Saturday, December 4, 2010

East of the Great Mountain

East of the Great Mountain and West of the Sun
Helen’s Colorado Springs 1873

In 1873 Helen Hunt arrived in Colorado Springs. This was ten years after the death of her husband in 1863 followed by her two children in 1854 and 1865 respectively. That arrival and subsequent observations became part and parcel of her essay “Colorado Springs” published in August of 1874 in the New York Independent approximately nine months after her arrival in town.

So what was really happening in this town that she wrote about?

At the time Colorado was still a territory with S. H Elbert as the territorial governor and M.A. Shaffenburg as the United States Marshall.

We know the town had a population of around three thousand. The town was “governed by the following trustees.”: Matt. France, W. H. Macomber, C.T. Barton, A. H. Weir and J. T. Wilson. They even had a town herder by the name of Thomas Hughes.

As Helen says in her essay “it might be said that three years ago the town of Colorado Springs did not exist….that it is also known as “The Fountain Colony””…. Helen felt that The Fountain Colony was a better name for, “ there is not a spring of any sort whatever in the town...” The trustees of the Fountain Colony as she stated in the essay, were “men of means, position, and great executive ability.” (It should be noted the city and the Fountain Colony trustees were separate entities) The Fountain Colony Board consisted of: Gen. Wm. J. Palmer, President, Henry McAlister, Jr., Executive Director, Gerald De Coursey, Secretary, Wm. P. Mellen, Treasurer, M.L. DeCoursey, Assistant Treasurer. The Trustees: Wm. J. Palmer, Dr. Robert H. Lamborn, Col. Josiah C. Reiff, Col. W. H. Greenwood, Wm. P. Mellen and the Chief Engineer, E. S. Nettleton. Furthermore she states these men are, “enthusiasts in their determination to exert their controlling power in the right direction.”

One of those directions was in the “contest of wills” between them and the liquor dealers. This contest appears to have gone on for some time and in 1873 at the time of Helen’s arrival the town was trying yet again to deal with the liquor dealers who continued to sell their wares despite a ban against such actions.

This is the only mention of the growth pangs of the town. She then moves onto a description of the scenery in and around the town. But there was so much more going on in the area.

In August of that year there was discussion and later voting on whether to retain Colorado City as the county seat or move it to Colorado Springs. The results of the voting: Colorado Springs became the new county seat of the county of El Paso, in the territory of Colorado. This change would eventually help fulfill the vision of men like Gen. Palmer and others who were called by Helen, “enthusiasts in their faith in the future of the region.”

The financial crisis of 1873 also touched Colorado Springs. At the end of October of that year the bank of Wm. B Young & Co. had to suspend operations due to the drains on the deposits of the bank. This was the result of the financial panic in part caused by the failure of Henry Crews and Company of New York. At the same time the “El Paso County Bank” was opened. The men who formed this banking house were: W. S. Jackson, who was the Secretary/Treasurer of the Denver & Rio Grande Railway as well as Mr. Wolfe, Mr. White and Mr. Goodrich. (This is the same W. S. Jackson that became Helen’s second husband.)

Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region received a boost with the Signal Corps deciding to place a signal station on the top of Pikes Peak. The local paper would print the readings that were taken at the top of the mountain. The Colorado Springs Company also purchased from a Mr. Nat Colby the entrance to Cheyenne Canyon, so that “the enjoyment of its beauties may be assured to visitors for all time.”

Although not mentioned directly in the Colorado Springs essay Helen would speak at length about Cheyenne Canyon.

One of the last events that happened that year was the death of Judge Baldwin. His death on November 3 created a mystery that is still unsolved to this day. (His body was found in a well and the circumstances were not conclusive as to whether it was foul play or accident.) This may have occurred just before or around the time Helen arrived in Colorado Springs.

Regardless of the events, both positive and negative, as Helen stated in her essay “for those alone whom I might possibly win to love Colorado Springs as I love it, I repeat that it is a town lying east of the Great Mountain and west of the sun." Helen continued to experience and love this city at the foot of Pikes Peak as a place of both beauty and growth for the remainder of her life.

copyright November 2010 by Doris A. McCraw all rights reserved.