A Brief History of Creede, Colorado
by Jim Long
As appearing in the October, 2009, issue of The Gold Nugget


I was born and raised in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado. My father was a part-time prospector in the hills and mountains above Creede, Lake City, and north of Del Norte for silver, gold, and for uranium using a small Geiger counter. My brother and I would accompany him but we were too young to really know what he was doing. I still have his old relic Geiger counter, along with several of his old books on lost gold mines and ghost towns of Colorado. Oddly, I found no 'old' samples of those minerals or gems in his possessions after his death, though he did have some samples of opals and turquoise. By the time I thought to ask him about that period of his life, it was too late. Life can often be disappointing in the things we should have done, could have done, and often failed to do. But it does go on.

I know that he had numerous claims that he filed above Creede and they have all been lost or given back due to passage of time and lack of work; after all, that was over 60 years ago. But his old handwritten notes are pretty cool to read through.

Why Creede? Simple. He knew the old timers had been there long ago and that Creede continues to be somewhat of a mining mecca, even today. Trappers and mountain men first arrived in the early 1800's and Tom Boggs, a brother-in-law of the famed Kit Carson, farmed at Wagon Wheel Gap in 1840. In 1869, the first silver discovery was made at the Alpha Mine, but it was too costly to mine it and not much happened until 1889 when rich deposits were found in Willow Creek Canyon. This produced the town of Willow Creek until Nicholas C. Creede discovered the Holy Moses Mine. It was so rich that Willow Creek was renamed Creede. Other towns in the vicinity were named Stringtown, Jimtown, and Amythest. They are all ghost towns today and little remains of any of them.

Creede was the last silver boom town in Colorado in the 1800's. The Creede mines continued to operate from 1889 to 1985.

'Soapy' Smith was the boss of the Creede underworld, opening the famous Orleans Club. Robert Ford became famous for killing the notorious outlaw Jesse James (apparently a shirt-tail relative of mine on my motherŐs side), and even Bat Masterson who operated a bar at one time. The first Deputy Sheriff of Creede was the famed William 'Cap' Light, a brother-in-law to Soapy. By 1893, the silver boom went bust as the Silver Panic hit all of the Colorado mining communities. Most of the mines closed shortly thereafter. Today, there are a couple of mines that have reopened under new ownership with new money. Its population is about 2000 and sustaining. As with many of our mining towns, the town survived on lead and zinc recoveries from 1900 to the present. Interestingly, by 1966, total production for this area was some 58 million troy ounces (870 metric tons) of silver, 150 thousand ounces (407 metric tons) of gold, 112 thousand metric tons of lead, 34 thousand metric tons of zinc, and 2 million metric tons of copper. Not too bad at all.

Today, Creede is sustained by ranching and some farming, as well as a great deal of recreation in the form of fishing, hunting, and hiking. Both, my father's and my mother's ashes were spread by me by their final request at the headwaters of the Rio Grande river that runs above Creede.

My family has always had a strong attachment to Creede and the surrounding area. It is a beautiful place to visit, full of the usual rock and gem shops and other art galleries and such.

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