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When: 1919 – 2004
Where: Denver, Colorado
Why Important: First African-American City Council Member West of the Mississippi, Civil Rights advocate, policy-maker, and life-long community leader and organizer.
Elvin R. Caldwell was born in Denver on April 11, 1919 and grew up in the historic Five Points neighborhood, which was a predominantly black neighborhood at that time. Though Caldwell’s family and many of the families in his neighborhood were prosperous, they faced racial discrimination, inequality, and exclusion from white Denver society. Caldwell’s parents, Wilba and Inez, fought against this discrimination, setting an example for Elvin that would inspire him and shape the rest of his life as an advocate for equality. Caldwell graduated from Eastside High School in 1937 and received a track scholarship to the University of Colorado and later, the University of Denver.
In 1941, Caldwell married Frank “Frankie” Harriette Webb, a teacher, and the couple had four children: Elvin Jr., John, Kenneth, and Frances. During World War II, Caldwell served as a chief statistician and assistant superintendent for production at the Remington Arms Company. After the war ended, many of Denver’s black residents lost their jobs to returning white servicemen, while many returning black servicemen faced discrimination back home in the country they had fought for. Caldwell firmly believed that all Americans were equal and deserved full rights, so he took his fight to the Colorado State Government.
In 1950, at age 31, Caldwell was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives where he served until 1955 when he was elected to the Denver City Council, making him the first African American to serve on a city council seat west of the Mississippi. Caldwell served on the Denver City Council for 28 years, with five years spent as president of the council. During this time Caldwell was deeply involved with the Denver Urban Renewal Authority (DURA), which was created to eliminate slum housing with assistance from Federal Grants. He also fought against discriminatory lending practices by banks, which refused to offer home loans in predominantly black neighborhoods. Until the 1970’s, nonwhites were barred from serving as judges or being promoted within the police force and could only serve in the one African American fire Station. Caldwell persistently contested these practices and under his leadership, Colorado implemented its first Fair Employment Practices Act. In 1980, Denver Mayor William H. McNichols Jr. named Caldwell Manager of Safety, making him the first black member of a Denver Mayoral Cabinet.
In addition to his years of political service, Caldwell was actively involved in many community organizations. He served as a board member for the Glenarm Branch of the YMCA, the Boy Scouts of America, and PAL of Denver. He also served on the board of directors for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Opportunities Industrialization Center, The Denver Improvement Association, the Five Points Businessmen’s Association, and the Colorado Municipal League. To honor his service and dedication to equality in Colorado, in 1990, the Denver City Council created the Elvin R. Caldwell Community Service Plaza. In April of 2003, the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library opened its doors bearing his name, just 1 year before his death in April 2004. Elvin R. Caldwell was a tireless champion of the Civil Rights Movement, a steadfast advocate for equality and a deeply passionate community leader who dedicated his life to making Colorado and the United States a better place for all people.
This bio is brought to you by the Colorado State Library with thanks to the Colorado Encyclopedia
Where: Central Colorado Mountains
Why important: Beloved circuit-riding Methodist preacher
John Lewis Dyer was born in Franklin County, Ohio in 1812, but spent most of his early years in Illinois. He received little formal education and, after his marriage to Harriet Foster in 1833, Dyer moved his young family to Wisconsin in order to work in the lead mines. Unfortunately, Harriet died when she was only 35, leaving Dyer with their five children. After their infant daughter (also named Harriet) died very shortly after, Dyer decided to become a Methodist minister. He became a circuit rider, meaning that he traveled from town to town as his services were needed for weddings, funerals, and sermons.
Dyer’s circuit covered a very large area across both Wisconsin and Minnesota and often meant he had to travel in harsh winter weather through very deep snows. Fortunately, Norwegian immigrants in Minnesota taught Dyer how to make skis that allowed him to travel more easily and navigate the wintery terrain. In 1861, after a decade of circuit riding in Minnesota and Wisconsin, Dyer left his younger children with his sister and headed to Colorado to join his son, Elias, who had moved to Denver shortly before. Wishing to see the mountains, Dyer started a preaching circuit through Colorado’s many mountain mining towns. He was able to use his snowshoeing and skiing experience to travel from town to town on foot, a task that had proven too difficult for many younger preachers.
However, Dyer faced a different challenge in the Colorado mining towns. The rough-and-tumble residents spent a great deal of their time drinking and gambling in saloons. Dyer saw this as a sign that his preaching was needed more than ever. He set up churches in many towns, including one in Breckenridge that still functions today: Father Dyer United Methodist Church. Dyer understood the hard lives of the miners because he had once worked in the mines. Also, Dyer’s life as a minister was far from easy. In fact, he made so little money on his circuit that he started carrying mail when he traveled over Mosquito Pass in order to make extra money. During these hard travels, Dyer became very well-known and was affectionately called “Father Dyer” even though Methodist ministers were not referred to as “Fathers.”
In 1870, “Father” Dyer married Lucinda Rankin, a widow who lived near Castle Rock. Lucinda joined Dyer and took up residence in Summit County for fifteen years until Dyer could no longer travel on his circuit. At the age of 73, Father Dyer and Lucinda moved to Denver where he wrote and published his autobiography, The Snow-Shoe Itinerant. Father Dyer died in 1901 at the age of 89, but his legacy remains in Colorado. His stained glass portrait hangs in the State Capitol, Father Dyer Peak in the Tenmile Range is named for him, and he was one of the first inductees into the Colorado Ski & Snowboarding Museum Hall of Fame in 1977.
This bio is brought to you by the Colorado State Library
Where: Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains
Why important: Explorer, Presidential Candidate, Civil War General
John Charles Frémont’s life was a series of ups and downs. He ran for president, but lost. He served as a civil war general, but was ridiculed for his approach. And even before all that, he led an expedition through Colorado’s rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains that ended in disaster with deaths of 10 members of the party.
Frémont began his career as an explorer while he was a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Corps of Topographical Engineers. When he was 28 years old, Frémont married the 16-year-old daughter of powerful Missouri senator, Thomas Hart Benton. Though the Senator was very angry at first, he eventually accepted his daughter’s marriage and offered financial and political support to Frémont for his expeditions to the West. In 1841, Frémont mapped the Des Moines River in Iowa. Moving further west, Frémont teamed up with Kit Carson on expeditions through the Sierra Nevada Mountains all the way to Lake Tahoe. He also led expeditions to Utah, Oregon, and California, where he even served as military governor.
In 1845, Frémont set out on his first expedition through the land that would eventually become Colorado with Kit Carson in search of the source of the Arkansas River. Three years later, Frémont lead another expedition along the Arkansas, but when the party reached Bent’s Fort, trappers there told them that they were too late in the season to make it across the mountains before winter hit. However, Frémont wanted to prove that his route to California was passable year round, so he ignored the trappers’ advice and pushed on. The party started off successfully until Frémont made a sudden decision to turn south of the River. As a result, his guide, Richens “Uncle Dick” Wootton and several other members of the party turned back. Frémont and the remaining members became snowbound in the mountains and 10 men died. Frémont was criticized for his poor decisions regarding the expedition and as a result, his reputation suffered.
Because of his strong political connections, however, Frémont was able to regain his reputation and within only eight years after the disastrous expedition, he was chosen as the presidential candidate of the newly-founded Republic party. The party’s main platform was anti-slavery and Frémont’s campaign slogan was “Free Men, Free Soil, Frémont.” Unfortunately, Frémont’s own father-in-law, Thomas Hart, endorsed democratic candidate, James Buchanan, losing credibility for Frémont.
Though Frémont lost the presidential election, his political career was far from over. He served as a U.S. Senator from California, Governor of Arizona Territory, and Major General in during the Civil war. He also created controversy when he issued a proclamation freeing all slaves in Missouri. The proclamation was not recognized by the U.S. government, however, and Frémont was removed from command.
Frémont spent most of the remainder of his life in Arizona and New York, where he became involved in railroad development. Although he never lived in Colorado, he played a key role in its early exploration earning him the nickname, “The Pathfinder” and the honor of having Fremont County, Colorado named for him.
This bio is brought to you by the Colorado State Library
When: 1840 – 1931
Where: Born in Russia and came to America at the age of 11.
Why Important: Built 450 miles of toll roads that later became most of the modern roads in southwestern Colorado. He also built three railroads in the San Juan Mountains that helped develop the area’s mining wealth.
Otto Mears was born in Estonia, which was part of Russia in 1840. He was orphaned at an early age and was eventually sent to live with relatives in San Francisco, California when he was 11. Mears worked very hard from the time he arrived in America until he joined the California Volunteer infantry during the Civil War. In 1864, Mears travelled to Santa Fe for a short time before moving to the Saguache, CO where he opened a general store and married Mary Kampfshulte in 1870. That business eventually grew to include hardware stores in several towns in southwestern Colorado.
Travel in Colorado was still very difficult at that time and Mears needed to find ways to move his goods around the region, so in 1870 he began building toll roads with the Poncha Pass Wagon Road. He went on to build more than a dozen toll roads covering more than 450 miles. Among these was the famous Million Dollar Highway between Ouray and Silverton, and by 1883 no one could get in or out of the City of Ouray without traveling over a Mears toll road.
In 1887 Mears built the Silverton Railroad to tap the silver mines on Red Mountain Pass between Silverton and Ouray. Because he was responsible for the railroad, Mears was able to issue passes to his friends, family, and colleagues for unlimited travel on his rail lines. He printed these special passes first on paper, then on leather, and eventually created them out of engraved silver and gold. Today, these passes are very rare and valuable. Mears later built four more railroads, including the famed the Rio Grande Southern Railroad from Ridgway and Durango.
Mears wasn’t just a successful businessman. He was also very active in politics and involved in many of the treaty negotiations between the Ute Indians and the US Government. He spoke the Ute language and was a friend of Chief Ouray. Mears was also chosen as one of Colorado’s three presidential electors in 1876 and was elected to the Colorado Legislature in the 1880’s. Despite Mears’ many successes in Colorado however, the Silver Panic of 1893 hit his businesses hard, causing him to lose control of many of his Colorado enterprises. In 1896 he moved to the east coast where he built the Chesapeake Bay Railroad, served as President of the Mack Truck Company, and built a railroad in Louisiana.
Mears returned to Colorado in 1906 and purchased a house in Silverton. He continued to invest in mining activities and regained much of the fortune he had lost in the 1890s. Otto retired to Pasadena, California in 1920 where he and Mary lived in the Maryland Hotel until Mary died in 1924 and Otto on June 24, 1931.
Where: Peekskill, N.Y.
Why Important: Co-owner of the Denver Post, Philanthropist, Established the Denver Center of the Performing Arts
Helen Bonfils was born on November 26, 1889 in Peekskill, New York. Her father, Frederick Bonfils, bought the struggling Denver Post newspaper with H.H. Tammen in 1895 and moved his family to Denver, Colorado. Mr. Bonfils turned the Denver Post into a very successful newspaper, allowing Helen and her sister May to grow up wealthy. Helen’s mother, Belle, was a devout Catholic and passed along her beliefs to her daughters.
At an early age, Helen began accompanying her mother and grandmother to the theater. This created a lifelong love of acting and the performing arts. She participated in many University of Denver productions. While the performing arts were definitely Helen’s passion, when her father passed away in 1933, she and her sister May inherited the Denver Post, and Helen took control of the operations of the newspaper.1 While there were male editors hired during her lifetime, it was widely known that Helen was the one in charge behind the scenes.2
Due to Helen’s passion for the performing arts, she wanted to establish quality theater shows in Denver. She first began by staging operas in Cheesman Park around 1933. Three years later, she married Broadway director George Sommes and together they produced many Broadway plays, including ones that Helen would act in under the pseudonym “Gertrude Barton.”3 She even won a Tony for her role in “Sleuth.” By 1953, Helen decided that Denver needed its own community theater to showcase Broadway plays,4 and built the Bonfils Memorial Theater on East Colfax and Elizabeth. This was only the beginning, as she had even bigger plans for a much larger professional venue. With her partner, Donald Seawell, they began the process of planning for the construction of the new theater. Unfortunately, Helen’s health deteriorated and she died on June 6, 1972, not realizing her dream of a professional performing arts center in Denver. The Denver Center of the Performing Arts (DCPA) was completed in 1978 and is the only non-profit performing arts center in the country.
During Helen’s lifetime, she was an avid philanthropist and established the Helen Bonfils Foundation in 1953. It was designed specifically for the support of the performing arts in Colorado, as it does today through the financing of the DCPA. She also created the Belle Bonfils Blood Bank (named after her mother) during World War II to aid wounded troops.5 This also still exists today. Helen also helped finance the completion of The Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Denver. Without the generosity of Helen Bonfils, we would not have the Denver Center of the Performing Arts, nor the Belle Blood Bank here in Denver. Her legacy is priceless.
When: around 1803- 1868
Where: South Dakota
Why Important: Native American peace negotiator
Black Kettle was born in South Dakota around 1803 (no one is quite certain what year he was born) into the Cheyenne Nation. Not much is known of Black Kettle’s earlier life, however he clearly possessed leadership skills as he was made a chief in the Council of Forty-Four, the tribal government of the Cheyenne.
In 1859, with the arrival of prospectors from the United States looking for gold in Colorado Territory, conflicts arose between the Native Americans in the area and the miners who were taking over their land. Initially a peace was brokered in 1861 at Fort Wise, resulting in the Fort Wise Treaty6 which provided land near Sand Creek for the tribe to live. Black Kettle was one of the main negotiators of the treaty on behalf of the Cheyenne. Many young Cheyenne, as well as Arapahoe, Utes, Kiowas, and Sioux warriors disagreed with the treaties and the relinquishing of their land to the settlers. These warriors made up a large group calling themselves the “Dog Soldiers” and waged war upon the settlers.2 This increased tension between the Native Americans and the settlers. In response, the United States provided military troops to try to combat the Dog Soldiers resistance efforts. What resulted was the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864 led by Colonel John Chivington.3 Black Kettle was present during the assault, but managed to escape.4
Despite the attack and the broken peace treaties, Black Kettle still tried to negotiate peace for his people.5 He signed the Little Arkansas Treaty in 1865 and in 1867 the Medicine Lodge treaty. These treaties moved the Cheyenne to southwest Kansas, but did not include their hunting grounds. Due to this, the Cheyenne’s ignored the treaty in order to hunt and the Dog Soldiers continued to fight against the settlers,6 despite Black Kettle’s pleas to keep peace.
Because the Cheyenne were breaking the Medicine Lodge treaty, General Phillip Sheridan of the United States army coordinated an attack on Black Kettle’s tribe. Lead by Lieutenant Colonel
George Custer on November 27, 1868, the troops fired into the sleeping encampment at dawn killing around thirty Cheyenne, including Black Kettle and his wife, who were shot while trying to escape on horseback.7
During the later years of his life, Black Kettle tried in vain to preserve a place for his people, knowing that the Native Americans of the plains could not possibly win a fight against such a numerous and formidable foe. Despite the untrustworthiness of the United States, Black Kettle was quoted as saying, “Although wrongs have been done to me, I live in hope.”
Where: Nova Scotia, Canada
Why Important: First woman known to summit Pike’s Peak
Julia Archibald was born on February 15, 1838 in Nova Scotia, Canada. When she was ten her family moved to the United States and settled in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her father was an abolitionist and her mother was a suffragist. Julia was taught to believe that a woman could do anything a man could do. In 1854 Julia’s father moved the family to the Kansas Territory to join other abolitionists who hoped to have the territory enter the union as a free state. This is where Julia met and married her husband, James Holmes in 1857.
A year after Julia and James got married, they joined a group of gold prospectors heading west to the Rocky Mountains. Once they arrived, the Holmes joined two other men in climbing Pike’s Peak to its summit. To do so, Julia wore a short dress, bloomers and moccasins, an outfit that was considered very indecent at the time.8 While resting on the summit, she decided to write a letter to her mother. In it she stated, “Nearly everyone tried to discourage me from attempting it, but I believed that I should succeed; and now here I am and I feel that I would not have missed this glorious sight for anything at all.”
The Holmes did not manage to find any gold themselves and proceeded south, relocating to Taos, New Mexico. While there, Julia worked as a reporter for the New York Herald Tribune. Julia and James had four children. Her marriage was an unhappy one and she divorced James in 1870 and moved to Washington D.C. While there she immersed herself in the suffrage movement and worked for the Bureau of Education as a Spanish correspondent. She was the first woman to be appointed to the position and eventually became the division chief. She died January 19, 1887.
Where: Southern Rocky Mountains, CO
Why Important: Ute Chief and Treaty Negotiator
Chief Ouray was born November 13, 1833 in Taos, New Mexico to a Jicarilla Apache man and a Ute woman. On the night he was born there was a meteor shower. This event apparently influenced his parents to name him Ouray, which means “The Arrow.” Interestingly, Ouray was not raised by his parents, but was raised by a Spanish family in the area. In this environment he learned to speak Spanish and English, and it wasn’t until later in life that he learned to speak his native tongues, Ute and Apache. Ouray was still in contact with his biological parents, and at seventeen moved to Colorado where they had relocated. His father, despite being Apache, was chief of the Uncompahgre band of the Utes. During the next decade Ouray primarily worked as a sheepherder and married a woman name Black Water who bore him a son. Black Water tragically died and Ouray remarried in 1859, to a Kiowa Apache woman named Chipeta who grew up with the Utes, . Ouray and Chipeta were extremely fond of one another and formed a strong partnership.
In 1860, Ouray’s father died and he became chief of the Utes. Chief Ouray used his new position within the Ute Tribe to facilitate peace with the white settlers and the United States government.2 He was known as “The White Man’s Friend”.2 While the United States government fondly referred to Ouray this way, this was an insult from the other members of the Ute tribe. Many Utes did not agree with the treaties that Ouray continued to negotiate with the United States, which often included him and Chipeta traveling to Washington D.C., as each new treaty resulted in less land that the tribe owned.3 Not only were they displeased, but there were many attempts made on Ouray’s life by angry members of the tribe. Luckily, Ouray survived the attempts made on his life4 and continued to work with the United States.5
In 1879, the neighboring White River Utes attacked an Indian agent and the families that lived in the area taking several women as captives.6 Ouray managed to negotiate a deal for the release of the hostages.7 Despite Ouray’s attempts at peace,8 this was the final blow for the Utes in Colorado and they lost their land within the state9 and were relocated to Utah. It was Ouray who traveled to Washington D.C. in 1880 and signed the treaty for their removal from Colorado.10
Ouray, however, fell ill with a kidney disease and died soon after he returned to Colorado from Washington.11 It was Chipeta, Ouray’s wife, who would accompany her people to their new reservation in Utah and who would continue to fight for the reinstatement of their ancestral land in Colorado.
Where: Fort Lyon near Sand Creek, Colorado
Why Important Soldier who refused orders to participate in the Sand Creek massacre
In Bath, Maine on July 26, 1838, Silas S. Soule was born. He grew up in Maine and Massachusetts in an abolitionist family and was taught that slavery was wrong. When Silas was sixteen, his family joined the New England Emigrant Aid Company, moved to Kansas Territory where Silas’ father helped set up the Underground Railroad near Lawrence, Kansas. During that time, Kansas desired to join the United States, however, its citizens could not agree whether to be a “slave-state” or a “free-state” and turmoil ensued. There were many skirmishes and incidents between the citizens that were “pro-slavery” and the abolitionists (anti-slavery). Silas chose to participate in some of these confrontations. He even assisted in the escape of an abolitionist that had been arrested.
In 1859, gold was discovered about 600 miles west of Kansas in what is now Colorado. Silas, along with his brother and cousin decided to try their own luck at prospecting and headed to the gold fields near Central City in May, 1860. Silas did not strike it rich and ended up working for a blacksmith. After the Civil War began in 1861, Silas joined the 1st Regiment of Colorado Volunteers. 12
He was a very successful soldier2 and was promoted to Captain3 by 1864. This promotion placed him in charge of his own company, Company D of the 1st Colorado Cavalry.
Company D was one of the companies under the leadership of Colonel John Chivington. The regiment was assigned to Fort Lyon,4 which had tribes of displaced Cheyenne and Arapaho Native Americans living in tents outside of the fort near Sand Creek. Unprovoked, Colonel Chivington ordered an attack on the Native Americans, which at the time consisted of older adults, women and children. Silas did not agree with this order and commanded his company to refuse to carry it out. Not one soldier in Company D fired his weapon on the tribes. This incident became known as the “Sand Creek Massacre.”
There was an investigation into the massacre5 and Silas testified against Colonel Chivington. On April 23, 1865, soon after he testified, Silas was assassinated 6 just weeks after he had married Hersa Coberly in Denver. He was only twenty-seven years old. Although there were initial arrests made for his murder,7 no one was ever convicted of it, and many believed at the time that Colonel Chivington was behind the assassination.89 . Silas Soule is buried in Denver10 at the Riverside Cemetery and is often remembered honorably by the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes.
Where: Manassa, CO
Why Important: Professional Boxer
William Harrison “Jack” Dempsey was born on June 24, 1895 in Manassa, CO. He grew up poor. Jack’s father had trouble finding work and Jack helped out by working when he just a young boy. He left home when he was sixteen. To make money, Jack would go into a bar and challenge someone to a fight. He almost always won!
Jack started boxing professionally around 1914. He had two nicknames, “Kid Blackie” and the “Manassa Mauler.”11 Even though he started making money as a boxer, it wasn’t enough and he still had to work so he found worked in the shipyards. By 1918, Dempsey was boxing all the time. In that year, he had seventeen fights! He only lost one and was known to knockout his opponents, often in the first round.2
On July 4, 1919, the World Heavyweight Championship was held in Toledo, OH. Jack fought Jess Willard and won.3 He held on to the title of World Heavyweight Champion for the next seven years, then lost the title to Gene Tunney after 10 rounds.4 Jack’s fights became very popular. When he fought Georges Carpentier in 1921 in New Jersey, it made one million dollars and 91,000 people came to see the fight.
Due to Jack’s popularity, he became quite famous even with people who did not like boxing. He appeared in Hollywood movies and traveled the country going to fairs and exhibitions.5 This made Jack very wealthy.
On September 22, 1927, Jack and George Tunney had a rematch in Chicago. The fight brought in two million dollars and millions listened on the radio.6 Unfortunately, Jack lost this fight and Tunney was named World Heavyweight Champion.7 Jack decided it was time to retire from boxing.8
After boxing, Jack opened a restaurant in New York, got married and divorced three times (with his fourth marriage he found success), acted as a boxer in the movie The Prizefighter and the Lady,9 and wrote three books. On May 31, 1983, Jack died from a heart attack in New York City.
Where: Denver, CO
Why Important: Denver Businessman, Colorado railroad owner
David Halliday Moffat was born in Washingtonville, N.Y. on July 22, 1839. When David was only twelve years old he moved to New York City and became a messenger boy for a bank. He worked so hard that the president of the bank noticed him and gave him the job of assistant teller. David’s older brother Samuel moved to Iowa in 1855 and David soon followed, getting a job at a bank there.
The lure of the West called to David and in 1860 he moved to Denver and opened a bookstore10 on Larimer and 15th Streets. David wasn’t fond of selling books and by 1865 became an agent for the Home Insurance Company.2 Around 1870 David was hired at the First National Bank of Denver as its manager3. The bank was very successful when David was running it and eventually he became the bank’s president.4
Banking was not David’s only interest. He was enthusiastic about railroad transportation in Colorado and co-owned nine railroads.5 He was also very interested in the mines of Colorado and had over 100 claims.6 Success in both these interests made David very wealthy.
David wanted to build a railroad through the mountains from Denver to Salt Lake City, Utah. He began to build the railroad in December 1902, which had 33 short tunnels and it went from Denver to Craig, CO. It was called the “Moffat Road.”7 He spent millions of his own money to pay for the railroad. When he started running out of funds, he went to New York City to try to find people who would be willing to help pay for the railroad through the Rocky Mountains. Unfortunately, David became ill while in New York City and died on March 18, 1911.8
Since David died, there was no money to tunnel through the Rocky Mountains; however the goal of the tunnel was not forgotten. After several years of trying to raise the money, the Colorado Senate in 1922 voted to pay for the tunnel.9 It was finished six years later and the first train went through the new tunnel on February 26, 1928.10 It was named the “Moffat Tunnel” after David.
- For more information about David Moffat, check out the Colorado Encyclopedia.
Where: Aspen, Colorado
Why Important: Award winning musician, singer and activist.
John Denver was born on December 31, 1943 in Roswell, New Mexico. His real name was Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. Around the age of twenty, he changed his name to “John Denver” after his favorite state’s (Colorado) capitol. John’s father was in the Air Force requiring his family to move a lot, but during the summers he would visit his grandmother in Oklahoma. She gave him his first guitar when he was eleven and taught him music. He also sang in a boys choir when he lived in Arizona.
John went to college at Texas Tech University to study architecture, but he continued to write songs, play his guitar and sing. In 1963 he left college and moved to Los Angeles, California to pursue being a musician. He sang in folk clubs and in 1965 was asked to join “The Mitchell Trio” beating 250 other singers!
In 1969, John decided to leave the trio and sing on his own. He wrote many songs that were popular in the 1970’s, such as “Sunshine on My Shoulders”, “Rocky Mountain High”, and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” He won many awards, including two Country Music Awards, three American Music Awards, one Emmy Award and two Grammys. John also performed on television shows such as The Muppet Show. He hosted the Grammy Awards five times and often guest-hosted The Tonight Show. He was also involved in many television music specials, such as A Rocky Mountain Christmas.
John was passionate about ending hunger around the world and in 1977 he cofounded The Hunger Project. This gained the notice of President Jimmy Carter, who asked John to serve on the President’s Commission on World Hunger. John wrote a song for the commission entitled, “I Want to Live.” He also performed a song for a UNICEF (an organization that helps poor children around the world) concert in 1979. All the money made from the song was given to UNICEF. In 1985, President Ronald Reagan honored John with the Presidential World Without Hunger Award. John was not only concerned about hunger, but also the environment, space exploration, and wildlife preservation, even making a documentary about endangered species in 1987. He was recognized for his humanitarian acts with the 1993 Albert Schweitzer Music Award.
John loved flying and learned to be a pilot of small airplanes. He owned several small airplanes and would often fly them around. However, on October 12, 1997 the plane he was flying crashed into the Pacific Ocean near Monterey, California and he passed away. His ashes were scattered in the Rocky Mountains. There is now a plaque on the beach near the spot where he died.
The State of Colorado honored John Denver in 2007 by passing a resolution to make his song “Rocky Mountain High” the second official state song, the first being “Where the Columbines Grow.”
Where: Central City and Denver
Why Important: One of the first African-American women to settle in Colorado and became a very successful business woman.
Clara Brown was probably born into slavery in Virginia around 1800. Wealthy white southerners who “owned” Clara often auctioned her to the highest bidder as if she were a horse to be sold. Each time she was bought, she would have to move, sometimes even to a different state. Clara married when she was eighteen, and later gave birth to four children. Tragically, all of her children and her husband were sold to different people across the country. She vowed to work for the rest of her life to reunite her shattered family. Clara worked as a domestic servant until 1856 when her “owner” at the time, George Brown, died. Fortunately, his family helped Clara achieve her freedom, and she could begin the search for her missing children.
Hearing that one of her daughters, Eliza, may have moved to the West, Clara headed in that direction. She had money to travel, but black people at the time were forbidden from buying stagecoach tickets. Instead, she convinced a group of prospectors to take her with them. On their way to Colorado in search of gold, she would work as their cook. The journey was long and rough and Clara had to walk alongside the wagon for much of the nearly 700-mile trek. Once in Denver, Clara was unable to find her daughter. She decided to travel with gold seekers to Central City in the summer of 1859. The town was made up of gold mines, small stores, saloons, and shacks for miners and their families.11 Clara was one of the first African-American women to reach the gold-mining towns of Colorado.
Clara’s two most important goals were to make enough money to live independently and to find her family. She figured that accomplishing the first goal would help her with the second. Clara started by opening a small laundry service for the gold miners of Central City. The business was very successful, and she began saving her money. To make even more, she cooked, cleaned, and catered special engagements. By the end of the Civil War in 1865, when most black people were just gaining their legal freedom, Clara had saved ten thousand dollars. This was an astonishing amount of money. With this wealth, she invested in mining claims and Colorado real estate. She could now support herself very well. A Hub of the Community Like most of the small black population of Colorado, “Aunt” Clara saw the importance of living within a strong community. In Central City, her business and her home became community hubs. Sick or injured miners, regardless of race, would often turn to her for help. Clara gave them a place to recover and cared for them until they were able to return to work. She also helped those who were homeless and needed a place to stay. Pregnant women in town often wanted Clara to help deliver their babies. She provided many of these services for free to those who could not afford them. Clara Brown was a Presbyterian, but she did not discriminate against other faiths. She gave money and time to four different churches in town. As she had done in Denver, she also helped start the first Sunday school program in town. She used her home as the classroom. While her faith was strong and her finances secure, Clara was still missing something…her family.
Once she had saved enough money, Clara Brown began the hunt for her family. She traveled to Kentucky and Tennessee in search of her loved ones. Though she did not find her children or husband, she did not return empty-handed. Clara discovered other relatives on her trip, and she paid for them to move to Colorado. She also helped other freed blacks to move here for many years. When they arrived, she helped them find jobs in their new home.
In 1879, Clara acted as an official representative of Colorado Governor Pitkin to Kansas. Many black people had escaped from the South and moved to black homesteads in Kansas. This was sometimes called the “Black Exodus,” and these people were called “Exodusters.” Governor Pitkin sent Clara Brown to Kansas to try to persuade some of them to move to Colorado. Many jobs were available in Colorado due to mining strikes and labor shortages. Clara delivered Governor Pitkin’s invitation and donated some of her own money to support the new black communities.
In spite of all her successes, disaster was just around the corner. In 1864, a great flood swept through Denver and destroyed much of the town.2 The papers proving that Clara Brown owned property there were lost. In 1873, Clara’s home and several of her other properties went up in flames in a huge fire in Central City.3 Clara now had nothing to show for all her years of work, but people in the community came to her rescue. Someone even set her up in a cottage in Denver.
In 1882, when Clara was about 80 years old, good news brought fresh hope of finding her daughter. She received word that a black woman named Eliza lived in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This woman was born about the same time as Clara’s child, Eliza. She had been taken from her mother and sold to another family, and she even looked a bit like Clara. With money from her friends, “Aunt” Clara immediately traveled to Iowa to find out if this person could indeed be her Eliza. They met in Iowa, and the two joyfully discovered that they were in fact mother and daughter! The story of their reunion was widely published in newspapers in Colorado and throughout the Midwest. After forty-seven years of separation and searching, Clara’s dream had finally come true. Eliza was the only child Clara ever found, and the two returned to Colorado where they lived until Clara’s death.
“Aunt” Clara Brown passed away in her sleep just three years after being reunited with her daughter.4 Crowds flocked to her funeral. The mayor of Denver and the governor of Colorado even attended the ceremony. The Colorado Pioneer Association made Clara Brown their first African-American member, and funded her entire funeral.5
Clara Brown’s name and reputation have lived on in the years since her death. A chair in the Central City Opera House was installed in her name in the 1930s. This is an honor reserved for well-respected community members. In 1977, Clara’s life and achievements were commemorated with a stained glass portrait of her in the state capitol building. She also has a plaque on the St. James Methodist Church in Central City, which explains that her home served as the first church in the area. An opera about her life, called Gabriel’s Daughter, debuted in Central City in 2003. People say that Clara Brown went from being a slave to being an angel, but neither word is accurate. She was an experienced black woman who lived with purpose and passion. She recognized the power of community and in building relationships. She found her way out of a life of enslavement to establish a new life in Colorado. Her success in business gave her the chance to share her wealth with friends and family. She worked to develop the black community in Colorado. The discovery of her daughter, Eliza, turned her lifelong dream into reality. In her own time of crisis, favors and kindness were lovingly returned to her.
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When: 1847 – 1920
Where: Moved from New Mexico to Trinidad, and then to Barela, Colorado
Why Important: Barela served as a territorial legislator, helped write the Colorado Constitution, and represented Colorado as a senator for thirty-seven years
Casimiro was born in New Mexico in 1847. It was still part of Mexico at that time. One year later, at the end of the U.S.-Mexican War (1846-1848), New Mexico became a part of the United States. In 1867, Casimiro moved to Trinidad, Colorado. He published newspapers and raised sheep, cattle, and horses. He married Josefita Ortiz and they lived on his ranch.
Casimiro was elected Justice of the Peace in Trinidad when he was just twenty-two. He later served as County Assessor, Territory Representative,6 and County Sheriff for Las Animas. He also ran a blacksmith shop, a supply shop, and became postmaster. The town loved him so much that they renamed the town Barela, Colorado!
In 1875, Casimiro helped to write Colorado’s State Constitution. He fought to ensure that the constitution was published in English, Spanish, and German, making him a hero to many. He became a senator in 1876.2 Even though he was successful, Barela’s life in Trinidad was not always happy. He and Josefita had nine children, but only Leonor, Juana, and Sofia lived. Then in 1883, Josefita died. Casimiro married Damiani Rivera and they adopted three children.
Casimiro Barela always worked hard to help people. He ran two Spanish language newspapers. He supported women’s right to vote, pushed for New Mexico statehood, and made Columbus Day a holiday in 1907. In 1916, after thirty-seven years as senator, Barela lost the election.3
Later, Casimiro attended the inauguration of Mexico’s President Obregon in 1920. Barela died later that year from pneumonia. Casimiro’s image is one of sixteen stained glass portraits hanging inside the Colorado State Capitol in Denver.
Content Date: Jan. 1, 1847 to Jan. 1, 1920
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When: 1843 – 1892
Where: Central City and Denver
Why Important: She helped establish the Jewish Hospital Association of Colorado, now called National Jewish Hospital.
Frances Wisebart Jacobs was born March 29, 1843 in Kentucky to Bavarian immigrants. The family later moved to Cincinnati, Ohio where her father Leon Wisebart worked as a tailor. Frances and her six siblings attended public schools. She married Abraham Jacobs in 1863.
The couple moved to Central City, Colorado, and had three children: Benjamin, Evelyn, and a child who died early. Benjamin became a lawyer and Evelyn became a teacher.
In 1870, the family moved to Denver. Frances saw a lot of poverty, suffering, and sickness in the Jewish Community and wanted to help. In 1872, she founded the Hebrew Ladies’ Relief Society. However, Frances soon saw that people from all backgrounds were affected by the same issues. So, she formed the Denver Ladies’ Relief Society.4 Then she founded the first free kindergarten in Denver, and later the Charity Organization Society, later called United Way. Jacobs became known as Denver’s “mother of charities.”
In addition, Frances helped people suffering from tuberculosis. She visited patients and brought them food, clothing, and house supplies. She was not afraid to touch a sick person and did not flinch at the sight of blood. Jacobs worked to create a hospital for tuberculosis2 in order to treat the large numbers of patients living in the Denver area.
On October 9, 1892, the Jewish Hospital Association of Colorado was founded to treat tuberculosis – her dream came true! Frances died one month later. The Hospital was named the Frances Jacobs Hospital in her honor. In 1900 the name was changed again to the National Jewish Hospital.3 The hospital is located today at Colfax and Colorado Boulevard in Denver; it still specializes in tuberculosis.
Content Date: Jan. 1, 1843 to Jan. 1, 1892
- Read the original bio at History Colorado
- Jacobs was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 1985
- Jacobs was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994
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Where: Ohio, Iowa, Nebraska, and finally, Denver
The greatest Denver promoter of all, William Newton Byers was born on an Ohio farm in 1831. His family moved to Iowa in 1850 and William began survey work, which involves making a detailed map of an area.
William continued to move west. He landed in Omaha, where he made the first official plat and map of the city and Omaha. A plat shows the divisions of a piece of land into parcels for buildings homes and businesses. Succumbing to gold fever, he left Omaha in 1859 and moved to Denver. He wrote a Handbook to the gold fields that same year, which helped to attract more people to the city.
William established Denver’s first newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News, on April 23, 18594 – just days after he had arrived! His trick? He had written most of the stories while still in Nebraska, using reports about Denver and a bit of imagination. He bought the printing equipment from a defunct newspaper in Nebraska and had it moved by a team of oxen to Denver.
Newspapers attracted newcomers and money to upstart towns such as Denver. Byers became the spokesman for Denver and helped to organize a Chamber of Commerce. He tirelessly promoted Denver as the “Queen City of the Rockies.”
William sold the Rocky Mountain News in 1878, but remained prominent within the Denver society, helping to establish the Colorado Historical Society. In 1886 William, Governor John Evans and hotel builder, Henry C. Brown started the Denver Tramway Company.2 The electric cars soon ran across Denver, connecting developments and allowing people to move throughout the city and suburbs.3
Byers died on March 25, 1903 at the age of seventy-two.
Content Date: Jan. 1, 1831 to Jan. 1, 1903
- Learn more about William Byers at the Denver Public Library
- Read the original bio at History Colorado
- Visit the Byers-Evans House Museum in Denver
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When: c. 1810-1889
Where: Colorado and Oklahoma
Why Important: This Chief sought peaceful relations between Native Americans and whites even amidst the Sand Creek Massacre.
Little Raven was born around 1810 on the Plains near Nebraska. He negotiated peace between the Southern Arapaho, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Comanche, and Plains Apache in 1840. He was also known to welcome white Americans into his Denver tipi during the Gold Rush.
Despite Little Raven’s efforts, peace was hard to maintain 4. The Fort Wise Treaty of 1861 forced the Arapaho away from their homes. Although many Arapaho chiefs did not sign the treaty, Little Raven did sign in hopes of maintaining peace. However, he soon discovered that whites were violating the treaty. The Sand Creek Massacre furthered threatened any possible peace.
The Massacre occurred on November 29, 1864. Several bands of Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians were told to camp near Fort Lyon by the U.S. Government. Unjustly, Colonel Chivington ordered his troops to attack the peaceful Indians. When the violence ended, over one hundred Native men, women, and children had been slain by the soldiers. Little Raven and his band of Arapaho survived the massacre, but only because they camped far away from the other Cheyenne and Arapaho.
Still Little Raven tried for peace and signed the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867 2, but his tribe was again moved to another reservation.
Little Raven traveled to Washington D.C. and spoke at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art 3. President Grant even offered him a peace medal; however Little Raven said he had no peace talk to make because he had never been at war with whites.
He died in 1889. Little Raven Street, between 15th and 20th Street in Denver, near the South Platte River, commemorates the Arapaho chief.
Content Date: Jan. 1, 1810 to Jan. 1, 1889 Bio Last Name: Little Raven, Chief
- Learn more about Little Raven at the Denver Public Library
- Learn more about the Sand Creek Massacre from PBS
- Read an article about the Medicine Lodge Treaty in the Colorado Historic Newspapers collection
- Read the original bio at History Colorado
- Watch episode from RMPBS
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Where: Born in Iowa; grew up in Colorado Springs and Denver
Why Important: Humanitarian and wife of President Dwight Eisenhower
Mamie Geneva Doud was born with a heart condition, and her older sister had asthma. In an effort to improve the girls’ health, their father moved the family from Iowa and eventually settled in Denver in 1905. In 1915 she met Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was stationed at Fort Sam Houston, when her father took the family to winter in Texas. She married Dwight D. Eisenhower, and later in his life, he became the president of the United States. Before he was the president, though, he and Mamie moved a lot because he was in the military.4 They had two sons.
As first lady,2 she supported many important causes. On one of her later appearances, on July 8, 1963, she dedicated the Mamie Eisenhower Library in Broomfield, Colorado, and presented it with 337 volumes from her father’s personal library. She is buried next to her husband at the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas.
Content Date: Jan. 1, 1896 to Jan. 1, 1979
- Mamie was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 1985.
- Read more about Mamie at the First Ladies National Library
- Learn more about the first lady at Wikipedia
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Where: Born in Missouri, lived in Leadville and Denver
Margaret Brown was born of July 18, 1867. Her friends and family called her Maggie; she was not known as Molly until after her death. Maggie left school at thirteen because her family needed her to work. After seeing her parents struggle, she yearned to be rich.
In 1883, Maggie moved to Leadville, Colorado with her brother Daniel. There she worked for a dry goods store. In Leadville, Maggie married James Joseph (J.J.) Brown. They had two children, Lawrence and Catharine Ellen. In 1893, J.J.’s new mine struck gold, making the family very wealthy.
The family bought a home in Denver and began traveling and wearing expensive clothing from Paris. Maggie took the opportunity to learn several languages, work for women’s suffrage, help the poor 3, and give money to build St. Mary’s Academy. She also ran for the Senate 2. On August 10, 1909, Maggie and J.J. officially separated; but did not divorce, as their Catholic religion did not allow it.
Maggie spent a lot of time traveling. When she heard that her grandson had fallen ill, she bought a ticket home on the Titanic. On April 15, 1912, the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank. Two thirds of the passengers and crew died3. Maggie spoke several languages and was able to tell other passengers to continue rowing so they did not freeze to death. After being rescued by the Carpathia Maggie consoled survivors in their language. She later spoke against the White Star Line for not providing enough life boats4.
Maggie continued to travel; even going to Russia shortly after the Titanic sank. She died unexpectedly on October 26, 1932 in a hotel in New York City. Maggie’s home in Capitol Hill is now a museum for all to enjoy and place to learn about her incredible life.
Content Date: Jan. 1, 1867 to Jan. 1, 1932
- Learn more about Molly Brown at the Denver Public Library
- Molly Brown was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 1985
- Visit the Molly Brown House
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When: 1830 -1885
Where: Born in Massachusetts, moved to Colorado Springs
Why Important: Author and Indian Advocate
Helen Hunt Jackson led a hard life on the frontier plains. She lost her husband and two children during her lifetime. However, she was among the first writers to draw attention to the condition of the American Indian through her two books, “Ramona” and “The Indian’s Plight.”
Helen was born October 18, 1830, in Amherst, Massachusetts. Her parents were smart, religious, and strict. She was a high-spirited, strong-willed, fun-loving child. Jackson and Emily Dickinson, who became a famous poet later in her life, formed a friendship in childhood that would last throughout their lives. Helen’s mother died of tuberculosis when Jackson was 12. Her father, a minister and professor at Amherst College, died three years later. She became a student at the Abbott School in New York City and was very smart.
When she was 21, she married Captain Edward Hunt, a West Point graduate. Early in their life together they had a son, but he died when he was just an infant. They had another son who was born in 1855. During the Civil War Helen’s husband Edward was killed in an accident while working on a one-man submarine he had invented. Four years later, Helen’s only living son got a disease called diphtheria, and he died when he was only 9 years old. After so many tragedies, Helen began to write verse for therapy and for self-support.5 Her writing was an almost immediate success. Even though she was a successful writer, her health was poor, so her doctor insisted she seek relief in the “curative air of the Rockies,” and she moved to Colorado. She ended up marrying William Jackson, a very well-known person in Colorado Springs.
On one of her trips back east, she attended a reception and met members of the Indian Commission. The Ponca Chief, Standing Bear, told Helen of the tragic things that were happening to his people. His interpreter was Bright Eyes. Helen said she would help raise funds for the Ponca People so they could return to their land. “I have done now, I believe, the last of the things I have said I would never do. I have become what I have said a thousand times was the most odious thing in the world – a woman with a cause,” she wrote a friend.
She defended the Ute Indians.2 Many people in Colorado at that time did not like the fact that she supported the Ute Indians. She stood her ground and wrote “A Century of Dishonor,” which she considered her most important book.
Helen rose above personal tragedy and became one of the most successful writers of her day. She included as her friends, Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes (other well-known authors). Through her dedication to Indian reform during the last five years of her life,3 she wrote herself into American history.
Content Date: Jan. 1, 1830 to Jan. 1, 1885
- Example of Helen Hunt Jackson’s writing published in the newspaper
- Jackson was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame in 1985
- Learn more about her book A Century of Dishonor at Wikipedia