My first memories of Anaconda are from early childhood. My family and I were taking a vacation around the southern part of Colorado. We were on a quest to visit many of the major tourist attractions in that part of the state. The Cripple Creek mining district was one of our stops. I have vivid memories of boarding an excursion train, which ran from Cripple Creek to Anaconda.
All these years later, I cannot seem to remember whether I witnessed the wonders of Anaconda before the Brady Bunch episode, which introduced me to the reality of ghost mining towns. But either way, Anaconda was one of my very first exposures to Colorado's mining past.
Today, absolutely nothing remains of Anaconda or the mines that surrounded the town on all sides. Without regard for the past, the site has is completely buried under the tailings pile from the open-pit Cresson mine. The mine has been steadily worked for decades by the Cripple Creek & Victor Gold Mining Company and, most recently, by the Newmont Gold Corporation.
Located about halfway between Cripple Creek and Victor on Colorado State Highway 67, Anaconda grew up in Squaw Gulch. Located nearby were the towns of Squaw Gulch, Barry, and Mound City. At its peak, the town claimed more than 1,000 residents. The chief source of excitement was the Mary McKinney mine, which produced more than eleven million dollars in gold. It was located in 1898 and became one of the largest producers in the Cripple Creek district. Anaconda eventually swelled to become the fourth largest town in the area. Other well-paying mines were the Anaconda, the Doctor, the Jackpot, the Blue Bell, and the Republic. Most of these were located within town limits, or just a short walk away.
Anaconda and its neighbors had their share of famous residents. Mary Louise Cecilia "Texas" Guinan, who became famous in New York during the roaring twenties, started as an organist at the town's Sunday school. Barry, just down the road from Anaconda, was home to the Squaw Gulch Amusement Club. Most of Cripple Creek's elites were members. Among them was Judge Melville B. Gerry, who sentenced Alferd Parker to death in the only cannibalism trial ever held in the United States. Another famous member was Robert Miller "Bob" Womack, who found the first gold deposit in Cripple Creek on October 20, 1890, and started the last great Colorado gold rush.
The town was known as one of the quieter ones in the district. "Quiet" is a relative term, however. Anaconda had its fair share of saloons, but it lacked the rowdiness and general lawlessness of larger Cripple Creek and Victor. In addition to its saloons, the town also had several churches and a significant business district.
Anaconda was consumed by a fire that started in a meat market in 1904. The local water supply was too inadequate to fight the flames. Cripple Creek and Victor sent their fire brigades to help, but by the time they arrived, it was too-little, too-late. Mining continued at the Mary McKinney, but Anaconda was never rebuilt.
Even in the twentieth century, death and tragedy are no strangers to mining camps. In 1986, eighty-two years after the 1904 fire, a Pennsylvania man lost his life at the Mary McKinney mine. Wayne Tease, who had recently relocated to Colorado Springs fell into a shaft at the mine while exploring the area with a friend. He plunged approximately a thousand feet to his death. Efforts were made to recover his body, but due to the inherent dangers of unstable mine shafts, those efforts were called off. The Tease family considers the Mary McKinney to be Mr. Tease's grave, and have been visiting the site every year since his death. In 2013, the Cresson mine yet again expanded; this time into Squaw Gulch. The expansion buried the remains of the Mary McKinney, Anaconda, and of Wayne Tease's final resting place. The mining company rerouted State Highway 67 and Tease's memorial. The Tease family lost their fight to preserve their son's gravesite, and, as it too often does, corporate greed won out.
If you choose to explore these mysterious and amazing mining towns, please stay away from open mine shafts and adit tunnels. Put simply: They are not safe and you absolutely risk losing your life if you venture inside.