Thursday, March 7, 2019

There's Gold in Them Hills!

Hi, Kit Morgan here and today I want to talk a little bit about Cripple Creek, Colorado, the world's greatest gold camp. Why is it considered the greatest? Well, from 1890, when gold was first discovered, until 1961, when the last of the mines stopped operating, over $800,000,000 worth of ore was dug out of the hills of Cripple Creek.

A cowpuncher named Bob Womack made the discovery that started the last of the big gold rushes. After fifteen years of prospecting on the ranch where Cripple Creek now stands, he uncovered paydirt (literally) in a place called Poverty Gulch. Leave it to a cowboy to do such a thing. Makes for a good romance novel side-story!

The ore was rich and assayed at more than $200.00 a ton. But on a Colorado City Drinking spree, Womack sold his claim for a mere $500.00 and died penniless in 1909. The land where Womack's first strike was made was homesteaded by his father in 1876. By 1891 it belonged to a couple of Denver real estate and cattlemen, Horace Bennett and Julias Myers.

Soon after the strike, when folks began swarming into the area, Bennett and Myers platted an eighty-
acre townsite and began selling lots. The town was officially incorporated in 1892 and named Cripple Creek after the stream that meandered through it. The creek had been named earlier by a rancher who had seen a cow fall and cripple herself crossing it.

As other strikes were made in the area, other towns appeared. Victor, the District's second city, was established in 1893, about five miles southeast of Cripple Creek. From the beginning, Victor was called "The City of Mines," for here, on Battle Mountain, the  District's largest and richest mines were located.

The camp's population swelled along with its production. Fewer than 500 people lived there at the end of 1891. Twelve months later, the population was 2500. Then, during 1893, over 10,000 people swarmed into the District! For the next several years, the population continued to grow at the rate of over 500 persons a month. Wow! Unfortunately, Cripple Creek and Victor were almost completely destroyed by fires during the boom. But, stout folks that they were, before the ashes had cooled, the two towns began to rebuild, becoming modern cities. 

After 1900, the District's production and population both began to
decline. There was a labor war that lasted a year and a half. After that was worked out came a long period of consolidations. Mergers eliminated jobs and forced many out of the District. Then water trouble developed. In 1911 the three-mile Roosevelt Tunnel was bored back into the gold field and lowered the water level in many mines and increased production.

About 150 mines continued shipping ore until World War I closed them. When Word War II began, 100 Cripple Creek mines were operating. By 1945, less than twenty. Like many boom towns in the gold rush years, it's population dwindled, with part of the town becoming a ghost town. But today, it has a population of over 1000 and is quite the charming place! It even has a scenic railroad you can ride. So if you ever get the chance, go pay a visit to Cripple Creek and see what was once the biggest producing gold camp in the country!

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