Tag Archives: Colorado gambling

Cripple Creek District: Last of Colorado’s Gold Booms: Introduction

The following excerpt is from the book Cripple Creek District: Last of Colorado’s Gold Booms (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2003), available on Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com and arcadiapublishing.com.

~2003 Cripple Creek District Last of Colorado's Gold Booms best

Who would have thought that a cow pasture could yield millions of dollars in gold and spawn a city so large it rivaled Denver for the state capitol? Bob Womack did, and it is his determination we have to thank for the historic Cripple Creek District we see today.

Upon arriving during the 1870’s, Robert M. Womack’s family established a cattle ranch near what is today Cripple Creek. Wandering the hills daily, Bob’s prior prospecting experience led to his discovery of gold. Womack’s dream of a booming gold camp was finally realized in 1891.

By 1893, the city of Cripple Creek was in a constant state of progress with new construction, new stage roads and a growing population. Telephones, telegraph lines and even electricity had been installed, making Cripple Creek one of the first cities in the nation to have such modern amenities.
Within three years, Cripple Creek’s population had grown to 10,000 residents. Several more camps, towns and cities were springing up in the District. Passengers on the newly constructed Midland Terminal Railroad rolled into a typical frontier town at both Cripple Creek and Victor. Both towns were filled with wooden false-front buildings containing banks, mercantiles, saloons, churches, opera houses, schools, boarding houses, restaurants, mining and real estate offices, hardware and furniture stores, laundries, news stands, drugstores, bakeries, brothels and assay offices. Every imaginable business prospered in the District, and the wise investor stood little chance of losing money.

Fire, an ever imposing threat on boom towns across the country, was inevitable in the Cripple Creek District. Of Cripple Creek’s three early fires, two stand out as crucial turning points in the city’s development. During a four day period in April of 1896, two separate conflagrations nearly destroyed the town. In the aftermath of the first fire, over 3,600 people lost their homes and businesses as 15 acres went up in smoke. During the second blaze, all but two buildings on Bennett Avenue burned, as well as a good portion of the residential District. Thousands more were homeless and seeking shelter in makeshift tents and neighboring towns.

What could have been the demise of any other town was a mixed blessing for Cripple Creek. Within four years a bigger, better city rose from the ashes. The town rebuilt in solid brick and the city lost its rough and shabby frontier town look. A random stroll down any avenue revealed a city bustling with business. Here, one could purchase fine china at the May Co. or the best meal in the state at the National Hotel. A number of saloons, gambling halls, dance halls and parlor houses fairly seethed with life.

The District’s second largest city, Victor, also suffered a fire in August of 1899. In its wake, residents of Cripple Creek and other nearby towns came to the rescue. This time, Frank and Harry Woods hired a variety of builders, including Denver architect Matthew Lockwood McBird. Within just a few months, Victor also rebuilt into a fine working class city. By 1900, investors from around the world were flocking to the Cripple Creek District as mines produced more millions than anyone had imagined.

By the turn of the last century, the Cripple Creek District had become a household word not only across America, but all over the world. Everyone knew where Cripple Creek was, and many yearned to seek their fortunes there. Among those celebrities hailing from the District were boxer Jack Dempsey, travel writer and radio personality Lowell Thomas, Colorado Governor Ralph Carr, and nightclub queen Texas Guinan. Famous visitors to the District included Theodore Roosevelt, Groucho Marx, Lily Langtree, and a number of musicians and movie stars.

Two labor wars occurred in the Cripple Creek District. The first, in 1893, settled in favor of the miners. The second labor war was much more violent. Riots and gunfights broke out as striking miners were deported by train to the state borders. There were deaths, injuries and inhumane acts. At one point, a Gatling gun was temporarily installed in the middle of Bennett Avenue in Cripple Creek as a deterrent to violence. By the time the strikes were settled statewide in about 1907, the mines were thought to be playing out and people began leaving the District in search of greener pastures.

Thankfully, some of the pioneer families who called the District home for decades chose to stay, living in what was left of the District even as it decayed under their feet. Through both World War I and II, the cities and towns continued to shrink as buildings were dismantled for use in reconstruction or firewood. Others simply sank into the ground under the weight of winter snows and age. As a result, only three towns exist today: Cripple Creek, Victor and the District’s third largest city, Goldfield. Each are roughly about 1/5 of their original size. Roughly four ghost towns remain visible to the naked eye, with several others either completely gone or buried forever under mine tailings.

Beginning in the late 1940’s and continuing into the 1980’s, the District evolved into a quaint tourist destination. Then in about 1989, Cripple Creek and other towns like it began considering legalized gambling to save their historic integrity. A century after its birth, Cripple Creek’s rebirth came in the form of limited stakes gaming. Alongside the gaming came the Cripple Creek & Victor Mine, which is currently the largest open pit mine in the state.

Today, fifteen casinos line Bennett Avenue in Cripple Creek, and the city is ten years into its second boom in 100 years. The city of Victor is surviving as a non-gaming tourist attraction with a healthy residential population, while Goldfield has melded into a quiet bedroom community with no commercial businesses. Live music, street festivals and a series of other events take place regularly within the District. Many of them, such as Donkey Derby Days and Gold Rush Days, are traditions dating back as long as 70 years; others are new events spawned out of the need for tourism. True to its heritage, the Cripple Creek District continues to be a wonderful year-round destination for residents and visitors of all ages.

Blackhawk Sports Early Colorado History

Copyright 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins. Portions of this article first appeared in the Colorado Gambler magazine in 2006.

     Blackhawk has been called the “Mill City of the Rockies”, earning its nickname from an early mill. The Black Hawk Quartz Mill was built in 1860 by a company in Illinois, and was allegedly named for an Indian leader from the Sauk and Fox tribes from that state, as well as Wisconsin. Colorado was just a territory, and from 1862 to 1871, Black Hawk was known to the post office as Black Hawk Point.

      By 1863, Black Hawk Point featured a fine Presbyterian church, a school and at least nine hotels, including one later owned by silver king H.A.W. Tabor. One of Colorado Territory’s first cemeteries was located on Dory Hill. Both Black Hawk and Central City were incorporated on March 11, 1864. In its early years, however, Black Hawk was fraught with struggles to survive, despite some 13 saloons and three breweries. The town received a reprieve in the form of Nathaniel P. Hill, who built the town’s first smelter. Completed in 1867, the Boston and Colorado Smelting Works utilized a new process from Wales that melted gold ore. By Hill’s actions, Black Hawk Point’s dwindling population sprang back to life. In appreciation, a town near Silver Plume, located along today’s Interstate 70, was named for Hill.

     Over 25 smelters and mills proved to be Black Hawk Point’s mainstay throughout its early life. Since a number of mines surrounded the city, it was logical enough for the town to become a refining center in the middle of what locals called “The Little Kingdom of Gilpin”, which included many mines and mining camps. In time, upwards of 60 refineries lined the two-mile stretch along Black Hawk Point’s narrow canyon. Their employees made their homes along Main Street, Gregory Street and Chase Gulch.

     In 1871 the post office dropped the “Point”, shortening the name to Black Hawk. Soon there were 2,000 people calling the place home. Amenities included a skating rink, blacksmith shop, wagon shop, two banks, two theatres, four clothing stores and a good number of saloons. It was a gritty little town whose laws closely followed the code of the West. An ordinance against shooting proclaimed that “Any person shooting…another, except in self defense, shall be fined $500 and receive as many stripes on his bare back as a jury of six may direct.” Weekends featured dances for local miners and included entertainment by area prostitutes.

     The Colorado Central Railroad reached Black Hawk in 1872, and a two-mile long switchback railroad was built over Bob Tail Hill to Central City. Central was only a mile away, but 540′ higher in altitude. Due to the rough terrain and steep climb, the railroad cost an amazing $65,000 by the time it was finished in 1878. Black Hawk also weathered a diptheria epidemic in 1879, but managed to prevail. J.E. Scobey’s Billiard Saloon, known as the Knight of Pythias Hall after 1885, was located where Bullwhacker’s Casino now is. In 1886, J.H. Phillip Rohling opened the “largest dry goods store in the county.” The National Biscuit Company, now known as Nabisco, also got its start in Black Hawk. W.L. Douglas, a local shoemaker, was later elected Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts. There were also no less than three newspapers in Black Hawk, some of which were said to publish from the Gilpin Hotel. By 1887 Black Hawk had settled its transportation problems once and for all by constructing the Gilpin Tram, a miniature railroad that reached not only Central City, but also the farther out communities of Nevadaville and Russell Gulch. The Tram was in use until 1917.

      In 1895, postal authorities once more downsized the name of Black Hawk to just one word. For some time by then, Blackhawk had been victim to the occasional flood due to its close proximity to Clear Creek. The worst of the floods happened on July 30, 1895. In the aftermath, the town raised $32,000 to build a rock flume, or water ditch, to prevent further flooding. Five years later the population hung steady at 1,200. Miners were enjoying their libations at places like Tom Crook’s Palace, a rock-walled saloon that allegedly had been dismantled and brought by wagon from Missouri and once the alleged favored drinking spot of Jessie James.

     There were lots of towns surrounding Blackhawk, including the railroad stop of Cottonwood, Hughesville with its Hard Money Mine; Lake Gulch with its famous hermit who lived between there and Caribou before dying in 1944; the railroad stop of Smith Hill, and Yankee Bar above town. During prohibition, bootleggers ran amuck and at least one of their cabins remains standing today in Golden Gate Canyon State Park.

      Time marched on, however, and in 1941 the last Colorado Central train left Blackhawk. The town melded into a fun and easily accessible tourist spot along State Highway 119. It was also home to the only gas station in Gilpin County for literally decades. The post office closed in 1950. Only 227 people lived there in 1990, but in 1991, the post office reopened when gambling was legalized at Blackhawk. Today, Blackhawk offers some of the best gaming money can buy, with modern casinos mixed among several historic buildings that include the 1863 Lace House.Image Photo courtesy of the City of Blackhawk website.