Category Archives: Victor Colorado

Bison Park: Victor, Colorado’s Private Playground

c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image of Bison Reservoir c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins.

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

c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alta Vista, a Tiny Whistlestop in the Cripple Creek District of Colorado

c 2022 by Jan MacKell Collins

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

As the Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad (aka the F. & C.C.) built up Eight Mile Canyon towards the Cripple Creek District during the 1890s, it was soon discovered that the last few miles into the District proved steeper than originally thought. The new railroad needed a way to help the engines make the grade. There may have already been an old stage route in the high meadow where the “helper” town was built, for by the time the railroad reached there, the place had been named Alta Vista, Spanish for “High View.” True to its name Alta Vista, at 9,710 feet in altitude, afforded a beautiful view for miles around. From the whistlestop’s lofty location, passengers could see the District=s working mines, as well as the budding city of Victor.

Alta Vista was never platted and never had a post office. Though small, the village played a prominent role in the railroad history of the District. The railroad officially reached the tiny stop on May 20, 1894. Unlike other stops along the tracks, Alta Vista served several purposes for the F. & C.C. A large station yard allowed for repair of both freight and passenger cars. A “classification yard” was also built, wherein freight cars could be sorted by content and destination. Most importantly, Alta Vista housed extra engines to travel south down the tracks to the railroad stop of Adelaide, attach to trains coming up the canyon, and assist them in making the steep grade up to the city of Victor a few miles away. The helper engines were then disconnected at Alta Vista and turned around to head back down the grade to Adelaide.

The founding of Alta Vista happened to coincide with the first of the Cripple Creek District’s tumultuous labor wars. No sooner had the railroad reached town when miners in the Cripple Creek District began a strike. At issue were demands by mine owners for the men to work more hours at the same rate of pay. On May 29, just over a week after the F. & C.C. debuted at Alta Vista, fifty picketing miners showed up. So did Denver deputies, who had a clear view of Victor and watched in horror as strikers blew up the Strong Mine above town. Newspapers noted that “the entire four miles of winding track to Victor was picketed with sharpshooters.” Following the explosion, according to the Aspen Daily Times, “the road supervisor accordingly required all trains to be searched, beginning with a passenger train coming in that included two coaches, the baggage car and even the engine.” Presumably nothing was found, and the train was allowed to roll on in to Victor.

After the labor war ended, coal, gold ore, mining equipment and supplies continued to be brought through Alta Vista regularly, as well as upwards of six daily passenger trains. Few got off the train, for Alta Vista offered very few services aside from a small one-room depot and some residences for railroad workers. For a mere whistlestop, however, Alta Vista’s presence was both necessary and important because of the classification yard. Because the F. & C.C.’s early equipment often included the use of Denver & Rio Grande train cars, defective cars would be held at Alta Vista to await repair or maintenance.

On March 23, 1895, Alta Vista played a very small part when Sherman Crumley’s gang staged the first robbery of the F. & C.C. Crumley, from a good family in Pueblo, had come to the Cripple Creek District with brothers Grant and Newton. He was in Colorado Springs as early as 1894, when he was arrested in June for participating in the kidnapping, tar and feathering of Adjutant General Timothy Tarsney. The General had come in defense of striking miners who had been arrested during the labor wars. Crumley and his gang were hired to kidnap Tarsney, take him to the barn of mine owner William Otis, tar and feather him, and leave him on the edge of town with orders to walk to Denver.

Sherman Crumley initially pleaded innocent in the ordeal, telling reporters he was messaged to bring a hack from his Colorado Springs livery stable to the Alamo Hotel on South Tejon Street. To his surprise, he claimed, a group of masked men dumped their victim into his hack while one of the men jumped up beside him. “‘Now drive, G___ D____ you,’ said the man with me, sticking a revolver against my ribs. It is unnecessary to say that I did as he told me,” Crumley said. While the newspapers might have bought Crumley’s story, the authorities did not. Crumley and several men were subsequently arrested. Amazingly almost all of the men were released due to lack of evidence and reliable witnesses. The exception was El Paso County Deputy Sheriff Joe Wilson, who confessed and subsequently tried.

Crumley soon relocated to Cripple Creek, forming a gang comprised of himself, Bob Taylor, O.C. Wilder, “Kid” Wallace, W.R. Gibson and Louis Vanneck and planning to rob the F. & C.C. On the day of the robbery, the men stationed themselves just below Hollywood, a southern suburb of Victor, and flagged down the F. & C.C. train just outside of town. Passengers were duly relieved of their wallets, jewelry and other valuables before the robbers disembarked and disappeared into the hills. The engineer was instructed to move on. At Alta Vista, Conductor Paddy Lane jumped off the train and notified authorities. A search led to Taylor’s cabin at the Strong Mine, and the posse eventually found the men partying away their profits in the bars of Victor. The men were taken into custody to await trial. Newspapers expounded on the charges: “It is charged that these parties wounded and attacked Alexander McArthur, the custodian of the United States mails, and took possession of said mails,” reported the Aspen Daily Times. Only Gibson and Taylor were held over for trial before a grand jury. By some miracle, Crumley and the other fellows were released per request from the district attorney and a plea from Wallace’s attorney.

The most exciting event to take place around Alta Vista was a flash flood, which erupted just below the station on Eight Mile Creek on July 30, 1895. Water in the creek, which paralleled the F. & C.C. tracks, reached speeds of thirty miles per hour as it swept down Phantom Canyon towards Adelaide. A helper engine on the way back from Alta Vista made breakneck speed to outrun the flood until it reached another whistlestop, Russell, at which point the tracks diverted away from Eight Mile Creek. But the flood caused much havoc. Amongst the drowned were Lee Tracey, proprietor of Adelaide’s Great Elk Hotel. Also drowned were the hotel cook, Mrs. Carr, as well as a boarder identified as Mr. Watson and three F. & C.C. section men.

It cost a bit to rebuild the tracks, but the F. & C.C. was up and running again by November. Four trains passed through Alta Vista daily. Two of them left Florence at 6 a.m. and 2 p.m.; the other two returned from Cripple Creek at 9:10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. By 1899, day picnics in Alta Vista’s sunny meadows were a favorite destination amongst District pioneers. Passengers boarded the F. & C.C. at Cripple Creek at 9 a.m., receiving a nice tour of the District before arriving at Alta Vista. Picnic baskets were unloaded and wildflowers picked as the visitors enjoyed the outdoors. At 3:30 p.m., all boarded the train back to Cripple Creek. A round trip ticket cost a twenty five cents.

Curiously, Alta Vista never appeared under its own listing in Cripple Creek District directories. Only in the 1900 directory, which included residents living outside the city limits of the district towns, were a scant few citizens listed at Alta Vista. They were operator S. Aller, operator, F. & C.C. employees Jim Doyle and George Metzger, miner E.H. Niles and Harvey Taylor’s Brickyard. Taylor employed Louis Scott as a brick maker. Alta Vista remained very quiet throughout the early 1900’s, especially after the F. & C.C.’s tracks washed out a second and final time in 1912. In 1913, the Fairplay Flume reported the Alta Vista Mining Company planned to build a new mill at Alta Vista, with an expected cost of $20,000. This apparently never happened.

A 1923 map still shows Alta Vista on Eight Mile Creek in Fremont County. At that point, however, the tiny community was surely no more than a scattering of abandoned houses. In time only the depot remained, standing in a field along what was now the dirt road of Phantom Canyon. The depot has since been moved to Victor, where it serves today as a visitor’s center.

Pictured: An early postcard depicts the Alta Vista Depot before it was moved to Victor and restored.

Adelaide, Colorado: The Ill-Fated Stop Along the Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad

c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins

Shortly after gold was discovered in the Cripple Creek District in 1891 merchant James A. McCandless of Florence, to the south, was one of many men who took an interest in generating commerce from the gold boom. In McCandless’s mind was Eight-Mile Canyon, an old, windy and sometimes precarious trail used by Ute natives to travel to the high country and make their summer quarters. With a creek of the same name meandering alongside much of the trail, the canyon was ideal for reaching the District. McCandless and several engineers first surveyed the canyon in 1891. By 1892 Thomas Robinson, whose endeavors included promoting the Florence Electric Street Railway Company, had opened the “Florence Free Road” leading to the District. Around this same time, give a take a few years, the name of the canyon was changed to Phantom Canyon.

Robinson intended for the road through Phantom Canyon to eventually run between the borders of Wyoming to the north and New Mexico to the south. When the Salaman Stage Line debuted on the Florence Free Road, its success inspired plans for the Florence and Cripple Creek State Line Railroad. A map of the new railroad was filed in May of 1892, and the company was reformed as the Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad.

As plans unfolded for the new railroad, Denver & Rio Grande Railroad magnate David Moffat got involved. Under his wing, the F&CC was incorporated in April of 1893, and construction of the railroad commenced the following December. Robinson also remained involved with the project, to the effect that one early camp along the line was named for him. Railroad workers and travelers could stop at Robinson, situated nearly halfway between Florence and Cripple Creek, to buy supplies at a general store or stay at a boardinghouse nearby.

By 1894, for reasons unknown, the name of Robinson had been changed to Adelaide. A depot was constructed for the F&CC, as well as some homes and a water tank for the train. Two men worked at the tank, each in a 12 hour shift, so that it would remain full of water for the locomotive. They, as well as other railroad employees, lived in a nearby bunkhouse with a coal-burning stove for warmth. The former boardinghouse was converted into a hotel called the Great Elk. The station agent’s quarters were in the back of the depot.

Adelaide served a second, more important purpose too. As the F&CC tracks progressed up the canyon, it was soon discovered that the last few miles into the district proved steeper than originally thought. A “helper” town of sorts, Alta Vista, was constructed on the edge of the Cripple Creek District near the city of Victor, wherein engines could travel down the canyon to the station at Adelaide in Fremont County and assist the trains in making it up the grade.

For about a year, everything was grand at little Adelaide, nestled there among the trees and below the majestic rock walls of Phantom Canyon. But there came an evening in July of 1895 when a horrific thunderstorm, typical for late summer in Colorado, let loose with a destructive might like no other.

The Cripple Creek Weekly Journal later described the carnage that ensued. A F&CC train with 14 cars had just been lightly damaged when a small landslide derailed the train just a mile above Adelaide. Four railroad men from the train walked down to the Great Elk Hotel, and Conductor Brown had just wired news of the incident when he chanced to step outside. In the twilight he could see a wall of water, towering some 20 feet high and flowing at about thirty miles per hour, roaring down the canyon, and Adelaide was directly in its path.

Just up the tracks from Adelaide, a helper engine with engineer Mathew Lines and fireman Bert Kreis had just passed through Glenbrook, the closest stop above Adelaide, on its way down from Alta Vista. Lines and Kreis saw the wall of water, quickly stoked the fire in the engine and sped up as fast as they could as the flood chased after them. If anyone saw the engine fly past Adelaide, there does not seem to be a record of it. The engine managed to pass by the next stop, McCourt, before reaching Russell where the tracks diverted away from the flooded creek. Lines and Kreis survived.

Back at Adelaide, meanwhile, the railroad men and the station agent and his family quickly climbed to safety, as well as three other men and “three tramps” who were dining at the hotel. The railroad men turned around in time to see the Great Elk Hotel smashed to pieces by the water and carried away. Tragically, inside were the hotel’s proprietress, Mrs. Carr, as well as waiter Lee Tracy and cook John Watson. Tracy’s body was eventually found nine miles south of Adelaide, near Russell. Mrs. Carr’s body was carried several miles further, almost to Vesta Junction near Florence. Watson was found too, as well as the bodies of three other men who were believed to be section men for the railroad. Three other men surfaced safely in Florence the next day.

In all, the flood washed away ten miles of tracks as well as several bridges. It took quite some time to reach Adelaide and assess the damage, which was estimated at $100,000—over $3 million dollars in today’s money. One would think that would be the end of the F&CC, but the company remained resilient. Over the next year, workers toiled to rebuild the railroad at a cost of just over $238,000. At Adelaide, the station was relocated about half a mile down from its original location on today’s Phantom Canyon Road, well above the creek. A new water tank, a large cistern and a new depot were eventually built at the site.

Although other cloudbursts and occasional floods continued to plague Phantom Canyon, Adelaide remained safe until July of 1912 when another storm sent yet another wall of water crashing down the F&CC tracks. This time, twelve bridges were wiped out and five miles of track were either damaged or lost altogether in the flood. Rather than rebuild again, the F&CC took into consideration its own finances but also those in the Cripple Creek District, where the mining boom was slowly fading away. In 1915 the F&CC was dissolved, and the remaining tracks were removed from the canyon.

Over the last several decades, any structural remnants remaining at Adelaide have disappeared altogether. The only evidence of the whistle stop today is the large cistern, which can be seen below the road along Phantom Canyon. Small signs denote Adelaide and most of the other stops along the route, making for a most scenic drive through the canyon with a little history thrown in. And in Florence, both the McCandless house and the Robinson mansion bear proof that, for a time, the F&CC was a good investment indeed.

French Blanche: Last of the Harlots

c 2020 by Jan MacKell Collins

For more on French Blanche, see Jan’s new book, Good Time Girls of Colorado: A Red-Light History of the Centennial State. Click here to order.

Of all the forgotten soiled doves in the Cripple Creek District of Colorado, French Blanche=s story is one that bears mention.

Born in France, Blanche LaCroix first came to America to work as a prostitute in New Orleans. She later stated that she was hired by Morris Durant to come to Cripple Creek. A saloon owner in Cripple Creek and Victor, Durant apparently commissioned several girls from France to work on Myers Avenue, Cripple Creek=s notorious red light district.

Naturally, French was quite beautiful in her youth. Durant fell in love with her. When his wife heard French Blanche was pregnant with his child, she accosted French and threw acid in her face. The wounded harlot retreated to the nearby town of Midway, where for many years she concealed her scarred face behind a veil. At Midway, she could still service miners coming to the Midway Saloon along the High Line railway. When her daughter was born, French was forced to give her up for adoption.

For years, French=s only company at Midway was a handsome man who lived next door. The two had a brief courtship until French discovered he was seeing another woman. Despite his being her only neighbor in Midway, French never spoke to the man again, and he eventually moved away.

During her remaining years at Midway, French Blanche lived a quiet life. No one is certain when she ceased doing business. After a time she would accept groceries delivered to her door, and old timers recalled seeing her sitting in the window with the evening sun on her face. She waved at folks passing by, but if someone happened to knock at her door, French never answered the door without her veil in place.

As she grew older, wrinkles disguised her scars and French stopped wearing the veil. Certain children of the district began visiting her and recalled she made wonderfully delicious cookies. Her tiny cabin was wallpapered and clean, with a green and white porcelain cook stove.

Perhaps the children gave French Blanche courage, for she began making monthly trips to Victor for groceries. Before long, a local woman began giving her rides back to Midway and learned she received no more than $35 per month to live on because she wasn=t a U.S. citizen.

Lack of money and failing health are probably what enticed French to move to Victor in the 1950’s. The same woman who had given her rides to Midway put her up in a small cabin next to the family home. In the early 1960’s, French contracted pneumonia and died at St. Nicholas Hospital. Per French=s instructions, the woman who cared for her found $200 stashed in a drawer for her burial.

French Blanche=s story doesn=t end here. Two years after she died, the daughter she had given up years ago came looking for her. The woman said she had been adopted by a doctor in Kansas, who revealed her mother=s true identity on his deathbed. She received a photograph and a few of French=s belongings, and disappeared. All that remains of French Blanche is a small metal sign, which marks her grave at Victor=s Sunnyside Cemetery.

1918: The Year of No Thanksgiving

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in The Colorado Gambler.

“Thanksgiving Parties Are Forbidden.”

So ran the headline on the front page of the Cripple Creek Times & Victor Daily Record in Colorado, a mere two days before Thanksgiving in 1918. Beneath was this command, issued by the Teller County Board of Health: “Eat your Thanksgiving dinner at home and be thankful that the ‘flu’ is under control. Visiting spreads the epidemic.”

Indeed, a world wide influenza epidemic was at hand. Colorado was no exception to the rule. Statewide, citizens had for months known about the Spanish Flu, which began sweeping the whole world off its feet the previous March. The suspected origin of the dreaded disease was Spain. But because the epidemic began almost simultaneously in America, others suspected Fort Riley Kansas, where soldiers fell ill within two days of burning tons of manure.

Forty eight soldiers would die at Fort Riley as others followed troop movements to Europe to fight in World War I. Within weeks, the flu had reached pandemic proportions. To people around the globe, the severity of the Spanish Flu was comparable to the Black Plague of Europe some centuries before. Onset of the illness was quite sudden. Within a matter of hours, a person could go from the picture of health to being so weak they couldn’t walk. Fevers escalated to 105 degrees and doctors were at a loss as to how prevent pneumonia from developing.

In all, the Influenza Epidemic would take nearly three times the lives that World War I did. An early estimate lay at 27,289 war casualties versus 82,306 flu victims. In the end, the final toll in the United States was somewhere between 500,000 to 675,000, with 20 to 40 million fatalities world wide.

It is no wonder then, that by November the epidemic was taking precedence over everything else in Teller County. The November 8 issue of the Cripple Creek Times & Victor Daily Record reported 12 dead. Two more outbreaks had occurred in the previous 24 hours, and five were reported critically ill at the County Hospital in Cripple Creek. In addition, six new cases of Spanish Flu were reported in Victor & Goldfield.

“WAR IS OVER” screamed the headlines on the following day, but the end of the war hardly seemed important as folks received news of a county-wide quarantine. By ordinance, newcomers to the county were automatically put into quarantine for a minimum of three days. In addition, no one was permitted to enter or leave quarantined houses. Schools closed and children were ordered kept at home. Parties and public congregations, including funerals, were forbidden. Anyone daring to venture out in public was required to wear a gauze mask.

In roughly a years’ time, one funeral director alone recorded 45 deaths from the flu. Among them were the Snowden boys, ages ten and fifteen, who died within a day of each other at the Cripple Creek District town of Elkton that November. Their mother Augusta died just four days later, leaving a single grieving husband and father. The Snowden family’s fate was sadly typical of what many residents of Teller County were experiencing on a day to day basis.

The residents of the Cripple Creek District rallied as best they could. Family was told to stay away for the holidays. The obvious lack of advertising for Thanksgiving supplies in local newspapers told the tale. Dinner plans were cancelled as the healthy did what they could to help the sick. Volunteers left warm meals, coal and wood at the back doors of quarantined families.

News traveled by way of notes and messages shouted over the backyard fence. Local newspapers worked round the clock to keep up with the dead and dying, as well as their guardian angels. “Assist the sick in every way possible” was the motto of the day as daily editions included recipes for tonics and syrups, plus important notices.

“If anyone knows of any family in Victor who are needy during the Thanksgiving festivities,” offered the Cripple Creek Times, ‘they will be taken care of if word is left with Mrs. W.O. Higgins or Mrs. T.C. Wilson at the Wilson Art Shop.” A similar list was available from Mrs. Wilson M. Shafer in Cripple Creek.

The temporary health regulations were strictly enforced. In Colorado Springs, a woman was fined $10 for hosting a musicale and luncheon at her home. In Cripple Creek, only one ill-informed scoundrel dared to ignore the ordinance. In what was surely a blatant move in this crisis, the Gibbs House advertised turkey with all the trimmings Thanksgiving day for seventy five cents. The place was probably fined or ordered shut down.

It was surely a bleak Thanksgiving day that dawned on Colorado residents that year as they awoke to newspapers filled with funeral and death notices. Although the Times-Record indicated the flu was “under control” that Thanksgiving, it would be months before the county returned to normal. Schools remained closed through January and it was some time before the virus finally ran out of steam and died off.

There is no doubt that as households dined on what they could gather for dinner that Thanksgiving day in 1918, the feeling of family tradition was accompanied by one of hope. As they gazed over their offerings, each individual had one and only one prayer in mind. The prayer might have evolved into a word of thanks for being healthy and being alive, plus a wish for the continued health of loved ones and neighbors. It was a sentiment worth keeping in mind, with or without the loss.

Good Time Girls of Colorado: A Red-Light History of the Centennial State

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

A quick note about this book: expanding on the research I have done for Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls: Prostitution in Colorado 1860-1930 (University of New Mexico Press, 2004) and Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains (University of New Mexico Press, 2009 – out of print), presented here are some notable shady ladies like Mattie Silks, Jennie Rogers, Laura Evens and others. Also included however, are some ladies seldom written about: French Blanche LeCoq, Lou Bunch and Laura Bell McDaniel (whom I was pleased to first introduce to the world clear back in 1999).

Why do I write about historical prostitution? Because I believe that these women made numerous unseen, unappreciated contributions to the growth of the American West. They paid for fines, fees, business licenses and liquor licenses in their towns. They shopped local, buying their clothing, furniture, food, jewelry, medicine and other needed items from local merchants. These women were often angels of mercy, donating to the poor, helping the needy, and making or procuring sizeable donations for churches, schools and other organizations. Many took care of their customers when they were sick, or sometimes when they became elderly.

Hollywood and the general public like to laugh at and shame women of the night for selling sex for a living. In reality, these women often turned to prostitution as the only viable way to make enough money to survive. Theirs was one of the most dangerous professions of the time, the threat of devastating depression, domestic violence, disease, pregnancy and often subsequent abortion, and alcohol or drug related issues being very real issues the ladies faced daily.

I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as I enjoyed writing it and furthering the truth about our good time girls from the past. You can order it here: https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781493038060/Good-Time-Girls-of-Colorado-A-Red-Light-History-of-the-Centennial-State

Molly Brown Pulls a Fast One

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

When the famed “Unsinkable Molly Brown” of Denver became even more famous as a heroine on the sinking Titanic, news reports about her were most fitting. Previously shunned by Denver’s elite society, Margaret Tobin Brown, wife of a mining milionaire, at last had her day. To the “Sacred 86” and Denver’s other elite circles, she was uncouth, uneducated, and worth no more than a smear campaign launched by Polly Pry of the Denver Post. But her Titanic fame endeared her to the world.

From her posh Denver hotel room after her horrific experience on the sinking ship, Molly told the press that she had boarded the Titanic in a rush to get back to Colorado to see her grandson. The child had been born in the mining town of Victor just five months before. In an effort to see the sickly youngster, Maggie later said, she boarded the ill-fated ship and sailed into history. Sailed into folklore is more like it. For as much as she relished being vindicated and recognized at last, Maggie’s motives behind her statement are questionable. Not only did she initially tell the press she had planned to visit her native home of Hannibal Missouri, but Maggie had already written a letter to her sister there in anticipation of her visit.

In Hannibal, Maggie’s beginnings were as humble as it gets. Both of her parents were uneducated Irish immigrants who had come to America to make a better life for themselves. Each was widowed. The two met and married in Hannibal. Maggie’s father, John Tobin, earned about $1.75 per day digging ditches for Hannibal Gasworks. In 1860, he managed to purchase a tiny house in the “Irish Shanty” section of town. Here, Maggie was born in 1867 and raised with three brothers and sisters, plus two half-siblings.

The Tobins lived a typical, poor Irish lifestyle. Their five room house contained such essentials as a small wood stove in the kitchen, oil lamps and hand-made furniture. There were a few chickens and a cow. Maggie’s mother Johanna favored smoking a clay pipe. These were facts the wealthy ladies of Denver later liked to point out after Maggie married and struck it rich. What they left out was the fact that Maggie attended the O’Leary Private School across the street from her home. Her aunts, Mary and Margaret, were teachers. Maggie attended classes through age 13, receiving an ample amount of schooling for the 1870’s.

Upon leaving school, Maggie procured a job at the Garth tobacco factory. Next, she moved in with her half sister, Katie Becker. The Beckers lived in a two story home in a working class neighborhood. Later, Maggie turned to waitressing, working first at the Continental Hotel and later at the Park Hotel. Historians doubt Maggie’s later story that she met Mark Twain, another famous Hannibalite who came home for a visit in 1882. However, there is a possibility she waited on him at the hotel. True or not, the tale was added to Maggie’s repertoire of wonderful stories. Other stories regarding Twain included hunting and fishing with him, being on a boat with him, and even being rescued by him during a cyclone! This lady loved a good story.

In 1883, Molly’s sister Mary and her husband, Jack Laundrigan, moved to Leadville. Three years later, nineteen-year-old Maggie and her brother Daniel joined them. Upon arriving in Leadville, Maggie and Daniel stayed with their sister. Soon after, Maggie married J.J. Brown and the two made history as Brown’s interests in mining turned him into a millionaire.

Maggie returned to Hannibal in 1887 to give birth to a son, Lawrence Palmer Brown. Perhaps she was having the first of many spats with J.J., as theirs was a stormy relationship. In 1889, according to the Molly Brown House Museum in Hannibal, the rest of Maggie’s family followed her to Leadville. By most accounts, only Kate Becker remained in Hannibal. Maggie’s parents lived the remainder of their lives in Denver, and upon their respective deaths were shipped back to Hannibal for burial.

The Browns moved to Denver to, and lived among the rich. But their wealth, the public decided, was undeserved. The picture of poor little Irish Maggie Tobin lucking out and striking it rich infuriated the upper class society ladies. At every opportunity, these same ladies worked with the media to put Maggie in her place. It is no wonder she began telling stories and doing outlandish things to attract attention. Among her sins was alternating the time of her two children between expensive boarding schools and trips abroad. Both Denver society and J.J. frowned on the practice with a vengeance.

Maggie’s one downfall was that she defied the very status she was seeking. Her lavish parties to which nobody came echoed with her brazen mid-western voice. She was not elegant, handsome or genteel. Many of the wild tales she spun were obvious fibs. The very fact that Maggie Brown did not act the part of her elite female counterparts set her aside from the rest. When she occasionally defended herself, in poorly-spelled letters to the editor of the Denver Post, her adversaries saw an opportunity to poke further fun at her.

Maggie spent the majority of the winter of 1911-12 abroad with her daughter Helen, who was in a German boarding school. The two visited Egypt and Europe. Just previous to that winter, Maggie’s son Lawrence had moved to Victor and worked as a miner. His marriage to a common gal, Eileen Horton, put a strain on the relationship with his father. Jumping on the media bandwagon, the Victor Record published a taunting headline which read, “Peeves Rich Dad; Now He Must Dig for Living.” In reality, the doting Maggie sent Lawrence money on the sly.

On November 21, 1911, Eileen gave birth to a son, Lawrence Palmer Jr. The child wasn’t faring well at Victor’s high altitude, and Eileen took the baby home to Kansas City shortly after Christmas in 1911. By late March “rumor had abounded that the baby died,” said Maggie’s great-granddaughter, Muffet Brown. Who started the rumor is unclear, but it was through a letter from a friend of Helen’s, not any family member, that Maggie discovered her new grandson was in ill-health. She would later tell the press that the letter was what spurred her to action and seek passage back to America.

Here is where Magie’s tale falls apart. A letter sent from Colorado would have to be taken by train to the eastern seaboard to await disbursement by ship to Europe. That meant months before any correspondence arrived. Telegrams by this time were the speediest method for wiring emergency messages. Had the baby become worse, Maggie would have been notified immediately. By the time Maggie heard the news, she had plenty of time to wire back to the states and get verification of the baby’s condition.

According to historian Caroline Bancroft, Maggie booked last minute passage on the Titanic upon hearing of the maiden voyage from John Jacob Astor and his wife Madeline. “Because of her frequent trips in former years she was able to get on the sailing list at the last moment.” said Bancroft. Helen did not accompany her mother, and the Molly Brown House Museum in Denver maintains that Maggie had written from Paris to her sister Kate that she would be coming to Hannibal for a visit upon her return from Europe – not Victor, as she later claimed.

Within two days of the ship’s sinking, the Hannibal Courier-Post ran a story about Maggie’s Titanic adventure, noting “Hannibal Woman Has Sister Among Survivors”. The story related how “Mrs. Brown had expected to spend several weeks in Hannibal during this spring and summer. Three weeks ago she wrote her sister from Paris, stating that the party would sail for America in a few days and that she expected to stop over in Hannibal for a long visit on her way home in Denver.” There was no mention of Maggie’s sick grandbaby.

Upon reaching New York on April 18, Bancroft maintained Maggie checked into the Ritz-Carlton and wired home for money. J.J. was in Arizona at the time, “using the name Bacon in an effort to dodge Maggie’s demands,” according to the historian. J.J.’s secretary in Denver ultimately wired traveling funds. When she got to Denver, Maggie next found comfort in a luxurious suite at the Brown Palace Hotel. Newspaper reporters and admirers mingled with message boys bringing handfuls of telegrams and letters, according to Bancroft.

It was probably at this time that Maggie changed her story and reported she cut her travels short to return to America because her grandson was sick. She also felt free to embellish on her Titanic adventures, the details of which grew longer and more unbelievable the more she spoke of them. Because of her harrowing experience, Maggie gained her long-awaited acceptance into proper Denver society. She at last had the public’s ear, and was talking into it as fast as she could.

By the time things had settlted down, both Lawrence and Eileen had left Victor. Lawrence was working in Oregon, and Eileen was en route with the baby. If she made a stop in Denver to see her mother-in-law, there is no record of the visit. The child, nicknamed “Pat”, survived and lived a long healthy life. He died in California in 1976.

As for the idea that Maggie could have been bringing clothes for Lawrence as was portrayed in 1998’s Titanic film, Margaret Brown did not claim any men’s clothing on her insurance voucher. She was, however, reimbursed by the Titanic’s White Star Line for the other possessions she lost. And did Maggie ever make it to Victor? Certainly not. Furthermore, there is little evidence that she ever saw her grandbaby at all. Eileen and Larry’s marriage was stormy at best; the couple divorced in 1915, remarried in 1917 and divorced again in 1927. Larry ultimately married Hollywood actress Mildred Gregory. The couple lived in California before returning to Leadville.

Within a year of the Titanic disaster, Maggie was renting a cottage in Newport, Rhode Island, where she was later evicted for back rent. During her post-titanic years, Maggie continued traveling. Her last visit to Hannibal was probably in 1926, when she attended the unveiling of a statue depicting Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. When she died in 1932, only about $1,500 was left of the Brown fortune.

 Today, the Molly Brown House in Denver has been restored and maintained as a museum. Likewise, the Molly Brown Dinner Theatre in Hannibal is expanding and entertains guests with stories of her life. And the Molly Brown Birthplace and Museum on Mark Twain Avenue in Hannibal has undergone at least two restorations. The latter, with its clapboard siding and fresh paint, hardly resembles the place Maggie grew up in. It’s o.k. though. Maggie would no doubt like it the way it is, perhaps even borrowing a bit of Twain-lore about how she finagled the neighborhood kids into helping paint it. She’d like that story.

Ed Harless and His Renegade Wife

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article first appeared in the Colorado Gambler magazine and Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls: Prostitution in Colorado 1860-1930.

Pictured: Notorious Blair Street at 12th Street, Silverton, Colorado.

It was no easy trick, being married in the Victorian era. Given the harshness of the times—no electricity, back-breaking chores, a plethora of vices and procreational rather than recreational sex, it is no wonder many marriages ended in divorce. The misery doubled with the death of a child, or if either spouse was given to drinking or beating one another.

In 1899 alone, the newspapers in the booming Cripple Creek District of Colorado were rife with news of unhappy unions. That June, three women applied for divorce. In July, Joe Anderson was arrested for shooting Hense Johnson in Cripple Creek’s Poverty Gulch after the former found the latter with his wife. And in October, Victor’s postmaster reported on a letter from C.M. Jones of Butte Montana, asking for assistance. Jones had just returned from the Klondike and couldn’t find his wife.

Indeed, residents of the district were no strangers to such goings on. So when Ed Harless’ wife turned up missing in Victor, it was no real surprise to anyone except maybe Ed.

The Harless’ first appeared in Victor in 1902. Ed was a miner at the Portland Mine, residing with his bride at 321 South 4th Street. But he apparently balanced his time between Victor and Denver, where he had another home. It was probably during one of his absences that Mrs. Harless unexpectedly packed her bags and caught the next train out of town. What became of her was anyone’s guess.

Ed went looking for his wife, much as any husband might do. He found her in the western slope mining town of Silverton, and the November 29 issue of the Silverton Standard reported what happened next. Harless had arrived from Victor the day before. According to the newspaper, he had been consulting a spirit medium in Denver regarding his wife’s whereabouts. The clairvoyant informed Harless that he had to look no further than Silverton to find her.

Harless beat a path to Marshal Leonard’s door in Silverton. After a short investigation, the good marshal led Harless to a bordello on Silverton’s notorious Blair Street. Like so many before her, the price of Mrs. Harless’ freedom was to land in a strange town with no support. Prostitution was a viable way to get some cash, and the girls on the row had beckoned her in.

Leonard and Harless entered the room occupied by Mrs. Harless. As the marshal stepped to the window to let in some light, the woman let out a scream. The marshal turned in time to see the husband “drawing an ugly looking revolver”. Leonard wrestled the gun away from the angry man and promptly deposited him in the city pokey. Harless was fined $50 and costs.

A few weeks later, the Standard followed up on the story with the comment that Harless had returned to Denver to further consult the psychic. This time, Harless claimed, he would find “the Telluride assassin”. Whether his boast that he could find a western slope criminal by such means was hooey, nobody will ever know. Harless did eventually return to his home in Victor, residing there as late as 1905. As for Mrs. Harless, her name in the city directory is conspicuously absent.