Day # 13 features Russell, Colorado

Russell in Costilla County is one of three ghost towns in Colorado named after William G. Russell, the man considered by many to be the founding-father of the state- The other two towns bearing his name were Russellville in Douglas County, and Russell Gulch in Gilpin County. Russell’s gold discovery along Cherry Creek 30 miles southeast of Denver set off the stampede to the Rockies that became the Gold Rush of 1859.

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William G. Russell

William G. Russell and his brothers Levi and Oliver were among the first to build permanent structures along the South Platte River at the spot where Denver stands today, and the names of the Russell brothers can be found on nearly every important historic document dating the 1859-1861 era in what would become Colorado (then known as “Jefferson Territory”.)

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Adobe dwelling at Russell town site

In 1862, the Russell brothers, southern by birth, left Colorado Territory and headed home to their native Georgia. Along the way they were captured by suspicious Union troops and incarcerated for several months. Upon their release, the Russell’s continue their journey home to Georgia where they successfully used the money they earned in their Colorado gold mines to raise a Cavalry Company for the Confederate Army.  Captain Russell’s Georgia Cavalry Company spent the remainder of the Civil War patrolling the backwoods of Lumpkin and surrounding counties looking for deserters from the rebel army.

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Russell town site

Following the Civil War, William Russell was once again bit by the gold bug, and following the Amnesty of 1868 which forgave all former confederate soldiers and restored their contitutional rights, Russell began planning his return to Colorado. This time Russell and his party ventured into the southern hills along the Huerfano River instead of returning to Russell Gulch in Gilpin County. At the western foot of La Veta Pass Russell and his party discovered an alluvial plain rich in gold, and registered their claims. A small town sprang up at the site, and was named Russell.

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Russell town site

Russell worked the gravels, making a respectable profit, but nothing compared to his earlier fortunes amasssed in Gilpin County. Around 1875 the United States government passed a law declaring that all Native Americans must live on a reservation under penalty of imprisonment or death. William Russell was part-Cherokee, and his wife was full-blooded Cherokee. Russell once again left Colorado, choosing to abandon his claims in Costilla County, instead of allowing his wife to go to the reservation alone. Russell and his wife moved this time to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) where William Russell died in 1877.  The town site of Russell today is a small cluster of buildings alongside Highway 160 near a wide dirt turnout and Department of Transportation garage.

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Comments
  1. Bart says:

    Good post. I had heard of Russell, but did not know of his native connection. There was gold mining in Georgia and the native contribution to the western gold era is under appreciated.

    Bart Torbert

    • J.D. Eberle says:

      Yes indeed. Russell was 1/4 Cherokee from most of the accounts I’ve read, some say he was half. He and his brothers were from Lumpkin County, Georgia and got their start gold mining there. Lewis Ralston, who was also part Cherokee and from Lumpkin County, is credited with finding gold on Ralston Creek near present-day Arvada, Colorado in 1851 while he was part of a party heading to the California Gold Rush. Ralston returned to Georgia a year later and told of his discovery in what would become Colorado. William G. Russell was one of the men he told, and Russell decided decided to follow up on Ralston’s claim. Russell asked Ralston to guide his party to the spot in 1858, and Ralston obliged. When the Russell Party set up camp on Cherry Creek in the winter of 1858, Ralston returned home to Georgia. On old maps of Colorado you can find the “Cherokee Trail” and this was the route used by the Ralston and Russell parties in the 1850s.

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