September 9, 2011 – After visiting Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, we headed on down the road to Cripple Creek. In 2004, we had rented an A-frame cabin near Cripple Creek and, on this day trip, decided to drive through the area again.
Cripple Creek sits in a high mountain valley just below tree line at about 9,500 feet near the western base of Pikes Peak. For many years the valley was consider to be of little value for anything more than grazing cattle. A mini gold rush was caused in 1884 when three con men salted gold in a prospect hole near Mount McIntyre, 13 miles west of Mount Pisgah. The men planted a fake claim sign and invited the press. In the excitement over news of a new gold strike, the papers mistakenly identified Mt. Pisgah, near current day Cripple Creek, as the location of the strike. Experienced miners quickly determined the strike was a fake and the incident became known as the Mt. Pisgah Hoax. It gave the area a bad reputation, prospectors avoiding it for many years.
A persistent prospector, Bob Womack, came to Colorado in 1861 with his father at the tail end of the Pikes Peak Gold Rush. While they didn’t do well, they liked Colorado well enough to bring out the rest of the family, purchasing the Levi Welty homestead in Pisgah Park, where Cripple Creek would later be established. Womack dug hundreds of holes search for gold, becoming known as “Crazy Bob” and a drunkard. In 1890, Womack dug a narrow shaft into Tenderfoot Hill, finding gold ore. Womack called the discovery the El Paso Lode. It later became the Gold King Mine, eventually producing $5 million in gold.
In 3 years the population rose from 500 to 10,000. Though the mines of Cripple Creek produced a half a billion dollars of gold ore, Womack profited but little and died penniless in 1909. (See more on Cripple Creek history at Wikipedia.)
Unlike many of the historic gold camps and towns that have faded into ghost towns, Cripple Creek reinvented itself in the 1940s as a tourist destination. In 1991, Cripple Creek was one of a small number of towns opened to legalized gambling by Colorado voters. Casinos now occupy many of the old historic buildings and gambling revenue has revitalized the area.
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