I’m Poker Alice, and I made my living playing poker in Creede in the first half of 1892. The stories I read in the town paper, The Creede Candle, told the real truth about life for boomtown miners of the Wild West. These daring souls came for the boom…in spite of risks of every kind because the rewards were too big to resist.
On January 21, 1892, the very first edition of the Creede Candle had plenty of tragedy and oddity:
• Two men were killed in Denver recently by cable cars.
• A Leadville man was killed over a game of cards last week.
• Frank Serboudy was killed at the Mollie Gibson mine at Aspen after falling down the shaft.
• Charles Roffer, an old settler in Las Animas County, had both feet frozen a few days ago while going to a neighbor’s. The storm was so great that he got lost.
• A young man at Meeker went out one night recently gunning for coyotes. Daylight demonstrated that he had killed four choice steers.
• A man was knocked down and robbed by two female footpads in Pueblo a few nights ago.
I saw firsthand what the mining boom brought to Creede and Jimtown. For example, there were lots of buildings like this one described in the paper:
“The last Tuesday in January some enterprising merchant got down the floor and part of the roof on his shack, set up a shelf, stacked a couple of whiskey bottles upon it, ran a piano into one corner and was ready for business before the sides of his building had reached further than the four corner boards. Carpenters worked around him.”
By mid February the camp was without coal and kerosene for several days, owing to the delay in the freights.
The paper said, “There are over a thousand buildings of all kinds in course of erection in the camp and yesterday there was not a board to be had from a lumber yard. This delay of freights is becoming a serious thing.”
With that kind of growth, things got crazy dangerous in Creede for everybody.
In January Mrs. S. Harvey had a narrow escape. She was walking along with her head down going to the post office, when near the Creede hotel she walked under the axe of a man who was cutting wood unconscious of her approach. The head of the axe struck her in the jaw, fracturing the bone.
I saw with my own eyes a near-fatal gunfight in Jimtown in February: The Creede Candle reported it: “The Louisiana Kid, believing his rights had been trod upon in a social game of draw, laid in wait for Manager Palmer of Jeff Smith’s place and opened up his artillery when Palmer came out of the house. Palmer did some shooting on his own account. The Kid was wounded, but got away, and was last seen hitting the pike for the south. Palmer had both thumbs shot off and got a ball in the hip and a scratch on the head. For a while guns were kept hot in the camp, but no serious results are reported.”
Of course, there were mining accidents, including this one:
“Four miners employed on the Ute mine,at Lake City met with an accident Wednesday morning at 9 o’clock. A shot failed to go off, but it exploded when the men resumed work. Gus Koehen was hurt the worst, receiving an ugly cut on the left side. …He died at 5:30 o’clock. Tony Mayo, working near him, was hit with several pieces of the flying rock, and his face is in a frightful condition. He will lose both of his eyes. Jacob Jacobson and McGinnis Norberg, who were working under the place where the accident occurred, were also cut in several places about the head, but are not seriously injured.”
One fellow near Leadville had this close call:
“Tom Walker, the expressman, while delivering goods on Iron Hill Tuesday, met a mule team with a very heavy load of timber on the sled. As he passed he noticed they were stuck and offered to help them out, but the driver said he did not need his help as he had a partner who had just gone for another team. Walker passed on down the hill, but just has he got by, the driver unhooked the mules, apparently forgetting to block the sled—which got started down the hill and would have collided with Walker had he not made a race for it. Fortunately, the sled overturned before reaching Walker’s team, averting a catastrophe.”
I suppose that’s enough good news/bad news for today. Check in with me next month for more true tales of near escapes and dreadful deeds in the Colorado boomtowns.