One of my favorite tales of Cripple Creek is about a man by the name of Winfield Scott Stratton. On July 4th, 1891, Winfield Scott Stratton located the Independence Claim, named in honor of the date, on the southern slope of Battle Mountain not far from where the City of Victor would soon be established. On the same day, Stratton also staked a claim for his nearby Washington Mine.
Stratton labored for months but was not very successful. Discouraged, he decided to lease his holdings to another miner, L.M. Pearlman, in 1893. On his last day underground in the Independence mine, he decided to take one last walk through the mine before relinquishing control. To Stratton’s amazement, he came upon a rich vein of ore in an abandoned section of the mine. He knew the lessee would take over the mine the next day, so he buried his discovery and kept it quiet for a month. Pearlman worked the mine for a month without finding Stratton’s hidden gold vein. Lucky for Stratton, Pearlman remained unaware of the gold vein and decided to relinquish his option to buy the Independence.
Independence Head Frame
Although other gold strikes were made in the Cripple Creek area before Stratton’s, his is considered to be the one that put Victor and the Mining District on the map. Stratton’s near-miss is just one of the true stories of the area. In 1894, Winfield Scott Stratton became the first millionaire to come out of the district.
Stratton was very secretive about his mining operations, never allowing visitors and discouraging his men from discussing their jobs outside of work. He limited production to $2,000 to $4,000 a day, considering the gold in the ground to be his insured bank.
The City Of Victor
In 1899 Stratton sold his Independence Mine, with the help of Verner Z. Reed, for $11 million in stock options to the Venture Corporation, a London based company for which he continued to sit on the Board of Directors. The new company was incorporated in England in 1899 as the “Stratton’s Independence, Limited”.
As with most mines in the district, numerous owners including the Ventures Company, the Portland Gold Mining Company, and the United Gold Mines Company held the property. The mine operated until 1938.
The Independence Mine had at least 17 miles of underground workings and reached a depth of 1,440 feet. The Independence was the third ranked mine in gold production in the District. The Independence produced $28,000,000 worth of gold most of which was valued at $20.67 per ounce or over 1,350,000 ounces of gold. At todays prices, that would translate to a staggering $2.43 billion.
Winfried Scott Stratton passed away September 14, 1902. His wealth was estimated between $15,000,000 and $50,000,000.