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COLORADO

A General History Of Colorado

A GENERAL HISTORY OF THE FRONT RANGE REGION OF COLORADO


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By 1841, it was evident to almost everyone that the glory days of the trapper were over. In this year, Fort William was abandoned for a new fort (Fort John), located one mile upstream. (Fort John would become known as Fort Laramie in 1849.) The year 1841 was also marked by the death of Henry Fraeb, killed by Indians on Little Snake Creek, about 18 miles southwest of Bridger Peak. But worse still, for the first time since 1824, there was no rendezvous!

In the spring of 1842, a large group of Oregon emigrants led by Dr. Elijah White journeyed up the Platte River on their way west. While at Fort John they were fortunate to obtain the services of the veteran mountain man Thomas Fitzpatrick. Accompanying the emigrant train was Lansford W. Hastings. (Hastings would gain notoriety as the advocate of a so-called "shortcut" or "cut-off" through the Nevada desert to California; this cut-off was taken by the ill-fated Donner party in 1846.) 1842 would also see the first of John Charles Fremont's expeditions to the Far West. During his first trip west Fremont mapped the Platte River trail all the way to South Pass. His party of 24 included Kit Carson, Lucien Maxwell, Charles Preuss, and Randolph Benton (son of Thomas Hart Benton). The following year, Fremont returned to the mountains in search of an easy mountain pass through the Colorado Rockies. Fremont employed Kit Carson and Tom Fitzpatrick as guides but he was unable to find such a pass. The mountains had defeated him.

During the summer of 1843, a large party of hunters anBy 1841, it was evident to almost everyone that the glory days of the trapper were over. In this year, Fort William was abandoned for a new fort, located one mile upstream. Initially called Fort John, the structure would eventually become known as Fort Laramie. The year 1841 was also marked by the death of Henry Fraeb, killed by Indians on Little Snake Creek, about 18 miles southwest of Bridger Peak. But worse still, for the first time since 1824, there was no rendezvous!

In the spring of 1842, a large group of Oregon emigrants led by Dr. Elijah White journeyed up the Platte River on their way west. While at Fort John they were fortunate to obtain the services of the veteran mountain man Thomas Fitzpatrick. Accompanying the emigrant train was Lansford W. Hastings. (Hastings would gain notoriety as the advocate of a so-called "shortcut" or "cut-off" through the Nevada desert to California; this cut-off was taken by the ill-fated Donner party in 1846.) 1842 would also see the first of John Charles Fremont's expeditions to the Far West. During his first trip west Fremont mapped the Platte River trail all the way to South Pass. His party of 24 included Kit Carson, Lucien Maxwell, Charles Preuss, and Randolph Benton (son of Thomas Hart Benton). The following year, Fremont returned to the mountains in search of an easy mountain pass through the Colorado Rockies. Fremont employed Kit Carson and Tom Fitzpatrick as guides but he was unable to find such a pass. (It doesn't exist. There is no easy pass over the Colorado Rockies, as Fremont would eventually learn to his sorrow in 1848.)

During the summer of 1843, a large party of hunters and adventurers led by Sir William Drummond Stewart and William L. Sublette came up the Platte River trail to Fort John. This illustrious group included Jefferson Kennerly Clark (son of William Clark), his cousin William Clark Kennerly, Baptiste Charbonneau (son of Sacajawea), and Mathew C. Field. During their stay at Fort John, Jefferson K. Clark became quite a celebrity with the local Sioux Indians. The older warriors immediately recognized him as the son of the great "Red-Hair Chief" William Clark!

During the summer of 1844, increasing numbers of emigrants and pioneers made their way west over the Platte River trail. Several veteran mountain men were employed as guides for the emigrants, including Moses B. Harris, Elisha Stevens, Andrew W. Sublette, Joseph Reddeford Walker, James Clyman, and Caleb Greenwood. John C. Fremont was active that summer in North Park, near the headwaters of the North Platte River. Fremont called this wind-swept valley "New Park". (In his journals he also called it the "Cow Lodge", a variation of the name Chouteau and De Mun had given this area in 1816.) The year 1844 was also marked by the death of Ezekiel Williams, the first white man of record to journey along the Front Range of Colorado. (His first visit to the area was in the fall of 1810.)

In the summer of 1845, one of the giants of the American fur trade passed away. William L. Sublette died during the journey back east from the mountains. Also that summer, Colonel Stephen W. Kearny led the first detachment of U.S. Troops to Fort John. Many more would follow.

In the summer of 1846, the ill-fated Donner party arrived at Fort John. On their way west to Fort Bridger, the Donner party met the famous mountain man Joseph Reddeford Walker who warned them against taking short-cuts through the Nevada desert. That winter, they were trapped in the Sierra Nevadas. The following year, in 1847, the famous Mormon leader Brigham Young journeyed west to Utah, stopping at Fort John on the way. (He was there on June 2, 1847.) Fort John (soon to be known as Fort Laramie) would see thousands of Mormons follow him in the coming years.

In February of 1848, the tragic news of the death of Dr. Marcus Whitman and his wife reached Fort John. Joe Meek and George Ebberts were among the party that brought the news of the Cayuse uprising to the fort.

1849 was a pivotal year in the history of the northern Front Range region. The first party of 49'ers passed through Fort John on their way to the California gold fields. (The mining of precious metals would soon have a tremendous impact not only on the Front Range of Colorado, but on the entire West.) Later that summer, Fort John was purchased by the U.S. Government, thereby ending its days as a trading post. Fort John would be officially known as Fort Laramie from now on.

While the 49'ers were streaming toward California, the first tentative discoveries of gold in Colorado were occurring. William Gilpin noted the presence of gold at several localities along the Front Range including Cherry Creek, Pikes Peak, Clear Creek, the Cache la Poudre River, and South Park. In 1850, traces of gold were discovered on the South Platte by a party of prospectors led by William Chapman Ralston. In the following years, other isolated discoveries of gold would occur in Colorado, culminating in the great Pikes Peak Gold Rush of 1859.

In 1851, more than 10,000 Plains Indians converged on Fort Laramie to attend the great Laramie Peace Council. A number of government officials and frontiersmen were also present at the council including Thomas Fitzpatrick, Robert Campbell, D.D. Mitchell (Indian Commissioner), Jim Bridger, and Father Pierre-Jean DeSmet. Unfortunately, a mere 3 years would pass before a tragic incident would force a showdown with the Indians.

In the summer of 1854, a party of Mormon emigrants led by Hans Peter Olsen reported the theft of one of their cows to the authorities at Fort Laramie. Brevet 2nd Lieutenant John Lawrence Grattan promptly led a detachment of 29 soldiers to the Brule Sioux camp of chief Conquering Bear to arrest the thief. With the help of his drunken interpreter Lucien Auguste, Grattan managed to precipitate a fight in which he and his entire command were killed and mutilated. Three months later, on November 13, 1854, a war party of Sioux killed three employees of the Salt Lake mail stage, just east of Fort Laramie. The Indians managed to lug away $10,000 worth of gold in this raid! The following year, General William S. Harney led a punitive expedition to the Sioux village of chief Little Thunder. Nearly 100 Sioux were killed in the ensuing battle. In 1856, the Cheyenne Indians began to raid the Platte River trail with their allies, the Sioux. The Secretary of Utah Territory, A.W. Babbitt, lost his life during one of these raids.

In the spring of 1857, Colonel Edwin Vose Sumner led an expedition consisting of two columns of cavalry against the hostile Cheyennes. Major John Sedgwick's column, guided by the Delaware chief Fall Leaf, encountered a group of prospectors from the Cherry Creek area. The excited miners had found several rich placers of gold but Indians had forced them out of the area. (Fall Leaf brought some of the Cherry Creek gold back east to Lawrence, Kansas where he proudly showed it around.) The two military columns led by Sedgwick and Sumner rendezvoused on the South Platte River on July 5. On July 29, 1857, Sumner's command overtook the hostile Cheyennes on the Solomon River and defeated them. In this engagement, Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart was wounded. Meanwhile, a military detachment led by Captain Randolph B. Marcy had arrived at Fort Laramie. Marcy enlisted Jim Bridger, Tim Goodale, Jim Baker, and Mariano Medina as guides for his expedition through the Colorado Rockies.

In July of 1858, a group of prospectors led by William Green Russell became the first men of record to find placer gold in paying quantities. The Colorado Gold Rush was on! In September of that year, the Lawrence Party, guided by the Delaware chief Fall Leaf, discovered gold near the mouth of Cherry Creek. Suddenly, two communities sprang up almost overnight on the banks of Cherry Creek: St. Charles and Auraria. (St. Charles soon became Denver City.) News of the gold strike spread quickly. In the fall of 1858, Antoine Janis, Nick Janis, George A. Jackson, Oliver Schofield, Big Phil "The Cannibal" Gardner, Antoine Lebeau, and Jose Merrival headed south from Fort Laramie for the gold fields. Prospectors from Nebraska City worked their way up Boulder Canyon in search of color.

1859 was the year of the first big gold strikes in Colorado. In January of that year, George A. Jackson discovered rich placer deposits of gold on a sandbar near the junction of Clear Creek and Chicago Creek. That same month, gold was discovered near Gold Hill. On May 6, 1859, the Mother Lode of the Colorado Rockies was discovered on the north fork of Clear Creek by John Gregory. Mining camps and pioneer settlements sprang up near the gold diggings and all along the Front Range. Blackhawk, Gregory Point, Mountain City, Central City, and Nevadaville all sprouted up near John Gregory's strike. Golden City was founded by W.A.H. Loveland west of Denver City. And to the north, on the Cache la Poudre River, the little settlement originally known as Colona (and later as Laporte) was established by French traders. Antoine Janis (son of Antoine St. Charles Janis) was one of the founders of Colona.

By 1860, the mountains west of Denver were crawling with prospectors. In July of that year, the first private mint in Colorado was established in Denver City. Clark, Gruber, and Company began producing $10 gold pieces from the yellow metal pouring out of the mines. (The U.S. Government bought them out in 1863.) Denver City was certainly growing! One man who made Denver his home that year was Albert Gallatin Boone, the grandson of Daniel Boone. His home was a magnet for some of the mountain men who were still around. Boone's visitors from the old days included Kit Carson, Samuel Hawken, "Uncle Dick" Wootton, Jim Bridger, Ceran St. Vrain, and Jim Baker. On May 8, 1860, one of the more infamous characters in Colorado history arrived in Denver. John Milton Chivington would have a profound effect on future events.

On February 28, 1861, the Territory of Colorado was officially recognized by the U.S. Congress. One month later, on March 27, William Gilpin, the first governor of the new territory, arrived in Denver. William Gilpin was governor for barely one month when the Civil War broke out back east. In September of that year, Gilpin mustered in the First Colorado Volunteer Regiment.

In the spring of 1862, the Sioux Indians resumed their raids on the Platte River roads, attacking way stations all along the line. The segment of the road from Julesburg to the Sweetwater Bridge was especially hard hit. Joseph Alfred Slade ("Jack" Slade), division agent in charge of this section of the line, appealed for military aid. On May 30, reinforcements arrived at Fort Laramie. Colonel William O. Collins and his 18-year old son Caspar were among the soldiers who rode into Fort Laramie that day. (Camp Collins, established near Laporte in the summer of 1862, was named after William O. Collins.) One other item of interest occurred during the spring of 1862. In April, William Gilpin was replaced by John Evans as governor of the Territory.

In 1863, Colonel John M. Chivington was placed in charge of the military District of Colorado. This was the first of a sequence of events that would culminate in the famous Sand Creek Massacre. In April of 1864, Chivington's troops attacked and burned four Cheyenne villages, killing over 50 Indians. That spring, the Sioux and part of the Cheyenne nation went on the warpath. On June 11, 1864, a Cheyenne war party killed and horribly mutilated Nathan Hungate, his wife, and 2 children at the J.P. Wormer ranch, 30 miles from Denver. On August 7, another war party attached 3 wagon trains near Plum Creek Station, killing 13 men. On the same day, 6 men were killed at Summit Station, but the most devastating attack occurred at the home of William Eubanks, located near Oak Grove. A total of 10 people were killed at the Eubank farm and at nearby Kiowa Station. (The dead included Dora Eubanks who was found staked to the ground.) Lucinda Eubanks, Laura Roper, Isabelle Eubanks, Ambrose Eubanks, and an infant grandson, William Eubanks, were all captured by the Indians. (Laura, Isabelle, and Ambrose were released the following month.) But the stage was now set for the tragedy at Sand Creek.

Colonel John M. Chivington, the nemesis of the red man, eagerly took the field in the autumn of 1864. On November 29, 1864, Colonel Chivington's Third Colorado Regiment descended on the peaceful Cheyenne village of chief Black Kettle at Sand Creek. The attacking soldiers took few prisoners. Several prominent chiefs fell that day including White Antelope, Left Hand (a loyal and steadfast friend to the whites), and Yellow Wolf. Nearly 80% of chief Left Hand's Arapahos were wiped out. Black Kettle's and White Antelope's people sustained even higher casualties. Charley Bent (son of William Bent) was in the village during the battle, but was saved by Charles Autobee who concealed him from the soldiers. Jack Smith, the half-breed son of the John Simpson Smith (famous mountain man and Indian trader), was not so lucky. The enraged soldiers murdered him after the battle was over.

During the winter of 1864-1865, the Cheyenne Indians devastated the Platte River road in revenge for Sand Creek. In January of 1865, a war party of Cheyennes actually sacked the town of Julesburg! The following month, the Cheyennes returned to Julesburg and burned the town to the ground.

On May 18, 1865, after 9 months of captivity, Lucinda Eubanks was brought into Fort Laramie by two Oglala Sioux Indians. Meanwhile, General Patrick Edward Connor was planning a military expedition into the heart of Sioux country - the Powder River region. This expedition was guided by the famous mountain man Jim Bridger and consisted of 730 soldiers, 145 Indian auxiliaries, and nearly 200 teamsters. Bridger was assisted in his duties by Nick Janis, James Daugherty, Michael Bouyer, John Resha, Antoine LeDue, and James Bordeau. Four days before Connor's departure from Fort Laramie, word was received of the death of Lieutenant Caspar Collins (son of Colonel William O. Collins) at Platte Bridge. Lieutenant Collins was a well-liked young officer whose passing was deeply mourned by all who knew him. On July 30, 1865, Connor's expedition headed north to the Powder River.

Throughout the summer of 1865, hostile bands of Indians swarmed over the Platte River road and the northern Front Range. On July 31, several war parties of Cheyennes raided the Rock Creek area, killing one woman and capturing her two daughters. In August, a band of Sioux raided along the Front Range, attacking Mariano Medina's ranch on Big Thompson Creek and the settlements along St. Vrain's Creek.

In the spring of 1866, the renowned Brule chief Spotted Tail appeared in Fort Laramie with the body of his daughter, Ahoappa. The last request of this beautiful Brule princess was to be buried at Fort Laramie, overlooking the parade ground where she used to sit and watch the soldiers drill. In this tragic tale of unrequited love, the princess Ahoappa had turned down countless Indian suitors. (Her father had once been offered 200 horses for her hand!) Her desire was to be the wife of an officer, but alas, she sickened and died during the winter of 1865-1866 while out on the plains. She was laid to rest in a coffin overlooking the parade ground, as she requested. The Brules were always sensitive about their burial grounds, but the Indians were particularly vigilant after Ahoappa's death that summer. In his rambling account of his pioneer days near Fort Laramie during the summer of 1866, John Bratt nearly lost his life when he was caught by the Brules in their burial grounds.

Later that summer, a peace conference was held at Fort Laramie with the hostile Sioux and Cheyennes. When the Oglala chief Red Cloud walked out of the conference, the soldiers must have known that they would again be fighting the Sioux. Unfortunately, they were right. On December 24, 1866, John "Portugee" Phillips arrived at Fort Laramie with the tragic news of the Fetterman Massacre at the hands of the Sioux. Phillips had ridden his faithful horse to death to bring the news to Fort Laramie. (The animal dropped dead on the parade ground after running 235 miles through the snow!)

The Sioux and Cheyennes continued to raid the Platte River road throughout the summer of 1867. In September of 1868, the famous Cheyenne chief Roman Nose was killed near Beecher's Island, on the Arikaree River, while leading a charge against a group of Army scouts. 1868 also marked the end of Jim Bridger's career in the mountains. The "Old Plainsman" was nearly blind now and the mountains were becoming crowded. Bridger moved back east to Kansas City where he died on July 17, 1881.

In the summer of 1869, the last of the hostile Indian bands were finally driven from the plains of eastern Colorado. At Summit Springs, the Cheyenne village of the famous chief Tall Bull was destroyed by the soldiers. That winter, the great Caribou silver lode was discovered in Boulder County. This new strike caused a flurry of excitement throughout Colorado. It seemed that Colorado was a silver state also! Prospectors poured over the mountains in search of silver ore.

In 1870, the railroad came to Denver. Actually, two railroads came: the Denver Pacific (from Cheyenne, Wyoming) and the Kansas Pacific (from Kansas City, Missouri). Colorado was now linked to the cities of the east. Also that year, Robert Campbell returned to Fort Laramie to negotiate with the Sioux under Red Cloud. (Campbell's first visit to the mountains was in the spring of 1826. He journeyed west, as part of William H. Ashley's last fur-trading expedition to the Rockies.)

The 1870's were marked by successive silver strikes in the mountains west of Denver. This was Colorado's Silver Age. On August 1, 1876, Colorado became the Centennial State. The following year, extremely rich silver ore was discovered at Leadville. The Leadville ore was actually silver-bearing lead carbonate (cerussite). This discovery produced a new wave of prospecting as the so-called "carbonate craze" swept Colorado. Prospectors were now looking for limestones and marbles in contact with igneous intrusions.

In June of 1876, the remains of the Sioux princess Ahoappa were moved to the Brule agency by her father. Her vigil at Fort Laramie was over.

By 1879, the frontier had receded from the Front Range region. Fort Laramie had already begun to fade as a frontier post as the Indian wars moved north. 1879 was also marked by the death of Robert Campbell in St. Louis, Missouri. Campbell was one of the original proprietors of old Fort William - he and William Sublette established the fort in 1834.

The decade of the 1880's witnessed the closing of the frontier throughout most of Colorado. During this decade, the mining industry continued to produce a stream of precious metals from the Colorado Mineral Belt. Successive discoveries of gold and silver had fueled the economy of Colorado since 1859, but the year 1890 would see the greatest strike of all. In September of that year, Bob Womack discovered extremely rich gold ore at Cripple Creek, near the southern terminus of the Front Range. Cripple Creek was the last of the great gold camps. The total output of precious metal from the Cripple Creek deposits eventually exceeded that of the Comstock Lode in Nevada. By the turn of the century, the Cripple Creek mines were furnishing 25% of the total national production of gold. The year 1890 also witnessed the end of Fort Laramie as a military post. The old fort was officially abandoned on April 20, 1890, ending 41 years of service. The adventuresome days of the "Old West" were now over.

 
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