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.
Stop by Archives & Local History in Castle Rock to check out our fall 2020 exhibit about quarries in Douglas County!
“Castle Rock Rhyolite,” Masonryofdenver.com, June 26, 2014, http://www.masonryofdenver.com/tag/castle-rock-rhyolite/
Helmenstine, Anne Marie, “Rhyolite Rock Facts: Geology and Uses,” Thoughtco.com, March 19, 2019, https://www.thoughtco.com/rhyolite-rock-facts-geology-uses-4589452
Industry Clippings Binder, Douglas County Libraries Archives & Local History, Castle Rock, CO
Natural Resources Clippings Binder, Douglas County Libraries Archives & Local History, Castle Rock, CO
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
Volunteer From Home, Help Historical Research
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.
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
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.
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.
Watch Douglas County TV’s Legends & Oddities “Monster of Plum Creek” episode below.
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