Colorado Experience: Creede – The Last Boom Town

(lively music) (horn music) When Nicholas C. Creede staked his claim, the Holy Moses Mine, that brought 10,000 people into town Creede was the last big Boom town It was a super rough and tumble life When you think of what the Wild West was, that was Creede We have to remember our past The celebration of mining history is alive and well here in Creede (hammer banging) – [Male Presenter] This program was made possible by the History Colorado State Historical Fund – [Female Presenter] Supporting projects throughout the state to preserve, protect and interpret Colorado’s architectural and archeological treasures History Colorado State Historical Fund, create the future, honor the past – [Male Presenter] With additional funding provided in memory of Deanna E. La Camera, and members like you With special thanks to the Denver Public Library, History Colorado, the Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media, and to these organizations (lively music) (harmonica music) Mining has been the core of Colorado If you can’t grow it, you gotta mine it It’s really what put Colorado on the map Creede fits into the mining past of Colorado because we were the last silver boom camp The legacy of mining is generational and it goes from 1892 to the present We hang on to the heritage of it because of course it’s what we did It’s why our bones ache today and our feet hurt The celebration of mining history is alive and well here in Creede with our Days of ’92 event on the 4th of July The Colorado State Mining Champions and the Days of ’92 are a commemoration of hardrock mining in Colorado and throughout the West The Days of ’92 Mining Competition, that’s huge to just remember where we came from It’s fascinating to see all the different styles of mining and the techniques that are used all the way from the primitive hand steeling, to the air jack hammers I think it’s incredibly important to keep preserving that and trying to not lose sight of what we were founded on Basically, that’s all you’re doing is honoring them old boys on the hill You’re hoping that they’re smiling as they look down on you ’cause you’re giving honor to all the hours, days, and years that they gave working in the mines We’re proud of it We don’t know anything else We’re a bunch of miners (hammer clanging) (banjo music) The Creede area was originally populated by the Ute tribe They were not friendly to the settlers at the time and so Wagon Wheel Gap, which is the entrance into Creede, is called Wagon Wheel Gap because there is legend that the Ute people would hang out up on top of the cliffs and then shoot down on settlers They would hang the wagon wheels up along the cliffs as a warning to other people who are coming through the area In 1871, the Brunot Treaty was signed with the Ute to be able to allow the white settlers to come through And that was when prospecting was able to begin in earnest When Ulysses S. Grant was the President, to encourage the development of the America West, he said the Federal government would buy up all the silver that was mined And so silver mining took off Nicholas C. Creede, whose real name was William Harvey, he joined the Army back in about the 1870s He was up in North and South Dakota fighting Indians While he was there, the love of his life married his brother And that broke his heart So he never went home again Changed his name to Nicholas C. Creede After Creede finished with the Army, he made it down to Pueblo, Bent’s Fort, which is where the majority of prospectors and people came He went up on Monarch Pass and made a pretty good stake there And then he wandered over to Bonanza But he weren’t satisfied so he went into Del Norte Del Norte’s one of the oldest towns down the San Luis Valley And he was there two or three years, every summer,

wandering up the Rio Grande prospecting The story goes he was prospecting up the East Willow Canyon, and struck the silver vein and said, “Holy Moses! “I found it!” (banjo music) When Nicholas C. Creede staked his claim in 1890, then everybody started coming to Creede What’s really unique about this boom town is that it happened super quick A lot of the boom towns in Colorado had a little bit more of a slow build Here, it was because of the compounding of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act and when the railroad was completed to town and then finding such rich veins in this area, that in December of 1891, it just absolutely went nuts There was like 200 people coming here a day in the dead of winter – [Narrator] As was common with boom towns, word of Nicholas Creede’s discovery traveled quickly Prospectors hoping to stake their own claims flocked to the area One such prospector was Theodore Renninger Theodore Renninger came into Del Norte one day Happened to walk into a butcher shop Now when he walked into this butcher shop, there was two butchers, Erick von Buddenbrock and Ralph Granger Evidently, he struck up a conversation and asked for a grubstake They discussed it briefly and grubstaked Theodore with $125 Now that was basically about a year’s salary in 1891 Theodore come on up to Creede and was here for the better of a year, not having much luck And he was down to his last $10 So he decided, it’s time to quit He went into one of the saloons in town, sat down with friends of his for breakfast He told them, he says, “You know what? I’m done with Creede This my last day, I’m down to my last $10 So I’m gonna get me a train ticket, and I’m gonna head back to Denver.” He said, “I’m going to go up one more time.” And jokingly, as he walked out the door, he looked at everybody and he says, “See y’all later It’s my last chance to strike it rich.” Theodore Renninger come up from town prospecting, where he tied his burro up At some point during the day, his burro pulled lose from the willows He knew that burro meant money for him So he had to find that burro before he left on that train that same day He followed the burro higher and higher up the hill, for a total of over 1,500 feet of elevation change before he caught the burro Now whether it was anger, curiosity or frustration, we don’t know Theodore walked over, he sat down by the rock where the burro was standing, and started hammering on that rock And that’s where he broke open the amethyst vein that reached the surface He loaded the burro up, went back to town, and he went in to see Nicholas Creede Well Nicholas assayed his material, and it turned out to be high silver content galena, or lead Nicholas came up and he helped Theodore stake the Last Chance Mine Nicholas staked the claim right below him, the Amethyst Mine (lively music) – [Narrator] Mining camps began popping up with each new claim And with them came miners, merchants, gamblers and more It’s common in these mining camps to have little communities, little towns that pop up around each of the mines so that miners didn’t have to travel far to work There was 10,000 in the mining district The mining district includes Bachelor and a bunch of other little satellite towns that popped up near mining sites Some of these canyons are extremely narrow and so in order to have the houses and the shops, they built the houses over the existing creeks And those creeks eventually also had the outhouses over them and so it was, I guess, at that point of time, a sanitary way of removing waste from the town Naturally the buildings started to go down the canyon And that was what ended up being called Stringtown Creede was actually located up East Willow Canyon And then at the end of the valley, that’s where it bloomed out and a lot of buildings started happening That’s what is now Creede proper At the time, it was called Jimtown or Gintown or Amethyst This is the original map of Creede Camp and the vicinity Each one of these is a patented mining claim You have one mining area on top of another, and there were hundreds In 1892 they decided, you know what, let’s just move Creede from this northern area We need to incorporate and become a town

And so what was Jimtown then became Creede (guitar music) (harmonica music) When it boomed, so many people came here because they knew the money would be here with the mines, with the merchants, with the gamblers, with prostitutes, with everybody So anybody that wanted to get in on it didn’t have to be a miner He just had to get here and he could get in on the money When you think of what the Wild West was, that was Creede Well life was tough in Creede, as it was in all the little mining camps around the state 10,000 people here and they all come here to fleece everybody that they can People credit it as being the wildest of all the boom towns We had a lot of colorful characters Bat Masterson, he used to hang out with Wyatt Earp, and was very well known Kind of a crooked cop kind of type They said that just his presence on the street kinda keep people in line Bat Masterson ended up being the sheriff of Creede for two to three years Poker Alice was a notorious gambler and was known for having a cigar hanging out of her mouth all the time Soapy Smith, con man, was big in Denver But he came to Creede People always carried all their money in those days with them a wallet inside their coats And people would come to town and Soapy had his men out there giving them a free ticket to go get a haircut Of course he owned the barbers , and the barbers would be cutting their hair, and he could feel and tell if their wallets were pretty thick So that would let him know that this guy’s got quite a bit of money Well he’d cut a V in the back of their hair That way when they went down the street, Soapy Smith’s con men could see, oh here’s a guy who’s got a thick wallet We’ll get him off in a shell game or a poker game or something to fleece him out of his money Then of course, one of the most famous one is Bob Ford He was the gentleman who killed Jesse James And he actually came to Creede fairly early on in about February but he got kicked out in April (chuckling) because he and one of his buddies were going around shooting streetlights out He came back on the 30th of May, started a saloon here with the dance hall girls We had a major fire There was a Y junction and there was a building right at the Y where the fire started And because everything was right next to each other, it all burned to the south But business didn’t stop We had tents go up, very next day, even when the ashes were still smoldering Bob Ford was a notorious figure even at that time He was very well known, people didn’t like the dude at all (gunshot firing) Bob Ford ended up getting shot in his temporary saloon, just about four, five days after that fire He was killed by a gentleman named Ed O’Kelly Some people say that it was a revenge for Bob for killing Jesse James Some people just say that the two of them had beef Nobody really knows. They say he was shot through the jugular, and almost took off his entire head Almost the whole town came to just be photographed in front of his saloon, after Bob Ford was shot and killed (guitar music) – [Narrator] As tough as life could be in town, things weren’t any easier down inside the mines There’s a saying here, “It’s day all day in the daytime and there is no night in Creede.” These miners were working 12-hour shifts, so they would go in and it was daylight, and they would come out and it was daylight It was a hard life, and a tough life, and the immigrants that were coming in they’re just looking for anything to make a living – [Allie] It was a super rough and tumble life These were incredibly hardy folks to be able to survive being in the Creede winter and working in the mines – [Kathleen] Mining’s hard work You spend half your day, 12 hours underground in the dark It’s dangerous, there’s dynamite and dust Everything you had to do by hand from skinning to cutting down trees When you would go in and work on your claim, where you have to create the adit, which is the opening to your mine And then you’ve gotta get that all out of there Dynamite is a tool And then once they get their opening, and then they start making their way in, you’re using a pickaxe and dynamite And eventually, you have to create a stope And so if you have to have a lot of timber because you have to support that area that you’re going in And then they have to muck it out, that’s a mining term for shoveling There is just this attitude of, we can do anything We can just go to a mountain and say, this area’s mine, and then pick up a rock, and this is mine And then next thing you know, you’re the richest guy in the state Nicholas C. Creede found a single boulder up at the Amethyst Mine It weighed about a ton, and assayed about 2,000 ounces of silver per ton That’s pay dirt He was getting, according to the books, about $1,000 a day put in his bank account in Pueblo (dramatic music) – [Narrator] Folks were prosperous during the boom years

but changes coming from Washington would make Creede the last boom town in Colorado When Grover Cleveland became our President, he put us on the Gold Standard And that caused the price of silver to just plummet Silver dropped from about $1.14 an ounce, down to around .60-some cents an ounce – [Allie] There is a mass exodus from most silver mining towns because it was an incredibly hard lifestyle So it had to be worth it – [Ken] Creede, just like the rest of them, dropped in population and everybody moved on They had to find somewhere else to go make a living – [Kathleen] This area went from about 10,000 to about 400 I think the last passenger train was in the early 1900s that left Creede That was a sad day, I think Many of the little towns around the state basically folded clear up (guitar) The reason Creede hung on is because we had so much silver – [Kathleen] Anyone that has been to Creede or knows anyone from Creede, knows that Creede very much has a can-do will-do attitude And the folks in Creede were determined and they didn’t wanna leave This is a beautiful canyon It was still rich enough that it was worth it to continue mining it But it just was not on the scale that it had been During World War Two, when our nation needed lead for ammo, Creede was able to step up to that challenge and started mining the lead out of the mines instead of the silver In the ’60s, mining did come back They found an ore vein, up here at the Commodores and then also in the Bulldog Mine And that kept a lot of people working for a lot of time When Homestake came in here in the 1960s, they hit the Bulldog Mine up here and they had up to 2,000 ounce silver too So we had another boom Then Creede went crazy for about 20 years, and we shipped about $33 million worth of silver down the tracks every year with 130 employees from the Bulldog Mine Hunt brothers tried to buy all the silver in the country and killed the price of silver And it dropped from about $49 an ounce in a three year period of time, turned down to about $3 an ounce So one day everybody went to work at the Bulldog Mine and the bosses said, “Get your diggers and go find a job “This mine’s closed.” And it’s been closed ever since Ultimately, mining ceased in the Creede area in 1985 (gentle music) – [Narrator] Ever resilient, the residents of Creede have come to adopt a tourism industry But as visitors walk downtown or explore the surrounding country, it is clear that Creede continues to embrace its mining heritage There’s a saying, “the past is the key to the present.” And I think we can learn a lot from our past We wouldn’t be in this areas if that had never happened Everybody tries to keep things basically the way they were Change is inevitable and you have to move on But just keep the mining alive is our whole hope (gentle music) The Creede Underground Mining Museum is a place that has preserved the mining history of this area This space has meant a lot for everyone here When the mining shut down in 1985, that’s when they decided to build this so the mining heritage never got lost (gentle music) There was three paid miners It took them 18 months to do the blasting The volunteers that came, they helped move the muck out, store up the walls, and they just did it so they could say that they were part of it That’s what this community does – [Kathleen] Folks that love history, especially the American Wild West history, when you drive the Bachelor Loop tour, which is a self-guided auto tour that drives through the historic mining district, gives folks an appreciation of what was Being able to drive up the canyon and see those mines is one of the most incredible views – [Narrator] Along the Bachelor Loop, visitors even have the opportunity to experience what life was like underground for miners during the boom years And hear a unique story of preservation After grubstaking Theodore Renninger, Ralph Granger eventually became the sole owner of the Last Chance Mine The claim would stay in his family until 1998, when Jack Morris came to town My grandfather was a blaster in the coalmine And I remember hearing the stories And I thought, you know what? That’s not a bad life I think I’d like to play a part of that Well I never quite got into mining,

but I got involved with mines And eventually, my trucking company, and my second business, photography, brought me here (guitar music) I came out here the summer of ’98 to take historical photographs As I got here, I contacted the last Granger, Nancy Granger Schallen Well I went ahead and hiked up, photographed it, went back down Called Nancy I said, Nancy, I’m off the property She said, how did you like it? I said I absolutely loved it She said, you wanna buy it? I said, ma’am right now I couldn’t afford to buy it And she says, well let me ask you a question What would you do with it if you could afford to buy it? I said I’d love to see it preserved, restored, open to the public This is the kind of place that should be enjoyed by everybody And I said, the future generations need to understand the mining and what people went through At the end of that conversation, she said, Jack I wanna talk this over with my son tonight Call me back tomorrow Well I called her back the next day and she said David and I liked your ideas and we’ve decided we want you to have the mine She said, we’re gonna sell it to you for the assessed tax value She said $2,900 And I said, ma’am I don’t wanna offend you but why would you do that? That makes no sense She said because your answer was right and the other guy was wrong She said “well three years ago, there was guy who tried to buy it from me, and I turned him down because I didn’t like his answer He said it had a million dollar view and he wanted to bulldoze it and build a house.” Well I bought the mine I went ahead and started restoration that same summer I’ve learned what it was like for the miners to live here Because I lived here with nothing more than a bed and a cook stove from the 1890s I’ve restored four other buildings on this level so people can come up here and experience what it’s like to live at the mines, similar to what the miners did I think it’s critical that we do this This, and others, had to be saved Otherwise our future generations have no concept of what mining’s all about We have to remember our past Here, you see first hand, by going inside these tunnels, and you look up hundreds of feet, and know these men stood up there with nothing in their hands but a pick or a shovel and a candle to see by My goal is to show people what happened here Creede has a long history of mining It was established on mining It thrived on mining And even though it’s a tourist town now, it still survives on mining Many of these mines are gone Once they’re gone, they’re gone forever You can’t recover these I hope I’m doing my part to preserve the entire state’s mining history (gentle music) – [Narrator] There are others dedicated to preserving Creede’s story And there’s an ongoing effort to clean up and restore the scenic area to its natural beauty As a result of mining, our creeks ended up with high levels of cadmium, lead and zinc, and the fish don’t like that In 1997, the Willow Creek Reclamation Committee was formed And they were a stakeholder group that partnered with Federal agencies Up the East Willow Canyon, they moved the creek It was running through a lot of tailings They also put in some settling ponds When the Willow Creek Reclamation Committee started, there were no fish And in a 10 year time, the fish population came back And so those folks are really proud – [Narrator] There’s hope that mining will one day return to Creede The memory of the boom days is on display all over this small mountain town But over the 4th of July, old friends and mining families gather in the arena in the center of town, and bring that heritage to life The Days of ’92 is a celebrated and proud tradition We tried to keep the theme of Creede being a mining town That’s why I run the Colorado State Mining Championships here because that’s our heritage, that’s where we started We’re proud of it in our town We want it to keep going, because it’s a way of giving back to your community I was born and raised here, my family have been here over 100 years It stays in your heart, knowing that the old timers worked their tails off It’s honoring, way back in 1800s Had a grandfather, that I took the place of in watering for the Single Jack and Double Jack,

just to keep it rolling I get a lot of pride in helping with a competition like this and seeing old friends, new friends Actually I have a really long family history in hardrock mining in the state of Colorado My great great grandfather, Hal Sayer, came out to Colorado for the Gold Rush Up until my father, I’ve got five generations of my forefathers working underground People understanding that mining is such an integral part in the way that we live our modern lives needs to be remembered And so for me, to be able to go and publicly display what it is that they used to do back when, is important I want people to learn about how mining was done back at the turn of the century It’s an amazing feat of engineering and hand labor that went into establishing these towns like Creede I’ll be a part of this competition until I can’t do it no more because we’re proud mining in this town The mining event is just a little part of it We like to have everybody have a good time- show ’em why we’re still here, town of Creede (popping fireworks) (harmonica music) (gentle music)