20th Century & Beyond

Elvin R. Caldwell: City Council President, Activist, Community Leader

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

Colorado's Beginnings

“Father” John Lewis Dyer: The Snowshoe Itinerant

Portrait: John Lewis Dyer (Photo from Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame)

When: 1812-1901

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.

Stained Glass Image of John Dyer in Father Dyer United Methodist Church (Photo from

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.

Cover of John Dyer’s Autobiography: The Snowshoe Itinerant (Photo from

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.”

Stained Glass Portrait from Colorado State Capitol (Photo from Park County Histories)

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

Colorado State Publications Blog

Herndon Davis, Colorado Artist

You’re probably familiar with the Face on the Barroom Floor, the mysterious portrait of a dark-haired lady on the floor of the Teller House in Central City. But did you know that the same artist who painted this iconic image also used his paintings to document the Colorado he knew, before it vanished forever?

The Face on the Barroom Floor. Herndon Davis, 1936. Credit: Denver Public Library Western History & Genealogy Department

Herndon Davis (1901-1962) started his artistic career as a commercial illustrator in several midwestern cities. He moved to Denver in 1936, working for the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post. While in Central City to paint a series of murals for the Central City Opera House, Davis painted the Face, thought to be an image of his wife, Nita.

Over time, Davis began to notice how much Colorado, and Denver especially, were changing. Gone was the frontier West, which Davis set about to document in paintings of rickety frontier towns and old mine sites. He painted and sketched numerous portraits of notable Coloradans like Kit Carson, John Brisben Walker, and Helen Bonfils. He even painted Colorado dinosaurs.

But Davis is perhaps best appreciated for his paintings of old Denver and metro area buildings, often documenting them before they were lost. Davis painted the remaining homes of early Denver area settlers; fine Capitol Hill mansions; and famous nineteenth-century Denver buildings that had fallen into disrepair. Buildings that were the pride of nineteenth-century Denver are shown surrounded by parked cars, for sale signs, and empty lots. Yet each retains a dignified beauty that Davis was able to capture, even as the structures were about to be lost to the wrecking ball.

The Hallack Mansion, one of Capitol Hill’s largest homes, painted by Davis in 1940 shortly before the building’s demolition. It is now the site of the Cash Register Building at the corner of 17th and Sherman. Credit: Denver Public Library Western History & Genealogy Department.
The Tabor Grand Opera House, 16th and Curtis, painted by Davis in 1941 as the building fell into disrepair. Most Denver historians agree that the Tabor was the finest building ever built in Denver. Credit: Denver Public Library Western History & Genealogy Department.
This view of the Navarre building, which still stands on Tremont Street, shows the changing landscape of Denver in 1940. Credit: Denver Public Library Western History & Genealogy Department.

Davis and his art are featured in Herndon Davis: Painting Colorado History by Craig Leavitt and Thomas J. Noel (University Press of Colorado, 2016), a full-color book which you can check out from our library or on Prospector. Much of Davis’s art is now in the Collection of the Denver Public Library Western History Department, and you can view many more Davis paintings on their website.

Credit: University Press of Colorado.
Colorado's Beginnings

John Charles Frémont: Senator, Governor, Presidential Candidate, and Explorer

Portrait: John Charles Fremont (Photo from


When: 1813-1890

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.

Portrait: Kit Carson and John C. Frémont Photo from the Museum of the San Fernando Valley

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.

Col. John C. Fremont in the Rocky Mountains (Photo from Nevada Public Radio)

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


Colorado State Publications Blog

The “Maverick” of Carpenter Ranch

Farrington “Ferry” Carpenter was a Harvard- and Princeton- educated rancher whose autobiography, Confessions of a Maverick, is one of the most frequently checked out items in our library collection. Today, his Routt County ranch, still a working cattle operation, has been preserved as a nature center.

Originally from Evanston, Illinois, Carpenter (1886-1980) spent time in New Mexico as a teenager, developing a lifelong love of the West. During his college years, he would spend summers in Colorado, where he began purchasing cattle. After obtaining his law degree at Harvard, he moved to Colorado full-time and became the town of Hayden’s first lawyer. He was most devoted to his cattle ranch, however. “He became one of the best informed men in the country on land and grazing laws,” according to his obituary. He served as the first director of the U.S. Grazing Service and was one of the primary authors of the Taylor Grazing Act. He also served in the State Legislature, as District Attorney for the Fourteenth Judicial District, and as the state’s first Director of Revenue.

Today, the Carpenter Ranch near Hayden, Colorado, is overseen by the Nature Conservancy as a research and education center focused on nature, agriculture, and conservation. Visitors to the ranch can explore the original house and barn. The site is also known as a hot spot for birdwatchers, and guided birdwatching hikes are available.

Carpenter told the story of his exciting life in Confessions of a Maverick, published by the Colorado Historical Society in 1984. You can check out a copy from our library or through Prospector. Also see the article Butting Heads: Farrington Carpenter’s Dramatic Role in the Taylor Grazing Act of 1934,” which appeared in the May/June 2010 issue of Colorado Heritage and is also available for checkout from our library.

Colorado State Publications Blog

Time Machine Tuesday: Colorado Biographies

Genealogists and others looking for biographical information on Coloradans from earlier than 1927 should view volumes 4 and 5 of the State Historical Society’s History of Colorado, which has been digitized by our library. These final two volumes of the five-volume set are filled with hundreds of biographies on Coloradans. While many of these biographies do tend to feature the wealthier members of society, there are also many middle-class persons featured. Glancing through, I found biographies of teachers, insurance salesmen, and engineers mixed in with businessmen, politicians, and pioneers. Many women are also included, such as Dr. Mary Elizabeth Bates, the first female intern at Cook County Hospital in Chicago who practiced for more than thirty years in Denver, and Fannie Ellen Arnett, postmistress of the town of Peetz in Logan County.
Besides the History of Colorado, our library has many other resources where you can find biographies of Coloradans. Colorado Magazine contains numerous biographies, including the tales of many early settlers. They also published a series of biographies on Colorado first ladies.  For bios of Colorado governors, head to State Archives.
We also have in our collection numerous biography books from the University Press of Colorado, the Colorado Historical Society, and the state universities. Colorado Profiles from University Press of Colorado provides short bios on many colorful Coloradans. We also have standalone biographies on such individuals as Wayne Aspinall, Arthur Carhart, Herndon Davis, S.R. DeBoer, Thomas Hornsby Ferril, Irene Jerome Hood, William Henry Jackson, Enos Mills, George Norlin, John Otto, Thomas M. Patterson, Helen Ring Robinson, Henry M. Teller, Horace Tabor, Thomas Walsh, Edward Wynkoop, and many others. Also, be sure to check out the biographies of famous Coloradans featured in the Colorado Virtual Library.

Colorado State Publications Blog

Time Machine Tuesday: Colorado’s First Ladies

March is Women’s History Month, an appropriate time to recognize the First Ladies of our state.  Whether they came to Colorado as pioneers or worked to leave the state a better place, these ladies led very interesting lives. In the 1960s and ’70s Helen Cannon of the Colorado Historical Society profiled a number of the state’s earliest first ladies in Colorado Magazine, which is now available online.  The following ladies were profiled.

Finally, for a look at some of the more recent First Ladies, see the Colorado Historical Society’s book Queen of the Hill: The Private Life of the Colorado Governor’s Mansion, available for checkout from our library.

Julia Pratte Gilpin

Margaret Gray Evans

Ellen Kellogg Hunt

Mary Thompson McCook

Josephine Evans Elbert

Eliza Pickrell Routt

Fidelia James Pitkin

Mary Goodell Grant

Rebecca Hill Eaton

Ella Nye Adams

Jane Barnes Cooper

Celia Crane Waite

Emma Fletcher Thomas

Nellie Martin Orman

Frances Clelland Peabody

Colorado State Publications Blog

Colorado Governors: Samuel Elbert

Colorado’s highest mountain bears the name of Samuel H. Elbert, territorial governor of Colorado from 1873-74.  Elbert County is also named for him.
Originally from Ohio, Elbert, a lawyer, moved to Nebraska in 1854 and became heavily involved in Republican politics.  He campaigned hard for Abraham Lincoln and through this campaign met John Evans, future territorial governor of Colorado.  When Evans became governor, Elbert came to Colorado as his territorial secretary, which you can read more about in the Colorado Magazine article “Colorado’s Territorial Secretaries.”  Elbert also married John Evans’ daughter Josephine.  Elbert went on to serve in the territorial legislature.
President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Elbert as governor of the territory after the removal of Edward McCook by public petition.  Elbert was a popular governor, but McCook, a Civil War general, was a friend of Grant’s, so the president reinstated him in office after just one year.
After statehood, Elbert went on to become Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court. He died in 1899.

At 14,439′, Mount Elbert is Colorado’s highest peak.

Colorado State Publications Blog

Time Machine Tuesday: Rydberg's Flora

One of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century America’s greatest botanists extensively studied the flora of Colorado, and left us what is still one of the most important works on the state’s flowers.

Per Axel Rydberg (1860-1931) emigrated to the United States from Sweden in 1882.  His career as a botanist came somewhat by accident.  Upon moving to the United States, he planned to become a mining engineer, but while working in the iron mines of Michigan he suffered a serious leg injury that left him with a lifelong limp and closed the door on a mining career.  Instead, he turned to intellectual pursuits, paying his way through the University of Nebraska by teaching mathematics.  After receiving his M.A. Rydberg was hired by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study the botany of Nebraska and South Dakota, publishing his first work in 1895.  He then when on to earn his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1898, and two years later, Rydberg first came to Colorado to study the state’s flora.  Over the next three decades of his life Rydberg would specialize in studying the flora of the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains, discovering several plant species and publishing numerous works.  He also continued his connection to New York, serving as the first curator of the New York Botanical Garden Herbarium. 

Rydberg’s publications include studies of the botany of Nebraska, Utah, Yellowstone National Park, and even the Yukon, but one of his most significant publications remains his 1906 Flora of Colorado, published by the Colorado Agricultural College’s Experiment Station.  This nearly-500 page book has been digitized and is available online from our library.

Also from our library you can learn about some of the plants and flowers that Rydberg studied and discovered, which bear his name.  Some of these species are now rare or imperiled.  You can read conservation assessments from the Colorado State University’s Natural Heritage Program on the following species named for Rydberg:

Colorado State Publications Blog

Colorado Governors: Edward McCook

Edward Moody McCook served two non-consecutive terms as territorial governor.  Originally from Ohio, McCook had come to Colorado during the 1859 Gold Rush.  He settled in Central City and set up a successful law practice.  He returned east to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War, attaining the rank of Brigadier General.  McCook received his promotion for gallantry at the battle of Chickamauga.  As General he commanded cavalry during Sherman’s March to Atlanta, and then moved south through Alabama to Florida, where he accepted the surrender of Florida and served a short time as Military Governor.  It was during McCook’s service in the Union Army that he got to know Ulysses Grant.
Following the war, McCook’s acquaintance with Grant first earned him the appointment to the post of Territorial Governor of Colorado in 1869, which came after an appointment by President Johnson as U.S. Minister to Hawaii.  Grant removed Colorado Territory’s preceding governor, Alexander Cameron Hunt, from office to appoint McCook in his place.  This did nothing to endear McCook to Coloradans, who had generally liked Governor Hunt.  In 1873 citizens put forth a petition to remove the unpopular McCook from office, and he was replaced by Samuel Elbert, son-in-law of former Territorial Governor John Evans.  (For more on the rivalry between McCook and Elbert, see this article from Colorado Magazine). After serving just one year, the popular Elbert was removed from office and McCook was reinstated.
Despite his lack of popularity, McCook’s governorship proved quite productive.  He was instrumental in developing Colorado’s public school system, and both the Colorado School of Mines and the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind were created under his watch.  McCook prioritized funding for public schools, and created the position of Superintendent of Public Instruction.  (You can read the Superintendent’s biennial reports online courtesy of our library).  W.C. Lothrop was the first person to serve in that position; today it is known as the Commissioner of Education.  McCook also established a Board of Immigration to promote Colorado, and was an early advocate of women’s suffrage.
The Colorado State Archives writes that during McCook’s second term, “political upheaval, grasshopper infestations that destroyed Colorado crops, and numerous mining disputes created an atmosphere of tension in his administration.”  Therefore he was again removed from office, this time after only serving nine months.  During the remainder of his career McCook invested in mining, railroads, and telephones.  He died in Chicago in 1909 and is buried in his hometown of Steubenville, Ohio.

Colorado State Publications Blog

The Architecture of Jacques Benedict

In the first decades of the twentieth century, Victorian architectural styles gave way to newer styles including Beaux Arts and Mediterranean-influenced architecture.  One of the most significant architects in Colorado to embrace these architectural styles was Jules Jacques Benoit Benedict.  Although today he is most remembered for his Denver residential designs (many examples can be found in the Denver Country Club and around Cheesman Park), Benedict’s influence extends well beyond his Denver estates.

Jacques Benedict grew up in Chicago and, undoubtedly influenced by the great architects of that city, began practicing there in 1899 before embarking on additional study in Paris, where he attended the famed Ecole de Beaux Arts — considered to be the finest architectural school in the world.  After returning to the US he practiced in New York for a time, but saw more opportunity in the West so relocated to Denver in 1909.  This was during the height of the City Beautiful Movement in Denver, and among some of Benedict’s first projects in this city were libraries (such as the Woodbury Branch Library in North Denver), schools (such as Park Hill Elementary), and park amenities (such as the Washington Park boating pavilion).   He also designed buildings in Boulder, Evergreen, Genesee, Golden, Idaho Springs, Littleton, and Sedalia.  One of his only commercial structures was the elegant Central Bank Building at 15th and Arapahoe in downtown Denver, which was torn down in 1990 amidst much controversy; even Denver’s Mayor Peña fought to save it from demolition.

Yet some of Benedict’s most intriguing buildings are the ones that were never built.  Can you imagine Denver’s City and County Building as a highrise?  Benedict did.  In 1926, when the City announced plans for a new municipal building in Civic Center, Benedict submitted a design for a 35-story Gothic Revival skyscraper clearly influenced by Chicago’s famous Tribune Tower.  Although the Denver Post rooted for Benedict’s design, Mayor Stapleton and city officials preferred the Neoclassical-style building envisioned by Civic Center Park designer Edward Bennett in 1917.  Stapleton hired a team of forty leading architects to carry out the design, and the new City and County Building was completed in 1932.

Another of Benedict’s unbuilt buildings is perhaps better known, because hikers pass its cornerstone every day on their way up Mount Falcon in Jefferson County.  Benedict was hired by visionary John Brisben Walker as architect for a proposed Summer White House for the President.  For a time, Coloradans rallied behind the idea of a Presidential mansion on Mount Falcon; schoolchildren even collected pennies toward funding the construction.  Benedict and Walker fought for the idea for ten years, but it was eventually abandoned, and today only Benedict’s cornerstone remains as a reminder.  You can find out more about Benedict’s architectural visions in “Architect J. J. B. Benedict And His Magnificent Unbuilt Buildings,” by Dan W. Corson, in the Summer 1997 issue of Colorado Heritage.  This issue is available for checkout from our library.  Additionally, History Colorado has a list of Benedict’s buildings in their Architects of Colorado database.

The Denver Post was an enthusiastic supporter of both Benedict’s Summer White House (left) and proposed City and County Building (right).

Colorado State Publications Blog

Time Machine Tuesday: Colorado's Count and Countess

Discoveries of gold in 1858 drew many to what would eventually become Colorado, and in 1858 the two towns of Denver and Auraria were established (they soon merged into one, and Auraria is now a neighborhood of Denver).  Among the earliest settlers in Auraria were Count Henri and Countess Katrina Murat.  Count Murat claimed to be a relative of Napoleon; he had fled to Germany from France after his famous relative’s defeat.  There he met and married the young Katrina and together they left Europe for America in 1848 to escape the political upheavals in their homeland.

Although safe here from political enemies, the Count and Countess, who settled first in California before coming to Colorado, lacked the wealth they had enjoyed in Europe.  The Count became an barber and his wife took in laundry; soon, however, they opened one of Auraria’s first hotels, a two-story log cabin called the Eldorado.  Horace Greeley was among the hotel’s early guests.

Countess Murat is also sometimes known as “the Betsy Ross of Colorado.”  Supposedly, Katrina — who anglicized her name to Catherine after coming to America — sewed the first American flag flown in Auraria.  “She was big hearted and generous to a fault,” wrote Louie Croft Boyd, who had known the Countess.  He published his recollections of her in the September 1939 issue of Colorado Magazine.  You can also read about the Murats in Colorado, The Land and the People, published in 1957 as a grade-school history of Colorado by the state’s Department of Education and available online from our library.

The Murats lived the rest of their lives in Colorado and are buried in Denver’s Riverside Cemetery.

Countess Katrina (Catherine) Murat.  Courtesy History Colorado.

Colorado State Publications Blog

Colorado Governors: Alexander Cameron Hunt

Colorado’s fourth territorial governor, Republican Alexander Hunt, was appointed to lead the territory on April 24, 1867.  Hunt had grown up in Freeport, Illinois, where he eventually served as mayor.  Lured by the California Gold Rush in 1850, Hunt stayed in California until a new gold discovery was made in Colorado in 1858.  Relocating to the new territory, Hunt became judge of the territory’s Vigilante Committee, which used hangings to deter mobs and desperadoes from terrorizing Colorado prospectors.  Hunt also served as a US Marshal for Colorado as well as Ex-Officio Superintendent of Indian Affairs.  Hunt ran for a seat as a territorial delegate to Congress but lost the race; soon after he was appointed territorial governor.

The influx of settlers in Colorado Territory led to increasing unrest among the Plains Indians tribes during this time period, and soon the Utes from the Colorado mountains joined the plains tribes to resist the white settlers.  To address the situation Hunt brought together Ute chiefs, Indian agents, and federal officials to negotiate a peace treaty in 1868.  This did not solve the situation, however, because the US did not keep its promises of supplying food and supplies, further adding to the tribes’ discontent.  It would be up to later governors to continue negotiations with the tribes.

Governor Hunt was relieved of duty in 1869 because President Grant wanted to appoint a friend, Edward McCook, to the post.  Governor Hunt continued to live in Colorado, however, becoming involved with agriculture and railroad development.  He died in 1894.

Several articles about Hunt are available from our library in the Colorado Magazine, including

Colorado Magazine also published several articles about Governor Hunt’s family:

Also be sure to search Colorado’s Historic Newspapers Collection for articles about Governor Hunt and his family.

Colorado State Publications Blog

Colorado Governors: Alexander Cummings

After the resignation of John Evans, Alexander Cummings (served 1865-1867) was appointed Territorial Governor of Colorado by President Andrew Johnson. Cummings had previously served as a special purchasing agent for the War Department during the Civil War and, after being discharged from this post, had in February 1864 attained the rank of Brigadier General and Superintendent of Troops of African Descent for the State of Arkansas.  Originally from Pennsylvania, Cummings’ pre-war career had been as a newspaperman.
In Colorado, Cummings differed markedly from his predecessor.  Although both governors were Republicans, Cummings — unlike Evans — opposed statehood, and caused a deep divide between himself and those Coloradans working toward attaining statehood.  Amidst this and other controversies, Cummings left Colorado after less than two years to return to his native Pennsylvania, holding several posts with the federal government.  He died in 1879.
In 1957 William Hanchett wrote an article for Colorado Magazine about the turbulent governorship of Alexander Cummings, who Hanchett called “the villain of Colorado’s territorial history.”  You can read the article online or check out a copy from our library.

20th Century & Beyond

Helen Bonfils: Denver Post Co Owner & Philanthropist

When: 1889-1972

Old Denver Post building
Credit: Denver Public Library

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

Opening night of play at Elitch’s in June, 1951 (yes, that is Grace Kelly third from left on couch)
Credit: Denver Public Library

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.

Credit: Denver Public Library

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.

Colorado State Publications Blog

Colorado Governors: John Evans

Colorado’s second territorial governor, John Evans, is remembered for his many contributions to the development of Denver, including bringing the railroad to the young town and founding the Colorado Seminary, which became the University of Denver.  Evans is also remembered for being disgraced by his role in the Sand Creek Massacre and his subsequent resignation as governor.
Originally from Ohio, Evans was a medical doctor who, after moving to Chicago, quickly rose to the top ranks of his field.  He helped found Chicago’s Mercy Hospital and Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois, home of Northwestern, is named for him), founded the Illinois Medical Society, taught at Rush Medical College, and made several innovations in the field of obstetrics.  In addition to his medical work, Evans also invested in railroads, which brought him wealth.  Evans used his wealth to involve himself in Republican politics and became an avid supporter of Abraham Lincoln.  The President showed his gratitude by offering Evans the governorship of Washington Territory, which Evans declined; however, Evans accepted when Lincoln offered Colorado Territory a year later.  Evans served as territorial governor from 1862 to 1865.
In Colorado Evans continued his interest in railroads, using his influence to encourage the railroad builders to build to Denver, ensuring that the city would thrive.  He also worked with William N. Byers and others to encourage settlement in Colorado.  A devout Methodist, Evans got to know Colonel John Chivington, a Methodist minister, through their work in establishing the Colorado Seminary, which was founded in March 1864.  That summer, Indian attacks on white settlers and transportation systems caused many to call for their governor to do something to protect civilians.  Evans failed to create policy that would bring peace, so in November 1864, while Evans was away in Washington, D.C., Col. Chivington and his Colorado Volunteers attacked a peaceful camp of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians at Sand Creek.  Because most of the victims of the massacre were women, children, and the elderly, Coloradans and Congress alike were indignant, and Governor Evans was forced to resign.*
Although Evans’ political career had ended, his influence in Colorado had not, and until his death in 1897 he continued to be recognized as one of Denver’s leading citizens.  He was responsible for finding the financing to bring the Union Pacific Railroad from Cheyenne to Denver in 1870 (Cheyenne being on the Transcontinental Railroad) and continued to serve on the Board of Trustees for both Colorado Seminary and Northwestern University until his death.  Today, Mount Evans, Denver’s Evans Avenue, and the city of Evans, Colorado are all named for the governor.  Evans’ children were also important in Denver’s history.  William G. Evans ran the Denver Tramway Company, Anne Evans helped to found the Denver Art Museum and the Central City Opera, and Josephine Evans married a later Colorado governor, Samuel Elbert.
In our library you can find many resources about Governor Evans, the Evans family, and the Sand Creek Massacre.  There is a lengthy bio starting on page 10 in Volume 4 of the Colorado Historical Society’s 1927 History of Colorado.  Also, Colorado: A History of the Centennial State (University Press of Colorado, 2005), which can be checked out from our library, covers Evans in depth, particularly regarding his financing of the railroad.  Evans is also profiled in several Colorado Magazine and Colorado Heritage articles:

  • Regarding Evans’ influence on the railroads, see articles in the Spring 1973 issue.
  • For articles on Sand Creek, see the Fall 1964 and Fall 1968 issues.
  • To learn about Evans’ role in an early bid for statehood, see the January 1931 issue.
  • For biographies of the two Evans first ladies — Evans’ wife, Margaret, and daughter Josephine Evans Elbert — see the January 1962 and October 1962 issues, respectively.
  • Issue 4, 1989 of Colorado Heritage explores the history of the Byers and Evans families upon the opening of the Byers-Evans House as a museum.  Governor Evans did not live in the 1883 house, but it was home to his descendants.

Finally, Evans’ gubernatorial records and a short bio are available from Colorado State Archives.
*In 2014 Northwestern University, which Evans had founded, undertook a study to determine Evans’ role in the massacre.  The study concluded that while “no known evidence indicates that John Evans helped plan the Sand Creek Massacre or had any knowledge of it in advance,” Evans “nonetheless was one of several individuals who, in serving a flawed and poorly implemented federal Indian policy, helped create a situation that made the Sand Creek Massacre possible.”  The study continued that after the massacre Evans tried to rationalize and even defend it; and “his recollections of the event displayed complete indifference to the suffering inflicted on Cheyennes and Arapahos.”  Therefore, the University concluded that its founder “deserves institutional recognition for his central and indispensable contributions to the establishment of Northwestern and its development through its early decades, but the University has ignored his significant moral failures before and after Sand Creek.  This oversight goes against the fundamental purposes of a university and Northwestern’s own best traditions, and it should be corrected.”

Colorado's Beginnings

Black Kettle: Cheyenne Chief and Peace Negotiator

Camp Weld Council, Black Kettle sitting third from left
Credit: Denver Public Library

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.

Black Kettle (holding pipe in front row) at the Camp Weld Conference in 1864.
Credit: National Park Service

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

Illustration of attack by General Custer on Black Kettle’s camp

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.”

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Colorado State Publications Blog

Colorado Governors: William Gilpin

The first governor of Colorado Territory, William Gilpin, was appointed by Abraham Lincoln and served 1861-62.  Born in Pennsylvania in 1813, Gilpin participated in several western expeditions in the 1840s, served as a Major in the Mexican-American War, and was made a General in charge of protecting white settlers on the Santa Fe Trail.  When the Civil War broke out, Governor Gilpin helped raise troops to defend Colorado Territory from Confederate invasion.  He was removed from office a the following year after bringing the territory into debt.  Gilpin’s post-gubernatorial career focused on railroad expansion.  He died in 1894; Gilpin County is named for him.

Publications from Gilpin’s governorship are rare, but you can come to our library to view the 1861 House Journal of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Colorado.  Secondary sources on Gilpin include several articles in Colorado Magazine, including

  • “The Civil Administration of Governor William Gilpin,” by Sheldon S. Zweig, in the July 1954 issue
  • “My Recollections of William Gilpin,” by Clarence S. Jackson, which is Jackson’s recollections of Gilpin’s visits to his boyhood home in the 1880s.  Jackson’s father was the famed photographer William Henry Jackson.  This article appears in the July 1949 issue.
  • “William Gilpin:  Sinophile and Eccentric,” by Kenneth Porter, which discusses his views on the Chinese and railroads, in the October 1960 issue.  
  • “William Gilpin and the Destruction of the Desert Myth,” in the Spring 1969 issue, which explores how Gilpin served as one of the West’s great promoters and sought to shatter the myth of the “Great American Desert.”

You can also find a biography of Gilpin’s wife, Julia, in “Colorado’s First Ladies:  Julia Pratte Gilpin,” in the October 1961 issue.

For more resources on all of Colorado’s governors visit our library’s web catalog.

Photo courtesy Colorado State Archives

Colorado State Publications Blog

Colorado's Pioneer Women

Everyone knows about Colorado’s famous women like Molly Brown and Baby Doe Tabor, but far less has been written about “ordinary” women in Colorado.  In reality, Colorado’s early pioneer women often overcame great obstacles and harsh living conditions while helping shape the Colorado we know today.  This Women’s History Month, let’s take a look at some of the resources in our library that tell the story of Colorado’s extraordinary pioneer women.

One of the most engaging ways to learn about history is through the voices of those who lived it.  Many Colorado women kept diaries or wrote memoirs about their lives in early-day Colorado.  Over the years, many of these reminiscences have been published in Colorado Heritage and its predecessor, Colorado Magazine.  The older issues in particular contain many personal stories, as many pioneers were still alive to share them.  Check out the following issues from our library to read the stories of these remarkable women, in their own words:

  • “‘Pioneer Interviews’ Reveal Hardship and Humor,” in the September-October 2014 issue, talks about the interviews of Colorado pioneers undertaken by the WPA during the Great Depression.  Many women were interviewed and the article provides some great quotes.
  • Wilma Davis Gundy grew up on a Colorado farm during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.  Her reminiscences have appeared in “Snapshots from Old Soddy:  A Farm Girl’s Life on the Eastern Colorado Plains in the 1930s and ’40s,” in the Autumn 2004 issue, and “Plains Grit:  More Memories from an Eastern Colorado Farm,” in the Autumn 2008 issue.
  • The Summer 2003 issue explores early Colorado ranching life through a woman’s eyes in “‘Papa Bought Some Cattle’: The Diary of Mary Davis Painter.”  For more on the Painter family, see the Colorado Encyclopedia.
  • Photographs supplement the story of one pair of sisters in “‘Learn to Labor and Wait’:  The 1899 Diary of Anna Kennicott with the Glass Plate Photography of Eugenia Kennicott,” in the Summer 1999 issue.  See some of the photos here.
  • Frances Clelland Peabody’s memories of the westward journey as a five-year-old can be found in the March 1941 issue of Colorado Magazine in the article “Across the Plains De Luxe in 1865.”  Frances grew up to became Colorado’s First Lady.
  • The November 1937 issue features “Pioneering Experiences, As Told by Emma Doud Gould to Halie Gould.”
    Emma Doud Gould.
  • Susan Riley Ashley contributed “Reminiscences of Early Colorado,” in the March 1937 issue, and “Reminiscences of Colorado in the Early ‘Sixties,” in the November 1936 issue.
  • “Crossing the Plains in War Times,” in the July 1933 issue, is the memoir of Mrs. Halie Riley Hodder.
  • The story of a woman’s westward journey is also told in Elizabeth Keyes’ diary, excerpted in “Across the Plains in a Prairie Schooner” in the March 1933 issue
  • “Life at Camp Weld and Fort Lyon in 1861-62, an Extract from the Diary of Mrs. Byron N. Sanford” appeared in the July 1930 issue.  Her full diary was later published in Mollie:  The Diary of Mollie Dorsey Sanford in Nebraska and Colorado Territories, 1857-1866.
Mollie Dorsey Sanford, left, and her sister Nan in about 1857.  Photo courtesy Littleton Museum.

For further reading on Colorado’s pioneer women, see the following resources, also available for checkout from our library:

  • Colorado Women:  A History, by Gail M. Beaton, University Press of Colorado, 2012.
  • Long Vistas:  Women and Families on Colorado Homesteads, by Katherine Harris, University Press of Colorado, 1993.
  • On Colfax Avenue:  A Victorian Childhood, by Elizabeth Young, Colorado Historical Society, 2004.  A memoir of growing up in Denver in the 1890s.
  • Pioneer Potluck:  Stories and Recipes of Early Colorado, Colorado Historical Society, 1963.

Search our library’s online catalog for more resources.

Colorado's Beginnings

Julia Archibald Holmes: First Woman to Summit Pike’s Peak

When: 1838-1887

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.”  

Pike’s Peak

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.

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Colorado's Beginnings

Ouray: Ute Chief and Negotiator

Chief Ouray and his wife, Chipeta
credit: Denver Public Library

When: 1833-1880

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.  

Utes in Washington D.C. to sign the Brunot Treaty, 1874
(credit: Denver Public Library)

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

Taos, New Mexico circa 1898
credit: Library of Congress

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.

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