Category Archives: Crystola Colorado

Buckskin Charlie: A Proud Indian

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article first appeared in the Ute Pass Vacation Guide in 2000.

Long before Colorado’s Ute Pass became Highway 24, an ancient Indian trail once skirted the base of Pikes Peak. Much of it comprises Ute Pass as we know it today, with traces of the original path veering off and onto the highway.

The Utes were among Colorado’s first residents. Ute Pass served as the gateway for their tribes, who worshiped the magical bubbling waters at today’s Manitou Springs. They often camped up and down the pass, even after the formation of Colorado City in 1859, Colorado Springs in 1871 and Manitou Springs in 1872. Frequenters of Ute Pass included Buckskin Charlie, one of the last tribal leaders of the old Ute nation in Colorado.

Born circa 1842, Buckskin Charlie was an original Colorado native. His father was Ute and his mother Apache, but both died before Charlie was 11 years old. The young boy eventually became a warrior, participating in many battles against plains Indians. One such skirmish left the scar of a bullet wound on his forehead. Later, he learned to speak English and served as a scout for the U.S. Army. He earned his famous nickname for the number of antelope he killed during an expedition on behalf of the United States.

Buckskin Charlie also made fast friends with Ouray, head of the Mouache Utes. The two men often made trips to Washington D.C. and talked treaties with the government. It was Ouray who appointed Buckskin Charlie his successor when he stepped down as leader of the Utes. When Ouray died in 1880, Charlie assisted in his secret funeral ceremony.

Photographs of Buckskin Charlie often depict him wearing a moustache, a rare characteristic among Native Americans. As the leader of his people, Charlie encouraged his tribe to let their children be educated by whites and attend church services. He also dressed in white men’s clothing when visiting the Capital. Ever wary, however, government officials took note of Charlie’s preference for his native Ute tongue and his refusal to outlaw peyote and other ceremonial aspects of his native culture. Still, Charlie was patient and sensible in his dealings with U.S. officials, even when arguing over broken treaties. He was respected by both whites and his tribe, and reigned over the Ute Nation for an amazing 56 years.

The turn of the century held many changes for residents of the Pikes Peak region. In recognition of the passing of an era, the El Paso County Pioneer’s Association decided in 1912 to dedicate the old Ute Pass trail to those who had used it long before any white man. Buckskin Charlie and his tribe were cordially invited to the ceremonies. Scores of Utes, dressed in full regalia, rode the pass. As the party passed into French Creek Valley just below Cascade, the Indians burst into ceremonial song. Buckskin Charlie led the pack, declaring, “I seventy years old and never been so happy.”

Buckskin Charlie continued living a colorful life. In 1925, he assisted in the moving Ouray’s remains to the cemetery at Ignacio. Throughout his career, he maintained his outstanding reputation and personally met with seven United States presidents. He died in 1936 and is buried beside Ouray at Ignacio, in Southern Colorado.

Pictured: Buckskin Charlie and his sons.

Love For Sale: Brothels of Ute Pass, Colorado

c 2018 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in the Ute Pass Vacation Guide.

Face it, in the old days trekking up Ute Pass, the winding path between Colorado Springs and Woodland Park, was a steep, torturous climb. Add several layers of petticoats and a trunk full of women’s sensibilities, and the trip was indeed a long one for the fairer sex. But just like their male counterparts, the spunky pioneer women who traversed the pass had dreams and goals. Ahead of them lay new homes, new lives, and the chance to start over fresh.

Naturally, Ute Pass afforded a bevy of comfortable rest stops. For prostitutes in particular, the pass was a viable means of paying ones’ passage. From mobile brothels to itinerant bad girls, prostitutes could prosper along their trip as a means to reach their destination. And prosper they did. Many was the prospector who, on his way to or from the Colorado gold fields, might be enticed to relinquish some of his goods or gold in return for a little attention from a soiled dove.

The presence of prostitutes along Ute Pass escalated dramatically in 1892 with the gold boom at Cripple Creek. Traffic along the trail increased to three times what it had been. At Colorado City, now the “Westside” of Colorado Springs, ladies of the night hastened to find their riches along with everyone else. Soon, the girls traipsing between Colorado City and Cripple Creek became interchangeable. It seemed like each time a girl left one town, she turned up in the other and vice versa.

As early as 1891, the blossoming cow town of Woodland Park had established ordinances against houses of ill repute. So did every other town, but it didn’t seem to matter. Prostitution was a viable resource to any town coffer. And its inmates, as they were called, were hardly bothered like a little old thing like the law. For decades prostitutes ran rampant along Ute Pass, usually just one step ahead of the sheriff. Even such notable events as two world wars and prohibition did little to stop the illegal goings-on.

Well into the 1940’s and 50’s, prostitution and its counterparts-namely drinking and gambling-were well known diversions along Ute Pass. Places like Brock’s Crystola Inn boldly built one-woman cribs right along the roadside for all to see. Across Highway 24, a lesser-known dance hall flourished up in the hills. Other places, such as the Thunderhead Inn in Woodland Park, placed their tiny houses of ill fame discreetly behind their business. The Ouray Inn, also in Woodland Park, went one step further by installing a tunnel to its brothel some 150 yards away.

Beginning in 1950, word of Ute Pass’ notorious nightlife had spread itself too thin. Colorado Governor Dan Thornton ordered raids, and the pleasure resorts along the pass were busted. The war against gambling raged for years. Through it all, the dens of sin continued their risque business as best as they could. In 1954, the Thunderhead was still importing Las Vegas showgirls for Saturday night soirees.

Nearly two decades later, the secret gambling dens along Ute Pass closed and the girls moved on. Today, the cribs alongside the Crystola Inn and behind the Thunderhead are all that remain from the naughty girls of Ute Pass.