Western Hotel: Old Time Hookers and Hauntings

western hotel

On Seventh Avenue near Second Street is the Western Hotel, the largest wooden structure in Ouray. Built in 1892, the hotel was originally called “Holt and Foster” after the owners and it billed itself as the “miner’s palace, 43 sleeping rooms, three toilets, one bathtub, electric lights, saloon and game rooms.” The Western Hotel as also at the end of the red light district which ran down Second Street. The Clipper, Bon Ton, Bird Cage, Monte Carlo, Temple of Music, Morning Star and Gold Belt offered liquor, gambling, sex, dancing and music. About 100 girls operated out of the area.

Western_Hotel2-_Ouray-_1885-379x507Circa 1885

Ouray: Historic Western Hotel: “Terror-ific? Yes, but just because of all the GHOSTS!”
April 14, 2003:  A TripAdvisor Member, Longmont, CO

Wow, maybe the season makes the difference, because last August my Husband and I had the best experience of our lives at the Historic
Western Hotel. We checked in around 1:00 and was greated immediatley by a very helpful girl behind the counter. We were showed up to our
room (which was only $35, by the way) and walking up the stairs and down the hall, we creaked and squeaked all the way there… It was
CLASSIC! We felt like we were in one of those old western movies! When we got to our room, we were delighted to see that there were no
phones, contributing even more to our back in time feel. We were told that our shared restroom was down the hall (there are two suites @
about $60 with their own, but come on! where is your sense of adventure!) and when we got there, we were delighted to find an old clawfoot tub
and those hot/cold two fixture fausets!

I think the best part of our stay was when we found the guest book in our nightstand. In it we read all the stories of past visitors and how they
encountered ghosts at night 🙂 All of this swept me away and I had vivid dreams of ghosts walking in the hallway woke up in the middle of the
night with my heart pounding! It was terror-ific!!!

We loved our stay and plan on going back soon, If you go, be sure to eat downstairs in the restaurant, it’s inexpensive and the food was great!


…….A mysterious face painted on the bar room floor of the historic Western Hotel’s saloon.

Signs of Spring on Main Street

IMG_20150327_174411 IMG_20150327_174529

Original Ore Tram Car From Sutton Mill at Bear Creeks Falls Circa 1926

Across Bear Creek Falls are the remains of Sutton Mill. It was built by Jim and Bill Slick in 1926 and had a 100-ton capacity. The mill was mostly destroyed by fire in 1892. The mine itself is across the canyon at an altitude of 10,595 feet and was connected to the mill by a 2,700-foot aerial tramway. Other access to the mine was from Mineral Farm off the Camp Bird Road. The mine had four working levels with most work done in teh 1920’s out of the Barber Tunnel, which was the one connected to the mill. The mine produced pyrite, lead, copper, silver and some gold and has been worked off and on by several groups.


The Pickled Skull Mystery

The Pickled Skull Mystery

A half-dozen Texas Rangers got wind of a rich gold strike in South Park in 1863. This prompted the Rangers to ride north to check things over. Their destination was the new Colorado mining camp of Montgomery, located at the foot of Hoosier Pass and at the headwaters of the South Platte River. Montgomery had already hit its peak by this time and became the largest community in the entire South Park region.

One evening, the Rangers decided to explore the foothills. During their ride, they spotted an encampment of Ute Indians belonging to Chief Colorow. Low on rations, the Texans boldly rode into the Indian camp. Colorow had mixed feelings about the white men but decided to help the Rangers by giving them some fresh meat and assigning them a place to camp.

The Rangers took note of the Indian ponies. During a dinner of fresh antelope steaks provided by the Indians, the Rangers discussed the question of stealing some of the ponies.

At dawn, Colorow’s braves got ready to organize a hunting party. Boys were sent to find the swiftest mounts from the herd and quickly discovered that a dozen of their best ponies were missing. Their Texan guests were also gone, and the ashes of their campfire were nearly cold.

The hunting part quickly switched to war paint and took after the Texan horse thieves. The trail led past Fairplay and into heavy timber. The Rangers knew that the Indians would follow and took a circuitous route back toward Montgomery. The Indians were excellent trackers and soon caught up with the ungrateful Rangers. The two parties fought in a gulch near Mount Silver Heels.

Little is known about the battle. One of the Rangers died in the conflict, and his name was listed only as “John Smith.”  The Indians stripped “John Smith” of his clothes but left his scalp. No trace was found of the other Rangers, and it is presumed they escaped.

Doc Bailey of Montgomery was a jovial physician, but most of his practice was confined to staggering between one of the town’s saloons and his cabin. He owned a drugstore and a shoe store in Montgomery. He was also an avid hunter. A few days after the Ute-Ranger battle, Bailey was hunting along the base of Mount Silver Heels when he suddenly brought his horse to a stop. He could see a white object stretched out on the side of a rock, and it looked human. He rode over to the still form just as the others in his party arrived. Dismounting, Bailey drew his hunting knife and tested its edge on his thumb. He remarked to his friends that he had always wanted a human head to dissect and study. Much to the horror of his companions, he sawed off the head of “John Smith,” leaving the rest of the corpse to rot.

After he arrived back at his office, Doc Bailey got out a large pickle jar and submerged his prize trophy in the pickling solution. So that all could see his prize possession, he placed the head in this office window. Needless to say, those passing by found the sidge of the head in a pickle jar repulsive. It wasn’t long before some citizen stole the head, placed it in a gunny sack and dropped it into an abandoned mine shaft.

Long after “John Smith: and the story of the battle between the Rangers and the Ute Indians was forgotten, two miners purchased an old claim near the ghost town of Montgomery. The men pumped the water out of the shaft and began to clean out the debris to begin mining operations. While shoveling out the mud, one of them hit something round that was covered with rotting cloth. With the mud and cloth removed, the object clearly was a human skull. The discovery was a mystery; the abandoned shaft yielded no bones. Fortunately, an old-timer remembered the story of Doc Bailey and solved the pickled skull mystery.

grinning skull

“The lightning flashes through my skull; mine eyeballs ache and ache; my whole beaten brain seems as beheaded, and rolling on some stunning ground.” -Herman Melville

Chief Ouray – A Man of Peace

Ute Chief Ouray-275

“We do not want to sell a foot of our land that is the opinion of our people. The whites can go and take the land and come out again. We do not want them to build houses here.”


Born near Taos, New Mexico, about 1833, Ouray would grow up to become the leader of the Uncompahgre band of the Ute tribe and known as a man of peace.

According to oral history passed down by Ute elders, he was born on a gloriously clear night when a magnificent display of meteor showers streaked across the black winter sky. The elders believed it was a sign; a message from above of good things to happen. The Utes were created by Sinawav  (the Creator) and were placed in the mountains.  The Sinawav told the people they would be few in number but, they would be strong warriors, and protectors of their lands.

Ouray’s mother was a member of the Uncompahgre band of Ute and his father, Guera Murah, was half Jicarilla Apache. Ouray grew up in the Taos area where Spanish and English were the prevalent languages and would not learn to speak the Ute and Apache languages until later in life. He spent most of his youth working for Mexican sheepherders and fighting against rival Sioux and Kiowa.

When he was about 18 Ouray traveled into Colorado, and became a member of the Tabeguache Ute band, where his father, despite his Apache heritage, had become the leader. In 1859, he married a Tabequache Ute maiden by the name of Chipeta, who was actually a Kiowa Apache who had been adopted by the Ute as a child.

When his father died in 1860, Ouray became chief of the Ute Indians, including the Uncompahgre band. In Ouray’s role as chief, he was considered one of the Utes’ greatest leaders with strong characteristics of patience and diplomacy. He was often referred to as “The White Man’s Friend,” as he sought to work with the white settlers and the government.

In October, 1863, Ouray negotiated a treaty in which the Tabeguache Ute were assigned a reservation, but, unfortunately for the Utes, the vast majority of their lands east of the Continental United States, ended up in government hands. In 1868, he traveled to Washington, D.C. to represent his people and was appointed “head chief of the Utes” by the government. A new treaty created reservation lands in Colorado for the Tabeguache, Moache, Capote, Wiminuche, Yampa, Grand River, and Uinta, but again, more land was relinquished.

Though Ouray always tried to secure the best possible conditions for his people while still remaining friendly to the whites, each subsequent treaty brought increasing losses of land for the Utes. For many Utes building resentments began to form and a number of attempts were made on Ouray’s life. However, he survived and maintained his conciliatory attitude.

With the discovery of gold in Colorado, conditions for the Ute changed dramatically as  gold and then silver miners flocked upon their lands. As a result, relations between the Indians and the whites deteriorated. In the spring of 1878, Nathan Meeker assumed the role of Indian Agent at the White River Agency. “Dictatorial” in his brand of management, Meeker undiplomatically tried to force the Ute to farm, raise stock, discontinue their pony racing and hunting forays, and send their children to school. Meeker, determined to convert the Ute from primitive savages to hard-working, God-fearing farmers, persisted in forcing his reforms, even when warned that he was making the Utes furious. But Meeker ignored the warnings and ordered that a horse racing track be plowed under to convert to farmland. He also suggested to one that there were too many horses, and that they would have to kill some of them. The Ute, whose land Meeker was plowing under, resisted and a fist-fight occurred.

As a result, Meeker wired for military assistance, claiming that he had been assaulted by the Ute man, driven from his home, and severely injured. The government responded by sending 200 troops led by Major T.T. Thornburgh.

However, perceiving this action as an “act of war,” the Utes revolted. On September 29, 1879, before the troops arrived, the Indians attacked the agency, burned the buildings, and killed Meeker and nine of his employees. The incident is known as the Meeker Massacre. Meeker’s wife, daughter, and another girl were held as captives for 23 days. After the massacre, relief columns from Forts Fred Steele and D. A. Russell, Wyoming, defeated the Utes in the Battle of Milk Creek, Colorado, and ended the uprising.

Though Ouray had sent orders to the Ute band involved in the attacks to stop, his orders were ignored. Afterwards, he did his best to keep the peace but it was too late. Area settlers demanded the Utes’ removal. One headline in the October 30, 1879 issue of Harpers Weekly screamed “The Utes Must Go.”

Ouray found himself explaining to his people why they must leave their land. On March 6, 1880, the Southern Ute and the Uncompahgre acknowledged an agreement to settle respectively on La Plata River and on the Grand near the mouth of the Gunnison, while the White River Ute agreed to move to the Uinta reservation in Utah.

In the summer of 1880, Ouray and his wife, Chipeta, journeyed to the Southern Ute agency at Ignacio with the intent to negotiate once again with the white man. Though Ouray completed the journey, he was a sick man by the time he arrived. He died of Brights Disease on August 24, 1880.

He was buried secretly at Ignacio. Chief Ouray’s obituary in The Denver Tribune read:

“In the death of Ouray, one of the historical characters passes away. He has figured for many years as the greatest Indian of his time, and during his life has figured quite prominently. Ouray is in many respects…a remarkable Indian…pure instincts and keen perception. A friend to the white man and protector to the Indians alike.”

Forty-five years later, Ouray was re-interred in the cemetery southeast of the White River Agency and the grave appropriately marked.


His wife, Chipeta, continued to work for the Utes. When sufficient agricultural land was not found for the Uncompahgre in southern Colorado, a new reservation was established in 1882. Chipeta then relocated to the reservation in northeast Utah, where she was highly valued and always sat in on the chief’s meetings. She passed away in 1924.


© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated December, 2012.

The Thirteen Strangest Abandoned Mines In Colorado


You may not find a lot of gold in these towns anymore, but you’ll find plenty of abandoned spots.