Important Dates in the History of Pikes Peak Backcountry

A deep crack, or rift, in the earth UNDER TODAY’S Front Range allows molten rock to escape from great depth, moving gradually upwards to within 3 miles of the land surface. This material gradually solidifies and cools, evolving from a dark-colored rock (gabbro) at great depth to a light-colored rock (granite) at shallower levels. The 3 mile-thick cover rocks are gradually eroded away over hundreds of millions of years to expose this billion year old Pikes Peak granite, which today outcrops over a large area of about 1900 square miles. The western edge of this granite outcrops near Lake George. Along the western margin of the granite is a fault system, the Florissant Lineament, which controls the location of world-class specimen minerals north of Florissant. These include blue-green amazonite, smoky quartz crystals, and topaz. Also, the largest beryllium operation in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s occurred along this trend.
A highly destructive volcanic event originating near today’s Sawatch Range produces a rapidly moving mass of extremely hot rocks and gaseous outpourings covering an extraordinarily large area from the Arkansas Valley to Castle Rock. This formation is called the Wall Mountain rhyolite. Any living thing in its path would have been instantly incinerated. Only the highest topographic areas at that time escape destruction.
Volcanism near Guffey during a warm, wet climate spreads into the Florissant valley, a faulted-down low area along the Florissant Lineament. Mudflows and air fall ash form the Florissant Formation. Silica-rich mud covers the lower portion of very large trees, fossilizing trunks in place. A south-flowing stream in this valley becomes naturally dammed by mudflows near Evergreen Station originating from the Guffey volcano(es). Through time, a series of lakes persist in the valley where delicate plant and insect fossils, representing a high level of biodiversity, are preserved.
The climate is gradually cooling. In the Cripple Creek area, along the Florissant Lineament fault system, an emerging volcano encounters shallow groundwater. Super-hot steam cracks (brecciates) the rocks, allowing episodic gold and silver mineralizing fluids to percolate through them. The host material, called phonolite, is a rather unusual quartz-poor rock that early prospectors did not recognize for its potential. Additionally, most of the ore is associated with the element tellurium, producing strange minerals not readily recognized as valuable by early gold prospectors.
Repeated and sporadic uplift in the region, coupled with local faulting produces blocks containing widespread erosion surfaces, extending over many square miles. The flat top to the Rampart Range is one of these. Pikes Peak uplifts.
Local glaciation produces the rugged topography associated with the north face of Pikes Peak, visible in Woodland Park.
10,000 YEARS AGO
Archaic tools and arrowheads found during the archaeological survey of the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in 1974 place human beings in the area about 10,000 years ago. Ute Indians say these are their ancestors. The Ute have no migration story, but instead cite a legend wherein Creator made their nation on Pikes Peak. For thousands of years, they perform ceremonies on this sacred mountain which they call “Tava” (meaning sun in their dialect of the Aztec language). The band of Ute Indians in the Pikes Peak region takes its name from this mountain, calling themselves “Tabeguache” (The People of Sun Mountain). They are one of ten bands of the Ute Nation, whose ancestral lands include all of Colorado, Utah, and northern New Mexico.
A fourth wave of Athabaskan speaking peoples invades the ancestral lands of the Utes. The Spanish refer to them generically as “Apaches” from the Zuni word for “enemy.” One band of the Apache settled east of Pueblo, along the Arkansas River. The Spanish refer to them as Cuartelejos. One band settles south of the Four Corners area and adopts agriculture. They became known as the “Navajo” probably from the word “nabajos” meaning “those who grow things.”
1640 CIRCA.
Ute Indians, enslaved by the Spanish, flee New Mexico with 300 head of horses. This is the first documented possession of the horse by Native Americans.
1730 CIRCA.
Bands of Utes encamped near Abiquiu, New Mexico for a trade fair, fight among themselves. One band splits off and is thereafter referred to as “Comanches,” from a Ute word “komatchia, he who wants to fight me all the time.” They gradually spread their influence from northwest Colorado, down the Front Range (including the Colorado Springs area).
1779 – Juan Bautista De Anza, governor of Santa Fe, conducts a clandestine military campaign to defeat the Comanche Indians who have been terrorizing northern New Mexico. With 600 mounted soldiers and 200 Ute warriors (including some Apache), he initiates a surprise attack by traveling north of Santa Fe into Colorado through the San Luis Valley. He then marches his army through South Park, down through Ute Pass, and surprises the Comanche at the confluence of Fountain and Monument Creeks. He defeats them in several running battles. Green Horn Mountain and Creek now bear the name of his Comanche adversary “Querno Verde.”
1806 – Zebulon Montgomery Pike attempts to climb the mountain that will become his namesake. He and his men are ill equipped for the snow and cold weather they encounter, and decide that discretion is the better part of valor. They abandon their attempt to ascend the mountain, and continue on their exploring expedition of the newly acquired Louisiana Territory. Pike later records his adventures in a book that becomes an international best seller.
1820 – Major Stephen H. Long records finding Ute Pass and the UteTrail. Dr. James, along with a soldier and the wagon master, succeeds in climbing “great peak.” In honor of this feat, Major Long confers the name “James Peak” on the mountain. Pike’s and Fremont’s writings of the area prove more popular, however, and the public comes to regard the mountain as “Pikes Peak.”
1845 – Jessie Benton Fremont publishes a vivid account of her husband’s (John C. Fremont) 1842, 1843, and 1844 expeditions through Colorado. Her book is a best seller, and officially christens “Pikes Peak.”
1846 – George F. Ruxton, a young English adventurer, spends a year exploring the Pikes Peak region by way of the Ute Pass Indian Trail. He writes best-selling books on his adventures.
1830-1852 – Various Mountain Men, including Kit Carson and Will Drannan, trap beaver in the Florissant Valley, Tarryall, and South Park.
1852- Tabeguache Ute and the Comanche have a major battle at Fortification Hill (Just north of the museum behind Costello Street Cafe). This battle was witnessed by Kit Carson and Will Drannan.
1857– Gold is found near Denver, in central Colorado, and stampedes approximately 100,000 prospectors to “Pikes Peak or Bust.”
1858 – El Paso City (Old Colorado City) is founded at the base of Ute Pass
1858 – The city of Denver is established at the mouth of Cherry Creek.
1859 – Ute Trail is used as wagon road to gold fields-it is one of the few roads to the gold that is not a toll road.
1860 – Town of Tarryall is established after gold is found.
1861 – Colorado becomes a United States Territory by Presidential Proclamation.
1862 – Congress passes the Homestead Act.
1870 – Judge James M. Castello moves from Fairplay and establishes a ranch and trading post at “Twin Creeks” (Florissant)
1871– General Palmer plats Fountain Colony (Colorado Springs)
1872– Fountain Colony officially becomes Colorado Springs when it is incorporated as a town.
1872 – Judge Castello petitions for a Post Office, and names it “Florissant” after his hometown in Missouri. (pronounced floor-ah-sahnt) Florissant is French for flower. There are about 70 homesteaders in the area.
1873 – Ferdinand V. Hayden begins his survey of Colorado. Dr. A.C.Peale, a member of his survey team, documents the Fossil Beds.
1874 – H.T. Wood, a Hayden geologist, returns to area and shows Bob Womack how to locate gold in Cripple Creek’s volcano. He himself is not successful.
1876 – Colorado becomes a state thanks to the excitement generated by Hayden’s published survey of 1873.
1878 – Count Louis Otto De Pourtales homesteads his ranch 4 miles north of Florissant up what is now Wildhorn Rd. It is an elegant log mansion.
Judge Castello dies. Youngest son Frank takes over the Trading Post which flourishes. Frank soon builds a new building called the Florissant Mercantile. (The first floor of this building still exists across the street from Oney’s)
1879 – White River Utes revolt against Nathan Meeker, their repressive Agent, killing him and eight employees.
1880 – The “Ute Agreement of 1880” is passed by Congress. Under the terms of this “treaty” all Utes are assigned reservations. The Southern and Mountain Utes are restricted to lands in southwestern Colorado. The Tabeguache/Uncompaghre Band, however, is relocated to a reservation in Utah – far from their ancestral lands in the Pikes Peak region.
1886 – Construction begins of the Colorado Midland Railroad, and the town of Cascade springs to life along its route.
1887 – The Colorado Midland Railroad is the first standard gauge R.R. to go through Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. It passes through Florissant on its way to Aspen and Grand Junction, beating out the Denver and Rio Grande. Florissant becomes home to 6 helper engines and more than 50 CMRR employees and their families. Because of the CMRR, Florissant becomes the main route to Cripple Creek with 12-15 stagecoaches a day going up and down what is now Teller 1. Because of the population boom Florissant needs a new school. Dick Houghton, a local dairyman helps to get the school built. (west part of The Grange building)
1889 – Florissant is still growing and they need to expand the school. (east side of the building built) The teacherage is added on to the school complex around 1907.
1890 – The Colorado Midland Railroad spawns a second town, Chipeta Park, and then a third, Green Mountain Falls, as it winds its way along the Ute Pass Trail.
1890 – In October, Bob Womack discovers gold in Cripple Creek.
1891– Dick Houghton decides to try his hand at gold mining. Houghton uses his mine as collateral for supplies while he mines. A year later he defaults on his $30 grubstake and Castello becomes owner of the Mary McKinney Mine (named for Houghton’s wife). It soon makes Castello one of Cripple Creek’s first millionaires when it yields almost $11 million dollars in gold.
1891– Woodland Park is incorporated in April, and Florissant is incorporated in July. A post office is established near the site of George Frost’s lake west of Florissant, and is named Lake George.
1892– Hayden Placer is formally incorporated as the town of Cripple Creek.
1894 – The Woods brothers finally get their year-old town incorporated as Victor.
1895 – The mining town of Guffey is founded due to a labor strike in nearby Cripple Creek.
1899 – The town of Crystola is organized by a group of psychics who claim to locate gold mines by using a crystal.
1901– Cripple Creek boom starts to wane and affects Florissant’s economy.
1907– A devastating fire destroys the west side of Florissant. Most of the properties burned were businesses and belonged to one man, Daniel Nevitt, a pioneer of the region.
1917– CMRR ceases to run due to WWI The line from Colorado Springs to Divide is later sold to the Midland Terminal Railroad Company, which had operated the line from Divide to Cripple Creek.
1922– CMRR is declared bankrupt. The rails are pulled up to pay off debts.
1924 – Much of the CMRR rail bed becomes the foundation for Hwy 24.
1949 – The Midland Terminal Railroad Company ceases operating its line from Colorado Springs to Divide to Cripple Creek.
1960 – The Florissant School is shut down and the teacherage is moved to Woodland Park.
1969 – The Florissant Fossil Beds become a National Monument, which starts to bring the tourists back to Florissant.
1991– Mueller State Park is established and formally opens and the old Florissant Schoolhouse is placed on the National Register of Historic places.
1993 – The Florissant Heritage Foundation (Pikes Peak Historical Society) is awarded a grant to restore the old school. The teacherage is restored with donations and it houses the Florissant Heritage Museum.
1999 – Teller County celebrates its centennial. The Florissant Heritage Foundation (PPHS) hosts a Pow Wow to celebrate, and returns the Ute people to their ancestral lands for the first time in over 120 years. This becomes an annual tradition, and the Foundation establishes an endowment fund to bring the Ute People home for a week each year.
1999 – The Florissant Heritage Foundation (PPHS) installs three 4 foot by 8 foot sandstone “Florissant” signs on each edge of town.
2001– The Florissant Heritage Foundation changes its name to the Pikes Peak Historical Society.
2005 – The Pikes Peak Historical Society opens the new Pikes Peak Historical Society Museum with a bequest from Chuck Walts, grandson of Count Louis Otto De Pourtales.