March-April 1861

Peek at the Week

April 17 – April 23, 1861. At a convention held in Golden City on April 18th, delegates from Denver and Golden discussed building a road to Salt Lake City via the Cherokee Pass (that is up the Cache la Poudre canyon west of present-day Ft. Collins), a total of 495 miles. The delegation included such notable names as Major Robert B. Bradford (who was elected President) Col. John S. Jones, Dr. W.H. Farner, J.R. Shaffer, A.H. Mayer, T.P. Ames, H.R. Hunt, Noree Valle, D.R. Ritchey, John F. Kirby, Eli Carter, J.M. Ferrell, and William A.H. Loveland. Gov. Steele and many others addressed the convention. The conventioneers appointed a committee to investigate the feasibility and practicability of the proposed road, which consisted of the Hon. C.C. Post of Mountain City, Col. James Rodgers of Idaho, Mr. Griffith of Georgetown, John Scudder of Nevada, E.L. Berthoud of Golden City, D.R. Ritchey of Golden City, Capt. R. Sopris of Denver, Amos Steck of Denver, and John S. Jones of Denver.

As it happened Jones (who served as the local agent for the C.O.C & P.P. company) was also commissioned to investigate an alternative to the South Pass Route of the Great Overland Mail (Butterfield and Central Overland Companies) as far as Ft. Bridger. The selection of the route was viewed as vitally important, as it would strongly influence the eventual route of the railroad. William Byers of the Rocky Mountain News feared that Denver would loose out in the long run should the South Pass Route (in present-day Wyoming) be favored. A few days later, on the evening of the 22nd, Denverites held a meeting in City Council Room and passed a resolution founding the proposed road company along the “Cherokee Pass” Route and pledged to pay R. Sopris, F.J. Marshall, R.E. Whitsitt, B.D. William, C.H. Blake, Alexander Benham, a Mr. Scudder or their assignees, to contract with the C.O.C & P.P. Express for the purpose of building stations on the road (at about 12-mile intervals) from Denver to Ft. Bridger along the proposed route for the use of the Pony Express, the Central Overland Mail, and all other express mail. The proposal for a direct westerly route connecting Denver and Salt Lake City was temporarily set aside as too difficult to achieve in favor of the Ft. Bridger plan.

April 10 – April 16, 1861. On the morning of April 12, Confederate artillery opened fire on Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Denver received word of the “Commencement of Hostilities” nearly a week later, on the morning of April 18th. The news reached the region via the Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak (C.O.C & P.P.) express coach from the telegraph connection at Ft. Kearney (in Nebraska). The Rocky Mountain News renewed its call for the direct telegraphic connection of Denver to the transcontinental line then being constructed to the north. Editor William Byers urged local businessmen to subscribe to the extension of a line to Julesburg, which was anticipated to be connected within a matter of months as the line snaked eastward from Ft. Laramie (in present-day Wyoming) to Ft. Kearney.

Upon receiving the news of War, Golden City citizens emphatically declared for the Union and raised a somewhat battered and discolored Stars and Stripes, obtained from Mr. Cheney, over the Boston Company building and former office of the defunct Western Mountaineer, who had championed the Southern cause.

On a more local note, several contributors noted the Pike’s Peak Region’s agricultural potential for more than small personal gardens. The 1860 crop was found to be bountiful and excellent in quality. Up and down the Platte, Cherry Creek, Bear Creek, and Cache a la Poudre mineral claims gave way to agriculture and several varieties of grains (barley, oats, wheat, and corn) were being sewn. Rufus Clark had already planted 15 acres of potatoes four miles upstream of Denver along the South Platte. Local stores advertised seeds, fruit tree seedlings, and grape vine root starters. The Rocky Mountain News encouraged ranchers and gardeners to order their seedlings quickly, believing that “this is one of the best fruit countries in the United States.”

April 3 – April 9, 1861. The potential for the construction of an improved road up Clear Creek Canyon was the subject of some discussion. Mr. Ritchie of Golden City arrived in Denver representing a committee to canvas for the opening of a wagon road up Clear Creek to the mines and seeking subscribers who would provide provisions and tools for the work. Although portions of the route (along today’s Highway 6) lay along bars or benches along the river, there were some hills that would need to be traversed and some mountainsides that would need to be blasted away to afford passage. Being ever the optimist, the Rocky Mountain News believed that “the entire road if properly taken in hand – with energy and resolution – can be completed in a few months.”

Meanwhile, dark tidings from the East anticipated that Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor would be attacked within days, and Confederate troops were reportedly massing in Pensacola, Florida. War could not be far off.


March 27 – April 2, 1861. Spring was in the air, the waters of the rivers were beginning to rise from snowmelt, and a letter to the Rocky Mountain News called attention to an unpleasant aspect of the warming weather, the presence of no less than “one hundred putrifying carcasses of oxen that have dropped dead along the way” between Golden Gate and Central City. A second correspondent, who was traveling to Blackhawk on the Western Stage coach up Golden Gate, echoed the sentiment and encouraged the prompt removal and proper disposal of the carcasses that so filled the air with their noxious gas. The Golden Gate route, along with the Mount Vernon route, were two of the most traveled roads up to the gold country. A wagon road through Clear Creek (or Vasquez River) Canyon did not yet exist – more on that in next week’s post.

March 20 – March 26, 1861. On March 22, Alfred Sayre (later a prominent Denver jurist) and his partners met at the Big Hill tollhouse to establish the Vasquez River Mining District. The 25 square mile District roughly encompassed Vasquez River (today’s Clear Creek) from the forks (today at the junction of highways 6 and 119 at the western border of Jefferson County) east five miles to about Guy Gulch, and roughly 2.5 miles to the north and south of Clear Creek. Positioned downstream of the rich Jackson diggings (Idaho Springs) and Gregory diggings (Central City/Blackhawk) it may have looked promising, but it never really panned out. The Vasquez River Mining Company later met at the Rocky Mountain News offices on April 11th to formalize their Constitution and elect their slate of officers: W.N. Byers (President), A. Sagendorf (Vice President), W.S. Walker (Secretary), G.W. Kassler (Treasurer), George M. Pullman, Lames B. Jones, James Galbreth, A.B. More and Edward Bliss (Board of Directors). Miners in the employ of the Company began working on April 22.

February 27 – March 5, 1861. On Monday, March 4, 1861, the Daily Rocky Mountain News was pleased to report on the passage of the bill forming Colorado Territory, which passed the Senate on February 26, and was signed by outgoing President James Buchanan on February 28, 1861 as one of his last official duties. On March 4, 1861 Lincoln delivered his first inaugural address, attempting to reach out to the Confederacy and find some non-military solution to the increasing tensions between the North and South. He concluded his address with the immortal words: “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

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