Forty-eight miles from Colorado Springs sit two little towns steeped in history of the old west. Cripple Creek and nearby Victor began life as gold camps full of tents and hastily put together cabins; homes for the many prospectors who were staking claims in the area.
History of Cripple Creek
The Colorado Rocky Mountains were dotted with stake claims of prospectors seeking their fortunes in gold. However, it wasn’t until late in 1890 gold was found in the Pike’s Peak region. A man named Bob Womack discovered gold, but because of a hoax six years earlier; miners were hesitant to believe his claims even when he produced a rock worth $200 a ton.
Undaunted Womack continued to prospect the area and the following summer finally hit a rich vein. He hurried to Colorado Springs to celebrate, got drunk and sold his claim for $500. Miners quickly converged on a six square mile area surrounding what would be called Cripple Creek GolCredit: photograher unknownd Camp.
The miners named the settlement after the creek that ran through it; called “Cripple Creek” by the local cowboys because so many cattle were crippled when they tried to cross the rocky waters. The land was owned by two Denver real estate men, Horance Bennett and Julius Myers who drew up plans for a town site on 80 acres. They sold lots to the miners and their families. The town was incorporated in 1892 and had over 5,000 residents.
The Red Light District of Cripple Creek
Cripple Creek established numerous businesses, a number of saloons and as was custom in those times, several brothels. The brothels were located near the saloons on the main street of Bennett Avenue but after a time, the marshal, wishing to keep peace between the businesses and the ladies, moved the girls one block south to Myers Avenue. Myers Avenue soon became known as the “Red Light District.”
Myers Avenue, full of parlor houses, dance halls and over 70 saloons, was one of the most well-known streets in the Old West. It is said it was this street that coined the phrase “There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight.” The businesses on this street never closed, providing 24 hour entertainment for the miners.
The most well-known madam of Cripple Creek, Pearl de Vere came to Cripple Creek in 1893 and built one of the most affluent Gentlemen’s Parlors in the American West. De Vere’s going rate was $250 a night and her establishment was referred to as “the Old Homestead.”
Cripple Creek Grows and Victor is Established
As the mines deepened, the gold veins became richer. Miners moved about six miles down the road; closer to the mines they worked. As tents and cabins sprang up, brothers Frank and Harry Woods bought 136 acres of real estate and sold lots establishing a community they called Victor Credit: Photo by Cheryl Weldonafter a local homesteader.
Gold ran in veins close to the surface and miners excavated right under buildings and streets. Railroads ran track into both towns and business thrived. Though Victor’s population reached over 5,000; it was almost always considered the “little sister” of Cripple Creek. Ever proud the residents of Victor claimed that “Cripple Creek got the glory, but Victor got the gold.”
Closing of Mines is the End of the Bustling Old West Towns
During their heydays, the mines in the area produced 16-23 million dollars. By 1900, 500 mines were in production in the area; the district reported 55,000 citizens with Cripple Creek claiming a population of 35,000. Victor had topped out with 5,000 residents. Cripple Creek supporCredit: Photo by Cheryl Weldonted over 75 saloons, 25 restaurants, and a business college.
By 1920 there were only 40 mines operating and production was only at about four million dollars. By 1945, there were less than 20 mines operating and yielding a mere one million dollars per year. Most residents had moved on to other cities, other jobs. Cripple Creek and Victor were reduced to tourism to stay alive.
Today’s Ghost Towns Still Provide Entertainment
By the 1980’s tourist trade had dropped. The state of Colorado, not wanting the historic towns to die out, passed a law to authorize limited stakes (bets limited to $5 each) gambling in Cripple Creek, Central City and Blackhawk. In addition, the towns of Cripple Creek and Victor offer a wCredit: Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Managementide variety of events and activities to attract tourists.
In Cripple Creek, visitors can choose art exhibits, museums, rodeos, fall color tours, narrow gauge railroad trips, horseback riding, craft shows, melodramas at the Opera House and symphony performances. Old mine shafts are still evident on the hills in the area and driving tours take vacationers to the ruins of some of the mines. The nearby national parks offer camping, hiking, and rock climbing.
The biggest event in Cripple Creek is Donkey Derby Days held the last full weekend of June. Victor holds Gold Rush Days annually, during the third weekend of July. Located on the southwestern side of Pikes Peak, Cripple Creek is a 45 minute drive from Colorado Springs; just over an hour drive from Denver.
Lengendsofamerica.com (accessed April 16, 2010)
Florin, Lambert. “Ghost Towns of the West.” New York: Promontory Press, 1973.
The copyright of the article “Gold Mining in the Old West Left Ghost Towns Behind” is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.