Gold and silver usually come to mind when thinking about mining in Colorado. However, Douglas County made a name for itself with another geologic industry: quarrying rhyolite stone.
Colorado is renowned for its astounding variety of geological resources. Its geologic history includes supervolcanic eruptions, millennia of tropical sea sedimentary deposits, and the uplift and erosion of ancient mountain ranges. This constantly changing geologic landscape resulted in rich mineral and ore deposits like gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, gypsum, lime and clay. Sandstone, quartz and granite abound in the state, as well as gemstones.
The famous gold and silver booms of the 19th century brought miners to Colorado’s mountain towns, with activity especially concentrated around Leadville, Cripple Creek, Steamboat Springs, and southwestern Colorado.
Douglas County’s Geologic Industries
Unlike in mountain towns, though, gold and silver industries were limited in Douglas County. Gold mining took place from about the 1860s to 1880s in Russellville (near the head of Cherry Creek), but it did not produce large quantities. Other local profitable deposits included coal, lime and gypsum. Local clay was used to make bricks at brickyards and plants that operated near Castle Rock at the turn of the 20th century. The Silicated Brick Company, whose plant was located at the north end of Roxborough Park, created highly durable bricks by steaming and compressing silica sand and lime.
The Quarry Story
The major geologic industry in the county was the quarrying of rhyolite, a pink or gray volcanic rock formed from ultra-thick magma ejected in violent volcanic explosions. Castle Rock in particular is known for its rich rhyolite veins due to the Wall Mountain Tuff ash flow that occurred when Mount Princeton violently erupted 36 million years ago. Hot ash and pumice compressed to form tuff (a soft material not useful for building), but some formed thick deposits of rhyolite.
Rhyolite stone was hand-quarried and cut at quarry sites across the county, including the Santa Fe Quarry, the Madge (Douglas) Quarry, and the O’Brien Quarry. The work was astoundingly difficult, and in addition to the quarrying itself, it included the transport of water to the quarry sites and the construction of roads and rail tracks.
Silas Madge is credited with operating the first rhyolite quarry in Douglas County, beginning in 1872. In fact, the needs of its workmen spurred the construction of the historic town of Douglas, which was located a few miles south of Castle Rock. The Madge Quarry is described in detail in this article in the December 10,1948, issue of the Record Journal of Douglas County. The full article is also available in Archives & Local History’s reference serial collections, along with the Industry clippings binder, located in the Reading Room at DCL’s Castle Rock, Philip S. Miller, location. You can also browse the Archives & Local History website for more resources, including this oral history in which Douglas County residents speak about their memories of quarries.
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
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.
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.
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 email@example.com!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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
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.
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 named…no 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.
Tom Sliger, Frank Barton, and Warren “Buck” Jump were gathered on the banks of Plum Creek about six miles south of Littleton when one of them spotted something moving in the distance. They passed a pair of binoculars among them in order to get a better look at the strange scene unfolding 400 feet away.
An alarming creature peered back at them through the shrubs, its face a “sickening-looking green with a mouth about 4 inches across.” The eyewitnesses later described it as looking “like one of those Halloween faces.” Another saw “a wild man with [a] grayish-green face, large slobbering lips, and an ape-like crouch.” Jump claimed that the monster was not green, but a hair-covered man, probably “deranged,” who had likely escaped from his caregiver.
As the creature moved out of the bushes, it broke large branches with its monstrous strength. What happened next was even more disturbing—the creature gripped a dead chicken by the neck, swung it overhead, and tossed it up to 20 feet in the air.
After the frightened witnesses described the incident on local KGMC radio, excitement swept through the Plum Creek area. Over the following weeks, residents claimed other sightings and put forth their theories. Local jailor Al Dash insisted that the monster was really an ex-prisoner he had released the same morning it was first spotted, a man Dash described as a “combination Yogi and Voodoo cult addict” who spent the majority of his time in jail standing on his head.
Over 2,000 monster-hunting enthusiasts (and one airplane) crowded Plum Creek, searching for evidence and hoping to catch a glimpse of the green-faced monster. A second sighting in which a woman spotted the creature in her headlights near the City Ditch Bridge on Plum Creek Road only fueled more interest.
Sheriff John Hammond, skeptical and irritated by the hazards posed by the crowds, insisted the whole thing was a hoax. The real danger, in his practical opinion, was that a trespasser looking for the monster would be shot. His disbelief in the monster would be vindicated a week after the sighting, when Jump admitted that it had all been meant as a prank. A friend of Jump’s, who Hammond maturely refused to identify, had dressed in a costume, though it “was not green at all. The touch of color was added through the process of imagination so often figuring into such deals.”
Unfortunately for no-nonsense Hammond, this would not be his last experience with cryptids, which are defined by the Oxford Dictionary as animals whose existence or survival is disputed or unsubstantiated, such as a yeti. Jump’s confession only ignited rumors that it was fabricated to cover up the inability of Hammond’s office to locate the monster. In 1966, Hammond soundly rejected claims of a UFO sighting in Daniels Park in Douglas County. Yet as skeptical as he felt, Hammond admitted in a news interview that the 1954 appearance of the Plum Creek Monster, hoax or not, had not been the first. In the interview, he alluded to another sighting of a green monster in 1924.
Indeed, Jump claimed that the monster had been sighted “half a dozen times in the last 20 years.” Of course, Jump’s credibility at that point was questionable. Nonetheless, the Plum Creek Monster entered into Douglas County lore, even earning its own episode on Douglas County TV’s Legends & Oddities program, which ran from 2001 to 2005.
The Plum Creek Monster sighting coincided with emerging interest in cryptozoology, a pseudo-science centered on the pursuit of cryptids. In 1955, just a year after the monster sighting, Bernard Heuvelmans published his book On the Track of Unknown Animals, considered a momentous work in the world of cryptozoology. The 1950s saw an increase in civilian-reported UFO sightings and investigations into cryptids.
These frightening encounters, or perceived encounters, were in part products of both a highly suspicious Cold War culture and a response to increased top-secret governmental activities, such as the “Space Race,” the search for alien life, and the development of mind-blowing war technologies such as nuclear weaponry. While reliable evidence documenting cryptids remains sparse or nonexistent, debate over their existence ensues between enthusiasts and skeptics from both amateur and academic backgrounds.
Fascination with cryptids, science fiction, and paranormal mystery has embedded itself into American pop culture. Fictionalized paranormal television shows have remained wildly popular for decades, from The Twilight Zone, which ran from the late 1950s until 1964, to Netflix’s 2016 megahit Stranger Things. Today, television series like Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot and the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens continue to entertain. Whether these shows are popular due to genuine interest in cryptozoology or their outlandish nature depends on whom you ask.
Perhaps Douglas County resident Marianne Braden said it best in her poem about the Plum Creek Monster:
“Some people still carry a dread obsession,
In spite of a young man’s alleged confession;
In the still of the night, when the world is at rest,
And I have all around me, the ones I love best,
I can vision this creature and say with a sigh,
There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
Watch Douglas County TV’s Legends & Oddities “Monster of Plum Creek” episode below.