Cripple Creek, Bob Womack and the Greatest Gold Camp on Earth, by Linda Wommack, Rhyolite Press, Colorado Springs, Colo., 2019, $19.95
Bob Womack finally struck gold in October 1890 on the south side of Pikes Peak, and six months later he and a few other believers formed the Cripple Creek Mining District. Colorado’s last great mining bonanza was underway, and Cripple Creek would go on to lead the world in gold production at the turn of the 20th century. It’s a fascinating story, and one close to the heart of author Linda Wommack, a regular contributor to Wild West, the author of 11 books about her native Colorado and the great-great-grandniece of the gold discoverer (Linda’s family has since acquired an extra “m” in its surname).
The author covers the upbringing of Robert (“Bob”) Miller Womack, who was born in Kentucky on Aug. 13, 1844, traveled with his father to ranch in newly formed Colorado Territory in spring 1861, saw firsthand promising mineral ore while with geologist Ferdinand Hayden’s survey party in 1874 and four years later spotted a piece of gold-bearing float that assayed out at $200 a ton. Finding the high-grade proved difficult, but “Crazy Bob,” as some called him, kept digging deeper and deeper until he finally hit pay dirt in fall 1890. The Rocky Mountain News first reported the Cripple Creek gold strike in February 1891. On the news, prospectors swarmed into the area. “By the end of 1893 Cripple Creek’s gold production rose to over 5 million dollars,” Wommack writes. “Bob Womack’s proclamation that ‘Cripple Creek’s gold will solve the depression’ indeed proved to be true.”
Yet Womack did not become one of the area’s fortunate millionaires, as he sold his mine soon after, but, the author notes, “He enjoyed his newfound freedom away from the financial worries of mine development.” Womack was later alarmed by the devastating fires of 1896, though they never really crippled Cripple Creek (brick was used in the rebuilding). The mining district continued to produce millions in gold ore, though by the early 20th century labor fights and a strike did lead to Cripple Creek’s decline. On Aug. 10, 1909, the day after Womack’s death, the Colorado Springs Gazette ran his obituary with the headline Discoverer of Great Gold Camp Dies Penniless. In her well-researched book Wommack finally dispels some of the myths about Bob and honors his legacy.