Rio Grande”. In 1952 another movie, “Cripple Creek”, premiered. While the fictional film was not shot on location, it does mention Victor and Goldfield. The tagline capitalized on Cripple Creek’s bygone mining era, declaring “For every man who struck gold—hundreds tried to take it away from him!” The plot was complete with shoot outs and fist fights to give it authentic western flavor.

In 1953 yet another film, “The Outcast” with John Derek, was filmed at Canon City. This
was followed by 1954’s “Big House USA”. In 1958, Karol Smith assisted in creating Buckskin Joe, a museum-quality assemblage of historic buildings from around the state (including one from Cripple Creek). The historic setting has continually provided an excellent backdrop for such westerns as “Cat Ballou” with Jane Fonda, “Boom Town” with Clark Gable, “Misfits” with Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, “The Last Round Up” with Gene Autrey, “The Cowboys” and “True Grit” with John Wayne, “The Dutchess and the Dirtwater Fox” with Goldie Hawn, “White Buffalo”, “The Sacketts”, “Conagher” with Sam Elliot and Kathrine Ross and “Lightening Jack.” The closing of Buckskin Joe in 2010 truly signified the end of Colorado’s frontier film-making era, but you can read about movies made in the Centennial State between now and then by clicking here.

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

c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Altman, the Wickedest Town in Colorado’s Cripple Creek District

c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article are from Jan’s book, Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County, Colorado

Nobody seems to agree about the exact altitude of Altman, one of the more notorious towns of the Cripple Creek District. The 1894 Cripple Creek District directory located the town at 10,500 feet. Author Robert L. Brown reported that Altman sat at 10,700′. Historian Allan C. Lewis more accurately calculated the town’s height at 11,150′. Newspapers of the day claimed the town sat at 11,650′. The Colorado State Business Directory of 1908 guessed the altitude to be 11,146 feet. The Cripple Creek District Directory for 1915-16 claimed an altitude of 10,728 feet. At the very least, everyone agrees that during its heyday, Altman was the highest incorporated city in the United States. Altman citizens, and later historians, also liked to claim the town was actually the highest in the world. It wasn’t, according to Brown, who said that honor actually went to La Paz, Bolivia.

What is known for sure is that Altman, situated at the top of the Cripple Creek District with a clear view of Pike’s Peak, was platted on September 25, 1893 by Samuel Altman. In 1891, Sam owned the Altman Mill in Squaw Gulch a mile or so away. He also owned two local mines. Further away, Sam also operated a sawmill in Park County’s town, Lake George, during the 1890’s. Altman had purchased the Free Coinage Mine on Bull Hill before founding his namesake town nearby.

In its infancy, Altman grew very quickly. The population may have soared as high as 1,200 in 1893. The main thoroughfares included Main, Baldwin and Brown Streets. Business buildings were of the wood, false fronted variety. Four restaurants, six saloons, six grocery stores, a schoolhouse and 200 homes already dotted the hillside by the time the town was platted. Almost immediately, a few roughnecks moved into town. On October 10, 1893 four newcomers, Felix Parrow, Robert McCullough, Harry Cavanaugh and Jim McDonald showed up at W.R. Goodey’s saloon. The men spent a most pleasant night playing cards for drinks. Around 4 a.m., however, the men suddenly broke into a fight as a ruse to rob the place.

During the fray, barkeeper John Ashby was whacked in the head with a gun and “laid out”, while faro dealer J.S. Bush was disarmed. In all, the robbers took $610.00 in cash and another $350.00 in checks, along with five gold watches and a pair of bracelets. Within a day, however, one of the robbers had already been arrested. Next, in November, ex-prizefighter George Lear was labeled a “Green Monster” by newspapers when he shot and killed a dance hall girl named Irene Goode in a jealous rage. Lear got his; a short time later, Altman bartender Sam Jones killed Lear at Kilday & Sullivan’s Saloon.

As of January 1894, Altman’s population was guessed to be around 2,000 residents. Prominent citizens included Peter Hettig, who was credited with opening the very first store in nearby Cripple Creek when that town was founded. Likewise, Hettig also opened the first store on Bull Hill near the Pharmacist Mine. Altman’s authorities likely hoped for the best as a post office was established on January 18, 1894 in what was then El Paso County. But even this news, was soon overshadowed as Altman unwittingly became a major player in the labor war of 1893-94. Beginning February 1 local mine owners, including Sam Altman, changed their employees’ work day from eight to nine hours per day—for the same daily wage of three dollars. Rather than bow down, however, the miners took matters into their own hands and simply walked off the job on February 2.

As word spread through the District, the residents of Altman decided to drive their point home—by leaving altogether. “The entire population of the camp packed up their effects,” reported the Aspen Daily Times on February 7, “and a motley procession was formed, including miners, saloonkeepers and their outfits, merchants with their stocks and the denizens of the brothels. The hilarious cavalcade moved to Cripple Creek and within a few hours the camp was deserted.” Other miners expressed their desire to follow suit, and a walkout from every mine in the camp was planned for February 8.

Failing to get a proper response to their actions, the population of Altman was soon back, openly declaring their hometown a union town. Most of the residents were pro-union anyway and before long, the Free Coinage Union Local No. 19 opened its doors for the first time. In the meantime, mine owners succeeded in procuring court orders to cease striking, but they were to no avail. As the highest town in the District, Altman afforded views in all directions and offered relative security from invading forces. The Western Federation of Miners (W.F.M.), led by John Calderwood, soon found a home in town and successfully closed Altman to all but union men. Union membership cards were required of anyone wishing to enter town.

Angered mine owners next hired a number of temporary deputies to disperse the miners at Altman. During one encounter in March, six sheriff’s deputies on their way to Altman were accosted by the town’s own police staff. A fist fight broke out and shots were fired. One deputy was wounded, and two others were arrested for carrying concealed weapons. El Paso County Sheriff Frank Bowers was enraged and sent a message to Colorado Governor Davis H. Waite. He claimed a deputy was actually killed, Waite later said; hence, the governor allowed fifty special sheriffs to be deputized and sent up from Colorado Springs.

Embellishments such as Bowers’ fib to Governor Waite continued. Adjutant General Thomas J. Tarsney also received word that the strikers were rioting and causing mayhem. Tarsney hurried to the Altman but encountered only “disheartened but dedicated miners” and was ready to rescind his offer of assistance by the time Bowers secured numerous warrants against the men. Tarsney also played witness as the men surrendered. Only one was tried and acquitted, the others released without going to trial. Bowers’ actions incensed the strikers. On May 25 a group of men attacked the Strong Mine above Victor, disarmed the guards and blew the mine to smithereens. Only three men who were in the mine at the time suffered no more than shock from the explosion. A short time later, during a clash of mining strikers versus Colorado Springs deputies and a number of anti-union men, two strikers were killed and five were arrested.

More violence followed; in June another scuffle broke out as deputies cut the telegraph wires at Altman, arrested reporters who were covering the event and were exchanging gunfire with miners on Bull Hill when a fresh militia was sent by Governor Waite. But so many lies were being told by men on either side of the war that Waite ultimately visited Altman himself and called for a civil mediation in Colorado Springs. On June 11, the strike was finally settled.

Altman recovered nicely from the labor war, but continued on its raucous path. By late 1894 the population was said to have soared to more than two thousand people. Businesses were flourishing. They included the two-story Hill Top Hotel, the Altman Oyster and Chop House, the Belmont Restaurant, a watchmaker and jeweler, and several general merchandise stores, restaurants, laundries, books and stationary stores, bakeries, liveries and boarding houses. There were also six saloons where hard-working miners toasted their town on a regular basis. Adjacent Towns. Cripple Creek, CO: Hazeltine & Co., publishers, May 1, 1894 p. 148-149)

When authorities announced plans to close the growing community’s post office and move it to the town of Independence down the mountain in 1895, the citizens protested at an “indignation meeting”. The problem, postal authorities explained, was that Altman was simply too darn high to be lugging mail up and down the mountain. It was a hard point to argue. In the end it was agreed that all mail for Altman would be directed to Cripple Creek. From there, the mail would be delivered to Altman by Faharbeck Brothers express company, and distributed by M.L. Dowling. A telegraph was also sent to the House of Representatives, explaining the situation and requesting an investigation into the matter. The post office was indeed moved to Independence during the investigation, but a month later it was re-established at Altman. The citizens had conquered once again.

With their post office back in place, the outlaws around Altman felt free to start their shenanigans once more. In March of 1895 a four-horse stage was coming down the hill from town when three men jumped out of nowhere. In their attempt to stop the stage, one of the men grabbed the lead horse’s bridles. Instead of slowing down, however, the stage driver simply snapped his whip. The horses “made a jump and rushed down the road, throwing the would-be robber to the ground and apparently running over him.” As much as Altman’s citizens declined to put up with much, however, the town did gain a reputation for being a rough-and-tumble sort of place. History buffs over time have sometimes stretched the truth, stating that the local undertaker even offered to give group rates for funerals on Saturdays. When poet and Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph columnist Rufus L. Porter wrote a ballad about the town’s first marshal, Mike McKinnon, dying after a gunfight with six Texans (but not, allegedly, before he killed all six outlaws), people accepted the story as fact.

Porter may have actually been recalling a real scenario which played out in May of 1895. In that case, outlaw gangster “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, 1895, Smith wrapped up a night of drinking by shooting the locks off of the Altman jail. Inside were two of his buddies, who had already been arrested for drunkenness. Smith wisely left town as soon as his friends were free, 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.” As Lupton began reading the warrant, Smith appeared to go for his gun. The constable quickly pinned down the outlaw’s arms while Vanneck shoved a gun to Smith’s chest. Smith was taken to court and a hearing was set with a bond of three hundred dollars. The angry outlaw bonded out immediately and was next seen riding towards Altman “with the open declaration of doing up the marshal who swore the complaint.”

Lupton made a quick call up to Altman (presumably by telegraph) to warn of Smith’s threat. Then he mounted his own horse and headed for the town with Victor Deputy Sheriff Benton. Meanwhile, Smith had made it to Altman where he 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 emptied his gun and Kelley continued shooting him. Outside, Deputy Benton fired a shot through the window that hit Popst. “The latter may recover,” predicted the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper, “but Smith is certain to die.” Popst also died, about a week later.

Marshal Kelley had barely recovered from the ghastly shoot out with General Jack when a bartender at another saloon was killed and robbed in early September. This time, two men entered the place which was occupied by the barkeep and two other men. The robbers abruptly shouted “Throw up your hands!” even as one of them shot the bartender three times. “And this is after he had thrown up his hands,” it was noted, “a signal which even bandits respect.” The bandits only netted seventy dollars for their trouble, because the bartender had wisely hidden the bulk of his nightly proceeds in a safe place before he was killed. The robbers remained elusive to authorities until two men fitting their descriptions turned up in the El Paso County jail for robbing a Wells Fargo Express. Kelley lost no time in visiting the jail to see the men, Lloyd Marye and Pete Wilson. The men were indeed the ones Kelley was looking for.

Surprisingly, the gritty events at Altman were not enough to deter the Denver Chamber of Commerce from coming through for a day visit later that month. And when the Miners Union Ball was hosted in Altman in December, an advertisement promised the dance would “be the event of the season.” Residents around Altman, including families, miners and business folk, clearly learned to work around the rowdy outbursts of certain citizens. In January of 1896 Mr. and Mrs. H. Wolf were driving the road up to Altman from Goldfield when two men stopped them. The gentlemen bandits relieved Mr. Wolf of his valuables, but let Mrs. Wolf keep hers. A short time later the men, identified as Mike McMillan and Jack Haggerty, were arrested in Goldfield.

Altman was finally incorporated on July 25, 1896 and David B. Rhoads was declared the first official mayor. Within a year, the population was said to have doubled to 1,000 people. Serving the citizens of Altman were an assayer, bakery, drugstore, general merchandise store, grocery, hotel, jeweler, shoemaker and tailor, also two dry goods stores, two liveries, two meat markets, two physicians and two restaurants. Four barbers were also on hand. Six saloons served thirsty miners at all hours of the day and night. They included the Thirst Parlor, The Mint, The Silver Dollar, and the Monte Carlo. Newcomers and visitors to town could choose from eight boardinghouses. Around the town, approximately thirty seven mines employed miners and other blue collar workers. Their children attended the Altman School, overseen by schoolmaster Thomas Roundtree. For the ladies, Mitchell’s Millinery offered stylish hats. And, Altman’s own Weekly Champion newspaper reported the goings-on through the whole town.

In June, Sam Altman began suffering financial woes starting with a lawsuit against his Free Coinage mine. Back in January of 1896, he had already sold his interest in the Free Coinage mine to fellow mine owner Sam Strong. Altman eventually moved to Colorado Springs, where he died in 1922. Long before that, Altman’s town carried on swimmingly. In April of 1896 it had been announced that a new water works plant was being planned. And in October, the Florence & Cripple Creek railroad announced plans to build a spur to Altman. Soon, Altman had grown large enough to begin calling a portion of it “South Altman”. Amongst the fancier hotels at Altman during 1897 was the Altman Hotel and the Hill Top Hotel.

Altman was just starting to look like a real first class city when another shooting occurred, in April of 1897. The perpetrator in this case was Jack Cox, who had been in Cripple Creek since 1895 after being pardoned for murder. Cox had been gambling and drinking all night at McElroy and Coll’s Saloon. With him were his best friend, Bob Daily, also another friend, Sam Loshey. At 10 a.m. the next morning, Cox and his friends were still at it when a fight broke out. Said to be “crazed with liquor”, Cox opened fire and killed Daily. He shot at bartender J.C. McElroy too, but missed. His third shot killed Loshey, too.

Following the shootings, Cox ran for the door. On his way out he encountered Harry Miner, another friend whose mother ran the boarding house where Cox lived. Miner was also shot, which fortunately only broke his arm. Out on the street, Cox saw Town Marshal Ed O’Brien coming and fired yet again. This time the marshal returned fire, seriously wounding the murderer. Cox lived to stand trial, but three witnesses on the stand didn’t seem to know why the fight broke out. After some confusion, Cox finally explained that the “witnesses” were actually his gang members, and the argument had been over stolen goods. The men were arrested. In the end, Cox was found guilty of murder. He was lucky, as Colorado’s death penalty had only recently been abolished by the legislature. 

By August of 1897, Altman’s baseball team was playing other District teams regularly at Mt. Pisgah Gardens outside of Cripple Creek. Later that same month, Miss Marie Nelson, a professional singer and former student at Altman’s school, returned to perform for her home town. By September, however, the natives were restless yet again. This time, miners Pat Gildea and Jerry O’Donnell had a round at Goodley’s Saloon. The two had been at each other since an altercation during the Corbett-Fitzsimmons boxing match clear back in March. At Goodley’s, Gildea was arguing with saloon manager George Savadge when O’Donnell decided to chime in. “Maybe you want some of this yourself,” sneered Gildea, striking O’Donnell twice in the face and knocking him down. Then he gave him a kick for good measure. O’Donnell rose to his feet. He was covered in blood, and mad. “You wouldn’t do this if I hadn’t been drinking, and I don’t believe you can whip me anyway!” he retorted. The fight was on. This time, when Gildea hit O’Donnell in the face again, the latter pulled a knife and sliced his opponent right across the guts. Gildea was able to run outside, bring in a rock and clobber O’Donnell again before onlookers broke up the fight. By the next day, Gildea was suffering terribly with internal bleeding and died soon after. O’Donnell was arrested.

During 1898, Altman’s bad boys seemed to calm down a bit. In its New Year’s Day edition, the Cripple Creek Morning Times noted South Altman was “a place worthy of commendation”, and explained that “more miners make their home in Altman than any other town in the district.” The town appeared to be doing just fine with a population of 2,000, electric lights, a telephone company and a postal telegraph company. The Florence & Cripple Creek apparently concluded there was no way to lay tracks to the high town, but residents were still hoping that David Moffatt’s Golden Circle railway would come there instead. Meanwhile, Altman continued living up to the Morning Times‘ expectations. By February the city had its own Bull Hill Literary Society, a French club and a Ladies’ Aid Society. Crimes were still being committed, but they were half hearted efforts at best. When two men robbed Mutterer and Blass’ Saloon, they only got four dollars and nobody was even hurt.

The dwindling crime element took an even stranger turn one night in October when Edward Callahan ran into police headquarters at Cripple Creek. He told officers he was turning himself in for shooting two men at Altman. Callahan was out of breath, he said, because “he had started to this city on horseback but could not ride fast enough, so he had jumped off the horse and run. [And] it was very evident that he had run,” according to the Cripple Creek Morning Times. After some investigation, Marshal O’Brien finally found a witness to the shooting. The man said he had seen Callahan fire his Winchester twice at hillside, but he hadn’t shot at anybody. Meanwhile, Callahan “told a marvelously bloody tale of how he had shot the two men all to pieces, but every time he told it, the story took on new phases, until it was clear that he was non compos mentis.” The police put him in jail until they could take him to Colorado Springs and “care for him.”

Another rather comical event was said to have taken place in December of 1899. The Denver Times reported that Mayor Thomas Ferroll decided the people of Altman had no need for that newfangled contraption called a telephone. When the Colorado Telephone Company attempted to install telephone poles in town, Ferroll retaliated by chopping two poles down. The mayor was made to pay for the poles, as well as the wages of the telephone workers. Ultimately, Altman did succeed in obtaining a single telephone located at Morrison & McMillan’s store.

Although the population had dropped in half by 1900, Altman still retained its school and city hall. In addition to the usual saloons, there were also two restaurants, a drugstore, assay office, two mercantiles, and four boardinghouses. There was even a Justice of the Peace and a volunteer fire department. As promised, the Golden Circle railroad was providing transportation to a station just west of Altman. Citizens could also frequent a number of organizations including the Home Forum Benefit Order, and two chapters of the Red Men. Two unions prospered as well: the Free Coinage Miners’ Union, and the Stationary Engineers’ Union. And as usual, there were four saloons in which to whoop it up on Saturday night. There were two churches too, and one of them oversaw the marriage of mining millionaire Sam Strong to Altman resident Regina Neville. The couple had barely been pronounced husband and wife, however, before one of a string of lawsuits were served on the philandering Strong by various women. The suits were settled, but Strong was later killed by Sherman Crumley’s brother, Grant, at Cripple Creek in 1901.

it was the 1902 Cripple Creek District Directory that first boasted that Altman was the highest incorporated city in the world. The population of 1,500 was comprised of citizens within the city limits, but also those “who receive their mail at that point as well as those who have no regular postoffice address, giving locations where possible.” Businesses in town had dwindled to three barbers, three dressmakers and three saloons, but only one each of such important places like assayers, drugstores, general merchandise stores, hotels, meat markets, restaurants and shoe stores. There was only a single physician remaining as well. Then, in 1903, a fire destroyed most of the town.

The conflagration broke out in the early morning hours at Mrs. Ollie Davisson’s Altman Hotel. The fire had been raging for some time before it was discovered, and when firemen tried hooking their hoses to the hydrants they found the faucets had been “tampered with”. It took four hours to fix the hydrants, during which some buildings were dynamited in an attempt to keep the fire from spreading. All was for naught. By the time surrounding fire departments had arrived to help, the entire business district and numerous homes were in ashes. In the wake of the fire, it was noted that this was the second time someone had tried to set fire to Mrs. Davisson’s hotel, also that red pepper had been spread around the scene to deter bloodhounds. Soon it was discovered that Mrs. Davisson had set the fire herself. She was arrested, along with her housemaid, miners Neal Osborne, Thomas Deetson and a man named Johns, and even Altman Water Company manager J. W. Dumpee.

Further news of Altman’s fire was lost in the shuffle as the Cripple Creek District launched into a second labor strike. The labor strike of 1904 was even worse than the one ten years before. Altman had no time to set up a fortress like before, and the militia plopped down in the middle of town before anyone could do anything. Eventually, the union lost the war and their members were forced to leave town at gunpoint.

Altman’s population continued to fall, totaling only 900 people by 1907. “While many of the rich mining properties of the District are located in the neighborhood,” explained the Cripple Creek District directory that year, “the facilities for reaching the valley towns are so excellent that many of the miners prefer to travel back and forth rather than to reside at so high an altitude.” Only a dozen businesses remained. A year later the population was reported at 150 residents, with only eight business men and women appearing in the Colorado State Business Directory. The post office closed on May 20, 1911.

For a few more years, one or two businesses clung to life at Altman. By 1915 those left at Altman began receiving their mail at Independence, and were considered residents of that town thereafter. Even so, Altman’s Mayor, Frank Dorethy, and other government officials were listed separately in the directory. John Giblin was still mayor pro-tem in 1917, but no businesses appeared in the Cripple Creek District Directory at all. The town was eventually vacated for good. Most of the buildings were gone by 1937, although some buildings on Main Street still stood as late as the 1960’s. Among these was the city hall, still containing a large safe. The remaining buildings swayed with time, and a few even survived into the 1980’s when the road to Altman was closed by a modern mining interests. Today the mine, recently acquired by Newmont Mining Corporation, let visitors up a graded road to the American Eagles Mine. A gate up top used to lead to Altman. But finding Altman is literally impossible today, for even the mountain where it once stood no longer exists.

Image: A colored postcard shows Altman circa 1899. Pikes Peak is visible in the background. Courtesy Jan MacKell Collins