Monday, July 13, 2020

Mines, Miners and Mininng: Cripple Creek Gold Rush

Post by Doris McCraw, 

writing fiction as Angela Raines

Headframe Victor Colorado
photo property of the author

MINES, MINERS AND MINING:  Cripple Creek Gold Rush 

The Beginning:

An anonymous miner was quoted as saying, “Geologically Cripple Creek is a freak. It is erratic, eccentric, and full of whims and caprices. That is, it is so to the man of science and the miner of experience.” 

In speaking of prospectors in his book "Anaconda" Issac Marcossin says, “...geology, so far as the location of ore deposits was concerned, was an unknown quantity. The prospector was the sole mine seeker...He was the lone wolf of mining for he usually went on his own. He wanted no prying eyes to behold the long-elusive pot of gold at the end of his rainbow...” 

That the Cripple Creek mining district came into being as the result of one 'prospector', Robert 'Bob' Womack, is an established fact. However, due to the nature of the gold deposits in the area, it would take many people and a huge influx of money to extract that gold. The cost of hard rock mining, the type needed to extract the ore from the granite, was prohibitive. Added to this was the additional problem of water in the lower levels of the mines. In order to benefit from the ore in the mines, most miners needed to form partnerships to create the capital needed to continue their operations. Even with the cost of refining of ore dropping to less than $20 a ton as opposed to the cost of $65 a ton from 1870, the cost was still high for the average miner. In addition, there was the mining apex law, a law that was also to have an impact in the district.

Abandoned buildings - Cripple Creek Mining District
Photo property of the author

By 1900 there were over 200 mines in the district that were shipping or had high paying ore in sight.  

The Gold King mine was part of the El Paso Claim. El Paso was the name Bob Womack gave to the shaft he had dug in the fall of 1890. The vein from the shaft assayed out at about $200 per ton. Even with this information people were reluctant to believe there was gold in the region. The fact that the color and composition of the material varies so much in which the gold salts were found made identification difficult. 

That Gold King mine in Poverty Gulch was the first regularly paying mine in the area. E.C. Frisbee and E. M. De La Vergne developed the mine and shipped ore out in November of 1891. Of Bob, it was said that he could ride like a Centaur but had a love of whiskey. There was even a rumor that Bob had given an IOU to a young man for a bottle of whiskey. In 1900 Bob had settled down and was “as sober and decent a fellow as there is in the town [Colorado Springs]” Why did Robert 'Bob' Womack not become one of the millionaires from Cripple Creek? The story goes that he went on a drunken spree and sold his claim for $500. ( For more on that story, the book "Cripple Creek, Bob Womack and the Greatest Cold Camp on Earth", by Linda Wommack is a good place to start.) 

In 1910 the Gold King powder house was struck by lightning. As a result of the explosion, the shaft at the 200-foot level started burning, but the miners were unable to get to the fire because the upper part of the shaft had caved in. The damage at the time was estimated at $10,000. There was also no insurance to cover that loss.

Back side of Pikes Peak
Photo property of the author

So the story begins ...

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History

Angela Raines - author: Telling Stories Where Love & History Meet


  1. Your posts are always so interesting, Doris, and this one is no exception. How sad that gold fever grips some people and won't let go. And how sad that Mr. Womack gave away his claim for $500 that would have made him a millionaire. I hope you'll share some more stories.

    1. With luck, I'll share more stories. Linda's story about her relative adds more Bob's story.

      I thank you for your kind words, they mean a great deal to me. Doris

  2. Great story Doris, Amazing how many of the original mine owners ended up with nothing.

    1. It really is, Frank. Some wanted the joy of finding the gold, but not work it, others just failed to use good common business sense. Then you had someone like Stratton who played the game for all it was worth, gave a lot of money away, but wasn't very happy in the end. (At least according to the stories I've read)

      Thank you for your kind words. It's one of the subjects near and dear to my heart.

  3. Doris,

    The lure of 'free' money just for the digging was such a 'moth to the flame' draw for people.

    As Frank said, it's interesting how many mine owners ended up destitute. Take Baby Doe Tabor for instance.

    Love your stories and your articles. *hugs*