Monday, August 1, 2011

Cripple Creek, Colorado

Cripple Creek—a name no ASJ fanfic writer could make up—was Kid and Heyes’ kind of town! At an elevation of almost 9,500 feet, this central Colorado mining town near Pikes Peak was in its heyday at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth (see photo at right). Gold miners working claims in the surrounding hills enjoyed the pleasures of Cripple Creek’s saloons, brothels, and gaming establishments such as Big Jim's (see photo at right -- could this be where he and Clara ended up?). More genteel, respectable, people also lived in Cripple Creek and laws were enforced to keep the peace. Nowadays, tourism and casino gambling drive the local economy instead of mining but the town is filled with history and very picturesque--well worth a day's visit.

Kid and Heyes were very fortunate they didn’t spend any time in the local jail! However, Robert Curry, a member of the Wild Bunch whose alias was Bob Lee, was captured in Cripple Creek and was jailed here for a spell. Standing in its original location, with its original cells, what is now called the Outlaws and Lawmen Jail Museum of Cripple Creek was definitely not a pleasure palace. There are two floors; each floor had a row of four cells on either side of a central aisle (see photo above). Each cell was six feet by six feet—quite small, and with metal walls and ceilings, and cement floors, probably quite uncomfortable, especially in summer. As many as six prisoners were sometimes incarcerated in one cell. To fit that many inside, hammocks were strung from the walls (see photo above); those prisoners did not sleep on beds but when there were fewer inmates in a cell, they did have beds (see photo below). There was no furniture in the cells except a metal protrusion in one corner; perhaps this was a bench to sit on. At one end of the first floor, one cell did not have a metal slatted door but rather was solid metal. This was the dark cell for solitary confinement. There was a separate area for women and juveniles who broke the law. By county law, prisoners had outdoor exercise every day.

Now restored as a museum, The Old Homestead, built in 1892, is the euphemistic name for what was the most exclusive brothel in Cripple Creek; guided tours are available but no photos are allowed indoors. Just inside the entrance and to the right is the parlor, where men were entertained with conversation; behind that is the music room, where a pianist was paid to play popular tunes of the day. The furnishings were imported from various European countries as well as Japan.

Walking up a narrow, twisting stairway are two girls’ rooms, side by side, and down the equally narrow hallway was another girl’s room and the room of the madam, Pearl DeVere. According to the tour guide, four girls worked at The Old Homestead at any one time (see photo above). Men had to supply references, which were checked, if they wanted to avail themselves of the pleasures of the house. They paid between $50 - $100 for one trick and if they wanted to spend the night with one girl, it cost them $250. At the top of the stairs on the second floor was a small room where men could observe the girls, who were dressed provocatively, and then make their selection.

The tour guide also said that each month, the girls had to pay a head tax in the form of a fine, usually around $40 - $45; The Old Homestead has receipts on display. The girls were allowed to go to the main downtown area of Cripple Creek only from 8:00 – 11:00am on Monday mornings. Prostitution was illegal but tolerated, and there were all sorts of houses of ill repute catering to the men who lived and worked in and around Cripple Creek.

Trains were essential to the growth of the region and three lines operated between the various towns during the time of the gold rush. Nowadays, the Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad (see photo at right) takes visitors on a 45-minute journey through the Echo and Anaconda Valleys to see where the miners worked. The trip is narrated and stops a few times at scenic spots. Big holes where individual miners dug for gold can be seen, along with dilapidated shacks and cabins, mine tailings, and way off in the distance, mechanical mining equipment (see photo at right). Hearing the train whistle blow; sitting in the open observation cars, passing through groves of aspen almost close enough to touch, I could almost imagine myself transported back to the days of the Old West.

Related Links:

Outlaws and Lawmen Jail Museum

The Old Homestead 

Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad