City of Denver in 1860




AMONG the acts of the provisional Legislature was one granting a charter to the city of Denver, and, under it, a city government was organized by the election of John C. Moore as Mayor, December 19, 1859.  This, however, did not prevent occasional outbreaks of lawlessness, and an affair, which threatened serious results, marked the closing days of January, 1860.  This was the claim-jumper's war.  Some enterprising citizens "jumpbed" a portion of the town site, and the resulting conflict between them and the town company cane near ending in bloodshed; but the better class of law-abiding citizens interfered and arranged a compromise of the difficulty.  Col. Dick Whitsitt, Secretary of the town company, had a rifle leveled at his head during the controversy, but was saved by the interference of friends.  Maj. R. B. Bradford as shot at three times, at short range, by a party named Parkinson; but the latter was a poor marksman, and missed every time.  Disgusted with his bad aim, Parkinson retired from the field, and the Major went about his business as if nothing had happened.

    While the Denverites were settling the town site question, the denizens of Auraria were ridding themselves of certain obnoxious charcters who had been amkgin free with the property of others.  The thieves and their friends offered a show of fight, parading the streets heavily rmed and occasionally firing a shot at some peaceable citizen.  They were driven out of town, however, and peace was soon restored.  Had a few of them been hung, it might have been better for the city, for its effect on those who remained behind.

    It was about this time that the fmous attck on the News occurred.  A desperado, known as Charley Harrison, shot an inoffensive negro, and the News, in condemning the act, added some very severe strictures upon the sporting fraternity, particularly the "Criterion gang," as it was then known.  This greatly incensed both Harrison and his gang, and they threatened to "clean out" the News office.  Mr. Byers, the editor, was threatened with assassination, and was actually seized at one time, with the evident determination, on the part of the roughs, to murder him, but he was finally released.  Then the News force was armed to resist attack, and a volunteer guard of citizens, armed with rifles, remained at the office ech night or some time.  One of the rifles in use during this "guard mounting," remains in the editorial room to this day, s a reminiscence of the stirring events of that time.  Finally, one of the roughs, named Steele, primed himelf with fighting whisky, mounted a hore, and rode past the office, dischrging two shots into it as he passed.  The shots were returned.  The firing aroused the citizens, who turned out en masse to capture the would-be assassin.  Steele was shot dead, and preparations were made to move on the rest of the gang, when they suddenly decamped.  One of them, named Wood, was captured and tried by the people's court, but his participation in the acts of violence was not clearly proven, and he wa permitted to leave the country, which he did without any loss of time.  An interesting sequel to this story is told to the effect that Harrison and several more of the same gang who attacked the News office, were killed during the war under peculiar circumstances, and in a horrible manner.  In 1863, it will be remembered, secret agents were sent from Richmond all over the West and Northwest to inaugurate a new rebellion, their mission being to organize the "Knights of the Golden Circle."  It appears that Harrison was selected to operate in Colorado, but he never reached the scene of his labors.  In crossing Kansas with his party, he encountered a troop of wild Osage Indians who were scouting for the Government, with a view to checking guerrilla raids into that portion of the country.  The Indians were not very particular to inquire into the character of their game before killing it, and so opened on Harrison and his men on sight, killing the entire party, and bringing their heads into camp as ghastly trophies.  Papers found on the bodies of the dead men established the fact that, although traveling peaceably through a peaceful country, their ission was one of evil and their death deserved.

    It is amusing to hear the old employes of the News tell about the experiences of that eventful period.  The editors wrote with their rifles beside them and revolvers cumbering the desk, hile each compositor and others employed had a rifle in eacy reach, and generally laid his hand affectionately upon it whenever the door opened.  The item gatherers went about with a body guard, and always took the middle of the street.  The lamented A. D. Richardson, then employed on the paper, describes all these events at length in his excellentbook entitled "Beyond the Mississippi."

    About this time, the numbr of buildings in Denver began to give it a symmetrical shape, so that the eye could understand the general outlines of the survey of the town plat.  The streets, which were eighty feet wide, were laid out "across the compass," or diagnoally with the cardinal points of the instrument, running northeast and southwest, with cross streets at right-angles.  All the northwest and southeast thoroughfares gave full views of Long's Peak in the distance, and, in the winter, the view was particularly fine.  The blocks were large, having each thirty-two lots, 25x125.  The streets were originally lettered from southwest to northeast, but this lettering subsequently gave way to numbers, by which means F street became Fifteenth, G Sixteenth, etc.  Cherry Creek, although a dividing line in the rural districts, was never so regarded by Denver and Auraria until after the flood of 1864, and no line was ever established between the two cities, previous to that time.  Streets and lots were laid out in the dry bed of the stream by both towns, and a splendid crop of lawsuits was springing up when the flood came and washed them away, together with all the improvements that had been made in the bed of the stream.  Many of the citizens of Denver still hold the fee simple of Cherry Creek lots for which they paid big money in early days, but which are valueless now, unless a wild scheme for turning the channel of the creek can be successfully accomplished.

    In 1860, and for some years thereafter, Blake street was the business thoroughfare of the city.  Holladay street was then known as McGaa street, taking the name of William McGaa, alias Jack Jones, an early settler.  The old News office was located on McGaa street, in the middle of Cherry Creek, standing on low piles, which raised it just high enough to be in the way of the big flood.  Larimer street and Lawrence were but little improved, and that mainly along the banks of the creek.  The town company's office was located on Lawrence street, howeer, and the famous "Criterion" saloon, headquarters for the thieves and gamblers, stood away out on Larimer street, above Sixteenth, near the present First National Bank building.  The Broadwell House was completed during the year, on the corner of Larimer and Sixteenth, and became the aristocratic hotel of the city, remaining so for many years, though the old Planter's House, opposite the present American, was also a favorite hostelric.  Arapahoe street, in 1860, would have been a howling wilderness if it had not been on the open prairie, with hardly a tree or bush in sight.

    In March of 1860 occurred the second and last duel ever fought in Denver, the parties being Hon. L. W. Bliss, Secretary of the Territory under the provisional government, and Dr. J. S. Stone, a member of the Legislative Assembly.  The prominence of the parties gave unusual interest to this affair.  It does not appear that the language of Bliss, at which Stone took offense, was sufficient provocation for the challenge; but the times were troublous, and political feeling ran high.  Dr. Stone was Judge of the Miners' Court in Gregory Gulch, an independent judicial organization, which made its own laws and enforced them with commendable celerity, if not severity.  The Territorial officers were jealous of this encroachment upon their judiciary powers, and some remarks of Bliss, at a banquet in the Broadwell House, were resented by Dr. Stone as personal to himself, the result being a challenge.  Cherry Creek having had the honor of being selected as the scene of the first duel, the Platte was chosen for the second, and the meeting occurred at a point just opposite Denver.  The weapons were shotguns, loaded with ball; distance, thirty paces, and Dr. Stone fell, mortally wounded, at the first fire, Bliss escaping unhurt.  Although Stone's wounds were eventually fatal, he lingered, in great agony, nearly five months after the duel, which occurred March 7, 1860.

    Six days afterward, and before the excitement attending the duel had subsided, Jude Lynch was called upon to settle with Moses Young for the unprovoked and vindictive murder of William West.  Young was hung the next daym on the spot where the murder had been committed.  Those who ere present at the trial and execution, affirm that both were conducted in as orderly and quiet a manner as if all the cumbrous forms of law had been observed.  Even a chaplain was provided, Father Kehler attending the doomed man in his last moments.  Strictly speaking, these "people's courts" were not givilance committees, but regularly constituted tribunals, in which both sides of the case were fully and impartially heard.  If the prisoner at the bar had  good defense, he could and did escape, whereas vigilantes often hang a man first and inquire into his guilt afterward.

    Denver was a "wooden town," and the danger of fire was great.  The whole city might have been consumed at any time.  Auraria narrowly escaped destruction by fire March 18, 1860, when a large new livery stable, belonging to Sumner & Dorsett, and valued, with its contents, at $18,000, was entirely consumed.  This was the first fire in the new settlement.

    The next event of public interst, outside of the usual routine of affrays, was a movement to unite the two cities under oe government.  Cherry Creek had been bridged here and there, and buildings were being erected on piles in the bed of the stream, so that the two towns were already practically united.  The movement originated in Auraria, where a mass meeting of citizens resolved that the two cities ought to be one, and consented that Auraria he called the West Division of Denver.  The question was voted upon April 3, and carried by a majority of over one hundred votes.  On the evening of the Thursday following, a moonlight ratifcation meeting was held on the Larimer street bridge, where a jolly good time was had, apparaently by the consolidated population.  Mr. A. Jacobs, the well-known clothier, who is still in business here, was Secretary of the meeting.  Judge N. G. Wyatt presided.  Gen. Larimer was a prominent speaker, and, on his motion, the meeting adjourned with three hearty cheers for the city of Denver.  The pioneers were already convinced that their village had a bright future before it.  There had been dark days and gloomy nights in the new camp, in spite of its bustling activity; for the constant stream of new-comers hardly ever found things to suit them, and the discoveries of gold prior to the Gregory find were not definite enough nor ufficiently extensive to establish the character of the camp.  The sands of Cherry Creek did not contain gold in paying quantities, and many immigrants did not take the trouble to look further for the precious mineral.  Then the surface of the country was so barren that few believed it could be cultivated, and foresaw starvation if they stopped longer than their provisions would last.  All such hurried back home, of course, and carried away with them the most doleful tales of the "Pike's Peak" country.  As already stated, nothing but Horace Greeley's indorsement of the country could have savied it from temporary abandonment. 

    May, 1860, was marked by the advent of the first daily newspaper, Thomas Gibson's Rocky Mountain Herald, which, during the summer, competed so strongly with the Daily News for the patronage of the public.  These pioneer dailies were creditable productions, although telegraphic news had to be brought a long distance by mail or courier.  May also brought the bombastic "Colorado Jewett," who soon made himself obnoxious by his great pretensions and positive worthlessness.  Col. Chivington, then a Methodist minister, arrived about the same time, and soon became very popular, being emphatically a Western man, and well suited to Western people generally.  His subsequent career belongs to another portion of this history.  Clark, Gruber & Co. founded the Denver mint, as a private institution, in May, 1860, occupying the same ground now used by the Government.  The original proprietors found it profitable, at that early day, to not only refine but to coin gold and silver, whereas now, when Colorado produces millions upon millions of bullion ore, usually the Government mint sends it East and South for coinage.

    The month of May was also marked by immense immigration, the arrivals numbering nearly one thousand daily, together with supplies of all kinds, and mills for treating ores.  The city grew apace throughout May and June, but the latter month passed without any exciting incidents.  The Fourth of July , however, was celebrated in fine style, with artillery salute, procession, the inevitable toasts and speeches, a flag presentation, and dancing to crown the day's enjoyment.  The flag, an elegant silk banner, was prepared by the ladies and presented by the city, with instructions that it should be turned over to the State when organized.  It subsequently passed into the custody of Capt. Sopris for safe keeping, and, almost nineteen years later, in January of the present year, was tendered to Gov. Pitkin by Mayor Sopris.  The Fourth of July exercises, of which this flag presentation formed a part, were held in a grove at the foot of Sixteenth street, where the Colorado Central Depot now stands.  Few who participated in the ceremonies suspected at that ime that a busy, bustling railway station would be located under the shade of those same cottonwoods, in the near future. 

History of the City of Denver, Arapahoe County, and Colorado, O. L. Baskin & Co., Historical Publishers, c. 1880, pp. 193-196.