Category Archives: Colorado History

Thanksgiving in Frontier Arizona

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in the Frontier Gazette

What was Thanksgiving in pioneer Arizona like? In many ways, the tradition and overall ambience has changed very little—except, imagine having to butcher your own turkey. Stewing your own cranberries. Baking pies and dinner rolls from scratch. Cooking on a wood-burning stove. Hand-washing the dishes. This was very much a part of Arizona’s Thanksgivings of old.

President Abraham Lincoln signed the Organic Act to form Arizona Territory in February of 1863. Eight months later, he officially designated Thanksgiving an official holiday. Newcomers to Arizona were only too glad to give thanks in their new, albeit primitive, homes. Although the hard work involved to make any large meal was a part of every day life, the workload doubled at Thanksgiving.

The menu from a 1905 issue of Harper’s Bazaar gives much insight into details of a proper Thanksgiving dinner. The courses consisted of “Oysters on the half-shell with cocktail in pepper shells; Radishes, celery, salted nuts; Clear consommé with tapioca; Filet of flounder with pimentos and olives; dressed cucumbers; Roast turkey; cranberry jelly in small molds; creamed chestnuts; glazed sweet-potato; Cider frappé in turkey sherbet-cups; Quail in bread croustades; dressed lettuce; Blazing mince pie; Cheese with almonds; wafers; Angel parfait in glasses; small cakes; coffee.”

As the popularity of Thanksgiving grew during the 1860’s, a number of church cookbooks, ladies’ clubs and professional cooks offered endless numbers of enticing recipes. Amongst the earliest cookbooks was Isabella Mary Beeton’s 1861 Book of Household Management, which favored cooking a “modest” turkey for better flavor. Ms. Beeton recommended butchering the bird and letting it hang for four to eight days, depending on the weather, before dressing it. The required ingredients were one “middling-sized” turkey, white paper, forcemeat (an early term for dressing with meat), flour and butter. The recipe read in part, “Carefully pluck the bird, singe it with white paper, and wipe it thoroughly with a cloth; draw it, preserve the liver and gizzard, and be particular not to break the gall-bag, as no washing will remove the bitter taste it imparts where it once touches.”

More instructions followed, including “flattening the breastbone to make it look plump.” When stuffed and sewn, a “sheet of buttered paper” was fastened to the breast before the bird was put “down to a bright fire, at some little distance at first (afterwards draw it nearer).” The recipe cautioned to “keep it well basted the whole of the time it is cooking.” Gravy was made by dredging the turkey with flour, adding butter and basting with it during the last fifteen minutes.

In time, traditional bread stuffing became a favored alternative to forcemeat. An 1894 edition of the Coconino Weekly Sun offered a fairly simple recipe: “Prepare a dressing of bread crumbs, mixed with butter, pepper, salt, thyme and wet with hot water or milk. Add the beaten yolks of two eggs. Mince a dozen oysters and stir into the dressing, and, if you are partial to the taste, wet the bread crumbs with the oyster liquor.”

As the Victorian era arrived, Thanksgiving Pudding became a favorite dish. The instructions from an 1880 recipe were to the point: “Pound 20 crackers fine, add 5 cups milk and let swell. Beat well 14 eggs. Pint sugar. Cup molasses. 2 small nutmegs. 2 TSP ground clove. 3 ground cinnamon. 2 TSP salt. 1/2 TSP soda. Add to crackers. Finally add pint of raisins. Makes two puddings.”

Other dishes came and went, depending on what was most popular at the time. A staple dating to the first Thanksgiving dinner that has never gone away, however, is the pumpkin pie. A 1927 recipe offered simple, from-scratch ingredients and instructions that can still be followed today:

1 cup cooked pumpkin, 2 egg yolks or 1 egg, 1/3 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, 1 cup milk. Mix ingredients and pour into unbaked crust. Bake in a hot oven (450 degrees) for 10 minutes. Then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake until custard is done. Serve with whipped cream.

No matter the recipe, the primitive pioneers of Arizona were thankful for their Thanksgiving dinners, and especially to the many women who toiled in kitchen to make the tastiest meals possible. And a bit of humor never hurt either, as illustrated in this 1895 poem entitled “Mother Gets the Neck”:

“The sage may read the heaven’s tale

But can he this explain;

Why does she choose that bony part

And let the rest remain!

Aye, roasted, fried it is the same,

She loves to sit and peck

At the curved, tidgy meatless thing:

A turkey’s crinkly neck.”

High Altitude Adventures with Corydon Rose

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article first appeared in Colorado Central magazine.

Fifteen miles from Lake City, Colorado, high up along Engineer’s Pass, lie the ruins of a dream held by one man. His name was Corydon Rose, and today he is remembered as the courteous host at his namesake mining camp, Rose’s Cabin.

Born in New York in 1835, Rose had made his way to Colorado by 1873 where he took up mining in the majestic San Juan Mountains. He chose a gorgeous high—mountain meadow, roughly halfway between Ouray and Lake City, to build his home. When entrepreneur Otto Mears built a toll road along Engineer’s Pass in 1877, Rose’s place officially became known as Rose’s Cabin, complete with a store, eating house and roughly 50 miners. A passing stage line guaranteed further success, since the coaches stopped at the camp to change horses.

Rose’s mining endeavors also paid off. By August, his “Blue, White and Gold” silver mine was assaying at $243 per ton. A month later, a travel correspondent for Lake City’s Silver World newspaper described the genteel hospitality extended to some proper ladies who spent the night at Rose’s Cabin:

“A small log cabin with dirt floor and side bunks partially filled with pine boughs was assigned to the ladies. The roof covered with dirt, a few stones in one corner in which was made a fire, nearby a beautiful, clear, cold rivulet furnished facilities for making their toilets; a couple of miners’ candles were substituted for gas, and the sides of the berths were utilized for seats. It was a novel sight to see a bevy of ladies accustomed to luxurious surroundings thus quartered for the night, and from the peals of laughter continually pouring forth, the novelty was evidently enjoyable in the extreme.”

Nearby, Merritt’s Restaurant contained a cookstove, a “rough plank” table and benches made from planks set on empty powder kegs. A “very creditable meal” was served in tin plates and cups. The writer and his friend slept in this cabin alongside five or six other men. Their accommodations consisted of “blankets spread on the bare, hard ground, with not even the intervention of pine boughs.”

In February 1878, Corydon Rose and his partner, Charlie Schafer, were inured in a rockslide. The two were at Schafer’s cabin at the Moltke lode when they heard the slide roaring down the hill. The men “attempted to escape but were caught in it and carried down the mountain and badly hurt,” reported the Silver World. Rose especially was “pretty effectually jammed up”, leading to speculation as to whether he would live. He  survived, but with permanent injuries.

Rose’s Cabin continued gaining popularity. In June, the Silver World reported that “the mines above Rose’s Cabin and in that vicinity are employing quite a force of men.” A post office opened later that year with Schafer as postmaster. Advertisements for the camp offered “meals and lodging, hay and grain, liquors and cigars”, as well as a “pack train of 60 animals”, and a second floor was added to Rose’s original cabin.

Rose typically stationed himself at the door, wearing a long black coat and a high hat. His signature greeting was “Howdy, stranger,” followed by an invitation to step inside where a bar ran along one side of the room. There also was a faro table, with a dealer wearing “short sleeves, plush waistcoat and long flowing tie”. Upstairs, twenty-two spindle beds, divided by partitions, awaited the weary traveler.

In 1880, Rose shared his roomy cabin with several others, including two women. One was Cornelia Porter, wife of silver miner William Porter. The other was Jennie Eastman, a divorcee with three children whose oldest son, 14—year—old Ira, worked as a teamster. Male residents of the camp included laborers, miners, carpenters and teamsters, as well as a blacksmith, saloonkeeper, butcher and druggist.

On his wedding night in 1884, Charles Schafer and his wife Augusta, still wearing her wedding gown, walked the whole fifteen miles from Lake City to Rose’s Cabin. When the census was taken in 1885, one of the couple’s lodgers was identified as mail carrier William Owens. Corydon Rose, meanwhile, was in Lake City and also worked as a mail carrier. Rose and Owens likely stayed at both Lake City and Rose’s Cabin as they transported mail back and forth.

That same year, George Crofutt’s Grip-Sack Guide of Colorado counted 120 people at Rose’s Cabin. For a dollar, the camp could be reached by hack during the summer months. In winter, Crofutt suggested reaching the camp via “winter saddle and snow—shoes.” Overall, Crofutt noted, there were “a great many mines and good ‘prospects’ which, with improved facilities, will make this one of the prosperous camps of the country.”

In spite of Crofutt’s prediction, the post office closed in 1887. Although about 50 miners continued living in the area, Corydon Rose was in Montrose by 1890. Meals were still available at Rose’s Cabin as late as 1895, when a correspondent for the North Platte Semi-Weekly Tribune recalled, “At noon we halted at Rose’s Cabin and had a good dinner—the finest in milk and butter.”

The Schafers remained at Rose’s Cabin as late as 1900. In time, larger mining conglomerates moved into the area. One of them, Golconda Mines Inc., proposed using Rose’s Cabin as their headquarters, and a telephone was installed connecting callers to Lake City. The new phone came in handy in September of 1900, when Jos. Nevin and Andy McLaughlin scuffled over a card game at Rose’s Cabin. “Nevins assaulted McLaughlin with an axe and was shot and killed by the latter,” reported the San Juan Prospector newspaper.

The news likely did not reach Corydon Rose, who had moved to Utah. His trail might have been lost but for a 1905 article in the Salt Lake City Herald. “Corydon Rose, an old gentleman who had been a county charge for the last two years, placed an advertisement in the Moab paper inquiring for his relatives in Kansas,” the paper explained. “The advertisement was answered by a nephew, who took the old gentleman back to Kansas with him. The young man stated that Mr. Rose was the owner of a farm of 160 acres within ten miles of Kansas City, which is worth $10,000.”

Rose’s brother, August, had apparently made significant improvements to the farm. Although August died in 1904, Rose’s nephew willingly took in his uncle. Rose lived out his life comfortably, dying in 1908. His gravestone bears the simple inscription, “Uncle Corydon”. Charles Schafer had also died, in 1907. He is buried in Lake City, where his tombstone identifies him as “owner of Rose’s Cabin on Henson Creek.” Today, not much is left of Rose’s Cabin but the ruins of a chimney and a couple of log walls.

The Legends Behind the Face on the Barroom Floor

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in the Colorado Gambler magazine.

“Say, boys, if you give me just another whiskey, I’ll be glad

And I’ll draw right here a picture of the face that drove me mad.

Give me that piece of chalk with which you mark the baseball score –

You shall see the lovely Madeline upon the barroom floor.”

The above poem by Hugh Antoine D’Arcy has been the subject of barroom stories for decades. It’s an intriguing tale, yet the truth behind it is one of the little-known tales of western folklore. The mysterious and alluring faces of various women began adorning tavern floors across the nation roughly a century ago. Each had their own story to tell, and Colorado is no exception to the ongoing folklore.

At one time, there were as many as eight portraits known to be painted on barroom floors across America. Each seemed to have been inspired largely D’Arcy’s poem, “The Face Upon the Floor.” The verse tells of love lost by a lonely artist. One day, the woman of his affections spots a portrait the artist is painting of another man. Ultimately, the artist loses his girl to his subject, takes to drink, and tells his sad tale in exchange for whiskey. The artist then renders a stunning likeness of his lost love on the tavern floor, only to fall dead upon the finished portrait.

Little is known about Hugh Antoine D’Arcy. He was born in France in 1843, and it is thought he composed his famous poem in about 1898. “The Face Upon the Floor” appears to be his most outstanding accomplishment, and he lived to see it put into both movie and song. The poem was first immortalized in 1914, when Charlie Chaplin adapted it for a film called The Face on the Bar Room Floor.

Most people believe that the famous face on the floor at Central City’s Teller House was the first, and only, portrait of a woman’s face to be painted on a wooden floor. But the first portrait to appear in Colorado history was actually recorded on the kitchen floor of a private residence in Cripple Creek. The picture is thought to have been painted in the teens or 1920’s, in a house once owned by saloon keeper Herman Metz. Charles Walker purchased the residence in 1906, who in turn hired Harry B. Denny to paint the house in 1910. Denny left his signature and identified himself as the house painter on a basement door. Did he paint the portrait? Certain old-timers of Cripple Creek say no, that Denny painted houses and nothing more. The true artist will likely never be known.

As the face on the floor at Cripple Creek was subsequently forgotten, D’Arcy was experiencing a second success from his poem. It came in the form of a movie by renowned director John Ford, who in 1923 made his own version of D’Arcy‘s poem, The Face on the Bar-Room Floor.

 D’Arcy passed away in 1925, but his poem lived on. In 1936, the poem’s fame was sealed by Herndon Davis, formerly an artist for the Denver Post. One of the stories goes that Davis was a carpenter at the Teller House in Central City. His employer was Anne Evans, daughter of former Colorado Governor John Evans. A falling out between the two resulted in Davis‘ termination. Before leaving, however, Davis painted a ladies’ portrait on the floor. The act allegedly infuriated Anne Evans, but not enough to inspire her to remove it. In fact, the identity behind the mysterious face became legend until Davis died in the 1960’s. Just before his death, Davis revealed that the face was none other than his wife, Edna.

The success of the Teller House face was not lost on the rest of Colorado. In about 1953, another face appeared at the Western Hotel in Ouray. Built in 1890, the Western offered hotel rooms until it closed in 1945. The bar and dining room were kept open, however. When the Western was purchased by a Mr. Shady, according to Ouray native Ed Gregory, the new owner decided that another face might boost tourism. Shady commissioned Ed‘s mother, Ruth Gregory, to paint the portrait.

Like the faces in Cripple Creek and Central City, Mrs. Gregory‘s portrait reveals an intriguing face with mischievous eyes and a bobbed hairstyle. The painting also appears “two-faced,” with the left side resembling a profile. The fuss over the faces in Ouray and Central City continued to grow. Antoine D’Arcy’s poem received more coverage from Franklyn MacCormack, beloved radio announcer at Chicago’s WGN. A recording exists today of MacCormack reading the poem to his listeners.

One last rendering of a face on the floor appeared in the early 1960’s, again in Cripple Creek. This last face was at what was once the Cottage Inn at 261 East Bennett. When owner Jack Schwab passed away in 1961, his ex-wife Evelyn took possession of The Cottage and commissioned none other than Dick Johnson, founder of the Cripple Creek District Museum, to paint a female face on the floor. Like Herndon Davis, Johnson preferred not to be identified as the artist until after his death in February 2004, and this is the first time he has officially been named as the man who painted the face. Today, Cripple Creek’s “Madeline” is preserved at the Cripple Creek District Museum.

In 1978, writer Henry Mollicone penned an opera version of D’Arcy’s poem. The Central City Opera Company swooped upon the play, presenting it with great success. The company performs near the Teller House, where Edna Davis’s portrait can still be seen on the floor in the barroom.  Most recently, the story of Madeline gained fame once more in 1997, when the late Teller County musician, T.O. Locker, produced his own music video, The Face on the Barroom Floor. Several Colorado locations were used in filming the video, including Cripple Creek and the Western Hotel. The video won several first place prizes through the Colorado Springs Film Commission and the Professional Film and Video Guild of Colorado.

Perhaps what is most intriguing about the mysterious faces on the floors of Colorado is their failure to become commercialized. In each case, D’Arcy’s story has been treated with utmost respect. In the end, the poignancy behind the story rings truer than any other tale one could tell. Indeed, it is the last stanza of D’Arcy’s poem that carries on the romance behind the obscure faces painted in his memory:

“Another drink, and with chalk in hand the vagabond begTo sketch a face that well might buy the soul of any man.

Then, as he placed another lock upon the shapely head,

With a fearful shriek, he leaped and fell across the picture—dead.”

Image: Today, the face on the floor at Central City’s Teller House remains as the best known painting by Herndon Davis.

Colorado City, Colorado: Gateway to the Goldfields

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article have appeared in the Colorado Gambler magazine and the Ute Pass Vacation Guide

In 1859, the rough and tumble town of Colorado City debuted as the portal to Ute Pass, next to what would eventully become Colorado Springs, Colorado. The pass was an ancient Indian trail skirting up the north base of Pikes Peak and on to the gold fields on the western side of the state. As  more travelers utilized the pass in their quest for gold, Colorado City grew in the form of stick‑built shacks and log cabins. Later, fine stone and brick structures would mingle with tidy wood bungalows and impressive Victorian homes.

Everything a prospector could want was available in Colorado City, including mining supplies, pack mules, grub and grog. There were also a variety of vices, from drinking and dining to poker and prostitution. Local merchants made a tidy profit on the transient population, which flowed constantly in and out of town.

When Colorado Springs was platted in 1872, liquor was banned within its city limits. Then in 1878, Manitou Springs formed to the west. Colorado City, nestled snugly between the two resort towns, prospered: not only as a “sin city” but as a blue collar town as well. A number of railroad workers were employed by the Colorado Midland Railroad. Local mills, namely the Golden Cycle Mill, processed gold ore shipped by train from teh famed Cripple Creek District on the back side of Pikes Peak, and other area mines. The city became a mesh of church‑going families, would‑be prospectors, wild folk and nomads.

Look down Colorado Avenue today and it is easy to envision a Colorado City of the past. Horse races and shoot outs took place on the dirt streets with alarming frequency. Wagons and horses sent pedestrians scurrying as the street bustled with life. The old buildings sported every business house imaginable, and the shouts of street hawkers mingled with the bawdy music flowing from the saloons.

Upwards of 24 taverns once lined the south side of Colorado Avenue. Many of them connected via underground tunnels to the respectable businesses on the north side of the street. In back of the saloons, madams like Laura Bell McDaniel, Mamie Majors and Nellie White were the reigning pleasure queens. The houses of “ill fame” spanned four blocks on Cucharras St. The lawmen and temperance unions of Colorado City levied their own public war against the shameful nightlife, but it was sometimes a losing battle. When the city outlawed liquor, some of the saloon owners and prostitutes started their own town, Ramona, outside the city limits.

On the north side of town, churches, lodges, meeting halls and more respectable social places mingled among the quaint homes and upstanding citizens of the town. Still, there were some real characters adding much color to Colorado City. Prairie Dog O’Byrne’s taxi wagon held a cage with a pet prairie dog inside and was pulled by two tame elk. Judge Baldwin was an honorary judge who was known for his love of libations. Anthony Bott, a founder of the town, also made a name for himself in the Cripple Creek District. Dusty McCarty was a blinded miner who honed his skills at bartending and was the best source of where to go and what to do in town. Bob Ford, the killer of Jesse James, dealt faro in Colorado City before going off to Creede and getting killed.

In 1917 Colorado City was annexed to Colorado Springs, and Colorado City’s wild days ended. Since that time, the city has evolved into an historic section of the Pikes Peak region with a variety of novelty  shops, boutiques and eateries. Neighborhood tours reveal an outstanding array of unique architectural designs, including a few pre-manufactured homes that were literally purchased from catalogs—in essence, the first modular homes in the state.

The Old Colorado City History Center at 1 South 24th Street houses a museum with photographs and hundreds of artifacts outlining Colorado City’s wild and woolly past. To see historic Colorado City on the way to Cripple Creek, take Highway 24 west at Colorado Springs and turn right at 21st Street. For more information, call the Old Colorado History Center at 719-636-1225 or the Old Colorado City Associates at 719-577-4112.

A Quick Synopsis of Animas Forks, Colorado

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

Animas Forks, now a highly popular ghost town, was officially founded in 1877. People had already built cabins on the site as early as 1873. Three years later there were thirty cabins, a general store and one saloon, and the postoffice had been operating for a year. Since hundreds of miners were already working silver claims in the area, the need for a town was more than welcome.

Animas Forks’ first newspaper, the Animas Forks Pioneer, began printing in 1882 and remained in business until 1886. The population in 1883 was 450. At the time, many residents lived in the town year round. Because the dwellings of Animas Forks were more modern than those occupied by typical miners cabins of the day, roughing out the winter wasn’t as harsh. Rather, many homes were made from milled lumber and featured such Victorian decor as gabled roofs and bay windows. But winters could be brutal, with twenty foot drifts and snowslides. After an 1884 blizzard lasting 23 days buried Animas Forks under 25 feet of snow, many residents began spending their winters in Silverton.

Earl mines included the Big Giant, Black Cross, Columbus, Eclipse, Iron Gap, Little Roy and Red Cloud. Two smelting and reduction works processed ores. Travelers could access the town from Silverton, but also Lake City. The latter route really began at Rose’s Cabin along Engineer Pass on what was called the Hensen Creek and Uncompahgre Toll Road. The fare was $3.00 per person for the twenty-two mile trip. In time, Otto Mears’ Silverton-Northern Railroad Company also reached the town.

Even at 11,584 feet in elevation, Animas Forks’ population soon grew to roughly 1500 people. Serving the miners, citizens and visitors were two assay offices, numerous shops, a hotel and several saloons. Beginning at the turn of 1900, mining profits began to decline. Investments lagged. In 1904, a last stab at profitable mining was made with the construction of the Gold Prince Mill. Unfortunately, the even the convenience of Mears’ railroad could not save the town. The mill closed in 1910.

For a time, Animas Forks became a popular stop on the railroad because of the many wildflowers blooming around town in summer. In 1911, Mears sponsored a special trip on his railroad, called the “Columbine Special”. The purpose of the trip was to gather a many of Colorado’s state flowers as possible for an upcoming convention in Denver. In all, passengers picked an amazing 25,000 flowers for the event.

In 1917, major pieces of the Gold Prince Mill were moved to Eureka. Mining waned further, and Animas Forks was a ghost town by the 1920’s. The Silverton-Northern Railroad tracks were removed in 1942, and the town settled into quiet desolation. In the decades since, ghost town tourists rediscovered the abandoned buildings, and Animas Forks remains a popular destination. The famed Duncan house, which survives with its beautiful bay window, has been repaired and restored in recent years, as have some of the remaining cabins around town. Animas Forks remains one of the most picturesque ghost towns Colorado has to offer.

 

 

Early Fur Trappers Around Huerfano Butte, Colorado

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in Backwoodsman magazine

Picture today’s Huerfano County in southern Colorado, circa 1700: the prairies roll out like a natural carpet over rolling hills, interrupted by the occasional rocky ridge or mountain range slicing through the plains. Strange and wonderful rock formations and patches of fauna, including a rainbow of colorful prairie flowers, enhance the landscape. Antelope, deer and smaller animals roam the hills at will. The skies are strikingly blue most days and pitch black at night as a million stars shine across the prairie grass. Wind and snow strike in winter, making travel and shelter difficult. The land is noticeably quiet, save for the occasional village built by Native Americans, and a few Spanish or Anglo explorers as they pass through.

There is water too, from creeks to streams to rivers. The Huerfano River, the largest in the county, winds its way nearly through the middle of the land. The river has been known by many names: “Chiopo” during the 1700’s, “Rio San Juan de Baptista” during General Juan de Ulibarri’s expedition in 1706, “San Antonio” when Spanish explorer Antonio Valverde traveled through in 1719, and “Rio Dolores”, so-named by Juan Bautista de Anza in 1779. Explorer Stephen H. Long called it “Wharf Creek” in 1823, and Thomas Farnham bastardized the name to “Rio Wolfano” in 1839. Soon after, the river officially became known by its present name.

The Huerfano River actually takes its name from a small volcanic hill of the same name located halfway between today’s Colorado City and Walsenburg. Spanish for “orphan”, Huerfano Butte was, and is, highly visible to travelers from all directions. Spanish explorers are said to have visited the area as early as 1594. Two Frenchmen, identified in history books only as the Mallett Brothers, may have been the first Anglo-Americans to pass through the area in 1739.

The Malletts were thought to have traveled over Sangre de Cristo Pass along an ancient Indian trail. Ten years after the Malletts visited the area, a group of French traders told their Spanish captors in Taos that Comanches had guided them over the pass. The Spanish subsequently found Sangre de Cristo Pass (Spanish for “Blood of Christ”) and began using it alongside the Native Americans for the next seventy years as they continued exploring Colorado. Anglo and French pioneers also arrived, and the region became known as an excellent place to hunt and trade. Sangre de Cristo Pass soon gained the nickname of “Trapper’s Trail” as more men used it to travel between Huerfano Butte and Taos.

Huerfano Butte was also conveniently located near the Huerfano River, making it a prime landmark for those seeking any settlements in the region. The first of them was a small Spanish fort built along Trapper’s Trail at a place called Huerfano Canon. The fort was likely built near the place known today as Badito, in 1819. The fort was actually built in an effort to ward off attacks from Anglos and others. Within a few months, however, a band of 100 men “dressed like Indians” attacked the fort. Six Spaniards were killed; the survivors fled.

The desire of incoming pioneers to explore and settle the area, the abandonment of the fort, the growing popularity of Sangre de Cristo Pass and the dawn of the fur trade in Colorado brought many changes to the Huerfano Valley within a very short time. The area made for excellent hunting and trapping year round. Beaver, buffalo, venison and a host of other game was readily available. Trapper’s Trail provided a viable means to transport goods to Taos. Thus, between 1820 and 1835 many more forts were constructed in the region at which to conduct trade. They included Gantt’s Fort and Fort William (a.k.a. Bent’s Stockade), both built along the Arkansas River 1832.

When Gantt’s Fort folded in 1834, William Bent relocated Fort William some seventy miles east along the Arkansas in order to be closer to buffalo ranges and plains Indians. Regular trappers around Huerfano Butte had no problem making the trip to sell and trade their wares, especially since they could easily hunt, camp and trade along the way. In a short time, Bent’s New Fort was the hot spot for doing business. At the time, the fort was identified as being at what was then the Mexican border, and was the only place to trade between Missouri and Taos.

In time, many of the trappers and fur traders around Huerfano Butte were contracted to keep Bent’s Fort supplied with buffalo meat and robes. They included Bill New, Levin Mitchell, plus several others who camped along the Huerfano River, took trapping expeditions into the mountains and held their own smaller rendezvous’ in preparation to take their goods and money to the fort. In the meantime William Bent, along with his brothers Charles and George, plus trader Ceran St. Vrain, worked to improve the Bent’s Fort.

The fur trade began declining beginning about 1840 as Europe began favoring silk hats over those made of beaver. For traders around Huerfano Butte, however, trapping remained a staple of the economy for several more decades. During the 1840’s another, closer trading post was established at Badito between Huerfano Butte and Sangre de Cristo Pass. There was also Greenhorn near today’s Colorado City, favored because of its namesake creek and shady trees. Both Badito and Greenhorn were accessible within a day or so ride, depending on the goods being hauled. Both also persevered through constant Indian threats, especially throughout the 1840’s.

Ex-trapper John Brown deserves credit for officially establishing Greenhorn, although French-Canadian and American fur trappers had already long favored the place for camping and trading. Over the next decade, visitors and residents at Greenhorn included such historic characters as Archibald Metcalf, Marcelino Baca, Kit Carson, Jim Dickey, Jim Swannick, William Guerrier, Charles Kinney, Alexander Barclay and Bill New. Over at Bent’s Fort, no less than forty-four fur traders remained gainfully employed by 1842.

More and more explorers began looking for Huerfano Butte. Amongst them was a party comprised of John W. Gunnison, Lieutenant Edward Griffin Beckwith and Richard Kern. John C. Fremont also made frequent trips through the area. On his last expedition in December of 1853 Fremont’s daguerrotypist, Solomon Carvalho, captured what was surely the first photograph of Huerfano Butte. Carvalho actually suggested in his memoirs that an equestrian statue of Fremont should be placed on the butte. Senator Thomas Benton also suggested that the butte be carved into a giant statue of Christopher Columbus pointing West.

Thankfully, nobody ever came back to carve up Huerfano Butte. Trappers and traders continued living in the area, sometimes venturing as far as Hardscrabble some 50 miles northwest. Maurice Le Duc had a store there in 1853, and most of the occupants were French and American traders, Mexicans and fur trappers with their Indian wives. The next year, following a smallpox outbreak amongst the Utes, the Indians attacked both Hardscrabble and Fort Pueblo. They believed goods traded to them by Anglos were contaminated with smallpox germs on purpose.

Following the battles, things settled down and fur traders and trappers continued working to live peacefully amongst Native Americans. In 1859, a community called Huerfano was identified as being approximately fifteen miles south of Alexander Hicklin’s ranch near today’s Colorado City. Hicklin’s, the only Anglo hostelry between Pueblo and Taos, was located just over the hill from Greenhorn. A good friend of Alexander Hicklin’s, Boanerges “Bo” Boyce (more correctly identified amongst historians as a Frenchman named Beaubois), homesteaded just a short distance from Huerfano Butte. Between them, Hicklin and Beaubois were able to establish an even better network amongst traders and trappers.

Together, Beaubois and Hicklin also influenced area settlers. As the Civil War loomed on the horizon Colorado, which was not yet a state, was claimed by the Union. Beaubois and Hicklin, the latter of whom hailed from Missouri, were southern sympathizers. In 1862 Leander and Norbert Berard, Louis Joseph Clothier, Leon Constantine, French Pete and Antoine Labrie—all former employees of Bent, St. Vrain & Company—helped found Butte Valley along with a John Brown (it should be noted that this John Brown was not the same John Brown who established Greenhorn). The community as a whole decided, probably at the urging of Hicklin and Beaubois, to side with the south.

Furthermore, Alexander Hicklin was harboring rebel fugitives and secretly fighting against the union by posing as a mail station to gain information. The clever farmer would sell beef to Union troops who were heading south. However, the cattle always seemed to scatter in the dead of night near Butte Valley, and most of them found their way back to the Hicklin Ranch. Residents of Butte Valley also knew to direct southern rebels to the ranch, where Hicklin would send them up into a mountain hideout near Beulah to receive training and arms.

Union troops largely ignored Butte Valley until the summer of 1864, when Jim Reynolds’ notorious Reynolds Gang began robbing stagecoaches in southern Colorado. After a skirmish near Canon City, one gang member was killed and another arrested. The prisoner revealed the gang was headed for Butte Valley. Lt. George Shoup of the First Colorado Cavalry later claimed he had sent word to Butte Valley for the men to be detained should they appear. But residents of the community were either unaware of or chose to ignore Shoup’s command when only two gang members passed through. The men purchased supplies and went on their way without incident. When it was learned that the bandits had been allowed to leave Butte Valley, Shoup had the entire population arrested. Only John Brown later returned to the area and later ran a grocery store in Walsenburg (founded circa 1870). The other residents fled and were never heard from again.

Butte Valley was replaced in about 1864 by Huerfano Canon, also known as Huerfano Crossing, at the site of Badito. The community had two general stores, a post office and a teacher. Beaubois sold his ranch to Ceran St. Vrain in 1865 and moved to Greenhorn, where he was killed within a year by an irate sharecropper. A post office, named Little Orphan after Huerfano Butte, was established at Badito on May 1, 1865. Four months later the post office was renamed Badito and in 1866 became the county seat of Huerfano County.

Dozens of settlements continued to pop up in Huerfano County over the next hundred years. Some, such as Walsenburg, Cucharas, La Veta and Gardner (established as Huerfano Canyon circa 1871), still exist as small and charming communities. Others went through a series of names and changes before becoming ghosts. They included Spanish Peak and Fort Francisco (both now part of LaVeta); Malachite and Tom Sharp’s Trading Post, Huerfano Crossing (later Farisita), Quebec (later called Scissors and Capps, circa 1880), Rouse, Apache, Santa Clara, Maitland, Pryor, Muriel, Orlando, Winchell, Mayne, McGuire, Larimer, and many others after the turn of the century. All lived amazing short lives and have been virtually forgotten.

Badito contined serving as a rest stop along stage routes and Trapper’s Trail until about 1873. The community of Huerfano no longer exists and many historians are confused as to its exact whereabouts. Huerfano County slowly moved into a new era as a farming and ranching area supplemented by the railroad. The area as a whole began experiencing a population decline in the late 1950’s. But the region does still uphold its historic roots with several museums and no less than an amazing twenty or so burial grounds in the vicinity. The burials are testimonials to all of the pioneers of the area, including the fur traders and trappers that once inhabited this area.

Ashcroft: A Premiere Colorado Ghost Town

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

Portions of this article originally appeared in The Colorado Gambler magazine.

High up in the hills near Aspen lies Ashcroft, one of the best preserved ghost towns in Colorado. During summer, Ashcroft fairly comes alive with visitors who love to walk along the old roads and explore the nine buildings comprising what is left of the town. Although it is still highly accessible during winter, the snowy months drive away tourists as Ashcroft—altitude 9500’— settles into slumber and waits for spring thaw.

Ashcroft had its beginnings during the winter of 1879-80, when miner Thomas E. Ashcraft joined 22 other prospectors in Castle Creek Valley. Named for the castle-like spires on nearby Castle Peak, the valley was identified by the Hayden geological survey as having valuable silver deposits. Despite threats from Ute Indians, Ashcraft stuck it out and soon laid out a small settlement called Highland. A short time later, Ashcraft and his fellow miners moved a short distance from Highland and named their new camp Castle Forks City, a name they also assigned to their placer mine. Highland flourished for a short time before succumbing to the popularity of Ashcroft.

A Miner’s Protective Association was soon formed, with each of the 97 members having an equal say in Castle Forks’ future. Eight hundred and sixty four lots were sold at $5 each. The idea of renaming the picturesque little town soon came under fire. According to postal records, Castle Fork’s post office was first known as Ashcroft as of August 12, 1880 (the census taker called it Ashcraft when he came around a week later). Even at that early date, there were 130 people living there. Their numbers included several miners, but also an assayer, a mason, a merchant, a restaurant owner, a saloon keeper, a surveyor and two blacksmiths. A surprising five entrepreneurs, a news reporter and even a government scout were included in the eclectic total. And, there was nary a woman around.

The following year, the postmaster general assigned the name of Chloride. But local miners were calling the place Ashcroft by the time that name was reassigned in January of 1882. John R. Nelson was the first postmaster. As was the case with so many mining camps, the town grew quickly. Initially Ashcroft was only accessible via Taylor Pass, an extremely rough road that was closed through winter. Wagons traversing the pass were required to stop, disassemble the vehicle, raise or lower it over 40-foot cliffs, and reassemble it before moving on.

The Carson Brothers Stage Line made its debut in 1881 and charged travelers $2 for a ride to Buena Vista and points in between via Cottonwood Pass or Independence Pass. Two other stage lines eventually served Ashcroft as well. Easier access made Ashcroft a gateway to Aspen, while telegraph poles along Taylor Pass enhanced communications. Famous visitors to Ashcroft included Bob Ford, the killer of outlaw Jesse James, and silver magnates Horace and Baby Doe Tabor. In fact, Tabor purchased interests in the Tam O’Shanter and Montezuma mines and built a lavish home at Ashcroft that included gold-encrusted wallpaper. Whenever Baby Doe visited, Tabor declared a holiday and bought drinks for everyone.

By 1882 the $5 lots were selling for as much as $400 and by 1883 Ashcroft had outgrown the nearby town of Aspen. Some historians place the population of 1,000 and others 2,500. The residency consisted mostly of miners and was served by two newspapers the Herald and the Journal. There were also two sawmills, a school, a courthouse and jail, a theater and an amazing 20 saloons. There were also four hotels: the Farrell, Fifth Avenue, Riverside and St. Cloud. Main and Castle were the two main streets.

Unfortunately, much of the silver ore mined around Ashcroft was low grade. The town of Aspen began to grow. Aspen’s mines also excelled where Ashcroft’s did not, and local mining strikes also affected the town. Sealing its doom was the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad’s decision not to extend their tracks to Ashcroft. Very quickly, Aspen came into the limelight while Ashcroft faded into the past.

Ashcroft’s population had dwindled to 100 souls by 1885 with a mere $5.60 left in the city treasury. Many of Ashcroft’s citizens moved to Aspen, often lifting their cabins right off the foundations and moving them as well. There were 75 residents in 1900, but the number still only included three women. Ashcroft’s population was nearly depleted by 1906 when the town was sold to a New York syndicate. When the population was reduced to nine residents, the post office finally closed in 1912.

Eventually only two residents remained at Ashcroft: poet and former postmaster Dan McArthur and former saloon owner John “Jack” Leahy, who had helped form a union during the strikes. A resident of Ashcroft for some 57 years, Leahy also offered legal advice and served as a justice of the peace. Interestingly, his services were never required in an official court of law, and in later years he became known as the Hermit of Ashcroft. When Leahy died in 1939, he was the last official resident of the town.

Ashcroft next caught the attention of sports figure Theodore Ryan and Olympic gold medalist Billy Fiske, who wanted to turn it into a ski resort. The pair built the Highland-Bavarian Lodge in anticipation of constructing an aerial tramway to the top of Mount Hayden. World War II put a stop to the plans when Fiske died in action. Ryan was also drafted and but offered to lease Ashcroft to the 10th Mountain Division for only a dollar per year. But the army was already using Camp Hale near Leadville and while some training exercises took place at Ashcroft, the small town never reached its full potential as a base camp. A decision to move the ski resort to Aspen was Ashcroft’s final undoing.

After the war, dogsled operator Stuart Mace became a caretaker at Ashcroft in exchange for using the land for his sleds. Mace, his huskies and Ashcroft were all featured in the 1950’s television series “Sgt. Preston of the Yukon.” Stuart and his wife also ran the Toklat Restaurant at Ashcroft, and their descendants have turned the building into an exclusive gallery with crafts from all over the world. The Mace’s also saved the town from land developers by donating its 15 acres to the Forest Service in 1953. The Aspen Historical Society began working in 1974 to preserve what was left of the town.

Today, Ashcroft is a great place to snow shoe in a quiet mountain valley. There is a caretaker nearby and a fee of $3.00. From Aspen, take Highway 82 west. At the roundabout, take Castle Creek Road for approximately 11 miles. The road is paved all the way to Ashcroft, but the ancient streets of the town will remind you of how it must have looked over a century ago.