By Beth Dodd:
One hundred and twenty years ago, the residents of Victor were at war with the owners of the gold mines in their town, but today there is mutual respect instead. “Their efforts in economic development, community revitalization, and historic preservation are catalysts in getting the community moving in the right direction,” said Victor City Administrator, Deb Downs, in regard to the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mine.
Things weren’t always this way. Back in the early days of the gold rush, more working miners lived in Victor and the adjacent towns like Elkton, Altman, Independence, Anaconda, and Goldfield, than in Cripple Creek.
Most of the miners labored in dangerous conditions, with mine collapses, poisonous fumes, misfired explosions, hoist accidents, and other misfortunes often causing crippling injuries or death. Safety measures were primitive, and miners and their families received little compensation from mine owners. The average pay was $3 a day at a time when renting a house cost about $2.50 a week. The poor working conditions and low pay led to strikes in 1893 and 1903.
By 1893, miners in Altman, Victor, and Cripple Creek had joined the Western Federation of Miners. The union miners held a strike for five months when some mine owners changed the work day from 8 hours to 9 hours without an increase in pay. During the strike, the Strong Mine at the edge of Victor was blown up and the state militia was called in. The strikers got their 8 hour day in the end. The 8 hour day later became law in 1899, but it was soon overruled by the Colorado Supreme Court.
The district’s infamous second labor war took place for fifteen months in 1903 and 1904. The union had gotten the 8 hour day restored in 1902, but many mine owners ignored the law. Around 1,750 union miners went on strike to get shorter hours and higher pay. Numerous deaths, the deportation of more than 200 union miners, and in the end a ban on organized labor made the strike one of the most violent in Colorado history.
The 1903-04 labor war became so dangerous that martial law was declared in Victor. Striking miners were illegally arrested and tried at the Teller County Courthouse in Cripple Creek while armed guards watched from the windows and a Gatling gun guarded Bennett Ave. Miners were deported on the Midland Railroad after their trials. Many were beaten and robbed on the train before being dumped at the state border. In some cases, guns were fired over the men’s heads to encourage them not to come back.
During the height of the strike, the Vindicator Mine and the Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad Station in Independence were bombed, killing fifteen people. Harry Orchard, an activist for the Western Federation of Miners and some claim a professional assassin, later confessed to the crimes. His actions turned public opinion against the striking miners, and were key in the final collapse of union labor within the mining district. The mine owners were able to take advantage and keep wages low for years.
Although this labor war history is well remembered in the district, today the Cripple Creek &Victor Gold Mine is a great partner with the community of Victor and Teller County’s biggest private employer. Now that Victor residents are making a focused effort to improve the town, the mine works with the City of Victor to keep the city a nice place to live.
The mine has helped the town by donating funds to support important projects or by sharing the use of materials and equipment. Projects that they have advanced include repairs to sidewalks on Victor Ave, the 3rd and 4th street drainage improvements, upgrades at the wastewater treatment plant, repairs at Bison Reservoir #2 dam, the 3rd Street Plaza design and historic wall repairs, and gravel and road base for street work.
Today’s mine is also aware of the power of spending locally. Where mine owners once made it a point to live outside of town, the CC&V makes a point of patronizing local businesses. For example, services like catering, entertainment, lodging for employees, and office space are sought in town first.
The mine recognizes the allure of the past in bringing tourism dollars to town. During their latest mine expansion, they have identified, stabilized and relocated a dozen historic mining structures that would have otherwise been lost to time and decay, or could have simply been knocked flat and forgotten.
In addition to their historic preservation work in the district, the CC&V Mine is usually one of the major sponsors of Colorado Preservation, Inc., an annual statewide conference for history professionals. The mine missed the conference in 2012, but donated new gold for state capital’s dome instead.
CC&V Mine employees regularly volunteer and provide important services in the community. The mine encourages this behavior by giving their employees comp time for community service time. You can find mine employees sharing their time working on the Victor DREAM committees, helping out at the volunteer Fire Department, working with kids at the ice rink, and more.
“It seems like every time we need something, they’re right there,” said Victor Mayor, Buck Hakes, who identifies the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mine as an ideal corporate partner for the small town. He noted that the mine is also big supporter of Victor’s community events, helping to sponsor the Gold Rush Gold Rush running race, Gold Rush Days, and Victor Celebrates the Arts.
And in case you were wondering, it’s a pretty safe place to work and the pay’s not bad either.