Even though Tin Cup once boasted a reputation as the “Wickedest town in the Gunnison country,” its origins were innocent enough. In 1859 several prospectors from the Leadville area clandestinely followed a group of Ute Indians across Red Mountain Pass. While pausing for the night, the prospectors’ horses wandered off along Willow Creek. One prospector, upon finding the horses, went to fetch water. While dipping his tin cup into the creek, he noticed some color and scooped up the gravel to show his companions. They returned the following March to stake their claims.
The Civil War disrupted their work, but in 1878, nearly twenty years later, the lode called the Gold Cup Mine was finally established. Word traveled quickly back to Denver, and the rush was on. Tin Cup grew steadily from 1879 to 1910. By 1882 it had 3,000 residents and twenty saloons.
The town population declined when the mines were exhausted. The post office closed in 1918. Tin Cup today isn’t too different from the Tin Cup of 1918. Almost all the cabins and structures in town are original. Most buildings in Tin Cup are native pine log cabins chinked with local grey clay.
Despite Tin Cup’s harsh winters, many of its habitations remained and there were semipermanent homes to people who hunt and fish. Around the turn of the century there was said to be about 2000 people here and shortly after that the population decreased. Now there are only ruins and a popular recreation area. Today, about 75 people live in Tin Cup, but only in the summer.