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Love, Colorado: a Ranching and Mining Paradise

c 2023 by Jan MacKell Collins

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

The engaging, high-country community of Love began as a local ranch. With the coming of a toll road and later a railroad, however, Love blossomed into a well known community and pit stop on the way to the famous Cripple Creek District. The story of Love begins in 1875 when the Cheyenne & Beaver Toll Road was established. The road ran through the ranch of John Love, a young rancher who had homesteaded roughly five and a half miles west of the settlement of Clyde a few years prior. In the 1880 census, John and Charles Love are found on their ranch raising cattle. John Love also was the son of Colorado Springs postmaster Joel F. Love, who was appointed to that position in 1888.

Although ranching was the main staple at Love, mines began appearing in the area as the gold boom in the Cripple Creek District began in 1891. Early newspapers mentioned that Winfield Scott Stratton, destined to become the district’s first millionaire, stayed or stopped at the Love Ranch on his way to the area before making his millions. That wasn’t so unusual; Love’s ranch often served as a stopover for those traveling to and from Cripple Creek, and particular mention has been made that guests often became too intoxicated at the ranch to make it all the way to their destinations.

About half a mile from the ranch, a small community of was being settled by 1892. This place was alternately known as Beaver Park since it was situated along Beaver Creek. There was already a town called Beaver Park being platted closer to the Cripple Creek District, however, and the two were sometimes confused. When a graveyard was established, it was called Beaver Creek Cemetery. Unfortunately, the exact location of Love’s cemetery has proven to be quite elusive. Various graveyard directories for Teller County have pinpointed the place as being just northwest of Pringtime Reservoir on the old Love ranch. Most of those buried there are children, including the infant son of Henry Charles and Margaret Rathke, as well as Roy Harold McCallister, an eight-year old who died after an accidental shooting. The burials took place in 1896 and 1897, respectively. Other children buried in the cemetery include Ray Rathke, two babies from the Waters family and of course members of the Love family.

As the Cripple Creek District continued developing, an increase in traffic and population merited opening a post office in December of 1894. To avoid conflicts with Beaver Park, the new post office was christened Love. As rumors began that the new Colorado Springs & Cripple Creek District Railroad was going to be laying tracks near Love, the Colorado Springs Mill opened to service smaller mines in the area.

By 1896, John Love and his family had moved to Delta on Colorado’s western slope. The move may have been a wise choice, for soon Love was subject to the lawlessness often suffered by rural towns. Early in 1898, Constable Michael Hayes of the city of Victor went to Love to serve a warrant on Charles Nichols for some unknown crime. Nichols shot the officer, who died from his wounds. The killer was sentenced to life at the state penitentiary in Canon City. Six months into his sentence he tried to escape, but was apprehended. In June of 1899, Nichols tried to escape once again. This time he was successful, and because his wife still lived at Love, authorities banked on the outlaw trying to come home. A posse soon descended upon the village. “It is said that when Nichols is met by the posse, some one will shoot,” predicted the Cripple Creek Morning Times, “and it is rumored around [Cripple Creek] Nichols will never be taken alive, unless he is taken by surprise.” The next day, the paper reported that Nichols had indeed been apprehended, but at the town of Rockvale near Canon City. He surrendered without incident, but Canon City Deputy Sheriff Thomas Tobin was accidentally shot by another officer. He was expected to live.

One other bizarre incident marred the otherwise placid life at Love. On the same day Nichols was apprehended, a group of fishermen found the body of Adolph Huffman lodged against a large rock in West Beaver creek a mile and a half below Love. A scissor and tool sharpener by trade, Huffman had been seen some weeks before “lying behind an embankment apparently asleep, with his grinding machine standing nearby in front of a house at or near Love.” Nobody, apparently, had seen him since. Coroner Dunn of Victor and two assistants were called. Unfortunately Huffman was too decomposed to transport back to Victor for burial preparation, so the men loaded the body into a coffin and buried it near the spot where it was found.

Although most members of the community were ranchers by 1899, the occasional miner continued taking up residence as well. Love was remote enough, however, that the close-nit community had few worries about their village becoming a booming metropolis like those towns in the nearby Cripple Creek District. By 1900 Love still had its post office, as well as a store and a school taught by Miss Nora Smith. The population was seventy five, although citizens were listed in the Cripple Creek District Directory under the jurisdiction of the nearest town, Altman. Residents consisted of miners and timber men, postmaster and grocer F.W. Cady, and Samuel Cashmaker of the Love Saloon.

Love began declining in 1901, as evidenced by Postmaster Cady applying for a post office at Clyde. The post office closed in 1902, and the Cripple Creek District Directory still put the population at seventy five people. Most of them were miners, cowboys and ranchers. There was also a dairy serving up eggs, butter and cream. Love’s slow decline coincided with that of the Cripple Creek District. When the Colorado Springs & Cripple Creek District Railroad ceased service past the community in 1920, most residents moved away. Today the town lies within the privately owned Beaver Park Ranch. Nothing remains of the community except the old Love school and a wonderful old barn, which are both on private property.

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.