Pikes Peak or Bust: Exploring Cripple Creek’s Mining History

Nestled beneath the majestic shadow of the iconic Pikes Peak lies the town of Cripple Creek, a place where the historic American frontier can be seen around every corner. Carved into the rugged terrain of Colorado, this beautiful town holds a significant place in the American West. Cripple Creek’s mining history is one of perseverance, discovery, and the adventurous spirit of those early pioneers.

The stories of prospectors striking gold in the Rocky Mountains beckoned prospectors from far and wide, enticing them to venture into the untamed wilderness in search of precious metals. While Cripple Creek wasn’t initially a destination prospectors flocked to when gold was found in the Rockies, it soon became one of the biggest gold mining communities in Colorado. These early pioneers forged not only a thriving community but also a lasting legacy that continues to inspire today.

A view of Pikes Peak with an early morning sunrise illuminating it.

Exploring Cripple Creek’s Mining History

From the first gold rush in 1859, when prospectors painted “Pike’s Peak or Bust” on their wagons and headed west, Colorado has had an allure for those seeking adventure. Even before gold was found in the Cripple Creek region, Pikes Peak had become a symbol of exploration in the West. Pikes Peak stood out as one of the most prominent mountains as travelers crossed the great plains and can be seen from over 100 miles away. Colorado’s earliest mining settlements began attracting prospectors looking to find riches in 1859. Despite Colorado’s extreme terrain and harsh winters, prospectors quickly pushed deep into the mountains in search of gold and other precious metals in places like Central City, Breckenridge, Alma, Leadville, Aspen, Silverton, and more. The gold rush came to Cripple Creek slightly later in 1890, and the area west of Pikes Peak quickly swelled to 50,000 people almost overnight. By 1910, more than 22,400,000 ounces of gold were extracted from 500 mines in the Cripple Creek Mining District.

The Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine

The Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine is one of the best-preserved mines in Cripple Creek. The mine was started in 1891 on a mining claim staked by Mollie Kathleen Gortner, after whom the mine was named. This mine was unique for the time, and Mollie Kathleen Gortner became the first woman in the Gold Camp to discover gold and strike a claim in her own name. This mine operated until 1961, when the local mill closed, leaving no way to process the gold ore found inside the mine. At the time, the mine expected to reopen when the local mill began operating again, something that never happened. While waiting for mining operations to resume, the mine underwent major upgrades with lighting improvements, repairs, and a replacement to the mine hoist that lowers guests over 1000 feet into the mine today. While the mine never resumed mining operations, it did shift its focus toward mine tours and is one of the biggest attractions in Cripple Creek today. You can venture 1000 feet into the mineshaft of this historic mine today by scheduling a tour here.

A view from outside the Molly Kathleen gold mine.

Independence Mine

Established amidst the excitement of the Colorado Gold Rush, the Independence Mine quickly rose to prominence as one of the region’s most productive and enduring mining operations. This mine was opened in 1891, and Winfield Scott Stratton sold the Independence for $10 million less than 10 years later. With the success of the mine, Stratton became the Cripple Creek District’s first millionaire. Today, the remnants of the Independence Mine can be seen just outside Victor.

C.O.D. Mine

While no longer standing, the C.O.D. Mine (Cash on Delivery) was one of the region’s top-producing mines during the Cripple Creek gold rush and remains one of the most successful mines in Cripple Creek’s mining history. This mine was owned by Spencer Penrose and Charles L. Tutt and was located on the edge of the modern Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mine. With the success of this mine and numerous other business ventures in the Pikes Peak region, Penrose established the world-famous hotel The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, developed the Pikes Peak highway, and began many philanthropic programs that are still in operation today.

The Vindicator Mine

The Vindicator Mine, located between the historic town of Cripple Creek and Victor, stands as one of the best-preserved relics of Cripple Creek’s mining history. Opened in 1896, the Vindicator Mine was one of the biggest in the region. Once a bustling hub of activity, this mine played a pivotal role in shaping the region’s fortunes during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, yielding substantial quantities of gold during its years of operation. Today, the remnants of the Vindicator Mine can be seen on display while walking the Vindicator Valley Trail. This impressive trail winds its way through the rugged landscape where the mining stake was originally located, passing the well-preserved Theresa Mine, Vindicator Mine, Last Dollar Mine, and many other mining features, all in the span of 2.1 miles. As visitors traverse the trail, they are treated to glimpses of abandoned mine shafts, rusting machinery, and weathered buildings, all silent witnesses to the ingenuity and perseverance of those who once toiled within their depths. The trail not only provides a window into the past but also serves as a reminder of the enduring history of Cripple Creek’s mining era.

A view of one of the mines that can be seen from the Vindicator Valley trail.

Modern Mining In The Cripple Creek Region – Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mine

While all of the mines from the gold rush era have closed their mining operations, there is still active mining in the community. Opened in 1995, a new era of mining began when the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mine began operation on its pit mine. The mine produces more than 250,000 ounces of gold a year and is one of the largest gold mining operations in the continental United States. You can see this impressive mine from the Newmark Mine Overlook just outside of Cripple Creek.

Stay & Play At Tripple Crown Casinos

While the allure of striking gold may have faded with the passing of the Gold Rush era, a different kind of fortune awaits those who venture to Cripple Creek today. Amidst the historic streets and picturesque mountains, Triple Crown Casinos is bustling with activity, while guests try their luck at their favorite casino games. Though the days of panning for gold may be behind us, the thrill of hitting the jackpot still pulses within the walls of these historic buildings. Whether testing your luck at the slot machines, challenging the dealer at a hand of blackjack, or soaking in the lively atmosphere of the casino floor, visitors to Triple Crown Casinos have the chance to experience the rush of winning big. In this modern-day treasure trove, the gold may not be found in nuggets but in the thrill of the game and the excitement of the win, making every visit a chance to strike it rich in its own right.

Book your stay with Triple Crown Casinos and enjoy our three casino flows while exploring the historic mining community of Cripple Creek.

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