c 2023 by Jan MacKell Collins
Portions of this article are from Cripple Creek District: Last of Colorado’s Gold Booms and Lost Ghost Towns of Colorado
Located on the outskirts of today’s Cripple Creek Mountain Estates west of Cripple Creek, Spring Creek’s early beginnings came from several mining claims in the area. While not exactly in the Cripple Creek District proper, the community provided important services to the residents of Cripple Creek and the rest of the district. The tiny hamlet was located along its namesake creek in a pleasant and quiet valley. The main road skirting the creek was dotted with tidy little houses. A wagon road cut through the valley between Copper Mountain and Mineral Hill, providing easy access to Cripple Creek.
Spring Creek’s beginnings are marked by its little cemetery, which was established in 1893. In all, fourteen to sixteen people were entombed there over time. Locals who spent time exploring Spring Creek as teens remember seeing five or six wooden grave markers, which have long since disappeared. Some also remember a wrought iron fence surrounding the graveyard. Today, even the one granite tombstone of the burial ground has been buried by the deep woods around it.
On the newspaper front, the first mention of Spring Creek was in the Cripple Creek Morning Times of December 6, 1895, when the Modoc Mine was recorded as selling a mining deed to the Spring Creek Gold Mining and Milling Company just a month before. There was little other news, as Spring Creek never grew large nor prominent. The community never did have a post office or even a newspaper. If it had, Jacob Abby most likely would have been postmaster since he was one of the longest residents of the community.
In the early days, Abby partnered with Ed Neppel. But it is Abby who is most often mentioned in a handful of notes about Spring Creek, and it is known he operated one of three dairies there. He also dabbled in mining, and with good reason. In January of 1896, the Morning Times revealed that the Mineral Hill Tunnel Company was “quietly” digging a tunnel from Spring Creek, through Mineral Hill and “directly to the new Midland Terminal depot in Cripple Creek.” Work had just started, but “solid formation has not been reached.”
In the end the tunnel never materialized. The only news in Spring Creek during 1896 was that Abby’s five year old son, Lloyd, died. The child was buried in the little cemetery, supposedly alongside two other siblings named Hazel and Clare. Later, Jacob named the Little Lloyd mining claim after his son. Other claims filed by Abby include the Little Annie, Little Ellen, Little Emma, Little Jessie and the Little Mary. Thus by 1897, Abby was better known as the partial owner of several mining claims.
Spring Creek was just far enough away from law enforcement authorities in Cripple Creek for some rather odd crimes to occur. On New Year’s Day in 1898, for instance, a most gruesome discovery was made at the home of Annie Robinson on Spring Creek. Robinson’s large log home, which was occupied by herself and two young children, had burned to the ground. A Morning Times reporter and neighbor, W.S. Carmele, investigated and found charred bones amongst the ruins. Then in June, the Times reported,
Officers last night effected the capture of the man who has been deranged for some days, and has eluded captures, staying in the country near Spring Creek. He was brought to this city and locked up, charged with insanity.
Last, in August, stolen goods were recovered from the Spring Creek cabin of Sherman Crumley, one of three brothers who, the Morning Times charged, “have been responsible for many a depredation in this district for the past two years.” Crumley’s cohorts, a man named Purdy and one Charley Ripley, had already been apprehended following the theft of some saddles and harnesses from a Mr. Harker. Three days later, it was reported that sheriffs Frank Boynton and Tom McMahon had found more stolen goods in a cabin near Sherman’s Spring Creek home, known to be one of his “hiding places.”
The crime wave in Spring Creek had subsided by 1899, and newspapers reported only on the mines around the community throughout the year. Because it was not officially considered part of the Cripple Creek District, Spring Creek is not even mentioned in city directories until 1900 when the Abbys, plus forty other people, were listed as residing there. Jacob Abby now worked as a carpenter, but there also were two dairies, the Union run by Fred Desplaines and the Midway, owned by Charles Warner. Twenty three miners lived at Spring Creek too. Their children attended a schoolhouse on the south slope of Copper Mountain. Miss Alberta Smith, who lived in Cripple Creek, traveled over the saddle daily to teach them. There were also Edward Tealon and his nineteen-year-old wife Belle who ran a saloon. Belle’s brother, John Parr, was the watering hole’s bartender.
Jacob Abby continued dabbling in mining, but was trying his hand at farming by 1910. The total population of Spring Creek that year was around eighty people, but folks gradually began moving away as the Cripple Creek District’s mines began playing out. By 1920 the Abbys were at, or considered part of, Gillett where Jacob returned to carpentry. Mary died in 1927 and Jacob died in 1934.
Throughout the 1930’s and 40’s, Spring Creek continued to shrink, although many of the community’s cabins were still occupied as late as the the 1950’s and 1960’s. Around that same time, however, many of the buildings were dismantled or moved into Cripple Creek. One of them is located near Golden and B Street today. The remaining buildings at Spring Creek have silently sunken into the grass, and a few modern homes have appeared in the area since the 1990’s.
Image: Little Lloyd Abby’s grave as it appeared in 1996. c Jan MacKell Collins