Tag Archives: Cripple Creek District

John Nixon and the Terrible Thanksgiving Turkey

Turkey and boyc 2015 by Jan MacKell Collins

For those who have occasionally suffered through a quite memorable yet hardly endearing Thanksgiving holiday, take heart. Even historic and quaint Cripple Creek, Colorado is not safe from the perils of a good dinner gone bad. Take for instance, John Nixon’s own Thanksgiving in 1912.

What a lovely memory, the Cripple Creek Thanksgivings of old. Gazing nostalgically down Bennett Avenue, especially in the weather of late, it is easy to paint a vintage picture. Imagine watching one horse sleighs pulling passengers bundled in warm furs and frilly coats. The delighted faces of loved ones as they greet long-absent family members. The loving preparation of a giant turkey feast, with recipes passed from generation to generation. Is it possible, revelling in retrospect, to imagine a more grand picture?

Such wonderful pictures were no doubt travelling through John Nixon’s mind as he made his way down Bennett Avenue the day before Thanksgiving. A cozy room, permeated with the smell of delicious food, was an attractive alternative to crowded and cold downtown Cripple Creek. As the wind bit through his wool coat, John gathered his scarf and lowered his hat. Quite possibly he wished he had collected his Thanksgiving turkey earlier, when the day was still sunny. Now here he was, tired and chilled, scampering to purchase that which was most important to tomorrow’s dinner.

This Thanksgiving promised to be the best in many years, for this time, Mrs. Nixon asked for a live turkey to obtain the freshest meat. Ever anxious to please his wife, John Nixon had agreed to butcher the bird at home. Now, as hurried down Bennett, John hoped his wife’s prediction was true. He hated to think the task before him was actually for naught. He wasn’t much for working harder than he had to, and his resourcefulness at easing the work day was something commented on by the Missus.

John smiled at these thoughts as he paid the butcher for his bird and produced a large flour sack from his pocket. In the interest of convenience, the sack would serve as ample transportation for the turkey’s trip home. John deposited the turkey, head first, into his flour sack and bid the butcher a happy Thanksgiving.

Sadly, it was not long before man and bird had a misunderstanding. The turkey, who did not necessarily find his position comfortable, began giving forth a terrible squawk. Within a matter of seconds, the bird was making such a racket that people on the sidewalk were staring. Being a respectful sort with regard to unnecessary noise and courtesy to those around him, John Nixon made a split-second decision. In one swift move, his fingers groped the outside of the bag until they located the turkey’s neck. Grasping said neck firmly, Nixon succeeded in squeezing it until the bird was quiet.

It seemed the logical and polite thing to do, and John complimented his decision silently as he proceeded down the road. But if John Nixon thought his actions were justified, a nearby Humane Officer did not. Almost immediately, the officer appeared at Nixon’s side and demanded, “What are you doing to that bird? Are you choking that turkey?”

Now John Nixon, already weary of his burden, began to rethink his actions. That bird was making a fuss! Something had to be done! Deciding once more he was in the right, Nixon replied defiantly, “I am not choking the turkey, but I will if he doesn’t shut his chop!”

Apparently Nixon’s answer was less than satisfactory to the officer, who next wanted to see the turkey. The unhappy creature was obligingly brought from the flour sack. Upon examination, the officer assessed the turkey’s neck was “dislocated” and arrested John Nixon for none other than animal abuse.

The sight of the Humane Officer with John Nixon in one hand and a flour sack full of disgruntled turkey in the other must have been startling. A small crowd began to follow the trio, uttering hurried whispers and pointing fingers. The unusual spectacle was accompanied by even louder squawks as the turkey made his position clear.

So loud did the gobbles and squabbles become that even the Humane Officer began having trouble concentrating. In fact, so terrible was the noise that upon reaching a hardware store, the officer instructed Nixon to wait while he went inside. The officer returned with a borrowed axe as more people gathered to await his next move. They didn’t have to wait long. According to the Cripple Creek Times, “the crowd was treated to a real interesting execution right on Bennett Avenue.”

If the crowd was surprised, they must also have been relieved at the sudden quiet which followed the turkey’s demise. While they were exchanging glances and looking from the officer to Nixon and back, a lone yellow dog appeared at the front of the group. Without so much as a look of guilt, the mutt took up the turkey’s head and headed for a nice, quiet spot. It was an exclamation point at the end of a long, confused statement.

When he finally managed to avert his eyes from the departing dog, the officer gazed uncertainly at the crowd. The accusing and bemused looks he received in return made him weigh his next step carefully. Since the object of his concern was no longer among the living, there was no longer a legitimate crime in progress. And since it was, after all, Thanksgiving Eve, what harm would come from letting Nixon go home to his family? Before the amused crowd, the Humane Officer released Nixon from custody. The thankful man gathered his expired turkey into his flour sack and once again made for home.

If there is a moral to this story, the reader must come to his own conclusion. Perhaps it has something to do with a bird in hand and letting feasting dogs lie. Were John Nixon here today to relate the tale himself, he likely might say that nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

Susan Anderson, The First Female Doctor of Cripple Creek

Doc Susie

Dr. Susan Anderson with two visitors at her cabin in Fraser. The man on the left may be her father, William.

Portions of this article have appeared in the Colorado Gambler Magazine and Cripple Creek District: Last of Colorado’s Gold Booms by Jan MacKell

c 2015 by Jan MacKell Collins

Professional careers did not come easy to women of the 19th century. If she did not become a housewife, a woman’s choice of vocation ranged from cleaning woman to cook, from laundress to waitress. The few women who were provided a college education could aspire to the position of a clerk or nurse. For most, however, professional positions were out of reach. Dr. H. Susan Anderson, M.D., was a true exception to this rule.

Susan Anderson was born in 1870 in Indiana. When her parents divorced in 1875, Susan’s father William took custody of Susan and her younger brother John. By the early 1880’s, the family had moved to a farm near Wichita Kansas. Living on a farm proved beneficial for Susan’s later career as a physician. She learned to “doctor” the animals around the homestead. Susan’s early knowledge of animal medicine, combined with her father’s encouragement to pursue a career in the medical field, seemed to set her future in stone. But little did Susan realize her determination to become a physician would be challenged in several ways.

In 1890, William Anderson remarried a woman named Minnie who appears to have been jealous of her new stepchildren. Far from being prepared for a ready-made family, Minnie already had two children, and conceived at least two more by William. In her eyes, only her natural children counted as family. Minnie ignored and mistreated Susan and her brother John at every turn, letting them know they were not wanted. This abuse continued through the sibling’s graduation from Wichita High School in 1890.

Two years later the family moved to Barry, later known as Anaconda, in the Cripple Creek District of Colorado. The family first resided in a modest home south of the schoolhouse and William pursued mining interests. It was decided that Susan and John should attend college, serving two purposes: further education would broaden the teens’ minds while getting them out of Minnie’s way.

When Susan left to study medicine at the University of Michigan in 1893, Cripple Creek had eight physicians. By the following year, the figure had doubled. Susan planned to open shop in Cripple Creek upon graduation. But despite her good grades and aspirations, Susan received shattering news midway through her studies. Her father, influenced by the undermining Minnie, was cutting off financial support.

Undaunted, Susan borrowed money from a classmate to continue her studies. John also began working his way through school. With the relationship with her father at a standstill, Susan decided to find her mother. Marya Pile Anderson had remarried, but her heart had been forever broken by William’s sudden departure with the children some years before. During the reunion with her mother, Susan learned her powerful father had divorced Marya quite abruptly, with little explanation. Susan vowed to remain in touch with Marya the rest of her life.

Susan’s father was furious when he heard the news, insisting that Susan cut ties with Marya. The young woman refused. When she graduated from medical school in 1897, none of her family attended. To complicate matters further, Susan also had contracted tuberculosis during her internship. Still, she remained optimistic. A letter to her brother John reveals, “One of my instructors will be twelve miles from Cripple Creek this summer and I expect to see him sometimes perhaps.”

Following graduation Susan returned to Cripple Creek, where she lived with her grandparents. Her relationship with her father was still strained. John was in California, and Susan’s friends were few. She set up shop in Suite #3 of the Bi-metallic Block at the corner of 2nd Street and Bennett Avenue. By then, fifty-five other physicians and ten dentists were also calling Cripple Creek home.

Being the only female physician in town must have been difficult. Her biography notes Dr. Anderson was concerned about the prostitutes working one block south on Myers Avenue. Many were infested with drug and alcohol related illnesses, venereal disease and infections from back-alley abortions. Because of her unusual status as a female doctor, it can be assumed that Susan’s premier clientele consisted of many Myers Avenue residents. Naturally the pay was poor, and she received no financial support from her father. In a letter to John, she wrote “. . . it makes me feel hard and bitter and sour when I have to go in old shabby clothes and scrimp and save and board off Grandma and Grandpa . . . ” Meanwhile, Minnie and “her” children used William’s money freely.

Over the next three years, Susan worked at building her business. Finally, one case established Susan’s reputation as a trustworthy physician in Cripple Creek. A local boy had accidentally blown up some dynamite, breaking several bones. An attending surgeon wanted to amputate his arm, but Dr. Anderson insisted on thoroughly cleaning and dressing the wound first. The boys’ arm was saved, and more people began coming to Dr. Anderson. Within two years she had repaid her college loans.

The year 1900 looked very promising. John had returned to Anaconda, where he worked as a miner at the famed Mary McKinney Mine close to town. Susan was residing next to her office at the Bi-metallic Block. Plans were under way for her to marry an unknown companion identified only as “W.R.” in her diary. Indeed, the future looked quite rosy.

Then, in a mysterious turn of events, William and W.R. had a falling out and Susan was left at the altar. On March 12, she sadly notes in her diary, “Pictures returned by W.R.…” In her misery, Susan hardly noticed the condition of her brother. John had been living at Bolton House, a boarding house located across the valley from his father on Anaconda’s Main Street. Just before Susan’s prospective wedding, John had returned from a trip to California and caught the deadly influenza virus.

By the time William and Minnie notified Susan of the severity of John’s illness, he was delirious with pneumonia. On March 16, just a few days after the devastating end of her pending marriage, Susan’s brother died at the tender age of 27. Susan’s diary reads, “John buried today. He is gone from sight but is not far away…Life seems so useless and vain. No one now cares much whether I live or die. John was my best friend on earth and now my best friend is in heaven.” Susan is the only surviving family member noted in John’s newspaper obituary.

William Anderson, no doubt feeling guilty over his eldest son’s death, moved with Minnie and their children to California. Before departing, he issued a final callous command to Susan, forbidding her to stay in Cripple Creek. But Susan had already resolved to leave, traveling around Denver and working as a nurse in Greeley for seven years. She eventually moved to Fraser, located in Grand County, where she earned the nickname Doc Susie.

Doc Susie stayed in Grand County from 1909 to 1956. There, she gained her rightful reputation as a qualified medical doctor. Friends, associates and clients all came to love her. Although her father visited her over the years, Minnie’s absence is refreshingly noticeable in photographs marking the occasion. Perhaps William finally came to his senses and returned to the child he had come to mistreat in years past.

Dr. Susan Anderson died in Denver in 1960. She wanted to be buried next to her beloved brother John in Mt. Pisgah Cemetery, but the original family plot could not be located and Susan was buried elsewhere. Years later, the family plot was found. It is a grey marble pillar with the inscriptions of John, their grandfather, and a cousin on three of its four sides. Upon its discovery, Susan’s inscription was finally added. Dr. H. Susan Anderson, M.D., has two distinctions in Cripple Creek: She was the city’s first female physician, and she is the only resident of Mt. Pisgah Cemetery with two headstones.

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.

Death, the old fashioned way

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

“How do you like your blue eyed boy, Mr. Death?”
     – Buffalo Bill’s by E.E. Cummings

To say it wasn’t easy to die in the old west is misleading. Actually, dying came rather naturally to an unnaturally high number of unfortunate folks. It was the act itself of drawing one’s last breath and heaving that final sigh that took on difficult proportions.

Death wore many hats in the Cripple Creek District, the high mountain gold mining district on the back of Pikes Peak in Colorado. The ever-present grim reaper could visit under many guises. Frightful sounding names such as Apoplexy, Nepluritis, Gastritis and Enteritis were assigned as causes of death. Other ailments, including appendicitis, pneumonia and “acute indigestion” represent those illnesses we can treat today with fewer fatalities.

Much of the romance connected with the District’s history revolves around the dead. Local funeral records offer a vivid glimpse at real, uncensored death at its worst. Between 1910 and 1913, one mortician recorded 29 fatalities at Sisters’ Hospital (now the Hotel St. Nicholas) and 15 at the County Hospital (now the Cripple Creek Hospitality House). Add that to the many more who died at home or on the job, and here is death running rampant in a frontier town.

Here were typical situations which have since evolved into classic western scenarios. For the gunshot scene we have Rube Miller, the first man killed at Cripple Creek. Miller was shot in the head by Charles A. Hudspeth at the Ironclad Dance Hall in 1892. We also have W.P. Pate, who was shot to death on bawdy Myers Avenue a few days after Christmas 1911. Preceding him was fourteen year old James Truitt, who was shot in the head at Lake George in October of that year. The next year, Walter Irwin suffered a fatal bullet at Four Mile Creek.

Children were most susceptible to a premature passing. Records from 1910 to 1913 record nine stillborns, some of which included death of the mother. From 1913 to 1916, 33 children were recorded by just one of Cripple Creek’s many funeral homes. Measles, pneumonia, scarlet fever and appendicitis were the usual suspects. But there are others: Four year old Carl Olson died near Cripple Creek from an “explosion” in 1912. As late as 1928, twelve year old George Fleetwood succumbed to 3rd degree burns.

The national Influenza Epidemic of 1918 also found a home in the District. In roughly a year’s time, one funeral director recorded 45 deaths. Among them were the Snowden boys, ages ten and fifteen, who died within a day of each other at the District town of Elkton. Their mother died just four days later, leaving a single grieving husband and father.

Suicides were another common malady. In 1916, Charles W. Richards died at his cabin in Cripple Creek. “Poison and alcohol”, notes the record flippantly, “probably suicide”. Emma Johnson followed suit, as did W.W.Holmes. With time, the depression during the 1920’s and 30’s also imposed fatalities on the shrinking district. Witness William Walker, who shot himself in the head at home in 1928. There is Clarence Newman, who made a political point at the Victor City Hall by slitting his own neck on New Years Day 1930. Then there is Eva Drake, who did herself in with a messy bullet in 1936.

By these same accounts, job stress is nothing new to America. We have Arthur Carnduff, a night watchman who killed himself at Vindicator Heights outside of Victor in 1930. Most intriguing is Victor postmaster Dixon Durette Pennington, who literally went postal and shot himself, at the post office, that same year.

Naturally, a wide assortment of mine accidents also kept the population in check. Most fatalities were caused by falling rock, interspersed with more interesting deaths like being crushed by the cage or timbers, falling down shafts, and getting blown to smithereens by misplaced dynamite. Others were run over by trains, and an assortment of grisly head injuries were common.
We even have mysterious deaths like that of Thomas Carter, whose body was found in July of 1912 on Beacon Hill. In 1913, Absear Avery and H.W. Lyal were both killed by lightening. In 1915, an unidentified body was discovered in Cripple Creek. In 1918, watchman Fred Kimpes was found dead at the Kavanaugh Mill. Warren McMann and Gordon Edwards also died when they “came in contact with heavily charged wire”.

What to do with the dead? True to tradition, deaths were reported by the men of the family, who then left the women to prepare for the funeral. Many funeral services and the rowdy wakes that followed took place in the privacy of the home. For those who could afford it, a handful of funeral directors were always on hand to render aid.

Funeral homes capitalized on their thriving industry with an assortment of fancy services. In 1910, the average casket cost from $15 to $350 depending on whether you wanted a pine box or the more exclusive “Fairy Couch”, a favorite among women and girls. Services included embalming at $5 to $50, opening the grave for $5 to $7.50; outlaying the lot for about $4.50 and hearse rental at $10 to $15. Extras consisted of burial robes, hair dressing, candles, flowers and even underwear and socks, which were frequently purchased for the deceased.

Even the poor were subject to the services offered by undertakers. Usually the county or local hospitals footed the bill for burial at a cost of about $15. Upon being hauled to the cemetery, the body was deposited in its proper designated area. At Mt. Pisgah Cemetery in Cripple Creek, African American women like Mrs. Clara Owen and Hattie Whitfield were buried in the “colored” spaces. Others, such as alcoholic Dan Duffy, merited a plot in the “poor” section.

As in the present, families sometimes opted to send the deceased elsewhere for burial. In 1913 Philip Roberts, who was killed in self defense by prostitute Jennie Wenner, was shipped off to Denver. Irvine Pogue, who died of a gunshot wound in 1917, was sent to Boulder. Evelyn Buchanan’s husband even had her body exhumed and exported to Nebraska when he could afford to pay for transportation. In turn, Mt. Pisgah Cemetery received the bodies of James Hamond from Excelsior Springs, Missouri and Bud Johnson of Greeley.

Wherever they landed, most of the District’s deceased were laid to rest with as much ceremony as possible. Peaceful sleep was intended for all, despite the century-old ghost stories and reported hauntings of today. Perhaps Denver’s Rocky Mountain News was wisest when it published this announcement back in 1874: “The News hereby declares its purpose to insert gratuitously notices of no more ghosts. They are becoming altogether too common, and the denizens of the other world appear to be encouraged by the attention they receive in this, to make unduly frequent visits.”10 Mt Pisgah Cemetery Jan MacKell

Mt. Pisgah Cemetery in Cripple Creek is the final home of many area pioneers. Many remain unmarked and unidentified, largely due to a mortuary fire in the 1940’s that destroyed almost all of the burial records.

Count Pourtales Takes A Swim

The Green Mountain Falls and the town's charming lake are pictured here, circa 1889.

The Green Mountain Falls and the town’s charming lake are pictured here, circa 1889.

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

The year was 1884 when Count James M. Pourtales first arrived in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Of European royalty, Pourtales was on the lookout for investments to save his interests in Germany and Prussia. He was also looking to spend more time with his beautiful cousin, Countess Berthe de Pourtales, whom he later married. Perhaps as a means of staying nearer to Berthe, Pourtales invested in the failing Broadmoor Dairy Farm, located on the southwest end of town, in about 1885.

Pourtales balanced his time in Colorado Springs with frequent visits to his homeland in Prussia. He soon discovered, however, that his departures generally resulted in doom for his investments. Pourtales soon learned to bloom where he was planted. Upon reviving the dairy farm, he next began purchasing more land. In the spring of 1889 he purchased a few hundred acres in what is now the five star Broadmoor neighborhood for development as a resort and casino.

In his free time, Pourtales courted his beloved Berthe and took short excursions around the growing Pike’s Peak region. One of his trips included a visit to Green Mountain Falls in May of 1889. As one of many resort towns of Ute Pass, Green Mountain Falls offered expansive picnic areas, a pretty little lake and namesake falls which cascaded gently down a local rock formation. Whether by accident or design, the Count happened to be present for the grand opening of the Green Mountain Falls Hotel. The new hotel was one of a number of pleasure resorts along Ute Pass designed to attract travelers from the east.

The hotel was a grand three story structure, built by W.G. Riddock very near the picturesque lake. Locals predicted the place would soon rival the Ramona Hotel in Cascade, located just down the road. The Green Mountain Falls Hotel offered 70 spacious guest rooms and comforting surroundings. Like the Ramona, the Green Mountain Falls Hotel also sported scenic gable rooms on each side and verandas running the length of each floor.

The grand opening was an event to be remembered, with hundreds of people attending the festivities around the hotel. Count Pourtales was amongst them, and at one point took a stroll down to the lake. There, he watched as Mr. F. E. Dow, president of Green Mountain Falls Town & Improvement Company, paddled leisurely on the water with his wife, their child and one Mrs. Clark. Suddenly the boat capsized, sending the occupants splashing into the water. As Mr. Dow attempted to save his family and Mrs. Clark, a man swam to their rescue. The hero was none other than Count Pourtales. Some say the lake is no more than a few feet deep in the middle, but the Count no doubt enjoyed his notoriety for saving the day.

Count Pourtales’ fame did not end with swimming to the rescue of Mr. Dow and his family. In 1891 the Count visited the Cripple Creek District, located just over Pikes Peak from Green Mountain Falls. The Count quickly made friends with such influential people as Sam Strong, Emma Carr, Bob Womack and Winfield Scott Stratton, all of whom contributed to the success of the District’s gold mining. When Pourtales and his partner invested $80,000 in the Buena Vista claim, their purchase made the papers and enhanced the gold rush to Cripple Creek.

In spite of his fame and notoriety, Pourtales’ investments continued to falter on occasion. In 1893 he defaulted on a $250,000 loan and lost his investment in the Broadmoor, destined to become a top star, classy destination for the millionaires of the future. Ironically, the loan company later sold the land to the estate of Winfield Scott Stratton, the Cripple Creek District’s first millionaire who averaged $12,000 a day in mining profits and died in 1902. The land was used for the Myron Stratton Home, Stratton’s own orphanage and home for the aged that is still in operation today. By the time the Myron Stratton Home was built, Pourtales had returned to his native land, where he died in 1908. His departure from the Pikes Peak region was surely final, but a good many people remembered him for years to come.

 

Cameron & Pinnacle Park, the Playground of Colorado’s Cripple Creek District

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

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

In a high meadow between Victor and Cripple Creek, mining operations have obscured the ghost of a playground past.

During the 1890’s, when the Cripple Creek District emerged as the final winner in a series of gold booms throughout Colorado and the West, residents of the District’s 25 towns and mining camps worked hard for their money. Luxuries were few, with little time to relax and really enjoy life. So when the town of Cameron was born in a beautiful high meadow near Victor, the amusement center of Pinnacle Park was built to relieve the stress of everyday living. If only for a short time, Pinnacle Park served as an entertainment nucleus in Teller County.

It could be said that Cameron was technically one of the first cities in the District when it was formed in about February of 1892. Back then, however, the dream of Cameron and what it could become was just that: a dream conjured up by competing real estate investors. In the mad scramble to bring civilization to the former high country cow pasture, two towns—Hayden Placer and Fremont—were quickly established along the actual Cripple Creek itself. Soon, each fledgling community was battling for the strongest foothold, beginning with post office nominations. In the case of Hayden Placer, a post office established under the name Moreland was marketed to emphasize the community’s expansive property to prospective buyers.

In answer, Fremont founders and Denver real estate investors Horace Bennett and Julius Myers took the competition one step further. They filed a plat on the northeastern most section of the former Broken Box Ranch—actually the future site of Cameron—and called it Cripple Creek. The flat, expansive meadow would provide for the makings of a large metropolis, they reasoned, and those wishing to buy real estate would surely choose that over the steep hillside where Fremont and Hayden Placer were located some three miles away.

Alas, the endeavor was for naught. Within a short time Hayden Placer/Moreland and Fremont combined into one city anyway, and the name Cripple Creek was applied to them both. The original Cripple Creek faded so quickly that its funny little sidebar to the District’s history was forgotten almost immediately. It is interesting to speculate what could have happened had the original Cripple Creek remained in place. At the very least, the higher town would have been more easily accessible to the railroads who later served the area.

But in fact the “first” Cripple Creek remained empty until the Woods Investment Company from Victor purchased the land in 1899. By then the area was alternately known as Gassy, as well as Gassey and Grassy. The latter name fit best, since native grasses grew high along the meadows and rolling knolls of the area. With the Woods’ purchase of the land, folks began moving up to Grassy. A small, rural population merited mention in the 1900 Cripple Creek District Directory. By then, both the Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek District Railway (CS & CCDR) and the Midland Terminal Railroad (MTRR) skirted through the area, with offshoots to several other district towns.

Even as the Cripple Creek District was peaking in 1900, Grassy was first known only as a whistle stop on the railroads. But the Woods Investment Company was a veteran in the district. Headed by brothers Frank and Harry Woods, the company had already platted the city of Victor some years before and already owned the Gold Coin Mine, plus several other mines, in the district. Taking advantage of the gold boom, the Woods Brothers next founded the town of Cameron on the Grassy site. The origin of Cameron’s name is unknown, but it was a sure winner with two railroads chugging through it. A former stage stop was converted into the Midland Terminal Depot, and a new terminal was constructed for the CS & CCDR.

The latter railroad, alternately known as the Short Line, became known for its pragmatic efficiency. While the MTRR offered both freight and passenger service to Colorado Springs, the CS & CCDR offered riders a more scenic route that included ten tunnels and high mountain vistas. When Vice President Theodore Roosevelt took a ride on the Short Line in 1901, he expressed his satisfaction with the view by exclaiming, “This is the ride that bankrupts the English language!” No expense was spared on the railroad cars, which sported ornate club cars and jaunty yellow boxcars. Because Cameron had connecting trains to Cripple Creek and Victor, the place soon became a popular stopover for tourists wishing to rest or for miners going to and from their jobs.

Cameron’s status quickly grew to be that of a semi resort town. Learning from the devastating fires that destroyed the downtown sections of Cripple Creek in 1896 and Victor in 1899, Cameron built its small business district of brick. The well-known architect M. Lockwood McBird, whose designs the Woods used for many of the businesses in Victor, was also employed at Cameron. Most business houses were located along Cameron Avenue, including three saloons to appease thirsty miners. A newspaper, the Golden Crescent, was published for a short time at Cameron.

Not far from town, the Woods Brothers next built a giant amusement area, Pinnacle Park, for the families of the Cripple Creek District. The park spanned thirty acres and cost $32,000 to create. The amenities of any great amusement park of the day were there: a large wooden dance pavilion with a bandstand, a picnic area, restaurants, and arcade area for throwing balls at “rag babies”, and an athletic field with seating for up to a thousand spectators. Football and baseball games were the main attraction. Nearby, a zoo exhibited animals native to the area, including bears. There was also a children’s playground with swings and other attractions. Visitors could access Pinnacle Park by rail, horseback, carriage and on foot. Even the occasional automobile made an appearance at the elaborate log-framed entrance.

Labor Day of 1900 appears to have been the record breaker for 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. For a few glorious years, thousands of visitors came to Pinnacle Park every weekend and holiday during the summer. But despite Pinnacle Park’s popularity, Cameron’s resident population never exceeded over 700 people including the nearby suburb of Spinney Mills. Aside from Pinnacle Park, the town was just too far away from the District’s mines and other communities. Unable to make a profit, Pinnacle Park eventually closed. Soon after, the mines around Cameron began playing out and the rumor spread that the Woods boys were in financial trouble. Lot sales at Cameron dwindled considerably, a sure sign of death in the gold boom era.

By 1903, the population of Cameron was visibly shrinking as the Cripple Creek District was launched into the second of two notorious labor wars. Cameron was located dangerously close to the violent strikes taking place at nearby Altman and Bull Hill above Victor. Even after the strike was settled in 1904, Cameron continued suffering a slow death as residents drifted off to other communities. As of 1910, the population had diminished considerably and few people made their way to what was left of Pinnacle Park. The remnants of Cameron receded quietly into the tall grass and scattered pines.

The fancy log fence around Pinnacle Park, along with the pavilion, and accompanying amusements, was finally dismantled. For years a pile of the former natural log pillars were still visible below the undergrowth and the pine and aspen which grew to surround much of the site. Over the next century the meadow sat empty again, with only a few mining buildings scattered throughout the area. The city streets were no more, the business district and homes long gone. In the trees, several rounded brick and rock enclosures, once used to contain bears and wildcats at the zoo, could be found if one knew where to look. These were dismantled and moved by the City of Cripple Creek in 2010 with the plan to reconstruct them, as modern mining endeavors did away with the high grassy meadow. Today, no other clues exist of Cameron and its once popular Pinnacle Park.

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The legendary bear caves at Pinnacle Park before they were moved in 2009.

The Utes of Ute Pass, Colorado

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

For decades, Hollywood had movie fans believing all Indians were evil savages who ran around killing whites and committing barbaric acts. Such stereotyping has been countered by historians showing that America’s true natives were, like any culture, closely knit with their own society, religion and way of life that is in fact enviable. In Colorado, the Utes stand out as one of the friendliest tribes in the Indian nation. They also are the only indigenous Native Americans of Colorado. And, despite their reputation as a peaceful tribe, the Utes of Colorado were never violently conquered by another civilization. That isn’t to say they didn’t have their battles—beginning with early Spanish explorers—but it is rare to see an instance where the Utes started a fight. They just finished it.

Nobody really knows when Ute tribes first came to Colorado, or even where they migrated from. The Indians themselves simply say they have been here “since the beginning.” It is thought that the Ute nation is descended from the Desert culture, the Fremont Indians and perhaps even the Basket Makers, which would date their presence in Colorado to 10,000 years ago or more. Other sources speculate the Utes may have migrated from Mexico, since their native tongue is deemed Uto-Aztecan.

Throughout the 1600’s and 1700’s in Colorado, Utes both befriended and fought various incoming tribes, including Comanches, Apaches, and Navajos. Seven different tribes once thrived throughout the state, each with their own name, dialect and culture. The Utes commanded the mountainous regions of Colorado, guarding Ute Pass—one of the few ways to access the western portion of the state. It should be noted here that at last count, there were five areas officially known as Ute Pass. The pass referenced here today traverses a beautiful canyon west of Interstate 25 from Manitou Springs. Most recently, the area made international news for the Waldo Canyon wildfire in 2012 and the subsequent floods which created havoc along the pass in 2014.

In those early days, Manitou Springs at the bottom of the pass was regarded as a sacred sanctuary. Here, seemingly magical, bubbling springs flow from massive caverns below. The Utes believed a great god, Manitou, resided below the springs. Manitou’s breathing gave the springs bubbles and steam, bringing health to all who drank from them. To pay homage and bring good luck, the Utes made annual treks from the mountains to visit Manitou. Utes were adept at basketry, leather work and clay wares. They often left offerings of this nature, as well as beads and knives, for Manitou. Other tribes were permitted to pay homage as well, and springs were known as common ground among all nations. At the top of the pass near Florissant, however, immunity from war was forgotten; battles between the Utes and other tribes were common.

While the near the top of the pass Cripple Creek District is best known for its gold deposits and mining history, the Utes favored the area’s high country meadows as an abundant hunting ground for thousands of generations. Utes were hunters and gatherers, and the mountains offered an abundance of edible fauna, berries and wildlife. Because the District sits at an elevation close to 10,000 feet, however, the area did not make good winter quarters. The Utes spent their winters in the lower and warmer regions, such as northern New Mexico, once the snow began falling. Spring and fall were spent commuting and preparing for the alternate seasons.

After a treaty between the Utes and the Spanish was established in 1675, the Utes became accustomed to the presence of Spaniards, Mexicans and eventually, white settlers traipsing up and down Ute Pass. They traded freely with early explorers and weathered several historic events, including New Mexico Territorial Governor Juan Bautista de Anza’s quest to kill the Comanche leader Cuerno Verde in 1779, Zebulon Pike’s failed attempt to scale Pikes Peak in November of 1806, and Major Stephen H. Long’s successful climb to the top of the mountain in 1820. They also met such famous explorers as Kit Carson, explorer John C. Fremont, and English adventurer George F. Ruxton, all of whom traversed Ute Pass during the 1840’s.

The year 1859 saw the first use of Ute Pass by freighters. Hundreds of prospectors and merchants were making their way to the gold fields on the western slope of Colorado. Skirmishes between whites and Indians still occurred, but the occasional troubles hardly stopped people like Augusta and H.A.W. Tabor, who traversed the pass on their way to Leadville. Within a year, Ute Pass became known as the “Gateway to the Goldfields”. The Utes’ passiveness at the new flurry of activity was encouraged by their famed leader, Ouray, who encouraged friendships with white men. In 1863, Ouray served as an interpreter at the Conejos Peace Treaty and was subsequently appointed leader of the Tabeguache Utes. In 1873, he also assisted in negotiating the Brunot Treaty. Unfortunately many of these treaties, designed to bring peace between the Indians and the government, were later broken by the white men who agreed to them.

In the aftermath of the infamous Meeker Massacre of 1879, Ouray and another Ute, Buckskin Charlie, went to Washington D.C. to negotiate a peaceable end to the ordeal. When Ouray resigned his position as Ute leader a short time later, he appointed Buckskin Charlie his successor. Ouray died in 1880, but the town of Ouray on Colorado’s western slope was named for him. Ouray’s wife Chipeta also had two towns named for her, including the Ute Pass resort town of Chipita Park.

A Colorado native, Buckskin Charlie was orphaned by the age of 11. He became a warrior, participating in many battles against plains Indians. One skirmish left a bullet scar on his forehead. Later, Charlie served as a scout for the U.S. Army. He earned his famous nickname for the number of antelope he killed and subsequently skinned on the expedition. Buckskin Charlie reigned over the Utes for an amazing 56 years. Photographs of him often depict him wearing a moustache, a rare characteristic among Indians. Charlie encouraged his tribe to let their children be educated by whites and attend church services. He also spoke English and dressed in white men’s clothing when visiting Washington D.C.—even though the government noted his preference for the 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.

As Charlie continued his negotiations, more and more whites migrated to Colorado. Throughout the years, the Utes had watched as early ranchers homesteaded on their treasured hunting grounds and began mining in the Cripple Creek District. By the 1890’s, when the District was formed, the Utes had lost their hold on the area altogether. Within a few short years, hundreds of prospect holes and mines were erasing the past. Two gulches, Papoose Gulch and Squaw Gulch, were so-named for the remains of an “aborigine woman” and a child that were found there. More than likely, they were actually Ute skeletons.

Indeed, the turn of the century held many changes for residents of the Pike’s Peak region. In 1912, the El Paso County Pioneer’s Association in Colorado Springs decided to dedicate the old Ute Pass trail to those who had used it long before any white man. Buckskin Charlie was 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.” Ute outposts were still visible along the pass as late as 1920.

Throughout his career, Buckskin Charlie maintained his outstanding reputation and personally met with seven United States presidents. He died in 1936, and some say his death was the last of the Indian frontier as Native Americans knew it. Although fewer in number, however, many Utes still live in Colorado, maintaining their peaceful lifestyles and ceremonial beliefs.

Utes and Colorado pioneers traverse Ute Pass in 1912.

Utes and Colorado pioneers traverse Ute Pass in 1912.