The Story of Cripple Creek’s Infamous Pyromaniac

The District’s Most Acclaimed Historic Hospitals Now Thrive as Hotels

Trevor Phipps

Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Cripple Creek was a different place than it appears today.

During the gold boom era, the precious yellow stone brought people into the area from across the world looking to strike it rich.

Along with miners and others looking to profit from the gold boom came injuries from the dangerous mining activity. Shortly after gold was discovered, hospitals started popping up to treat people for various injuries.

Among the hospitals that started up, the Teller County Hospital and the St. Nicholas Hospital are noted as the most well-known. And remarkably, the two buildings still exist as local hotels (the Cripple Creek Hospitality House and Hotel St. Nicholas, respectively).

Throughout its tenure as the Teller County Hospital, the facility treated several people in the area including the infamous Roy Bourquin. According to a historical document prepared for the Cripple Creek Hospitality House by local historian Jan MacKell, some say Bourquin was the hospital’s first patient, but newspapers show that there were 15 patients that were admitted before him.

However, Bourquin was the hospital’s first permanent resident, and he quickly became the facility’s most notorious due to the fact that he suffered from various mental illnesses including pyromania. Bourquin had a fascination for explosives. This ultimately led to becoming a patient at the hospital after he blew off both of his arms and one eye playing with explosives at a young age.

According to MacKell’s account, Bourquin was born to Adolph and Hannah Bourquin in Kansas on April 2, 1889. Sometime around 1900, his family moved to Colorado and enrolled him into the Colorado State Industrial School in Golden, which was known as a “progressive rehabilitative school for incorrigible young men between the ages of 7 and 16.”

Bourquin’s notorious “psychosis” was noted at a young age when the 1900 census listed the 11-year-old as a resident at the school. Even at 11, it was recorded that Bourquin was unable to read.

While Bourquin was enrolled at the school in Golden, his father and brother relocated to Cripple Creek. His father was a widower and some early accounts say that the death of Roy’s mother Hannah may have affected the young boy.

Tragic Incident Rocks District

After arriving in Cripple Creek, Roy’s father sent for his boy and had him move to Cripple Creek with him. And then in June 1902, several newspapers reported the tragic incident that hospitalized the 14-year old.

The newspapers reported that Bourquin was playing with powder when he blew off both of his hands and went blind in one eye. He received medical treatment at the Teller County Hospital and then he became a permanent resident as the facility was also known to be a “poor farm” where indigent people could live in exchange for work.

But then after four years of being at the hospital, Bourquin was arrested after another incident that involved dynamite. Even though the boy had no hands, he was able to stack sticks of dynamite on top of the hospital’s furnace in an attempt to blow up the building.

“The fact that a patient at the county home went down to the cellar to fix the fire yesterday afternoon and happened to see the sticks lying on top of the furnace, removed the possibility of the institution being blown up and a number of lives lost,” reported the San Juan Prospector newspaper.

The 1910 census indicated that Bourquin was still a resident at the hospital. His World War I draft card also listed Bourquin as a resident at the hospital after he signed the card by putting a pen in his teeth.

By this time, Bourquin’s father had passed away and his brother moved to Arizona. The pyromaniac now had no family living in the area.

Bourquin then remained a resident at the hospital until July 1922 when he was arrested yet again. This time Bourquin was locked up for the criminal assault of a 13-year-old girl.

According to MacKell, the verbiage of the account indicated that the crime was most likely rape. A judge then gave Bourquin a 20-years-to life prison sentence and he was transported to the Colorado State Penitentiary in Canon City.

MacKell reported that it is not known exactly how long Bourquin was incarcerated, but by 1935 he had returned to Cripple Creek. This time though, Bourquin lived as a resident at the St. Nicholas Hospital instead of the county hospital.

Bourquin worked at St. Nicholas as a janitor until he died in 1958. He was then buried at the town’s Mount Pisgah cemetery where his grave still lies.