Hilarious Tales Surrounding the “Father of Cripple Creek”
Most people in the area have heard the name Bob Womack, and know that he was one of Teller County’s founding fathers. Moreover, his saga turned into an infamous legend that put Cripple Creek on the world map.
It is true that if it wasn’t for Womack, much of the inhabited areas of the county would not exist. The Bob Womack story, capped by the discovery and pursuit of gold in the Cripple Creek/Victor district, also helped foster the town’s emergence as a world-class tourist destination.
Few, though, know much about the zany side of Bob Womack, who was quite a character and had his share of crazy stories.
Womack actually played a vital role in the development of Cripple Creek when he sold part of his family’s homestead to Horace Bennett and Julius Myers. Womack swore to the two that there was gold in the area, but Myers and Bennett were more interested in the beautiful views and lands at his homestead. They eventually would start developing the town of Cripple Creek.
The Womack family came to Colorado from Kentucky in the 1870s. After having a few ranches across the state, the family staked a claim on a homestead in what is now Cripple Creek.
Womack didn’t like to work hard. Instead, he preferred to ride horses around his ranch. Womack had a small cabin on his family’s ranch and after settled into his cabin he bought a white colt.
According to the article “Pioneer Profiles: Bob Womack” published by Usrepresented.com, shortly after he purchased the colt it got stung by a bee. The colt’s nose swelled up so much that he whistled when he breathed. Womack thus named him “Whistler.”
While living on the ranch, Womack would ride Whistler through the mountains. However, while he was riding he was paying close attention to the landscape to look for places where gold could be hiding.
In the 1880s, Womack would search several places and claim that there was gold in the area. But, along with riding horses, Womack also enjoyed drinking, perhaps a little too much.
The Love of Whiskey and Gold
It was said that Womack had the ability to bend over while on a horse, pick up a whiskey bottle sitting on the ground with his teeth, take a sip, and then put the bottle back on the ground all while staying on top of his horse.
In fact, many people in the area would not take Womack seriously when he claimed that he had found gold. The locals even gave him the nickname “Crazy Bob” due to his wild antics.
Before Cripple Creek became a town, Womack would spend many nights a week drinking, gambling and visiting parlor houses in Old Colorado City. Womack would often go on a bender and cause havoc around town.
According to the Marshall Sprague classic book, “Money Mountain: The Story of Cripple Creek Gold,” one night Womack got drunk in Old Colorado City and then rode his horse into Colorado Springs. He rode down Tejon Street in downtown Colorado Springs and shot out several street lights with his pistol.
Eventually, the city’s police caught up with Womack, but they had a certain affection for the Cripple Creek rancher. Every time Womack would get drunk and cause trouble, the police would arrest him and throw him in the same jail cell in the basement of the city hall just for the night until he sobered up.
Back then, the city hall was on the second floor, the fire department was on the main floor and the jail was in the basement. Once Womack sobered up, he would pound on the ceiling to get the firemen working to come release him.
One day after he was released, Womack came upstairs and had an attitude. He argued that the bobbies were out of line in arresting him because they traveled outside of city limits. He told the fireman who released him that one day nobody would think about arresting him because he would be wealthy from the gold he would find in his Cripple Creek mine.
Most people would blow off Bob when he claimed that he found an area where he thought there was gold after riding his horse around the terrain. But in 1890, many had to bite their tongues when Womack produced ore that tested positive for a large amount of gold.
Womack’s dream had finally become a reality. In the next several years, the Cripple Creek area around his family’s ranch experienced an unprecedented boom due to successful gold mines popping up all over. The district encountered one of the country’s most celebrated gold rush frenzies, with a populations that swelled to tens of thousands of people. This led to parlor houses, saloons, gambling hubs and a slew of businesses.
It was rumored that Womack celebrated the opening of the town’s first parlor house by riding his horse all the way up to the second floor of the building. Womack was also an avid dancer as he would often visit the town’s dancing halls and pay women to dance with him and give him a kiss or two.
One day after cashing out on one of his claims he went to the bank and got his $500 turned into all one dollar bills. He then went out on the street and started handing the bills out to children.
But before long he noticed adults standing in line. When one of the adults got in the back of the line to collect another dollar, Womack swung at the man.
The man swung back and Womack quickly hit the ground. Johnny Nolan had to come out of his bar and save Womack from the mob. Womack waited at Nolan’s place until the sheriff’s deputy brought him home.
But even though Womack found gold in the area, he ended up going broke. In his later years he lived in his family home in Colorado Springs off of $300 a month that Winfield Scott Stratton’s estate had set aside for him.
Womack would eventually get paralyzed on his left side and then he died in 1909 due to his condition.
His legend, however, lived on, as a modern-day casino was named after him and a statue is erected in his honor at the old Welcome center and rail car. The Heritage Center is filled with a countless array of Bob Womack anecdotes.