Tag Archives: Cripple Creek

Ghosts and Goblins of Colorado

c 2015 by Jan MacKell Collins


When we of the living world think of ghosts, our minds naturally conjure up visions of some ethereal figure in an old-fashioned costume. Colorado is rife with tales of such sightings, along with a handful of psychics who have met a misty apparition or two themselves. More often than not, the ghostly subjects of today seem to date to just a century or so ago. But what of those people from the Victorian era itself? Were they not safe from the perils of witnessing supernatural phenomena? Indeed they weren’t.

For over a hundred years and then some, Coloradans have had the same fascination with the afterlife as their descendants. In a time before medicine and safety, death was all too frequently a visitor in many a household. Funerals were an everyday part of Victorian life, and their ceremonies were carried out with vigor. Robert Latta, a visitor to Cripple Creek at the turn of the century, recalled seeing a funeral procession making the rounds of the local bars. The parade was led by a brass brand playing “There’ll Be A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight”. The transparent participants laughed and danced their way through every saloon along Bennett Avenue, stopping at each one for a drink and a toast. “They were ‘celebrating’ the funeral of one of their friends,” Latta remembered, “and were carrying his coffin with them. It was the noisiest funeral party I ever saw.”

Naturally not every death was taken so lightly, especially if the deceased decided not to remain so. In 1894, a miner was killed by an explosion at the Mamie R. Mine in the Cripple Creek District. A few nights later, several of the dead man’s co-workers watched in horror as their comrade suddenly rang the bell and disembarked from the hoist bucket alone. Slinging his bloody and shredded arm over his shoulder, the ghostly miner smiled at the men before ambling off into the night. The chilling tale would be repeated around the district for years, followed by new stories as they developed in Victorian imaginations.

Another time in Cripple Creek, a gentleman claimed to have seen a funeral procession on the edge of Mt. Pisgah Cemetery. Upon arriving at the graveyard, however, the man saw no sign of a funeral gathering. Further checking confirmed there were no funerals taking place that day. With the number of clairvoyants calling Cripple Creek home, it is no wonder such stories and their frightful counterparts began appearing out of nowhere.

Cripple Creek was not the only place to suffer such eerie events. Many of Colorado’s first ghost stories date back to the early 1800’s and before. As early as 1832, for instance, a ghost known as John Fagan was terrorizing travelers between Denver and Bent’s Fort. One day in 1879, the Central City Daily Register reported on a miner who arrived at the bottom of a local mine shaft and found the dead body of another miner. The man put the body in the hoist bucket, only to have it arrive up top empty.

That same year, Denver’s Rocky Mountain News printed the story of a recently built house in which no one could live. The newspaper hired a reporter to spend the night in the house. During the course of his stay, the reporter was visited by the ghost of a young woman who claimed her murdered body was interred with the walls. An investigation revealed the girl’s body, just where she said it would be.

In 1881, Dr. Hartmann of Georgetown wrote of a seance at which he and his spiritualist friends summoned dead loved ones and attempted to grab a ghost. Six years later, a visitor to Breckenridge suffered repercussions from drinking from a spring haunted by an Indian maiden who died in captivity. And in 1889, engineers along the Rio Grande Railroad were chased by a phantom train over Marshall Pass. This time, the apparition at the helm of the ghost train left a chilling message written in the frost of the other train’s window: “Years ago a frate train was recked as yu saw—now that yu saw it, we will never make another run. The enjine was not ounder cantrol and four sexshun men wore killed. If yu ever ran on this road again yu will be recked.”

By 1890, folks all over the state were having more supernatural experiences than ever before. A 70 year old man claimed to have received a letter from his dead daughter. In March of 1892, prospectors were spotting an ethereal dragon near Gray’s Peak. Later that year, three prisoners escaped from the Gunnison jail after a phantom set them free. A seven foot ghost was spotted at a station house in Lafayette in 1893. And in 1894, a lengthy conversation between a spirit and mediums cleansed a Denver house for occupancy.

It is true that many of these early tales were probably explainable, such as blaming an inept jailer or real estate shark. Other stories make one wonder as well, such as the 1887 report of a prostitute who went straight after seeing the ghost of her mother. Prostitutes seemed, as always, to be of particular interest to ghost seekers. There is the story of two men who resolved to capture the ghost of harlot Lizzie Greer for loitering near a Dissecting Room in Denver (physicians could sell the indigent deceased to a dissecting room for experiments, thereby covering their own costs). In 1886, Annie “Dutch Annie” Busch’s spirit was hanging around the city jail long after she did herself in at the end of a rope.

It is interesting to note that of all the ghost stories from the past, none seem to survive today except in the annals of the newspapers from whence they came. Have the lost souls found peace and moved on with time? Or did they ever really exist to begin with? In the end it doesn’t really matter; ghost stories are among the best of all stories, true or not. Even so, the prospect of ghosts haunting the earth for centuries leaves one final question: If a live person who once saw a ghost is deceased, does that ghost still see ghosts?

A match made in luxury: Cripple Creek’s Winfield Scott Stratton and Denver’s Brown Palace Hotel

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

According to one legend, Winfield Scott Stratton, the first and most famous millionaire of the Cripple Creek District, traveled to Denver during a particularly nasty storm in the spring of 1900. Upon stumbling into the prestigious Brown Palace Hotel, Stratton was ordered by an imperious employee to remove himself and his muddy boots from the lobby. The temperamental tycoon retaliated by purchasing the hotel outright so he could fire the employee.

A more scathing story was that Brown Palace manager Maxey Tabor, son of former silver king H.A.W. Tabor, disapproved of a young vaudeville actress Stratton was courting while both were guests at the hotel. In fact, Tabor went so far as to suggest to the lady that she should leave the hotel, never to return. For that reason and no other, according to the Telluride Daily Journal, Stratton purchased the Brown to exact revenge, “and now they do say that Manager Tabor will be out of a job just as soon as the new owner moves into the second floor front suite.”

The third, more genteel story, is most likely a combination of the Tabor story and the truth: Stratton was in fact saving the Brown from foreclosure when he purchased the mortgage in 1900. The grand hotel had opened some years before, specifically built to cater to the rich, political and powerful men and women of the time. Carpenter and architect Henry C. Brown financed the project, naming the hotel for himself. As early as October 1, 1891, the Leadville Herald Democrat noted the hotel was under construction, but was already receiving guests on a limited basis.

The Brown Palace officially opened in 1892 and immediately became a prominent meeting spot for political conventions and important organizations of the time. Denver’s most elite hotel was constructed of Colorado red granite and Arizona sandstone outside, with decorative iron and Mexican onyx inside to create a sturdy structure that could stand for decades. Nine floors offered luxurious suites, ballrooms, meeting and banquet rooms, private clubrooms, restaurants and an expansive lobby that was visible via a wrap-around balcony extending to the eighth floor. High above, a 2,800 square-foot stained glass ceiling provided natural lighting.

There is little doubt that Stratton favored staying at the Brown for a number of reasons. Being a former carpenter himself, the mining magnate likely appreciated Henry Brown’s humble beginnings and admired architect Frank Edbrooke’s Italian Renaissance design of the hotel. Here, Stratton could easily find and meet with politicians, mine owners and other influential figures to discuss the state of affairs regarding gold mining and the future of America.

The Brown Palace also offered a safe retreat from the money-grubbing men and women of the Cripple Creek District and Colorado Springs who constantly vied for Stratton’s money and attentions. Upon staking the Independence gold mine at Cripple Creek on July 4, 1891, Stratton had literally become a millionaire overnight. Almost immediately a gaggle of newfound “friends”, gold-digging harlots and illegitimate heirs came forth, all wanting a piece of Stratton and his new fat wallet. Whether killing him with kindness or clamoring for his cash, Stratton’s fan club only served to embitter the man further and drove him to drink.

Stratton is known to have taken refuge at the Brown as early as 1896, when he joined others at a meeting to fight against silver coinage. W.H. Bush, manager of the hotel at the time, was also a mining investor and favored such meetings. Here, Stratton found colleagues whose best interests lay with the future of mining, not his own pocketbook. From his upstairs suite, he could relax in privacy, imbibe freely in his alcohol and recover from his hangovers via the hotel’s wonderfully refreshing artesian well, located some 750 feet underground. Fountains from the well once graced every floor.

Most unfortunately, running a place as swell as the Brown Palace came at a cost. The hotel happened to open just before the Silver Panic of 1893, which sent the nation into a devastating depression. By 1900 Henry Brown was struggling to make ends meet. Stratton, who had already earned kudos for extending money to friends, supplying Cripple Creek with needed goods following two devastating fires in 1896, and even assisting former millionaire widow Baby Doe Tabor with her Matchless Mine at Leadville, came to the rescue. In April of 1900, newspapers announced that Stratton had purchased the Brown Palace Hotel for a cool $1.5 million, regarded as an extremely good price even for the time.

Alas, Stratton may have saved the Brown Palace Hotel, but he could not save himself. On September 14, 1902, he died at his home in Colorado Springs. At the young age of 54, Cripple Creek’s favorite millionaire quite literally drank himself to death. The Brown Palace remained under Stratton’s estate for the next twenty years. It was then purchased by another key player in Cripple Creek history, the same Horace Bennett who platted the city, made a million dollars from lot sales, and for whom Bennett Avenue is named.

Bennett’s partner in 1922 was hardware magnate and philanthropist Charles Boettcher. The latter was already a part time resident of the hotel, which remained in the family until 1980. During the time in between those years, the Brown Palace has played host to no less than three presidents plus several dignitaries, governors, celebrities and others who have contributed to its enduring and endearing history. A favorite story: the time Zsa Zsa Gabor’s pampered puppy got lost in the heating ducts. The Queen of Slap was forced by other engagements to move on while hotel workers toiled to extract the dog and personally flew him to be reunited with Gabor.

Today, a stay at the Brown Palace Hotel continues to reflect everything Brown, Stratton, Boettcher and subsequent owners expected in a five-star, four-diamond hotel. Care of the 120 year-old structure is a great undertaking, but visitors can still relax with such amenities as Victorian rooms with modern comforts, historic décor including artifacts dating as far back as 1763, a polite and friendly staff, moderately-priced to upscale fine dining, and of course that excellent artesian water that now flows from every faucet. The four o’clock tea is an especial favorite among the ladies. For looky-lou’s, beware: the prestigious Brown does not allow anyone above the second floor to ensure the privacy of their guests.Brown Palace lobby

Blanche Burton, Queen Madam of Colorado City and Cripple Creek

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article are excerpted from Jan MacKell’s book, “Brothels, Bordellos & Bad Girls: Prostitution in Colorado, 1860-1930” (University of New Mexico Press, http://www.unmpress.com).

If prostitution is the oldest profession, who was the oldest prostitute in Cripple Creek? The answer would be Blanche Burton, the very first soiled dove to haul her petticoats to town.

Blanche appears to have got her start in Colorado City, now the west side of Colorado Springs. According to census records, she was born in Ireland in November of 1865 and came to the United States in 1881.She was once married to a prominent Kansas man who later moved back east. The couple had a son and a daughter. The boy died in an explosion, and the girl was placed in a convent.

Blanche first appears on record in Colorado in 1889, at the seasoned age of thirty. That year, court records show she was accused of running a house of ill fame in Colorado City. The loophole Blanche dove through to gain her release was quite clever, as her defense successfully argued that she couldn’t possibly run a “house” of ill fame because she actually lived in a tent.

But such harassment was common in Colorado City, and so when word came of a gold boom in Cripple Creek, Blanche took the opportunity to move up there. She and her tent arrived in 1891, where an immediate friendship was struck up with Bob Womack, founder of the gold boom itself. The charming cowboy took Blanche under his wing and encouraged her to pitch her tent and set up business near his cabin in Poverty Gulch.

Almost right away, Blanche discovered the value of being street-wise in Cripple Creek. One of her customers, aptly named Tim Hussey, had been paying for Blanche’s services by giving her interests in his mining claims. An investigation by Womack revealed that the 27 one-eighth interests were all from the same claim. Despite this and other gold camp schemes, Blanche appears to have done well during her first two years in Cripple Creek. She had a limited education, but she could read and write. For several months, she held the title of the first and only madam in town.

By 1893, Blanche was operating a parlor house over a saloon on Bennett Avenue, one of two main business drags. One time Womack rode his horse up the front steps of her parlor house. Whenever Bob fell ill, Blanche would send her girls to his cabin to take care of him. In the meantime, Cripple Creek had turned into a rough and tumble boomtown. Younger girls, some in their teens, came and set up business too. It is not unlikely that Blanche may have felt lost or even left out as newcomers literally poured into the city limits and “old-timers” like herself were forgotten. When Marshal Hi Wilson demanded that all ladies of the evening remove themselves from Bennett Avenue to more discreet quarters on Myers Avenue, Blanche had enough. Upon departing from Cripple Creek in 1894, she considered herself officially retired.

Or did she?

Back in Colorado City, Blanche next took up residence at 812 Colorado Avenue, just around the corner from the northernmost part of the red-light district. But word of Blanche’s reputation spread through town. Three years away, especially in an immensely popular town like Cripple Creek, did little to quell any rumors about her profession. With time, Blanche became a noted recluse with no visible means of income. In 1902 she moved one house over to 816 West Colorado. Also living at the house in 1902 was Miss Blanche Bell, and it is entirely possible that Ms. Burton may have been in business after all with her own small parlor house.

Either way, Blanche continued to contribute to her community and live quietly. All around her, Colorado City seemed in a constant ruckus what with the railroad, progress, and authorities trying to close down the red light district where she herself had once worked. In January of 1909, three mysterious fires wiped out the red light district almost completely, but it was quickly rebuilt. The fires may or may not have had something to do with Blanche’s ultimate fate.

On December 20, 1909, Police Chief McDowell and Patrolman Morse were on an evening stroll when they noted a person who appeared to be on fire running into the middle of Colorado Avenue. The men immediately grabbed the victim and used their overcoats and snow to extinguish the flames. Most of the clothing was burned off, and closer examination revealed it was Blanche Burton laying in their arms. Upon carrying her into the house the men discovered a hanging curtain, called a portiere, also in flames. Surprisingly, the fire was small and extinguished quickly. A broken oil lamp lay nearby, providing the last clue to the mystery.

Two physicians, Dr. G.S. Vinyard and Dr. G.B. Gilmore, were called to the Burton home but there was little to be done. Blanche lived long enough to tell everyone that just a year and a half earlier her barn had burned. Her horse and two dogs had been killed, and in trying to rescue them she almost died herself. The men tried to get her to reveal her true name if there was one, as well as the address of the daughter she allegedly had. Supposedly, Blanche said that her daughter lived in Illinois but nothing more. She died just after 5 a.m. the next morning before she could give any other information.

No doubt the men may have wondered why Blanche chose to mention her burning barn, but they also wondered why a man was seen running west on Colorado Avenue shortly before Blanche’s accident. The man was never identified, nor was there any cash in the house. Furthermore, authorities failed to find any bank accounts in Blanche’s name.

Blanche Burton may have been buried a pauper if it weren’t for fellow madam Mamie Majors. The bold Miss Majors paid for Blanche’s funeral, which was conducted from Beyle Undertaking Rooms on Christmas Eve. Surely it was a sad and grief-stricken party who accompanied Blanche to her grave in Fairview Cemetery. Even the public and the press felt sympathy for the reclusive harlot. The presiding minister praised Blanche’s good heart, explaining that the day before her death she had purchased a ton of coal for needy families in time for Christmas. Her obituary in the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph was headlined, “Did Much Good.” The article stated that Blanche was a good nurse and always ready to respond to those in need.

In the years following, Blanche and her counterparts were all but forgotten until Bill Henderson came along. Henderson, formerly the mayor of Colorado Springs, took a special liking to the naughty (but deceased) ladies of Colorado City. Members of the Garden of the Gods Rotary Club were so moved by a speech Henderson gave, they decided Blanche should have a proper gravestone. Accordingly Richard Wilhelm of Wilhelm Monument Company donated the stone, which was erected in 1983 on the anniversary of Blanche’s unfortunate death. It remains today, bearing an appropriately wise inscription based on a poem by Frank Waugh:

Pioneer Madam
The sins of the living
are not of the dead

An unidentified harlot from Colorado's past.

An unidentified harlot from Colorado’s past.

Urban legend or not? Bigfoot in the High Country of Colorado

C 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

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

It’s a question that never grows old: Is Bigfoot out there? Commercials, movies, television shows, documentaries, books, and most important of all, photos, have focused on a legendary primate-type critter who stands between seven and ten feet tall and enjoys lumbering around in the woods. He is generally described as smelly but gentle-appearing, walking with slow-moving gracefulness or loping through a field. In some instances he looks casually at the observer but doesn’t appear the least bit interested in the humans who spot him.

At night, some claim, you can hear his haunting screams echoing through the remote backwoods. Some have said he grunted at them during an encounter. Others say he is responsible for making knocking noises with large pieces of wood in the forest. Still others have given reports of having rocks thrown at them and witnessing feasts by the beast on wild game. Depending on the region, this giant ape-like being goes by Sasquatch, Yeti or, in Colorado, Bigfoot.

Bigfoot sightings have in fact been going on for centuries all over the world, including the United States. According to the official Bigfoot Field Researchers Association, Hawaii is actually the only state without one. Delaware and Rhode Island rank the next lowest with only five sightings each. Washington State ranks first with 577 sightings since 1996. California comes second with 427, and Oregon has had 235.

Indeed, the Pacific Northwest was where the first Bigfoot sighting in America occurred, clear back in 1811. But in the great ranking of the most sightings, it is interesting to note that Colorado takes 8th place (the state is actually tied with Georgia at 115 sightings). The first time anyone reported seeing a Bigfoot in Colorado was in Jackson County, when a hunter watched two of them stalk an elk way back in 1926. For many years Teller and Park counties, nestled next to each other and surrounded by plenty of remote forests, took first honors above the rest of the state with numerous sightings. Increased populations and mining activity in Teller County especially have  changed the numbers only slightly in recent years; these days Park County leads with nine sightings, while Teller, Lake and Conejos counties have each had eight. Nearby El Paso County follows with seven sightings.

“Bosh!” say some who staunchly deny the big hairy guy exists at all. Enough reports have surfaced, however, to merit looking into the matter further. Take 1972, for example, when a couple hiking in the Lost Creek Wilderness observed a creature squatting near a pond. “When he stood up erect and looked at us we knew it was not a bear,” stated one of the witnesses. Although the couple was unable to obtain a photograph on subsequent visits, “Unsolved Mysteries” television show covered the incident in a segment during the early 1990’s.

Closer to Cripple Creek were two sightings in the 1970’s, one during the day by two brothers hiking and another by a young girl camping with her family. Both happened on the west side of Pikes Peak. In the latter instance, the creature was peering into a camper trailer when the girl awoke and came face to face with it through the screened window. “I quickly pushed the curtain closed and laid there completely paralyzed with fear,” she recalled in later years. The woman also remembered hearing a “chatting” noise that first awoke her, and that the next morning the apples and potatoes had been stolen from the back of the family truck. During that same time, other hikers noted large footprints in the snow on the backside of the Peak.

Just a few years later, in 1981, a mine watchman near Cripple Creek was badly shaken when he spotted a tall, two-legged creature near one of the mine buildings. In 1984, another young girl spotted the long-armed hairy man walking amongst some cows along Phantom Canyon Road. More tracks were found near the Cripple Creek watershed in 1986. And in 1987, two Florence boys working at a donut shop watched “a very large hairy looking thing” sauntering down the main drag on two legs in the dead of night.

By then, Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin’s famous film documenting Bigfoot for the first time had been debated over for some twenty years. Even today the seconds-long footage of a hairy beast strolling along a creek in 1967 infatuates researchers everywhere. Gimlin recently theorized the incident might have been a hoax, especially since hundreds of such have been perpetrated over the last 40 years.

In 1987, for instance, Green Mountain Falls resident Dan Masias claimed to have seen two Bigfoots booking down the road in front of his home. When unidentifiable hair was found on the door of a home that was broken into, the story began making international headlines. Masias’ last sighting was in 1992, but rumors circulating that he confessed to faking the whole thing slowed down the amount of witnesses coming forward for a few years.

Once things cooled down, the Bigfoot sightings made a reprise. Cadets at the United States Air Force Academy reported seeing and hearing a Bigfoot from Jack’s Valley above the base throughout the 1990’s. Four accounts in Teller, Douglas and El Paso counties in 1997—including one along Ute Pass—plus four sightings in as many surrounding counties in 1998, and the big guy was back on top. In December of 1999 a trucker spotted one south of Colorado Springs. During the fall of 2000, people reported hearing “eerie human-like calls” and finding footprints in the Pikes Peak National Forest. Also, a tribe of Romanian gypsies near Fairplay beat a hasty retreat after a seven-foot tall creature appeared at the edge of their campsite.

The sightings continued. In May 2001 a woman and two small children living near Lake George distinctly heard an animal emit a blood-curdling “rooster-dog” howl outside their home. A month later, when a nine-year-old boy spotted a Bigfoot at the first rest stop along the road to the top of Pikes Peak, officials had already half-jokingly posted a sign warning of Bigfoot sightings. Finally, a hunting guide and three other people heard the rumble of an unidentifiable animal, heard something knocking logs together and found large but melting tracks in the snow off Gold Camp Road near Victor in November.

During 2002, reports in El Paso and Park counties told of hearing eerie screams, including one that was in response to a hunter’s elk bugle. There were two more sightings in 2005. The first was in January near the Crags Campground, where some mighty large footprints were photographed in the snow. Then in October of 2005, employees of the Arrowhead Gold Course off Range View Road in Douglas County saw a “huge whitish gray figure” peaking at them on Hole #13. And in May of 2006 a hunter saw a Bigfoot walking in the hills west of Fort Carson.

More recently, in August 2010 a woman delivering newspapers west of Buena Vista during in the early morning  hours was startled to see “a large upright dark figure” cross a two-lane highway in just three steps.  And in May of 2012, two women on an evening hike near Bailey watched as a creature measuring seven to eight feet tall and standing upright ran from them into the woods. And for every sighting reported on the BFRO website, numerous others – such as huge tracks found in the snow near Cripple Creek during the winter of  2012 – do not get reported.

Going by all accounts, the Bigfoots of the Pikes Peak region have been seen, heard, or left their tracks at all times of the year. They seem to favor steep and forested terrain. Upon seeing humans they usually exhibit a gentle curiosity before moving on, rarely venturing nearer. Now and then they let out a screaming howl, sometimes in answer to the call of another animal. And, they tend to be a bit smelly. Most of the many websites covering the phenomena advise to be at the ready with a camera if you see one. None of the sites say what to do if you really do see one, but those who believe ought to have some extra fun hiking and camping this summer.

Bigfoot sign Pikes Peak

Enough sightings have been reported along the route up Pikes Peak in Colorado that officials finally posted this sign some years ago.

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.


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

The Bare Hills, Furrow City and the Cripple Creek Scam

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

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

It seemed reasonable enough. If a Colorado cow pasture in remote ranch land could magically yield millions of dollars in gold and spawn the famed Cripple Creek District, certainly a nearby group of treeless hills could become a booming metropolis. At least that was what the promoters of Bare Hills City were hoping for.

Situated some 10 miles southwest of Cripple Creek along Wilson Creek, the Bare Hills are just that: a mass of rolling knolls covering three or four square miles that, by some freak of geographical nature, are barren of trees. Good ground cover makes this an ideal place for grazing cattle to roam. Over a century ago, pioneer ranchers from what is called the Four Mile region homesteaded in the area. As the gold boom at Cripple Creek unfolded, roads around Four Mile saw increased use as freight wagons, stage coaches and ranchers brought goods to and from the district.

By 1896, the dirt highway traversing through the middle of Four Mile was being called High Park Road. A new community, also called High Park, had been founded right near the Fremont and what would become the Teller County county lines. Just up the road was a much smaller hamlet called Gold Springs, named for some nearby mineral-stained ponds that sprang from the ground. And there was Bare Hills City, circa 1894 or perhaps even earlier, situated right in the middle of those barren hills. In fact, Bare Hills City was the first to establish a post office in April of 1896. Two months later, the Bare Hills Times newspaper was founded by V.S. Wilson.

High Park followed with its own post office in June, and its peak population was about 100 people. The newer city had at least one advantage over Bare Hills: Being located along the highway to Canon City guaranteed regular traffic and business. Bare Hills City was definitely located off the beaten path, in a remote area with no particular reason for one to pass through it. Only one road led to the Cripple Creek District, possibly via a trail between Espinosa and Long Gulch that eventually connected to today’s Shelf Road. Stage service was available on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

From Bare Hills City, there was also a commanding view of the Cripple Creek District. It may have been no more than that picturesque view that inspired the Bare Hills Land Company to set up shop. The company founders, headed by J.R. Gleason, tried to replace the name of Bare Hills City with the more enticing name of Furrow City after initial founding father J.W. Furrow. What the promoters didn’t tell, however, was how in March of 1896 Furrow had returned to his fledgling city from Cripple Creek somewhat inebriated. Upon his arrival, he learned of a man named Lupkins who was busy staking his own town—right next to Bare Hills City! Incensed, Furrow “went at once to Lupkins’ tent and calling Lupkins out, began to swear at him,” according to the Aspen Weekly Times. Next, Furrow pulled a pistol and fired at Lupkins three times. Lupkins returned fire twice, killing Furrow almost instantly. Lupkins was found not guilty by self defense. It was the first—and only known—killing at Furrow City.

Despite the killing of their leader, city promoters were undaunted. The Bare Hills, they claimed, were located on the same gold belt as the Cripple Creek District. After all, initial gold explorations revealed ore valued at $70 to $80 per ton. And to prove their point, the land company even promised a free mining claim with each lot purchased. In addition, the post office and a tiny livery stable were situated so that upon approaching the two buildings each visitor got a bird’s eye view of Cripple Creek nestled high up in its “bowl of gold”. Thus the Bare Hills Mining District was born, with its mentor mining district in clear sight. Before long, Gideon Thomas of Victor (another of the many towns in the Cripple Creek District) was making a tidy sum by hauling supplies to Furrow City. The Bare Hills Times, meanwhile, was purchased by J.W. Clark in 1897. And in November of that year, the Cripple Creek Chamber of Commerce was coerced into paying thousands of dollars to build a better road to the tiny town. Even freighting magnate Albert E. Carlton, one of Cripple Creek’s newest millionaires, contributed funding. The new road ran south out of Cripple Creek, passing over the saddle south of Mt. Pisgah to down to Four Mile Creek.

For about the next decade, the Bare Hills Land Company continued convincing naive speculators that the Bare Hills Mining District was sure to boom at any moment. Even when the newspaper went under and High Park’s post office closed in 1899, the land company refused to give in. Soon, however, rumors began circulating that Furrow City was nothing but a false claim of certain wealth in the midst of a bunch of cow patties.

In answer, Bare Hills’ promoters simply solicited out of state and began extolling the virtues of other minerals besides gold. A cyanide plant was constructed in May of 1899. At least one company, the Colorado Mica Mining & Milling Company, was formed in 1900 out of Duluth, Minnesota. The company held three claims and reported their mica was selling for $600 to $32,000 per ton. Copper was another commodity, as well as sylvanite and lead ore known as galena.

The 1900 census shows 57 people surviving at Bare Hills City, including physician Andrew Hayes. There were ten homes plus a sizeable boarding house. The postmistress was Josephine Ferguson; her father Colin was a mail carrier. There were also families, gold miners, laborers, teamsters and a blacksmith, as well as a sawmill. Bare Hills City was never incorporated. From all appearances, there was never a school, a church or even a store at Bare Hills, but there was a shed next to the post office where horses could rest while their owners caught up on the day’s news. Soon it was obvious that Bare Hills City’s economy was hanging on by a mere thread.

By 1901, the jig was up. The post office closed in June. Six months later, the High Park post office reopened to handle the overflow. One source states Bare Hills had a population of over 1,000 in 1905, but this number surely includes residents of Gold Springs, Four Mile and High Park. In fact, High Park remained a favorite stop for travelers through at least 1917. During that time the post office closed only one other time, from April of 1913 to September of 1914.

As for Bare Hills City, the tiny mining district did survive through at least 1906. In July of that year, the Cripple Creek Times featured a story headlined, “Bare Hills District Excites, Increasing Interest Locally”. The article made one last attempt to entice new investors. “The Bare Hills mining district is exciting considerable interest among local mining men,” said the paper, explaining that the Copper Queen vein was among the most promising mines. The mine had been located by one Carl Sextus and his associates, and was said to be traceable to Witcher Mountain and towards Cripple Creek.

It seems remarkable that the Grouse Mountain area [near Bare Hills City] would be part of the Cripple Creek District, for it is really a part of the greatest gold camp,” the newspaper insisted. Remarkable was right. Within just a few more years everyone was wise to the fact that no copper vein—nor any other vein, for that matter—extended to the Bare Hills from Cripple Creek’s riches. By 1910 Bare Hills City was pretty much abandoned. These days the remains of the town are located in the heart of a private and rural subdivision, and only a few crumbling log buildings remain.

The Cripple Creek District can be seen from between the two remaining buildings at Bare Hills City.

The Cripple Creek District can be seen from between the two remaining buildings at Bare Hills City.

Arequa Gulch: A Long Gone Town in Colorado

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

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

The name of Highway 67 in Colorado is a bit deceiving. The road was originally a thoroughfare that took folks to the famed Cripple Creek District. In Victor, the District’s second largest town, one could catch the Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad into the southern part of the state. Later proclaimed as Highway 67, today’s road still travels through the Cripple Creek District. At Victor, the “highway” turns into the scenic dirt road of Phantom Canyon and follows the old railroad grade to Florence.

Drive over Highway 67 between Cripple Creek and Victor today and you will cross the Arequa Gulch Bridge, a behemoth stretch of steel and pavement traversing a great canyon. Built in 2001 for $8 million and measuring 250′ high, it is the tallest non-suspension bridge in Colorado. The bridge offers two vastly contrasting views: the gigantic dirt tailings from the Cripple Creek &Victor Mine to the north, and the untouched, pristine landscape of Arequa Gulch with a stunning view of the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the south.

Long ago, before the mine and before the bridge, Arequa was one of 25 towns once located in the Cripple Creek District. Arequa was not only the oldest community in the area, but also played an essential part in the formation of the district and the gold boom of 1891. 

Back in 1873, a man known as “Uncle” Benjamin Requa had a general store and eatery at Fountain, south of Colorado Springs. Requa, Croft & Co. did a booming business even then, advertising frequently in local newspapers. Born in about 1835 in New York, Ben Requa was quite the nomad. The year 1863 found him in California, where he enlisted to fight for the Union during the Civil War. By 1864 he was at Calabasas Arizona, an ancient Papago Indian village that had also served as a Mexican garrison before becoming a military base.

 Following his discharge at San Francisco in 1866, Requa next made his way to Colorado. He is first mentioned in newspapers in April of 1873, when the Colorado Springs Gazette noted he was visiting Colorado Springs from Fountain. He was active in local affairs and owned a lot of property, as illustrated by many real estate transactions around Fountain in the early 1870’s.

 Bob Womack, whose family owned a ranch south of Colorado Springs at the time, was certainly familiar with Requa. It was at Requa’s store that Womack chanced to meet up with Ferdinand Hayden’s U.S. Geological Survey party in the summer of 1873. Womack told the men of his gold discoveries in Cripple Creek and invited them up to take a look for themselves. It took a year, but Ben Requa was able to assist Womack in gathering nearly 100 men to make a gold-seeking trek to Cripple Creek. The group blasted a tunnel near Eclipse Gulch, located about halfway between present-day Cripple Creek and Victor. The area was christened the Mount Pisgah Mining District. Later, Requa’s party concluded that it was indeed possible there were rich ore deposits in the area. If only they knew that the District was destined to be the last of Colorado’s great gold booms!

It could be said that Ben Requa’s interest in mining did much to support Womack’s claims. Just a short time before his trip to the district, Requa discovered a silver mine on Cheyenne Mountain near Colorado Springs. In September of 1874 he also filed a claim in the name of Requa & Brown Mining Co. in the Mt. Pisgah Mining District. Two years later, Requa & Croft purchased a mill at Silverton and assisted in forming the Colorado Springs Mining District. In December of 1876, Requa also took a trip up north to the Black Hills to have a look at some prospects.

Whatever his dreams of finding the mother lode, however, it appears Requa ultimately missed out on the gold at Cripple Creek. The last mention of Requa & Croft in local newspapers was when they sold more property, possibly their store, in December of 1877. The 1880 census, however, recorded Requa still living in Fountain. By then he was a widower (it is speculated he married twice and may have had two daughters), was still employed as a merchant and was living with the family of J.B. Riggs, another prominent citizen. It is believed Requa had other relatives in the area, but the man himself simply disappeared after 1880. He may have retired to Missouri, drawing from his military pension and living his life in obscurity. Whether he was even aware that the Requa Gold & Silver Mining Company was established in the Cripple Creek District in 1892 remains unknown.

What is known for sure is that, in honor of Ben Requa, the gulch nearest the Mount Pisgah Mining District was named Requa Gulch. The namesake town wasn’t far behind. By then Bob Womack’s family had relocated to the district and was living on the old Broken Box Ranch near the gulch. In February of 1892 real estate tycoons Horace Bennett and Julius Myers platted towns at both Cripple Creek and Requa. Lots were sold for a total profit of $320,000. Streets in Requa were gallantly named after past presidents of the United States.

Even at this early date, Requa and its nearby gulch somehow became alternately known as Arequa. No one can pinpoint just how that “A” got in there. Some attribute it to mispronunciation or even bad spelling on Bob Womack’s part. Either way, the name stuck even as confused pioneers continued referring to the area under both names. The town, meanwhile, continued to grow at a rapid rate. The Requa Savage Gold Mining company was established on nearby Beacon Hill in May of 1894. A post office was established at Arequa in July of 1894, but was discontinued a mere two months later. Postal records note “establishment rescinded” but give no reason. There was also a cemetery at Arequa. By December of 1895 Arequa consisted of about 90 acres in Requa Gulch and was already surrounded by several mines.

One of Arequa’s earliest claims to fame was that it may have been the very location from which Cripple Creek (the actual creek itself) was named. An 1896 article in the Quarterly Sentinel, while admitting to confusion as to the origin of the name, offered this story: “…a little old house, still to be seen in Arequa…was occupied by a family from Posey County, Indiana, who were one day invited to a dance by some distant neighbors. The Posey County lady answered that ‘We kain’t go; all broke up; Sam’s down with th’ rumatiz; Betsy’s got th’ fever; Jake’s got ‘is arm broke; old Pied (the cow) broker ‘er laig, and the hosses is run off…But if you all ‘ill come over to Cripple Creek, we’ll he’p ye out th’ best we can fur yer hoedown.’” Similar stories, often involving the Welty family who were neighboring ranchers to the Womacks, have also been handed down to explain the naming of Cripple Creek, but time and yarns have obscured the true origins of the creek’s name.

More mines bearing Ben Requa’s name continued to pop up. The Arequa Gold Mining Company was formed in January of 1896, followed by the Arequa Mill in 1898. Ben Requa’s name does not appear on the board of directors for either entity. Interestingly, advertisements for the mill were among the first to feature that mysterious “A”. And although the town of Arequa included the “A” by 1899, Requa Gulch did not. 

Despite its promising and primary status, Arequa never topped more than 100 residents. The terrain was too rough for building and the area too far from the mines. In time, Arequa came to be surrounded by the communities of Eclipse, Elkton and Beacon. In 1900, the total population of these four towns was 2,500. The town’s best claim to fame was actually the Arequa Mill, a chlorination plant built at a cost of $532,000. The mill was located at the end of the Gold Coin tunnel and was used to process at least some of the gold which came from the nearby Cresson Mine. A $500,000 hydroelectric power plant was also constructed to run electric trains in the Gold Coin tunnel. There was also the Gold & Globe Mill in Arequa Gulch.

Not much else of note happened in Arequa, save for an incident in 1904 when Mrs. J. W. Gladden shot her husband to death. The couple had been separated for several weeks. Gladden went on a drinking spree and assaulted his neighbor, Frank Harris, before violently storming into the couple’s home. Mrs. Gladden was arrested, and newspapers neglected to mention the outcome of her trial. In fact, so small was the community that it is recognized only in the 1910 census. The 99 residents there included 36 families. Most of the employed were occupied as miners, with the exception of two carpenters, two dairymen, three teamsters and 21-year old actress Maud Palmer. By 1914 the Gold Dollar Mine owned 52 acres of the Arequa townsite, although the Requa Savage Mines Co. was still in business as late as 1916.

By 1920, Arequa was considered a suburb of Victor and was pretty much abandoned. Arequa quietly melded into the handful of ghost towns favored by tourists until about 1971, when the Cresson Mine was purchased by the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mining Company. The new conglomerate expanded its operations to include Arequa Gulch. The ruins of the Arequa Mill were visible as recently as 20 years ago, but are gone now. There is also no record of just when the occupants of the tiny Arequa Cemetery were uprooted and transferred to Sunnyside Cemetery in Victor (in fact, there is speculation that the older part of Sunnyside Cemetery is indeed the old Arequa Cemetery). As for the town, it was buried under tailings ponds decades ago.

Today, only one building is standing as a tribute to Arequa.


The Towns We Love to Love

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

There’s nothing quite so good as waking up on a sunny morning and hearing, “Wanna go 4-wheeling?” For me and my companion, whoever says it first, it’s nearly the same as hearing we just won a cruise. Except the only cruise we ever seem inclined to go on is the cruise we take over hundreds of miles of back roads. Yup, there’s nothing better than roaming a countryside without the luxury of pavement, eating out of a cooler, finding ghost towns, and collapsing at the end of the day either at a remote campsite or an historic motor court with plenty of cold drinks on hand.

These days, that last part is definitely a hit or miss situation. In the 30+ years we have spent—together and separately—bumping over faded pathways and careening around rock slide corners, we’ve seen a lot of old towns come and go, but mostly go. There are places where as recently as 20 years ago, lots of buildings were standing but now there are none. Places where vandalism, theft or new development has reared its ugly head with no respect for our past. Places that make us sad, but also places that make us happy because they are still standing and well-preserved. But having watched some of our favorite towns fade away, we’ve become a little more secretive about where they are, a little more vague about where we’ve been, and a little more hopeful that our beloved towns might last a little longer.

Prior to moving back to my native state of Arizona from Colorado, I spent decades rambling over precarious mountain passes, barely passable roads and overgrown trails in search of Colorado’s past. Unfortunately, with each passing year more fences appeared. Roads were gated. New homes were built right next to, and sometimes even on, cemeteries where the graves of the very pioneers who got us here lay forgotten. In the last five years I was there, aghast at no longer being able to access a place or encountering some new property owner who was too greedy to even recognize the true treasure they had, I heard myself muttering, “This is not the Colorado I fell in love with.” Now, in Arizona, I am quickly learning that the state has been too slow in preserving what they have left. Lots of ghost towns are still highly accessible, but the search and the trip to find them often yields nothing more than an empty field.

Fortunately, there are several alternatives to fighting against our places of the past facing imminent destruction. Evidence of this is becoming clear and more common in Colorado. One idea is to have a caretaker on-site during the months the town is accessible. They do this at Ashcroft, located near Aspen. The caretaker lives in what looks to be an original one-room cabin with no more than a bed, some furniture, water and some pegs to hang clothes on. For the right person, it’s the dream job of a lifetime, waking up each morning to the succulent scent of wild flowers, which are protected by law, and looking out the window at the magnificent old two-story hotel with its false front, which is also protected by law. Both laws would likely be violated on a regular basis if it weren’t for the caretaker.

Sometimes the best of both worlds are reached when an old ghost town is revived by residents. Such is the case with places like Bonanza and Crestone, north of Alamosa. Both have been occupied in recent years by summer dwellers, but now even a few die-hards are known to stick it out the year through. In some cases, towns are also protected by private owners who are often descendants of historic figures. Take Greenhorn, an 1840’s circa rest stop that later blossomed into a fur trading center and, even later, a small resort complete with a restaurant and zoo. The Fossceco family, residents since 1916, still own the land and have done their best to save the community’s buildings from falling apart.

St. Elmo is another classic example, albeit also a reason why historic preservation laws should be more stringent. Property owners obviously love their little town, with gracious signs asking visitors to stay in the street and avoid trespassing. But although more of the town remains than most other ghost towns, fires in the last two decades have destroyed some of the historic buildings. To make matters worse, newcomers in recent years have threatened the town’s historic fabric by expressing a desire to build modern homes amongst the old ones.

A lesson could easily be learned by observing what they are doing at Turret, another classic ghost town nestled up north of Salida. At Turret, the old town plat has been utilized to sell lots to new owners—with the agreement, however, that all new construction will follow the town’s historic aesthetics . That means no modern architecture, no electricity, and plenty of respect for what made this town what it was.

One place in particular that seems to have stood the test of time is Animas Forks, despite having no caretaker. Located between Lake City and Silverton, Animas Forks has managed to keep many of its buildings, including a landmark two-story home with a beautiful bay window. Although the town is located a good long way from civilization and lies in the path of some favorite off-road trails, and although hundreds of people walk into the house and to have their photo taken from the bay window, somehow it has prevailed.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Ludlow, home of heart-wrenching, emotional strikes in 1914 that took the lives of several men, two women and eleven children. Situated on a remote county road between Walsenburg and Trinidad, the abandoned buildings of Ludlow are largely overshadowed by a beautiful granite monument depicting a miner, his wife and their child. In 2003, the monument was severely damaged when vandals chopped off the heads of the adult statues, including the woman’s arm. To the descendants of strike victims who still live in the area, the act was like vandalizing a veteran’s memorial wall. Supporters of the monument worked hard to raise funding to restore the statue, and a memorial event commemorated their efforts in 2005.

Thankfully, History Colorado (aka the Colorado Historical Society) continues to play a bigger part in preservation and stabilization efforts these days. Seems one can’t access any of the better known ghosts without seeing a sign regarding preservation efforts by the CHS. Sometimes the signs have obviously been there awhile, but they illustrate two wonderful ideas: the state is working diligently to save historic buildings, and the signs serve to deter vandals no matter how deserted the area appears.

Boggsville, Empire and Iron City are just some of the places receiving funding from the state. Founded in 1866, Boggsville served as the last home of explorer Kit Carson, as well as the county seat of Bent County. Since 1993, the state has been working to slowly but surely renovate the buildings at Boggsville, and the project is nearly complete. At Empire, located north of I-70 on the way to Blackhawk and Central City, four buildings that include Colorado’s oldest hotel, the Peck House, have been added to state and national registers. A rough and rocky road just before St. Elmo leads to the only remaining building at Iron City, a power plant that went under in about 1917 and was recently restored. A sign explaining the structure’s history ends with a most appropriate statement: “The historical heritage of the state of Colorado can only be preserved by the citizens themselves.”

So what to do? You can start by remembering the old adage about visiting ghost towns: Take only pictures, leave only footprints—unless the place is slated for demolition with no archeological digs or documentation planned. In that case, photograph what you find, carefully remove what artifacts you can with permission, document and photograph where you found them, and donate them to the nearest museum. There are indeed those wrapped in government bureaucracy who insist this last idea is wrong, and further submit that historic structures should never be moved in order to protect them from destruction. Better to know exactly where their history occurred, they say, than to move a building and confuse people as to the site of its original footprint. Let it fall. I disagree. After years of leaving something in place only to see it up for sale in a local shop or on EBay, I prefer being the rogue historian who saves a piece of history and assures it is preserved for all future generations to enjoy.

Better yet, joining local historical societies, History Colorado and Colorado Preservation Inc., the state’s leading preservation organization, will help keep you up to date and get you involved not only in finding ghost towns, but assisting in their preservation. Using a five-point criteria (significant events, significant persons, unique architectural points, geographic importance, and/or important discoveries related to prehistory or history), the History Colorado accepts nominations every year for everything from Indian campsites to trails to bridges and mountains to structures and even whole cities. To contact Colorado Preservation Inc., access their website at http://www.coloradopreservation.org. History Colorado can be accessed at http://www.coloradohistory.org.

In 2012 Anaconda, the last of over 20 abandoned towns in the famed Cripple Creek District of Colorado, was bulldozed and molded into the latest pit for a gold mine.


Hagerman Pass, Colorado Makes An Easy and Beautiful Trek

c 2014 by Jan MacKell

Portions of this article originally appeared in Colorado Central Magazine.

Just one of the great things about living in Colorado are the striking views. Indeed, the state offers amazing mountain vistas quite unlike anywhere else on earth. And, where best to take in such awe inspiring scenery than from a pleasing array of historic mountain passes? The pioneers of yesterday blazed their trails over rough and unforgiving terrain in search of gold, prosperity and new lives. Their efforts have resulted in numerous passes today that range from smooth and easy to challenging and dangerous. Hagerman Pass falls into the category of the former, offering a delightful mountain journey steeped in history.

Hagerman Pass is named for John J. Hagerman, builder of the Colorado Midland Railroad. The pass traverses the Continental Divide along the Sawatch Mountain Range west of Leadville. Here, the headwaters of the Arkansas River connect with the upper valley of the Frying Pan River above Basalt. In the years preceding Hagerman and his famous railroad, the pass was known as Frying Pan and had served as a foot trail between Leadville and the community of Basalt.

Hagerman himself hailed from Michigan and Wisconsin. In one of those places he contracted tuberculosis, high-tailing it to Colorado on his doctor’s advice in 1884. By then he already had at least some of his fortune, and Colorado seemed like the right place to spend it. Using his forthright business knowledge, Hagerman invested in mines around Leadville and Aspen and soon had even more money. Before long he was building the Colorado Midland, intended to be the biggest and best in Colorado.

With a peak elevation of 11,925 feet, the old Frying Pan Pass proved quite challenging when Hagerman decided to extend the Colorado Midland tracks over it in 1887. Ultimately the high-mountain trail proved impossible for railroad construction, so Hagerman decided to construct a tunnel underneath it instead. Many of the immigrants Hagerman hired to build the tunnel were Italians who settled at Douglass City, a shanty settlement that is still accessible along the Hagerman Hiking Trail. The town once hosted eight saloons, a dance hall and, allegedly, a post office—all clustered together on one main street.

For a time, Douglass City gained a reputation as being one of the rowdiest new towns in Colorado. There were no schools, churches, police or firemen. But there was a lot of wine and other libations. Soiled doves who were too jaded to work down in Leadville made their way to Douglass City, and shoot-outs and knife fights were common. According to author Marshall Sprague, the community met its end when the tunnel’s dynamite powder house blew up by accident.

On the other end of the Hagerman Tunnel was Ivanhoe, an even more uncomfortable town in which to live. The small camp was named for nearby Lake Ivanhoe, so-named by a Scotsman who thought it resembled Loch Ivanhoe in Scotland. Ivanhoe’s post office was established on April 26, 1888 and ran until June 13, 1894 as a postal and passenger station along the railroad. By then there were several cabins and railroad buildings there, but not much else in the way of accommodations.

Paying his laborers at Douglass City and Ivanhoe was just a fraction of Hagerman’s expenses. Shipping oak railroad ties from Missouri, bringing materials from Chicago and freighting everything over the rough roads from Leadville cost plenty. Also, Colorado’s tough winters didn’t help. When finished, the tunnel ran 2,151 feet from its beginnings over to Lake Ivanhoe and was soon heralded as the highest railroad tunnel in the world. It had also cost roughly $80,000 per mile to build, making it the most expensive road built to date. Construction on the railroad included two trestles, one of which spanned 1,100 feet and was 84 feet high. When complete, however, the new addition was the first standard-gauge railroad to traverse the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

In spite of the initial accolades, Hagerman Tunnel’s fame was short-lived. The Busk-Ivanhoe Tunnel had replaced it by 1893. This latter tunnel began construction in 1891. Admittedly, there were some advantages over the Hagerman: the Busk-Ivanhoe was lower in elevation, and thirteen snowsheds would help the trains travel through during heavy winters. A tiny working community, known as Busk, had established a post office in December of 1890 in anticipation of building the tunnel. But such an undertaking proved costly.

During construction of the tunnel, several workers who likely lived at Busk died. Among them were John Carlson, killed by falling rock in April of 1891 and Morris Donahue and George Hoffman, killed by an explosion in May. A man named Moore Allen was considered fatally injured in another accident later that month. When yet another man was crushed by falling rock in February of 1892, newspapers began calling the Busk-Ivanhoe Tunnel “the greatest life destroyer in the state.” Even more accidental deaths were reported through 1893, when the tunnel neared completion. During one ill-timed explosion in April, five men were killed at once.

The post office at Busk closed in 1894, shortly after the tunnel was completed. Hagerman had by then turned his attentions to Cripple Creek, where he had made several investments. His Isabella Gold Mine was coming under fire in the wake of Cripple Creek’s first labor wars, and Hagerman was called upon to represent other mine owners during negotiations. Soon the Santa Fe Railroad had become involved in the operations on Hagerman Pass. Promoters of the railroad were glad to announce that the new tunnel cut a full ten miles off of the trip to Salt Lake City, Utah—only a slight gain considering how many lives were lost building it.

Then in February of 1896, residents at Ivanhoe were witness to a train wreck. On the way from Leadville to Basalt, the train struck a rock in the track during a wild blizzard and the engine overturned. Engineer John Mead was crushed to death under the engine and the train was forced to return to Leadville until the tracks could be cleared. Despite the tragedy, an assessment of the company in June of 1896 valued the railroad at $6,000 per mile.

In 1897 the Midland took over operations of the Busk-Ivanhoe. Again, it was an expensive endeavor. At a cost of $1,250,000, questions were raised over repayment options on the loans needed to build the tunnel. For a time the old Hagerman Tunnel was brought back into use until negotiations could be settled. And in 1899, severe snows stopped traffic over the pass altogether from January 27 until late April.

By then Hagerman, whose investments in his Cripple Creek mines, property throughout Teller and El Paso Counties and even business dabblings New Mexico had brought him even more wealth, had sold almost all of his business interests to his son, Percy. John Hagerman died in Italy in 1909. Despite troubles with ownership and the expenses involved, the Colorado Midland continued chugging from Leadville to Basalt for a few more years. Ivanhoe’s post office reopened again in July of 1899 and lasted until 1912. Then it opened a third time in 1913, this time lasting until 1918 when the railroad was abandoned.

When the Colorado Midland Railroad abandoned its tracks over Hagerman Pass, Cripple Creek millionaire Albert E. Carlton stepped in. Carlton’s wealth first came from freighting and later from his many mine investments, and he had long ago become president of Cripple Creek’s First National Bank. The capitalist purchased the failed Colorado Midland shortly after it closed, took up the rails along Hagerman Pass and converted the rail bed into a wagon road at a cost of $25,000.

The road was next designated an official state automobile route and the Busk-Ivanhoe Tunnel was renamed the Carlton (spelled Carleton) in about 1924. The road ultimately fell into disuse when easier roads were built over the Continental Divide. In 1943, the tunnel was closed for good, but the old trail over Hagerman Pass had been sufficiently widened enough for continued access from Leadville to Basalt.

Today, Hagerman Pass is still highly accessible from Turquoise Lake near Leadville. The road follows the former Colorado Midland tracks as far as Hagerman Tunnel before veering off. Hikers can also still access the original railroad bed. Skinner Hut and Betty Bear Hut, built as part of the 10th Mountain Division Trail System, are available for use in both summer and winter. In Colorado Springs, the 1885 Hagerman Mansion on Cascade Avenue has been an apartment house since 1927, but is still exemplary of the grandiose projects Hagerman so struggled to achieve.

Photo: Hagerman Pass makes an excellent hike or 4-wheel excursion and offers scenic vistas, towering mountainsides and beautiful creeks.

Hagerman Pass 2006