Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cripple Creek and Victor, Colorado

Cripple Creek

Some 38 miles southwest of Colorado Springs, sits the historic gold camp of Cripple Creek. In December, 1890 a man named Bob Womack discovered gold here and in the summer of 1891, struck a very rich vein and hurried to Colorado Springs to celebrate. In a drunken stupor the foolish man sold his mine for $500 cash. Word then spread and men began to stake claims all over a six square mile area surrounding what would soon be the Cripple Creek Gold Camp. Tents and cabins began to spring up and a mining district was organized in the fall of 1891. The creek, which flowed through the camp, had already been named by area cowboys, because so many cattle were lamed while crossing the rocky stream. The camp took its name from the creek.

By the time the town was officially incorporated in 1892, there were already over 5,000 residents. The next year, two big mines in the district were discovered and developed, and with the nation’s change to the gold standard in the same year, thousands of silver miners were thrown out of work, flocking to Cripple Creek. The deeper the mines were developed, the richer the veins became. Some of these deep developed mines were three to six miles away and soon the camp of Victor sprang up with many of the miners moving closer to work.

Like most booming gold camps, Cripple Creek wasted no time establishing dozens of businesses, including a number of saloons and brothels. At first the houses of “ill-repute” were located near the many saloons along Bennett Avenue, the main street of the settlement. However, to keep the peace between the business establishment and the “ladies,” the “girls” and their establishments one block south to Myers Avenue, which soon became known as the Red Light District.

Pearl de Vere, the most famous madam of Cripple Creek arrived in the Boom Camp in 1893. Soon, she would build the most opulent Gentlemen’s Parlor in the American West. Humorously called the "Old Homestead;" Pearl’s going rate was $250 a night, at a time when $3 a day was considered a good wage for a miner. When she died several years later, her funeral was the biggest that Cripple Creek had ever seen.

Soon, however, the gold would begin to play out and by 1920 there were only about 40 mines operating and production had been reduced to four million dollars. The 1930s saw a brief revival of mining, but this too waned and by 1945 there were less than 20 mines operating with only about one million dollars in gold produced each year.

Determined not to become a ghost town, the citizens of Cripple Creek began to promote its rich history to potential tourists. The Imperial Hotel began showing melodramas in the Gold Bar Room Theatre in the 1940s. In 1953 the Cripple Creek District Museum opened in the old Midland Terminal depot. In 1967 the Cripple Creek Narrow Gauge railroad began operation. However, by the 1980s tourism began to drop in Cripple Creek and other historic towns of Colorado. As a result, Colorado passed a law to authorize limited stakes gambling in Cripple Creek, Central City and Black Hawk, saving these old towns from total extinction.

Just seven miles from Cripple Creek on the side of Battle Mountain is Victor, Colorado. Filled with vintage buildings and gold mining structures, this semi-ghost town is one of the most preserved mining camps in Colorado. Before the town was even officially platted in 1893 it had already become known as the City of Mines because the largest and richest gold mines of the Cripple Creek Mining District were located on Battle Mountain just above the camp.

The first gold was discovered in Victor in 1891 by Winfield Scott Stratton who soon began the Independence Mine. In addition to the Independence Mine, other mines, including the Portland and Ajax Mines, were doing a brisk business just north of Victor on Battle Mountain, called the “richest hill on earth. And, in the very center of town the Woods Brothers, who were excavating the foundation for the much needed Victor Hotel in 1894, discovered a rock that was rich in ore. The Woods brothers wasted no time in finding another lot for the hotel and began to build the Gold Coin Mine at Diamond and Fifth Streets, which would become one of the richest in the area, producing more than $50,000 per month in gold ore.

In just a few years, Victor had developed into a town that rivaled its sister but larger city, Cripple Creek, and an old saying began, “ Cripple Creek gets the glory, but Victor has the gold.” At its peak, over 500 mines dotted the landscape surrounding Victor and some 50,000 people called the area home. But, Victor's days of prosperity ended in the early 1900’s when the vast majority of the gold was panned out or too expensive to get to. In the end, more than 22 million tons of gold had been taken from the area's many mines.
Next stops - Rocky Mountain National Park, and north to Wyoming.

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