W. S. Stratton is the most widely written-up mining millionaire in the land today. He has been a multi-millionaire but four years, but in that time more gallons of printer's ink and more reams of paper have been used on him than on any other mine owner the West has produced in half a century.
And in that time possibly more Simon pure nonsense has been ground out about him than any other mortal of the land claiming distinction because of his great wealth. The romance of his getting rich has contributed not a little to this unfortunate state of affairs.
But herewith it is purposed to give a "true and faithful story'' of who the carpenter of Hoosier state is and how he came to be the wealthiest mining man Colorado has ever produced. The facts given in this connection have been derived entirely from his personal biography and are trustworthy.
Winfield Scott Stratton was the only boy in a family of nine, and was born July 22d, 1848. He is, therefore, only 54 years of age, although today he looks easily 10 years older. Learning his trade as a carpenter in his native town, Jeffersonville, Indiana, he left home before attaining his majority and visited a married sister living in Eddyville, Iowa, where he remained six months, returning at the end of that period to his home. But the restless youth could not keep still, for the fever for gold mining had already taken hold on him. The ignuus fatuus forthwith led him across the country until the carpenter lad landed at the base of Pike's Peak.
That was in the summer of 1872, when the new town of Colorado Springs was nothing more than a way station on the map of the Denver & Rio Grande railroad. The young carpenter immediately set to work and in two years had acquired $3,000 and was, moreover, the proprietor of his own shop. During the winter of 1874, a mining man from the San Juan arrived in Colorado Springs and brought some samples of the Yretaba mine. The ore looked so good that Stratton and some others purchased the mine, paying $15,000; his $3,000 securing a one-fifth interest. The following spring, the young mine owner, for such he was by this time, bought an outfit and footed it 300 miles to "see his mine."
The Yretaba proved a failure and an incident connected with that venture decided Mr. Stratton upon a plan of life which he has strictly adhered to and which, without doubt, has resulted in making him the first multi-millionaire of the State. His partners would not sell when Stratton wanted to, and that so disgusted him that he then and there resolved to go it alone. And he did forever after.
The story jumps 15 years and one finds the young man a poor carpenter plying his trade in Colorado Springs. The Cripple Creek District was just being talked of and Stratton tried his mining luck again. He went to the new district and staked a few claims. The scenes move rapidly.
One night it was the poor, worn-out prospector threading his way out of the camp towards the Springs with a few samples of rock. These Stratton assayed that night, but found only a trace of gold. That was July 3d, 1891. But the prospector could not get it out of his head that there was a mine in the dyke where he had broken the samples the day before. And he could not rest. It was the crisis of his life, but he did not know it. All he was aware of was a burning desire to seek the hills once more, stake a location and trust to luck. So the next morning - the Fourth of July, 1891 - saw the prospector rapidly pushing his way to the new gold fields.
When he reached the particular dyke from which he had taken the samples the day before, he proceeded to stake a claim, calling it Independence. A second he stakes out and calls it Washington. Then he stakes out the contiguous property and files his location papers. Having made the property legally his own, he took samples of the dyke matter, had them assayed and received returns of $380 a ton and $11 a ton. That first assay was the beginning of the Stratton's Independence mine, which has produced over $14,000,000 to date and is still shipping.
It is not proposed to review the history of the mine: that is already known. The owner sold out his property in April, 1898, to an English company for $10,000,000 which formed the broad base of his colossal fortune which today, according to private account, is conservatively computed to be $23,000,000 and is growing each year.
The Indiana carpenter is worth his millions, but through it all he has preserved a spirit of open-hearted congeniality that greets the hack-driver friend of his early days with as much cordiality as he would one of high station in life; yea, with far more freedom, as the multimillionaire, being much sought after, is quick to discern a motive and therefore prefers the companionship of those who cannot return his hospitality rather than accept the fawning attention of those seeking his acquaintance merely for personal ends.