North Park History: 1870-1890s | North Park / Jackson County
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North Park History: 1870-1890s

Ute indian "teepees" in North Park - 1880-1910 Copyright: Denver Public Library Western History Collection

Ute indian “teepees” in North Park – 1880-1910
Copyright: Denver Public Library Western History Collection

1870s – By the early 1870s, Independence Mountain was under production, with several major placer operations being worked by 1875. These operations included the Endomile gold claim and the Mitchell Placer operation, the largest mine on Independence Mountain, where gold was the primary mineral extracted with lead, copper and zinc also produced.  Despite the absence of a railroad line into North Park, relatively easy road access to the Union Pacific line in Laramie, Wyoming, benefited North Park’s mining, agricultural, timber, and other commercial operations.
July 4, 1870 – Battle between Cheyenne and Chief Colorow’s Ute band; coincidentally, same day, miners at Independence Mountain massacred by, generally believed to be, Utes.
1874 – James O. Pinkham, the first prospector to come to the North Park and “winter-over”, built a home in the high valley and attracted others to the area with his tales of a rich “placer” land. By “spreading the word”, this Irish Canadian became an important figure in the early history and settlement of North Park. Pinkham, believed to be first white frontiersman to permanently settle in North Park, brought cattle into the Park and was, at that time, the sole occupant of its north end (known as “the neck”).  He built a log cabin in 1876, and a block house for protection against Indians in 1879 or 1880. The block house was almost immediately turned into a road ranch/trading post and served as a stop for those traveling between Laramie and Teller. Pinkham used the area’s natural abundance of wild hay to feed his cattle, and also sold some of the rich hay to settlers in Middle Park (Granby).  In 1879, the federal government established the “Pinkhampton” post office at the block house site and appointed Pinkham its first postmaster.
1878 – Jacob S. Fordyce and his family, settling on the banks of Platte River near north-end neighbor James Pinkham in November of 1878, became the first white family to spend the entire winter in North Park.  Bringing a herd of milk cows with them, the Fordyces spent that winter milking cows and packing butter in tubs. In the spring, they sold their butter in Laramie.  Earlier that year, Reid Matthews and partners bought a herd of cattle in Utah, fattened them on rich North Park grasses until fall, then drove them to Leadville to be butchered and sold through Matthews’ wholesale butcher business.

On around 1879, C.B. Mendenhall became another one of North Park’s “permanent” ranchers.  Because of its rich grasses, hay, water for irrigation, and other natural resources, ranching became a way of life as much as hunting for early day settlers. A stockman’s paradise, cattle ranching, hay production and some sheep production continue to play a major role in the economy of North Park.
1879 – With the discovery of silver, mines began operating in Teller City.  By 1880, the town’s population was nearly 2000, and a toll road over Cameron Pass from Fort Collins was completed.  By 1885, however, mining halted because the cost to transport precious metals was too high, and Teller City was abandoned.  By 1888, most gold and silver mining in North Park stopped, many prospectors and miners began ranching, and the community of Gould sprang up near the original Teller City town site. By 1900, the best ranch lands along the rivers were fenced off and homesteaded.

Note: Remaining structures can be explored and informational placards provide the history of Teller City at the Teller City Ghost Town (near Rand). During its heyday, Teller City had a 40-room hotel, 27 saloons and hundreds of log cabins.

View of the first log house in Pinkhampton, (Pinkham) Jackson (later Grand) County, Colorado Copyright: Denver Public Library Western History Collection

View of the first log house in Pinkhampton, (Pinkham) Jackson (later Grand) County, Colorado Copyright: Denver Public Library Western History Collection

1880s – In the early 1880s a deer and elk meat industry developed in North Park, with one pioneer family, the Rhea’s of North Park, providing more than 2000 pounds of dried elk and deer meat to Denver and Cheyenne, Wyoming, butchers.  The industry, however, reportedly died prior to 1900 because of herd depletion.
1890s – By the early 1890s, North Park was growing and a central point for securing supplies was necessary. Located in the middle of the Park, the town of Walden suited that purpose, was founded in 1889, and was incorporated December 2, 1890.  It was briefly known as Sagebrush, but was renamed to honor Marcus Aurelius Walden, the local postmaster.  Until the railroad reached the town, freight lines running between Walden and Laramie, Wyoming, supplied North Park with goods and shipping services.

Mining in North Park was revitalized in the 1890s with the discovery of coal and copper at two sites.  In 1890, the Riach Brothers discovered coal near Coalmont. Although large quantities of coal were found in North Park, development of this resource was slow due to the lack of “cheap” transportation. Coal produced was used locally until about 1911, when a railroad finally linked Laramie to Walden, with an extension to Coalmont.  Later in the 1890s, copper was found in the far northwest corner of the Park, with development spurring building the town of Pearl. However, by 1915, copper was no longer being produced at the discovery site.
Also in the 1890s, a new industry developed to supply an ever-increasing demand for North Park’s “quality” hay.  Wild hay soon became a domestic product in the Park, and thousands of tons were exported yearly to Denver and other eastern cities.  Balers came into use during the 1890s when a North Park cowboy named Joe Lawrence invented a way to use horses to pull a hayrack that would bale hay automatically.  This method is said to have revolutionized the industry.