March 1, 2010

Soapy Smith and the Gillette, Colorado bullfight.

August 24-26, 1895 promoter Joe Wolfe held the very first bullfight held on U.S soil. The location was Gillette, Colorado; just down the mountain from Cripple Creek it was the equivalent of gambling haven Las Vegas, Nevada. According to sketchy records Soapy Smith made a deal with Joe Wolfe to operate the gambling concession just outside the bullfighting arena built for the 3-day event. The above photograph does show a large tent outside the ring big enough for a makeshift saloon and casino.

March 19, 1896 Soapy was again in Gillette where he was arrested on an unspecified charge. He stayed at in the town at least 10 days but it is unknown if he was there a free man or incarcerated.

The above pictures tells some of the history of the bullfight along with a sample of the poster Wolfe used to advertise the event, an event ticket a newspaper account from the Rocky Mountain News and some photographs of the actual bullfight. The history of the bullfight is also depicted in Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel. There is no record of Soapy’s adventure there so there is little to report new. What I did want to share was a few of the interesting photographs of Gillette and the bullfight, then and now; now being my trip to the site in 1985.

(Click image to enlarge)
Yesterday and today

Author, historian and curator of the Cripple Creek museum, Leland Feitz took me on a private tour of the Gillette town site. Having Mr. Feitz as my guide was special as he authored Soapy Smith’s Creede [date?] a great little booklet about Soapy’s time in Creede, Colorado.

Mr. Feitz showed me Gillette at ground level and then took me up the hillside so that I could see the outline of the racetrack from above. On the ground level you really can’t see much but everything seems to pop out at you when looking down upon it all.

There is very little left in Gillette but some foundations. The town was built in a flood zone and within a few decades even the bank vault was washed away.

The two photos above show the bank vault as it looked in the 1950s and what is left of it today.

pp. 389-90, 408.



  1. Do you know anything about the old ski slope near Gillette?

  2. Hello, Margaret.
    Sorry, I never heard or read anything pertaining to skiing in Gillette.

  3. Good afternoon, Mrs. Ellis,
    Do you know who I could contact to get permission to metal detect on the land in and around the ghost town of Gillette. See my father-in-law owns the Sam Altman house built in 1900 in Cripple Creek (In the book Cripple Creek:City of Influence by Brian Levine, Historic Preservation Director City of Cripple Creek it's 106 Porphyry pg 105 on the driving tour shown as #8.) and we love to find things for their museum. Or the land owner's or if they let us keep what we find it is all up to them. We also rockhound and gold pan, busy little beavers.LOL

    I thank you for you help.

    Tracey McGinnis

  4. OH HELL!!!!!
    Looks like I can't read worth a damm. Sorry Jeff, I meant to address this to you but my mom called and them my hubby, so so SORRY.


  5. How do I find the historic town of Gillette. Do you hace coordinates or just knowhow to get there. Im familiar with the area.


    1. Hi, Daniel.

      Sorry for the delay in responding, I was away on vacation, in Colorado of all places.

      It was in 1985 when I was taken to Gillette by author/historian, Leland Feitz. I do not know the coordinates, but it is close to Cripple Creek and surely the historical society would be able to tell you what you need to know. I wish I could be of better assistance.

      - Jeff Smith

  6. Love this article!
    We are currently neighbors to this site. So much fun learning exactly where the town stood. Lots of ground squirrels call the area home now. Have often observed coyote hunting the remains of Gillette.
    Awesome job on the images, keeps the curious from wandering into places they shouldn't. Enjoyed learning from your adventure in this ghost town, thanks for sharing!!


Thank you for leaving your comment and/or question on my blog. I always read, and will answer all questions left here. Please know that they are greatly appreciated. -Jeff Smith