Sandwiched in between the Sangre de Cristos to the west, and the Wet Mountains to the east in Southern Colorado, a few miles west of Gardner, Colorado I came across the forlorn and tattered remains of an old settlement about a year ago. (I’m certainly not “on to” something new here, these ruins have appeared in books and in photos across the web for years.) Tucked in close at the foot of a rocky bluff near the Huerfano River, surrounded by ranches sat this little gem with no name. I have searched high and low for information on this settlement and have found a few, vague leads, but no definitive answer as to what this place was called…or if it was ever called anything.

 

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Rito Oso? Archuletaville? Sharpsdale?

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According to Colorado Ghost Town aficionado Ken Jessen, for a short time in the late-1960s and early-1970s the site was occupied by members of a hippie community that named the site “Archuletaville” but the buildings were there long before the 1960s. When the hippies arrived, the buildings were being used as goat pens by a local rancher who agreed to let the hippies live at the site. This is the most recent account of the site’s history.

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Prior to the arrival of the hippies and the establishment of Archuletaville, the site is shrouded in mystery. Many have claimed it to be the ruins of “Sharpsdale” an 1800s era supply stop on the route over Mosca Pass into the San Luis Valley. But evidence suggests that Sharpsdale was located nearby and closer to Tom Sharp’s “Buzzard’s Roost Ranch” which still stands today a few miles down the Huerfano from Archuletaville.

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Another possibility is that the ruins are the site of Rito Oso an old Mexican settlement dating back to the era when Southern Colorado was still a part of Mexico. A walk through the broken and crumbling ruins at the site lend credence to this possibility- Clearly, some of the structures are newer and date to, or have repairs and improvements that were made in the “Archuletaville” era of the 1960s, but a look around reveals a handful of much, much older structures of stone, log and adobe brick at the site.  A rough hewn log cabin without a single iron nail present, it’s logs splintered and dry rotted in a way that only decades of exposure to the elements can produce. Stone pens and sheds for animals. The location- Tucked in at the base of a bluff, on a prominence overlooking the vast plain of the Huerfano- An excellent defensive locale if you were concerned with attacks from roving Indians and bandits. Perhaps the most compelling evidence is the ranch across the road from the site which bears the name “Rito Oso”  but nobody seems to know for sure what the ruins were called or when they date to. Does anyone out there know the facts about this enigmatic site on the Huerfano?

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Twice in the past month, as part of the research I am doing for a book I’m writing, I have visited a secluded area of Douglas County, Colorado where the Confederate underground was known to have operated in the 1860s- An area where several buried caches of Civil War era arms and ammunition have been found through the years. I set out to search for any signs or evidence of these long-forgotten Confederate agents who smuggled weapons and supplies through Colorado Territory.

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Old Stage barn constructed in 1861 in Douglas County, Colorado. The Confederate underground operated in the hills nearby throughout the Civil War.

Known as the Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC) the Confederate underground was a secretive, fraternal order loosely based on the Masons. Active throughout the southern states, and western territories in the waning years of the Civil War the KGC possessed a tremendous amount of wealth and influence. Many high ranking officers of the Confederacy were KGC members, and thousands of rank and file soldiers were initiates in the secret order as well. Among the most notable members of the KGC were Frank and Jesse James, William “Bloody Bill” Anderson, John Wilkes Booth, General Douglas H. Cooper, Colorado pioneer Alexander “Zan” Hicklin,  James and John Reynolds (see my previous blogs regarding the Reynolds Gang in Colorado) would-be assassin Lewis Powell (Payne) and the well-known Freemason Albert Pike (who many believe founded the KGC.)

Famous Freemason Albert Pike, Thought to be the Founder of the KGC

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The primary objective of the KGC was to accumulate wealth (aka gold and silver) and weapons by any means, which usually meant robbery, for use in a future “second” Civil War against the Union. Hidden in caches across the south and west, the KGC employed agents or “sentinels” that stood guard over the buried treasure for many decades. Dating back to the days leading up to the Civil War, KGC initiates used a series of “grips” or hand signals to indicate their membership in the order- To the casual bystander, the “grips” wouldn’t seem unusual, but to a fellow KGC member they would be easily recognized.

Four famous members of the KGC demonstrating one of the Orders’ “secret” grips-

The right hand grasping or tucked inside the lapel.

Left to Right- “Bloody Bill” Anderson, Jesse and Frank James, John Wilkes Booth.

KGC initiate Lewis Powell (Also Known as Lewis Payne) attempted to kill Secretary of State William Seward on April 14, 1865. These photos taken after his arrest show him giving what former members of the KGC confirmed were secret “grips” of the order.

Also employed by the KGC in their nefarious activities was a secret alphabet or code, and messages would be carved in trees, rocks, or passed between members on scraps of paper. A first hand account given by a ranch hand of Alexander “Zan” Hicklin of a guerrilla traversing Colorado Territory  bound for Confederate lines in New Mexico in 1862 states:

“Hicklin was suspicious of the man at first. I saw him hand Hicklin a scrap of paper covered in symbols and scribbles. Hicklin then eased and provided the man with food and provisions for his journey.”

It is clear the “…scrap of paper covered in symbols and scribbles…” was a message in the KGC code vouching for the wayward guerrilla.

Key to the KGC Secret Code

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The KGC was a very real, very powerful order which lasted well into the 20th Century. Reports of second and third generation KGC sentinels standing vigil at burial sites persisted until the 1930s! In the late 1800s and early 1900s numerous cases of confrontations and even shootings at the hands of mysterious armed men deep in forests have been attributed to KGC sentinels watching over their loot. Around the outbreak of WWII, suspected KGC activity seemed to disappear.

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KGC cache sites were marked with a series of nondescript signs- Treasure hunters have spent years deciphering the signs of the KGC and documenting anomalies found at known KGC cache sites. A common series of markers used by the KGC, which would go unnoticed by the casual passerby, has been documented-

  1. “Hoot Owls”– Trees which have been deformed, grafted or otherwise “engineered” into unnatural shapes are the most common KGC marker. “Twin” “Triplet” or unusual clusters of trees the exact same height and age also indicate KGC activity, as they were purposely arranged in such a fashion.

Examples of KGC “Hoot Owls” found at cache burial sites in the south/west.

2. Rock Carvings– Some complex, such as those using the KGC code or symbols-pyramids, eyes, numbers, etc. Other carvings were as simple as a cross or a series of holes bored into the rock.

Examples of known/suspected KGC rock carvings (complex)

Examples of suspected KGC rock carvings (simple)

3. Marker Stones– A series of stones, often triangular or “arrowhead” shaped placed along the path to a cache, these stones would appear ordinary to most, but to a KGC agent, they would point the way to buried goods. Also used as marker stones were ordinary looking rocks that might not be of a type native or normally found in the area, for example quartz markers left in an area where there is only sandstone.

Examples of KGC marker stones from confirmed cache sites.

4) Burned out tree trunks and holes bored into tree trunks-The burned out stump was a popular KGC marker meaning “Buried cache in a hole nearby.”

(No photos available of “burned tree trunk/stump markers”- Information based on data and claims compiled/made by Military Historian Dr. Roy William Roush, Ph.D., in his book “Knights of the Golden Circle Treasure Signs”)

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Using the known examples of KGC markers, I set out to find if any of these KGC markers were present at the Douglas County site- I didn’t expect to find much, but I was surprised at what I found, and I believe that a KGC cache once existed at the site, or still exists waiting to be discovered. My findings-

1. “Hoot Owls”– I stood on a small rise over the creek bottom I was investigating and scanned the treeline looking for anomalies- Anything that didn’t look right, any tree that wasn’t growing in a natural way. I found several examples of “Hoot Owls” over a one-mile stretch of creek bed, including a near perfect “arch” made by two trees bent inwards towards each other, and a “triplet” tree of nearly perfect proportions, both pictured below.

“Hoot Owls” found at the Douglas County, Colorado site- Including an “arch” and a nearly perfect “triplet”- Highly unusual for such a large concentration of “naturally” occurring anomalies to be present in an area of less than a mile. Also of note- Each of the trees was large/old enough to date to the Civil War era.

 

2. Rock Carvings– Across the one-mile stretch I investigated I found several rock carvings of the “simple” style- A “key”, a “cross”, two “eyes”, and series of stones with between one and four holes bored into them. There were tons of boulders and rocks in the area- Only about eight had carvings, and the stones bearing “eye” carvings all had a distinct depression or hole in the ground directly below the “eye”…former site of a buried cache???

Cross, key, and eye rock carvings found in Douglas County, Colorado.

“Eye” and simple hole pattern carvings at the site-

3. Marker Stones– Rocks that shouldn’t be there, or arrow shaped stones in unusual places. I found only one “arrow” shaped stone that was 110% out of place, sitting on top of a rounded, water worn boulder in the creek. An angular, pointy stone is very out of place in a creek bed. It was definitely put there by human hands- When?  Who knows, maybe three days ago, maybe 150 years ago by a KGC agent.  What was intriguing was the huge open hole in the rocks just beyond the “arrow”  looked like a perfect spot to hide something.

“Arrow” marker stone and hole in the rocks behind it.

I also noticed red stones, all of a uniform size, placed at regular intervals along the creek. The stones were roughly fist sized, and unlike the native stones in the area. When I reached the near perfect triplet “Hoot Owl” tree, the trail of red stones stopped. I found no more for the next half-mile before I turned around and headed back.

Red marker stones found at regular intervals along the creek.

4. Burned Out Tree Trunk– I was not expecting to find a burned out tree trunk, but on a steep side slope of the tiny valley cut by the creek this old stump, clearly cut off by the hand of man many, many years ago caught my eye. It was so old that it was dry rotting and would crumble in your fingers, and the base had been hollowed out long ago by a fire.  It was the only tree cut down by human hands on the whole hillside, and was located at a steep point next to a promontory rock that caught your eye. Directly across the creek from the burned out stump was the “Hoot Owl” arch mentioned previously.

Three views of the burnt out stump, and the “Hoot Owl” arch directly across the creek.

 

5. Strange circular clearing surrounded by very old felled timber- From the burnt out stump, I crossed the creek and walked through the “Hoot Owl” arch. On the other side of the “arch” was a large patch of felled timber, very old and gray with age, obviously having been down for many years. In the center of the felled timber was a nearly perfect circular patch, void of timber with the exception of one very young pine tree and short grass. I’ve seen similar circular patches in the Rockies where meteors fell, or at the site of dormant freshwater springs. This spot was similar, but the felled timber surrounding it seemed to be situated in a uniform depth of 6-8 logs which seemed unusual to me. Is this clearing the site of a forgotten KGC cache???

Circular clearing beyond the “Hoot Owl” arch.

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Buried Confederate arms and ammunition have been found in this same vicinity of Douglas County in the past. Based on the evidence I found, I think that more waits to be discovered.

Colorado has plenty of ghost towns but what about “lost” towns- Towns that have disappeared entirely, or almost entirely from the face of the earth?  It is hard to imagine but there are “lost cities” here in Colorado. Cities and towns and settlements that have vanished almost completely over the years. Most appeared and disappeared with the boom and bust days of the gold and silver rush. Others were ranching and farming towns hit hard by the “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s. Still others came and went with the fortunes of the railroads.  These make up Colorado’s “lost cities” and below is a collection of then and now photos of six of them. (Click on the circles for larger images.)

1. Querida, Colorado

Querida in Custer County was once a booming mining town laid out at the base of the Bassick Mine.  Today nothing remains but one old house, some debris from other buildings, and the massive tailings pile from the Bassick Mine.

2. Independence, Colorado

There was more than one “Independence” in Colorado- This is the Independence in Teller County near Cripple Creek and Victor. Independence was one of many towns that sprawled out around the mining operations in the Cripple Creek/Victor area in the late 1890s. Today some mining structures and equipment mark the spot, and a one or two homes can still be found scattered among the workings. Most of the town however was buried under the tailings from the mine, or torn down.

3. Caribou, Colorado

Caribou was one of Colorado’s top producing silver mining towns in the 1870s and 1880s boasting a business district, hotels, saloons and schools. The silver crash of 1893 spelled doom for the thriving community located on a windswept mountainside eight miles above Nederland at nearly 10,000 ft. elevation. Most of the population left around 1895, but a few struggled on in the mines until around 1920. Today a couple of stone buildings and one tumbledown log cabin are all that mark the spot of Caribou- The rest of town having been lost to forest fires, dismantling, and the elements over the years. A few foundations can be found in the deep grass at the site but its hard to imagine thousands once lived here.

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4. Manhattan, Colorado

Deep in Larimer County northwest of Ft. Collins a couple of gold discoveries were made high on Elkhorn and Manhattan Creeks. Manhattan once had around 500 residents, but the ore was low-grade and there wasn’t much to be found.  An accident in a shaft took the lives of several miners in 1892, and shortly after Manhattan was abandoned.  Sometime in the 1950s or so, the Forest Service had the log buildings of Manhattan torn down.  All that marks the town site today is a tiny graveyard on a hillside where the miners from the 1892 accident are buried.

5.Berwind, Colorado

In the sandy foothills northwest of Trinidad numerous “company towns” existed. These towns were built by mine owners for their employees and their families. One of the larger company towns was Berwind. Berwind once had over 3000 residents, hundreds of homes, a two-story schoolhouse, railroad station, businesses, and a jail.  When the coal mines closed, the mine owners evicted the families and bulldozed the housing so they wouldn’t be taxed on the structures. Berwind Canyon today is lined with concrete foundations, staircases to nowhere, and modern day “Roman Ruins” overgrown with shrubs and trees. The tiny jail house remains and is guarded by a fat squirrel.

6. Carrizo Springs, Colorado

Carrizo Springs in the far southeastern corner of Colorado in remote Baca County was a very unusual place- It was a mining town on the great plains.  Around 1885 a group of prospectors from Missouri were looking for the Rocky Mountains and became lost as they traveled through Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and Kansas. When they had just about given up they saw hills and bluffs that they assumed were the Rocky Mountains. They began prospecting along Carrizo Creek and found some streaks of copper ore and a few streaks of silver as well. The Mexican ranchers in the area told the miners they were still a couple hundred miles from the Rocky Mountains. The miners decided to stay at Carrizo Creek and soon word spread of their strike. Around 1887 the town of Carrizo Springs was born, and one account says 2000-3000 people flocked to the settlement. Carrizo Springs lived a short, violent life. Cattle rustlers and horse thieves wandered through town from Kansas and Texas, gamblers and prostitutes set up shop in the saloons, marauding bandidos all the way from Mexico terrorized the town on occasion. Soon though it was realized the copper and silver ore along Carrizo Creek was poor and the town vanished. By 1889 Carrizo Springs was empty having lived only two years.  Today it takes a very sharp eye to spot anything marking the site- A few crumbling stone foundations, a weathered hitching post here and there, and shards of broken glass and porcelain on the prairie are all that is left.  No period photos of Carrizo Springs exist.

I just returned from a short but satisfying trip through the San Luis Valley of Colorado and a small chunk of northern New Mexico between Taos and Chama. I was out to snap a few photos of the past- The faces of the forgotten and forlorn buildings of the region- A region still very much alive, but where the past coexists side-by-side with the present.

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Garcia, Colorado

There is a unique energy in this part of the world. I can not describe it, but things just look and feel “different” in some way as you travel down the lonely stretches of blacktop that run the length of the San Luis Valley and North-Central New Mexico. There is something about this area and it’s vast openness and sweeping views, the surreal aspect of the Great Sand Dunes butting up against the jagged snow-capped peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the Taos plateau and the great defile of the Rio Grande Gorge that rips through the middle of it- This is an area of intense natural beauty and quiet, peaceful, solitude. Some even say this is an area of supernatural or otherworldly energy- Cattle mutilations, UFO sightings, and the “Taos Hum” which reportedly only about 10% of people can hear, are evidence of this theory.

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Hooper, Colorado

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Along a back road in northern New Mexico

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Mosca, Colorado

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Moffatt, Colorado

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Penitente Morada, Abiquiu, New Mexico

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Tres Piedras, New Mexico

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Garcia, Colorado

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Moffatt, Colorado

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18th Century Spanish Colonial Church, New Mexico

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Moffatt, Colorado

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Garcia, Colorado

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico

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Hooper, Colorado

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Costilla, New Mexico

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Moffatt, Colorado

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Abandoned Church, New Mexico

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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New Mexico

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Costilla, New Mexico

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

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Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico

Highway 12, known as “The Highway of Legends” heads west from Trinidad, Colorado along the Purgatoire River into the foothills. Along this strip of highway from Trinidad to the east base of the Sangre de Cristos are numerous plazas- small communities punctuated by their picturesque Catholic churches, tiny congregational cemeteries, and small clusters of homes. Many of these plazas date back to the 1860’s when thirteen families from Mora, New Mexico settled the area, although the Purgatoire valley had been frequented and populated intermittently long before that by Spanish and Mexican ranchers. The plazas took the name of the founding family such as “Cordova Plaza” and “Parras Plaza.”

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s coal mining revitalized some of these little communities, and evidence of the coal mining era can be seen along way as you wind westward through the valley. When the coal mines closed, and the plazas returned to their sleepy existence as ranching   communities. Some of the plazas that dot the road are still occupied, a few are abandoned. A trip down the Highway of Legends today gives you a chance to view the crumbling adobe of these early Colorado settlements.

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Church at Tijeras Plaza

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Tijeras Plaza Cemetery with Sangre de Cristo mountains in the distance

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Abandoned home along the Highway of Legends

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A weathered headstone at one of the tiny cemeteries

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Another of the abandoned catholic Churches along the way

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Valdez

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Valdez

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Abandoned cars at Valdez

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Segundo

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Segundo

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Crown of a human skull exposed by time and the elements at one of the tiny cemeteries along the route.

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General Store at Weston

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Weston Elementary School

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Unique House at Weston

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Church at Vigil

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Parras Plaza

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Parras Plaza

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Parras Plaza

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Parras Plaza

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Parras Plaza

Please Note: This is not a commentary for or against any view point, this is the factual history of a man and the events surrounding his life that have been largely covered up and/or forgotten by time. It is not my intent to start a debate on the controversial subject of the Civil War, but to merely describe the circumstances of a man’s life during this troubled period in United States history.

“History is written by the victors.” – Walter Benjamin 1892-1940

As Americans, we have been raised to believe in the power of good over evil. That our way is the right way. In the 20th Century we Americans cheered our Army on as they played vital roles in defeating our enemies around the globe,  our patriotic fervor and unity reaching a crescendo 1945 as our tanks and infantry marched into the heart of Nazi Germany, and our Marines on the beaches and our bombers in the sky dealt a death blow to Japanese fanaticism in the Pacific.  Often, our version leads us to believe that the United States conquered evil singlehandedly. Seldom are our allies mentioned, and never do we read an enemy account of things. We tend not think twice about our enemies.

We read our version of the events of World War I and World War II in our history books. We grew up watching our version of the great battles of our time reenacted on the movie screen or on the TV by celebrities we all loved. We were the victor and the history was ours to write. We are a united country- The United States of America, and damn the German or Japanese (or Iraqi for that matter) version of events.

But let’s look back eighty years prior to our triumphant victory parades of VE and VJ Day in 1945. Let’s look back 140 years before our Abrams tanks rolled into Baghdad and statues of Saddam were toppled. Let’s look back to a time when there was no “we” “us” or “our” Let’s look back to the brutal, bloody, Civil War which divided “us” into two separate Nations between the years of 1861 and 1865. A time when we were either “Yankees” or “Rebs”-  A unique era in our  history when two different Americans- Abraham Lincoln, and Jefferson Davis were called “Mr. President”  and both could rightfully claim that title. A troubling time  when a war was fought by Americans, against Americans, in America- A war that left 750,000 of us dead on our soil.

In the case of the Civil War, how did we effectively and accurately write the history of a war we fought against ourselves?  What do we say of our enemies when they are us? Simply put, we say nothing. It is perhaps the greatest spoil of war that the victor writes the history- omitting, hiding, changing, glorifying and altering in general the events of a particular conflict to fit their ideal and their agenda. Below is the story of one of the men who fought in our war against ourselves. This man was on the losing side, and, subsequently, much of his life story has been erased by the victor. His name was John C. Moore.

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John C. Moore, Mayor, Denver City, Kansas Territory 1860

On August 18, 1832 a man named John C. Moore was born in Pulaski, Tennessee. This man would pass away 83 years later in Excelsior Springs, Missouri on October 27, 1915. He was a politician, and the first official mayor of Denver City, Kansas Territory (you read that right- Kansas.) This is about the only information you will find regarding John C. Moore on the internet today. It seems a rather lackluster and dull description of a man who was elected the first mayor of a wild, then-frontier town that was the gateway to the Rocky Mountains and the great Colorado Gold Rush. Certainly there must be more to John C. Moore’s life than the few lines you find about him in most sources.

John C. Moore was more than an obscure politician in a dusty frontier town. John C. Moore was a respected and intelligent newspaper man who had come to the region to be a part of the excitement following the big news of the Russell Party finding gold in Cherry Creek. Thousands of prospectors, fortune seekers, businessman, prostitutes, gamblers, desperadoes, and any kind of camp follower, thrill seeker, adventurer and drifter you can imagine poured into what was then Kansas Territory in 1859 following news of the gold strike. Among those who came to the region was Moore, a newspaper man and aspiring politician from Missouri. He had found success in Kansas City in the 1850’s as one of the founders, and as chief editor of the “Kansas City Times” newspaper.

When Moore arrived Denver did not exist, rather two separate settlements a short distance apart on Cherry Creek, one called (obviously enough) “Cherry Creek” and the other “Auraria.” As these two small communities grew, they soon became one large community, and the civic leaders of each settlement, John C. Moore among them, convened, and decided to hold a vote on merging the two towns into one. With the successful vote, the two communities became one and adopted the new moniker of “Denver City.” It was also decided that any good city should have a proper mayor, and the fledgling city council voted that John C. Moore was the right man for the job.

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Cherry Creek and Auraria soon to be “Denver City, Kansas Territory”

As John C. Moore took the inaugural reins of Denver City, Kansas Territory, opinions, posturing, and tempers boiled over “back in the States” as Unionists and Secessionists divided themselves between their respective camps based on political and moral ideology. As the rest of the world focused on the debate back in the States, few, other than fortune seekers were concerned with the far western frontier. Denver City was just a distant outpost and the events “way out there” had as little impact on the events in Washington D.C. as the events in Washington D.C. had on Denver.

John C. Moore’s main concern was not the politics back east, but the rampant disorder and violence in Denver City. In his time at the helm, Denver was notorious for its gambling halls, saloons, and bordellos. The majority of those in Denver at any given time were just passing through on their way to or from the mining camps in the foothills to the west. Denver City in 1860 was a place to buy supplies, rest for a day or two, get drunk, chase the parlor girls, and try your hand at cards. The volatile mixture of wanderers, booze, girls, guns and gambling led to the predictable results- Drunken brawls, hurt feelings, gunfights, and generally sloppiness and disorder.

Three or more gunfights a day in between fist fights and arguments was an average day in Denver back then, chronicled by many who passed through the town, and Moore was supposed to put an end to that. Unfortunately, Moore was bit too soft-spoken and complacent. Soon it was clear Moore was not the right man for the task. He was replaced after only five months as Mayor by Charles Cook.

After losing the title of Mayor, and, as the argument between the Unionists and Secessionists continued to rise meteorically towards it’s boiling point, Moore became one of Denver’s prominent voices in favor of secession. As a fledgling, and rebuked, politician Moore found a ready and willing audience among the streets of Denver. At the time, although outnumbered by pro-Unionists among the average citizens, the pro-Confederacy element in the region held the power- All of the major players at the time were from the south- The Russell Brothers who first found gold in Cherry Creek and later near Central City, John Gregory who founded Central City, George Jackson who found his fortune at present day Idaho Springs,  and A.B. Miller, one of, if not, Denver City’s most prominent businessman were just a few of the more famous secessionists living in the territory, and, since these men had the fortunes, these men held the power. Many of the other political and civic leaders in the territory had been appointed to their positions, or had their journeys to the territory funded by southern politicians and families, so their loyalties lay with the south as well. To add to the complex situation in the region, most of the high ranking military officers stationed in the area were of southern extraction, many would go on to become Generals in the Confederacy such as- Robert Ransom Jr. (Ft. Wise 1860-1861), George H. Steuart  (Ft. Wise 1860-1861),  JEB Stuart (Ft. Wise 1860-1861), John Forney (Ft. Garland 1859-1861), William Walker (Ft. Wise 1860-1861) In simple terms, in 1860-1861 the powerful elite and the military in the territory were largely secessionists and loyal to the south, while the “average Joe” was staunchly Unionist.

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General J.E.B. “Jeb” Stuart

It is thought that among the civilian population of the territory in late 1860 early 1861 loyalties north of the Arkansas River among the “Anglo” settlers was split 70/30 in favor of the Union, which translates to about 21,000 pro-Union citizens to 9,000 pro-Confederate. South of the Arkansas River the population was largely Mexican and scattered, but pro-Confederate as well largely due to feelings of resentment towards the Federal Government who they felt stole Mexican land from them in the wars  and following treaties of the 1840’s. These Hispanic secessionist were known as “Confederados.” Clearly, the major issue in the territory, from the Union view point, was the pro-Confederate faction had the money and that translated to “power and guns” and they had a potentially valuable ally south of the Arkansas River if war was to break out.

With Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860, the subsequent secession of seven southern States which led to the formation of the Confederate States of America, and the skirmish at Ft. Sumter in April 1861 marking the beginning of armed hostilities, the military hierarchy across the United States and the territories fragmented along political and regional lines. The military men named above, and countless others of all ranks tendered their resignations and left the Forts of the region to return to the south and take up arms in Confederate gray. This was a blow to civilian secessionists such as John C. Moore who were preaching the Confederate cause in the streets of Denver.

Abraham Lincoln recognized the immediate danger and quickly named Colorado a new territory, and no longer a part of Kansas. This allowed Lincoln to appoint a “friendly” Territorial Governor in the form of William Gilpin who was rushed to Denver to establish law and order, weed out the secessionist elements, and secure Colorado Territory and it’s gold for the Union- If the Territory went Confederate, the enormous wealth of gold and silver in the region could tip the scales in favor of the South.

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Governor William Gilpin

During this transitional period in 1860-1861, following his removal from the office of Mayor, John C. Moore and  a fellow secessionist named James Coleman established a pro-Confederacy newspaper in Denver called “The Daily Mountaineer” which was published from August 25, 1860 to May 15, 1861 with it’s distinctly pro-southern flair.  Finding an audience, Moore and Coleman played on the heartstrings of their fellow southerners working the gold fields in the new Territory.

Ads were placed in “The Daily Mountaineer” and handbills distributed around town promised top-dollar paid for pistols, rifles, and other equipment to clandestinely outfit a regiment of Colorado Volunteers for the Confederate cause. Sympathetic businessmen, miners, ranchers and farmers in Colorado Territory sold and donated arms and other supplies to the Denver secessionist leaders.  The Union element in town relied on their overwhelming numbers to keep the rebels in check. Fights and skirmishes broke out between the two factions regularly, but no serious loss of life or property ever transpired.

Charley Harrison, another prominent Denver secessionist owned a saloon called the “Critereon” which had long been a hangout for secessionists, outlaws and other seedy elements of Denver’s early days. Soon, the Critereon became the secessionist stronghold and secret recruiting center of Colorado Territory. Although most people at the time knew Charley Harrison and his lot were Confederate sympathizers, few realized the Critereon was being used to funnel men and arms to the south. The arms and equipment raised by the newspaper ads and hand bills were stored at the Critereon. Volunteers for the Confederacy coming from all over Colorado Territory would meet at the saloon, be issued arms and provisions, and then would sneak out late at night under the cover of darkness to head south and join the regular Confederate Army. It is interesting to note that this was happening in early-to-mid 1861 before William Gilpin became governor in the summer of 1861 and raised the Colorado Cavalry Regiments for the Union. So, one can surmise, based on the early accounts, that the first Colorado troops sent to fight in the Civil War were Confederates.

As Governor Gilpin began to take control of the situation, he suspended habeas corpus, thus making it legal to imprison anyone in the territory for an indefinite period of time, without trial for any reason. This action gave Gilpin the ability to pursue “rebels” in the territory based on the weakest of evidence.

The Colorado secessionists would not be bullied, and on the night of August 21, 1861, roughly one month after William Gilpin was named Governor, a wild series of melees and scuffles erupted between Unionists and rebels on the streets of Denver. Shots were fired and several men on both sides were wounded, but no one was killed, probably due to the drunken nature of the brawls. The rebels, outnumbered by the recently emboldened Unionists, retreated en masse to the Critereon and hunkered down for a protracted battle. The effects of the booze eventually wore off, and both sides lost interest in killing one another. Neither side would abandon their positions though, and the stalemate finally ended when the Denver Town Marshall pushed his way through Unionist lines, knocked on the front door of the Critereon and arrested Charley Harrison

Harrison was tried in the Hall of Justice on charges of treason for his secessionist activities, but since Colorado was only a territory at the time, he was technically guilty of nothing other than holding an unpopular opinion. He was acquitted on the charge of treason, but found guilty on the charge of “Obstructing the Territorial Government.” As the guilty charges were read, the presiding justices were informed of a party of 100 well-armed Confederates were waiting outside for Charley’s return, and to protect his well-being. The justices retreated for a short time, perhaps feeling a bit nervous about the posse outside, and returned with the unexpected verdict that instead of the customary jail term for the offense, it had been determined that Charley Harrison should walk free if he paid a fine of $5,000 and promised to leave the Colorado Territory within two weeks, never to return. Harrison agreed to the fine and terms of exile, and left the Denver Hall of Justice a free man to his waiting supporters outside.

With Harrison’s exile imposed, the majority of the Denver secessionists quickly followed suit and fled south to join the regular ranks of the Confederate Army. Among those who left following Charley Harrison’s trial were A.B. Miller (the prominent businessmen mentioned previously) and Denver’s first Mayor John C. Moore. Also leaving Colorado and their fortunes behind were William and Joseph Russell who returned to Georgia and raised their own cavalry unit known as “Captain Russell’s Company of the Georgia Cavalry”, and George Jackson left his riches in Idaho Springs to join the Arizona Brigade of the Confederate States Army.

A.B. Miller’s band of Confederates were surrounded by Union troops while trying to cross south across Kansas to friendly lines in Missouri. Instead of surrendering, Miller and his men, estimated at one hundred in number, simply abandoned their wagons, livestock, and supplies, and disappeared with their guns under the cover of darkness. They changed their route, and headed for Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma) which was home to the Choctaw and Cherokee Nations who were allies of the Confederate States. The next day Union forces were shocked to find twenty wagons and over four hundred cattle had been left behind, but not a single rebel.

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In October of 1861 Union troops learned of a large rebel encampment southwest of Pueblo in a remote valley known as “Mace’s Hole” near present day Beulah, Colorado. Union forces launched a surprise attack and around forty Colorado confederates were arrested, with around one hundred fifty escaping south and linking up with General Sibley’s Confederate Army of New Mexico. Among those captured at Mace’s Hole were Jim and John Reynolds, two of the founding fathers of Fairplay, Colorado. The Mace’s Hole rebels would escape from the Denver City jail with the assistance of Jackson Robinson- A Denver police officer who was a clandestine operator for the southern cause. Robinson, and the Reynolds brothers would reappear in 1863 at Ft. Belknap, Texas where they enlisted in General Douglas H. Cooper’s Third Texas Cavalry Regiment. In the summer of 1864 the Reynolds brothers and around fifty other Confederate cavalry, including Jackson Robinson, marched from Ft. Belknap on orders from General Cooper to disrupt the Union supply trains in Colorado Territory. The return of these Colorado rebels became known as the “The Reynolds Gang Terror” of 1864, and many grossly exaggerated stories and legends were written about the unit.

Rebels Captured at Mace's Hole

Rebels Captured at Mace’s Hole

Denver’s first Mayor, John C. Moore, fled south, and safely crossed into Confederate territory. He joined ranks with General Joseph Shelby, a famous Confederate Cavalry General in the Army of the Trans-Mississippi. Moore went on to serve as quartermaster for the unit, holding the rank of Colonel, then earning the rank of  Adjutant General in the closing days of the Civil War.

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General Joseph Shelby

At the end of the war in 1865 as the Confederate armies across the south and west laid down their arms, General Joseph Shelby and roughly one thousand of his soldiers took a defiant stand and refused to surrender. Remaining in formation, in full uniform, General Shelby and his cavalry crossed the Rio Grande River into Mexico, Union troops in pursuit, pausing briefly to throw their battle flags into the water, proclaiming “It is better to drown our colors than surrender them.”  Among the men in the group was Denver’s first Mayor, John C. Moore. These men became legendary at the time among both Union and Confederate veterans of the war as “The Undefeated”- The unit that never surrendered. (The 1969 John Wayne-Rock Hudson film “The Undefeated” is based on Shelby’s cavalry.)

Once safe in Mexico, General Shelby’s cavalry offered their services to Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, who, politely declined, but as a token of gratitude for their offer presented the men with a land grant near Veracruz where he allowed them to built a colony for Americans.  Two years later the land grant was revoked and many of the men of Shelby’s cavalry quietly returned to the United States, among them John C. Moore.

John C. Moore returned to Colorado. He settled in Pueblo, and returned to the newspaper business as the founder and editor of “The Pueblo Press.” Denver’s first Mayor died with little if any recognition for his accomplishments in life. He was a man born and made of a tumultuous time, like many of his generation. He picked the losing side in a brutal and divisive war that still haunts us today, and the winner wrote the history of that war. John C. Moore’s remarkable life certainly deserves more than the few lines allowed him in most sources, he was, after all, one of us- an American.

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Inscription on the Memorial to the Confederate Dead, Canon City, Colorado – Erected in 1899 by Union Veterans

 

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When most of us think of Colorado ghost towns we think of places like St. Elmo, Independence or Ashcroft. A few may even think of places like Buckskin Joe or South Park City which are modern tourist trap creations of old west towns using historic buildings brought in from other sites.  But, did you know there are actually over 600 ghost towns that can be visited in Colorado?  That number comes as a surprise to many.

So where are Colorado’s ghost towns that you don’t hear much about? They are everywhere in the state, they just take some detective work and a tank or two of gas to locate. So let’s have a look at a handful of the great Colorado ghost towns that you may never have heard of before-

1. Russell

Russell was a tiny mining camp and supply town at the west foot of La Veta Pass. There are still a handful of houses at the picturesque site (including one that is occupied) just off of Highway 160 between Walsenburg and Fort Garland. The remains of Russell are all on private property, but can be easily viewed from a large dirt turnout at the foot of La Veta Pass.

2. Powderhorn

I came across Powderhorn by accident while traveling from Lake City to Gunnison. Powederhorn was a small ranching and farming area, and, in the 1800’s was once the #1 supplier of potatoes and other root vegetables to the hungry miners 50 miles south in the San Juan Mountains. Powderhorn had a general store, and a large number of tiny cabins for the cowboys who worked the scenic valley. The Post Office at Powderhorn still serves the needs of the ranchers in the area. There are a lot of abandoned cabins and ranch buildings at the the site today, however they are all on private land. Powderhorn lies deep in Gunnison County on Highway 149 along Cebolla Creek.

3. Fondis

Fondis still has a few residents, but its businesses and most of the people left long ago. Fondis was a ranching and farming community, and a little bit of logging was done in the surrounding area too. The old wooden general store is currently being refurbished by a charity working with veterans. Fondis is at the intersection of County Roads 69 and 98 in Elbert County, east of Castle Rock in the rolling pine dotted hills.

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4. Engleville

Engleville is situated at the base of Fishers Peak near Trinidad on the far southern end of Colorado. It was a coal mining town, and there are many abandoned homes and small cemetery at the site which is on private property, but can be seen and photographed easily from Engleville Road south of Trinidad.

5. Ute Ulay

Sometimes called “Henson” Ute Ulay is the remains of the mining camp that surrounded the Ute Ulay Mine near Lake City in the San Juans. The buildings are on private property, but some limited access listed on signs at the site allow for foot travel in to some of the buildings. A restoration effort is ongoing, and it appears that once the preservation work is finished there will be more public access to the site. Ute Ulay/Henson is along the Alpine Loop (County Road 20) just west of Lake City in Hinsdale County.

6. Hawkinsville

Hawkinsville is one of the least-known ghost towns in the State. It was founded in 1868 by a prospector named Hawkins who found gold in the tiny creek that runs through the site. A few mines were built on the hillsides around the camp, and the area was worked from the late 1860’s to around 1920. Today Hawkinsville remains relatively well preserved due to it’s remote and difficult to find location. There are still newspaper clippings from the 1890’s-1910’s pasted on the walls, beds, stoves and other furnishings inside the remaining cabins. There’s no easy or direct route to Hawkinsville, and this helps protect the site. It lies in the sandy hills east of Granite, Colorado and getting there is via a maddening maze of 4×4 trails.

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7. Berwind Canyon

Berwind Canyon, southwest of the Ludlow Memorial/Ludlow Exit on Interstate 25 north of Trinidad is littered with the remains of numerous coal mining towns from the early 1900’s. There are so many foundations and walls in Berwind Canyon it almost looks like Roman ruins. Today only a handful of ranchers remain in the canyon, in its prime, Berwind Canyon was home to over 3,000 coal miners and their families. When the coal mining industry declined, the mine owners came through with bulldozers and leveled all the buildings to avoid paying property taxes on their abandoned mines.

8. Pie Plant

Pie Plant is a great ghost town tucked into a remote corner of Taylor Park in Gunnison County on the west side of Cottonwood Pass. It was a mining town dating to the 1880’s, and it’s hidden location has allowed it to weather the past century without much damage. The town’s unique name came from the wild rhubarb that grew along the creek nearby. In latger years after the mining died down, local cowboys would use the cabins while tending their herds in Taylor Park. Pie Plant is located north of Taylor Park Reservoir on a branch of County Road 742, look for the sign pointing the way to the town site.

9. Swandyke

Swandyke sits high on a mountain side above Breckenridge, and was one of many small mining camps along the Swan River drainage. A few people know about Swandyke, and normally the only photos of the town show the one large, relatively well preserved cabin that is just off the main 4×4 trail to the town. However, there is much more to Swandyke than just that one cabin, by hiking up the steep hill behind it, the ruins of numerous other cabins appear as well all kinds of debris from the mining era- rusty cans, broken bottles, mining equipment, boot soles, etc. A second cabin called “The Paris Cabin” dating to the 1890’s which has been shored up with cables in recent years sits nestled in the trees as well. To find Swandyke take Tiger Road out of Breckenridge, then Forest Road 354 (high clearance 4×4 trail) up the north fork of the Swan River.

10. Kingston

Kingston was a mining town at the far north end of the Pine Creek Mining District in Gilpin County about 10 miles northwest of Black Hawk, above the ghost town of Apex. Kingston dates to the 1890’s and once had  a large stamp mill and numerous cabins. An arsonist destroyed the mill building a few years ago, and time has taken a heavy toll on the cabins that once covered the hillsides around the mines.  There are a lot of log foundations, a rock foundation or two, and the charred remains of the mill at the site today. Getting there is by taking Elk Park Road west out of Apex towards Mammoth Gulch, then taking the left branch of the 4×4 trail to Kingston Hill. The ruins of Kingston are buried in the trees and on the hillsides in every direction.