Cripple Creek District Mining History

From the website of Mining History Association: http://www.mininghistoryassociation.org/CrippleCreek.htm

Portland Mine, Cripple Creek Mining District, Victor, Colorado (photo credit: Victor Lowell Thomas Museum, USGS, and Johnny Johnsson)

Portland Mine, Cripple Creek Mining District, Victor, Colorado (photo credit: Victor Lowell Thomas Museum, USGS, and Johnny Johnsson)

The Cripple Creek mining district lies on the southwestern flank of 14,115 foot high Pikes Peak.   Gold was discovered in 1890 by ranch hand-turned-prospector, Bob Womack.  Relatively meager placers led to the discovery of rich vein deposits.  The rush was on as thousands of would-be prospectors and miners again accepted the challenge of the 1859ers, “Pikes Peak or Bust.”  By 1900, 500 mines had been discovered, the towns of Cripple Creek and Victor had been established, and rail service had linked the district to the outside world.

In 1903, when Cripple Creek was Colorado's fourth largest city, street cars operated on its main streets (Denver Public Library, Western History Collection)

In 1903, when Cripple Creek was Colorado’s fourth largest city, street cars operated on its main streets (Denver Public Library, Western History Collection)

Gold production peaked around 1900 with production valued at $18 million.  From 1890 to 1910, 22.4 million ounces of gold were produced.  Production was not without its problems.  Unlike discoveries in other western mining camps, the gold in Cripple Creek was contained in gold-telluride minerals.  The mineralogy dictated the use of the chlorination process rather than the conventional stamp milling and amalgamation.  Later, chlorination was replaced by cyanide leaching.

The district is noted for several large and famous mines and is said to have produced 30 millionaires.  Winfield Scott Stratton discovered the Independence Mine in 1901 and later sold it for $11 million.  The nearby Portland Mine at one time employed 700 miners.  The profits from entrepreneur Spencer Penrose’s C. O. D. Mine built the famous Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs.

The district was rocked by labor strife during several periods.  In 1894, a five month long strike by the Western Federation of Miners was prompted when the mine owners lengthened the workday from 8 to 10 hours.  Violence between the striking miners and a company-paid militia of sheriff’s deputies resulted in the declaration of martial law with the Governor calling in the army to restore order.  The strike was eventually settled by reinstitution of the 8 hour day and no cut in the $3 daily wage.  The union victory strengthened the Federation in Colorado and elsewhere.  In 1903 rising labor tensions again resulted in the calling in of the National Guard during the Colorado Labor Wars.  After an extended period of violent clashes between union and non-union groups, the Federation was driven from the Colorado mines in 1904.

As the mine workings deepened, water became a serious problem.  A number of drainage tunnels were driven to drain the mines and prolong the life of the district.  The longest of these was the Carlton Tunnel which drained from the deepest levels of the Vindicator Mine.  The tunnel was completed in 1941.  Unfortunately the closure of the mines during World War II limited its effectiveness.  After the war, with the gold price pegged at $35 per ounce, most mines became uneconomic and the district shut down.

Bennett Avenue in Cripple Creek, Colorado (circa 2002)

Bennett Avenue in Cripple Creek, Colorado (circa 2002)

The rebirth of the district started in 1976 when Texasgulf and Golden Cycle formed a joint venture, the Cripple Creek and Victor Mining Company.  Open pit mining at the Cresson Mine was permitted in 1994 and production rose steadily.  Ownership evolved through mergers and acquisitions until the present time when the mine is owned by Anglo Gold Ashanti Corporation.  In 2011 the company poured 266,000 ounces of gold including its 4 millionth ounce.

Today the best way to experience the mining history of the Cripple Creek District first hand is to take the Gold Camp Trail self-guided driving tour which visits several of the old mining sites and provides a glimpse of the modern mining still going on.  Walking tours are also available in Victor and Cripple Creek.

 

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