A Brief History of the Pikes Peak Region

Western South Park and the Mosquito Range were originally carved by a glacier. They are also the repository of salt left by an inland sea about 300 million years ago. This salt was vital to the health of millions of buffalo, which grazed the rich grasses of South Park. They carved a trail between South Park and Colorado’s plains at the base of Pikes Peak. This buffalo trail was later used by the Ute Indian, and became known as the Ute Pass Trail. It was widely used by Mountain Men and early explorers. When gold was found in central Colorado in 1859, the gold seekers used this trail extensively.

The Pikes Peak region remained a favorite camping ground of the Tabeguache Ute, whose nomadic lifestyle dictated constant traveling throughout Teller County and South Park. The Tabeguache Band took their name from Tava (Ute for “Sun” and also known as Pikes Peak). Tabeguache is a Ute word meaning “People of Sun Mountain.” Chief Ouray was a Tabeguache Ute, and was one of the most famous of all the Ute Chiefs. He managed to negotiate a series of treaties that ensured the sovereignty of Ute lands until the 1880’s. His favorite campsite was in Florissant at the base of Fortification Hill.

The first white settlement in the Pikes Peak region was Twin Creek, later named Florissant. It was strategically placed at the intersection of two important Ute trails. Ute Pass Trail lay roughly along the lines of present-day Highway 24. East Oil Creek Trail, running north and south, intersects the Ute Pass Trail at Florissant. This trail came up from the Arkansas Valley, through Florissant, then northward to Denver. Tabeguache and other Utes used this trail in their travel to Denver for annuities, as their enemies, the Arapaho and Cheyenne — roamed the plains area between Pueblo and Denver. Other Ute Trails to Denver include what is now known as Highway 67, running north from Woodland Park, and the Tarryall River Road (Park County #77).

Between 1820 and 1852 numerous Mountain Men trapped beaver and traded with the Ute in the Pikes Peak region. They found their way into Pikes Peak backcountry via the Ute Pass, or by following one of the many area streams (East and West Oil Creek, Cripple Creek) that empty into the Arkansas River. Both East and West Twin Creek course their way to the South Platte River, which then winds its way north to Denver where it joins waters with the North Platte. Most famous of the Mountain Men in the Pikes Peak area was Kit Carson. He and one of his trappers, Will Drannan, were in Florissant to witness the climactic battle between the Ute and the Comanche in 1852 at Fortification Hill. The Ute were victorious, as usual, and -as agreed- the Comanche conceded all hunting rights in Pikes Peak backcountry and South Park.

In 1857, gold was found near Denver, in central Colorado, and stampeded approximately 100,000 prospectors to “Pikes Peak or Bust.” Gold seekers created a huge demand for supplies before heading into Colorado’s Rockies, and eager merchants filled their needs, spawning El Paso City (Old Colorado City) in 1858 at the base of Ute Pass. The next year, 1858, the city of Denver was established at the mouth of Cherry Creek. Ute Trail became the most popular wagon road to the gold fields — it was one of the few roads to the gold that was not a toll road.

In June of 1870, Judge James M. Castello sold his hotel in Fairplay and established a Ute Trading Post at Twin Creek. Judge Castello, a trusted friend of the Ute, served as their special Agent for the government. His friends, Chief Ouray, Colorado, and Piah were frequent guests at his Trading Post on Twin Creek. With about 70 homesteaders in the area, Judge Castello petitioned for a Post Office in 1872. He named it “Florissant” after his hometown in Missouri. Shortly thereafter, Adeline Hornbek moved from Denver to what is now known as the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. She was a single mother with four children in her care. She quickly built a substantial ranch (now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.) Other famous residents are Thomas Burnham who homesteaded Twin Creek Ranch around 1872, and Count Louis Otto De Pourtales, who also homesteaded his ranch around 1872. The compound at Twin Creek Ranch includes a trapper’s cabin thought to have been built by Kit Carson or his men around 1840.

The year after Castello built his Ute Trading Post in Florissant, General Palmer platted Fountain Colony (Colorado Springs). It is 1871. Palmer was anxious to build his narrow gauge railroad and exploit the rich coal fields around Pueblo and Trinidad, so he hired famous geologist and surveyor, Ferdinand V. Hayden. In 1873, Hayden began his survey of Colorado. Dr. A.C.Peale, a member of his survey team, documented the Fossil Beds.

Palmer was not the only the only railroad entrepreneur, however. John D. Haggerman dreamed of breaching Colorado’s Rockies with a standard gauge railroad. In 1886 construction began on his Colorado Midland Railroad, and the town of Cascade sprang to life along its route. In 1890 the Colorado Midland Railroad spawned a second town, Chipeta Park, and then a third, Green Mountain Falls, as it wound its way along the Ute Pass Trail. Hayden’s Divide (now simply called “Divide”) grew from the work crews cutting trees to build the Midland in 1886.

Pikes Peak backcountry was changed forever, however, in 1890 when Bob Womack discovered gold in Cripple Creek. A second echo of “Pikes Peak or Bust” sounded as eager gold seekers again flooded the region. With this influx of humanity, Woodland Park is incorporated in April, 1891. Florissant follows suit in July. A post office is established near the site of George Frost’s lake west of Florissant, and is named Lake George. A year later, in 1892, Hayden Placer is formally incorporated as the town of Cripple Creek. The Woods brothers finally get their year-old town incorporated as Victor in 1894.

Judge Castello died in 1878, leaving his Trading Post to his youngest son, Frank. Frank’s store flourished as he built a new building and named it the Florissant Mercantile. Frank grubstaked a neighboring dairyman, Dick Houghton, for $30 when gold was found in Cripple Creek in 1891. When Houghton defaulted, Castello become owner of his mining claim, the Mary McKinney. This made Castello one of Cripple Creek’s first millionaires, returning almost $11 million dollars on his $30 investment.

The Colorado Midland Railroad ran its rail lines through Florissant in 1887. Florissant became home to six helper engines, and more than fifty CMRR employees and their families. This increase in population necessitated a new school, which was built in 1887 and added onto in 1889. Because of the CMRR, Florissant became the main route into Cripple Creek with 12 to 15 stagecoaches each day meeting the train and transporting their passengers down Teller #1 into Cripple Creek.

Cripple Creek’s boom began to wane around the turn of the century, impacting the region’s economy. In 1917, the CMRR had to cease operating due to the war, and in 1922 the railroad was declared bankrupt. In 1924, the old CMRR rail bed became Highway 24. In 1969 the Florissant Fossil Beds became a national monument, and in 1991 the old Florissant Schoolhouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1993, the Pikes Peak Historical Society (previously called the Florissant Heritage Foundation) was awarded a grant to restore the old schoolhouse. The Foundation also moved the Teacherage back to Florissant from Woodland Park (moved there in 1960). The Foundation then restored the Teacherage, creating the Florissant Heritage Museum (now the Schoolhouse Museum).

In 2005 the Pikes Peak Historical Society, with the help of a generous bequest from Chuck Walts, grandson of early Florissant pioneer, Count Louis Otto De Pourtales, opened the Pikes Peak Historical Museum. This museum has several rooms depicting the early explorers, Ute Indian influence, Mountain men, Florissant pioneers, Cripple Creek/Victor development, rocks and geology of the area, and the railroad and agricultural. Also there is a gift shop with many books about the area, and Colorado mementos.
By Celinda Reynolds Kaelin Copyright ©2006