“A grain of gold will gild a great surface, but not so much as a grain of wisdom.”
At an elevation of 11,200 feet, Altman was, at one time, the highest incorporated town in the United States. At least Altmanites fancied the claim.
Altman boasted of two restaurants, two shoemakers, four boarding houses, a drugstore, and nine saloons. The good citizens had nowhere to go to quench their thirsty souls, but with nine saloons, they certainly could satisfy their dry mouths.
Altman, like most of the towns in the Cripple Creek mining district, was a rough place. It took center stage in the labor wars of 1894 and 1903 and was a union stronghold. It was pivotal in the Battle of Bull Hill in 1894. Much of the fight was waged in and around Altman. The miners controlled the high ground and rained down hell on the militia below. At one point, the residents of Altman even announced their intent to secede from the United States and set themselves up as an independent kingdom. A man named Calderwood was named King. Calderwood was one of the founders of the Western Federation of Miners and was instrumental in bringing about an end to the violence in the strike of 1894, making a "reasonable" deal with Governor Waite for an eight-hour workday at $3.00 per day, and a twenty-minute paid lunch break. Before the violence ended, labor rounded up 1,200 men (mostly Sheriff's deputies) to invade the town. The miners built a fort preparing for an attack that never came. Seeing their opportunity, they seized the offensive. Men were killed and injured on both sides. When the fight ended, the miners controlled the Strong Mine above Victor, and, of course, the town of Altman. It got so bad in the second round in 1907 that Governor Peabody put the entirety of the Cripple Creek district under martial law.
The history of Altman reads like a real western dime-store novel with bank and stage robberies and shootouts at high noon. Sheriff Michael McKinnon was gunned down in a fight with six ne'er-do-wells from Texas. Marshall Jack Kelly faired better, dispatching the leader of the Smith Gang, who had been terrorizing the area for some time. Smith planned to gun down the good Marshall and was waiting for him in one of those nine saloons. Smith lost. The gang continued to operate, but just like a good Hollywood movie, one-by-one, its members were either captured, committed suicide, or lost gun battles until the Smith Gang was only a memory. They say that at one point, the violence was so bad here that the undertaker offered group rates if all the burials happened one day a week.
Formally incorporated in 1896, the town got its name from Sam Altman. It was said that Sam owned and operated the first stamp mill in the area; he also owned a sawmill. The best mines were the American Eagle, the Pharmacist, the Buena Vista, and the Victor.
Today, nothing remains of Altman. The Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mining Company has buried all of the ghost towns in the district under millions of tons of tailings from their Cresson Mine operation. All that remains today are the still inhabited towns of Cripple Creek, Victor, and Goldfield. The tragedy of a modern mining company that places greed ahead of respect for the history of its own industry is remarkable. Not only has the history been lost, but the incredible natural beauty of the land is gone forever, replaced by a mammoth open-pit mine. A tragedy indeed.