Tag: colorado history

The 2021 Archives Awards

Archives collections are anything but boring! These 13 items highlight some of Douglas County Libraries Archives & Local History’s quirkiest, funniest, and downright strangest collections. Keep reading to see which Archives Award they won!


Still looking good at approximately 64 million years old, these leaf fossils from Castle Rock’s stint as a Cenozoic jungle win in the category of Oldest. These leaves were falling after the dinosaurs died, give or take a few million years.


Winning the category by a landslide, the award for Creepiest object goes to this jar of braided hair. Its murky provenance only adds to its “hair” of mystery.

As an added bonus, its lid advertises instant coffee: “More people drink Nescafe than any other coffee!” Mmm … appetizing.

This object was also considered for the Spookiest award, but what paranormal entity would want to spend eternity in a jar of hair?

Most Likely to Cause Back Problems

Railroad irons

Housed in the only box justifying a notation of “EXTREMELY HEAVY!!” these railroad irons win in the category of Most Likely to Cause Back Problems. Items include railroad spikes, ties, joints and nails. You can come see them any time we’re open, just make sure you have a lifting partner—preferably one who doesn’t forget leg day.

Grossest Recipe

Have you ever had a hankering for ham mousse? Really, not even a little? These 1916 instructions on how to pulverize your own salted meats into the kind of pasty texture used in desserts wins Grossest Recipe. But “Fish in Jelly” is a close second.

This recipe from Housewives Favorite Recipes and many others (the good, the bad, and the ugly) can be found in ALH’s extensive local cookbooks collection.

Goodest Boy

This winner of Goodest Boy is still warming our hearts almost a century later.

Who’s a good boy? He is! Yes, he is!

Cutest Baby

Just kidding! How could we choose? But here’s a cute baby anyway. Just look at Dale Norwood’s wee little puffy overalls!


Winning the Spookiest Archives Award are three Ravenloft titles by prolific local author Christie Golden. In 1991, 1992 and 1994, Golden contributed three dark fantasy installations to the 24 book-long (!) Dungeons & Dragons series, Ravenloft. Taking place in the Demiplane of Dread, characters must resist (or not) the Darklords and the Dark Powers. Spooky indeed!

Golden has written more than 50 novels and almost two dozen short stories. Maybe she doesn’t need sleep! ALH also houses two of Golden’s manuscript collections.


Biggest Nope

The face says it all. This chilly cat wins Biggest Nope, even though we all know it probably insisted on going outside in the first place.

Coolest Nurses

Knowing that one’s nurse has trained for chemical warfare brings such a sense of comfort to patients. These World War II nurses, preparing for a gas mask drill in 1943, win the Archives Award for Coolest Nurses.

Most Questionable Medical Advice

Painkiller recipe from Dismuke’s Book of Formulas and Prescriptions by Edward E. Dismuke (circa 1890)

Dismuke’s Book of Formulas and Prescriptions (circa 1890) serves as a kind of medical grocery list. If you’re feeling down, simply give a recipe to your local pharmacist and enjoy the effects of opium, alcohol and chloroform on your symptoms! Soon after, you won’t be feeling anything at all.

And don’t forget about your cow—Dismuke’s also recommends using “purgatives” to rid your cow of “bloody milk.” Don’t expect the cow to thank you.

Needless to say, this book wins the Archives Award for Most Questionable Medical Advice.

Friendliest Book

It’s a capitalist world, and I’m a copyright girl! But not J. Frank Dobie’s Guide to Life and Literature of the Southwest, With a Few Observations (1943). It wins the category for Friendliest Book. His copyright page states, “Not Copyrighted. Anybody is welcome to help himself to it in any way.” Aww, thanks, Mr. Dobie! (But profits! What about the profits?)

Best Wedding Dress

Your wedding dress might have been pretty, but was it flowing-gracefully-through-an-Honor-Guard-saber-arch-with-your-GI-Joe-Lieutenant-groom pretty?

Best Cover Illustration

Flowers of Mountain and Plain by Edith S. Clements (1926)

Twenty-five color plates illustrate 175 wildflower species found in Colorado and the Rocky Mountains. Originally published in 1915, this 1926 third edition is decorated with a vibrant cover in addition to its contents. An easy win for Best Cover Illustration!

Clements was a respected botanist, the first woman to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska (in 1904). She and her husband founded the Alpine Laboratory on Pikes Peak.


If you’ve enjoyed the 2021 Archives Awards, there’s more! Browse our website to find all kinds of digitized items, or contact Archives & Local History staff to set up an appointment to see our vault collections and other resources.

Activities From the Archives

Douglas County Libraries Archives & Local History (ALH) has put together the following activity packages to encourage learning about what archives do and how you can use these types of collections, even from home. Each topic contains a downloadable link to instructions and resource guides, along with fun activities you can do safely at home or in your backyard. Click the links to download the activity packages, then follow the instructions for a fun learning experience!

Educational Activities to Do From Home

Image courtesy Castle Pines Connection. Page from ALH’s Sarah Bennett Walker Collections.

Flower Pressing with Douglas County’s Sarah Bennett Walker

ALH preserves some of the beautiful pressed flower herbariums from Sarah Bennett Walker, a local 19th-century botanist. Learn how to press and preserve your own flowers and get familiar with some of Colorado’s most magnificent wildflowers. Download or print this file to get started.
Site of bridge debris north of Castle Rock. 1994.001, Meacham Family Photographs.

Learn to Use Primary Sources: Douglas County’s 1965 Plum Creek Flood

In this activity, learn to use common primary sources found in archives in order to understand the past. Douglas County’s infamous 1965 Plum Creek flood is used as the theme. Then, play a fun PBS game to learn how different cities protect themselves from floods using engineering and natural resources. Download this file to get started.
Image courtesy Wild Food Girl.

Historical Recipes: Douglas County’s Wild Plum Jelly

ALH has a large collection of local, historical cookbooks. Recreate this homesteaders’ recipe for wild plum jelly using plums found in Douglas County and learn about local edible plants and what cooking in the past was like. Download this file to get started.

ALH Coloring Pages

Download and print these coloring pages from ALH’s photographs collection, and use your imagination to add color to images from Douglas County’s history. When you’re finished, show us your creations at localhistory@dclibraries.org!

Volunteer From Home With Colorado Historic Newspapers

Volunteer From Home, Help Historical Research

Front page of the Castle Rock Journal, 1881.

Are you feeling cooped up during your self-isolation? Museums, libraries and archives around the world are putting out the call for remote volunteers. DCL’s own Archives & Local History department (ALH) has opportunities to volunteer from home for those who want to stay busy with a project while giving back to the local community.

The Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection (CHNC) makes Colorado’s historic newspapers accessible digitally, using optical character recognition (OCR) technology to make the digital newspapers searchable by keyword. However, the technology is not perfect, especially on the oldest newspaper issues. Sometimes, words appear misspelled or nonsensical. Volunteers can review OCR text for these errors. Every correction makes the newspapers that much more useful for historical research! Volunteers who correct the most lines of text even have a chance to win prizes.

Learn how to get started here. You can also download and print these instructions.

If you need further help, watch CHNC’s instructional video below. ALH would like to keep track of the DCL community’s participation, so please email us at LocalHistory@DCL.org and provide your username once you’ve registered.


This video provides instructions on how to correct OCR (Optical Character Recognition) text in the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. Correcting text is a great way to stay busy at home while helping your community by volunteering to make historic newspapers more accessible.

Gambling Operators Bet on Douglas County

For decades, dodgy entrepreneurs gambled with the law, bringing cards, dice, slot machines, and other games of chance to area risk-takers. Douglas County gambling joints included a pool room in the Castle Rock barber shop, Woodbine, the Orchard Club, William Rubby’s place, Round-Up Ranch, and a northern Parker establishment reportedly run by a collaboration between African American entrepreneurs and Chinese immigrants looking to avoid Denver crackdowns.1

Readers of the Denver Post “may have come to the conclusion that there is nothing going on in Douglas County except a lot of gambling,” wrote editor Virgil A. Case in the Record Journal of Douglas County on Dec. 23, 1938. Case argued the operators of these illegal establishments did not belong among the “good, honest, law-abiding folks” of Douglas County. “The Lord knows we don’t want them, and we welcome their return to Denver at once.”2

Photograph of Ova Elijah Stephens, aka "Smiling Charlie"
Photograph 86.296.4145, History Colorado Online Collection; courtesy of History Colorado, Denver, Colorado.

Douglas County’s Gambling Heyday

Following the end of Prohibition, crime family-connected Ova Elijah Stephens became one of the most prolific of these industrialists, overseeing Douglas County’s gambling heyday. Known as “Smiling Charlie,” Stephens opened the Blakeland Inn in 1933. The property sat on the east side of Santa Fe Drive near the border of Douglas and Arapahoe counties. Stephens openly advertised steak dinners and dancing girls but offered additional undisclosed entertainment, including roulette, craps and slot machines.3

Photograph of the Bombed car of gambler Leo Barnes
Bombed car of gambler Leo Barnes, Rh-108; courtesy of Western History and Genealogy Dept., Denver Public Library.
After three years of running the table, Stephens’ luck ran out. In June 1936, Judge Arthur Cornforth issued an injunction ordering the closure of the Blakeland Inn, citing its reputation as a gambling joint catering to the “wealthy sporting element of Denver and other places.”4 Soon, Stephens’ problems with law enforcement expanded exponentially when he and his compatriots attempted to murder former business associate Leo Barnes with a car bomb. On Dec. 8, 1936, Barnes sat behind the wheel of his parked car on Grant Street in Denver. Moments later, the dynamite placed inside exploded, destroying the car and seriously injuring Barnes.
Image of a page in the 1940 US Federal Census
Census 1940, courtesy of Ancestry.com.

A few months earlier, Barnes had worked for Stephens as manager of the dining room at the Blakeland Inn. Following the injunction against Blakeland, Barnes attempted to open his own joint a quarter-mile away by renting a place called Cottonwood Ranch. From October to December 1936, the Cottonwood raked in a profit of $8,600—roughly equivalent to $150,000 in 2019. However, Barnes neither met Stephens’ demand for a third of the profits nor heeded his warning that “if he went it alone he would not live a week.”5

A jury found Stephens guilty and he reported to the Colorado State Penitentiary, where he resided at the time of the 1940 census.6 “Many a tear will not be shed by Douglas County people if Stevens [sic] is retired from circulation for a long time,” reported the Record Journal on April 23, 1937. “And a lot more tears will remain unshed if a group of ‘criminal’ lawyers were sent along with Charley [sic] to keep him company.”7

After Stephens’ conviction, the Cottonwood reopened under the new name Broad Acres. Not long after the resurrection, an investigation in August 1937 uncovered wide-open gambling, and Douglas County commissioners opted to revoke Broad Acres’ liquor license as punishment.8 The steady stream of salacious news had taken a toll on the county’s reputation.

Newspaper clipping of a gambling notice by the District Attorney
Record Journal of Douglas County (1938, Sept. 23). Retrieved from coloradohistoricnewspapers.org.

Excising the Vice

Over the years, local officials and residents attempted to excise the vice in their midst. In 1937, the district attorney for the fourth judicial district reiterated police officers’ right to enter any place with suspected gambling activities by breaking down doors and partitions, seizing gambling paraphernalia, and destroying confiscated items, all without a warrant.9 In 1938, district attorney Clyde Starrett offered half of the fines obtained to any witness whose testimony could be used to close the gambling establishments in Douglas County’s north end.10

Law enforcement experienced some success. In 1939, O.N. Sandholm pled guilty to operating slot machines in a couple of resorts near Deckers, paying a $50 fine and $20 in fees. “If there are any other slot machine owners who want to contribute heavy fines to the county school fund, they should step right this way, and the sheriff and his men will accept their money and hammer their machines into junk,” wrote the editor of the Record Journal on July 7, 1939.11

Photograph of the Matthew Plews House
Matthew Plews House, 2008.050.0001.0005.0002, DCL Archives & Local History collection.

But crackdowns by law enforcement failed to keep Stephens away. Before his conviction for attempted murder, Stephens purchased a ranch from the Plews family.12 Neighbors may have disapproved of Stephens’ illicit activities, but they appreciated the improvements his presence brought to County Line Road, including electricity and additional phone lines.13

Mugshot of Smiling Charlie
Photograph 86.296.4150, History Colorado Online Collection; courtesy of History Colorado, Denver, Colorado.
After serving five years in prison, Stephens returned to his home at Fly’n B Ranch, known today as Fly’n B Park, and used it as a temporary location for his gambling operations as he looked for a permanent space.
Photograph of Wolhurst Mansion
Wolhurst, X-12099, courtesy of Western History and Genealogy Dept., Denver Public Library.
In 1944, Stephens purchased Wolhurst, a sprawling 51-room mansion originally built in the 1890s for Senator Edward Wolcott, located a mere mile away from his home and just north of the Douglas/Arapahoe county line. Eager to take advantage of Douglas County’s lax law enforcement, Stephens built a tunnel from the Wolhurst mansion, conveying gamblers to the casino on the Douglas County side.
Photograph of the interior of the Wolhurst Club Bar
Wolhurst Club Bar, X-12118, courtesy of the Western History and Genealogy Dept., Denver Public Library.

“They couldn’t gamble in Arapahoe County because old Chick Foster [Arapahoe County Sheriff], he wouldn’t allow any gambling, but the sheriff in Douglas County, he looked the other way,” said John Bowen in an oral history interview from 2010.14

Stephens lost big in the early morning hours of March 10, 1946. Around 3 a.m., 13 unmasked robbers, one armed with a machine gun, made off with $13,000 cash from Wolhurst. In a mere 15 minutes, the bandits swept through the massive estate, forcing guests—many of them prominent Denverites—to turn over their wallets and jewels.15 Fearing for their reputations, all of the victims denied any disturbance took place, and Stephens sold off his own property to reimburse his patrons for their stolen loot.16

Advertisement for Blakeland
Blakeland Inn newspaper advert. Image from “Smaldone: The Untold Story of an American Crime Family” by Dick Kreck.

Stephens refused to fold even after the bad break. Around 1954, he reopened Blakeland as a full-scale gambling hall with membership cards required for entry. But a raid in February 1956 forced him to cash in his Douglas County chips. Stephens and his wife were arrested and required to pay $3,300 in fines. The court ordered Blakeland padlocked, and all the confiscated gambling equipment was chopped up and burned at the Castle Rock dump.17 Having played all his aces, Stephens’ gambling enterprises in Douglas County finally went bust.

In the following years, as the stigma of gambling diminished and Colorado approved laws legalizing gambling in certain cities, the demand for black-market casinos declined. Ending its game of cat and mouse with illicit gambling operators, the state turned the tables, finally wising up to the fact that the house always wins.


1 Record Journal of Douglas County (1963, Aug. 15). Gambling Denied in Douglas Co. Retrieved from coloradohistoricnewspapers.org; Record Journal of Douglas County (1968, May 23). 7 Arrested From Apparent Gambling. Retrieved from coloradohistoricnewspapers.org.
2 Record Journal of Douglas County (1938, Dec. 23). Retrieved from coloradohistoricnewspapers.org.
3 Kreck, Dick (2009). Smaldone: The Untold Story of an American Crime Family. Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing.
4 Record Journal of Douglas County (1936, June 26). Blakeland Inn Closed by Court Order On Gambling Charge. Retrieved from coloradohistoricnewspapers.org.
5 Smaldone v. People, 88 P.2d 103 (Colo. 1938).
6 Year: 1940; Census Place: Canon City, Fremont, Colorado; Roll: m-t0627-00463; Page: 12B; Enumeration District: 22-2. Retrieved from Ancestry.com.
7 Record Journal of Douglas County (1937, April 23). Retrieved from coloradohistoricnewspapers.org.
8 Record Journal of Douglas County (1937, Sept. 3). Sec’y of State Finds Gambling At Broad Acres. Retrieved from coloradohistoricnewspapers.org.
9 Record Journal of Douglas County (1937, Jan. 22). District Attorney Asks Co-Operation To Enforce Laws. Retrieved from coloradohistoricnewspapers.org.
10 Record Journal of Douglas County (1938, Sept. 23). Notice. Retrieved from coloradohistoricnewspapers.org.
11 Record Journal of Douglas County (1939, July 7). Slot Machine Owner Is Fined $50 and Costs. Retrieved from coloradohistoricnewspapers.org.
12 Record Journal of Douglas County (1954, Feb. 11). ’Farmer’ Stephens Is In Dutch With D.A. And Revenue Dept. Retrieved from coloradohistoricnewspapers.org.
13 John and Kate Bowen – oral history interview, Douglas County Historic Preservation Board Oral History, 2010.060.1000, Douglas County Libraries Archives & Local History Dept., Castle Rock, Colo.
14 John and Kate Bowen – oral history interview, Douglas County Historic Preservation Board Oral History, 2010.060.1000, Douglas County Libraries Archives & Local History Dept., Castle Rock, Colo.
15 Green Bay Press-Gazette (1946, March 11). Report $150,000 Colorado Holdup. Retrieved from Newspapers.com.
16 John and Kate Bowen – oral history interview, Douglas County Historic Preservation Board Oral History, 2010.060.1000, Douglas County Libraries Archives & Local History Dept., Castle Rock, Colo.
17 Record Journal of Douglas County (1957, June 13). Stephens’ Gambling Club Paraphernalia Destroyed. Retrieved from coloradohistoricnewspapers.org.

Food Culture in Douglas County

2012.004.0013, Thanksgiving dinner, 1950-1960, Helmer Family Visual Materials, Archives & Local History Collections.

Feasts & Family

Fall and winter are seasons of festivity in North America. Whatever holiday traditions you celebrate, chances are they involve feasting and family. In the words of late chef Anthony Bourdain, “Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.” Archives & Local History houses a substantial collection of local cookbooks, both historical and modern. They capture food culture in the Rocky Mountain region, from rough-and-tumble buckskin and gravy cooked on a campfire to the refined art of creating a perfect meringue at high altitude. The history of food and cooking can say a lot about the cultural identity of a community, and that concept certainly plays out in Douglas County.

Living off the Land

A culturally peeled Ponderosa pine tree. Courtesy of forestry.usu.edu.
Before settlers came along, Utes in Douglas County ate dried fish. They seasoned and preserved the fish with salt, which originated from their neighboring bands in Utah. The use of horses increased Ute consumption of bison, making hunting the vast and powerful creatures easier. Pine sap was a nutritious dietary supplement in spring, and the peeling of inner pine bark remains a sacred medicinal tradition today. (For more, see the Pikes Peak Historical Society’s article “Ute Culturally Scarred Trees.” Please note that as of 2019, the Southern and Mountain Ute tribes have released an official statement asserting that the Ute “prayer tree” or “bent tree” is a farce and not associated with Ute cultural traditions. Read more here.) From considering just these few food traditions, we learn about Ute trade networks, the impact of horses on their transportation and hunting, seasonal changes in diet, and the treatment of certain trees as sources of both food and spiritual and medicinal healing.
M.J. King straining milk, circa 1940. 2003.046.0001.0001, Cherry Valley/Spring Valley Historical Society Grant Photos, Archives & Local History Collections.

Pioneers Set the Table

The food culture of non-native Douglas County residents is, of course, quite different from that of the Utes, centering on sedentary endeavors such as agriculture and cattle-raising. Early Douglas County homesteaders primarily raised cattle because hilly geography is not highly tenable to farming. A few chose to farm wheat, like the Lowell family along East Plum Creek, and potato crops were profitable for a time in Larkspur and Greenland. The Cherry Creek Valley focused on dairying ventures, and German immigrants there ran the successful Cherry Creamery for decades. The Carlson-Frink Creamery in Larkspur also ran well into the 20th century. Some ranches, like the Diamond K near Highlands Ranch, raised poultry and small sheep herds.


Halley Oltmans with a herd of cattle,1900-1916. 1993.005.0045.0003, Helen Oltmans Personal Papers, Archives & Local History Collections.

Outside of Douglas County, other agricultural crops and products thrived. In 1880s South Platte Valley, sugar beets proved to be a major crop, and Colorado’s famous Palisade peaches from the Grand Valley first appeared around the same time. However, beef has always been king in Douglas County, especially along West Plum Creek. Douglas County ranchers remain avid participants in Denver’s Western Stock Show, and popular 4-H Clubs thrived in the mid-20th century. This passion for (and proximity to) cattle is clear in the recipes of pioneers and ranchers, which often include variations on beef and dairy.

Food Culture in Your Life

Douglas County today is growing more than ever, once again changing the landscape of local cooking and food culture. New residents bring different food traditions, longtime residents continue theirs, and other traditions will form from combinations of both. No matter what we’re eating this holiday season, take the time to consider how your meals bring community and identity into your life.

Recipe for the preparation of beaver tail, from Pioneer Potluck by the State Historical Society of Colorado. Archives & Local History Collections.



Official statement of the Southern Ute and Mountain Ute Tribes regarding bent “prayer trees” myth: https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/gazette.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/0/ba/0ba72f0e-db3a-11e9-a388-a3c4eae174c4/5d841760ee247.pdf.pdf

Anderton, Laurel, Darren McAvoy and Michael Kuhns. “Native American Uses of Utah Forest Trees.” May 1, 2011. Forestry.usu.edu. Accessed October 18, 2019. https://forestry.usu.edu/news/utah-forest-facts/native-american-uses-of-utah-forest-trees

Becker, Cynthia. “What did the Ute Indians eat?” Chipeta: Ute Peacemaker: Thoughts on Reading, Research and Writing. WordPress.com. Accessed September 17, 2019. https://chipeta.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/what-did-the-ute-indians-eat/

Douglas County: Natural Cattle Country. Ranches, Agriculture & Farming Clippings Binder. Douglas County Libraries Archives & Local History Collections.

Hooper, Linda. “Journeying Through a History of Colorado Food.” June 18, 2019. HistoryColorado.org. Accessed September 17, 2019. https://www.historycolorado.org/story/going-places/2019/06/18/journeying-through-history-colorado-food

McConnell Simmons, Virginia. Ute Indians of Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. Boulder, Colo.: University Press of Colorado, 2001.

Reynolds Kaelin, Celinda. “Ute Culturally Scarred Trees.” 2003. Pikespeakhsmuseum.org. Accessed September 17, 2019. http://www.pikespeakhsmuseum.org/ute-culturally-scarred-trees/

Schlupp, Larry. Big Changes in Agriculture. Ranches, Agriculture & Farming Clippings Binder. Douglas County Libraries Archives & Local History Collections.

Sinclaire, Joann. For use of D.C. Historical Society Ranches, Agriculture & Farming Clippings Binder. Douglas County Libraries Archives & Local History Collections.


Indigenous Peoples & Archival Silence


Representatives present at the Treaty of 1868 negotiations, pictured in Washington, D.C. Denver Public Library Digital Collections, X-30677.


The Archives & Local History (ALH) department at Douglas County Libraries collects and preserves historical materials relating to Douglas County. As you might expect, ALH maintains documentation on subjects such as homesteading, ranching, historic buildings, family histories, and railroads, to name just a few. When processing a new collection, archivists analyze and select materials based on factors like historical or enduring value. This selection process has powerful consequences:

“There are three types of powers that are possessed by the archive: control over collective memory, control of preservation, and specifically to the archivist, the interpretation and meditation between records and users…These powers shape what and how we learn.” (MooreAbstract, 2014)

Basically, the materials within ALH help build the language used to tell the story of Douglas County. What ALH collects and what we miss are of equal importance.

Wait. What isn’t documented matters? But don’t archivists select and preserve all the important stuff?


Archival Silence

Ideally, archivists collect mindfully. But certain factors impact material selection. Sometimes, documentation of a certain subject simply doesn’t exist—it is destroyed, lost, or never created at all. In other cases, archivists make questionable choices shaped by current events or biases, subconsciously (or explicitly) valuing some materials over others. What results is a lack of documentation in areas, termed archival silence. That silence shapes understandings of history.

Archival silence becomes an especially malevolent phenomenon in the study of marginalized, oppressed, misunderstood, or otherwise devalued peoples. Specifically, centuries of racism and the devaluation of nonwhite voices have resulted, in some cases, in a dearth of representative, multilayered documentation of nonwhite peoples.


Documenting Douglas County

Few white contemporaries felt compelled to resist the typecast of the “savage Indian,” and when they did, suppression could be severe. Captain Silas Soule testified against Colonel John Chivington’s acts at the Sand Creek Massacre and was murdered in retaliation.

One instance of archival silence within ALH is the lack of primary sources from indigenous peoples of Douglas County, especially early in the county’s history. Since local indigenous peoples did not make records through writing in the 19th century, most related documentation in ALH’s collections exists in the form of memoirs and news reports created by white settlers and their descendants. Few of these really capture a broad sense of indigenous experience. The remembrances of settlers rarely describe the political context of settler-indigenous relations, or they are based on stereotypes and personal experiences rather than on measured considerations of the circumstances surrounding indigenous discontent. This means that primary sources about Douglas County’s indigenous peoples are somewhat limited in their scope and often derogatory toward the peoples they describe. As a result, the history of indigenous peoples in Douglas County is primarily told, and understood, from the perspective of white settlers.

Settlers in early Douglas County adhered to sentiments consistent with those across the United States. National conversations in the years before and during Colorado’s admission to the Union painted a skewed picture of indigenous peoples, partly in order to justify the claiming of the continent. Journalist John O’Sullivan coined the term “Manifest Destiny” in an 1845 article advocating for the annexation of the Oregon Territory:


“And that claim is by the right of our Manifest Destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.”


Progress & Property

American Progress, painted by John Gast in 1872, remains the archetypal image of Manifest Destiny.

White Americans in the 19th century took this to heart, believing that Westward expansion; the development of agriculture, industry, and resource extraction; and the assimilation of nonwhite peoples were sacred rights and godly duties. Sensationalized, one-sided, and sometimes downright untruthful news articles highlighting indigenous-settler hostilities further perpetuated the archetype of the “savage Indian” across the nation.

Like in other parts of the west, homesteaders had their own reasons to subscribe to racist notions. The Homestead Act of 1862 entitled any American to 160 acres of land on the condition they settle and “improve” it for a period of five years. This meant that indigenous peoples living in the west became obstacles to settlers’ homesteading aspirations. Naturally, indigenous peoples resisted what they viewed as invasion. Settlers viewed their resistance as barbaric aversion to civilization, holding fast to convictions that private property trumps thousands of years of indigenous semi-nomadic lifestyle. These concepts played out in Douglas County as the traditional hunter-gathering lifestyle of local indigenous bands conflicted with white models of property ownership and development.

Some settlers did not recognize the broader political context surrounding relations between indigenous peoples and the U.S. government. Intertribal conflict, confused treaty negotiations, failure to adhere to tenets of completed treaties, murders of tribal elders, deliberate destruction of bison herds, and other strains on hunter-gathering practices all contributed to flaring tensions between settlers and indigenous peoples. Although each band responded differently to these tensions, settlers tended to hold all indigenous peoples accountable for the actions of one group or individual. Both peace-seeking and hostile groups faced the same consequences.


Daniel C. Oakes, Denver Public Library Digital Collections, Z-4893.
Petition for Ute removal by Douglas County residents. Rocky Mountain News, Sept. 2, 1867, page 1.

One scenario near Perry Park highlights the diversity of indigenous response to homesteaders. In 1867, a group of settlers near the present-day Larkspur area petitioned Indian agent and pioneer Daniel C. Oakes for the removal of Utes from Colorado, stating that they had “become so annoying and troublesome, that it is impossible to endure their impudence and audacity any longer.” (Daily Rocky Mountain News, Sept. 2, 1867, page 1, “A Petition for the Removal of Plum Creek”) Less than a year later, when a small band described as Cheyenne or Arapaho attacked local whites, five Ute men joined settler Pete Brannan (who had signed the petition for their removal) in tracking the raiders. Another unidentified indigenous man, who lived with the Langley family, guarded their wagon during their escape to a nearby fort.

Friendly Utes did not see their goodwill rewarded. In early March 1868, the Treaty of 1868 established the first Ute reservation in Colorado, slashing their previous treaty-held lands from 56 million acres to 18 million acres, which would be

“set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation of the Indians herein namedno persons, except those herein authorized to do so…shall ever be permitted to pass over, settle upon, or reside in the Territory described in this article, except as herein otherwise provided.”

From the beginning, the government failed to provide promised rations and did little to nothing to curb illegal encroachment by white settlers. As a result, the late 1870s saw a rise in conflict. Starving Utes, without rations and prevented from hunting or even from leaving the reservation by U.S. soldiers, rebelled. In 1881, the government responded by clearing all remaining Utes from both Indian Agencies established in the treaty, driving them onto reservations in Utah, just as Perry Park settlers campaigned for 14 years earlier. Today, the only remaining Ute bands in Colorado are the Mouache and Caputa, who reside on the Southern Ute Reservation in southern Colorado.


What Can Be Done?

How did 19th-century indigenous peoples of Douglas County feel about their situation? How did they respond? What did their day-to-day relationships with settlers look like? What stories would they choose to tell? These are the questions that ALH documents do not answer. The one-sided story of the indigenous peoples of Douglas County exemplifies how problems arise from archival silences. Indigenous-settler relations in the 19th century were complex, multidimensional, and often quite dramatic. But when existing documents tell versions of only one tale, we are left with a patchy understanding of the truth.

For these reasons, archival silences can be a challenge to address. But with careful selection and consideration, a sense of balance can be reached. ALH counteracts its archival silence on indigenous peoples by collecting beyond Douglas County and by providing reference books on indigenous history and culture in Colorado. For example, ALH’s Native Americans subject binder includes many documents relating to the Sand Creek Massacre. (Though the massacre did not occur in Douglas County, its national significance makes it a highly researched event.) Recently, ALH has made efforts to counteract the Ute-bent “prayer trees” myth, which has been officially renounced by the Southern and Mountain Ute Tribes. (Read the official statement here.)

Further efforts to represent a multidimensional history can help to re-forge Douglas County’s collective understanding. Its sense of indigenous history can evolve from one dictated by historical bigotry to a broader, more truthful picture.



Memoirs by Priscilla Swinney, Native Americans Clippings Binder, Archives & Local History Collections.

“Heroes History Forgot,” Native Americans Clippings Binder, Archives & Local History Collections.

“Treaty with the Ute 1868.” Firstpeople.US. Accessed October 4, 2019. https://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Treaties/TreatyWithTheUte1868.html.

MooreAbstract, “The Great and Powerful…” October 23, 2014. Listheory.prattsils.org. Accessed September 17, 2019. http://listheory.prattsils.org/tag/archival-silence/.

“Ute History and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe.” ColoradoEncyclopedia.org. Accessed September 6, 2019. https://coloradoencyclopedia.org/article/ute-history-and-ute-mountain-ute-tribe.

“Los Pinos Indian Agency.” ColoradoEncyclopedia.org. Accessed September 6, 2019. https://coloradoencyclopedia.org/article/los-pi%C3%B1os-indian-agency.

“Southern Ute Indian Tribe History.” SouthernUte-NSN.gov. Accessed September 6, 2019. https://www.southernute-nsn.gov/history/#targetText=The%20Southern%20Ute%20Reservation%20is,Council%20elected%20by%20the%20membership.

Official statement debunking the Ute “prayer tree” myth: https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/gazette.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/0/ba/0ba72f0e-db3a-11e9-a388-a3c4eae174c4/5d841760ee247.pdf.pdf.