Saturday, October 30, 2010
The hard, dangerous work and the reckless nature of the miner’s lifestyle in the Cripple Creek District at the turn of the 20th century led to more than its fair share of violent accidents.
“It was almost a daily thing to see the ambulance toiling up the steep Third Street hill to the Sister’s St. Nicholas Hospital, or to some cabin or boarding house,” wrote Raymond G. Colwell in a paper for the Denver Westerners, in July of 1960. Colwell first arrived in the District in October of 1899 and attended grade school and high school during the peak period of the gold camp.
“The ambulance was a light spring wagon affair drawn by a team of horses, with canvas sides with a big red cross painted on them, and a canvas curtain at the back which flapped out behind. There was just room for two plain canvas litters on its floor, side by side, and if there was a doctor along, he rode up front with the driver.”
Colwell remembered the appalling number of fatal accidents reported from the district.
“It was also a too frequent sight to see the ‘dead wagon’ as we called it. This was a peculiar looking vehicle, and it seems to me there was a similar one in use in Colorado Springs in the first years we came here. It was a one-horse job, with a black oilcloth covered framework over the narrow wagon body, which was just high enough to accommodate a basket or a rough box (casket case). It was an odd looking affair, because the enclosed body was considerably lower than the drivers seat, and for that reason looked much longer for some reason, to us kids at least, more gruesome. It seemed to me that the undertaker’s assistant who drove it always wore a black suit and derby hat which added to the effect.”
Along with accidents, there was also the ever-present danger of fire.
“The town itself was visible from almost all the railroads and mines on that side of Gold and Globe Hills. Occasionally we would be awakened by a chorus of short, sharp toots from the trains and mines in the dead of night, and we’d roll out to see where the fire was,” wrote Colwell.
“Another commonly-used fire alarm was five or six pistol shots as fast as the gun could be discharged. The townspeople were naturally fire conscious. Some of them remembered the big fires of 1896, and everyone realized that like all mining camps, another conflagration could occur at any time.”
At that time, just getting to a fire could by life threatening.
“Driving a spirited, excited team to a fire wagon could become quite a trick on some of the streets in Cripple Creek, especially when there was snow on the ground,” noted Colwell. “I well remember one bad crackup when No. 2, the Old Town Company, came down Fourth Street and tried to turn on Eaton. The horses, a beautiful team, slid around and into the fireplug there and turned over. I believe the driver was fatally hurt and two other firemen put in the hospital. The wagon was completely wrecked, and I think one of the horses had to be shot.”
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Bryan pushes Free Silver, $100,000 bet placed, and cross of gold touted
by Rob Carrigan
The populist movement of more than 120 years ago looks familiar. “Mr. Gold” from Cripple Creek weighed in. The very first time Colorado voters gave their electoral votes to a Democrat, it came on the heels of a speech by William Jennings Bryan, who first delivered it July 9, 1896, at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
“If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we shall fight them to the uttermost, having behind us the producing masses of the nation and the world. Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold,” ended Bryan.
His dramatic speaking style and rhetoric roused the crowd to a frenzy. The response, wrote one reporter, “came like one great burst of artillery.” Men and women screamed and waved their hats and canes. “Some,” wrote another reporter, “like demented things, divested themselves of their coats and flung them high in the air.” The next day the convention nominated Bryan for President on the fifth ballot, according to History Matters.
Such bi-metalism sentiments made Bryan a tremendous hit here in Colorado at the time.
In the 1896 election here, Bryan overwhelmed Republican McKinley in the state, 161,269 to 26,279. Alva Adams was selected for Colorado Governor and most of the state offices were filled by a Democratic-Silver Republican slate.
The fame of Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech led him to repeat it numerous times on the Chautauqua lecture circuit where he was an enormously popular speaker.
Some of the rhetoric is even familiar, sounding very similar to one of today’s presidential candidates, despite the lack of substance in some cases.
“The people of Nebraska are for free silver, and I’m for free silver. I will look the arguments later,” said Bryan to a crowd in a nearby state. In 1903, thousands gathered to hear the master deliver the same speech from the balcony of the New Sheridan Hotel in Telluride (see photo).
In 1896, the issue was whether to endorse the free coinage of silver at a ratio of silver to gold of 16 to 1. (This inflationary measure would have increased the amount of money in circulation and aided cash-poor and debt-burdened farmers.) Bryan, who was 36, at the time became the youngest candidate to be selected by a major party and went on to run for election in 1900 and again in 1908.
“Not the strangest of the many strange episodes during the campaign was the action of Colorado’s “Mr. Gold” himself — Cripple Creek’s Winfield Stratton — who endorsed free silver and Bryan,” writes Carl Ubbelohde, Maxine Benson and Duane Smith in “A Colorado History.”
“In fact Stratton went even further. He announced a public wager of up to $100,000 that Bryan would win, a possibility that the regular Republicans believed would immediately and substantially reduce his own personal fortune.”
“He not only came out for Bryan,” wrote Marshall Sprague in Money Mountain. “But he placed on deposit at the First National Bank $100,000 in cash to be bet on Bryan if someone would put up $300,000 on McKinley. If Stratton lost the bet, that was that, if he won, the $300,000 would be given to the Colorado Springs Free Reading Room and Library Association.”
“News of that bet flashed around the world and for a week McKinley and Bryan found themselves losing much front-page space to Stratton. His bet was the largest ever offered by one man on an election. And to most people it seemed as peculiar an act as a man could commit. Why, if Bryan won and the United States resumed silver coinage at sixteen to one, Stratton’s gold wealth would be cut in half!” Sprague wrote.
Stratton explained himself in a note given to each reporter at a press conference in Colorado Springs:
“I don’t make the offer because of any information that I have on the election, but I have a feeling that Bryan is going to win. I am deeply interested to see Bryan elected. I realize that the maintenance of the gold standard would perhaps be the best for me individually, but I believe that free silver is the best thing for the working masses of this country. It is because I have great respect for the intelligence and patriotism of the working people and I believe that they will see their duty at the polls that I am willing to make such an offer,” said Stratton’s note.
The move put the Republicans on the defensive and though they made all sorts of noise and motions to give the impression that they were happy to cover such a bet, they never did, which in retrospect was fortunate for Stratton.
Byron was a clear winner in Colorado. In the rest of the nation, however, McKinley carried the majority of the states and Bryan and Free Silver was defeated.
Bryan, sometimes called the perennial candidate, later became a key figure in the prohibition movement and anti-Darwinism efforts and eventually served as Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
In Irish folklore, the Pooka is a changeling that is both feared and respected, and often considered a harbinger of changing fortune. And though it can take many forms, it most commonly appears as jet-black horse with sulphurous yellow eyes and long wild mane. Folklore expert Douglas Hyde called it a ‘plump, sleek, terrible steed’ which appears out of the hills and speaks in a human voice to people gathered to hear its prophecies and warnings on the first day of November. Binlaughlin Mountain in County Fermanaugh (home of the original Carrigans) is also known as the “Peak of the Speaking Horse.” According to Hyde, it offered “intelligent and proper answers to those who consulted it concerning all that would befall them until November the next year. And the people used to leave gifts and presents at the hill…”
When I was 12 years old, beginning in April of 1974, as I delivered copies of Durango Herald every afternoon in Dolores, Colo., I befriended an old man by the name of Don Wallace that would wait for his paper every day on the back porch of his Pepto-Bismol colored house near the river.
He was a former ranch hand, cowboy, and veteran of various other vocations, that (although I didn’t really understand it at the time) was dying of cancer.
Don followed with great interest the unfolding saga of kidnap victim turned bank robber Patty Hearst and Sybionese Liberation Army.
Waiting for the paper was a pretty regular thing for the folks on my paper route through that summer of 1974, as President Nixon faced possible impeachment and eventually resigned in early August. Among other events, there was the Dixie County sighting of a Florida Skunk Ape in July that year. It really wasn’t what you would call a slow news period.
But the Patty Hearst story was compelling.
“Death to the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people,” was the slogan of the SLA and a seven-headed cobra snake its symbol. The members of the army were known on occasion to use cyanide-laced bullets.
Patty Hearst’s conversion from the straight-laced heiress of the Hearst newspaper fortune to a bank-robbing “fundraiser” renamed Tania, sporting automatic weapons at various robberies and car jackings with the terrorist group was a hot topic. In May, Patty (a.ka. Tania) fired a series of warning shots at a storeowner that was trying to detain SLA members, Bill And Emily Harris, when they were caught shoplifting in sporting goods store in Los Angles.
The next day, in a two-hour gun battle between the SLA and 500 Los Angeles police officers, where nine thousand rounds were fired, and six SLA “soldiers” were killed, the SLA sealed their international notoriety. Hearst was eventually arrested in 1975 and brought to trial in a sensational legal event, in which she was defended by superstar lawyer F. Lee Bailey.
I think Don Wallace was struck by the changing nature of the world that summer and the newspaper that I dropped every afternoon, was his way of dealing with it.
He would tell me stories of the wild west of his childhood, talk about his dreams for the world and suggest books that I should read.
He claimed, among other things:
• He could kill fruit flies at a distance of 15 feet with the .22 caliber revolver that rested on the table next to him out there on his porch as he waited for the paper.
• He also swore that his former acquaintance Brushy Bill Roberts was really Billy the Kid.
• A revolution was in the works with the emergence of groups like the S.L.A.
• Tom Horn was the opportunistic alcoholic assassin hired by absentee English cattle barrons and eventually got everything he deserved.
• He once had a shoot out in a New Mexico chicken house.
But Don also told me of a wild-eyed, jet-black stallion that he once owned. He swore up and down, that the horse could talk to him.
I remember asking him what they talked about and he said that the horse told him about dreams and such — about things to come.
Please click on the following to view:
• Smooth and comfortable on the right side of gate.
• Pooka, Patty, Photos, Papers and let's ride.
• Humor, sadness and the angry bear in a trap.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
At 9,700 feet elevation on the south flank of Pikes Peak, winters are tough in Victor, even today. But in its boom times of over 100 years ago, absent the modern conveniences of backhoe, a person passing from this world into another, might have to wait for spring (or perhaps summer) until the ground was soft enough to be buried. Stories have it, that out of convenience, bodies waited for the thaw out in what is now the fourth floor of the Victor Hotel.
“It is apparently many of these long dead Victor residents that haunt the historic hotel today,” according to Legends of America. “Though seemingly harmless, several people have witnessed the site of disembodied apparitions on the fourth floor. Reports include what look like doctors and patients, sometimes without arms, legs and even heads, moving about this place that once acted as a ‘holding cell’ for the dead.”
The fourth floor functioned as a hospital of sorts, where medical staff performed operations such as an emergency appendectomy as early as 1906.
Lowell Thomas father, physician H.G. Thomas maintained his office in the building as well. On the main floor, banks such as the First National Bank of Victor and later City Bank operated along side, at various times, grocery stores, restaurants, Barrett’s Furniture, the Colorado Telephone Company and Western Union Telegraph in the building. City Bank failed in the 1930s.
After years of neglect, the Hotel underwent an extensive renovation in 1991 and 1992 under the direction of new owners represented by Marjoe D. Bandimere of Arvada.
But the ghosts from the fourth floor are apparently not alone according to local folklore.
“Our most famous ghost is Eddie, who lived in the Victor Hotel, Room 301 during the early part of the 1900s,” says the hotel’s web site.
“Eddie worked in the mines wearing his heavey, steel-toed work boots. One night Eddie got up in the wee hours of the morning and pressed the Bird Cage elevator to go down. When the doors opened. Eddie got in, but there wasn’t an elevator there. He fell to his death and was later laid out for viewing in his room. Today, our 106-year-old Bird Cage elevator door’s open and close and at times the elevator goes up to the third floor without anyone touching the buttons. The elevator never stops on the second or fourth floors at these times, only the third. Eddie is still trying to get the elevator up to the third! Eddie is heard walking the halls at all hours of the night. Many times the guests have been awakened by loud footsteps in the hall. Upon looking out the door, no one is there.”
But that is not end of the spirit business in the historic building.
“Other guests have seen Charlie, who wears a black hat, torn jeans and a plaid shirt. Charlie is very friendly ghost who appears to be about 60-years-old and seems to have a good sense of humor. During the Christmas season of 2003, a young woman was seen several times in the lobby late at night walking around observing the decorations. She was seen on nights when absolutely no one was even checked into the hotel,” according to the hotel’s literature.
Saturday, October 2, 2010
Zalmon Gilbert Simmons boasted on occasion that he would live for forever. Impossible, of course, but how many more successful businesses would he have been able to string together if he did?
Founder of the Northwestern Wire Mattress Co. (eventually producing Simmons Beautyrest), Director of Western Union Co. (and several other telegraph companies), President of Kenosha, Rockford and Rock Island Rail Road, Wisconsin cheese box manufacturer, President of First National Bank of Kenosha, Mayor of Kenosha, and Wisconsin assemblyman.
But in this neck of the woods, he was known for the truly amazing feat of organizing a railroad ascending to top of Pikes Peak.
“Legend has it that Simmons’ first trip to the summit of Pikes Peak was athwart a mule named Balaam,” according to a historic paper by Frank R. Hollenbeck for the Denver Westerner’s Round Up published in April of 1962. “Upon his return to Manitou, silk hat askew, white beard and coattails flying, Simmons is supposed to have declared, ‘I’m going to ride up that beautiful mountain in the greatest comfort science can provide,’ or words to that effect.”
Simmons embraced a plan by one-time Manitou Mayor John Hulbert that was concocted in Hulbert’s Agate Hill home.
“Simmons called Hulbert in and announced his intention of building a railroad to the top of Pikes Peak. The Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway Co. was incorporated under the laws of Colorado November 14, 1888. Named to the board were John Hulbert, David H. Moffat, R.R. Cable, Jerome B. Wheeler, and Henry Watson. Hulbert became president. Moffat, at that time was president of the Denver and Rio Grande, while Cable headed the Rock Island, and Wheeler, the Colorado Midland. Nowhere in the articles did Simmon’s name appear,” wrote Hollenback.
Signed by Hulbert and William Bell, of Manitou, among others, Simmons name was not shown anywhere in the articles but after Simmon’s death in 1910, the Rocky Mountain News reported he owned 96% of the Cog Road bonds and 98% of the stock.
“Simmons and company employed the best engineering brains for his project. One engineer for his work on the Brooklyn bridge. Another, William Hildebrand, came from Switzerland as Roman Abt’s representative, and supervised tracklaying. Col. Roswell E. Briggs was chief engineer of the Denver and Rio Grande as well as the Cog Road; T.F. Richardson was his assistant. B. Lantry & Sons of Strong City (Kansas), Santa Fe and Colorado Midland builder, was the contractor,” Hollenback said.
“Simmon’s acumen was nowhere better displayed than in an anecdote from the planning days of the Cog Road. The two engineers just mentioned were concerned about the feasibility of anchoring the track on a 25% grade without a superficial support. Simmons believed the rails could very simply be fastened into the solid granite. He held to the idea that ‘the natural stone would anchor the road for 1,000 years.’”
The engineers refused to go along with the idea. One of them quit outright and the other would only remain on the condition that a waiver relieving him of any responsibility if the anchoring scheme failed was signed. The same fastenings have held the track in the Pikes Peak Granite since 1890 without slippage.
The Cog Road was completed to the top of Pikes Peak and opened for traffic in 1891.