A Look Back: A bit of the Wild West
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles published in the Summit County Journal in 1951 and recently unearthed by the Summit Historical Society.
(As recounted by her mother, Mrs. Charles Finding)
In the fall of 1860, I went to school in Denver in a little log one-room school building, which stood on McGaa Street, on the banks of Cherry Creek. Miss Helen Ring was my teacher.
One day a man came down riding on a white horse and tied the horse to a large cottonwood tree just in front of the schoolhouse. Miss Ring said, “Children I am afraid there is going to be trouble, so I will open the window and you crawl out and run home just as quickly as you can.”
The man was George Steel, a notorious character. He had ridden to town to make William N. Byers, the editor of the Rocky Mountain News, retract some statements regarding this man Steel’s character. This, Mr. Byers refused to do.
When I reached home, mother wrapped my sister, brother and myself in buffalo robes and put us in the attic so that no stray bullets could touch us since friends of Steel had gathered close to our home prepared to fight for him. Afterward, Steel was shot and killed at Bradford’s Corner, now known as Larimer and Sixteenth Streets.
About the same time a young man named Jim Gordon, who when under the influence of liquor was very quarrelsome, had killed a young German man. After several trials he was acquitted under the flimsy excuse of “no jurisdiction.” This angered the Germans and they took it into their own hands and hanged Gordon on a Saturday in July 1860. I saw this man hanged. Nine years later I saw a man named Musgrove hanged under the Larimer Street Bridge. He was a stock thief and general outlaw.
In the latter part of May 1861, we started for Georgia Gulch, but stopped in Breckenridge. Here we rented a house that had been a store owned by O.A. Whittemore and C.P. Elder. There was one very large front room and a smaller room in the back, which we used for a bedroom and kitchen. The floor of the kitchen was made of very old sluice boxes that had been worn until the knots stood out, caused by constant washing of water and gravel. As a rule these boxes were burned and the ashes panned for gold that would collect in the knots and crevices.
The front room had a dirt floor with shelves and a counter running along one side. Father took a team and hauled sawdust from an old mill above town and covered this dirt floor to the depth of six inches. Mother sewed burlap sacks together and made a carpet. Then father made pins such as are used for fastening tents down and nailed the burlap down with these. The dust sifted through so it was easy to keep clean. In this room, we made three beds end to end on the floor by placing two logs one on top of the other. The enclosure was filled with hay; feather beds that had been brought from Pennsylvania were then placed on this.
This room was a dining room during the day to accommodate those who came to Breckenridge and had no place to go. The Post Office was in the front part of the room and a pigeon-holed box of about three by five feet held all the mail.
Saturday was the general eastern mail day and the miners all came down to get their mail. There were two other arrivals of mail during the week but Saturday’s mail was the principal one. The letters were distributed by calling out the names, the men answering “Here,” and the letters were tossed to them.
In a few months mother was asked to bake bread, pies and cake to sell the day the men came down for the mail. This meant forty or fifty pies alone and a hundred pound sack of flour was very often used in the day’s baking. A quart of milk was included and this was paid for in gold dust, which I weighed out. I would take in between thirty and forty dollars.
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