Tidbits from Pikes Peak Backcountry

This narrative is gathered from Celinda Kaelin’s book Pikes Peak Backcountry, and in no way substitutes reading it. The book can be purchased at the Museum Gift Shop.

Leo Kimmett wrote Florissant, Colorado. His great-grandfather was Judge James Castello, who founded the Ute Trading Post that later became the town of Florissant.

Settlers to area felt like land “belonged to them,” unlike the Ute people who feel they “belong to the land,” The Utes lived a nomadic lifestyle. The Ute Pass trail probably first started as a migratory trail for buffalo, going from the South Park area in the summer to the warmer plains area in the winters. The Indians would use this road to transport salt from South Park to Santa Fe and Taos. Pikes Peak was known as Tava (Sun) to the Utes and was considered sacred. They did vision quests to go to this mountain peak and also to the top of Crystal Peak to then meditate for several days in seclusion. The Utes had forts along the Ute Trail, including Fortification Hill in Florissant, on High Park Rd near High Creek, in Phantom Canyon near Soda Mountain, near Ute Pass and in the Tarryall River Valley.

The Utes were probably the first Indian tribes in the area to acquire horses from the Spaniards. Their pinto ponies were very strong and healthy due to the high mountain grasses. They used their horses to hunt for buffalo. Seven groups of Indians made up the Ute Indians, three groups from the north, 3 groups from the south, and the Tabeguache or Uncompahgre Utes from Central Colorado, located in Teller County. Tabeguache means “people of Sun mountain.” Their medicine man was the person who communicated with the “Great Spirit.”

In 1779 Juan Bautista de Anza, the Spanish governor in Santa Fe was tired of Indian raids by the Comanche leader Greenhorn on settlements in New Mexico (New Spain). So he took 600 men, 200 Utes and Apaches, and 2400 horses and mules, going up the back way to surprise him. Historians think he went up through Salida, and some think he went on the Ute trail through Florissant. He mentions the “blind eyes”, a set of rocks where he camped one night which might be Twin Rocks. The PPHS hopes to find artifacts from this expedition in this area to verify his path. Anyway, he met up with Greenhorn a few miles south of Pueblo and defeated him, earning peace with the Comanche Indians.

Colorado was split up between three countries off and on. Eastern CO belonged to the French, England wanted all the land between the Atlantic and the Pacific, and Spain claimed southern CO all the way to the Arkansas River. In 1803 Jefferson completed the Louisiana Purchase with Napoleon for $15 million $ giving the US claims to much of this land. In 1806 Zebulon Pike was sent to explore the Louisiana Territory and in late Nov. tried to climb to the top of Pikes Peak, an impossible task due to the weather. Later on, in the summer of 1820 Major Stephen Long accomplished this feat.

In the early 1800’s to around 1850 the trappers were a presence in this area. They would trap beavers and have to take their pelts to St. Louis unless they were Spanish citizens. Then they would take them to Santa Fe or Taos. However in the late 1830’s the beaver pelt declined in popularity due to the rise of the SILK hat.

In 1846, George Frederick Ruxton, an Englishman traveled in the Florissant and South Park area, and wrote about his adventures.

Chief Ouray - 1874

Chief Ouray – 1874

Chief Ouray, one of the main characters in the earlier era, was born to a Ute mother, and a dad who was captured by the Utes, and lived part of his life as a white man and part as an Indian. His mom died while giving birth to his younger brother Quenche. Both lived for a while with a Spanish foster family in Santa Fe. Ouray became friends with Kit Carson, who also had a difficult childhood. Born in 1809 Kit’s dad died when he was nine, and he didn’t get along with his new step-dad during his teen years. At age 17 Kit ran away to join a wagon train and later hooked up with Captain Gantt trapping in South Park, and trapped with other mountain men for the next 10 years. In 1842 Kit Carson was a guide to John Charles Fremont, as they explored the West. Kit Carson had two Indian wives, but was more known for taking in up to 20 homeless boys and teaching them how to trap. These boys were Spanish, Anglo and Indian. Trappers lived a lonely life, with scarce supplies. A delicacy to them was eating the beaver’s tail. The trappers were in the Florissant area during the winter, when the Indians had moved to the warmer plains. The best beaver pelts were in the winter, and the trappers left the area in spring when the Indians returned so as not to attract their ire. Some trapper’s cabins were constructed 4-8 miles apart.

Ouray learned Ute, Spanish, English, Apache, and knew Indian sign language. In 1850 Ouray joined his dad and Chief Nevara as Nevara’s enforcer. Ouray’s favorite camping ground was at the west base of Fortification Hill. In the winter of 1852 the Utes fought the Comanche at Fortification Hill. Kit Carson and Will Drannan, one of his foster sons, watched as the two tribes battled over hunting rights to South Park. South Park was known for its great hunting and was a coveted prize.

From 1852-1857 the Florissant area mostly saw no white man. But in 1857 gold was discovered and the 600 Ute tepees found themselves inundated with 100,000 prospectors. The Ute Pass trail was the favorite route of prospectors because it was NOT a toll road. For part of its history, because it was so narrow, it was east-bound till noon, and west-bound from noon till dark. Some people tried to make it a toll road in 1860, but were driven out. This was the time when Charles Castello traveled to Central City, liked what he saw, and his father moved to Central City, and then Fairplay to partake in the gold rush in 1860. James’s wife, Catherine came to Fairplay in 1863. Judge Castello became a receiver at the newly established land office, and then an agent for the bureau of Indian affairs.

Chief Ouray was known as a great peace-maker. In 1862 he signed the Hunt treaty with the US government guaranteeing the Utes the western third of Colorado but cutting their territorial claims by 50%. He made many treaties with the US government, many of which the US government broke. In 1873 a new treaty forced the Utes to cede the San Juans to the US government because gold and silver had been found there. Controversy did surround Ouray, because the US government considered him leader of the 7 Ute tribes, which was not the case. So, they expected all the Utes to follow the treaties. In 1879 after Indian agent Nathan Meeker threatened to shoot all the Ute ponies, they rose up and killed him and took his wife, daughter, farm girl and two children as prisoners. At this point many people wanted the Utes all killed. Then Senator Henry Teller called for Ute genocide, and the Utes were banished to reservations in NE Utah and southern Colorado. The Utes nomadic lifestyle ended, and they no longer were able to roam in Teller County, their old hunting grounds.

Judge James Castello: Judge Castello started out in Fairplay and eventually moved to Florissant in 1870. He established a small ranch and trading post and later on had a general store and hostelry for overnight guests. He also traded stock with travelers, taking several of their lame ones for a healthy one. These stock would regain their health feeding on the rich mountain grasses. He and his wife became good friends of Chief Ouray and Chief Colorow, Ute Indian chiefs. They often had 15-20 Indians at the dinner table and his wife earned the fine nickname of “Heap Big Rocky Mountain Biscuit.” It started out the community was called Twin Creek, but in 1872 when the post office was established it became Florissant, named after Judge James Castello’s home town of Florissant MO. (Pronounced “ flór ih sŭnt “ verified by a Florissant MO resident, Terry Rank, one of our docents.)

In 1873 Reverend David Long came with his family and settled just south of the present day Hornbek Homestead. His daughter Atlanta Thompson, wrote the book, Daughter of a Pioneer. Lady Isabelle Bird also came in 1873 and stayed a while to visit Florissant. She and her mustang pony Birdie made an 800-mile adventure, and she wrote about it later in the book, A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains.

In 1873 Dr. Ferdinand Hayden was commissioned to survey the land in Colorado by the US Govt. His student, Dr. A.C. Peale, mineralogist recognized the importance of the Petrified Forest south of Florissant in 1874.

Levi Welty, a cowboy with 3 boys established a ranch in the Cripple Creek area, so named because 2 cowboys and a cow were all injured on the same day near the creek.

In 1876 Prussian Count Louis Otto de Pourtales homesteaded just north of Florissant. His sister, Countess Berthe de Pourtales came to his home after a tragic marriage went sour. Berthe’s cousin Count James de Pourtales, came to Colorado looking for her and wanted to marry her. He started the Broadmoor Dairy Farm and also staked a mining claim on a mine in Cripple Creek in the 1890’s. Neither of these worked out till he sold them for a $200K loss. The mine went on to make millions and Spencer Penrose bought the Broadmoor Farms and made a resort hotel. However Count James ended up making millions in a mine in Pearce AZ later on, and took Berthe back to Europe.

Count Louis Otto de Pourtales fell in love with General Palmer’s wife, but after a while finally married Laura Montgomery. His cabin was made of round logs. His neighbor Thomas Burnham made his with square logs.

In 1877 Adeline Hornbek came to homestead land 1876 or 1877 with her 3 boys and one daughter. She made her homestead application in 1878. She built her cabin with square logs and it still stands today, unlike the Thompson cabin which was built with round logs. Round logs crack easier and water and ice gets inside them, eventually turning the logs into sawdust. Adeline quickly became part of the community, becoming secretary of the school district in 1880 and running Frank’s Florissant Mercantile in 1883, while he went prospecting for gold in SW CO.

William Allen came to town as a skilled carpenter and homesteaded in 1883. He bought and operated the post office and drug store. In 1885 Florissant had about 70 residents, and in 1887 there were about 150 after the Midland Railroad moved in. There was a lot of friction between the railroad employees and the ranchers even though they needed each other. After the train came there was a wildflower express where people came up from C Springs to pick flowers and hunt for fossils for the day. There also was a train to Leadville that made the trip both ways in one day.

George Frost lost most of his cattle to a blizzard in the winter of 1886-7, so he dammed up the Platte River the next summer, making George’s Lake and then in winter gathered the ice and sold and stored it, selling much of it to the Midland Railroad for their refrigerated cars. Lake George’s own claim to fame takes place around 1890-91. Gottlieb Fluhmann from Switzerland, homesteaded in the Tarryall River Valley as did his neighbor Ben Ratliff. One day Ben told Gottlieb he was eating one of his stolen pet cows. Later on in the year, Ben’s sons trespassed on Gottlieb’s property. Gottlieb shot a gun in the air to scare them off, and when Ben heard this he told him he was going to kill him. Gottlieb was scared, so moved all his important belongings to a cave, along with his mongrel dog, sealing the entrance. Ben found his hideout, killed him, moved him and his dog back into the cave and left him there. Everyone thought Gottlieb was back in Switzerland, but in 1944 someone found Gottlieb’s skeleton, along with the skeleton of his dog. Ratliff later hanged for killing 3 school board members for holding a meeting to talk about his children.

The primary source of Florissant’s economy was ranching. In the 1890’s there was a slump in the cattle industry because of severe winters. That is when the sheep ranchers came in, notably Herman Halthusen whose red barn still stands across from the Fossil Beds entrance. He came in 1888, with 9000 sheep, and people hated him. However it was a very lucrative business for him.

In 1887 a new school was constructed. Behind this school there was a shack for storing coal. In the early 1900’s a residence was constructed for the teacher. The schoolhouse also was used for dances, weddings, church services, funerals, dinners, parties, programs, and polling places much as it is used today. (The Grange)

In 1891 a horse fell on Bill Allen and he had to have his leg amputated. In 1895 when Atlanta Thompson also had to have her leg amputated he helped her get through it. In 1889 to 1894 there was a Crystal Peak Beacon newspaper, but there are no known copies in existence today. In 1898 Bill Allen bought the Florissant Mercantile, and later on he bought Twin Creek Ranch from a fellow who needed the money to search for his fortune in the gold fields.

Effect of gold rush on Florissant: Town started booming as it had the first route to Cripple Creek during the Gold Rush. Florissant was incorporated in 1991.In April of 1991 the Cripple Creek Mining District was organized, and consisted of 23000 acres, 6 miles square, with lode claims 1500 feet long, 300 feet wide, or about 10 acres. Meticulous records were kept of all the mining claims but in 1896 fires destroyed the town of Cripple Creek. Florissant was the primary route to Cripple Creek till the spring of 1893 when the toll road from Hayden Divide opened. Also in 1894 a railroad went into Cripple Creek. Underground shafts went all under Cripple Creek, and also Victor making an underground “city” which also attracted crime.

In Florissant after the gold rush played out, many people made their money in the area and then moved away. Times got very hard in Florissant, however, in August 1918 when the Midland RR shut down. Jan 16,1907 half of the business section of Florissant burned to ground. Nine buildings on west side of Castello Street, mostly owned by Daniel Nevitt burned to the ground, including the Nevitt Mercantile, Florissant Hotel, saloon, billiard hall, restaurant, livery barn, 2 other barns and 3 houses. The residential section on the other side of the street was spared. The Florissant Mercantile, and Allen’s post office and drug store were also saved.


1871 General William Palmer founded C Springs

1880 the Utes were forced into Indians were forced into reservations in Eastern UT and SW Colorado.

March 1887 Colorado Midland RR arrived in Florissant-on to Aspen by Jan 88, but 60 days after Denver & Rio Grande got there.

1891-gold discovered in Cripple Creek. Didn’t catch on at first due to earlier hoaxes about gold at Mt. Pisgah, and the fact that this was hard to “see”

1886 Cascade was incorporated

1887 Green Mountain Falls was incorporated

1899 Crystola came into existence

1891 Woodland Park got a post office. The first order of business was to make a morals and decency ordinance, with $100 fine for lewd dress or nudeness. Bawdy houses and gambling was banned, drunks were fined and sent to jail, and animal abusers were fined $50.

1918 Midland RR shut down and Florissant started to die

1939 Florissant stopped being incorporated.

1969 Florissant Fossil Beds became a national monument, after many tries. Some women even threatened to lay down in front of bull-dozers of developers to keep the “monument” free from development.

1988 Florissant Heritage Society founded-name changed in 2001 to Pikes Peak Historical Society

1991 Limited gaming in Cripple Creek

1993-Florissant was designated as northern gateway for the Gold Belt Byway Scenic Tour

2005 Pikes Peak Historical Society Museum opened in new building across from Post Office