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The man who started a gold rush

Born in Kentucky in 1844 of sturdy Irish-American stock, Robert ìCrazy Bobî Miller Womack arrived in Colorado with his father, mother, brother and sister in 1872.The family first settled 15 miles north of Pueblo and raised cattle; and, in 1876, father and son bought the Welty homestead in Poverty Gulch, which would eventually become the town of Cripple Creek.In Poverty Gulch, the Womacks set up another ranching operation, with the younger Womack working for his father as a ranch hand.Undeterred by geologists who, after studying the mountains around Poverty Gulch, had decided the area wasnít worth mining for gold; Womack was certain there was plenty of gold yet to be discovered.In 1878, he spotted a gold nugget in the creek (Cripple Creek, named for a cow that broke a leg while crossing the creek), which flowed through the Womack ranch. Figuring the nugget must have come from a vein further up the mountain; Womack was even more determined to find gold.Meanwhile, Womack’s father mortgaged the ranch to a Denver firm, Bennett & Myers, to get money to buy more land. He purchased the town site of Requah and land near Mount Pisgah, calling the combined acreage the Broken Box Ranch.By 1886, the elder Womack was unable to make his interest payments. The ranch was foreclosed and the elder Womack moved to Colorado Springs, but Bob stayed on as a ranch hand, prospecting in the mountains whenever he could.Another version of the story omits the foreclosure and states that Womack’s sister, Eliza, simply wanted to sell the ranch and move to Colorado Springs.Regardless, Bennett & Myers hired a ranch manager, Mr. Carr, who regarded Womack as a nuisance and weak-minded on the subject of gold. Carr told Myers that for every hole Womack dug, a steer died.When Myers visited the ranch, he planned to ask Womack to leave; but, after hearing Womack’s theories about gold and seeing his current prospect up Poverty Gulch, Myers was interested enough to take a bag of rock to Denver to have it assayed.The Denver assayer failed to find a trace of gold in the sample, and Myers lost interest in Womack’s theories.In October 1890, Womack took a sample to an assayer in Colorado Springs, where it assayed at $250 a ton (equivalent to more than $15,000 a ton at recent prices). He staked his claim at the assay office, calling it the El Paso claim, but no one paid much attention. After all, Womack was known to be crazy on the subject, and prospectors had already been burned by the misnamed ìMount Pisgah Hoaxî of 1884.The hoax involved three con men who salted gold in a prospect hole near Mount McIntyre. They put up a claim sign and invited reporters, who misidentified Mount McIntyre as Mount Pisgah. The gold rush that followed soon fell flat when no more gold was found.Six months after Womack’s discovery, two prospectors from Colorado Springs sent 1,100 pounds of surface ore from Poverty Gulch to Pueblo, where it assayed at $200 a ton.At last, the word was out.On April 5, 1891, a mining man by the name of Ed De LaVergne formed the Cripple Creek Mining District. Within weeks, an area of fewer than 500 people was flooded by thousands of miners and prospectors, gamblers and fortune hunters who set up tents, cabins and shacks on the main dirt street of Cripple Creek.By 1893, the district had more than 40 gold mines under development, and its population had grown to 10,000, with 500 more arriving every month.Myers might not have become a gold magnate, but selling the old Womack ranch to the newcomers who formed the town of Cripple Creek made Bennett & Myers a big enough fortune.Some say Womack sold his El Paso claim for $300; others say he got $500. Another says he got $5,000. It has been reported that whoever purchased the claim sold one-third of an interest in it for $35,000.The El Paso claim is thought to have produced the richest gold ore ever found in North America, eventually making its various owners $5 million.Womack continued to prospect in the district, holding as many as 40 claims. Whenever a friend needed a claim, Womack would give it to him. Some of the best properties in the district passed through Womack’s hands without any benefit to him.In 1893, Womack’s sister, Eliza, opened a boarding house in Colorado Springs; and Womack went to work there while continuing to prospect.In 1900, the district’s gold production peaked at $18,199,736 for the year ñ more than enough for the townspeople of Cripple Creek to celebrate Womack’s contribution to their prosperity by making him the Grand Marshall of the town’s Fourth of July parade in 1902.After that, Womack faded from history. He became paralyzed and was bedridden for many years. Winfield Scott Stratton, owner of the Independence mine, loaned him money several times.After the death of his beloved niece, Dorsey, in 1909; Womack’s health quickly declined, and he died penniless Aug. 10, 1909. He is buried in the family plot in the Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs.When Colorado voters legalized gambling in Cripple Creek in 1991, a casino was named after Womack. However, a couple of years ago, the casino changed its name to Century Casino Cripple Creek.No matter, ìCrazy Bobî Miller Womackís tenacity to find gold put Cripple Creek on the map.

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