Colorado Yesterday and Today
While playing poker is one of my passions, another is getting out and exploring the many hidden and interesting spots throughout Colorado that link today with yesterday. I do this through finding old photographs from over a century ago; locating the spot in the photograph; and then matching up a photograph of the same spot. When not playing poker this summer, I was crisscrossing the state searching for locations to match up.
Later this month, a book including the best of these photographs and plenty of local lore titled A Century of Change in Colorado / The Complete Collection will hit the bookshelves of local bookstores and gift shops.
So let’s step away from the poker tables for a moment and take a look at what made Colorado the amazing state it is today and look at some of the poker playing characters that were a part of it.
From the gambling towns of Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek; to the great silver and gold producing districts of the late 1800’s centered in Leadville, Georgetown and Cripple Creek; to the lakes, mines, and shelf-roads that dot the state’s high country – Colorado’s coming of age during the late 1800s and early 1900s was an amazing period.
In some cases, those same spots are dramatically changed today with the full crush of civilization taking over while in others there is remarkably little evidence of the passing of a century of more.
Many poker players and gamblers such as Doc Holliday, Poker Alice and Bat Masterson frequented the towns covered in the book – usually playing poker, faro, or other games of chance in the famous and rowdy Red Light Districts nearly every early mining camp supported.
Doc Holiday is said to have had his last gun fight in the rip-roaring town of Leadville at Hyman’s Saloon during the early months of 1885. According to legend, Holliday was down to last dollar and fearful a man he owed money to was gunning for him so he shot first and hit the man in the arm. After claiming self-defense and a bit of time in jail, the jury acquitted him.
He then made his way to Glenwood Springs and died on Nov. 8, 1887 at the opulent Hotel Glenwood due to complications with his tuberculosis.
At the end, a nurse said his last words were, “It’s funny” as he looked at his boots because he thought he would be shot and killed with his boots on.
During the 1880s the famous poker playing woman known as Poker Alice had her start in Leadville after her husband died and she needed to find a way to make ends meet. She found that she could beat her male counterparts in poker through distracting them with her good looks and beating them with her strong play. Soon, saloon owners were paying her to play at their tables.
Bat Masterson was a famous gun fighting gambler, buffalo hunter, and noted town marshal with time spent at the Royal Gorge, Trinidad and Denver.
During those early years, the railroads were the key to the opening of Colorado’s high country with their narrow rails reaching into the steepest canyons, to the summit of high peaks, and connecting the many towns that were springing up.
Today, most of those railroad tracks have been pulled up and are just overgrown forgotten cuts in the land or have been converted into hiking and biking trails. In either case, it is fascinating to find and walk those old grades and at times, when deep in a canyon with the rushing waters of ice cold creek rushing by – it’s easy to imagine the monstrous large steel engine huffing and blowing steam while passing by and the cars clicking and clacking along behind.
The gambling towns of Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek are included in the book of course – with other nearby locations such as the well preserved Victor, the busy Idaho Springs, the hidden jewel Beaver Brook Station, the forgotten Perigo, and popular Nevadaville among many others.
So, as you are heading to play poker up in the hills or just traveling across the state, stop and take a look at some of these spots. They really give you a feel for what Colorado was yesterday; what Colorado is today; and what Colorado can become tomorrow.
Ok – back to the tables and remember to play your game!