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The Atlantic to the Pacific: What to See and How to See it (1873), by John Erastus Lester


Colorado.—The way into Colorado from the Union Pacific is through Cheyenne by the Denver Pacific Railway. The length of this road is 106 miles, and the first steps towards the building of it were taken in 1867. The capitalists of Denver, and, in fact, the whole Territory of Colorado, gave to this important enterprise their hearty support; and so liberally did they subscribe for the stock, that, with the aid of Eastern capital and influence, on December 16, 1869, 58 miles from Cheyenne to Evans were opened; and on June 22, 1870, the first passenger-train went over the whole length of the road.

It was a pleasant June afternoon that we coupled our car to the train on this road, and started for Denver. As Cheyenne is in the extreme south of Wyoming, and our course lies almost due south, we are not long in running out of that Territory and into Colorado. Soon after leaving Wyoming, the Rocky Mountains come into view, stretching away to the west and south as far as the eye can reach. Long’s Peak, a majestic mountain, rises prominently before us, with snow-clad summit.

Colorado is bounded on the north by the Territory of Wyoming and the State of Nebraska; on the east, the State of Kansas; on the south, New Mexico; and on the west, by the Territory of Utah. In shape, it is nearly square, embracing an area of 105,708 square miles, or 67,653,120 acres.


Colonies.—A ride of 56 miles from Cheyenne brings us to Greeley—a thriving settlement, which, although not yet two years old, gives evidences of substantial growth, and an assured increase. It is the centre of the ‘Union Colony,’ which purchased lands in the valley of the Cache ā la Poudre River, and on the Denver Pacific Railway, half way between Denver and Cheyenne, in 1870. The population is not far from 2,000; number of buildings, 500; and there are about 50,000 acres of land. Number of acres now under irrigating canals, 30,000 (said canals being respectively 12 and 27 miles long); number of acres under plough at present, about 5,000; water-power canal two miles long and 30 feet wide, The soil is unsurpassed for fertility, and all kinds of crops are grown. There are five churches, two lyceums, one Masonic lodge, one Odd Fellows’ lodge, one Good Templars’ lodge, four schools, and a large graded school-building of brick, in process of erection. There are about twenty stores and shops, a grist-mill, and other mechanical industries. The trade with the valleys is large, and constantly increasing, while the town and country are rapidly growing. There will, undoubtedly, soon be other railroads centring at this place, bringing it into closer communication with other cities and towns. One peculiar feature is, that there is no liquor sold in Greeley; and in all the deeds of land given, a covenant is inserted forever forbidding its sale. As a natural consequence, there are no billiard or other saloons along the streets.

A few miles on, we come to Evans, the central town of the St. Louis Western Colony, planted here March 15, 1871, where the railroad crosses the South Platte River. The character of this place is very different from that of Greeley. The thrift and neatness so conspicuous there is wanting here, Liquor is sold at Evans; and, if that is the cause, temperance lecturers would only have to take their hearers over the Denver Pacific Railroad to make them all converts. The colony has 60,000 acres; and, so far as prosperity goes, it stands well with the other settlements.


Denver.—But we push on, and just after six o’clock we reach Denver, ‘queen city of the plain.’ It is the county-seat of Arapahoe County, and the capital of Colorado; is situated on the Platte River, at a point where Cherry Creek forms a confluence with that stream. It is the most important city West of the Missouri River, East of the mountains, and has already a population of well-nigh 20,000. A stroll about the town on the evening of our arrival gave us the impression of a lively place, quiet and orderly, and a June atmosphere that was delightful. Our car has been switched upon a siding, and we shall make it our hotel while we stay in Denver.

The following details as to the history and situation of Denver may be of interest. In 1858 a few emigrants named the place Auraria, from the fact that gold was found a few miles east—on Cherry Creek. This early settlement comprised what is now called West Denver. As the settlement increased, it was called St. Charles, afterwards Denver. The city government was organised Dec. 19, 1859. In 1863, on April 19, a fire swept through the city, destroying property valued at a quarter of a million. Again, in 1864, on May 19, the city was destroyed, but this time by a flood. The next year the Indians so blockaded the city that the inhabitants were nearly starved; but it has survived all these early catastrophes, the men who had settled there seeming only the more resolute and determined as the hardships increased. Within the last five years she has taken mighty strides forward, and is a centre of a great and increasing trade. The streets are broad and well kept; the private dwellings are neat and comfortable; and churches and school-houses are scattered through the city. There is here a seminary for young ladies, which has a reputation beyond the Territory.

The city lies on the Platte River, at the junction of Cherry Creek, thirteen miles from the base of the mountains, which offer great protection against the fierce winds. Raised 5,250 feet above the sea, in a delightfully mild climate, it is near the western border of that great plain which, from the Missouri River, stretches westward for 600 miles to the base of the Rocky Mountains. Larimer is the principal street; and upon it are many fine blocks of stores, built of brick, stone, and iron. There are several hotels in the city which offer pleasant homes to the tourist.

Standing in the main street of the city, and turning to the west, we have a mountain-view which is unsurpassed on the continent. To the North we have Long’s Peak, and the hills stretching away to Cheyenne; in front of us we have Gray’s Peak; and away to the South we have Pike’s Peak, and the hills towards the Arkansas River. The length of this range of mountains is more than 200 miles; and when you bear in mind that many of them are more than 14,000 feet above the sea, are snow-clad the whole year, and that the clouds rest far down their sides, you can gain some idea of the grandeur of the scene.

We lingered long, looking at these mountains. They were enchanting, as the morning sun in his journey from the Atlantic reached their snowy sides, and made them sparkle in his beams: they were even more enchanting when—

Came still evening on, and twilight gray
Had in her sober livery all things clad.

The people of Denver, as a class, are intelligent and thrifty; and there is much wealth accumulated among the citizens. No city of its size is better supplied with newspapers; and their character is high-toned and cultivated, which cannot be said of the papers published in many a Western hamlet. We found the citizens hospitable and kind, and from many we received especial favours.

William N. Byers, editor of ‘The Rocky Mountain News,’ the leading paper of Colorado, took the first printing-press into the Territory during the Pike’s Peak excitement. He has now one of the most complete printing-offices in the West. Spending an evening at his hospitable home, we were greatly interested in the descriptions which he gave of the Pike’s Peak excitement, when so many thousands toiled across the plains to this section in search of that ever-luring but ever-vanishing phantom—a fortune. Such struggles as were then made to find and hold ground which covered the golden treasure seem now almost superhuman. The crowd which gathered was estimated at from 15,000 to 20,000; and how few of that company found their fortunes! The late Horace Greeley visited this scene of excitement early in 1859, and upon a pleasant Sunday addressed the crowd assembled, where is now built the city of Black Hawk. There were probably gathered 10,000 people within sight of the spot where he stood. This excitement which had become so intense gradually died away, partly by new ‘diggings’ being found in other sections, and partly by the people who had come to dig gold turning to agriculture, and scattering themselves through the territory.


Golden.—Seventeen miles almost due west of Denver lies the pretty town of Golden, nestled among the foot-hills of the main range of the Rocky Mountains. It is the county-seat of Jefferson County, and contains a population of some 2,000 souls. There are two huge mountains of basaltic rock, called North and South Table Mountains, so situated as completely to shelter the thriving hamlet from the winter winds. It is one of the oldest settlements made in the Territory, and lies upon both sides of Clear Creek—a position determined by gulch miners, who for a long time found gold in paying quantities along the banks of the creek. We reached this town over the Colorado Central Road, by its eastern division; and our hotel has been opened on a high bank east of the town, of which, from the car-windows, we have a fine view.

The Colorado Central Railroad leaves the Kansas Pacific about a mile from Denver, and runs 16 miles west to Golden and the entrance to the caņon, down which rushes Clear Creek; which caņon is found to be the only route by which the great mining section which embraces the cities of Black Hawk, Central, Idaho, and Georgetown, can be reached by rail. The road is already graded several miles up the caņon, and the work is pushed on as fast as possible. The Union Pacific has taken this company under its fostering care, and it must become a very important line. Much credit for its success is also due to the officers of the company and the chief engineer, Capt. Edward Berthoud.

Our walk about the town has given us great pleasure; it is so prettily located, the scenery so fine, the people so hospitable. The place is a good one for the tourist to make his point d’appui, for here carriages and saddle-horses can be had for the various trips into the mountains. There is a good hotel, called the Golden House; and the way in which the proprietors keep it entitles them to larger and more extended accommodation.


From Denver to the Mines.—The stages leave Golden every morning, upon the arrival of the train, for the mining-towns. We are now at an elevation of 6,200 feet. When we reach Central, which is the principal point in the mining district of Clear Creek Caņon, we shall be 8,300 feet above the sea-level. The distance by carriage-road is 24 miles; so you can see we are to go up hill by a pretty steep grade.

On leaving the city we soon entered a narrow defile in the mountain, following a road which lay along the bank of a little brook. The June days had covered the hill-sides with beautiful flowers; and, as we rode by, many familiar blossoms seen in our own gardens appeared here and there. By a toilsome journey we reached the summit called Gray’s Hill, from whence a peculiarly charming view is had, and thence down to the banks of North Clear Creek, up which we wended our way to Black Hawk City. We were much charmed with the mountain meadows, and the majestic growths of timber through which our road lay. There was a kind of romance in the ride; for up Clear Creek Caņon they were just completing the laying the track of a narrow-gauge railroad, alongside a roaring stream— an event which was to change the mode of going from the plain up to the mining-camps—now very toilsome and slow.

It had always been considered impossible to construct a railroad up to the mines; and in the earlier days of the Territory, the legislature, as is the wont of such august bodies on the last day of the session, used to pass annually a bill constituting all the clever spirits of the capital a company to build a railroad up Clear Creek Caņon. What they then deemed impossible is to-day an accomplished fact; and the steam-engine is puffing up the steep grade into the heart of the mountains. To no one man is this enterprise so much indebted for its success as to Superintendent Sickels of the Union Pacific, who has directed all the vast undertaking.

Black Hawk is the first reached of the towns which lie closely joined in the caņon. Here is the office of the Boston and Colorado Smelting Works, over which Professor Hill, formerly of Brown University, presides with great ability. These extensive works are more generally known as ‘Hill’s Smelting Works.’ The professor, besides knowing how to make the ore give up its gold, is said to know how to rule a people—hence he is the mayor of the city. We spent an hour with Professor Hill in looking over his works.

We rode through the city, and presently were told we were in Central. I have no doubt the mayor knows exactly where the line between the two cities is; but I would wager all the gold in Colorado, if I had it, that even he, in a dark night, could not find it. This settlement is known by the names of Black Hawk and Central City.

To form an idea of the place, you must imagine two huge mountains with almost perpendicular sides; a rushing mountain stream, the bed of which had been dug over and over, and thrown into irregular heaps; a narrow street, with a walk on one side wide enough for a single file (if all are going in the same direction), the houses set along either side of this highway, close together, and their doors opening directly into the streets; little shops and little stores; little banking-offices and lawyers’ signs, with smelting-works and stamp-mills just behind these houses (all now still); up the sides of these mountains, houses perched one above the other, with long steps to reach them, where dwell the miners; and, further up, the little sheds which cover the entrances to the mines, with this caņon widening out a little at its upper end, where there are several cross streets lined with buildings, and a huge brick hotel, the ‘Teller House,’ looking down upon you from the shelf of solid rock upon which it stands, and which was made by blasting, with no trees or shade—then people the towns with from 5,000 to 7,000 persons, and you have the cities of Central and Black Hawk. It is a peculiar settlement —the love of gold alone keeping people up in this high mountain region—and is by far the largest community in the world dwelling at so high an altitude.

By walking up the hillsides, you can find places where the ore has been taken out from between walls of solid granite—small seams which have been entirely excavated, and down which you can look, and observe the peculiar formation. The opening would perhaps start as wide as your hand; then it would widen out to several feet; then again, narrow, and so on until the vein was entirely lost. This last condition the miners call ‘petering-out;’ when a mine peters out, it is done for. And my notion is, that a great deal of the stock owned in the East must be in petered-out mines; for I never heard of a dividend having been seen in these parts.

The mines are very numerous, and many of them exceedingly rich. Mining is a very attractive business; and so long as there is fair probability of working mines to advantage, there will be found plenty of men to engage in that industry. Colorado yields now from 5,000,000 to 7,000,000 dollars in gold and silver per year; and the rate of production will in a very few years be increased to 25,000,000 or 30,000,000 and grow from that to an indefinite figure. That result only awaits better and more general means of transportation throughout the mountain-districts, more abundant labour, and cheaper supplies. Gold and silver are her principal articles of export; and the amount has been sufficient, from the first settlement of the country, to keep the balance of exchange always in her favour. The better means of transportation are now at hand; and I was assured by Professor Hill that many mines which now were unworked would pay well when the railroad could be used to transport the ores to some place where fuel could be had cheaply.


We arranged to return to Golden by way of Idaho Springs, which lie upon the South Fork of Clear Creek. We had to climb up over the ‘divide’ separating these streams; but the grand and magnificent views which we obtained amply compensated our trouble and labour. Several points reached by us were more than 10,000 feet above the sea-level. When we had gained an elevated point, from which we saw those mountains which Bierstadt had painted in his famous picture, entitled ‘A Storm in the Rocky Mountains,’ we could see the road which led to the ‘springs,’ just at the foot of the hill, to reach which by carriage we must go a long way back, and, by a circuitous route, get down to that level.

On our way we came to a spring, and near by a little log-cabin, from which came an old gray-haired man, with whom we at once began a talk. Said he, ‘Haven’t you heard my name mentioned in these parts?’ We assured him that we had not been long in the mountains; he quickly caught at this, and said, ‘Ah! I see. Looking for claims. Now, I tell ye I have got some of the richest leads you ever saw, and I will sell ’em cheap.’ We assured him that we were not in search of mining properties—a fact which seemed to little suit him. Here lives this old man alone, protecting his various claims, and patiently waiting for some one to come and buy his property—a possessory right—for this is all he has to sell. All through these mountains you see many such characters, who are eking out their lives in dreams of wealth.

Idaho Springs, which we now reached, were known to the early miners, and were a favourite place of resort long after all the gold had been dug from the bed of the creek which flows near. There is still standing the great pine, its branches still offering refreshing shade, under which, for many months, was the great tent, the popular saloon of the section, and over the entrance to which was painted in large letters, ‘Saints’ Rest.’ By all means go to Idaho Springs, and at the Beebe House you will find pleasant accommodation. Many Eastern people find their way up into these mountains during the summer.

A few miles from this point the enterprising community of Georgetown finds a home, sheltered on all sides by high mountain peaks. Here are extensive smelting-works. And a pleasant and profitable excursion is made to the town, over a mountain-road.

Our ride back lay along the creek for many miles, the bed and banks of which have been dug over and over for the gold. After leaving the creek we struck into the mountain-meadows, and through rich farms and pastures. Fresh and green were the fields, luxuriant the trees, pure and crystal-like the streams. As we enter Golden from this side, we pass by the great coal-deposits, from some of which they are now digging fuel; also great beds of fire-clay, from which bricks are made, and sent as far away as Utah; and high ledges of a peculiar limestone, which makes a good building-material. Truly Nature has favoured this spot. It seems that here must be erected the great reduction-works which shall receive the ore from the hills above, and separate the pure gold from foreign substances.

We were much pleased with a visit to the pioneer paper-mill of the Territory, where various kinds of wrapping paper are produced, and where have been made extensive experiments with the soap-weed (Yucca angustifolia), which covers the hill-sides. This plant resembles the threaded yucca (Yucca filamentosa) of our gardens. So far, the manufacture has not proved a success; although we brought away with us a specimen of fair paper, which was made wholly from this weed.

It was arranged that a large party should go up Clear Creek Caņon to examine the grading which had been already done for the road-bed. The caņon is narrow, and the river is a raging torrent, pouring over a steep and rocky bed. The walls are high, and the rocks often fantastic in appearance. The formation is volcanic, the strata being thrown into confusion. The trees are tall and thrifty, the June flowers magnificent. The road seems taken from the river-bed by walling its waters into a narrower channel. In some places a great amount of heavy blasting has been done; and to get around the mountains, and up the tortuous caņon, the road is, of course, very crooked. The work so far has been a success; the road-bed has stood the spring freshet, and the iron will be laid at once. Before we left Golden, the iron began to arrive; and, since our return East, the track has been pushed forward, until now you can take the cars at Golden, and be landed at Central City. By another season Idaho Springs and Georgetown will be accessible by rail.


During one of our walks about Golden, passing a little church, we inquired the denomination. The answer was, ‘Hydraulic Presbyterian.’ It was some time before we could make out that it was a Baptist chapel. There are other peculiar expressions current here. You often hear a man say, ‘I’ll put a caribou head on you,’ which is equivalent to saying that you will give a man a beating. ‘Plumb’ is a word which is always used to intensify, as ‘plumb sure,’ ‘plumb good,’ &c. If a man fails in business, ‘he has gone up the flume,’ or ‘he has petered out.’ When they catch a thief, they ‘corral’ him. When a person dies, ‘he passes in his checks.’ I was shown the tree to which, in earlier days, they used to hang the offenders; and my friend said: ‘You see that tree yonder? well, I have seen many a rascal pass in his checks there.’ If while a man is absent from his land or his mine, another comes in and takes possession, he ‘jumps the claim,’ as they say. ‘You bet,’ is on everyone’s tongue; and it seems to take the place, to some extent, of the too common oaths. I might go on, but these specimens may suffice, of the peculiar speech of the people living in these mining-camps.


There is a narrow-gauge road called ‘The Denver and Rio Grande Railway,’ which runs south, and is now completed as far as Pueblo on the Arkansas River.

It opens up a magnificent region of the Rocky Mountains. Fertile plains and productive valleys are opened by this road, which, before many years, will reach Santa Fč in New Mexico, and thence on to the city of Mexico.

The project of its construction was first started in the autumn of 1870, and in November of the same year a company was formed. The parties interested went to their work with much vigour. The President of the Company, General W. J. Palmer, had by frequent and extensive surveys of the mountains become thoroughly acquainted with the routes, and comprehended the difficulties which must be met and surmounted in the construction of a road upon the proposed route. He was led to examine the system of narrow-gauge roads, and, in company with others visited England, and made examination into the working of such roads, as well as the cost of their construction and equipment. Becoming fully convinced of the advantages of this narrow-gauge system for mountain regions, they decided on a three-foot gauge. The next autumn witnessed the completion of 76 miles, and now more than 100 miles are finished, and the work is going on. The wisdom of the decision has been amply proved in the diminished cost of the work and economy in running. It is found that just as the disadvantages for the construction of a broad-gauge road increase, in a like proportion do the advantages of this system become manifest. This line of road crosses a summit or ‘divide,’ which is exceeded in elevation only by Sherman on the Union Pacific Railroad.

An excursion from Denver over this road, making stops along at the points of interest, especially Colorado Springs, will amply repay the time required. This road goes by the title of ‘Baby Railroad’ in Denver and along the line. From Denver there is also a line east (the Kansas Pacific) to Kansas City, and thence across Missouri to St. Louis. This route is a favourite with tourists from St. Louis and the south-east. It passes through a country famed as the home of the buffalo; and in the spring and early summer large herds are seen from the cars —a sight which compensates for a journey of many miles.

From what I have thus stated, it will be seen that Denver is an important railroad centre, and before many years, Golden also will be a city from which will diverge many important lines.


The climate of Colorado is proverbial for its mildness and remarkable healthfulness. There is no steady and intense cold. Almost every day in winter, in the middle of the day, the most delicate can be out of doors. On many days you may sit by an open window, and look upon the mountains to the West covered in snow far down their sides.


Parks.— A peculiar feature in the topography of Colorado is its great mountain-locked parks. They are wide basins, or depressions, with surface and soil more or less similar to that of the plains, but entirely surrounded by lofty mountains. Their elevation is from 7,000 to 8,000 feet above the sea. They are well watered and abundantly timbered, have a delightful climate throughout most of the year, and are exceptionally healthful. All abound in mineral springs and minerals in great variety. Owing to their great altitude, they are adapted to the culture of the hardier agricultural products only.

Beginning in the south, the first is San Luis Park, drained by the Rio Grande del Norte, which flows south, and then south-east, into the Gulf of Mexico. The San Luis is the lowest and the largest of the parks. It has been settled for many years by Mexicans, and has a population of 8,000 or 10,000 people.

South Park (Valla Salada of the Spaniards) comes next. It gives rise to the South or main Platte, which flows into the Missouri. The park is crescent-shaped, with the outer curve to the west. It is 20 to 40 miles wide, and 60 or 70 miles long—a vast meadow, which supports thousands upon thousands of cattle. Its rim abounds in gold and silver mines, and rich gold placers are worked in many parts of it.

Middle Park is the next, equally divided by the fortieth degree of latitude. It is drained to the west by Grand River, and thence, by the Great Colorado, to the Gulf of California. The exit of the Grand is by a caņon of sublime depth and awful grandeur. The outline of the park is irregular, but nearly circular; and it is about 50 miles in diameter. Projecting spurs of the lofty mountains enclosing it shoot far out toward its centre. It is yet unsettled, and the most delightful summer resort imaginable for those who want to go beyond the restraints of civilisation.

North Park is near the north boundary of the Territory, and gives rise to the North Platte, which flows first towards the north, and then east to the Missouri. It is a little circular basin, 20 or 30 miles in diameter, the most timbered and loftiest of them. It has no settlements, and but few visitors; but its natural attractions are not excelled.

The parks are separated from one another by narrow but lofty ranges of mountains. The entire chain can be easily traversed from north to south, or from south to north, and presents the most varied, romantic, and beautiful scenery.


Society in Colorado.—It was an agreeable surprise to find a highly cultivated society in these remote communities. The mining-towns have a mixed population—a set of hardy fellows, whose mission seems to be to level the great mountains. They all hold ‘claims,’ or ‘leads,’ and to hear them talk, you would think them rich beyond the dreams of Croesus. Indeed, in these communities, I would like to see a resident who did not own a ‘claim.’ He would indeed be a man uncontaminated with gold. In the larger communities—like Denver, Golden, and a few others—there is an air of New-England cultivation and thrift, rarely found in Western cities. In Denver there is a class of retired miners who have become rich, and sought the capital to enjoy their well-earned repose. They are apt to be somewhat rough in their ways, clumsily striving, however, to adapt themselves to the customs of the civilised life to which they were so long disused. The reply said to have been made by one of them to a Presbyterian minister, who applied for patronage for a private school which he had opened, was: ‘I don’t know much about religion anyhow; but I tell you I’m orthodox to the backbone, and my children must go to an orthodox school. I can’t buy your claim to-day. Good morning, sir!’

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