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)

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