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Sunday, November 2, 2014


I pondered what to share with everyone this next to last month in the year. Should I talk about Julia E. Loomis, Colorado Springs first female doctor? Perhaps Cripple Creek or Garden of the Gods? There are many fascinating pieces of history in Colorado, so what did I decide? Read on.
Cripple Creek Victor Mine-Photo from authors collection
The Cripple Creek mining district came into being as the result of one 'prospector', Robert 'Bob' Womack. Its growth was painful. Due to the nature of the gold deposits in the area, the gold salts were in granite, not quartz like other areas, many people and a huge influx of money were needed to extract the gold. The cost of mining to extract the ore from the granite, was prohibitive. Added to this the additional problem of water in the lower levels of the mines. In order to to benefit from the ore in the mines, many needed to form partnerships to create the capital needed to continue operations. Even when the cost of refining of ore dropped to less than $20 a ton as opposed to the cost of $65 a ton from 1870, the cost was still high for the average miner. In addition was the added burden of the mining apex law. 

Portland Mine, Victor Colorado 1917
The largest and richest mine in the Cripple Creek/Victor Gold Mining District was the Portland. It produced about half of the gold that came out of Battle Mountain, "the richest hill on earth", located just slightly north and west of the town of Victor, during the boom of the district. It was also the highest mine on the mountain at 10,240 feet. It had 700 men on its payroll and the surface buildings covered the largest area. The story of this mine from its small beginning to the heyday of the district is one of the most fascinating both for the mine and the men involved. 

The Portland began on about a tenth of an acre. Most claims were 1500 feet by 300 feet, the standard developed by the Cripple Creek Gold Mining District in 1891. Three men, James F. Burns, James Doyle and John Harnan started it all. They registered the claim on January 22, 1892. The claim sat between three other claims. Doyle and Burns were aware their activity so near the others mines, would have the other owners trying to stop their claim. In order to avoid detection they worked at night in secret pulling the ore out. After and accident when, according to legend, when an ore wagon tipped, the three contacted Winfield Scott Stratton to help them. Statton, ever the businessman, he being the first millionaire in the district, agreed for a portion of the claim. He provided money needed to pay for the litigation following the announcement of their discovery. Most litigation would be due to the Apex law, which was to help prove ownership of a mineral vein. Stratton initially hired attorneys Allen T. Gunnell and Clarence C. Hamlin. He later hired Verner Z. Reed to help the attorneys. The end result, after litigation, was a property of 130 acres and included over 30 claims. The Portland became the richest and largest producer in the heyday of the Cripple Creek Mining District. (They are still mining gold from Battle Mountain today.)

Headframe, Victor Colorado-photo from authors collection
Of the three men, one sold out his shares, one became mayor of Victor and spent time in the county jail, and one became the chairman of the board. James Harnan sold his shares in the Portland. James Doyle worked together with Burns until a very public split in 1898. Doyle filed suit in Iowa, where the Portland Mining Company was registered, stating that Burns had cheated him in a business dealing on shares with the Portland. Burns counter-sued here in Colorado. The outcome, Doyle spent time in the El Paso county jail for contempt of court for following-up on his suit in Iowa. Burns won his suit, forestalling Doyle from following through. Eventually Doyle was released from the jail, but the animosity between he and Burns led to Doyle selling his shares in the Portland to Irving Howbert and leaving the company completely. Prior to filing the law suit against Burns, Doyle had been elected mayor of Victor, in fact he was re-elected during his stay in the jail. Doyle passed away in Denver in 1954. 

James Burns became the president of the Portland Mining concern. Burns gave much of his energy to building the company with an eye to growth but also to the people working for them. In a mining accident eight men were killed, Burns, along with Stratton, closed the mine, exhumed the bodies, refortify the workings, and made sure the men had a proper burial, which created a split in the mining companies board. Compensation was also given to the families of the accident victims. Burns remained the president of the company, resigning in 1905. During his time at the Portland he built the Portland mill, in Colorado City and was associated with the Short Line that connected Colorado Springs with Cripple Creek. Additionally prior to his death in 1917 he was a director of the First National Bank of Colorado Springs, and president of the Burns Trading Company. 

Harnan moved on to California and was reported to have said he had made and lost millions in his lifetime and had no regrets.

That is just the tip of the iceberg of the story of mining, money and mayhem in Cripple Creek/Victor. 

"Home for His Heart" takes place near the Cripple Creek area about fifteen years before they found gold.

A short excerpt:

While Oliver was talking, Clara watched the sky get darker and darker off to the west.
She knew what was coming. Being tied to the tree when the lightning started terrified her.
“If I promise—” Clara started.
“Ettie, you best not be makin’ promises you can’t keep.”
“Oliver—” Clara said again. She had to try.

“Be quiet! Nothin’ you say will change anythin’,” Oliver snarled.

Until next month, happy writing and Happy Thanksgiving.

also available as an ebook on Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.

Doris Gardner-McCraw/Angela Raines
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Photo and Poem:

Film and Photography on the Front Range” (Regional History Series): Colorado Springs, CO. Pikes Peak Library District 2012


  1. Very interesting post, Doris. The stories of mines in the West are always filled with intrigue and usually someone ending up in jail...or dead.

    1. Very true Kirsten, and this post was just the tip of the iceberg. If I had the time...well, if I would make the time what a story it would be. The fact that there was more money pulled from this mine, that it continued to operate during the labor strikes and was only shut down my the government after the strike was much to tell. Thanks for stopping by. Doris

  2. Doris, what a very interesting blog. It boggles the mind to think of the hardships and struggles the miners and the owners faced way back then. It was indeed a time period of much upheaval, stabbing in the back and money to be made. Oh, when I read articles such as this one, my, mind starts churning with all kinds of stories of what if...Thanks for a great read and fascinating pictures. And I must find out why she's tied to that tree. Hmmm...

    1. Bevery, thank you. It is just one of the many stories from the heyday of the Cripple Creek/Victor mining in the 1890'w - 1910. I keep finding more and more information. To think it all began with the eruption of a volcano 25+ million years ago.

      I think you will be surprised as to why she's tied to the tree. Doris

  3. Better late than never I say! LOL Doris, I always love your posts so much. Your love of research just shines through, and that's what makes them so interesting each and ever time--this is no exception. Some very interesting stuff, for sure!

    1. Thank you Cheryl. I love finding the stories that make up the whole. This story just gets better and better as I find more information. Stay tuned, who knows what may surface next. Doris

  4. Ohmagosh, Doris, I think I know way more about the gold mining business in Colorado than I would have ever believed possible. It's exciting to learn about the people who became involved in the mining business, too. I didn't know gold was usually found in quartz and not granite, or that granite gold was so costly to extract. A terrific blog.
    All good things to your corner of the earth.

    1. Thank you Sarah. I find for a lay person, I'm getting pretty knowledgeable about the process also. The story is so much more, better than any fiction novel.

      Thank you for the kind wishes and the same to you. Doris

  5. Hi Doris, , what a great post. I am fascinated with everything Colorado. Visiting the mining museum in Leadville was absolutely awesome. Hubs isn't much of a museum guy but he enjoyed it as much as I did.

    1. Tanya, That museum is one of the best. The Western Museum of Mining and Industry is also another good one. As anyone could tell, the Cripple Creek/ Victor area is a passion of mine. Glad others are enjoying it as much. Doris