Creede resides high in the San Juan mountains within the boundaries of the Rio Grande National Forest. A community of less than 500 people nestled in south central Colorado, it draws in hunters, anglers, bicyclists, hikers, theater goers (Creede is home to a nationally recognized Repertory Theater) and garden-variety tourists.
Creede of Yesterday
The Creede historical mining district was discovered by Nicolas Creede, who, in 1889, yelled “Holy Moses” upon finding the now famous Holy Moses Vein on East Willow Creek. He sold it to Davis Moffitt Smith and then discovered the Amethyst Mine off West Willow Creek. Along came the Park Regent, Last Chance, Solomon, Happy Thought and many other large mines along the Amethyst vein (the richest in US history).
Creede became one of the nation’s top silver producers, millions of dollars worth of silver was taken from these mines in the 1890s. The town became home to miners, ladies of the night, gamblers, and characters such as Bill Masterson, Bob Ford (the man who killed Jessie James and who owned a saloon west of Main Street in Creede), Soapy Smith, Poker Alice Tubbs, and Clamity Jane. Its population peeked at 15,000 before the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1893 caused the price of silver to drop, along with the majority of Creede’s population, down to just 1,000 residents.
Mining in Creede followed several boom and bust cycles from 1893 until 1973, and most often correlated with the rise and fall of silver prices. Only a few mining operations continued from 1973, and in the mid 1980s, the last mine closed. Today, there is no active mining in the area; however, exploratory operations are currently underway.
When mining ceased to be profitable, the population of Creede and Mineral County suffered. Economic activity relied on the operation of ranches, entrenched merchants and local municipalities. It wasn’t until the 1950s when adequate transportation and affluence attracted summer residents to the area. The town of Creede slowly changed from a mining community to a tourist based economy. Access to outdoor activities, mild summer temperatures, art and culture, and a slower pace continue to attract many visitors from all across the country.
To learn more about Creede’s history, click here.
Creede of Today
Although the population rises to nearly 10,000 during the summer months, there are now less than 900 year-round residents in all of Mineral County, 400 of those residents live within Creede’s boundaries. Most of this enduring population consists of a people with a perspective as unique and valuable as the history and geography itself. The narrow valley above the town is lined with abandoned mines and boasts some of the best examples of mining structures you will find in the western United States. This breed arose because of the toughness of mining activity and its accompanying atmosphere of passion and abandon.
Even when mining shut down and high paying jobs were gone, many people chose to stay and adapt to the less favorable economic conditions because of their love for the country and the place they call home. These people seem to personify an ethic common to the American West known as “rugged individualism” and personify this, probably to a greater extent than others, because they choose to live in the high cold country at the top of the Rocky Mountains, and this creates a psychology all its own.
1873: Brunot Treaty signed, granting the U.S. mineral rights on 4,000,000 acres of land from the Ute Indian Tribe
1889: Nicholas Creede hits silver vein, exclaims “Holy Moses!” at his discovery
1890-1893: Boom mining and the heyday of Creede. Population: 15,000
1891: Moffat Synicate claims Amethyst & Last Chance Mines • Willow Creek pop. soars to 1,000 • Toll Road to Creede complete
1892: Large portion of Creede burns • Electricity comes to Creede • Nelson Tunnel constructed
1893: Mineral County formed • Congress repeals Shermal Silver Act, price of silver plummits & mining drops to a few mines
1894: Amethyst, Last Chance, Park Regent and Commodore Mines are reactivated
1897: Wooster Tunnel connects to Nelson Tunnel
1899: Wooster Tunnel reaches Amethyst & Last Chance Mines • Humphreys Tunnel connects Wooster Tunnel to Park Regent Mine (totaling 11,000 feet from Nelson to the end of Humphreys)
1907: Recession forces the temporary closure of mines
1912: Equity Mine is mined for ore
1917: New power plant built in Creede produces 225 kilowatts
1918: Solomon Mill ceases to process ore
1920: All mines in Creede area close except Bachelor Mine
1922: Price of silver increases to $1.00 due to the Pittman Act
1923: Pittman Act expires and mining ceases
1934: Gold Reserve Act sets gold at $35/ounce & Silver Purchase Act passes • Most mines along Holy Moses & Amethyst veins underwent exploration & production
1936: Creede’s Business District experiences another fire
1939: Emperius Mining Company purchases all mines along Amethyst vein
1951: Outlet Mining Company reopens Phoenix Mine and extracts $500,000 in ore over the next 6 years
1965: Creede’s economy shifts from mining-based to tourism-based
1970: Bulldog Mine reopens
1985: Mining ceases in the Creede Mining District
1991: Willow Creek placed on 303(d) list for Impaired Waters by Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment • CDPHE Nonpoint Source Program funds Passive Mine Drainage Treatment System near Solomon Mine
1995: EPA conducts remedial investigation of Creede Mining District
1997: To avoid placement of the Creede Mining District on National Priorities List, citizens form Willow Creek Reclamation Committee
1999: WCRC receives grant to characterize Willow Creek Watershed, resulting in 10 reports to identify watershed restoration activities • Source control investigations begin on Commodore Mine complex
2002: Eric Twitty gathers historical information of Creede Mining District for WCRC
2003: Characterization work on Willow Creek completed & identifies sites for reclamation • Work begins on Five Mines Project
2005: West Willow Creek floods and washes out large portion of Commodore Mine Complex
2007: Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety conducts dewatering test on Nelson Tunnel
2008: EPA places Commodore Mine complex/Nelson Tunnel on National Priorities List
2010: Preparations begin on Lower Willow Creek Restoration Project