Category Archives: Western History

The Hash Knife Around Holbrook: Chapter One

Chapter One: Beginnings of the Brand

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

This chapter is excerpted from The Hash Knife Around Holbrook, available in both paperback at https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9781467130936 or on audio at https://www.amazon.com/Hash-Knife-Around-Holbrook-America/dp/B00UTSFP1W/ref=tmm_aud_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=.

Most historians agree that Hash Knife history began in 1874 when John Nicholas Simpson registered his first brand, the “Long S”. Simpson moved to Weatherford, Texas from Tennessee in 1866, operating a dry goods store between 1867 and 1872 before turning to ranching. In about 1874, the “Long S” brand was soon replaced by that of a hash knife: a common cooking tool whose brand was difficult to alter.

 

The new Hash Knife brand was certainly in place by 1877 when Simpson and his partner, James Couts, were using it. Tennessee native James Robertson Couts was a farmer when he moved to Weatherford, Texas in 1865. A year later, he used money earned from a cattle drive to California to establish the first bank at Weatherford. By 1872 he was one of the wealthiest men in the region. Couts purchased a half interest in John Nicholas Simpson’s cattle outfit in 1877. About a year later, Simpson and Couts registered the Hash Knife brand in Taylor County, Texas.

 

Thus began a long and illustrious life for the legendary Hash Knife brand. The first ranch headquarters was a dugout above Cedar Creek that would later become Abilene. Simpson made sure Abilene’s first railroad, the Texas & Pacific Railway, would run right by his ranch. He furthermore made sure the town was built directly along the tracks to assure its success. Shortly afterwards, Simpson expanded the brand west to Pecos and Baylor County, and formed the Continental Cattle Company.

 

In Baylor County Simpson did business with the infamous Millett brothers, the area’s own bad boys. The Millett brothers were a rough bunch when John Simpson met them. Citizens of nearby Seymour feared them. Ott Black, who worked for the Milletts and the Hash Knife, called the Millett Ranch “one of the toughest spots this side of hell” and commented that only “a rustler or gunman could get work with them.”

 

Even as he witnessed a bloody shootout at the Millett Ranch while signing the papers, Simpson purchased some land and cattle. He also continued buying smaller outfits around Texas while making even grander plans for a range in Montana.

 

The Hash Knife’s first trip to Montana was most likely dangerous and more than a little exciting. Cowboys on the trip had probably never been out of Texas, making their journey a true eye-opener. Cowboys on the trail relied heavily on nourishing grub and strong coffee to make it through the long workday. In 1882 Jacob “Dutch Jake” Heckman served as the cook on the Continental Land and Cattle Company’s first jaunt from Texas to Montana.

 

The Montana holdings, built along the Little  Missouri River, were located roughly 20 miles from the tiny community of Stoneville. Three years would pass before Ekalaka was founded, shortening the distance from civilization to just 20 miles. The Continental Land and Cattle Company headquarters were built on Box Elder Creek. When the first herds arrived in the summer of 1882, foreman William Lefors arranged for two cabins to serve as headquarters. The foreman used one cabin on the left for his home and office. Cowboys slept and ate their meals in the other cabin.

 

Plenty of other cowboys came and went during the Hash Knife’s time in Montana. Other men who worked for the Montana outfit were Clarence Sisley, Pete Buzman, Johnnie Pannel and Jay Griffen Shelden, who joined the Hash Knife outfit at Box Elder Creek. In 1885 Stoneville was renamed Alzada in honor of his mother, Laura Alzada Flagg. Shelden later married and homesteaded at Alzada, but his wife couldn’t bear the loneliness of ranch life and left him. Shelden died in Belle Fourche in 1912.

 

Some of these men came with the cattle from Texas. Montana cowboys looked upon the Texas cattle as poor stock; worse yet, their keepers appeared equally lanky in stature. Cowboy Walt Colburn noted that Texas cowboys “were a different breed of cowhand for the most part.”

 

Puzzling over whether lanky Texas cattle and cowboys could survive Montana’s cooler altitudes was soon overshadowed by George Axelby a Hash Knife cowboy who came with the herd from Texas but soon turned rogue. Within a short time he was hunting buffalo, fighting with Native Americans and forming a gang with other Hash Knife cowboys-turned-outlaws. Axelby’s actions soon caught the attention of authorities, who battled it out with the gang at Stoneville. There were several casualties. Axelby escaped, only to be killed four months later.

 

In 1884 the Continental Cattle Company combined its holdings with the Mill Iron Cattle Company in Montana and sported the new name of the Continental Land and Cattle Company. The Mill Iron Ranch was located roughly 80 miles from Stoneville, with the Continental Land and Cattle Company somewhere between the two places. The Great Western Cattle Trail from Texas ended at Stoneville, but Hash Knife cattle still needed to be pushed on to one of the two ranches. Still, the Mill Iron Ranch benefited greatly from the Western Trail.

 

There is little doubt that Hash Knife cowboys appreciated a night at the Mill Iron, whose bunkhouse likely offered better lodging than the cabin on Box Elder Creek. Henry Warren, the ever flexible employee of the Hash Knife, was in charge of the Mill Iron operations.

 

During the 1880s, the federal government rationed beef to various Indian reservations in Wyoming, Dakota Territory and Montana. This allowed the Hash Knife to sell their beef at government prices. The largest shipment was likely 2,500 head delivered to Fort Yates, North Dakota in 1883.

 

By 1885, the Continental Land and Cattle Company’s letterhead from the main office in Dallas included both the Hash Knife and Mill Iron brands. A branch office was also located in St. Louis. Principle officers of the company occasionally left their cushy suites in these big cities to visit Hash Knife ranches in Texas, Montana and later, Arizona.

 

The opportunity to expand to other states came when surveyor Edward Kinsley of the Atlanta & Pacific Railroad spied Arizona’s vast lands. The Aztec Land and Cattle Company formed, and the Hash Knife brand moved there with its reputation still under fire.

 

John Simpson’s brother, Ed, was hired as manager of the Aztec Land and Cattle Company before resigning in 1890. Simpson and Couts also hired Henry Warren, a former government freighter and sometime client of James Couts, around 1877. Over time he became a trustee for the Continental Land and Cattle Company, serving as both manager and president of the Aztec Land and Cattle Company in Arizona. Warren stayed with the Aztec until his death in Arizona in 1917.

 

Back in Texas, the Hash Knife continued operations for many years. The Knox Brothers may have owned the ranch before Elmer Stevens and Roy Stevens bought it in the early 1920s, and Lowe Stout was their ranch foreman. During the Great Depression the ranch was turned back to the Knox Brothers, and John D. Mounce lived at the ranch with his family. Later, a Mr. Anderson leased the ranch. As for Stout, he and his wife, Alice Robertson, ranched on Miller Creek for many years.

 

When the Hash Knife in Baylor County decided to build new headquarters overlooking the Brazos River, the old headquarters became home to the Howe family. Aubrey and Midlred Howe Lunsford inherited the house in 1953. According to one source, “It had seen 90 years of service and was pretty well ready for the scrap pile.” The Lunsfords tore it down.

 

Likewise, the Hash Knife also continued operations in Montana for several years. In 1897, the State of Montana accused the Continental Land and Cattle Company of failing to pay enough taxes. Hash Knife cowboys who were witnesses at the trial included Phil DeFrand, Ed Ramsberg, Jim Connley, Frank Castleberry and H.H. Floyd.

 

Flagstaff’s Flag Has Flown for 160 Over Years

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

Jan recently published her newest book, Good Time Girls of Arizona and New Mexico: A Red-Light History of the American Southwest, which includes a chapter about Flagstaff’s demimonde. It can be purchased at Rowman.com. 

This year marks the 164th anniversary of Lieutenant Edward Fitzgerald Beale’s expedition in Arizona. In 1855 the road surveyor camped on a hillside roughly midway between New Mexico and California. Above camp towered what are now known as the San Francisco Peaks. Beale’s men trimmed and scaled a tall Ponderosa Pine, and flew the United States flag from the top. In the years following, the area was landmarked with this “flagstaff”.

Flagstaff remained a stopping point along Beale’s route for some twenty years before anyone thought to actually settle there. This was Thomas F. McMillan, who built a cabin at the base of Mars Hill in about 1876—and some say that this was also when the U.S. flag was really raised for the first time. Be it a flag or McMillan’s settlement, something did the trick, for soon the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad announced it would eventually be cutting through the flat area below the San Francisco Peaks. Enterprising pioneers lost little time in scurrying to accommodate railroad workers.

Soon Old Town, as it was later called, sprang up on the southeast slope of today’s Observatory Hill. The numerous business houses included twenty one saloons along the rough main street. There was also at least one “dance house in which the proprietor has a large platform erected which he has furnished with several pistols and guns. When a valiant gets a little troublesome he picks him off at a single shot and that is the end of the creature.”

Yes, early Flagstaff was as rough and tumble as any other western town. Within a few years, however, positive growth was evidenced by the railroad industry, a post office and the shipping of timber, sheep and cattle. Miners were present too, and by 1886 the town had become the largest city on the A & P Railroad between Albuquerque and California. Anything and everything was available at Flagstaff.

Although historian Sharlot Hall of Prescott once called Flagstaff “a third rate mining camp”, Flagstaff soon shed its mining camp status. Throughout the 1890’s, upwards of 100 trains passed through Flagstaff daily to points in every direction. In 1896 the famed Lowell Observatory was built there, and the Northern Arizona Normal School (today’s Northern Arizona University) was established in 1899. So was the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra, which premiered at Babbitt’s Opera House. The Babbitts and their CO Bar Ranch, as well as their trading companies, department store and numerous other businesses, have been known in the Flagstaff area and beyond for generations.

During the early 1900’s, Arizona continued experiencing business growth, including a good-sized red light district. The district got even larger in 1908 with the mayoral election of  Benjamin Doney, who followed through on his plans to lift the hefty laws imposed on the bawdy houses, saloons and gambling dens. He also expanded the red light district to a ten block area. Business licenses for bordellos were in fact lowered even as respectable businesses were required to pay more. Doney’s actions were appalling to certain citizens, state legislators and reformists, and by 1910 he was out. The red light district closed altogether following the gory and unsolved murder of Madam May Prescott in 1916.

Two years after Route 66 was completed in 1926, Flagstaff was incorporated as a city. Then in 1930, planet Pluto was discovered from Lowell Observatory. The discovery rocked the astronomical world and Flagstaff became famous all over the globe. In 1955 the United States Naval Observatory established a station at Flagstaff, and the Clark Telescope was used to map the moon during the Apollo expeditions of the 1960’s. Today the city even has its own asteroids, 2118 Flagstaff and 6582 Flagsymphony. And in 2001, Flagstaff was named the first ever “International Dark Sky City” by the International Dark Sky Association.

Back on Earth, Flagstaff waned a wee bit for a few decades. But revitalization efforts that began in 1987 have resulted in an artistic blend of old with new. In the downtown area especially, historic preservation efforts still stand out with such historic structures as the Hotel Weatherford and the Hotel Monte Vista, not to mention numerous other shops, taverns, businesses and restaurants. The historic Depot, the Museum Club, San Francisco Street—all reflect on Flagstaff’s colorful and alluring past.

Good Time Girls of Arizona & New Mexico: A Red Light History of the Southwest

c 2019 by Jan MacKell Collins

As part of the new Good Time Girls series in historical prostitution, I am please once again to announce that my new book, Good Time Girls of Arizona and New Mexico has arrived!

It is no secret that I absolutely love writing about shady ladies of the past. Their bravery, dilligence and determination to survive make many of them heroes in my book. Here we have women bearing raw and untamed lands, oppressive heat, little water and a host of unknowns to settle in the southwest during a time when most “respectful” women dared not cross the overland trails. Oppressive too was the society in which these ladies lives, overcoming public shaming and shunning to make their way in a man’s world. Their stories naturally range from tragic to triumphant; all of them should be remembered as human beings, sisters, wives, daughters and mothers.

Expanding on the research I did for Red Light Women of the Rocky Mountains (University of New Mexico Press, 2009 – out of print) and Wild Women of Prescott, Arizona (The History Press, 2015), this tome is a closer look at some of the ladies I wanted to know more about. Included here are chapters on Jennie Bauters, Big Bertha (of Williams, AZ), Sarah Bowman, Lizzie McGrath, Sadie Orchard, May Prescott, Jennie Scott, Silver City Millie and Dona Tules—all madams who were astute businesswomen and wielded much power and profit during their time. Also included are lesser known women such as the Sammie Dean of Jerome, AZ and the fierce Bronco Sue Yonkers. I visited ladies of the camp, wanton women on the Santa Fe Trail, and plenty of other women who dared to work in the prostitution industry and defied the laws, societies and men who tried to suppress them.

For those of you wishing to order the book, you can do so at this link: https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781493038114/Good-Time-Girls-of-Arizona-and-New-Mexico-A-Red-Light-History-of-the-American-Southwest

 

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.

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.