Creede: 125 Years of History
Events continue throughout the week of June 11-18th, 2017
Creede kicks off its 125th Birthday on June 10, 2017!
|Burro Race Registration and Weigh-In||11 a.m.|
|Welcome All and Happy Birthday Speech||12:45 p.m|
|Burro Race - Main Street - Ready, Set, Go!||1 p.m.|
|Baby Donkey Races||1:15 p.m.|
|Pie-Eating Contest & Happy Birthday Creede Cake Cutting||2:15 p.m.|
|Beard and Mustache Competition||2:30 p.m.|
|Inaugural Bat-Spin, Three-Legged Race, and Cornhole Triathlon||2:45 p.m.|
|Gunfight at Ford's Saloon||3:15 p.m.|
|Beer Garden||4 p.m. – 8 p.m.|
|Local Live Creede Music||4 p.m.|
|Finish Line Welcome||3:30 p.m. – 5:15 p.m.|
|Burro Race Winner Ceremony||5 p.m.|
|Halden Wofford & The Hi-Beams – Rocky Mountain Honkey Tonk!||5 p.m. – 8 p.m.|
|Sparkler Parade||8:30 p.m.|
Ladder Ball Games, Cornhole Games, Artist Observation, Giant Card Signing, Food Vendors, and more! … all day
Our official birthday is June 13th, 2017
Creede: A Very Brief History
By Janis Jacobs, Creede Historical Society
BOOM TOWN CREEDE
“Creede” is a name that has been drawing people to this area since 1890. Our town has gone from soaring heights to devastating lows followed by many ups and downs in its varied history. For one and a half years it was at its highest pinnacle as a boom town. For almost one hundred years it was primarily a mining town and it has had to reinvent itself in many ways since 1985 when its mining ended. But the town has always come out on top through all of its good times and challenging times. To tell about the history of the town, one must also tell about the mining and the effect it had, and still has, on the town – the two have always been intertwined.
People were traveling through the Upper Rio Grande area for many years before Creede was founded. Native Americans traveled through here until the early 1870s. Then prospectors began heading toward the new mining towns of Lake City and Silverton. Prospectors looked for silver outcroppings wherever they were. Many other people came through here in the 1870s and 1880s. Some stayed and established ranches. The Hot Spring Hotel was built at Wagon Wheel Gap in the early 1870s because of the interest in the curative waters. It was so popular that the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad extended their rails from Del Norte to the Gap in 1884. By this time, many other ranches had been set up, including Wason Ranch, the Texas Club (now Freemons), San Juan Ranch, Soward Ranch, Antelope Springs, Wetherill Ranch (now RC Ranch), Broadacres and many more.
In late 1883, a small mining camp was set up at Sunnyside where Rat Creek and Miners Creek come together. Nothing big came of it, but the first recorded silver production in the area was sent from here in 1884.
The town of Creede actually started in East Willow Creek Canyon. Nicholas Creede had located the Holy Moses claim on Campbell Mountain in the fall of 1889. He traveled to Denver for the winter and when he returned in the spring of 1890, many followed him, having heard of his “big” strike. The Sherman Silver Purchase Act was passed by Congress in 1890 almost doubling the price of silver which increased the numbers of prospectors in the Rocky Mountains.
As more people heard of the strike, a camp began to bloom in lower East Willow Canyon. Shacks, cabins and businesses began to be built. Some of those who came were families: women and children were a part of the camp life from its beginning. The camp was first called Willow Camp, but in the fall of 1890 the miners voted to change the name to Creede. The narrow canyon was soon overflowing, so building was extended downstream and into Willow Canyon. This canyon was slightly larger, so cabins, houses and businesses were built there, too. It was called Stringtown.
In the summer of 1890, some of the business people decided to build downstream at the end of Willow Canyon and a large business district began to emerge. Shacks, cabins and houses were built at the south end of the business district and on the sides of the hills and on the mesas. This area had many names, but the most prominent became Jimtown.
The small boom of 1890 was taken up a notch in the fall when Nicholas Creede sold the Holy Moses mine for the shocking sum of $70,000 to three investors who were connected with the D&RG Railroad. News of the big sale brought more people to Creede.
In the spring of 1891, Stringtown and Jimtown were still growing. The business district in Jimtown had two main streets – Creede Avenue to the west and Cliff Street to the east. Wooden buildings were built on both sides of each street for several blocks down stream and most shared walls. The business district had many saloons, gambling houses and dance halls along with “legitimate” businesses, like grocery, meat and mercantile stores, offices, theaters, sign painters, newspapers, banks, photographers, and others.
More ore discoveries were being found in East Willow Canyon and along West Willow Creek. New claims included the King Solomon, the Ridge and the Kentucky Belle on East Willow, the Commodore (which would become the longest producing mine in the district), the Last Chance and the Amethyst (discovered by Nicholas Creede) on Bachelor Mountain.
By January of 1892, Jimtown was being called “Creede,” but all three areas were considered part of the same town. The BIG BOOM to Creede started in January of 1892. The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad HAD extended its rails to Creede by that time. Now ore could be sent out more quickly and in larger amounts. Mines which had been stockpiling ore were shipping ore out, 10 to 12 cars a day. People and supplies could get to Creede more easily and faster. Newspapers around the state estimated 150 to 200 people arriving daily. Small mining camps were set up to accommodate the mines – Bachelor City, Weaver and Stumptown.
The year of 1892 was the biggest boom time in Creede’s history. That year brought many good and many bad things and people to town. By late spring, the boom brought miners, business people and ordinary people. But it also brought in scoundrels – con men, gamblers, ladies of the night, gunslingers and others who wanted to mine the miners rather than the hills.
Bob Ford, infamous killer of Jesse James, found his way here and he soon became the “camp boss” of all the shady businesses in town. A month later, Jefferson Randolf (Soapy) Smith arrived with his soap game. Smith challenged Ford to be the “camp boss” and Soapy won out. In June of 1892, Bob Ford was shot to death in his tent saloon by Ed O’Kelley, who served a prison sentence for the killing.
Probably because of Bob Ford, Soapy Smith and all the saloons, gambling halls, gunfights and undesirable people and incidents, Creede got the reputation as one of the wildest boom towns in Colorado.
The Creede Mining District was made up of land from Hinsdale County (West Willow and Bachelor), Saguache County (East Willow, Stringtown and the upper part of Jimtown), and Rio Grande County (the lower part of Jimtown). Miners and mining companies often weren’t sure which county their claim was in, so they would sometimes file in all three counties.
One of the worst disasters in the history of the town happened on June 5. 1892. Around 6 o’clock in the morning a fire started in a saloon located at the north end of Jimtown. In two and a half hours most of the wooden district had burned down. It devastated the town, but had little effect on the mining. Although many of the business people (and undesirables) left town, many stayed and rebuilt (starting the next day). This time, most of the businesses were built with brick which was made locally. The main block of the business district today still looks very much like the rebuilt district looked after the fire. People were still coming to the boom town.
On June 13, 1892, Creede was incorporated as a “city.” The city limits included the first Creede Camp (now called Upper Creede or North Creede) on East Willow, Stringtown and lower Creede (Jimtown). Now Creede would have local people making rules and regulations for the city and local law enforcement to keep the peace.
The 1892 Colorado Business Directory stated the population of Creede as around 6,000 and close to 10,000 in the mining district. The Creede Candle newspaper reported that mine production was outstanding in 1892. The Amethyst Mine was listed as the highest producer of ore and the second highest was the Last Chance Mine.
In the first half of 1893, Creede was still booming. In March, the mining problems involving the three counties were put to rest when Mineral County was formed.
The boom and the excitement came to a sudden end in August of 1893 when the U.S. Congress repealed the Silver Purchase Act. The government quit buying silver, the price of silver crashed and silver mining in all the American West was halted. The boom was over! All mines closed in Creede. Many miners left town, which caused many businesses to close and owners to leave town. Soapy Smith was one of them.
Creede was one of the few lucky silver mining towns that never became a ghost town. Hundreds of little mining towns were abandoned in Colorado during the Crash. Within a few months the larger mines in the Creede District reopened but with much smaller crews and much lower wages. The town did not die, but it certainly changed, and it has never come even close to the population in the BOOM times.
AFTER THE BOOM
Mining remained the main economy in Creede until 1985 when the last producing mine closed. As a mining town, Creede continued to experience boom and bust times. During the boom times more people would live here, buildings would be built, schools, churches and other groups would thrive. During bust times, many would leave town, businesses would close and social groups would have fewer numbers. The town was affected very much by the price of silver.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Creede experienced an economic upturn. In 1905 the Humphreys Mill and the Amethyst Mill were built. In 1930 the Emperius Mining Company was founded by B.T. Poxson and Herman Emperius. By 1945 they controlled most of the mines and purchased a mill just south of town.
In the 1960s the Commodore Mine was still being worked by the Emperius Mining Company. Homestake Mining company came to Creede in that same decade and they opened the Bulldog Mine, initiating what was to become the last silver boom in Creede. In the 1970s the population was growing so fast that house trailers had to be brought in and almost every nook and cranny in town had a trailer in it. Around 200 students were in attendance at the K-12 long schools during part of that boom. It did not last. In the 1980s the Commodore Mine ceased operation and in 1985 Homestakes’s Bulldog Mine halted its mining, closed its doors and sold many of its buildings.
With Creede’s dependence on mining for so many years, its population was cyclic, depending on the price of silver. Many businesses were open, then closed. Essential businesses stayed open, like grocery stores, livery and later auto repair shops, Tomkins Hardware (which provided goods for the town's citizens and for the mines), and mercantile stores. The town might have many stores open for years and then would have many abandoned store fronts and houses for years.
Tourists had begun coming to the Creede area in small numbers until the 1920s when automobiles became more affordable and popular. Many area ranches offered beds and food and, later, became dude ranches with cabins available. In town, hotels, lodges and, later, motels were built for the tourists.
Nature had given us many natural wonders to attract people to the area. There is so much to see and do for people who love the outdoors. Hunting and fishing have always been popular, in early time more necessary than now. Camping has always been popular. The outdoors (mountains, canyons, unbelievable vistas), elk, deer, moose, birds and the lure of mining buildings and a mining town have brought photographers here since the 1890s.
There have been schools in Creede since the early days: two in North Creede and three in lower Creede. Now there is a new school south of town.
Creede men have been part of our armed services and served in all of our country’s wars in the 20th and 21st Centuries. Creede women have also served in the 21st Century.
The town has lived through many disasters since 1900. We have experienced floods, fires, the 1918 flu epidemic (the only place to put the ill was on the pool tables in the bars), mine closings, and the loss of a train into town in 1972.
From the beginning of the town, it has had many social groups and organizations. Among those still active are the Elks, the Masons and Ladies Aid, all of which were founded in the 1890s.
Entertainment has abounded in Creede. Live theater has been here since 1890, involving traveling troupes, local school children or local people, until 1966, which was a time of a mining slump. The Creede Jaycees wanted to help the town and invited a group of Kansas University students to come to Creede and produce summer plays. Creede Repertory Theatre was born. Since the loss of mining in 1985, CRT has grown and has become a nationally known theater. It now plays a big “role” in drawing people to Creede.
Fourth of July parades and mining competitions have been an important part of Creede’s history. Mining competitions started sometime in the early years. Miners vied against miners in hand competitions (single jack and double jack steeling) and hand mucking (shoveling dirt into ore buckets). Later machine drilling and mucking were added. Today the Days of ’92 and the Colorado State Mining Competitions are a featured part of our 4th of July celebrations. In the 1920s and 1930s the 4th included circuses and/or carnivals. In the 1930s a Ferris wheel was part of the festivities.
The Creede Museum was started in the 1940s in a shed, moved to the Elks building in the 1950s and to the abandoned depot in the 1960s. The local historical society took over its operation in 1984 when the society was incorporated. The very unique Underground Fire Department and Underground Mining Museum were blasted out of the Willow Creek canyon walls just above the town by miners in the late 1980s.
From 1959 until the mid-1970s raft races were held on the Rio Grande between Creede and South Fork. Participants came from all over and huge crowds of people came to follow the rafts and cheer them on. A small T-Bar ski tow opened up near McKinney Springs around 1960 and was enjoyed until the 1970s. In the 1980s a local ice hockey team played competitive games with surrounding town teams in the area. In recent years an ice skating rink has been built up the canyon and a yearly ice hockey tournament has been held.
The town has also become known as an art community. Many artists have galleries in town. Books and articles in newspapers around the state have highlighted many of our artists.
The people of Creede had to totally change the “persona” of the town after mining died. We still emphasize our mining history through the remains of mining, museums, literature and the mining competitions. Many come here because of the arts, the unique shops, the beautiful scenery, the various summer and winter sports and the friendly people. All of these help lure the visitors to Creede, many of whom end up staying and becoming a part of our current history. Creede is thriving!! Come at any time of the year and join the locals in our little piece of paradise!!!
Feitz, Leland. A Quick History of Creede: Colorado Boom Town. Golden Bell Press, 1969.
Harbert, Charles. Creede, Colorado History . . . . Vestige Press, 2010.
Huston, Richard. A Silver Camp Called Creede: A Century of Mining. Western Reflections Publishing Company, 2005.
LaFont, John. 58 Years Around Creede. Vantage Press, 1971.
LaFont, John, The Homesteaders of the Upper Rio Grande. Oxmore Press, 1971.
Mumey, Nolie. Creede: The History of a Colorado Silver Mining Town. 1949.