Apache Spirit Dancers / historic photograph
The Wild West, with its shootouts and Indian raids, avalanches, disease and lynchings, has enough gruesome and chilling tales to fill volume upon volume of scary books and to create dozens of ‘B’ rated horror films.
Founded in 1880, Durango, Colorado served the newly built Denver and Rio Grande Railroad and, as in any small, burgeoning hamlet in the West, there were many rather roguish types who chose to make this mining town their home.
For this reason, there is a whole compendium of gory tales from Durango that makes it a fascinating place to visit, particularly for Halloween. From legendary gun battles between the Stockton Gang and Simmons Gang to spontaneous court hearings and unsanctioned lynchings, Durango would have been a lawless place. Add to this a devastating fire in 1889 plus the Spanish Flu epidemic in the early part of the twentieth century and you have the background for a significant amount of hauntings.
A haunted graveyard
It is important to note that the land around Durango was exploited for its many resources. Mining companies sprung up to extract silver, gold, coal, iron, gypsum and marble from the surrounding land. Many became overnight millionaires, but most young men ended up toiling in the mines.
The La Plata Mountains
In the La Plata mountains, outside the town, mining was a dangerous business as one might well imagine. Not only were the mines themselves prone to cave-ins and dynamite blasts that went wrong but, the terrain was equally dangerous. Avalanches during the winter were frequent due to the configuration of the mountains. Mining camps were clustered at the bottom of a river valley and, the further up into the hills you climbed, the steeper the gradient became. It was particularly bad when the snow became impacted. It was then that avalanches were common, killing more people than all the shootouts and epidemics combined.
No trespassing – La Plata Mountains
Haunted Stater Hotel, Durango Credit Scott DW Smith
There are also places in and around the town that are known for paranormal activity and sightings. Harking back to Victorian times, the 19th century Stater Hotel, built directly on the original railroad line, is famous for this. From the adjacent alley, the ghostly figure of a man in a white shirt standing on the tracks has been seen. There is also an apparition of a railway engineer in period clothing seen near the hotel as well as a barmaid and young girl walking through the hotel lobby.
Another spooky place to visit is the cemetery of Animas City. Established in 1876, the town has now been absorbed into Durango. Interred here are the residents of the early settlement with the first burials reported to be in 1877. Many long-term La Plata County residents have ancestors laid to rest here plus there are also Civil War veterans, infamous local outlaws, and even young children.
The one-hour 15-minute tour begins at 6 pm ($15 pp). There is also a special two hour Halloween cemetery tour offered on the 27th and 31st October: www.ghostwalkdurango.com