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Creede CO 1918 Mary Elting Folsom 1017 insetThe silver mining town of Creede, Colorado in 1918; (inset) Creede resident Mary Elting Folsom in 1017 

Creede, Colorado and World War I—A Knitter’s Tale 

By Robert Moll
via the History Colorado web site 

“Grandma, do you know how to knit?”

It was the summer of 2000 and eleven-year-old Lizzie, a beginning knitter, hoped she’d found a mentor—her ninety-four-year-old grandmother, Mary Elting Folsom. Lizzie’s question took Mary back to 1917, several months after the US entered World War I.

"Yes, Lizzie, I do know how to knit. I learned during the summer of 1917, when I was eleven. Surprisingly, my teacher was a British army recruiter who had come to my home town of Creede, Colorado."

Located high in the San Juan mountains of southern Colorado, Creede was a silver mining town when Mary was born in 1906. Silver had been discovered there in 1889, just before the US Congress passed the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. This legislation required the US Treasury to make substantial monthly purchases of silver, for which it issued special silver-backed paper currency. The price of the metal quickly shot up, and in a matter of months Creede became one of North America’s wildest mining camps. The silver craze attracted more than ten thousand prospectors, miners, and adventurers, who took up residence in tent cities that ringed the town.

Legendary figures of the Wild West were among the town’s new inhabitants. Bat Masterson turned up, not as a lawman but as a saloon keeper. Bob Ford, killer of Jesse James in Missouri in 1882, also came, only to be gunned down himself in his own saloon in 1892. Swindlers and gunfighters, gambling halls and brothels—that was Creede in its heyday. 

Then, in 1893, an economic panic hit the country and people began exchanging their new silver-backed paper currency for gold coins. Fearing a run on its gold reserves, the US Treasury stopped buying silver altogether. The price of the metal fell dramatically, ending Creede’s three year run as a silver boomtown. Work continued at the largest mines, but the population of the town soon fell to about a thousand. Still, Creede’s early rowdiness remained a part of town life through the time of the First World War.

In the midst of Creede’s roughness, Mary grew up in a respectable middle-class family. Her father was a storekeeper who sold hay and grain for the town’s horses and mules. Her mother was a former schoolteacher who gave Mary a proper upbringing. When Mary asked why the women standing in front of a house down the street were wearing kimonos, her mother answered sharply, “You’re too young to know.” Years later she realized that the establishment had been a brothel. In summer the family retreated from rough-and-tumble Creede to Antler’s Park, a former dude ranch they owned west of town.

Read the entire article on the History Colorado web site.

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