Tuesday, November 21, 2023

A Brief Story of Cripple Creek

Post (C) Doris McCraw

aka Angela Raines


Deserted Building between Cripple Creek & Victor, CO 2018
(Photo property of  Doris McCraw)
I am resharing some history of Cripple Creek, a mining town in the Colorado Rockies, prior to the rest of the DeLaVergne story. Of course, you can't share Cripple Creek's history without including the whole mining district, which sits in an extinct volcano caldera. So here we go.

It was during a time of volcanic eruptions some thirty-five million years ago, that lava flowed through what became the Cripple Creek Mining District. However, for some unknown reason, the flow did not bring gold to the surface. Richard M. Pearl, PhD, a geology professor at Colorado College, believed that when convulsions in the earth’s crust caused cracks in the underground granite to appear the gold salts were deposited into the cracks and seams of that granite. Those ores that were created by the various eruptions of volcanic activity in the region were almost exclusively gold ores. There was some small amount of silver associated with the gold, but usually in negligible quantities.

Between 1842 and 1844 Capt. John C. Fremont explored the region and his travels around Pikes Peak took him into the Cripple Creek area. During the Hayden survey of the 1870s, there were some gold specimens found by H.T. Wood, a member of that survey. In 1874, Wood returned to the Cripple Creek district with other prospectors set about trying to find the source of the gold he'd initially found. Wood organized the district under the name of Mt. Pisgah. The hope was they could find the source of the gold 'float'. Despite their efforts, no one was successful in finding the source.

In 1871 the Welty family moved into the region. Welty and his sons built a cabin and corral near the stream that flows through the Cripple Creek area. They were followed by the Womack family who purchased the Welty squatter rights for $500 and claimed a second homestead two miles south of the Cripple Creek stream with Robert (Bob) building a cabin at the bottom of a ravine the Hayden Survey had named Poverty Gulch.

High Mountain Ranching
 (photo property of Doris McCraw)
Other families moved into the region but by the mid 1880's most of the settlers had left and/or returned to places they had on the plains east of Colorado Springs, which had become active in the cattle and sheep industry. The homesteads were purchased by the Pikes Peak Land and Cattle Company, a partnership composed of three local residents and Phillip Elsworth, an eastern glove manufacturer. When Elsworth visited the area in 1885 he felt his partners had misrepresented the company's holdings. He forced them to quit claim their shares and he put the land up for sale. It was purchased by the Denver real estate firm of Horace W. Bennett & Julius A. Myers for $5,000 down and $20,000 if and when it could be paid.

That same year, 1885, Myers & Bennett created the Houseman Cattle and Land Company and renamed the area the Broken Box Ranch. George Carr was hired as foreman and within two years a profitable ranching operation was in place. Bob Womack, however, remained on the piece of the Womack homestead in Poverty Gulch.

Of all the towns affected by the Cripple Creek volcano perhaps the most impacted were Cripple Creek and Victor. However at the height of the mining boom, around 1900, there were approximately 10 additional towns. Cripple Creek became the financial center and Victor the mining area.

The land that Bennett and Myers platted out, from their Broken Box Ranch site, after gold was found again, was originally planned to sell for $25 and $50 for corner lots. By 1891 when the boom hit, those $25 lots were selling for $250. Buildings were put up very quickly, using wood, with wood pulp or newsprint for insulation. Some of the poorer buildings had rugs or tent canvas for insulation. This set the stage for the devastation that was to come. As Dr. Lester Williams said in his book Cripple Creek Conflagrations “Neither time nor money had been wasted on a mere town, or living accommodations, there wasn't much emphasis on safety from fire, and the end result was that Cripple Creek was ripe to burn...”

And burn it did. By April of 1896 when the first fire hit, the area was so crowded that to get a room meant you had to hustle to find a place to stay. The streets were crowded with all manner of people from all walks of life. The hotels were unable to accommodate the influx, so travelers were having to resort to lodging houses, which were being built at an average of a dozen or so a week. The first fire started on April 25, 1896, and by nightfall, approximately fifteen acres had burned. On April 29, 1896, the second fire broke out and burned all but a small portion of the western part of the town. The damage from both fires was approximately $2,000,000 in 1896 dollars.

Despite the setback of the fires caused, Cripple Creek was rebuilt, this time with brick. The 'new and improved' Cripple Creek remained the commercial center of the district. Of the rebuilding, the city now had buildings that were valued at “three-quarters of a million,” and were considered to be a “glorious monument to the energy and enterprise” of the residents. The city was proud of the fact that it was a 'law-abiding' camp. The camp had schools, churches plus the 'tenderloin' district. If one saw 'six-shooters' it was more as a precaution as opposed to necessity.

After 1900 Cripple Creek began a slow decline and by 1960 the population had dropped considerably. 

Today Cripple Creek has seen a small boon with the coming of limited-stakes gambling. Traveling into the area, one will see the casinos but there is also the history of the region and the remembrance of “The World's Greatest Gold Camp”.

A brief note on Victor, Colorado the second important town in the district.

View from Victor, CO.
(photo property of Doris McCraw)
According to one publication “The town [of Victor] is beautifully located, and in the summer of 1893, when the natural scenery was yet undisturbed and the sweet perfumery of wildflowers was the only outgoing freight, one would have seemed much at fault in judgment had he predicted that $5,000,000 in gold would have been transported thence in 1895.”

Victor from the beginning has been known as the ‘city of mines’. In fact, it had a gold mine right in the middle of town. The Woods brothers, who founded the town, were in the process of building a “first-class hotel” when gold was found as they were digging the foundation. Instead of a hotel, the Gold Coin mine came into existence. As a mine in the middle of town, the building was built of brick and even had a stained glass window at the entrance. As much as possible the mine looked as if it belonged in the city.

Remnants of the Gold Coin Mine entrance
(Photo property of Doris McCraw)
Most of the major producing mines were located near Victor and during the town’s heyday of activity Victor Avenue was one of the best-known streets in the world. By 1896 just three years after being founded the city was the second largest in the region and had light, water, telegraph, and telephone service the same as Cripple Creek.

Due to the vicinity of the mines, a large portion of the population of Victor and nearby towns was composed of miners. The nearby town of Goldfield was considered the 'family' town, but Victor was a mining and milling center. In the early days men were known to pay one dollar to sleep on a pool table and stand in line to eat. The growth was explosive. By 1896, three years after its founding, Victor’s population had grown to approximately 8,000 people. Like Cripple Creek, the growth had been so fast the structures were mostly of wood. In 1899 Victor was hit with its own destructive fire. The devastation covered twelve blocks of the business district, composed of some 200 buildings including the original Gold Coin Mine building. It was estimated that 3,000 were left homeless. The fire burned for approximately three and a half hours. The total estimated cost of the fire in 1899 funds was $2,000,000. After the fire, in fact, beginning the very next day, Victor set about to rebuild. The debris was cleared and tents and makeshift temporary buildings were erected. Saloons and restaurants were almost immediately back in business. By noon the post office was up and running

Victor had become so well known that after the fire the “Colorado Road” arranged an excursion train to view the 'effect of the great fire' for $4.50. The trip would begin in Denver and travel to Cripple Creek and Victor on August 26 and return on August 27.

So there you have it, a very brief history of Cripple Creek and Victor. Also of note, there is still an active gold mine in the region, although it is an open pit mine.
Battle Mountain Mines, Victor, CO (USGS photo)
I shall leave you with the following quotes about mining and prospectors:

“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.”

“...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...”


Geochronology of the central Colorado Volcanic field, Wm. C. McIntosh, Charles E Chapin, New Mexico Bureau of Geology & Mineral Resources, Bulletin 160, 2004
Gazette Telegraph May 20, 1973
Cripple Creek and Colorado Springs...Illustrated, Henry L Warren & Robert Stride, authors and publishers, 1896 
Cripple Creek Mining District, Robert Guilford Taylor, Filter Press, Palmer Lake, CO 1973 
Cripple Creek, A Quick History, Leland Feitz, Little London Press, Colo.Spgs. CO 1967 Cripple Creek Conflagrations, Lester L. Williams MD, Filter Press, Palmer Lake, Co 1994 
Cripple Creek Guide, April 25, 1896 
History of Cripple Creek, America's Most Famous Gold Camp, The Quarterly Sentinel Vol I, Denver, Co, Feb 1896, WC Calhoun, Publisher 
A Quick History of Victor, Leland Feitz, 1969 Little London Press, Colo.Spgs, CO
The Denver Evening Post, August 25, 1899 
The Daily Mining Record, February 23, 1894

Until Next Time Stay Safe & Stay Well



  1. Doris, this is so interesting. I know NOTHING about Colorado history and I'm learning a lot from all your posts. Thanks so much for that!

    1. To me, the history is so 'rich', pun intended, that I feel I want to make sure it doesn't get lost in the annals of time. So many colorful characters. Such amazing beauty. What can I say, I love my adopted state. Doris

  2. Doris, thank you for the fascinating article.

    1. My pleasure, John. So much to learn and share, so little time. LOL.Doris

  3. I visit Cripple Creek each year and do a little gambling in the hotel I stay at. They have gambling in the town and it brings in tourists. The old brick buildings are awesome. As well as the vast history.

    As I said before, dear Doris, I was going to write a story about Cripple Creek, but the history is so convoluted and extensive, I decided it just could not be done. So, I leave it to an Historian.

    Thanks for the post!

    Charlie Steel

    1. Charlie, you made me smile. I agree, it's a lot of ups-downs, haves-have nots. I'm currently working on the women doctors in the area and trying to follow who was there and for how long...it's a process.

      Thank you for the comment and may you win what you wish when you visit. It's a beautiful area. Doris

  4. I've never been to Cripple Creek, but my parents often went because they loved the mountains and because they liked to gamble. I happen to love your articles, so thank you for the tidbits in this one.

    1. Darn Blogger - This is Kaye Spencer commenting as Anonymous. jeesh

    2. You are welcome. I don't get there as often as I would like. However, one project o my 2024 list is publishing the women doctors that were in the CC Gold District during its heyday. So, maybe a few more trips? Doris