Nobody thought that gold would be discovered in 1890 some 20 miles from Colorado Springs. So when “Crazy Bob” Womack, a local cowboy, came to town from Cripple Creek in October, 1890 with gold-bearing ore, few gave him credence. Yet the boom was real, so that by 1908 at least 28 Colorado Springs residents had become millionaires due to Cripple Creek gold.
One of those who struck it rich was Winfield Scott Stratton, a local carpenter and part-time prospector. He was the first to strike big returns with his Independence mine, which he tried to sell in 1891 for $500, did sell for a $5,000 down payment in 1892, then reclaimed it in 1893 when the buyer was disillusioned. In July 1893, he hit a major vein and eventually sold the mine in 1899 for $11 million.
Stratton remained loyal to his blue collar roots, giving away most of his money, building the Colorado Springs trolley car network and investing $2 million to create top-class service, constructing the Mining Exchange Building, donating land for City Hall and the U.S. Post Office, and buying the El Paso County Courthouse so a new one could be built (today’s CSPM). Stratton also insisted on paying good wages and providing life insurance to his trolley line workers (the first corporation in Colorado to do so), financed a home-buying plan for his trolley workers and bought homes outright for other employees, and built the popular park at Cheyenne Canyon, at the end of his trolley line, for residents to enjoy weekend outings.
Stratton continued to live in his humble house on Weber Street, but became increasingly morose and removed from society. He bemoaned the constant pleas for charity from nearly everybody and scammers vying for his wealth. He turned hard to whiskey, eventually fell into a coma, and died at age 54. Upon his death in 1902, Stratton willed his wealth to create the Myron Stratton Home for the poor without means of support or unable to earn a livelihood. The Myron Stratton Home opened in 1913. From the time of Stratton’s death in 1902 to the mid-20th century, his estate operations produced gold worth over $10 million, all for the benefit of the residents at the Myron Stratton home. This one person, in the end an unhappy loner, left a deep and lasting impact on the landscape of Colorado Springs.
Generously Submitted by Dr. John Harner, Professor of Geography & Environmental Studies, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs