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Cripple Creek downtown

Downtown Cripple Creek Colorado

This is the second half of my trip to Cripple Creek, Colorado, over the Labor Day weekend. As I described in my last post, we traveled to Cripple Creek on Friday, Sept. 4, 2010 and arrived late at night. The next day, I started out by taking a guided tour of the Mollie Kathleen gold mine, then visited the Cripple Creek Heritage Center right across the road, taking photos of all the displays. They even had a scale model of the Mollie Kathleen.

Anaconda mines

Anaconda mine sites with Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mine

Now for the rest of our visit: After taking some panoramic video shots of the town from the mine dump behind the heritage center, I drove back down Hwy 67 to the town. I was to meet my wife, ‘Becca, and our two children at 12:30 at the Cripple Creek District Historic Center at the east end of Bennett Ave. (the main street of town). I was a bit early, so I wandered around and took some photos and video of downtown, then ate lunch with my family. I had wanted to visit the Historic Center (a man at the mine told me it was worth visiting both museums) but didn’t want my family having to wait for me, so we decided instead to take the narrow gauge railroad tour. We were almost late for the train, and in the hurry my son William fell down and skinned his knee in the parking lot, so we were trying to get him bandaged up (fortunately we brought a first aid kit in the diaper bag) while the train pulled away. The loud train whistle frightened William some more, and I’m afraid the whole experience wasn’t very great for him or my wife, who had to hold him most of the way. My other son, Jonathan, was having the time of his life, pointing out all the rocks to me (at three he’s already a budding geologist). I tried to videotape the whole thing and take a few photos as well.

Headframes in Victor

Headframes in Victor, Colorado

The train headed south along the mountain grade, over some old tressles and fills, past many old mine workings, to a point about half way to Victor at the abandoned town of Anaconda. It was quite interesting to see the old mine shacks lower on the hillside and the new terraces and trucks working the higher hillsides for the Cripple Creek and Victor gold mine. On the way back we paused on a siding to let the next train pass, and the engineer pointed out the remains of Crazy Bob Womack’s cabin in Poverty Gulch, who was the first to discover gold in the district in 1890. We had a good view of Cripple Creek and Myer Ave., which was the notorious part of town.

WInfield Scott Stratton and I

Winfield Scott Stratton and I

We had to leave for Denver by 3:00, so we had just enough time to drive out to Victor and snap a few photos. There are many headframes on the hillsides around town, including those of Stratton’s Independence Mine and the Portland, which he had a share of. As we left, I had to take one more photo of myself seated on this bench with Stratton himself (well, at least a bronze replica of him).

Winfield Scott Stratton was the first big millionaire of the district, discovering his gold telluride deposit on July 4th, 1891. He had searched unsuccessfully for silver and gold for the previous 17 years, working as a carpenter during the winters to finance his summer prospecting expeditions. He had even built a sign for H. A W. Tabor in Leadville for his opera house while he was prospecting there. He finally decided he needed more education and took courses in mineralogy at the new Colorado School of Mines. In 1891, he scoured much of the Cripple Creek area and found nothing. On the evening of July 3, 1891, he had a dream in which he imagined going back to a granite ledge he had already passed over. The next day, upon revisiting the site, he noticed signs of gold telluride ore, and discovered rich veins in some boulders that had fallen off the main face of the ledge. He staked a claim and named it the Independence, which he eventually sold for $11 million to a group of British businessmen, the highest amount paid to date for any mine, and a large fortune at the time. But Stratton wasn’t one to blow all of his money; he’d learned from the example of Tabor, who was now ruined because of the Silver Panic of 1893. Eventually Tabor came to Stratton looking to sell some mine stock to help pay his debts. Stratton paid him $50,000 for the stock, but never bothered to record the sale at the mine office. Stratton eventually bought a house in Colorado Springs that he himself had built years before and lived there the rest of his life. I had read a biography about him a couple of years ago called Midas of the Rockies by Frank Waters (1937) and now I’ve finally visited the sites he helped to make famous.

Victor Colorado

Downtown Victor Colorado

There is still much I would like to do and see here. I would like to hike some of the paths in Victor, take the tour of the open pit mine, and view the whole valley from the Eagles overlook. But that will have to wait for another trip. At least I have gathered enough footage and photos to make a great video of the Cripple Creek mining district.

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