STORY of THE CRIPPLE CREEK DISTRICT
IT IS a story of engrossing interest, not only to that large
element of the world's population to whom the discovery of treasure
appeals, but to the student of human achievements and human progress
as well. To the former class the story of Cripple Creek would
seem like a page from the Arabian Nights. To the latter it speaks
of the restless search which has been prolonged through the centuries
for that fabled land in which nature had filled her storehouse
with golden treasure, E1 Dorado. Cripple Creek, a name to conjure
with, is known wherever the English tongue is known, a familiar
name wherever the yellow metal is regarded as the one great thing
to be desired and earnestly sought for. The output of its great
mines, which has so materially swelled the world's supply of the
precious metal, opened the eyes of the world to the fact that
a section of the long-sought E1 Dorado had been found.
How the geologists examined the formation of these hills, and
how the men versed in the lore of the books, declared that it
was impossible to find gold here in paying quantities because
the formation was not right, is an old story which has been often
told, and the tale, although interesting, is beyond the scope
of a work such as this.
The discovery and location of the Cripple Creek district was
prefaced by two mining excitements, neither of which amounted
to anything, the fact being doubtless due to the difference of
conditions here prevailing from those known in gold-bearing regions.
Then came Bob Womack, and to the persistency and pluck of this
indomitable prospector is due the fact that the world has been
enriched by many millions of golden treasure. Laughed at as a
visionary, regarded by some as being weak-minded because of his
ceaseless search through the hills of the Cripple Creek region
for the gold which he declared existed there, Bob Womack, the
discoverer of Cripple Creek, never rested until his mission was
accomplished and the great gold camp had been given to the world.
Robert Womack was born in Kentucky fifty-six years ago (ca.
1860). He was of sturdy Irish-American stock, the kind that peoples
wildernesses and discovers hidden treasure. Of the blood of Daniel
Boone, it was but natural that the Womacks should be found upon
the borders of civilization.
The Womacks, father and son, came to Colorado in 1872, and
located a cattle ranch about fifteen miles north of Pueblo. Robert,
for several years after coming to Colorado, worked as a cowboy
in the employ of his father. In 1878 father and son came to the
Cripple Creek region, and purchased the Welty homestead, which
covered what is now the townsite of Cripple Creek.
As time progressed Womack acquired other lands, notably the
Requa townsite and the ground in the vicinity of Mount Pisgah,
which were added to the ranch, known as the Broken Box ranch.
Along in 1886 the Womacks, who had mortgaged the ranch to Bennett
& Myers, found that they were unable to pay even the interest.
The Denver firm foreclosed, and the elder Womack returned to the
ranch near Colorado Springs.
Bob had always been impressed with the idea that the hills
surrounding Cripple Creek contained gold in paying quantities,
and, after the loss of the Broken Box ranch, he still continued
to make it his home, performing any kind of work to pay for his
board, while he spent his days in the hills, prospecting. He was
regarded as very much of a nuisance by Manager Carr of the ranch,
who believed that he was weak-minded upon the subject of gold.
Mr. Carr reported to Mr. Myers that every hale sunk by Womack
meant the loss of a steer.
When Mr. Myers visited the ranch he and Carr went to where
Womack was at work, up Poverty Gulch, at what is now the Gold
King; and, calling Bob from the hole, Myers told him that be would
have to leave the ranch. Bob denied that his prospects had caused
the loss of any cattle, and before the proprietor of the ranch
left the prospector had partially converted him to his own opinion
of the possibilities of the region, and Myers took with him to
Denver a sack of rock from the Gold King.
Whether the Denver assayer who received the rock had contemptuously
thrown it into the alley, or whether his tests were not of the
proper sort may never be known, but the fact remains that he failed
to report a single trace in what afterward turned out to be the
richest ore ever found upon the American continent, and Myers
was deprived of the opportunity of a lifetime. However, Bob Womack
made him exceedingly rich after all, for the despised ranch of
the Womacks became the Cripple Creek townsite, the sale of which,
according to Mr. Myers' own statement, netted the firm of Bennett
& Myers a large fortune.
Bob Womack sold the El Paso Gold King claim for $300, and the
purchaser a little later sold a third interest for $35,000. Today
the property could not be purchased for many thousands of dollars.
It has already made several men rich.
During the years '90 and '91 Womack had between thirty and
forty locations in the camp. Generous to a fault, whenever one
of his friends was looking for a location, Bob would present him
with a claim; and thus it came to pass that some of the best properties
in the district passed through his hands without his having received
the slightest benefit therefrom.
The Independence mine was located Fourth of July day, 1891,
by W. S. Stratton. It was while he was trudging over Battle Mountain
that he noticed a stream in the gulch below. His animal was thirsty,
and he started down that he might give it water. Passing down
the hillside, his eye caught sight of the large blowout on the
Independence and the outcropping on the Washington. Both claims
were located. Work was first started on the Washington claim,
Stratton believing that the outcrop gave better promise of mineral
than the blowout. In fact, he gave a bond and lease on the Independence,
which, however, was not taken up; when the lease expired Mr. Stratton
commenced operations on the Independence, the development of which,
a few years later, enabled him to sell the entire property for
Mining experts, men of great experience in underground work,
now began to visit the district. Many made adverse reports. That
there was ore they admitted, but many of them put themselves on
record that the ore occurred only in surface deposits. They explained
how impossible it was for gold to exist in this formation. They
turned their backs on the infant camp, and left behind them the
treasure-vaults long sought for.
In 1893 silver was demonetized, and business generally throughout
the state was paralyzed. Miners began to flock here from the great
silver camps. Capital was still wary. Then, like a ray of sunshine
through the darkness, came the announcement that the Pharmacist
Company, on Bull Hill, would pay a dividend. That news turned
the tide to the new El Dorado, and people from every quarter of
the globe began arriving. The stage coaches rolled in, packed
to the boot.
When the close of the year 1893 came there had been shipped
a total of $2,500,000 worth of ore.
In the succeeding year, 1894, C. M. McNeill erected a chlorination
mill, of seventy-five tons capacity, at Lawrence, and to him is
due the credit of treating the Cripple Creek ores by the chemical
process. The mill burned, and then he, together with Spencer Penrose,
went to Colorado City, where they erected one of the greatest
milling and reduction works in the world.
The Cripple Creek district, up to the close of 1915, has produced
over $350,000,000 in gold. This enormous production came from
ground between the surface and a depth of one thousand feet; and
there still remains practically untouched within those limits
an immense amount of unexplored territory.
The present production is about $1,250,000 a month. No other
similar sized district in the world can show such a record-and
its future is likely to eclipse its past, by reason of the drainage
work now being carried on.
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