History of the Willow Creek Area

The Creede historical mining district was discovered by Nicolas Creede, who in 1889 yelled "Holy Moses" upon finding the now famous Holy Moses Vein on East Willow Creek. He sold it to Davis Moffitt Smith and then discovered the Amethyst Mine off West Willow. Along came the Park Regent, Last Chance, Solomon, Happy Thought and many large mines along the Amethyst vein (the richest in US history).

Creede became one of the nation’s top silver producers. Millions of dollars worth of silver were taken from these mines in the 1890’s. The town of Creede became home to miners, ladies of the night, gamblers, and characters such as Bill Masterson, Bob Ford (the man who killed Jessie James and who owned a saloon west of Main Street in Creede), Soapy Smith, Poker Alice Tubbs, and Clamity Jane.

With the population growing to 15,000, it was the hot place to be. In 1893 the Sherman Silver Purchase Act caused the price of silver to drop, along with the majority of Creede’s population, down to 1,000 residents.

Mining in Creede followed several boom and bust cycles from 1893 until 1973, and most often correlated with the rise and fall of silver prices.  Only a few mining operations continued from 1973, and in the mid 1980’s the last mine closed. Today, there is no active mining in the area; however, exploratory operations are currently underway.

When mining ceased to be profitable, the population of Creede and Mineral County suffered.  Economic activity relied on the operation of ranches, entrenched merchants and local municipalities.  It wasn’t until the 1950’s when adequate transportation and affluence attracted summer residents to the area.  The town of Creede slowly changed from a mining community to a tourist based economy.  The influx of visitors turns the year round population from 400 to many thousands in the summer.  Access to outdoor activities, mild summer temperatures, and a slower pace continue to attract many visitors from all across the country.

Historical Timeline

Learn more about WCRC's work for historical preservation

Although the population rises to nearly 10,000 during the summer months, there are now less than 900 year-round residents in all of Mineral County.  Most of this enduring population consists of a people with a perspective as unique and valuable as the history and geography itself. This breed arose because of the toughness of mining activity and its accompanying atmosphere of passion and abandon.

Even when mining shut down and high paying jobs were gone, many people chose to stay and adapt to the less favorable economic conditions because of their love for the country and the place they call home. These people seem to personify an ethic common to the American West known as "rugged individualism" and personify this, probably to a greater extent than others, because they choose to live in the high cold country at the top of the Rocky Mountains, and this creates a psychology all its own.