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[Detail] Bird's eye view of Anniston, Ala. 1888.

7) Topography and History

Cripple Creek mining district, the great gold camp of Colorado / bird's eye view by C.H. Amerine ; compliments of the Cripple Creek Sunday Herald.

Cripple Creek Mining District, C.H. Amerine, Cartographer, 1895.

Topography comes from two Greek words, topo meaning "place" and graphien meaning "to write." Thus, the work of a topographer is to describe a place (in written and/or cartographic form). Physical topographers focus their study on natural objects, while cultural topographers focus on man-made objects and events. Topographers also try to understand the relationship of the parts to the whole. Is this mountain pass like all the others in this range or does it give better access the sea? Is this building architecturally the same or unique when compared to others of its class? Sometimes topographers ask broad questions regarding how a site fits into a bigger social, geopolitical, or economic picture. As you might imagine, topography complements the study of history (and vice versa).

While bird's-eye view maps are not topographical studies, they do provide a map reader with certain information about topography and land use. For instance, railways normally run through a city across a flat grade, as appears to be the case in Macon, Georgia, in 1887, South Bend, Indiana, in 1866, and Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1900. Yet, it is decidedly not the case in the Cripple Creek Mining District in Colorado. Given that exception to the rule, one might find it interesting to use panoramic maps and other materials to do a study of the topography of the Cripple Creek area, looking at the interaction of both physical and cultural elements.

Cripple Creek, 1896.

Cripple Creek, Colorado, Phillips & Desjardins, Cartographers, Copyright 1896.

The town of Cripple Creek lay in the heart of the Cripple Creek mining district. The district was an area of six square miles located on the western side of Pike's Peak in central Colorado. Its sloping hills and high meadows were good for raising cattle, which is what the first white settlers there did.

Over 32 millennia, volcanic activity and seepage had allowed veins of gold to solidify in the rock crevices of these ranges. In 1890, a local prospector discovered gold in Poverty Gulch, later known as the town of Cripple Creek. By 1915, about $400 million worth of ore had been mined from the Cripple Creek area. The nearby chlorination mills and reduction works, as well as the railroad, helped to make Cripple Creek a mecca for those looking to make a fortune from gold.

Railroads had to bridge deep chasms and canyons to reach the Cripple Creek mining area. Serpentine roadbeds were built to support the railroad tracks. The winding path of the Florence & Cripple Creek line (the first railroad to reach the town of Cripple Creek) is visible on the map above. The principal mining camps of the Cripple Creek area were also reachable, at one time or another, via the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, the Short Line Railroad, and the Midland Terminal Railway (a branch of the Colorado Midland Railway).

It is said that during the height of the gold rush, Cripple Creek had as many assay offices (for analyzing ore) as grocery stores. After Cripple Creek burned to the ground in 1896, its many wood buildings were soon replaced by brick ones. The new town is shown in this 1896 map of the town of Cripple Creek.

  • Describe the land formations that surround Cripple Creek.
  • Did miners work in streams, open pit mines, or undergound mines?
  • Where did miners and others in the Cripple Creek district live? How did they spend or save their money?
  • To what extent do you think that the land of Cripple Creek and its geological characteristics were responsible for making that city what it is today? How might the land have shaped the culture of Cripple Creek? What other factors might have shaped this town?
  • To what extent do people and their activities impact the landscape and shape the culture of a place?
  • While every inch of these maps may be worthy of study, are they meticulously drawn? Are there distortions? Would you use a panoramic map to build a railroad? To select a site for a factory, an office, a school, or a home? Why or why not?