Perched on the side of Battle Mountain at nearly 10,000 feet elevation is Victor, Colorado, a village steeped in history. Filled with vintage buildings and gold mining structures, this semi-ghost town is one of the most preserved mining camps in Colorado.
Before the town was even officially platted in 1893 it had already become known as the City of Mines because the largest and richest gold mines of the Cripple Creek Mining District were located on Battle Mountain just above the camp.
The Cripple Creek gold rush began when a cowboy and part-time prospector, Bob Womack, found gold on his cattle ranch in 1890. The ranch, bisected by a small stream called Cripple Creek, would be just the first of many locations in the Cripple Creek Mining District to be filled with rich veins of gold ore. When Womack first found the rich vein, there were less than two dozen people living in the four by six-mile long area that would be called home to more than 50,000 people in less than a decade.
When word of Womack’s find got out, the area was soon crawling with prospectors seeking out their own fortunes in the remote area on the southwestern side of Pikes Peak. Literally, overnight, the town of Cripple Creek was born, along with almost a dozen other mining camps including Victor, Goldfield, Elkton, Altman, Independence, Anaconda, Gillette, Cameron, Beaver Park, Arequa and Lawrence.
The first gold was discovered in Victor in 1891 by Winfield Scott Stratton who soon began the Independence Mine. This area, too, immediately filled up with miners. Warren Woods and his sons, Frank and Harry, soon formed the Woods Investment Company and purchased a 136-acre site at the foot of Battle Mountain, where they platted a townsite and named it Victor, after an early homesteader named Victor C. Adams. Marketing their lots as “gold mines,” the Woods sold them quickly to the many prospectors and businessmen, who built homes, stores, hotels, and a number of saloons, along with hundreds of mines.
In addition to the Independence Mine, other mines, including the Portland and Ajax Mines, were doing a brisk business just north of Victor on Battle Mountain, called the “richest hill on earth.”
And, in the very center of town the Woods Brothers, who were excavating the foundation for the much needed Victor Hotel in 1894, discovered a rock that was rich in ore. The Woods brothers wasted no time in finding another lot for the hotel and began to build the Gold Coin Mine at Diamond and Fifth Streets, which would become one of the richest in the area, producing more than $50,000 per month in gold ore.
However, the Woods faced a problem — that of where to dispose of their mine waste. Undaunted, they created a dump and the Economic Mill some 4,000 feet away in Arequa Gulch. To reach these locations, they then built a series of tunnels beneath the streets of Victor.
In the meantime, the Woods Brothers completed the Victor Hotel just in time to accommodate travelers arriving on the newly completed Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad. The large two-story wooden frame building was a showplace with its cone-shaped tower and enclosed balconies on its second and third stories. The “modern” hotel even featured electricity.
The Woods also built the Pike’s Peak Power Company, owned the First National Bank of Victor and the Teller County Mining Supply Company, and had controlling interest in more than two dozen mining companies, and extensive real estate holdings.
While the Woods family is most often seen as Victor’s founders, there were others in the bustling mining camp that were also making a significant impact as on the town, as well as making their own fortunes.
Two of these men, named Jimmy Burns and Jimmy Doyle, came to Victor in 1891 from Colorado Springs, after hearing about the easy gold to be found. However, by the time they arrived, most of the claims had already been staked and the major mines, including Winfield Scott Stratton’s Independence Mine, Sam Strong’s Strong Mine, the black Diamond, the Anna Lee, and the Captain Mines, were already turning out a profit on Battle Mountain.
But, Burns and Doyle remained undaunted, pouring over claim maps and measuring distances between claim stakes. Finally, they found a small area, no more than 1/10th of an acre, that remained unclaimed and after registering it, set up “shop” calling their claim the Portland. At first, they were disillusioned as they dug and dug, finding nothing in the 30-foot hole they had created.
Frustrated, they asked Independence Mine employee, John Harnan, to take look. Harnan quickly realized that the rock “dump” pile that Burns and Doyle thought was worthless, was actually filled with gold. He negotiated with them for a third interest in the claim if he could “find” the gold. The two novice miners agreed and Harnan showed them a vein just about half way down their already dug hole.
When word spread of the find, their nearby neighbors immediately began to file claims that the vein found in the Portland Mine actually originated in one of theirs. The three partners quickly began to remove sacks of gold under cover of darkness in order to horde as much as they could if the lawsuits failed to support them. Though they quickly accumulated about $70,000 in the bank, they knew they would need help to save their claim and turned to Winfield Scott Stratton for help.
Stratton, who was already well on his way to becoming a millionaire, accepted a 1/3 stake in the Portland to help the three partners. The lawsuits continued until some 47 different ones were filed against the Portland.
With Stratton backing them, the partners soon turned the lawsuits around and began to attack and buy up neighboring claims until the tiny Portland grew from 1/10th of an acre to more than 30 claims on 135 acres. After years of wrangling, the Portland had become the largest and strongest mine in the Cripple Creek Mining District.
In just a few years, Victor had developed into a town that rivaled its larger sister city of Cripple Creek, and an old saying began, “Cripple Creek gets the glory, but Victor has the gold.”
But Victor’s grand heydays would be dampened on August 21, 1899, when a fire began in a brothel in Victor’s notorious Paradise Alley. Before the blazing inferno was under control, fourteen blocks had been destroyed, including some 800 buildings, causing $1.5 million in damages, and leaving 1,500 people homeless.
As the largest property owner, the Woods Investment Company suffered the heaviest losses, including the total destruction of their bank and the original Victor Hotel. However, Victor’s citizens immediately began to rebuild and within three days the banks and saloons were back in business.
On December 24, 1899, the Woods family’s “new” First National Bank of Victor was completed which not only held their banking and investment business but also a number of retail operations.