Like many of you, and Albert Einstein, I am intrigued with the idea of time travel.
The thought of going back 50, 100, 200 years or more and witnessing interesting events and meeting captivating people — perhaps Einstein — is a cool concept.
For the purposes of this week’s column, let’s travel back to August 1895 to the bustling city of Cripple Creek. It was then that a real Mexican bullfight took place in the area. Actually, it was in nearby Gillette.
In those days, northwest Teller County was one of the hippest places to be if you were looking for excitement. Aug. 24-26 of that year was supposed to be one of the wildest spectacles in American history with the “Great Mexican Bull Fight, Fiesta, and Equestrian Carnival.” The show featured matadors Cavlos and Garcia, and La Charrita, who was billed as “The Only Lady Bullfighter in the World!”
The event had thousands of people talking then, and to this day the bullfight lives in on lore. The spectacle created so much buzz that even then United Press International sent a reporter to cover the happenings. Dozens of other news outlets (mostly newspapers) also came from near and far to report on the strange event.
Now a ghost town, the town of Gillette reached its peak population of about 1,800 in 1896. There were as 25 saloons, several dance halls, and a racetrack. From 1895 to 1896, Gillette hosted a semipro baseball team that participated in the Colorado State League.
The story of the Gillette bullfight has been written about many times over the last century. Some of the “facts” have become clouded, and depending on what you read, the “fight” is more legend than reality. That’s why I decided to write my column relying on material from the most celebrated writer of history from our region, Marshall Sprague.
Sprague died in 1994 at the age of 85. He was not originally from the Pikes Peak area, arriving here 1941 at the age of 32 from the east coast after being diagnosed with tuberculosis. Two of his more famous books on our area are “Newport of the Rockies” and “Money Mountain.”
On page 336 of my copy of “Newport of the Rockies,” Sprague describes in detail the events leading up to the famous bullfight and the craziness that took place that day. Granted, Sprague was known to be liberal in reporting the “facts” as he saw them. He was known to possibly embellish his stories from time to time. But for the purposes of this column, I am going to rely on him to bring that crazy event to life.
Sprague wrote that the bullfight was a result of a long-standing Francis Hill-Charley Tutt feud. Joe Wolfe, a friend of Tutt’s, was the promoter. Hill vowed to stop the fight before it began. He enlisted the support of the entire United States government.
Gillette, at the time, was mostly owned and operated by Tutt and his good buddy, Spencer “Spec” Penrose. Wolfe’s advisor in bullfight management was Sam Vidler, who just happened to also be the manager of the Cheyenne Mountain Country Club and official custodian of Tutt’s pigeon traps.
Hill succeeded in having the Mexican matadors and banderillos of the bullfight thrown into jail. A Bull Fighters defense committee of the Cheyenne Mountain Country Club gave a benefit to raise money for their bail.
Sprague did not go into detail on the bullfight itself, but some reports claim that an estimated 50,000 people gathered to watch the matadors perform. However, photos show mostly empty stands. Allegedly, after the lancing of the first bull, the local sheriff yelled at the fight manager, “Stop the fight! Shoot the bull!” Matador Jose Marrero Baez defied the sheriff and went ahead and killed the animal with his sword in traditional Mexican style. The sheriff rushed off and returned with a legal opinion from the attorney general and forced a deputy to shoot the second bull with his Winchester.
Sources claim that the bullfight then turned into a riot with the sheriff “arresting many people.” The local militia was called in. After the riot was quelled, the remaining bulls were taken to slaughter, and their meat was given to the poor.
As a result of the chaos, the show did not go on for its scheduled second and third days.
Whatever the actual truth is of that Aug. 24, 1895, day may never be known. Wish I could time travel there to witness the happenings.
Danny Summers has been covering sports at all levels in the Pikes Peak region since 2001. Send your story ideas and feedback to email@example.com.