Wednesday, July 20, 2022

The Michigan Puddingstone

 By Steven Wade Veatch


I saw the stone on a long furrow, after the farmer’s spring plow,

like a glob of pudding packed with raisins, nuts, and bits of cranberry.

When I picked it up, I held eons of time.


As I wondered how the stone looked long ago, it broke its silence

and whispered its ancient origin, from an era when rushing streams

tumbled rock fragments, in a wild dance over time’s expanse.


As the days passed by, slowing water scattered pebbles on sand

and mixed them. Over time the material hardened into a rock

with a chaotic fabric of colorful stones cemented by sugary grains of white quartz.


More time, then more time, and with heat and pressure

it became quartzite,

a metamorphic rock,

a puddingstone.


And then more change, and the days grew gray, cloudy, and cold,

with dark, blowing winds. Glacial ice crept south and plucked

this stone from Ontario’s bedrock

and carried it away.


The climate shifted, the blue ice melted, and the stone released

on a quiet Michigan landscape for me to find 12 centuries later.

I put the stone back down, where agents of weathering

and time will change it once more, breaking

it down to its original ingredients.


The puddingstone makes me pause and ponder,

and I am here to say the only true constant

is endless change. Nothing stays the same,

not time,


the puddingstone,

                        or even me.

An unpolished puddingstone from Michigan. Some puddingstones contain trace amounts of gold and diamonds. These rocks are commonly found just after farmers plow their fields in Michigan. Puddingstones were brought to Michigan by Ice Age glaciers. A Jo Beckwith specimen. Photo by S. W. Veatch.

First published in the Betsie Current.

Monday, July 4, 2022


By Steven Wade Veatch

Desert varnish 
drips down rocks
marking time.

Spirals, stars, 
animal shapes, 
sacred symbols,
pecked on rocks
from centuries past
reveal a silent song 
and the shaman’s path. 

A breeze whispers
through sagebrush 
while a sunbaked lizard
rests on a rock. 
A hawk, flying high, 
disappears into the canyon 
where echoes of ancient 
chants draw me
to where I 

Fremont petroglyph panel, Dinosaur National Park and 
surrounding areas. Photo by S. W. Veatch.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

A Headframe to the Sky

By Steven Wade Veatch

Faint traces of a wagon road in backcountry

curve to a gold mine hidden in the trees.

The mine’s headframe reaches to the sky—

a crown of confidence on unbreakable dreams.


The ore sorting house rusts through time

while moss invades stone foundations.

Blue pines rock and wild grasses tip in the wind.

Gray clouds nod in the distance.


Miners once made their way with burning candles

toward rhythmic clangs of hammers and drills,

while stepping aside for donkey-drawn ore cars

running on narrow rails deep underground.


Two men, with blistered hands,

pounded steel that drilled the rock

then packed dynamite in the holes they made.

A rattail of fuse detonated a round with a thundering blast.


Timbers in tight embrace held the Earth in place

as spectral Tommyknockers scurried and hid

in opaque blackness beyond the candle flame

while golden veins and rich ore wait discovery. 


Now the gold mine is silent, the sheave wheel stopped.

The underground workings—still as held breath.

The mine a monument to how the West was won.

A progress secured by the lure of gold.


Morning shadows cover yellow spills of flowers

where deer dip down to browse nearby.

The mine still makes its claim on the land

Harkening to better days and simpler ways.

Empire Lee mine, Cripple Creek mining district.
Photo by Gene Mourning, courtesy of the
Western Museum of Mining and Industry.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Pillars of Hercules

 By Steven Wade Veatch

On August 10, 1908, a visitor to the Pikes Peak region traveled up the dusty, winding road through South Cheyenne Cañon. This road, long hailed as "The Grandest Mile of Scenery" in Colorado, ends at Seven Falls, a tourist attraction since the early 1880s. Fascinated with the sights along the way, he bought a postcard at the local curio shop to commemorate his tour.

Moved by the striking geology along the road, he began to consider the geologic processes at work. He observed how South Cheyenne Creek relentlessly carved down through the faulted Pikes Peak Granite to create the cañon. He wrote messages on both sides of the postcard to remember how these geologic wonders moved him on that summer’s day. On the front of the postcard, he wrote:

On either side are perpendicular walls, nearly a thousand feet high and at one place, but forty feet apart, barely giving room for the creek and roadway between them. Indeed, the whole space was originally occupied by the stream, which had to be crowded from its bed. Saw this Aug. 9, 1908.

And then, on the back of the postcard, he typed:

Before us are two tremendous cliffs “The Pillars of Hercules.” They seem to stand squarely across the cañon, completely filling it and demanding a halt. The way seems barred, and the stranger is at a loss to know which way to go, but the brook has found a way and so must we. Here is a most wonderful demonstration of the action of water. For hundreds of feet the cañon at this point has been worn through the solid granite.

Figure 1. Postcard showing South Cheyenne Creek flowing between the imposing granite Pillars of Hercules. A visitor to the Colorado Springs area in 1908 wrote a message on the front and back
of the postcard. From the S. W. Veatch postcard collection.

The anonymous visitor did not mail the postcard but kept it with his important papers and keepsakes. That this postcard has lasted all these decades is as remarkable as the magnificent mountain scenery it portrays. The cañon continues to this day to impress visitors.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

A Photo at the Museum

 By Steven Wade Veatch


I see you in the fading photo looking back at me.

Evidence that shows you lived.

I wonder who you were, touching the world,

learning in a one-room school, following

a deer trail, and then working in a gold mine.

Nothing else mattered. Just years passing by.

You stepped into an unknowable darkness,

then you were gone, and your possessions disappeared—




As your world collides with mine,

I ask:

What will I leave behind?

A yearbook, a photograph album, postcards, letters.

Will they go to a museum?

Or a dumpster?

Will they fill a cigar box?

I am lucky, I filled

someone’s heart.

A young miner in the Cripple Creek Mining District. Photo circa 1899. Courtesy of the Cripple Creek District Museum.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Independence: A Troubled Town in the Cripple Creek Mining District, Colorado

By Steven Wade Veatch

    A troubled man, with a festering and poisoned mind, emerged from the shadows on a Saturday night, just five days before Thanksgiving, 1903. He went down the shaft of the Vindicator mine, a substantial gold producer in the town of Independence, one of more than a dozen camps in the Cripple Creek mining district of Colorado. While down in the mine, this man planted a device that would later explode, killing two men. He had hoped to kill more. This was not the last act of violence committed by the fanatic bomber known as Harry Orchard. He later planned another attack, one that would be more destructive and more lethal for the town of Independence. And there would be other incidents of mayhem: saloon fights, gunfights, railroad accidents, and injuries from mining. Independence was anything but a quiet town.

    First known as Hull’s Camp, the town was renamed by promoters after the storied Independence mine, which is 2.5 miles south of the townsite. According to The Morning Journal, Mr. W. S. Montgomery, one owner of the Hull City mine, said, “Yes, there will be a town at Hull’s camp and it will be known as Independence. The site of the new town is an admirable one, with plenty of water and well sheltered by the surrounding hills. It is the center of the most productive section of camp. The streets are now being laid off and already several large business firms have signified their intention of locating in the new town” (The Morning Journal, Oct 28, 1894). A group of town organizers formally platted Independence on November 11, 1894 (MacKell, 2016). 

Figure 1. Map of the Cripple Creek mining district. A red arrow points to the town of Independence. The Vindicator mine is almost due south of the town of Independence. The Independence mine is northeast of Victor. Modified from Jameson, 1998.

    Independence was a place where miners and their families lived, and by 1896, the population reached 500 (MacKell, 2016). An active business district along Montgomery Avenue included of an assayer, jeweler, photographer, and one doctor (MacKell, 2003). There was a drugstore, grocery, meat market, bakery, barber shop, two saloons, and a lumber mill. According to the newspaper, Mrs. Marshall “set a good table” at her restaurant (The Morning Journal, February 27, 1895). Willard F. French ran an active assay office in town. Independence also had a boardinghouse and two hotels (MacKell, 2016). Mrs. Mamie Crook’s Hotel Montgomery offered a “Nice home for miners, good board and clean rooms at reasonable rates” (MacKell 2016). The Independence Retort published a weekly newspaper. 

    The Midland Terminal Railway stopped at the modest depot on First and Montgomery to handle freight and passenger traffic (MacKell, 2003). While the railroad built the depot, the station agent lived in a nearby box car (The Morning Journal, December 13, 1894). While laying tracks toward the depot, the railroad made a cut in the ground on the property of the Longfellow mine number 2 and exposed a gold vein. The cut was near where the depot was to be built. Owners of the claim picked up some pieces of rock from the vein and threw them into the firebox of a nearby locomotive. The rock came out of the fire blistered with gold. Within five days, miners had dug a carload of ore (The Morning Journal, December 19, 1894). Station agent Jackson of the Midland Terminal depot at Independence later became a joint owner of the lease on the Longfellow number 2. Newspapers later reported of several gold strikes there. The Florence and Cripple Creek Railroad also had a depot in Independence (figure 7).
    Accidents and injuries were not uncommon at the railroad depots in Independence. In one example, a moving train struck a Mr. Adams near the main Independence depot about 6:30 pm on Tuesday, June 20, 1899. Adams was from Pueblo and was on an excursion to the mining district. He was taken to the Sisters’ Hospital in Cripple Creek and died that evening (The Morning Journal, June 20, 1899).

    Saloons did a brisk business in Independence. The Morning Journal reported this unusual story: “John Lamb of Independence, commenced a suit in district court to recover money lost by him in an Independence gambling hall. The defendants in the case are Charles Zeigler and Charles Cunningham. Lamb alleges in this complaint that while on his way home from work he dropped into the gambling hall and saloon of the defendants and after being given a drink or two by them his brain was so stupefied by the drink and drugs that he did not know what he was doing. He alleges that the defendants then induced him to play a game of chance, and he lost $117 . Scott Ashton, of Victor, is the plaintiff’s attorney” (The Morning Journal, August 15, 1899).

    Independence was likewise the location of a large ore loading rail yard. Locomotives made it a noisy place, with their pistons chuffing, whistles blasting, and brakes screeching. Switch engines and crews traveled around to the various mines and mills and switched ore cars out—pulling the loaded ore cars away and replacing them with empty cars. The switch crew would then assemble loaded ore cars into a train that hauled the ore to a mill for treatment. People in town surely would have noticed the heavy rumbling of a train as it rolled by, pulling loaded ore cars. They watched locomotives that ran through the area, belching plumes of heavy black smoke, soot, and cinders. The air smelled of coal and hot valve oil, and the wooden railroad ties reeked of creosote. 

Figure 2 shows the Midland Terminal Railway engine number seven, with its switch crew taking a break at the town of Independence in 1904. The photograph also reveals the dual gauge track and extra link-and-pin coupler socket on the engine, allowing it to handle either standard or narrow-gauge equipment. The coupler—for narrow gauge cars—was offset, while the standard gauge coupler was centered (the coupler can be clearly seen above the “cowcatcher” in figure 2). Both the Midland Terminal and the Colorado Midland were standard gauge, but other railroads in the district were narrow gauge. 

Figure 2. Switch engine and its crew in Independence, Colorado. Hull City mine in the background. Photo date 1904 by an unknown photographer. From the Joata (Osborn) Bottcher collection. Courtesy of the Cripple Creek District Museum, CCDM A8524.

    Independence continued to grow, and by 1899, 1,500 people called it home (Sprague, 1953). The town crowded around two important mines, the Vindicator and the Hull City mine. 

Figure 3. The town of Independence, Colorado, looking northwest. Photo date 1897. Webster and Yelton photographers. Courtesy of the Cripple Creek District Museum. CCDMA82. 329A.

    The Vindicator mine was in the Montgomery gulch section of this small gold-rush town. It was a steady producer, and by 1907, The Mining Investor reported the mine had almost 25 miles of underground workings and had distributed, in total, over $1.7 million  in dividends to stockholders (The Mining Investor, March 2, 1908). By 1910, the Vindicator was the fourth largest producer in the district, employing 350 miners who worked there.

    The rich Hull City mine, which covered an area of 39 acres, was within the town limits (Lindgren and Ransome, 1906). According to Lindgren and Ransome (1906) the “Hull City had a complex vein system where calaverite, the main ore mineral, coated narrow seams in these veins. Quartz and fluorite coated small vug holes.” By the end of 1899, the mine had produced $900,193  in gold, and during the next three years (January 1, 1901 to January 1, 1904) generated gold worth $999,174  (Lindgren and Ransome, 1906). 

Figure 4. The town of Independence with the Hull City mine (foreground) and the Vindicator mine. Library, The State Historical Society of Colorado. CCDM A82-132.

By 1906, the Hull City’s main shaft reached a depth of 1,265 feet, with 11 levels; a second shaft, the King shaft (sometimes called the Vaughn or Glorietta shaft) was 860 feet deep, with 12 levels. This King shaft was in operation near the southern boundary of the mine (Lindgren and Ransome, 1906). 

The record of accidents and deaths miners suffered at the Hull City mine is incomplete. The Aspen Weekly Times reported that an explosion killed James Drury in the lower stopes of the mine on June 4, 1901. According to the reporter, “He was warned before going into one of the stopes that one of the shots had failed to explode but went on and drilled into the blast. The entire side of this head was blown away” (The Aspen Weekly Times, 1901). Another mine accident killed A. M. Mellon on the morning of April 5, 1902, as he rode in a cage in the Hull City shaft. When he carelessly stuck his head out from the cage, a passing timber crushed his skull and snapped his neck. He had no relatives (The Telluride Journal, 1902). Records show that rocks from a bucket dropped on John Williams, killing him (Sherard, 2006). The nearby Vindicator injured and claimed the lives of an unknown number of miners. The true extent of these grim statistics for the Vindicator and the Hull City mines will remain largely unknown.

Figure 5. Early photo of Independence. Mining operations dot the landscape. Photographer and date unknown. Courtesy of the Cripple Creek District Museum. CCV93GKCCM WA.

    Cripple Creek was a Western Federation of Miners union stronghold, and a crisis arose on August 8, 1903, when Cripple Creek union miners walked out in support of the striking smelter workers in Colorado City, Colorado (Taylor, 2003). The issue was over hours worked each day and pay. By August 11, at least 3,500 men had quit work in 50 of the district’s mines (Jameson, 1998)..The district soon became a battlefield, with confrontations between labor, employers, and the state of Colorado. About that same time, the district’s labor wars spilled over into the town of Independence. The disputes resulted in injuries and loss of life. Harry Orchard, who resided in Independence, became embroiled in the district’s labor strife, and committed several acts of violence. On November 21, 1903, a bomb set by Orchard exploded on the sixth level of the Vindicator mine, killing superintendent Charles H. McCormick and shift boss Melvin H. Beck, who were inspecting the mine (Orchard, 1907; Annual Report for the Vindicator, 1903).
Figure 6. Harry Orchard, whose real name was Albert Edward Horsley, lived in Independence and left behind a bloody trail in the Cripple Creek Mining District. Photo courtesy of the Cripple Creek District Museum.

    About six months later, Orchard, with the help of Steve Adams, placed between 150 and 200 pounds of dynamite under a loading platform at the Florence and Cripple Creek Railroad depot in Independence (Jameson, 1998; Sprague, 1953). On June 6, 1904, at 2:15 am, while a crew from the Findley mine waited for a train, the bomb exploded. The blast blew one miner 150 feet away from the depot, killed 13 miners, and injured another 20. Orchard and Adams covered the soles of their shoes with kerosene, so the sheriff’s bloodhounds could not track them, and disappeared into the darkness. Colorado’s lieutenant governor declared the county in a state of insurrection and mobilized the National Guard (Jameson, 1989).

    The strike lasted for fifteen months before finally coming to an end. Thirty-three people were killed, but organized labor lost out as a result of determined opposition by mine owners and the state of Colorado. With no further union representation in the district, miners worked under the tight control of mine owners (Taylor, 2003).

    Harry Orchard was later convicted of blowing up the former governor of Idaho, Frank Steunenberg, in 1905. Facing the death penalty, Orchard confessed to the murder of the former governor and 16 other people. Orchard died in the Idaho state penitentiary April 13, 1954, at the age of 88.

Figure 7. The Florence and Cripple Creek depot in Independence after Harry Orchard blew it up on June 6, 1904. Courtesy of the Cripple Creek District Museum. CCDM 82 420.

More commotion would come to Independence on February 11, 1906, when two masked gunmen robbed the Silver Bell Saloon. A gun battle broke out that killed one robber, while the other outlaw fled packing $1,800 in cash (MacKell, 2016). 

After the district’s labor wars ended, Independence’s population shrank. Records reveal that, in 1919, 500 people remained in town. The town’s population continued to dwindle as gold mining declined. Its post office closed in 1954, and the Hull City mine ended operations in 1958. A handful of people remained for a few years after that, but then the town nearly disappeared—melting into thin air. Today, only a few ramshackle historic structures survive.

    I thank Ben Elick for modifying the map used in this paper. I thank the Colorado Springs Oyster Club and Dr. Bob Carnein for their critical reviews. 

References and further reading

Annual Report for the Vindicator Consolidated Gold Mining Company, 1903.

Jameson, E., 1998, All That Glitters: Class, Conflict, and Community in Cripple Creek: Chicago. University of Illinois Press.

Lindgren, W., and F. L. Ransome, 1906, Geology and Gold Deposits of the Cripple Creek District, Colorado: Washington, Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper No. 54.

MacKell, J., 2003, Cripple Creek District: Last of Colorado’s Gold Booms: Charleston, Arcadia.

MacKell, J., 2016, Lost Ghost Towns of Teller County: Charleston, History Press.

Orchard, H, 1907, The Confessions and Autobiography of Harry Orchard: New York, The McClure Company.

Sherard, G. 2006, Colorado Mine Accident Index: Fatal and Non-Fatal, Retrieved from, on January 21, 2022.

Sprague, M., 1953, Money Mountain: The Story of Cripple Creek Gold: Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press.

Taylor, R.G., 2003, Cripple Creek Mining District: Palmer Lake, CO, Filter Press. 
Aspen Weekly Times, June 8, 1901, p. 3.

The Morning Journal, Oct 28, 1894, p. 1.

The Morning Journal, December 13, 1894, p. 8.

The Morning Journal December 19, 1894, p. 3.

The Morning Journal, February 27, 1895, p. 1.

The Morning Journal, June 20, 1899, p 4.

The Morning Journal, August 15, 1899, p. 4.

The Morning Journal, December 26, 1899, p. 94.

The Mining Investor, March 2, 1908, p. 70.

The Telluride Journal, April 10, 1902, p. 6. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Beside the Waterfall

Steven Wade Veatch

Fountain Creek rushes 

        Over granite and sandstone

                And plunging falls form

                    Uncovering layers of time

                            Revealing the history of the Earth

                            While beside the waterfall

                                My days flow by as fast

Fountain Creek running through Ute Pass. From the postcard collection of S. W. Veatch