Elbert County, Colorado History and Genealogy

Monday, March 28, 2011

John C. Fremont in Elbert County

Today we have a guest post by Terry Courtright. Terry is a retired geologist living in the Elbert area who is interested in the history of the area. He recently gave a presentation at the Elbert Library on John C. Fremont in Elbert County and I'm happy to have him share some of his findings here.

Although Fremont travelled through the west on 5 mapping expeditions and other times on personal trips, only on his 1843 expedition did he enter the area now in Elbert County, Colorado. The map below shows his route, taken from a map in his journal, overlain on a modern map showing county outlines, major roads, towns and larger watercourses.

On the night of July 9, 1843, Fremont and his party camped "on a small stream, near the road which runs from St. Vrain's fort to the Arkansas". This would be in today’s Russellville Gulch, just south of Franktown and along the old Trappers Trail and just west of the Elbert County line. More excerpts from his journal as edited by Jackson and Spence, 1970, p. 440-443, for the days he was actually in Elbert County follow.

"July 10.--Snow fell heavily on the mountains during the night, and Pike's peak this morning is luminous and grand...Leaving the encampment at 6 o'clock, we continued our easterly course over a rolling country, near to the high ridges, which are generally rough and rocky, with a course conglomerate displayed in masses, and covered in pines...In six miles we crossed the headwater of the Kioway river, on which we found a strong fort and corral that had been built in the spring, and we halted to noon on the principal branch of the river. [The distance may be a little short of the actual, and they would have crossed today’s Running Creek nearly where Colorado Highway 86 passes through Elizabeth. The “strong fort and corral” may have been built by the Bent-St. Vrain Company along the ‘express route’ between Bent's Fort on the Arkansas River and St. Vrain's Fort on the South Platte River. Their lunch stop would have been approximately 3 miles north of today’s Kiowa.]...We encamped on Bijou's fork, the water of which, unlike the clear streams we had previously crossed, is of a whitish color, and the soil of the bottom a very hard, tough clay...The greater part of the people were sick today, and I was inclined to attribute their indisposition to the meat of the bull which had been killed the previous day." [This camp would be 4 to 5 miles north of where Highway 86 crosses Bijou Creek today.]
"July 11.--There were no indications of buffalo having been recently in the neighborhood; and, unwilling to travel farther eastward, I turned this morning to the southward, up the valley of the Bijou [the map shows they stayed along the west side of the creek.]...As we were riding quietly along,...we discovered...a large grizzly bear...He did not fall until after he had received six rifle balls. He was miserably poor, and added nothing to our stock of provisions. We followed the stream to its head in a broken ridge,...This is a piney elevation...from which the waters flow in almost every direction, to the Arkansas, Platte and Kansas rivers; the latter stream having here its remotest sources...Descending a somewhat precipitous and rocky hill side among the pines;...we encamped at its foot, where there were several springs, which you will find laid down on the map as one of the extreme sources of the Smoky Hill fork of the Kansas. [We now know Fremont was mistaken and that this east flowing stream is the upper reaches of the Big Sandy.]...Elevation of the camp 7,300 feet."

This camp would have been just south of the Elbert County line, north of today’s town of Peyton, and marked the exit of Fremont from his only visit to the immediate area.

Source: Jackson, Donald, and Spence, Mary Lee, editors, "The Expeditions of John Charles Fremont, Vol. 1, Travels from 1838 to 1844," Univ. of Iilinois Press, 1970. Available through your local library.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Sheep and Cattle in 1880 Elbert County

Today John and I drove through eastern Elbert County, taking pictures, locating old towns and cemeteries. The picture above is Bijou Basin taken from County Road 150 north of Highway 86. We've had a very dry winter, as you can see. Hoping for a spring blizzard or two to give us some needed moisture.

When we got home, I started looking through 1880 Elbert County census records on Heritage Quest (available through the Elbert County Library District) and ran across a very interesting household:

Yes, your eyes are seeing right - that's a cattle owner and a sheep owner in the same household! Not only that, but there are 2 cowpunchers and 1 sheepherder there, too. Along with a bookkeeper and a brakeman for the railroad. The house was in the "East of West Bijou Basin Creek" precinct, which means it could have been anywhere from West Bijou Creek to the Colorado state line, Elbert County's eastern boundary at the time. It's interesting to note that the two proprietors had not lived in Elbert County before the census was taken. And the longest any of the other men had lived in Elbert County was 8 months.

Sheep and cattle wars were taking place in the west at this time. The 1880 Agriculture Census shows Elbert County had 66,803 sheep while its cattle numbers were 12,275 range cattle and 1,582 milk cows. 37 percent of the sheep in the state Colorado were in El Paso, Huerfano, Larimer and western Elbert counties. Weld and Elbert counties held a fraction over 37 percent of the cattle in eastern Colorado.

As far as I know, Elbert County didn't have any major sheepmen and cattlemen confrontations. Eventually, cattle took over as the leading stock in Elbert County.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The West Lincoln School

West Lincoln School District #42, located about three miles west of the town of Elbert, was formed in 1909. The district built a small structure to house the school on an acre of land donated by Ed Clark. As more people moved into the community, it became necessary to build a larger schoolhouse. Local builder Jens Olkjer built the existing schoolhouse in 1913 and it was first used during the winter term of 1913-1914, better known as the year of the “Big Snow.” Bernice Gresham Roberts recalled walking on snow over the tops of the fences to get to school her first year of school.

The names of the students reflected the family names of the community: Gresham, Hoover, Murray, Brazelton, Clark, Gatewood, Dietrich, Squires and Dittemore. The second generation of the Gresham, Squires, and Murray families also attended the West Lincoln School.

The schoolhouse was the center of the Lincoln community. Dances, box lunches, and political rallies were held at the school. A literary society formed and a Sunday School met at the schoolhouse for a time.

West Lincoln School closed in 1945 and the students started going to the Elbert School.

The one-room West Lincoln School provided an education for 125 children over a time period of thirty-six years. The careers and lives of the students testify to the solid base of education they received. These included a college president and professor, an elementary school teacher and school principal, a county commissioner, a postmaster, a pilot, an insurance agent, and farmers and ranchers.