Category Archives: Cripple Creek Colorado

Jack Haverly and His Colorado Towns for Suckers

c 2023 by Jan MacKell Collins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

c 2023 by Jan MacKell Collins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pictured: The author at Goldfield City Hall, circa 1985

An Ode to Elkton, Colorado

c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

I first dared to trespass over the chain across the road at Elkton many years ago. Creeping up the hillside, I hoped no passing car would see me or my bright red Chevy Nova, parked off the highway between Cripple Creek and Victor. Above me lay a handful of buildings in various states of decay. The empty cabins beckoned me with a whisper, asking me to remember the lives within their cozy depths. Elkton was inviting me in. With a last look around, I cautiously ducked into the first skeletal cabin I reached. Walking over the threshold was like entering a different world.

And so it went, for over a glorious decade. When other ghost towns seemed so far away, when imposing fences and signs created impassable barriers, Elkton was there for me.  Sometimes alone, and sometimes with others, I enjoyed the old town as often as I could. No matter the season or time of day, the thought of Elkton inspired me to grab my coat, umbrella or lantern and explore to my heart’s content. As I came to know the town, I learned to belong there. As I came to know Elkton’s history, I yearned to have seen its lively past.

It was much later that I learned about William Shemwell, an amateur prospector and former blacksmith, who partnered with two other men to register what became the Elkton Mining and Milling Company – so named because Shemwell spotted some elk antlers near his dig. Next, Shemwell talked Colorado Springs grocers George and Sam Bernard, into grubstaking him in exchange for his $36.50 worth of groceries. Later, the Bernards bought Shemwell and partners out, hired the revered Ed De La Vergne to run the mine, and made millions. Long before that happened, however, the town of Elkton grew up near the mine to house local miners and their families.

Elkton’s post office opened in 1895, when the town was very fortunate to be served by all three railroads in the Cripple Creek District: the Florence & Cripple Creek, the Midland Terminal and later, the Colorado Springs & Cripple Creek District Railway. The Low Line Interurban System also constructed a bridge over the Midland Terminal tracks. A station house and telegraph office were built below the Elkton Mine. In 1896, the railroad built a quarter mile siding on the outskirts of town, just to pick up the ore.

Elkton’s population in 1896 was about 800. There was a barber, a hay and feed store, a laundry, one boardinghouse, a saloon, a cobbler, two hotels, two grocers, and a depot. Meanwhile, tiny houses sprouted all around the business district, and by 1898

Elkton looked about as neighborly as you could get. Neat rows of roads were built along the hillside, with modest miners cabins lined up beside one another. In time, the town would also absorb the nearby communities of Arequa, Beacon Hill and Eclipse.

As of 1900, there were nearly three dozen business houses, from Jennie Allen the laundress to Sam Adelman the shoemaker, from Frank Bernard the assayer to Naufett and Kelly’s saloon. Several merchants felt it was important to put Elkton’s name in front of their business name; the city directory showed shops like the book and stationary store, grocery stores, a drugstore and pharmacy, and even a laundry pointing out how proud the owners were to be a part of the town’s business district. There was also a school and at least five rooming houses to house bachelor miners and the occasional visitor.

Over the next three years, Elkton grew to its peak population of 3,000 people in 1905. Yet the town retained its sense of community, even during the tumultuous labor strikes during 1903 and 1904. Here, neighbors talked freely about the local happenings, traded recipes and tall tales, gossiped about each other, speculated about how well the Elkton Mine was doing, and chatted amiably with each other over the back fence or while walking past the neat rows of little houses. Even when Elkton began shrinking as mining in the Cripple Creek District waned, those die-hards who remained in town went on about their daily business, chins up.

Like some of the other 25-or-so towns and cities in the District, Elkton received a brief reprieve in 1914 when mining engineer Dick Roelofs discovered a gigantic vug in the Cresson Mine about a mile above town. With the discovery, miners from all over the district were summoned to work the Cresson Vug. Roelofs built an overhead tram from the Cresson which extended down through Elkton and ended at Eclipse. Two years after that, the Elkton Mine topped out at $16,200,000 in gold production.

The lifeline of the town got smaller and smaller. By 1919 only a few businesses were left. The school closed down around 1920, and the post office closed six years later. That is when Elkton began its life as a tiny shadow of its former self. Some homes were abandoned, while others remained occupied off and on. Those who lived there treasured Elkton as an authentic, semi-ghost town from the long ago past whose charm included weathering buildings which somehow remained steadfast in the face of harsh, windy winters and pouring summer rains. As late as 1982, a few homes were still occupied. By the time I discovered the town, however, the buildings were empty and only some remnants of those who lived there remained.

During those times I visited, I sometimes used history books as a guide. It was not hard back then to stand in the streets and compare old images of Elkton to the contemporary scene. The history left behind challenged my imagination to picture how Elkton must have been. Wandering from building to building, I saw plenty of signs of a life long before mine. One house was strewn with vintage lingerie and a dressing table whose drawers still contained stationary, cold cream and bobby pins. Another home offered shelves of spices, canned goods and shoe polish. Yet another still had pictures hanging on the walls. In the last twenty years, some woman had left her checkbook on a closet shelf. Later, I saw a mining certificate bearing her name, up for sale at a shop in Cripple Creek. A wonderful old pair of catty sunglasses rested on the sink at that house, as if someone had just come in with groceries and laid them down.

Even the walls of some houses told a story, since many of them were covered with old newspapers for added insulation. Sometimes there was no newspaper, only loose strips of wallpaper reaching out like long wispy fingers on the breeze.  I looked under porches and poked around root cellars. My imagination furnished the empty front parlors and pondered over kitchens. In the house with the spices, a table was still set with a tablecloth and centerpiece.

Often I wished for the means to restore the old piano still reposing dismally inside what was formerly a prim and comfortable home. It was a cheap upright, painted white by some well-meaning housewife and left behind when the housewife departed. In its later life, the piano housed bird nests and rodent dens. Few of its ivory keys gave forth an audible note. My favorite memory about the house with the piano is the day a friend and I were caught in a rainstorm there.

Waiting out the storm gave us time to look closely at the scattered remnants of someone’s past. Magazines and other paper lazed in piles around the house. Pieces of wedding paper and bows also lay about, as if the bride in all her glee had run through the house opening her gifts in a frenzy and strewing paper as she went. Mixed with the bows were letters telling of the marriage—and of an accident following the ceremony which seriously injured the groom. What became of the couple is anyone’s guess, and I suppose I’d rather keep it that way. For imagination’s sake.

Outside of the houses were more pieces of history – old bottles, bits of broken china, chunks of old cookstoves, pieces of a chair. Old clotheslines where clothes once hung, and flower gardens once lovingly tended. Wind, people, and perhaps even animals had scattered other items about. It was not unusual to find a saucepan in the middle of the road, or someone’s shoe, or a discarded license plate. A garage with one door hanging precariously on one hinge and swinging in the breeze revealed an old armoire that was chock full of old magazines. I tell you, visiting Elkton was one of my very favorite things to do. Being there somehow made me feel at home, and I slowly but surely fell in love with that old ghost town.

Then came 1994.

Talk had long been coming about the Cripple Creek & Victor Mine wanting to take out Elkton. The company got their wish, and Elkton, along with the entire mountain upon which it perched, was bulldozed in the frantic search for more gold. Prior to the destruction an archaeological dig was conducted at the town, but any remaining artifacts were sent to an out-of-state university and local museums received nothing. It made me glad that I had picked and saved several items from Elkton over the years. Most of them made their way to the Cripple Creek District Museum, so others could enjoy them and Elkton’s history. But I saved the catty sunglasses for myself.

Still, the destruction of Elkton made me sad. I remembered the bird nests I spotted on porches. During the years that Elkton was left to the elements, plenty of other wildlife made the town their home as well. Then there was the matter of the way the faded yellow paint under the eave of one house shone as the sun was setting on it. And the broken china doll head I forgot to pick up. And the story of the old couple who lived there in the 50’s and proclaimed themselves Mr. and Mrs. Mayor of Elkton. And the memories of people who managed to survive quite nicely in primitive cabins with few modern amenities. All of that was destroyed when Elkton fell to the bulldozer.

There’s a story about a little boy walking down the beach among hundred of starfish that have washed up. The child begins picking them up, one by one, and tossing them back into the ocean. A man sees this and asks the boy, “What are you doing? You can’t save them all, you know.” The boy picks another starfish up, tosses it into the water, and replies, “Well, I just saved that one.” Elkton is my lost starfish, the one I couldn’t save. I know I’m not the only one to feel this way. That is why groups of us historians advocate, sometimes fiercely, to save history before it’s gone. So people will remember how important these places were, and how they got us to where we are now.

You can read more about the ghost towns of the Cripple Creek District and Teller County in Jan’s book, Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County.

Image c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

Reflections on the Cripple Creek District Museum in Colorado

c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ghost Tales Straight Out of the Wild West

c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

Why do histories from the Wild West include so many haunting tales of ghosts? For one thing, the average life expectancy between 1865 to 1895 was between 35 and 46 years old. In rough and tumble towns like Dodge City, Tombstone, Canyon Diablo and other places, citizens faced a one in 61 chance of being murdered between 1876 and 1885. And what with the absence of penicillin, aspirin and the plethora of meds we see on the market today, it’s no wonder that death came easily in the 1800s. In a day of unsanitary conditions, lack of indoor plumbing and general dirtiness, the three biggest killers of folks in the west were diarrhea, pneumonia and tuberculosis. On the other end of the spectrum were the gamblers, gunfighters and other miscreants who could easily die from “lead poisoning.”

It’s really no wonder that the spirits of the past linger today, hoping to share their sad tales of an untimely demise with us. For those who don’t believe in ghosts, even scientists suppose that a person’s spirit can indeed outlast their physical bodies once they die. Especially if one dies with some sort of unfinished business in their life, or is murdered, or dies so suddenly they don’t even know they are dead, their ghost could hang around until it is somehow set free. That is where oodles and oodles of intriguing ghost stories are born.

Take Sarah Winchester and her “Mystery House” in San Jose, California. Born Sarah Lockwood Pardee, the lady married William Wirt Winchester in 1862. Sarah gave birth to only one child, Annie Pardee Winchester, who only lived for about a month. Then William died too, in 1881, from tuberculosis, just three months after inheriting his father’s Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The grieving Sarah relocated to San Jose in 1885, and purchased a farmhouse she lovingly called Llanada Villa. She also began consulting with a psychic.

At the medium’s urging beginning in 1890, Sarah began building onto Llanada Villa. There was no rhyme or reason to her design, and the house would eventually grow into a towering seven-story structure spanning 24,000 square feet. Why would Sarah undertake such a project at the advice of a psychic? Because she had been told that the ghosts of those killed by the Winchester rifle needed a home in order to protect Sarah. Furthermore, the psychic claimed, Sarah would live forever as long as she kept building onto the house.

Frantic to stay alive, Sarah hired workers who toiled 24/7 to keep the construction going. This resulted in a literal, odd structure with secret passages, staircases leading nowhere, trap doors, and even a one-way mirror wherein Sarah could keep an eye on her servants – but was installed so instead, her servants could observe her instead. Work finally ceased when Sarah did die, in 1922, but the thousands of people who have visited famed Winchester Mystery House, including staff, have reported hearing footsteps and voices on numerous occasions – as well as the ghostly image of a carpenter identified as a man named Clyde.

Further south, on Coronado Island off of the San Diego coast, the spirit of Kate Morgan lingers at the opulent Hotel del Coronado. On Thanksgiving Day in 1892, the young, rather melancholy woman checked into the five-star hotel. Five days into her stay, Kate inexplicably shot herself and died. A police investigation revealed that Kate had told a housekeeper that she had stomach cancer. But it was also discovered that she was perhaps not who she seemed; several items in the lady’s room contained the names of other women. Police hoped someone would come forward and claim her body, but they never did. After several days at the morgue, Kate’s body was finally identified, as Kate Morgan but also Lottie A. Bernard. She was, it was revealed, the unhappy wife of an Iowa gambler who, for reasons of her own, decided to end her life.

Kate’s body was buried, under both of her names, at the local Mt. Hope Cemetery. But her spirit stayed on at the hotel, and remains there still. Guests in her room on the third floor have reported that the lights and the television flicker on and off. Items move on their own at random, chilly breezes blow through, and the sounds of voices and footsteps echo across the floor. Occasionally, shadows are seen moving through the room. Kate indeed remains at the Hotel del Coronado, her unhappiness having no cure.

East of California, in far-off Deadwood, South Dakota, are numerous ghosts who wander the once busy and often violent city. One of them is Seth Bullock, a Canadian-born Seth Bullock frontiersman who eventually became a member of the Montana legislature, married, had three children, and ran a successful hardware and supply business. After the Bullocks moved to Deadwood in 1876, Seth became a sheriff and served in the Spanish American War. But his favorite career of all seems to have been master of his own Bullock Hotel, a luxurious, three-story building which opened for business in 1896. The hotel featured a large restaurant, fine furnishings throughout, a real bathroom, a library and parlor on each floor, and sixty-three suites.

Bullock died in 1919, but he couldn’t resist staying on at the hotel. Dozens of visitors over the years have reported the man’s ghost staring at them rather malevolently as he wanders around the upstairs hallways. Guests have felt someone tapping on their shoulder when no one is there. They have also heard their names being called, as well as whistling and footsteps along empty corridors. Apparitions have been known to appear in various mirrors as lights and appliances are turned on and off by an unseen hand. There’s even the ghost of a cowboy hanging around in the basement. The Bullock remains a ghostly hotspot hotel even today, complete with a nice bar where you can have a cocktail—if you can keep your glass from moving around by itself.

Then there is the ghost of Jesse James, who has been reported numerous times since he was killed by Bob Ford as a dusted some pictures on the wall in his own living room. Ford shot him in the back of the head, and that was the end of the famous outlaw—or was it? Soon after James was laid to rest, the locals started seeing what they claimed was his ghost, wandering around the family homestead in Kearney, Missouri. Even today, unseen voices and weird photographs captured at the farm are attributed to the spirit of Jesse James.

Not all ghosts, of course, are well-known figures. One ghost at the historic Congress Hotel in Tucson, Arizona is only known as a young woman who shot herself to death in room 242. Alternatively, says one source, the gal was a young barmaid who had just broken up with some important official. A gunfight broke out soon after, during which the girl somehow died in a hail of 29 bullets in room 242 – but her death was ruled a suicide. Supposedly the bullet holes can be seen in the closet, but the girl’s name, and official news stories about her death, remain unknown. Naturally the room has an ethereal quality about it today, and is commonly called “The Suicide Room.” There are other spirits in the hotel as well, who can be seen and heard walking the halls and the lobby dressed in clothing of another era.

Wicked South Dakota isn’t the only old west state where ghosts of the past can find no rest. Some of Colorado’s earliest spirits are the ghosts of the Sand Creek Massacre. It was here in the early morning hours of November 29, 1864 that Colonel John Chivington of the U.S. Army and his soldiers viciously slaughtered group of Cheyenne and Arapaho Natives as they slept in their village. The victims were mostly women and children, 163 in all, whose bodies were then mutilated before Chivington and his men were honored with a parade in Denver. But the callous colonel was later believed to have “fabricated a reason for the attack.”

The grounds were made a national historic site in 2007, but in the years before and after, visitors to the massacre site have seen and heard some mighty interesting things. They say that even today, in the silence of the remote massacre site, the voices of those killed will whisper on the wind. Others who have camped near the site have claimed to have seen the spirits of the victims wandering in the area, and sometimes screaming has been heard.

Further west, in the once wild town of Buckskin Joe, Colorado is a spirit with a most determined wish. In a day when finding a lady to court among hundreds of miners wasn’t easy, one J. Dawson Hidgepath was among the lovelorn. A miner by trade, Hidgepath doggedly pursued about every woman in town, without success. The man was downright bothersome, and when he fell off a cliff in 1865 while picking flowers for his newest crush, the ladies of Buckskin perhaps breathed a sigh of relief. But Hidgepath remained a hopeless romantic, even in death.

Shortly after he was buried in Buckskin’s cemetery, Hidgepath’s skeleton began showing up in the most unusual places, namely at the homes of the ladies he loved. The boney would-be boyfriend first showed up in a heap on the porch of a woman who had spurred his advances in life. The poor lady fainted. No woman was safe; from the bed of a young dance hall girl to an old woman who mistook the skeleton for soup bones, Hidgepath, made his ethereal self known all over town. Each time the bones appeared, they were reburied, only to show up again.

At last, the wise men of the town found a solution. Surely not even a skeleton would court women smelling like an outhouse, and that is where the bones eventually wound up. The ploy seemed to work, until years later when an unsuspecting woman was using the outhouse. As she hovered in the partial darkness, she heard Hidgepath’s signature greeting, whispered in his most tender Mississippi monotone: “Will you be my own?”

Colorado is also one of many places where mysterious lights appear in the local cemeteries. Westcliffe’s historic graveyard has long been known for its intriguing lights, which vary in color, size and speed as they flit among the tombstones. The later the evening, bigger and more numerous they get. From a certain hill in the high-altitude city of Cripple Creek, lights can also be seen glowing at Mt. Pisgah Cemetery. Certain scientists maintain that such lights are really two gasses, phosphane and diphosphane, which are emitted from the intestines of dead bodies and can ignite when they meet air. But that doesn’t begin to explain those who have remained six feet under for a century or more.

While Cripple Creek is certainly famous in its own right as the site of the last big gold boom in Colorado, other, more famous places have their own population of residents from the past. In Tombstone, Arizona, they say, if you walk down Allen Street at night, you just might see the ghost of  Virgil Earp who was seriously wounded following the famed shoot-out at the O.K. Corral, in 1881, or Billy Claiborne who was killed by Buckskin Frank Leslie in 1882, or even the ghost of a lady in her white nightie as she floats across the street. Inside haunts include the infamous Bird Cage Theater, where ghostly prostitutes and their men are often spotted wandering around. The nearby Burford House bed and breakfast has the spirit of George Daves, a groom who was left at the alter and next spotted his would-be bride in the arms of another man. Daves shot the woman to death before taking his own life. Ladies beware: George not only wanders the halls and appears in the mirrors, but also favors smacking the fannies of female guests and, sometimes, yanking their covers down in the night.

Another haunted state? Nevada, whose Yellow Jacket Mine was staked clear back in 1859. Early on, the mine was fraught with disputes over the claim, and in 1872 the Yellow Jacket suffered one of the worst mining accidents in Nevada history. At the 800-foot level below ground a fire started, trapping some miners as the timbers collapsed and toxic gasses filled the shaft. Over 35 bodies were eventually retrieved, but others of the dead were left underground as the fire remained burning for quite some time.

Soon after, ghostly happenings at the Yellow Jacket scared investors into pulling out or selling their shares. One of many mine employees who was frightened half to death on the job was W.P. Bennett, who was working alone when he heard “heavy footsteps coming tramping over the planks directly toward him.” The startled man called out “Who’s there?” The answer came in two shovels Bennett held, which were suddenly yanked from his hands and thrown about twelve feet.

New Mexico also has a ghost story or two. One of them surrounds the famously St. James Hotel in Cimarron, which was built by a French chef named Henri Lambert in 1872. Anybody who was anybody stayed there, including such notables as Annie Oakley, Black Jack Ketchum, Buffalo Bill Cody, Wyatt Earp, Jesse James and author Zane Grey. As one might guess, there were numerous violent incidents over time—like the murder of T.J. Wright, who was shot in the back on the way to his room after winning big in a poker game. Lambert’s own son, Johnnie, died after some unknown accident at the hotel. As a result, the St. James has its own special set of specters who never quite got around to checking out.

Aside from the usual cold spots, electrical energy and items moving around, several psychics over time have identified various spirits at the hotel. They include T.J. Wright, little Johnnie, the ghosts of two other children, a “gnome-like man,” and even a “pleasant-looking cowboy.” Most prominent is Lambert’s wife Mary, who died in 1926 in room 17. Mary’s presence is indicated by tapping on the window when it is open, the smell of flowers, touching guests as they sleep, and in at lease one case, a hideous scream in the dead of night. Sweet dreams.

More Ghost Stories from Cripple Creek, Colorado: The Ghost of the Palace Hotel

c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in the Colorado Gambler.

For years, the prominent Palace Hotel at the intersection of Bennett Avenue and Second Street has been an important piece of Cripple Creek history, and folklore. For over 50 years, the Palace has been said to be haunted by the apparition of Kitty Chambers. The lady’s appealing form has appeared to visitors and owners alike for decades. Both legend and rumor have combined with a bit of fact to make Kitty the ethereal epitome of romance. But is Kitty really the soulful, ghostly woman who can be seen waving a genteel hand from the upper floors of the Palace, especially late at night?

The story of the Palace begins in 1893, when Dr. William J. Chambers leased offices at what was first known as the Palace Drugstore. The drugstore was one of a chain of businesses bearing the name of the Palace, and was affiliated at that time with Cripple Creek’s original Palace Hotel directly across the street. In 1893, the Palace Drugstore was a two-story wood building, housing a pharmacy on the first floor. Local physicians, including Dr. Chambers, leased offices on the second floor. A man of considerable wealth and reputation, Chambers and his first wife, Ellen, quickly became well-known in Cripple Creek’s upper-class society. Newspapers mentioned the couple often for the next several years.

Following the devastating Cripple Creek fires which burned the Palace and most of the downtown area in 1896, the new Palace Block was built of solid brick and towered three stories high. The all-new Palace Pharmacy re-opened on the first floor, and rooms were rented on the third floor. Dr. Chambers leased suites 1-3 of the Palace Block, on the second floor. But if the good doctor’s business was booming again, his personal life was not. In 1899, Ellen L. Chambers  divorced William J. Chambers and disappeared. 

Dr. Chambers recovered from his divorce quite nicely. Just three months after the divorce was final, the January 25, 1900 edition of the Colorado Springs Gazette reported that Dr. W.J. Chambers had gone to New York to marry a Miss Catharine Howard. “Miss Howard is a very esteemable young lady who was employed as clerk and stenographer for O.E. Yeak, the insurance man, up to a short time ago when she resigned her position and went east,” the newspaper explained.   

Catharine Howard Chambers, whose name is host to a variety of spellings in court records, was as resilient as her new husband. Together, she and William purchased the Palace Block in its entirety just a short time after their marriage. Catherine was well liked and accepted by Cripple Creek society, and became known by her playful nickname, Kitty. But the Chambers were not destined to remain in Cripple Creek, nor was their marriage a happy one. The couple moved to Los Angeles and are believed to have been divorced by 1902. Kitty was able to retain her half interest in the Palace Block, which she sold to her ex-husband in 1910.

Contrary to local legend, Kitty remained in California and died in 1908. There is no evidence she ever returned to Cripple Creek, nor is there anything to support the idea that she enjoyed living in the raw, frontier town. Yet somehow, the ghost of Kitty Chambers is identified as the ethereal woman who haunts the Palace to this day. They say she died, in Room 3, in 1918. But historic fact has made the possibility of Kitty’s spiritual existence less and less plausible.  Who then, is the ghost of the Palace Hotel?

 Historians say that folklore often evolves around true stories, elaborated upon with time. The death of a woman at the Palace in 1918  probably happened. If that tale is true, the real ghost could be Mrs. Mary B. Hedges, a Teller County clerk who resided in and managed the furnished rooms on the third floor of the Palace beginning in 1912.  She stayed at the Palace until 1918, when her name disappears from city directories.  Was Mary Hedges enticed to abandon her comfortable station by death? The answer, at this time, is unknown.

What is known is that, after Mary Hedges’ disappearance, the Palace Block continued to offer furnished rooms. But by the 1920’s, Cripple Creek was in the beginning throes of a slow death.  Mines were playing out and people were moving away. The pharmacy continued to operate while the upper stories of the stately Palace Block slowly fell to disuse. Dr. Chambers, who had retained his ownership all this time, finally sold the building in 1928. A succession of owners followed, including Gertrude Coffin and her sister-in-law, Maude Playford, who purchased the Palace in 1941. The former Palace Pharmacy moved across the street to the Bi-Metallic Building, while Gertrude and Maude opened “The Girls’ Cafe” on the first floor (on a couple of side notes, Gertrude Coffin Diehl was the great-aunt of famed musician Stevie Nicks. She and Maude, certain folks say, ran a brothel of sorts from the Palace and other places during the 1940s).

In 1945, Gertrude and Maude sold the Palace Block. A bar opened on the bottom floor, while renters continued living in the upstairs rooms. One of them was Vitus M. Neelson, a blind man who played piano and was one of Cripple Creek’s many colorful characters during this era – 1952, when he apparently tripped and was found dead at the bottom of the stairs. While Vitus Neelson’s body rests in Mt. Pisgah Cemetery, his after-life aura is said to haunt the Palace to this day.

Vitus apparently lived alone during his time at the Palace, or at the very least, the other lodgers moved out after he died; old-timers of Cripple Creek would remember the building being boarded up for a few years before it was sold in 1956 for back taxes and eventually returned as one of three prominent watering holes in town. Then, in 1976, Robert and Martha Lays purchased the building and moved in with their five children, and reopened the Palace as a hotel. Among other things, the Lays were told there were ghosts in the building.  One was a female, presumed to be a former owner of the hotel.   

The Lays immediately saw why the Palace was said to be haunted. Mysterious lights played a large part in the ethereal activities around the Palace. Lights were seen in Room 3 when the power was off. A retired couple who was hired to care for the hotel resigned after several incidents involving the light in Room 3. The bed covers in that room were occasionally turned down by an unseen hand, and a family friend of the Lays reported seeing the apparition of a woman standing in the window up there when the hotel was empty. Other residents and even a former Cripple Creek sheriff saw her as well. Hastily-conducted research brought forth the name of Kitty Chambers, and that is what the ghost was so-named.

Although members of the Lays family lived in the hotel, it was not until 1983 that any of them experienced the ghost, who chose her victim carefully. The Lays’ son, Bob, was alone in the hotel one night, cleaning on the third floor.  “We’d closed for the season,” he related in a 1996 interview, “and I was the only one in the whole state to have a key.  Around 5:45 p.m., I walked down to the dining room and there was a lit candle on one of the tables.” For the first time in Bob Lays’ practical life, there was no rational explanation for what he saw.

The irrational activities at the Palace were just beginning. Late one night, out of the corner of his eye, Bob spotted a woman moving through the lobby. She had straight, dark hair. A long white nightgown with long puffy sleeves and a lace-neck collar graced her figure. It was hard to see any facial features, but Bob got the impression the woman was in her mid-30’s. She was definitely not one of the four guests who had checked in that night. Bob said she seemed to be heading out the front door or up the stairs, both of which unusually gave forth an audible creak. Yet no noise came forth. “It startled me,” Bob said. “It was a couple minutes I stood and listened.” But there was no sound.

After that, lighted candles were found two to three times a week in the dining room by various family members. The candles appeared only on specific tables and seemed to follow a cycle as to when and which one would light by itself. For a time, the candles patterned themselves in a circle around the room. The electric lights also played havoc, coming on at odd times by themselves, in front of different witnesses.

In about 1985, the Lays moved the Palace bar into a vaudeville theater which had been constructed in the building sometime in the late 1960’s. Once, while closing the theater, Bob noticed a light at the bar and found a lit candle sitting on the beer cooler. On another night, Bob returned from a much-deserved late evening out. Entering the Palace’s front door, he found another lit candle waiting for him in the dining room. “I like to think she did that one just for me,” he said with a smile. After a time, he also got in the habit of saying goodnight to Kitty before blowing out the candles and retiring for the night.

Once news leaked out about ghost at the Palace Hotel, curiosity seekers besieged the building. They ranged from historians to reporters to psychics. The latter claimed there were three spirits altogether: the mysterious young woman, the ghost of Vitus Neelson, a nameless young boy. The lady, of course, remains the most intriguing since various visitors who saw her offered up almost identical descriptions of her in her white gown. One couple claimed that their shower water unaccountably shut off, shortly after they discussed the ghosts known to haunt the hotel.  

In the 1996 interview, Bob Lays said that he last heard from his ghost in about 1989. He wasn’t sure why. Even after the city of Cripple Creek legalized gaming in 1991, the spirits of the Palace remained unseen as the hotel was remodeled and the first floor evolved into a casino, bar and restaurant. In spite of their silence, Bob said he still found himself speaking to the invisible lady aloud now and then. The idea of Mary Hedges, instead of Kitty Chambers, haunting the Palace intrigued him. “No wonder she wouldn’t answer me,” he muttered thoughtfully.

It has been some years since Century Casinos, which owns the buildings adjacent to the Palace, purchased the building from the Lays family. Plans have been made on several occasions to install offices in the building or, most recently, turn it into a boutique hotel. At least fears that the historic building would be torn down have been alleviated, for now. But the Palace remains vacant, save for the occasional paranormal investigation. One day, the building will hopefully reopen and a whole new generation can experience the spirits who linger there still. Odds are, they can wait.

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.