Teller County History
Teller County is on the western slopes of the Front Range (Pikes Peak area) in central Colorado. Named for U.S. Senator Henry M. Teller, Teller County contains 557 square miles of land and 2 square miles of water. The county seat is Cripple Creek.
Teller County begins 20 miles West of Colorado Springs and is accessed via State Highway 24 West and CO State Highway 67 North. It is almost directly in the center of the State of Colorado with elevations ranging from 8,000 feet in Woodland Park to over 14,000 feet on the back side of Pikes Peak.
Teller County was carved from the western slope of Pikes Peak. Teller County was established on March 23, 1899. View the original document establishing Teller County (PDF).
A few years after gold was discovered in Cripple Creek, tensions escalated between Cripple Creek and Colorado Springs. Mine owners, miners and residents in the Cripple Creek Mining District* grew tired of watching tax revenue from their mines go to Colorado Springs, the county seat of government for El Paso County. They wanted a Courthouse closer to mining operations because of the number of county transactions that needed to be carried out. Political differences between area miners and mine owners, many of whom lived in Colorado Springs, resulted in the division of portions of western El Paso and northern Fremont counties. The Colorado Legislature created Teller County, named for Senator Henry M. Teller, one of Colorado's first senators.
Within five years of its formation, Teller County became the scene of a dramatic labor struggle called the Colorado Labor Wars.
The Cripple Creek district, in the southern part of the Front Range, about 20 miles southwest of Colorado Springs, is one of the most famous gold camps in the world. It is distinctly different from the other districts of the Front Range in having ore deposits associated with an extinct volcano of Miocene age and in having had an exceedingly large output of gold-telluride ores.
The historic rush of prospectors to Pikes Peak in 1859 resulted in no important discoveries, and it was not until 1874 that prospecting was carried on in the Cripple Creek district. A report that H.T. Wood, while connected with the Hayden survey, had found gold near Mount Pisgah brought a number of men into the district, but no valuable deposits were found.
Occasional prospecting was carried on in the district from 1880 to 1890 by Bob Womack, who found some good ore and located the El Paso claim in Poverty Gulch. In 1891, E.M. De la Vergne and F.F. Fisbee bought the El Paso and located the El Dorado claim. The first real "strike" however, was made by W S Stratton, who sampled a ledge of granite on the slope of Battle Mountain and found it to assay $380 to the ton. On July 4, 1891, he located the Independence claim, which later became one of the richest mines in the district.
At this time there were less than two dozen people living in the four-mile wide by six-mile long area that was known as the Cripple Creek Mining District. By 1900 more than 50,000 people lived in "the District."
Within a few short years there were 12 towns in the area ranging from the larger population centers of Cripple Creek and Victor to several other towns which grew up around mining centers. These were named Goldfield, Elkton, Altman, Independence, Anaconda, Gillette, Cameron, Beaver Park, Arequa and Lawrence. Goldfield and Gillette are the only two which remain.
The gold mining operations required a great deal of outside support and several areas came to the rescue. Woodland Park had 5 saw mills producing millions of feet of lumber per year, much of which was timber for the mines. 200,000 railroad ties were shipped out annually.
Divide was also an important lumber and supply town, but also became known for its high-quality, disease-free potatoes and for its fine crops of lettuce. Each fall, produce was crated and shipped to Cripple Creek and other locations around the United States. Ice to keep lettuce fresh while being transported was cut from ponds in and around the area.
No other town in the Pikes Peak region benefited from Cripple Creek mining like Colorado Springs. Winfield Scott Stratton, Charles Tutt and Spencer Penrose all made their fortunes in Cripple Creek and then made their homes in Colorado Springs. The Myron Stratton Home (named for Winfield Scott Stratton's father), the Broadmoor Hotel, built by Spencer Penrose, and many of the mansions in Colorado Springs' north end were all built with Cripple Creek gold.
Five reduction mills were constructed in Colorado City (the westside of Colorado Springs) during the turn of the century and began processing the bulk of Cripple Creek ore. Colorado City offered water, coal and convenient rail access.
The value of the gold mined in Teller County is greater than all other gold mining operations ever conducted in the United States combined.
More information on historic mining in the Cripple Creek Mining District.
Before 1890 most of what is now Teller County was inhabited by nomadic tribes, among them the Tabeguache Ute. The Tabeguache believed that the Pikes Peak region was their home. Their name for the mountain was "Tavakiev", meaning "sun mountain." Living a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle, summers were spent in the Pikes Peak area mountains, which was considered by other tribes to be the domain of the Utes.
This area was known mostly for the old Ute Pass Trail which was an important route because it offered passage through the front range of the Rockies for Native American tribes, buffalo, explorers, prospectors, cowboys and their cattle.
The first permanent settlement in Teller County occurred around 1870 and was at the summit of the Ute Trail in what is now Divide. After having many names, like Rhyolite, Belleview and Theodore, Divide stuck because the Arkansas and South Platte watershed divide in this area.
As the tracks of the Colorado Midland Railroad neared Divide in 1887 boarding houses, saloons and restaurants sprang up to meet the demand of railroad workers.
The Colorado Midland Railroad was incorporated in 1883 and built by John J. Hagerman. It was the first standard gauge railroad built over the Continental Divide in Colorado. It ran from Colorado Springs to Leadville and through the divide at Bush Tunnel to Aspen and Grand Junction. Later the line was extended eleven miles west of Grand Junction to New Castle. For a short time the railroad was consolidated with the Aspen Short Line (1893 to 1897) and with the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad owned by the Rio Grande Junction Railway. After the company was sold through the bankruptcy court on May 4, 1897, a new company known as the Colorado Midland Railway took over operation of the railroad. The Colorado Midland Railway, which came, first, under the control of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, and later, of the Colorado and Southern Railway and the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, again declared bankruptcy April 21, 1917. The Colorado Midland Railway ceased operations in 1918. Segments of the road were then sold to the Midland Terminal Railroad; the balance of the line, mostly west of the Midland Terminal connection at Divide, was abandoned. The line was scrapped in the early 1920s.
Woodland Park, the most populous city in Teller County, originally was named Manitou Park. It was laid out along the Midland Railroad tracks and was quickly discovered by tuberculosis patients looking for a place to recover. The town became a popular spot for pleasure seekers and train passengers when the new Harvey House was opened in 1890. At that time there were 120 residents in Woodland Park.
Today Teller County and its cities are home to over 25,000 people. It faces the very real challenges brought about by rapid growth and the demand to preserve the natural habitat which drew folks to the area in the first place.