- Name: Mt. Pisgah Cemetery
- Where: Cripple Creek Colorado
- Cost: Free
- More Information: VisitCrippleCreek.com
Mt. Pisgah Cemetery backdropped by the city of Cripple Creek and its massive gold mining operation.
Just outside the gold mining town of Cripple Creek, Colorado the 29 acre Mt. Pisgah Cemetery can be found where some of the most colorful people from this town’s historic past were laid to rest. Gold was discovered on the western slopes of Pikes Peak by cowboy prospector Bob Womack back in 1890. His find eventually set off a gold rush that caused the founding of the city of Cripple Creek to support all the mining activity. Cripple Creek became an incorporated town in 1892 and that same year the Mt. Pisgah cemetery was founded to bury the increasing amount of deceased people the gold rush was bringing to the region. Over 2,000 people have been buried at the cemetery over the years. The cemetery is located on a hill below the base of Mt. Pisgah which is the cone shaped mountain that can be seen pictured below to the right outside of Cripple Creek:
The Mt. Pisgah Cemetery is easily accessed from Cripple Creek by driving about a mile up Teller County Highway 1 to the cemetery’s entrance:
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The entrance is easily spotted due to the really nice veterans memorial that can be seen from the road:
I walked down to the memorial from the cemetery parking lot and found that the markers had the names of all the members of the US military who died in Iraq & Afghanistan who had at some time been a resident of Teller or El Paso counties:
Having served in both wars it is always tough to see memorials like this especially when you knew some of the names that are on the markers. I appreciate Cripple Creek putting the memorial up though, it is really quite well done.
After checking out the veterans memorial I then walked up to the cemetery to do a self guided walking tour. Before walking into the cemetery there is a little box that has self guided tour maps available for visitors to use. At the start of my walk around the cemetery I came upon this large tomb that ended up being a marker representing where members of the fraternal organization the Freemasons are buried:
Next to the Mason’s I noticed that some people who had served in the US military were buried with the customary US military headstones:
Next there was this huge elk statue which represented the members of the Elks organization that are buried at the cemetery:
Located in the Elk section of the cemetery is the grave of Marbel Barbee Lee who wrote the most detailed account of life during the Cripple Creek gold rush period as the young daughter of one of the many prospectors who came to the region in the 1890’s. She lived a long life when she passed away in 1978 at the age of 94.
The area was enclosed with a locked gate and fence which I thought would be improper to jump over, so I settled for this picture of her grave from a short distance away:
As I continued to walk around the cemetery I then noticed these well kept graves of a mother Vanita Stanke who died at age 20 and is buried next to her two children:
I could not find any information about Vanita, but dying at such a young age with two baby children made me wonder if maybe she died after child birth?
Next I ran into a memorial recognizing the members of yet another fraternal organization, the Improved Order of Redmen that are buried at the cemetery:
I got the feeling that fraternal organizations were very popular a long time ago to include the Redmen which once boasted a nationwide membership of 500,000 people, but today are a dying organization with less than 38,000 members. Ironically this organization is supposed to honor Native-Americans, but for many decades they were forbidden from joining. There has been many accusations that this organization is racist. I will let others read and determine what they think of the merits of this organization, but in a day an age where the NFL team the Washington Redskins is declared a racist name by many people, this organization may want to consider changing their name and practices if they want to remain a relevant organization today. Anyway here is a picture overlooking the area of the cemetery that is home to the Redmen:
Next to the Redmen was yet another fraternal organization the Woodmen of the World. The most noticeable Woodmen grave was for Alexander McLean:
McLean was a non-union miner who was killed on June 6, 1904 when a bomb was placed at the Independence Depot railway station by a labor union hired terrorist that killed 13 non-union miners. The labor union was on strike and trying to discourage non-union miners from working in the mines. Below is a picture from the Denver Public Library which shows the funeral procession through downtown Cripple Creek for Alexander McLean:
The murder of these non-union miners pretty much led to the end of any sympathy that locals and others across the state once had for the labor union members. Many labor union members were rounded up in the days after the explosion and dumped across the state line in Kansas.
Another major plot near the Woodmen is those for what is known as the Grand Army of the Republic:
Buried here at 44 veterans from the Civil War. The Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery was originally located on a ranch six miles west of Cripple Creek, however after gold was found on the land the graves were moved to the Mt. Pisgah Cemetery. In their haste to move the graves the old marble markers were lost and thus new ones had to be made. However, no one kept track who was who when they moved the bodies and thus now they are simply the unknown soldiers of Mt. Pisgah.
The next grave I walked over to was for Pearl De Vere:
Pearl was famous during the Cripple Creek mining boom years as being the most prominent prostitute in the gold camp. She operated a brothel called the Homestead House which featured the most expensive prostitutes in the city. The girls were known for dressing nicely, practicing good hygiene, and having regular medical checkups. She was also a very flamboyant figure in town as well as a philanthropist. This along with her fancy brothel made her a very popular figure in the town. You can read more about Pearl at this link, but she died of what was believed to be a drug overdose in 1897. Despite her flamboyance and fancy brothel, after her death it was discovered that she actually had little money because so much of it was poured into the re-construction of the Homestead House after the 1896 fire that destroyed much of Cripple Creek. This fire is why Cripple Creek today has so many brick buildings which replaced the wooden buildings that spread the fire so quickly back in 1896.
Picture from the Denver Public Library.
With little money after Pearl’s death and her family unwilling to pay for a proper funeral for a prostitute daughter it appeared that Pearl would be dumped in an unmarked grave at the Mt. Pisgah Cemetery. However, Pearl’s popularity in town was confirmed after her death when locals and wealthy clients all contributed money for her funeral. The funeral ended up being one of the biggest events in the town’s history with the Elk’s marching band leading the funeral procession through town and over to the Mt. Pisgah Cemetery followed by thousands of well wishers.
Today long after her death Pearl is still a popular figure in town with many people visiting her grave site and leaving various gifts & flowers in honor of the town’s most famous lady of the night:
Interestingly almost right across from Pearl’s grave is the grave for a Fred E. Krueger:
I have no idea if there is an Elm Street in Cripple Creek that this guy once lived on, but I found it funny that a guy with an infamous horror movie name like this was buried next to Pearl:
The next grave I walked over to was not even a grave for the person depicted on it. Dr. Susan Anderson moved to Cripple Creek in 1891 with the rest of her family at age 21. She eventually went to the University of Michigan to study medicine where she graduated in 1897. Her brother died of pneumonia in 1900 and the below marker is where he is buried:
His death caused Anderson deep sorrow and she decided to move to Grand County just west of Denver to get away from Cripple Creek. There she became well known as a doctor that treated many of the poor miners and other laborers that worked in the Rockies.
Picture of Dr. Susan Anderson from the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame.
She treated people whether they had money or not which made her a very popular person in the area. When she died in 1960 friends tried to carry out her request to have her buried next to her brother in Cripple Creek. However, her brother’s grave at Mt. Pisgah Cemetery could not be located and thus she was buried in the separate plot shown below:
Year’s later her brother’s stone marker was identified and the city of Cripple Creek added a monument on top of her brother grave in honor of Dr. Anderson. Her body though was never moved next to her brother and remains at its current resting place.
I continued to walk up the hill and check out the cemetery and I was impressed with the nice view looking east where the summit of the 14,115 foot Pikes Peak can be seen in the distance:
As I began to walk back down the hill through another section of the cemetery I noticed that I had walked into a section filled with deceased children:
This is something you often see in old cemeteries like this where the number of deceased children is quite startling. Many of the graves showed that families lost multiple children at young ages like the Kellstrom family depicted below:
This is just a reminder of how improved the mortality rate for children has improved over the decades due to modern medicine so most families no longer have to experience the heartache of losing their children to preventable illnesses.
As I walked down the hill heading back to my truck I next stopped by the grave of Mollie O’Bryan:
Mollie was an accomplished businesswoman who became the only woman to sit on the Cripple Creek Stock Exchange. Before coming to Cripple Creek in 1893 at age 20 she worked as a stenographer in one of my favorite Colorado places, Lake City. She hoped to make good money with her typewriting skills in the gold rush town of Cripple Creek, but ended up making a fortune in the gold mining industry. Typing up contracts and other documents caused Mollie to become highly knowledgeable about the gold mining industry. With this knowledge she began to invest her own money into mining stocks and then used the money she gained to invest in mining property. She eventually became very wealthy and one of the most sought after women in Cripple Creek by many male suitors. She never married and died in 1922. She is buried with her Mom and Dad as well as her sister and brother-in-law at the Mt. Pisgah Cemetery:
From Mollie O’Bryan’s grave I also had a nice view looking back towards Cripple Creek where the massive gold mining operation behind the city that brought O’Bryan so much wealth can still be seen operating to this day:
On my way back to my truck I passed by yet another fraternal organization that has its own plot at the cemetery, the Eagles:
Finally here is one last look at the Mt. Pisgah Cemetery before I returned to my truck to head home:
Visiting cemeteries is not for everyone, but for people interested in the history of Cripple Creek it is well worth taking a visit to the Mt. Pisgah Cemetery. The walking tour map provides plenty of good information about the various people buried at the cemetery. For those looking for an even deeper understanding of the people buried at the cemetery, the city of Cripple Creek also conduct Mt. Pisgah Speaks Cemetery Tours at various times of the year. Knowledgeable guides dress up in period costumes and lead visitors around the cemetery. The cemetery is definitely worth 30-minutes to an hour to visit during a trip to Cripple Creek.