The Men Who Led the Way Over the Divide |

The Men Who Led the Way Over the Divide

Warner A. Root

Aspen, Colo., April 18.To the Editor of the Times:As you are about to launch your bark upon the sea of troubles and take your chances with the future weal or woe of Aspen, I consider it a duty and also a pleasure to contribute something to assist you in gathering matter for the first issue of your enterprise. If what I shall write should be of any benefit to you and of interest to your readers, then I am content. The subject matter of my communication will be relative early discovery of this section of one of the great prospective mining districts of Colorado. While my letter may not be so full and complete as I could wish, yet I trust to make it comprehensive enough to be of some interest to the reading public.During the summer and fall of 79 the writer being connected with the daily press of Leadville was thrown among the miners and prospectors of the many districts surrounding that famous mining camp, and from none did he receive tales of brighter prospects than from those who hailed from Roaring Fork and vicinity. In fact, the impressions made uponhis wild fancy induced him to forsake the position he held in the city department of the Daily Eclipse and make preparations tor a sojourn of ?several weeks with the happy hunter and delver after riches in that seemingly far-off camp on the Pacific slope.One bright November day in 1879 the start was made amid the hearty congratulations and well wishes of many friends. Accustomed as the mind of man has been to believe in the wild, exciting reports of the new localities, it is no wonder Roaring Fork received its share of risky adventures. At the start the trip seemed bright with anticipation of what might be, but it was not in all respects realized. Many incidents occurred which lent a certain degree of adventure to the journey, but all in all it was not to be compared to a ride to grandfather’s home on a Thanksgiving New England time. The imaginary features which might be given to a tenderfoot’s first trip across the snowy range could but illy express the mishaps and adventures that befell us on our way from Twin Lakes up Lake creek, across Hunter’s pass on the Continental divide, through Independence camp down the gulch to the junction of the two branches of the Roaring Fork stream, and thence on down to Hunter’s creek, opposite what was then known as Ute City.

The population of Ute at that time numbered about thirty-five, most of whom were prospectors, and had been grub-staked for the winter by parties in Leadville, who, like your humble contributor, had become imbued with a hope of being in at the glorious future of the Roaring Fork district. Of the number that had prepared to winter where it was thought no white man had ever attempted to winter, save it be a Frenchman who is said to have hunted and trapped the winter before further on down towards the Grand, wore Dan McPherson, Newton K. Hall, George E. Clarkson (better known as Charley), Jim Egbert, alias Keno, Frank Routt (no kin to the ex-Governor), Jake and Matt Smith; Little Evans, Sam Chreston, Henry Matheny, John Carrell, James Cleaver, George Albert, William Amesbury, F, McCaudless, of snow-shoe notoriety, who could tell tales faster than a horse could trot down hill, with several others whom the the writer does not call to mind. The party of whom the writer was once cousisted of Henry Staats, William Blodgett, Mitchell Lorenz, J. Warren Elliott and W. A. Root. Up Hunter’s creek some six miles they made their way through snow two or three feet deep, with animals heavily laden with bedding and grub. No thought or anticipation had been had of an early setting in of winter, and when one of the number was sent back over the trail to Leadville, for a quick return with more provisions so a jolly hunt of two or three weeks could be had below or farther down toward the Grand, our dismay can easily be pictured when days and weeks rolled by; heavy snows came on and no tidings were had of our absent companion. Those long winter days were spent mostly about the cabin, excepting occasionally a trip would be made to Ute to see if some one had not come from Leadville bearing a late paper or a letter from some loved one far away, but nothing of that kind was in store for us, and we were as completely shut in for nearly three months as was Sherman and his army on their famous march from Atlanta to the sea.During the winter the men about Ute formed themselves into a union company for the purpose of sinking a shaft somewhere in the bottom lands near the town, to see if the bed-rock would not produce gold. Henry Matheney was selected as superintendent, and the men were tolled off into shifts and work commenced. This project ended as many and most of the same kind dosome were afraid they were doing more than some others, and after the shaft reached a depth of thrity-five to forty feet work was? abandoned, until the shaft remains in the same condition to-day. The mines which had been discovered during the summer months previous were the Smuggler, Durant, Hoskins, Iron, Galena, Steele, Gunnison Chief, Mose, Monarch, Pioneer, Spar and several others. Their discoverers were men who had prospected over many of the high and rocky cliffs of the Rockies, and knew when they found good indications. Their names embrace such old pioneers as Phil. Pratt, Smith Steele, Ed. Hoskins, Dan. And W. L. Hopkins, Charley Bennett, A. Fellows, Henry Parmeter, Walter Clark, Mike Cavanaugh, Billy Hilburn, and others whose names have slippod my memory. Nearly all of them either wintered in Denver or New Mexico. They nearly all have interests with the new county of Pitkin, and those who are not here most likely will return at an early day. It is said that immediately after the Smuggler was discovered, in July, 1879, a half interst was sold for a mule and fifty dollars, and that the mule became a dead loss during the heavy forest fires of that summer and fall.Hank Tourtellott was one of the party mentioned above, and cast his stake near the top of Aspen mountain, where there is a large park which ever since has been honored as being named after him. During the first year of the advent of pilgrims here, the mountain west ot Hunter’s creek, and which is now generally known as Red mountain, was called Pratt mountain, in honor of Phil. Pratt, who was the discoverer ot the famous Spar mine.In February, 1880, Proffessor B. Clark Wheeler, with several men, came into camp over the Independence trail. The hardships which they endured gave to them an enviable name, and from that time on men were continually going to and from Leadville.The advent of Wheeler and party into camp gave us the first tidings in that winter of what was going on in the outside world, and also brought us the news that the Roaring Fork district was much talked about, proving the accuracy of the saying, Go away from home if you want to learn the news.Professor Wheeler, it seems, had been in Gunnison county the summer before, in and about Gothic, Pitkin, Ruby and other camps on the Gunnison slope, and had been convinced of the perfect formation of the mineral belt which must necessarily extend on through the Elk mountain range even on into the Eagle river country. Having taken some such view of the matter as this, he had interested Eastern capital to send some one to this country to examine the mines already spoken of, and they in return, having confidence in his integrity and capability, commissioned him as their representative. Although the snow at that time lay some five feet deep on a level oyer the whole country, I do not think there was a semblance of a mine or a good prospect hole that he did not examine. During the four or five days he was here he made a boundary survey of the town site. There had been some sort of a survey made before winter at the time the cognomen of Ute City was given to the settlement. A plot of the first survey could be seen at any time in Newt. Hall’s cabin, and here the boys used to go to make their selection of two lotsthis being the number allotted to each old settler.It was remembered that in the fall of 1879 there was quite an uprising of the Ute tribe of Indians, and fears were entertained of the safety of the miner and prospector scattered throughout the Gunnison country. This settlement being but a short distance from the reservation and the boys few in number, they naturally felt apprehensive of their own lives and made preparations for a ticket of leave. They assembled together upon Aspen mountain, near the spot which may now be called Old Highland, and passed resolutions that all prospect holes of any depth should be respected until the Ute trouble was over, and then betook themselves away to more congenial climes till the winter should pass away and they could return without fear of the Ute.Rumor had it that the Ute uprising gave name to the camp.It was understood when Professor Wheeler came in that he had been sent to examine the mines discovered the summer before, and which had been bonded for $250,000. He while here bonded claims up Hunter’s creek, and also on Aspen mountain, from several different parties; the forfeit in most cases were paid, but when the time for the final payment came the claims reverted back to their original owners.Alter remaining here four or five days thoroughly examining the mines Professor Wheeler returned to Leadville and a party of some fourteen accompanied him, full of glowing accounts of the future the papers were Aspen, it having been determined to call the newly surveyed townsite by that name, after Aspen mountain. This name to the mountain can only be accounted for from the large number of quakenasp which grow upon it. So great was the excitement concerning this section that prominent persons in Leadville formed themselves into a company, styling themselves The Roaring Fork Townsite company, and sent H. T. Buckley, a deputy United States surveyor, over with man and instruments to survey that portion of land lying at the foot of Maroon mountain, between Castle and Maroon creeks. There was a very fine plat of that townsite made, and while it was on exhibition in the Clarendon hotel many lots were sold. A postoffice buidling was partly erected on the townsite and a postoffice established there; mainly through the exertion of Dr. Smith, the postmaster of Leadville, who was president of the company. In the few months following little more was seen of the people that intended settling there, but a great deal was heard concerning the company.In March, and April immediately after so great was the desire to reach the Roaring Fork district that men built sleds of all discriptions and hauled their grub and tools across the range, but ’twas a sorry job, and before their destination was reached a good deal of packing on shoulders had to be done. W. B. Root started in with a party of ten men in this manner, at the urgent solicitation of a few capitalists,, who desired to obtain some of the valuable mining ground in this section. The last ten miles was a severe trial to his party they being compelled to haul him on a sled, rheumatism and a sprained ankle being the cause. Andy McFarlane also made a trip over the range to select a millsite, and the Root and McFarlane Mill company were the pioneer saw mill men of the camp. The Eagle river route, a distance of one hundred and thirty miles, was made most feasible during April and May and hundreds of men with animals could be seen daily wending their way to Aspen, the men imagining a great deal and knowing but little of what they were going to see or find.Soon after the snow was gone a more perfect survey of the townsite was made, the streets laid out and the lots marked off, Professor Rittenhouse doing the latter part of the survey in a thorough and systematic manner. The streets, many of them, bear, as can readily be seen, the names of many of the original party composing the Aspen Land and Town company: Isaac Cooper, W.L. Hopkins, Charles A. Hallam, and David Hyman being the most prominent.It is not the writer’s intention to say very much about the action or doings of this company, nor what at the present time seems to be an unfortunate outlook coming from their former mode of procedure, but one thing is evident, there must have been mismanagement somewhere during the first few months of the anxious existence of thatcompany. All the old boys of the camp and nearly every new comer seemed willing to recognize their prior right (if they had any) to the land proposed for a townsite, and it was not till the advent of Colonel George A. Crittenden into camp, about the first of June, that anything was said or done, and it was only by the active efforts of Captain George W. Thatcher, Dan Hopkins, J. W. Deane and several others that he was prevented from leading a band of men upon these lots of the townsite mentioned and taking entire possession of them. Whatever may have been the differences in the views of Crittenden and the men opposed to him at that time, it is a self-evident fact that many of the leaders who were opposed to him at that time entirely coincide with the opinions expressed by him at the present. There was laid out about this time, by J. W. Deane and Professor Wheeler, Deane’s addition, which comprises the tract of ground lying at the foot of Aspen mountain, and between it and the townsite. So much was said and had been said about this Aspen Land and Town company’s intention to build toll roads and put smelters that the boys generally were disposed to wait and assist also what they could. What they have accomplished, however, is easily seena steam saw mill for their own profit, an apology for a toll road, and no sign of a smelter. In May, when Professor Wheeler returned, there came with him Messrs. Deane & Shear, attorneys, and theirs may be said to have been the first law office in Aspen. The log building which they built was the first one completed on that portion of Aspen where the greater part of the mercantile business has since been done. In June the people who had come here seemed to have completely lost confidence in the camp and many returned to Leadville, while a great many went to Highland, some six miles up Castle creek, and there they laid out a town. Prominent amoung these parties may be mentioned: C. H. Jacobs & Co., composed of old-time Black Hillers as A. McPherson, James McPherson and C. H. Jacobs; Kingsbury & Irons, Wood Bros., and others. The firm of C. H. Jacobs came back here in the summer, or early in the fall, and since then built a fine building and are doing a large and safe business. Wood Bros. Also came down and settled alongside of Jacobs & Co. on Deane street, but discontinued business before winter set in. The other pioneer merchants of the camp were Koch & Jones, the former being appointed the first postmaster of Aspen and the latter succeeded by C. W. Durand; H. P. Cowenhoven, located opposite the postoffice, corner Cooper avenue and Galena street, Messrs. Blood, Brooks & Stone took a lot two corners farther down and when their building was completed it was considered the finest in town. James McLaughlin, an old timer in Gilpin county, thought this place good enough to live in and so built the first hotel of any size in the town. The Delmonie restaurant by the David Bros. & Winn was another good institution and did a good business all through the fall. Henry Webber & Co. bought a lot corner Deane and Galena, built a house and put in a stock of boots, shoes and clothing. Brooks & Pfeiffer, and H. M. Saunders were the engineers and surveyors to first locate and remain here. Joe H. King, an enterprising young lawyer, came from Alabama and became a partner with George A. Crittenden in the law business. This firm, with J. Watson, Deane & Shear, and Proffessor B. Clark Wheeler comprised the legal talent the year of our camp’s existence. Garrett Boys, Scotty Watson, G. Thomas, Billy Mackley and one of the others were the saloonists and have since been joined by Johnny Tudor, Dustin & Russell, Pearce Bros., John Manning, Boies & Davies, and one or two more.The County commissioners of Gunnison county, in April, by petition of the camp, appointed W. A. Root Justice of the Peace for the Twelfth precinct, this being the number of the voting precincts in the county. They also appointed John H. Clark as constable, but he never qualified and never came into the camp. Among the many comers during the spring mention may be made of John W. Adair, superintendent of the Josephine Mining Company, who still retains that position and who represents the owners of Smuggler No. 2, now known as the J. C. Johnson; H. B. Gillespie, part owner of the Spar, and superintendent of the Spar Gold and Silver Mining company; George W. Triplett, who hails from old Kaintuck. His cabins on Main street, were among those built on the new town site. Most of his mining experiments were up Hunter’s creek, where in a shaft on the claim he has found mineral to assay 150 ounces and more. George is an old time miner and prospector in Nevada and Montana, and is very popular with the boys of the camp. During the summer and fall several ladies came to camp, and of the number who remained during the winter of 80 and 81 were Mrs. H. P. Cowenhoven, Miss Katie Cowenhoven, Mrs. H. B. Gillespie, Mrs. W. C. Corkhill, Mrs. P. M. William, Mrs. James McLaughlin, Miss Phoebe Phillips, Mrs. Peter O’Reilley, Mrs. Henry Webber, Mrs. J. H. Currie, Mrs. L. C. Wellman, and Mrs. White. These ladies invited the men of Aspen to a supper on Christmas night, and it most certainly can be said to the credit of the ladies that a more bountiful feast was never spread amid the wilds of the Rocky Mountains. The toasts and speeches of the evening were full of thought, and carried the minds of the hearers to the Christmas eve of long ago, and I am positive I am warranted in saying that not one of the nearly three hundred who were present, that live long as they may, when old age comes creeping on, and when their locks have become silvered and gray, that each will pause and say: To the ladies of Aspen can be attributed the pleasantest evening ever spent in Aspen. New Years evening the gentlemen returned the compliment by inviting the ladies to a supper, and as all the viands were made by the bach cooks of the camp, the difference, if there was any, can be imagined.Through the influence of the ladies and the exertions of Prof. Wheeler and James McPherson, a literary society was started early in December, and the many happy Saturday evenings passed can be attributed to the gentlemen named above, together with Mr. and Mrs. Gillaspie, Mrs. Corkhill, Misses Kate Cowenhoven and Phoebe Phillips, Messrs. J. W. Deane, W. B. Root and John F. Leland were the editors of the literary paper during the winter and which oftentimes contained a beautiful thought. The Sabbath school started during the fall of 80 was from the efforts of these same ladies. It has fulfilled a mission and is still doing so, and on which will have a bearing upon the future of Aspen in many long years to come. All honor to the ladies of Aspen who remained in camp during the long and dreary winter of 80 and 81.As this article has assumed much greater length than I at first anticipated, I must crave your indulgence, Mr. Editor, and ask for a small amount of space in your next issue for a brief resume of this interesting subject.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.

For tax deductible donations, click here.

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User