Out on highway 67, at the base of Pike’s Peak, 44 lonesome miles southwest of Colorado Springs, Cripple Creek sits alone at an elevation of 9,500 feet. From a distance, high on a vista off highway 67, before descending down into the valley, Cripple Creek looks like a bowl of wilted salad; various shades of crispy sage in a basin with low rolling hills dwarfed by the taller Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Cripple Creek, Colorado was a land of possibilities—a turn-of-the-century mining town where "Hope" itself hollered, beckoning men from across oceans and deserts to come, and claim their fortune. This it was a place where a man could find himself and then lose himself—the unsuccessful, starving self. Thousands came hot and hurried, tortured by the fever of possibility.
Many miners in the Cripple Creek district had been farmers back east, and didn’t even know what they were looking for in their quest for gold. They didn’t know how to pitch a tent or build a fire. But they had caught gold fever. In the 1840s, gold-seekers crowded the trails across the Great Plains on their way to California, where gold had been found. In 1859, a second onslaught of miners headed west.
“Pikes Peak or Bust” was their slogan, crudely painted on their wagon tops and carts. Pikes Peak was the first mountain they saw in their journey, so they went there to find their fortunes. The gold there wasn’t just lying in the streams or spilling from the rocky cliffs. Pikes Peak wouldn’t give up its gold until nearly 50 years later, when a second wave of miners began digging deep underground.
Gold was discovered in 1891 by a cowboy and part-time prospector and it transformed a sleepy, little ranching community into one of the world’s richest gold camps. Today, you can tour the Mollie Kathleen mine, descending 1,000 feet underground and touring through its educational exhibits. Tours are also available at the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mine, which is still in operation today.
The colourful history of the World’s Greatest Gold Camp attracts visitors from around the world. From 1890 to 1910, more than 22,400,000 ounces of gold were extracted from 500 mines in the Cripple Creek Mining District, that included Cripple Creek and the neighbouring town of Victor. This quaint mountain community was home to over 50,000, many seeking their fortunes in the hillside mines of Pikes Peak. The town has had a rather tumultuous history, burning to the ground in 1896 and having a reputation for lawlessness in its infancy. The survival of the city depended on the price of gold...and when the price dropped, so did Cripple Creek.
1900 was a pivotal year for the Cripple Creek Mining District. Gold worth more than $18 million was mined that year in nearly 500 mines. Eight-thousand miners worked there, including 700 men at the Portland Mine alone. The rewards of this hard life were worth the effort.
The district produced 30 millionaires, including a hard-working Colorado Springs carpenter named Winfield Scott Stratton. Stratton dug for 15 years and finally found gold on the Fourth of July in 1901. He called that claim the Independence, and he eventually sold it for $11 million. The C.O.D. Mine was also profitable, and co-owner Spencer Penrose used his profits to build The Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs.
In 1962 the last mine closed and having a need to survive, the city turned to tourism. Tourism became the main economic engine that sustained the town until 1991, when limited stakes gambling was introduced to the area. Today, Cripple Creek enjoys the benefits of all three economic variables -- tourism, mining, and gambling.
Not only might a visitor find a "taste" of gold fever in this historic district, but may also experience their hair rising on the back of their necks as they "bump" into one of the many ghosts that reportedly roam the area.
Like many other mining towns of the Old West, Cripple Creek is said to be extremely haunted. Given its rich history, complete with mining accidents, floods, fires, lawlessness, and bloody battles between mine owners and labour unions, it comes as no surprise to learn of the many ghosts who continue to linger in this once thriving city. In fact, there are so many tales of spirits wandering this historic town, that at one time boasted one homicide per day, some say it is the one of the most haunted cities in the United States.