Tuesday, January 17, 2012

$40,000 of Gold missing

In a dramatic story retold by Elsie Keeton, and later published in Larson's history of the Fountain valley and in a bicentennial newspaper in Fountain, a stage coach was robbed of $40,000 in gold payroll, which was never recovered.   Here is the story as it ran in the Fountain Valley Centennial Review Souvenir Edition, Advertiser and News, Sep 15, 1976.  
In the 1860s, the old stage road ran from Deming, NM, to Colorado City, then the state capital.  It crossed Little Fountain Creek just west of this old post [Lincoln Trading Post], and continued to the Charter Oaks Ranch, then a government feeding station and stage stop.  According to a story written by Elsie Keeton on Oct 13, 1941, the site for the ranch was selected because of its meadows.  There was a cook house, corral and shed, all surrounded by an 8-foot concrete wall.  It had a gate on the east side.  At the time, there were only 4 white families living on the east side of Fountain Creek between Pueblo and Colorado City.  The stage road ran along the west bank of the creek because the land to the east was considered neutral territory.  It was used as hunting grounds by the Utes and the Plains tribes.  The stage road came to a point east of the Charter Oaks station, and then proceeded down Fountain Creek to the trading post to deliver goods.  The stage then went back up the Fountain Creek to Charter Oaks, and on to Colorado City on the west bank of the creek. 

Somewhere southeast of Fountain near the site of a stagecoach robbery, $40,000 in gold is rumored to be buried under the hot sands and cholla. 

On top of the arid hills, east of the Mike Christian ranch on Rock Creek, are graves of Indians killed in a raging battle with angry white settlers.  Rumor has it that not all of the attackers were Indians, as the Utes didn’t care for gold, but were instead renegade whites and Mexicans dressed as Indians.  The rock-ringed graves remain as testimony.  Christian’s ranch was ½ mile from Little Fountain Creek and a few miles southeast of Fort Carson’s Golf Course. 

Although Lincoln, who owned the Trading Post, said he never had any trouble with Indians, guns had been left there by the government for settlers to use in the case of attack.  On the day of the stage robbery, a rancher saw a number of Indians gathered in a draw near the winding stage road.  He hurriedly told the settlers, who went to the post to retrieve guns and headed for the Charter Oaks station.  They encountered redmen attacking a stage just southeast of the Little Fountain crossing.  Opening fire, they killed about 75 and wounded others.  The Indians did not have guns to return fire.   It is reported that the stage was carrying $40,000 in gold payroll to Colorado City.  After the Indians retreated, the coach was searched, but the gold was not found.  The attackers had fled up the Little Fountain Creek, apparently taking the gold with them.  The attackers were captured a few days later in Canon City, but had no gold.  An old-timer thought the gold was buried along the Little Fountain, but it was never found. 

After the settlers left, the Indians returned to bury their dead, digging shallow trenches and covering them with a row of rocks.  This burial ground was visited by Elsie Keeton, who had heard this story from Fountain pioneer Tom Owens. [The Keetons lived along Rock Creek near Dead Man’s Canyon on Hwy 115.]  All of the burials had been opened.  According to information at the Pioneer Museum, Owens was cutting hay for the government on the Charter Oaks Ranch when the robbery occurred.  

This is a "classic" story of life on the western frontier, the struggle between the settlers and Indians, the pursuit of gold, and the triumph over adversity.  But I suggest that it is also just that- a story.  Let's examine the components.
  • 1858 Gold discovered in Colorado
  • 1859 Tom Owen settled along Little Fountain Creek
  • 1861-62 Colorado City served as the Territorial Capital, though legislators met there only once in 1861. Governor Gilpin received no financial support for military forces, so issued promissory notes.
  • 1864 Governor Evans sends word to Fort Leavenworth, requesting troops to protect settlers from escalating Indian raids. Reply - none to spare.  I could find no support for the statement that government-issued guns were left at forts for area settlers in Wilbur Stone's 1918 History of Colorado.  Native Americans had access to guns and ammunition, but supplies were very limited.
  • The Denver & Rio Grande railroad was completed through Fountain to Pueblo in 1872
  • Charter Oak Ranch was named in 1886. The land in T16SR66W section 14 was claimed by Jackson N. Brown in 1873 using military service scrip.  This parcel had previously been settled as homestead land in February 1871 by Eunice A. Nelson, but the claim was cancelled in September 1871. 
Portion of T16SR66W 1870 GLO Survey map,  showing the Ring Ranch.  Click to enlarge. Note no structures in section 14.

The written history of Colorado has abundant detail on Indians raids, especially from the 1860s.  Newspapers published in Denver date back to July, 1862, and can be searched online.  National newspapers date back much further and can also be easily searched.  I believe that if $40,000 in gold payroll was robbed, and 75 Indians killed, it would have made the newspaper, if not been made into a movie by now.  There are great similarities to the payroll robbery in Wickenburg, Arizona in the 1870s.

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