Land of Contrast: A History of Southeast Colorado
BLM Cultural Resources Series (Colorado: No. 17)
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Chapter VII

With thousands of would-be miners flooding into Pike's Peak, governing this new land became a major problem. In short order, miners who settled the foothills and canyons established vigilante groups to prevent claim jumping and land grabbing that disrupted the work of recovering precious minerals. Miners did not have time to waste with formal government, and quasi-legal organizations like claim clubs arose. These "clubs" were formed to record claims, provide services to legally stake claims, settle land disputes, and dispense justice for those who tried to grab others' claims. In this way, an embryo of civil government was brought to mining camps and other settlements. The claim clubs eventually dissolved into elected officials and the creation of town and county governments. [1] Many times members of the local claim club became government officials and, later, territorial officers. Anson Rudd, of Canon City, is a good example of the transition from claim club to legal official. [2] One major problem faced by what was then called "Pike's Peak" was that this place represented the western-most part of Kansas Territory. Administration lines extended hundreds of miles over unsettled plains and, clearly, miners of the Rockies did what was necessary for survival. National politics created further tensions. By 1860 the nation was on the verge of civil war. The Kansas-Nebraska controversy made creation of new territories difficult. Further, 25,000 persons were required to create a territory, and, by 1860, with many "go-backers" leaving Pike's Peak, there was considerable question as to whether there were enough souls to create an independent political entity. [3] Election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency in 1860 changed things greatly. Not only was he the first Republican Party candidate to win this high post, but the victory drove Southern Democrats from the Union. Hard-line southerners could not tolerate Lincoln, and they left Congress, retreating to Montgomery, Alabama where the Confederate States of America was born.

On the eve of Lincoln's inauguration, President James Buchanan, a Democrat, signed a bill that created the State of Kansas, with its western border fixed at the present location. On February 28, 1861, Buchanan also signed legislation that created a territory from what was left of the old Kansas Territory. After considerable wrangling over what the place should be called, including suggestions like Jefferson, Idahoe, Yampa, Arapahoe [sic], Tahosa, Lafayette, Columbus, Franklin, Weapollao, Nemara, Lula, San Juan and Colorado; the latter won and Pike's Peak became Colorado Territory. [4] When President Lincoln came to office, he appointed Colorado's first Territorial Governor, William Gilpin. Gilpin, an old Colorado hand, arrived during a particularly troubled time. Civil War racked the nation, the South seceded, and the country was torn asunder. William Gilpin faced a series of problems ranging from the creation of new counties to suppressing Confederate activities in Colorado. Upon his arrival in May 1861, Gilpin set up his cabinet, and by September of that year the first territorial legislature convened. This body elected Hiram P. Bennett as delegate to Congress, and Colorado Territory was in business. [5]

Gilpin also had a strong interest in the San Luis Valley. From his earlier days of promoting Colorado during the gold rush, Gilpin touted the Valley as a land that held considerable agricultural promise. He proposed a transcontinental railroad that would cross the area while, at the same time, he wrote a guide book that praised the Valley. When Colorado Territory became a reality, the San Luis was taken from New Mexico and included in Colorado. The appointment of Gilpin only could enhance the San Luis Valley's position in a new territory. [6] To bring government to the Valley, Conejos, Costilla and Guadalupe Counties were carved from old Taos (New Mexico) County. Costilla County was formally organized in 1863 and San Luis became county seat, while Conejos County developed from the earlier Guadalupe County, and Conejos became its seat. With county governments in place, territorial representatives were elected. Jose Victor Garcia and Jesus M. Barela went to Denver to serve the Valley, while John M. Francisco was elected to the Council (the same as today's State Senate.) [8] On the east side of the Sangre de Cristos, Fremont, Pueblo, Huerfano, El Paso and Park Counties represented local government. County seats were established at Fairplay, Canon City, Fountain City (Pueblo), San Luis (actually west of the Sangres), and Trinidad. As Colorado settled into its territorial status, Governor Gilpin was faced with not only the Civil War, but increasingly difficult natives on the Eastern Plains. The most immediate matter was war between the states. There was a considerable community of southern supporters at several mining communities, most notably those of South Park. [9] Southern forces in New Mexico eyed Colorado's gold fields as sources for the Confederacy's ailing economy. To meet this threat, Gilpin found himself raising a militia. However, there were no public funds available, and Gilpin, in desperation, issued $375,000 worth of drafts on the Federal Treasury, hoping that Washington would honor them when the war ended. [10] Unfortunately for Gilpin, the Treasury Department later refused to pay these drafts, and the Governor found himself in serious trouble with the citizens of Colorado who demanded payment for their services and goods. Before the money problem surfaced, Gilpin was busy "protecting" his territory from Confederate invasion. Mace's Hole, near today's Beulah, was a hotbed of Confederate activity, while miners at California and Georgia Gulches tried to raise Confederate regiments. While there was no real threat of invasion from the south, U.S. Army posts at Fort Garland and Fort Lyon (on the Arkansas) were put on alert. [11] Under Gilpin's leadership, the First Regiment of Colorado Infantry was assembled in 1861. The group trained at Camp Weld near Denver, and then in 1862 they joined Union forces under E.R.S. Canby in New Mexico. As it turned out, Gilpin's fears were not totally misplaced as Confederate General Henry Sibley marched across eastern New Mexico, intent on capturing Santa Fe. By the time Colorado's volunteers reached New Mexico, Santa Fe had fallen and the Confederates prepared to take Fort Union. At Glorieta Pass, Union forces, under Canby, met Sibley and routed the Confederates. This battle ended any Confederate threats to the west, and Colorado's volunteers were praised for their contribution. [12] Shortly thereafter, Gilpin was removed as governor by Abraham Lincoln, and John Evans replaced him. Evans arrived in Colorado during May 1862 and found that most sympathy for the South was snuffed out. A raid into the San Luis Valley by Confederate raider James Reynolds was quickly disposed of, as were attempts of Confederate officers to smuggle gold from the territory. [13]

Governor Evans may have been rid of the South, but he faced continued problems with the Eastern Plains natives. The heart of the matter lay with the Laramie Treaty Council of 1851, at which it was agreed that the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes could use the Eastern Plains from the South Platte to the Arkansas Rivers as their land. The Gold Rush of 1859 changed that, because thousands of prospectors trespassed while on their way to Pike's Peak and demands were soon loud and long for removal of the "indolent savages." Land became a valuable commodity and native claims were in the middle of all the activity. [14] The fall of 1860 saw Federal agents holding council along the Arkansas River to negotiate new peace terms. Both the Cheyenne and the Arapaho agreed to surrender all their lands except the area between Sand Creek and the Arkansas. This reservation would be divided so that each tribal member received forty acres, while the Federal Government promised an annual $30,000 subsidy for fifteen years, a grist mill, a saw mill, and a school for the new land. [15] Such an approach was in keeping with European ideas that the native American should and could be "civilized" by turning him into a farmer. Details, like cultural differences and totally divergent concepts of economics and society, did not bother these newcomers. The natives were considered "useless," and unless they conformed they would be removed. Herein lay the core of European/native conflicts throughout the western United States. Every time settlement encroached on the natives, conflict occurred because neither side was willing to change. The natives were usually more flexible than were European settlers and generally they were bullied out of their lands and heritage by these newcomers. The Cheyenne and Arapaho may have been confined to the Sand Creek Reservation on paper, but, in fact, they wandered across the plains hunting and gathering as always. Further, continual expansion of European towns, cities, and farms concerned the natives, for they saw lush grasses of the prairies put to the plow and rivers dammed up. Increasingly, the Cheyenne and Arapaho were agitated by younger braves who wanted all settlers out of Colorado. It was one thing to share with itinerant fur trappers and a few traders, but when cities were built, ranches and farms begun, the threat was too much to overlook.

Settlers in isolated regions of the plains became apprehensive about native raids. The Sioux uprising in Minnesota during 1862 fueled the fires of panic in Colorado. In response to his ongoing "Indian problem," Governor Evans recalled the First Regiment of Colorado volunteers from New Mexico and scattered it across the plains to calm the fears of various communities. Evans, despite his pleas for Federal help, was caught between Colorado's apprehension and the pressing needs of Civil War. Tension ran high, but there were no incidents until the spring of 1864, when the natives became more bold, raiding cattle ranches, stopping travel on the South Platte Trail, and then on June 11th attacked Nathan Hungate's ranch, brutally killing him, his wife, and two daughters. [16] Denver's citizens were thrown into panic and prepared to defend the city from the raiders. Evans, however, tried to use reason and appealed to "the friendly Indians of the Plains" to gather at Federal forts where they would be protected. Warring natives would be "ruthlessly exterminated" if they did not surrender. Threats did no good, for raids continued, mail service was severed, stage lines were cut, overland freighting stopped, and Denver was isolated from its eastern suppliers. Evans, in August 1864, raised a "hundred-day regiment" of volunteers who would sweep the plains clear of hostiles. [17] The fall of 1864 saw natives appearing at Fort Lyon along the Arkansas. Edward W. Wynkoop, fort commander, escorted seven chiefs to Denver to talk with Evans. Evans, who supposedly wanted peace, treated his guests terribly. He and John Chivington were then involved in "statehood" politics, and it seems that peace with the natives would harm this process. Evans stated that resolution of the "native problem" was in the hands of military authorities and he could do no more. Army officers suggested that the tribes move to the Sand Creek Reservation where they would be safe for the winter. Chivington, however, had plans of his own. As commander of the hundred-day volunteers, he had yet to see action, and his soldiers' terms were about to expire. Obviously, if Chivington was to use his men, it would have to be soon. Governor Evans left for Washington, D.C. in November 1864, and Chivington decided to move. As Methodist-Episcopal Bishop of Colorado, he saw it as his sacred duty to "exterminate" the heathen natives of the plains so as to free the land for settlement by "Christian" Europeans. Further, Chivington felt the plains natives should be taught a lesson that European technology was superior and defeat was inevitable. [18]

With such thoughts, Chivington's force marched from Fort Lyon north to Sand Creek, where a band of reservation natives had set up winter camp, just as Wynkoop suggested. Chief Black Kettle was assured that if he flew the American flag, his people would be safe. Despite these promises, Chivington attacked the little band on November 29, 1864, and proceeded to slaughter men, women, and children without discrimination. [19] The massacre was appalling. Chivington's men spared none. Women were sadistically mutilated, men were tortured, children were torn from their mothers arms and slowly killed before their parents eyes. Nobody knows how many natives died. Chivington boasted of 500 dead, while saner heads suggested 100 losses. There were no prisoners taken. [20] This horrible deed had immediate consequences. The citizens of Colorado, who had called for native removal, were revolted by Chivington's actions. A Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the (Civil) War investigated this massacre, and it condemned Chivington, while a military commission spent months coming to the same conclusion. So vicious was sentiment over Sand Creek that one outspoken critic of Chivington, Captain Silas S. Soule, was assassinated; his murderer was never apprehended. [21]

Governor Evans foolishly defended Chivington's actions on the basis that Colorado's natives had to be taught a lesson. However, no matter who was right, native revenge occurred. The town of Old Julesburg was sacked in January 1865, and then burned to the ground the next month. Terror returned to the plains and Colorado's settlers demanded action. In 1867 a new treaty was negotiated by which the Arapaho and Cheyenne were moved to Indian Territory (Oklahoma), onto reservations that would keep them out of Colorado. The Medicine Lodge Treaty of that year "removed" these natives from the eastern plains and kept them away from civilization. [22] Nevertheless, enraged natives, led by Chief Roman Nose, attacked fifty army scouts in September 1868 at Beecher Island on the Arikaree Fork of the Republican River in eastern Colorado. An siege ensued, and nine days later U.S. Army reinforcements from Kansas relieved the men after some losses. The next year Chief Tall Bull was pursued into northeastern Colorado by Army troops and was attacked at Summit Springs where fifty natives were killed. The Battle of Summit Springs was the final engagement on the Colorado plains between European settlers and natives. [23] The eastern plains of Colorado were cleared of natives by 1870, primarily because superior military power and the physical removal to Indian Territory eliminated the presence of these peoples. Unlike the northern plains, there was no continual warfare between newcomers and natives, nor was there inter-tribal squabbling. Colorado's natives were simply overwhelmed by the 100,000 immigrants that poured across the plains in 1859, and small bands like the Arapaho were inundated. [24]

Across the Sangre de Cristos the situation was much the same. In the San Luis Valley, Ute natives were a problem from the beginning. Fort Garland was built to "protect" local settlers, and, as the gold rush continued, more and more pressure was brought to bear on this tribe. Miners went from the Upper Arkansas into the San Luis and then up the Rio Grande deep into the San Juan Mountains in search of gold. Charles Baker, for instance, traveled into the San Juans during 1860 where he found gold near Eureka Gulch. This site was known as "Baker's Park" and a small settlement popped up here. The problem was that these miners were clearly trespassing on Ute reservation lands. Nevertheless, May 1861 saw the town site of Animas City laid out and several buildings were erected. Harsh winters and the Civil War stopped mining in the San Juans until the late 1860's. Exploratory expeditions found paths into the mountains, usually by way of the San Luis Valley. Mineral development continued at a pace that caused Coloradans (and miners) to demand that an older treaty, signed in 1868 with the Utes, be revised. The 1868 treaty said that a single reservation for all seven bands of the Ute nation would be provided and that its boundary would run from about Pagosa Springs north to Steamboat Springs and then westward into Utah Territory. Thus, the western half of Colorado was ceded to these natives. The treaty was executed at Conejos on March 1, 1868, and it established agencies at White River (near modern-day Meeker) and Los Pinos, along Los Pinos Creek, west of Cochetopa Pass. The old Conejos Agency was to be closed and its facilities were moved to Los Pinos. By mid-1868 the various Ute bands occupied their new cession. One man emerged as their main spokesman. This was, of course, Chief Ouray who sensed the futility of opposing these newcomers and tried to maintain peace while obtaining the best possible conditions for his people. In this effort Ouray was generally successful, for there were no serious incidents between miners and natives. There were no "massacres" as on the eastern plains, and the Ute were left to hunt and gather as they had always done. However, pressure increased year after year in the San Juans so that by 1873 the Federal Government found itself having to negotiate a new treaty. Felix Brunot, U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs; Charles Adams, U.S. Indian Agent; and interpreter, Otto Mears, of Saguache, all met with the Ute and created what was known as the Brunot Treaty. This pact called for even more land cessions. The Ute were removed from the San Juans, a new Los Pinos Agency was established near today's Montrose, and thousands of miners rushed into the region by way of the San Luis Valley, using Otto Mears' newly built toll roads. [25] The Ute and their relationship to the San Luis Valley ended in 1873. Actually the 1868 Treaty removed natives from the Valley; however, there were trade ties with Saguache and Conejos after that date. But by 1873 the natives were confined to southwestern Colorado, and to the White River in northwest Colorado. The White River Agency was where the associated Ute Tribes of Colorado were finally removed. In 1879, under considerable aggravation from Agent Nathan C. Meeker, the White River Utes rose in rebellion, killed Meeker and caused the U.S. Army to rush troops to the Agency. A military detachment sent from Wyoming, under the command of Thomas T. Thornburgh, was ambushed along Milk Creek. This was known as the Thornburgh Battle and was used as the final excuse to remove the Ute from Colorado. After Army troops had subdued White River's natives, they were removed to the Uintah Reservation, Utah, during 1881 [26] All of Colorado was now free of its native inhabitants and the land rush was on. The eastern plains were swept clear by 1868 while the western slope was opened in 1880. These removals provided the land that miners, farmers, ranchers and town builders needed to "settle and civilize" Colorado Territory.


1. George L. Anderson, "The Canon City or Arkansas Valley Claim Club, 1860-1862," Colorado Magazine, 14, (1939), p. 201.

2. Warren Fowler, "Early Days in Canon City and South Park," Colorado Magazine, 3, (1926), p. 55.

3. Ubbelohde, Benson and Smith, op. cit., p. 98.

4. Robert G. Athearn, The Coloradans (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1976), p. 66.

5. In: Thomas L. Karnes, William Gilpin, Western Nationalist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1970.)

6. Simmons, op. cit., p. 71.

7. Ibid., p. 73.

8. In: Daniel Ellis O'Conner, A Confederate in the Colorado Gold Fields (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970), p. 50

9. Ibid., p. 52.

10. Whittaker, Pueblo, p. 154.

11. See: Ray C. Colton, The Civil War in the Western Territories (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1959) and Robert B. Sanford, "Camp Weld, Colorado," Colorado Magazine, 11, (1934), pp. 46-60. Also: Blanche V. Adams, "The Second Colorado Cavalry in the Civil War," Colorado Magazine, 8, (1931), pp. 95-106.

12. Simmons, ibid., p. 72.

13. See: Harry E. Kelsey, Jr., Frontier Capitalist, The Life of John Evans (Boulder: CAUP 1969.)

14. Athearn, Coloradans, ibid., p. 76.

15. Colin B. Goodykoontz, "Life in the Gold Towns." In: Carl Ubbelohde (Ed.) A Colorado Reader (Boulder: Pruett, 1962), p. 107, and Athearn, Coloradans, ibid., p. 75.

16. Frank A. Root, "Early Days in Weld County," The Trail, 6, (December 1913), p. 12, and Rocky Mountain News, Denver, Colorado, August 23, 1864.

17. Ubbelohde, Benson and Smith, ibid., p. 110.

18. Stan Hoig, The Sand Creek Massacre (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961) and Janet Lecompte, "Sand Creek," Colorado Magazine, 41, (1964), pp. 314-335.

19. See: Donald Berthrong, The Southern Cheyenne (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1966), Chapter 14. A fictional treatment of the massacre is contained in: Michael Straight, A Very Small Remnant (New York: Knopf, 1963.)

20. Reginald S. Craig, The Fighting Parson: The Biography of Colonel John M. Chivington (Los Angeles: n.p., 1959.)

21. Athearn, Coloradans, ibid., p. 75.

22. Paul M. O'Rourke, Frontier In Transition: A History of Southwestern Colorado (Denver: Bureau of Land Management, 1980), pp. 59-60; also: Douglas C. Jones, The Treaty of Medicine Lodge (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1966.)

23. See: Jack D. Filipiak, "The Battle of Summit Springs," Colorado Magazine, 41, (1964), pp. 343-354, and also Clarence Reckmeyer "The Battle of Summit Springs," Colorado Magazine, 6, (1929), pp. 211-220. See: Berthrong ibid., pp. 310-317, and Merrill J. Mattes, (ed.), "The Beecher Island Battle field Diary of Sigmund Schesinger," Colorado Magazine, 29, (1952), pp. 161-169.

24. Ubbelohde, Benson and Smith, op. cit., p. 112.

25. O'Rourke, ibid., p. 50.

26. Frederic J. Athearn, An Isolated Empire: A History of Northwestern Colorado (Denver: Bureau of Land Management, 1981), pp. 47-54.

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Last Updated: 20-Nov-2008