Monthly Archives: June 2014

Greenhorn, Colorado

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article were first published in Backwoodsman Magazine May, 1997

The area known as Greenhorn Valley, located about twenty five miles south of Pueblo, is rich in history. Those familiar to the valley will recognize the towns of Rye and Colorado City, both of which serve as comfortable bedroom communities today. Formerly, Greenhorn Valley and the surrounding areas were also home to several other towns such as Crow, Graneros, Mustang, Lascar and Greenhorn. Of these, Greenhorn is the oldest, and by far the most interesting.

As early as 1824, travelers on the Santa Fe Trail rested in the little arroyo where the remains of Greenhorn exist today. There area was shady and sheltered, and Greenhorn Creek yielded fresh drinking water and sizable trout. As the area grew in popularity, fur trappers began using the camp regularly while Mexican farmers settled nearby.

In 1841, ex-fur trapper and “Medium of the Rockies” John Brown settled at the camp and ran a successful trading post there. The area quickly became known to travelers and settlers as Brown’s Camp. Largely due to Indian attacks which were occurring in New Mexico and Colorado Territories, Brown moved his family to California in 1849.

Following Brown’s departure, upwards of forty people still lived at Brown’s Camp. By the following year, mail coaches were passing through on a regular basis. This symbol of modernization was considered a wonderful asset by farmers, ranchers and trappers who spent months isolated from the outside world. To the Ute and Arapahoe Indians who had inhabited the area for generations, however, the coaches and Anglos were seen as an intrusion. The Natives reacted by accosting travelers and attacking settlers. In 1851 a man was killed by Indians at Brown’s Camp, and in 1852 some cattle were killed and horses stolen.

In 1854, conflicts between settlers and the Indians came to a peak. A Mexican trader was killed on nearby Apache Creek by Utes. Then an outbreak of chicken pox occurred among the Utes, who immediately suspected that goods traded to them at Fort Pueblo were purposely tainted. On Christmas day, the Utes attacked Fort Pueblo, killing several and taking hostages. Several refugees from the battle took shelter at Brown’s Camp. Two years later, the village was nearly abandoned except for the occasional traveler and explorers such as Kit Carson.

No one seemed interested in taking up where John Brown left off until 1866, when Alexander “Zan” Hicklin began a post office at the camp. The name of Brown’s Camp was changed to Greenhorn, an Anglo translation of Comanche Chief Cuerno Verde’s name. In 1779, Cuerno Verde had been killed by New Mexico Governor Juan Bautista de Anza near the camp. The new name was also given to a nearby mountain towering above the area.

By establishing a post office at Greenhorn, Alexander Hicklin hoped to claim ownership to Brown’s old camp. In actuality, Greenhorn was situated nearly a mile from Hicklin’s Ranch and was ultimately found to be outside of Hicklin’s property. More settlers came, and 35 families settled near Greenhorn during 1871 alone. The following year, George Sears came to Greenhorn Valley from Kansas. He began ranching Texas Longhorns and eventually opened a new store and hotel at Greenhorn. He called the hotel 30 Mile House, since it was 30 miles from Walsenburg, Pueblo and Gardner, respectively.

Sears’ Mercantile quickly became a social center. The second story of the 30 Mile House was home to an Odd Fellows Hall, which treated patrons to oyster suppers and dancing. The supper cost $2.50 and included dancing until sunrise. Some nights the crowds were so large that dancers had to take numbers.

Downstairs, Sears’ store offered a variety of provisions, including coffee, beans, rice, sugar, tea, peanuts, candy, cigars and chewing tobacco. Ranchers traded potatoes, bacon and lard for merchandise. Rope was kept in the basement and pulled through the holes in the floor as it was sold. Not only was the rope kept out of the way, it also retained moisture – important to Sears since he sold it by the pound.

In 1874, George Sears became postmaster of Greenhorn, a title he was to hold for the next twenty years. Following his appointment, Sears dug a well at Greenhorn. Its cold water served as a refreshing sight to weary travelers passing through Greenhorn. Folks as far away as Pueblo knew about the well and recommended it to their friends. Even after the larger town of Rye was established a few miles to the west, people still continued visiting Greenhorn and patronizing Sears’ Mercantile.

During the 1880’s, a drugstore appeared in Greenhorn, followed by a saloon, blacksmith, grain mill, lumber yard and wagonsmith. Greenhorn continued serving as an ideal rest area for the next three decades. George Sears retired as postmaster in 1894. In 1897 Sears’ son Robert became postmaster until 1901, and again from 1908 to 1911 when the Greenhorn post office closed for good.
All was not lost on this determined little town, however. In 1916 Rafael Fossceco and his family moved to Greenhorn Valley and purchased the land on which Greenhorn sat. The Fosscecos sought to restore Greenhorn to the pleasant stop it had formerly been. Sears’ store, which closed in 1904, was reopened. A garage and tourist cabins were built. Alven Fossceco, one of Rafael’s six sons, opened a zoo.

The Fossceco family lived upstairs in the 30 Mile House and changed its name to the Greenhorn Inn. Single rooms rented for $1.75 during the 1920’s. In 1934, a restaurant was built and called the Shady Greenhorn Cafe. Forty five cents bought a full dinner with all the fixings, including dessert. Throughout the early 1940’s, a favorite Sunday drive for residents from Pueblo to Trinidad often included Greenhorn.

In the mid-1940’s, Interstate 25 was built a mile east of Greenhorn. As fewer travelers stopped at Greenhorn, business slumped and cafe closed. By 1950, the community was used only as a quiet residence for the large Fossceco family. Two years later the Greenhorn Inn was torn down.

Today, most of the buildings of Greenhorn can still be seen just off Highway 165 near Colorado City. When last seen, worn billboards pointing the way to Walsenburg and Trinidad could still be seen above the high weeds on the dirt road running through town. The Fosscecos and their descendants continue to live on the land, which is private and requires permission to inspect the buildings. Use respect, and a visit to historic Greenhorn can be both pleasant and interesting.Image

The Shady Greenhorn Cafe in 1987.

Georgetown & Silver Plume, Colorado

c 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in Colorado Gambler Magazine


The famed Georgetown Loop, as seen in the 1800’s.

Georgetown (also once known as George’s Town), was called the “Silver Queen of the Rockies”. In about 1860, the fledgling mining camp was located next to another early camp known as Elizabethtown. The connection between the two was literally relative: Elizabethtown was named for Elizabeth Griffith; Georgetown was named for Elizabeth’s brother George. A third sibling, David Griffith, missed out.

Both Georgetown and Elizabethtown were combined during a public meeting in about 1864, when the growing city became simply known as Georgetown—Colorado’s first silver city. It is said George actually preferred Elizabethtown, and that his town lots were offered free to the first 10 “respectable women” to call Georgetown home. At the time, the town only sported four cabins. Clearly, however, the city wanted to build everything in high taste with plenty of class and culture.

By the mid-1860’s Georgetown was boasting a population of over 2000 residents, with the post office opening in June of 1866. Soon after, the prestigious McClellan House was built. Early Georgetown boasted every modern amenity required in a boomtown: brothels, churches, gambling halls, saloons, schools and shops. Four fire stations and even gardens were almost immediately in the works. Even today, gardens seem essential to Georgetown residents The town was officially incorporated in January of 1868. An opera house was built in 1869. Precious metals were mined from around the hillsides, netting $200 million dollars during its boom.

Georgetown kept striving for decency. The women of the town succeeded in turning Barne’s Saloon Hall into a Women’s Christian Temperance Union hall, and the County Courthouse supplied its jurors with real rocking chairs. Still, the town had to deal with the realities of any western mining town; the first resident of the cemetery was a hanged man. Georgetown also had its share of questionable characters. They included Mattie Silks, who would later become a reigning madam in Denver, as well as the eccentric and refined Louis Dupuy. An alleged army deserter in both France and America, Dupuy had left a long trail of woes, as well as his real name of Adlophe Francois Gerard, behind him. They said he was sued for plagiarism in New York.

Whatever his real story was, Dupuy was working as a miner in Georgetown by 1869. After being injured while saving another miner’s life, he was given money from the town fund for injured miners and opened a store which eventually grew into a lavish hotel. Dupuy was very selective about his guests. He refused to pay taxes and had little use for American “barbarians”, choosing instead to give them an education in fine dining, table manners and the art of civilized conversation. The hotel, later known as Hotel de Paris, eventually gained national recognition for its fine accommodations—including fine wine but no tavern—and is now a museum.

Homes, some of which seemed to hang off Georgetown’s hillsides, reminded travel writer Isabella Bird of a Swiss colony when she visited in 1873. A second opera house was installed in the Cushman Block in 1876. The depot came along in 1877, built along the Colorado Central Railroad. In 1880 the Union Pacific Railroad took over operations, followed by the Colorado & Southern in 1898. From Georgetown, Central City was accessed via the gold towns of Alice and Yankee Hill. Alice was the largest of the camps located along Fall River. Yankee Hill started in the early 1880’s and was named by northern sympathizers from the Civil War. It was also the mill site of the Gold Anchor Mine in 1905.

By 1880, Georgetown’s population was 4,000. Its prestigious mansions included one built by W.A. Hammill of the Pelican-Dives Mine at Silver Plume. In 1882 Jay Gould of the Colorado Central Railroad constructed the Georgetown Loop, a railroad to to Leadville, which proved very popular. Equally popular were upwards of 20 traveling theatrical attractions during the 1881—1882 season. A rousing and crowded performance by Madame Janauschek, however, proved to be to hard on the beams holding the Cushman opera house together and it was condemned.

By 1887, Georgetown’s population had soared to 3,301. Even after Louis Dupuy passed away in 1900, his Hotel de Paris continued to operate at the hands of his friend, Madame Sophie Galet. Theirs had been the most tempestuous of relationships, and despite frequent loud and heated arguments, there was clearly no one Dupuy would have rather left his hotel kingdom to.

Towns around Georgetown included the mining towns of Bakerville, the stagestop of Graymont that eventually turned railroad stop and later resort; another resort town called Green Lake; Lawson with its Six Mile House; Magnet with its Magnet Mine; Pomeroyville, Santiago, Silver Dale with its Upper Dale and Lower Dale, and Waldorf, site of the world’s highest steam railroad when the Argentine Central Railroad was completed in 1905. Sidneyville was a stop along that railroad.

Although most of those early towns are no more, one of the survivors lies just across today’s Interstate 70 from Georgetown. Established in 1870, Silver Plume quickly became a lively sister city to Georgetown with a population of 2000 miners and their families. Tall-tale tellers used to claim the town was named for politician James G. Blaine, who in the 1890’s was known as the “Plumed Knight”. Given its date of birth however, the name Silver Plume likely sprang like so many plume-like silver streaks from the rocks in the hills above town.

Silver Plume’s biggest dilemma of the 1870’s was when it was discovered that two mines, the Pelican and the Dives, were located on the same vein of silver. Lawsuits ensued. The Pelican eventually won, but upon departing the Dives employees absconded with six coffins filled with high grade ore and disguised as dead miners.

Other area mines produced such valuable minerals as gold, lead, zinc, copper and granite. There was a theater, two churches, a school and several stores at Silver Plume. When the railroad came in 1877, Silver Plume enjoyed even more success. The town finally incorporated in 1880. Immediately, such state of the art structures as the New Windsor Hotel, Ma Buckley’s House and a jailhouse arose. These buildings luckily survived an 1884 fire that consumed over 50 buildings in and around the business district.

Nearby suburbs such as Bakerville and Brownsville utilized Silver Plume as their main supply town. Brownsville in particular was subject to rock slides and avalanches, succumbing to a final slide in 1912. Silver Plume boasted 1,500 people in 1890.

Following the Silver Crash of 1893, both Georgetown and Silver Plume began their decline. Both the Colorado Southern and the Georgetown Loop stopped operations in 1939. The Loop was torn down in 1939, but reconstruction began in 1976. The project was completed in 1984 and reigns once more among Georgetown’s most popular attractions. Also, thanks to the efforts of Historic Georgetown Inc., Georgetown has suffered the least amount of destruction to its historic buildings when compared to its contemporaries. In February of 2006, concerned residents successfully nominated the Georgetown School, circa 1870’s, to Colorado Preservation Inc.’s Endangered Places List and set about raising funds to restore the neglected building.

Georgetown has retained every bit of its historic charm and is easily accessible from Interstate 70. Those who can’t get there can still see the town in three movies that were filmed there: Every Which Way But Loose (1978), The Christmas Gift starring John Denver (1986) and Phantoms (1998).