City of Cripple Creek

The Legend of Jack Aspen

Long ago, something quite incredible happened high in the mountains, along the western slope of Pikes Peak in Colorado. Something so magical it can hardly be believed but has to be told so all may come to know and love Jack. Some call Jack Aspen the official ambassador of Cripple Creek. And Jack should sure know a thing or two about how to find adventure and fun around here … he’s been around Cripple Creek since the very beginning.

Perhaps you’ve been fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of Jack. You may have even met him or noticed he seems to be an enchanted combination of flora and fauna. But if you don’t know his incredible story, you just don’t know Jack.

Who is Jack Aspen?

Jack was one of the first of the famous wild donkeys of Cripple Creek during the earliest gold rush. Back in the 1880s, Jack was rounded up and befriended by his legendary gold mining partner, Ole’ Willie Womack. Jack and Willie worked side-by-side prospecting the mountains and canyons around Cripple Creek and Victor, searching and mining the area’s rich veins of gold.

The two of them were part of the gold discoveries that named both Cripple Creek and Victor the “Greatest Gold Camp on Earth” and brought it fame across the United States and the world.

The Story of Jack Aspen and Ole’ Willie Womack

When not working with Ole’ Willie in the mines, Jack’s favorite place in the world was the camp he and Willie set up in a grove of Aspen trees overlooking Cripple Creek. It’s why he originally got the name Jack Aspen. At the end of long days hauling gold ore, Jack loved to rest upon the cool grass in the shade of the Aspens. And Jack especially loved it in the Fall when the wealth of Aspens all around Cripple Creek turned a brilliant gold and shimmered in the breeze. It looked to Jack like the sides of the hills themselves were covered in the sparkling gold they mined. Throughout the years, lots of folks have agreed with Jack. Every Fall, people journey from all over the world to the western slope of Pikes Peak to gaze out over the quaking golden Aspens, just as Jack always did.

Jack was beloved by all the miners in the Gold Camp. He was able to work all day without losing a step. Countless times, Jack saved the miners from accidents. And Jack was the grand champion of the original Cripple Creek donkey race—a race that lives on each June as Cripple Creek Donkey Derby Days. Back in the day, Jack even helped lead President Teddy Roosevelt on his famed tour of the Cripple Creek mines.

Jack and Willie Womack worked side-by-side for years, mining gold and making friends all the way from the Sangre de Cristo mountains to Denver. Jack was beloved by all … so much so that when Jack quietly passed away at a ripe old age, the entire Gold Camp shut down for a day in his honor. Everyone in Cripple Creek, Victor and the surrounding areas came to lay Jack to rest in his treasured spot under the shimmering gold leaves of his favorite Aspen Grove.

It was a beautiful ceremony. Friends from all around Colorado sent cards. In fact, it’s said that a telegraph of condolences arrived from the White House. Everyone missed Jack dearly, and without Jack’s smile around town, the winter that followed felt like the longest and coldest Cripple Creek had ever known.

Jack Aspen and the Aspen trees in Cripple Creek, Colorado

But when Spring finally arrived, everyone was in for a heart-warming surprise.

As new leaves began to bud from the Aspen trees, something very special happened to one particular Aspen Tree … the very tree under which Jack had been laid to rest.

On one especially beautiful Spring morning, Willie was the first to see it during his daily visit to Jack’s grave. As the sun rose over the ridges of Pikes Peak and the rays hit the budding leaves of Jack’s favorite Aspen tree, Willie looked at its trunk and saw something that left him shaking his head in disbelief. He saw the face of his old friend Jack smiling back.

Jack Aspen Comes Back to Life

Word spread quickly throughout the Gold Camp region, and one-by-one, everyone came to see Jack Aspen in the trunk of that special Aspen tree. When they first heard about it, no one could believe it. Once they saw it, no one could deny it. It was Jack.

Bit by bit, year by year, Jack’s face became more and more pronounced in the trunk of that Aspen tree, and Jack gradually seemed to come back to life. His special smile got bigger and bigger. His eyes opened wider and wider. He would look with love upon his friends and the Aspen trees. And then, Jack started to do something he’d never done before … not even when he walked the earth as a donkey. Jac
k began to talk.

It turned out, Jack was quite the storyteller. He had witnessed so much history: the birth of mining in Cripple Creek, gold rushes, battles between mine owners and miner’s unions, town fires, Presidential visits, railroads, countless card games, celebrations like Donkey Derby Days, millions of dollars in gold discoveries and, of course, the return of the shimmering gold hillsides of Aspens year after year.

Jack loved telling stories and being around his friends so much that one day—when a big celebration was going on in town—Jack picked himself up right out of his roots and headed to the party. Everyone celebrated the return of Jack, and he has been part of each big event in Cripple Creek ever since. When you’re in in the area, keep an eye out for Jack. He’s always around and always happy to make a new friend.

Jack can tell you about the fun and adventures he had around the Gold Camp district, and (who knows?), he may even have a little bit of gold ore to offer. With the good times and beauty of Cripple Creek, plus a larger-than-life personality like Jack Aspen, you never know what’s next … but you do know it’s going to make for another great Jack Aspen story.

Look for Jack Aspen during our annual Big Aspen Happnin’ Fall Festival right here in the heart of Cripple Creek, Colorado.