Cripple Creek, Colorado

In its beginning, Cripple Creek was known as "Poverty Gulch." But in 1890, Bob Womack discovered gold and Cripple Creek boomed overnight. Then in 1891, WS Stratton found the Independence Lode (one of the biggest gold ore finds in history). With up to 500 operating mines in the area, this was one of the wildest and raunchiest gold camps in the West but, as gold camps do, the population here ebbed and flowed with the ebb and flow of gold ore out of the ground. At this point, more than 23.5 million troy ounces of gold (more than the California and Alaska Gold Rushes combined) have been removed from the core of a 6-square-mile volcano that spewed lava and ash all over this countryside millions of years ago.

In 1894, Cripple Creek became one of the battlegrounds between the Western Federation of Miners and the mine owners and operators. However, for one of the few times in American history, the governor of Colorado dispatched the Colorado National Guard to protect the miners from shadowy forces controlled by the mine owners. Then again, by 1903, Governor James Peabody was in office and he sent the Colorado National Guard into Cripple Creek specifically to destroy the miners' union. The WFM strike of 1903 and the governor's response to it precipitated the statewide Colorado Labor Wars that resulted in many dead on both sides over the next decade.

Over the years, the underground mines slowly exhausted the supply of gold ore and the local population dropped off, almost to the point where Cripple Creek was little more than a ghost town. In the 1970's and 1980's, tourists frequented the few bars and restaurants still operating while driving past the hundreds of empty homes with broken windows framed by lace curtains... In 1994, the big open pit mine near Victor opened up and there is gold flowing from there again. About that same time, Colorado's voters allowed limited stakes gambling in Cripple Creek and that has brought about a restoration (sort of) of a good part of the downtown area.

During its mining heyday, with fires, floods, mining accidents and labor problems adding to the total body count, the general overall lawlessness in Cripple Creek added an average of one homicide per day for years. That figure has contributed greatly to the idea of Cripple Creek being one of the most haunted cities in America (I write this as we're coming up on Halloween - and the gaming houses put on BIG promotions for Halloween).

On another note, Cripple Creek has a brand new Pikes Peak Heritage Center with more than 11,000 square feet of exhibits and educational displays. There's also a large theater in the building showing historical films about the area. Admission is free and there is no retail business inside the structure (there's enough going on outside...)

The Thin Air Theatre Company has its home in the Butte Opera House, and produces theatrical shows all year long. May to October sees several outdoor events in Cripple Creek, things like a pony express race and a chili cook-off. There is also a 1200-seat outdoor concert venue that offers several scheduled concerts through the season. If you want to feel the history, take a tour of the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine and see what the miners actually worked in. And if you walk into one of those fancy buildings downtown and put a few bucks on the table, know that a good portion of your "contribution" goes to support Great Outdoors Colorado and the Colorado Historical Society.