The Promoters



Chapter Four - The Promoters




Those among the argonauts of 1858 who had decided to return home for the winter began drifting eastward even before the fall equinox. First to depart were William Parsons, F.H. Brittan and George Smith, Jr. The trio left the Cherry Creek diggings on 20 September, a short time before the Russell Party returned from their northern prospecting tour. Ten days later, a party of fifteen - including all seven Lawrence Party members of the St. Charles Town Company - began their own six-week tramp back to the States. With them went three ox-driven wagons and a few specimens of Rocky Mountain gold. Both parties took the northern route down the South Platte River.

When only a hundred miles out from Cherry Creek, the party of fifteen began to meet westward-bound gold seekers, all racing to the mountains to grab their share of the newly-discovered nuggets. First to be met were seven Iowans with two fleet horse teams, next three men from Leavenworth in a mule-drawn wagon. The first large group encountered were the Plattsmouth Company of fifteen wagons and twenty-five men, who were just approaching the Lower Crossing, where the great Platte River Road turned northwest for Fort Laramie. Some of the company paused long enough to question the returning argonauts about their gold finds. “Met three teams and 14 men right from the Diggins,” wrote Anselm Barker. “They lived at Lawrence, K.T. They said they could make it pay first rate. They were returning to K.T. and planned to come back in the spring.”

By now it was becoming increasingly evident to even the dullest of the Lawrence boys that their great secret was out. Already they had commissioned Charles Nichols to return to Cherry Creek so that he might help William McGaa and John Smith look after their townsite interests. The other fourteen continued eastward, meeting trains from “Council Bluffs, Omaha, Iowa Point, Elwood, St. Joseph” and several other Missouri River towns. One young fellow from Council Bluffs, W.R. Reed by name, detained them long enough to tell of the bad luck he was experiencing on his way to the new diggings. First off he had lost his oxen, then while running buffalo had broken his shoulder “all to d—d smash.” Returning to Fort Kearny, he had his shoulder set and traded his pony for a replacement yoke of oxen. By the time he met the Lawrence boys he was reduced to begging for grub, but remained determined to catch up with his companions and give them “a good blessing for having deserted him.”

Fort Kearney

Of far greater concern to the returning argonauts were the questions being flung at them from each passing wagon. Were the newspaper reports true? Had they really dug out over $600 per week with nothing but their knives, tomahawks and frying pans? Were there already hundreds of men at work, all averaging $50-$60 per day? Had they themselves seen the much publicized $800 lump of gold?

Along with the questions came garbled accounts of how news of the diggings had first reached the frontier settlements. The Missouri Valley newspapers, it seems, were the culprits. When bullwhacker Oliver Goodwin returned to Leavenworth on 21 July 1858, direct from the Fort Bridger army post, he was interviewed by the Kansas Weekly Herald. “On the headwaters of the South fork of Platte, near Long’s Peak,” Goodwin was reported to have said, “gold mines have been discovered and 500 persons are now working them. These mines are now yielding on an average $12 a day to each hand.”

One week later, the Kansas City Journal of Commerce noted the coming of mountaineer Andrew Drips from Fort Laramie. Drips, who had left the fort on 4 July 1858, revealed that “there have been discoveries of gold at Bent’s old fort, and that over one hundred and fifty men are now at work in the diggings, making from eight to ten dollars per day.” Drips account, like that of Goodwin, was highly exaggerated and inaccurate. Both did, however, serve to point out how quickly reports of Pike’s Peak gold had spread throughout the Rocky Mountain west.

A letter sent to the Daily Missouri Republican on 22 August from Rulo, Nebraska Territory, told of the arrival of John Richard and his two partners from the Platte River bridge near Fort Laramie. The trio not only brought news of the new gold discoveries, but also carried with them several ounces of the precious dust. A few days later, John Richard - with James Bordeau, John Cantrell, and six other mountain traders - passed through Kansas City on the way to St. Louis to purchase their annual supply of trade goods. Although only Cantrell had actually been to the diggings, several of the traders were able to exhibit small amounts of dust to the astonished editor of the Kansas City Journal of Commerce. Believing “it would be unjust to the country longer to withhold the facts,” the editor headlined his issue of 26 August 1858 “The New Eldorado!!!/ Gold in Kansas Territory!!/ The Pike’s Mines!/ First Arrival of Gold Dust at Kansas City!!!”

The Journal of Commerce story was copied verbatim in the Lawrence Republican of 2 September and in abbreviated form in the St. Louis Sunday Morning Dispatch of 29 August and the Boston Daily Journal of 30 August. Suddenly the word was out. The Pike’s Peak “mad’ had begun. The mountain traders became instant celebrities. In special demand was John Cantrell, who had stopped to investigate the Russell Party’s activities along the South Platte on 31 July, staying for nearly a week before returning to Kansas City via the southern Arkansas River route.

In subsequent interviews published in the Kansas City Journal and the Westport Star, John Cantrell told of how he had taken a wagonload of goods (whiskey, it was rumored) out to the vicinity of Fort Laramie in the spring of 1858. While passing through Leavenworth he had heard of gold seekers prospecting the Pike’s Peak country so, after disposing of his trade goods, he had dropped down to examine the diggings for himself. When he arrived on 31 July, the thirteen Russell Party members were still working the little bar on Dry Creek. Cantrell observed their operations for five days. Before leaving, he had James Pierce help him fill a sack full of pay dirt to take back to the Missouri River valley. This pay dirt was tested in Westport on 31 August by Edward Payton, an experienced California miner. It yielded about “fifteen cents to each two quarts of dirt.” What really settled the question, according to the Journal of Commerce, was the black sand found mixed in with the gold, “an infallible index to rich diggings.”

Cantrell was as surprised as anyone at the widespread controversy that followed his disclosures. He was lionized by some, criticized by others. When an article by B.G. Johnson appeared in the Cass county Democrat accusing the Kansas City trader of never having been to Dry Creek, Cantrell called upon the editor of the Journal of Commerce and asked him “to state that he (Cantrell) sought no newpaper controversy, and did not know that his statements were to be made matters of newspaper notoriety.”

In subsequent interviews published in the Kansas City Journal and the Westport Star, John Cantrell told of how he had taken a wagonload of goods (whiskey, it was rumored) out to the vicinity of Fort Laramie in the spring of 1858. While passing through Leavenworth he had heard of gold seekers prospecting the Pike’s Peak country so, after disposing of his trade goods, he had dropped down to examine the diggings for himself. When he arrived on 31 July, the thirteen Russell Party members were still working the little bar on Dry Creek. Cantrell observed their operations for five days. Before leaving, he had James Pierce help him fill a sack full of pay dirt to take back to the Missouri River valley. This pay dirt was tested in Westport on 31 August by Edward Payton, an experienced California miner. It yielded about “fifteen cents to each two quarts of dirt.” What really settled the question, according to the Journal of Commerce, was the black sand found mixed in with the gold, “an infallible index to rich diggings.”

Cantrell was as surprised as anyone at the widespread controversy that followed his disclosures. He was lionized by some, criticized by others. When an article by B.G. Johnson appeared in the Cass county Democrat accusing the Kansas City trader of never having been to Dry Creek, Cantrell called upon the editor of the Journal of Commerce and asked him “to state that he (Cantrell) sought no newpaper controversy, and did not know that his statements were to be made matters of newspaper notoriety.”

To further spark the public’s interest, unbelievable fabrications began to appear in print, as though the mere reporting would establish the facts. On 18 September, the Wyandotte Gazette published a “reliable” account concerning $10,000 in gold dust which had come in from Pike’s Peak: “One man brought in $600.00 as the result of a few weeks work. A small boy had $1,000,which he says ‘he dug down and found,’ and the little fellow says ‘he can get all he wants.’” This undocumented account was reprinted in the Missouri Democrat on 24 September, and followed the next day by the report of a merchant from St. Joseph, who had come to St. Louis to buy a supply of bacon for the Pike’s Peak trade. Just a few days before, this same merchant had supposedly assisted in carrying from the steamer Wattosa to the White Cloud “thirty-four thousand dollars worth of gold dust, which Mr. John Richard had procured from the Indians who had collected it with implements of the rudest description, which they made themselves.”

Most incredible of all was the “Kettle of Gold” story. This story, as published by the Kansas Weekly Herald, told of a certain A.M. Smith, “a man whose testimony can be relied on,” who had arrived in Elwood, K.T., from the Nebraska country carrying news of a kettle of gold brought by his friend, Mr. Robinson, direct from Cherry Creek. The kettle was supposedly valued at “from $6,000 to $7,000.”

Fabrications such as these finally drew a negative response from the Cherokee and Missouri go-backs, nearly all of whom had returned home by early October. After interviewing some of Captain Doke’s Missourians, the Richmond Mirror pronounced the whole affair “an unmitigated humbug,” declaring that “the base impostors who fabricate such groundless stories as have been going the rounds of the press the last few weeks...merit the severest censure.” Elmore King, a member of the Cherokee Party, who had early on been declared “the hero of the day” by newspaperman A.D. Richardson for his glowing reports on the new gold diggings, was soon contradicted by fellow gold seeker James Miller. Miller told the Leavenworth Times that “his company gave the various diggings a thorough trial and became convinced no paying deposits could be found.” He was returning to Indian Territory, he said, with only “about one dollar’s worth of the precious ore.”

Echoing Miller’s sentiments was another of Captain Doke’s go-backs - William B. Smedlley of Ray County, Missouri. Smedley had initially written favorably of his brief prospecting experiences on Ralston Creek. In a later letter to the Junction Sentinel, however, the Missourian proceeded to rip apart what he considered the exaggerated reports of unprincipled men: “I have just returned from the alleged El Dorado of K.T., not as you might infer from current reports, with ‘my pocket full of rocks,’ but far different; having obtained but one dollar.”

Smedley’s rather lengthy letter continued with descriptions of his experiences in the mountains, of his initial frustrations, of his stay at the Red Rocks with the Lawrence boys, and of his later side trip to Fort Massachusetts, where he found the best prospects of the whole summer. Especially galling to him were the later successes of the Lawrence Party, successes he could hardly believe. Had they really gone to join the Russell Party on the South Platte? Where were the evidences of their gold discoveries? “Some tell us that their friends have told them they made $600 and upwards in one week. Who are these friends? Let us hear from them, or are they ashamed to show themselves to the public?...Now it is not only wrong but absolutely wicked for them to deceive the people so; they are daily sending men, women and children into a very inhospitable climate, and with but few provisions.”

Smedley’s letter of 10 October could not have been better timed. The very next week, the first of the Lawrence Party arrived back in Kansas Territory. This was F.H. Brittan, who had joined the Lawrence Party several weeks late, when they were already encamped at the Red Rocks. Brittan was well known throughout the territory as the co-owner of a hotel in Burlington. In an extensive interview published in the Lawrence Republican, Brittan accounted for the activities of the Lawrence Party throughout the previous summer and described their later gold panning efforts on Dry Creek. “One mess,” he said, “found in prospecting a pocket in the bed rock, where the dirt yielded a dollar and a half to the pan-full. One of the Georgia company washed out sixteen dollars in a single day.”

The talk of the diggings when Brittan left had been a Morman from Salt Lake City named Samuel M. Rooker, who had brought his family with him. Although already an old man and quite feeble, Rooker had fashioned a rocker out of a hollow log, and with the help of his grown son was taking out from $4-$8 a day.

Brittan’s companions on the trip east - Captain George Smith, Jr. and William B. Parsons - arrived by Topeka stage the next day. Both had many friends in Lawrence. Smith was the son of Judge Smith, who had been elected governor under the Lecompton Constitution. Parsons was a prominent lawyer in his own right. The night of their return, a town meeting was called so that the curious might hear first-hand accounts of the new gold fields. Two weeks later, Smith wrote an enthusiastic letter to the Border Star, which was later copied in the Kansas Weekly Herald. Parsons, meanwhile, took on the role of self-appointed spokesman for those members of the Lawrence and Russell Parties left behind on the South Platte.

William Bostwick Parsons was superbly fitted by both education and temperament for his new role. His letters reveal a keen mind and an underlying sense of logic as well as firmly-held convictions, which at times made him somewhat intolerant of opposing viewpoints. Born in Burlington, Vermont, on 31 December 1833, Parsons showed early signs of a brilliant career by mastering both Latin and Greek before the age of thirteen. He later taught the two languages at Spaulding’s School in Barre, Vermont. After graduating from Dartsmouth College in 1856, he moved to Burlington, Coffey county, K.T., where he opened a law office and gained a reputation as both an avid abolitionist and a firm believer in the future of the territory. He was nonetheless still only twenty-five years of age when he joined the Lawrence Party in the spring of 1858.

Parsons’ first objective on his return from the mountains was to set the record straight. So many exaggerated accounts had been written, so much misinformation printed, he felt it imperative to remind all would-be gold seekers that the South Platte diggings were still in their infancy. In a letter of 19th October, Parsons outlined the situation for the readers of the Missouri Democrat: “NO WORK has yet been done there - no claims to any extent have been made - the time has been spent in prospecting with pans - a half-day here, and a half-day there. No man has found a piece weighing ‘twenty-three ounces,’ or one ounce, or (to my knowlege) one penny weight. No man has made ‘one hundred,’ or ‘fifty,’ or ‘twenty’ dollars per day. ‘To the best of my knowledge, information, and belief,’ no man made ‘sixteen dollars’ per day. The men who were there when I left were working with pans, carrying their dirt from FOUR to SEVENTY RODS, and made from two dollars and a half to five dollars per day.”

In a subsequent letter to the Lawrence Republican Parsons took up the challenge laid down by the formidable William B. Smedley. Smedley’s accusation had recently been reprinted in the Topeka Herald of Freedom, and the editor - a man named Brown - tended to side with the Missourian. “Messrs. Smith and Parsons have given the public the most important statement which has been laid before them in regard to the gold region,” Brown editorialized, “but when their account is analyzed, doubts instead of being removed, are confirmed.” Especially telling was the fact that the pair had returned from the diggings not with a heavy bag of gold, but with a goose quill, “and the quill is not full.”

Parsons’ reply was quick and incisive. Mr. Brown, who had never been west of the settlements, knew nothing about the diggings. And as for Smedley, he had been compelled to leave the mountains by the discouragement and shiftlessness of his men. “I know Mr. Smedley well,” Parsons wrote, “and I know he was inclined to remain; and I further know that I could explain, to the perfect satisfaction of Mr. Smedley, all of our subsequent movement, which he seems to consider a mystery. Mr. Smedley and company remained in the vicinity of Cherry creek but a few days, and seems to have forgotten that they left behind thirteen Georgians who were satisfied that the mines would pay, and refused to come back with Mr. Smedley, and who made them pay from that time forth, are still there, and making good wages.”

Parsons’ assessment of the new gold region was corroborated by the party of 14, some of whom began arriving back in Lawrence by the first week of November. Party spokesman Adnah French told the Lawrence Republican that, when he left, the prospectors were finding gold in quantities varying from 10 cents to $1.50 a panful. Samuel Rooker was still taking out $4 per day. As proof of this, “Mr. Hartley of Wabonsa took two panful of dirt out of the place where Rooker is digging and washed from it $4.75 by weight.”

William Hartley himself was interviewed by Kansas correspondent A.D. Richardson, whose subsequent letter was published in the Boston Daily Journal of 20 November 1858. Hartley also took the time to write an affidavit, sworn and subscribed before a notary public, claiming that he had worked in the gold fields ‘”on the sixth, seventh, ninth and tenth of September, the result of which was that he obtained a little over twenty dollars’ worth of gold, termed by the miners at the mines ‘float,’ ‘drift’ or ‘scale’ gold.”

Affidavit in hand, Hartley and his traveling companion, Theodore Clermont Dickson, hurried on to St. Louis where they hoped to be the first to publish a guidebook to the new diggings. They carried with them Hartley’s surveying instruments, each man’s personal notes and charts, and the beginnings of “a comprehensive and reliable map.” Their completed guidebook went on sale in early December of 1858. Copies could be obtained by remitting one dollar to either William Hartley & Co., St. Louis, Missouri, or to T.C. Dickson, Chicago, Illinois.

William Parsons, it seems, was contemplating a similar project. It had been brought to his attention that some of the returnees were receiving many letters each day, inquiring as to the best routes west, the best campgrounds and stream crossings. Having kept a detailed journal of the trip, Parsons considered himself as qualified as anyone to answer such questions. In a letter to the Missouri Democrat he offered to accommodate every inquirer “to a REASONABLE EXTENT,” if on the letter writers would address him at Lawrence, K.T. Almost as an afterthought, he added: “No person can afford to answer all inquiries of that kind for nothing, however much he may wish to accomodate the public, for it would take all his time and two or three assistants besides.”

Parsons had originally intended to expand his journal into book form, but a steady stream of letters to his office in Lawrence induced him to compress his notes into a small guide “containing everything important for an emigrant and miner to know.” The guidebook was rushed into print by December of 1858. It contained fifty-four pages of practical information: a history of the gold mines, an overview of the mining country, a suggested $593.41 list of supplies, a description of routes, and a short dissertation on the basic tools used in mining. Included in the 4” X 7” booklet was a map published by Fountain Pearman to promote the interests of Nebraska City. This map proved a poor selection for the guidebook. It delineated a proposed route from Nebraska City to old Fort St. Vrain, which would have put the gold seekers on a waterless course some 50 miles below the regular route up the South Platte River.

Title Page of Parsons' Guidebook

The strength of Parson’s guidebook lay in its excellent description of the southern route to the mines. The northern route was discussed more casually and in less detail. The middle route up the Smoky Hill River was appropriated entirely from Fremont’s Report of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains. Of special interest to many departing gold seekers were Parsons’ suggestions for a miner’s outfit: “White Marseilles shirts, fancy gaiters, and kids should be left at home, and in their place should be taken two or three pairs of strong, heavy pants, six flannel shirts, three pairs of durable boots, a coat, and a military overcoat. This will be ample clothing for six months.” In keeping with the Lawrence boys’ reputation for hard drinking and heavy smoking, Parsons also advised that each man pack forty lbs. of tobacco and one half barrel of whiskey along with the more standard staples of flour, crackers and dried apples.

Parsons’ guidebook proved to be an immediate success. Priced at only twenty-five cents a copy, the first edition was sold out in the space of a few weeks. By February 1859, the author was in Cincinnati to arrange for the printing of a second edition. This second edition was expanded to include nine pages of advertisements as well as a memorial from the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce to the U.S. Congress, seeking the establishment of a branch mint in St. Louis to handle the expected Rocky Mountain gold. The memorial also contained numerous testimonials from returned gold seekers.

Even as Parsons was overseeing the publication of his second edition, a third guidebook went into print at Pacific City, Iowa. This was Luke Tierney’s History of the Gold Discoveries on the South Platte River, to which was appended “A Guide of the Route,” by Smith and Oakes. Luke Tierney was one of earliest of the Pike’s Peak gold seekers. He had abandoned his farm near Leavenworth to join up with the Russell Party and, to his credit, became one of the tenacious thirteen who stayed behind on the South Platte when the go-backs returned home. By the time the diggings began to fill with newcomers in the fall of 1858, Tierney found time to update the journal he had kept of the summer’s prospecting.

Tierney’s journal soon attracted the attention of D.C. Oakes, a building contractor from Glenwood, Iowa. Oakes was one of the seven Iowans in the vanguard of the fall mini-rush to Cherry Creek. He rode into the Russell Party camp on 10 October atop Rube, a wiry little pony he had acquired from the Missouri River Indian trader, Peter Sarpy. After a busy month spent searching the foothills for gold, Oakes saddled up for home. With him went Tierney’s journal and an old mountaineer named Stephen W. Smith. Smith, known familiarly as Kearny, had for some time been associated with the U.S. Army, having served with Colonel Sumner on the 1857 expedition against the Cheyennes. When news first broke of Cherry Creek gold, Smith was staying at Fort Kearny. He was “sent over by the attaches of the fort to investigate thoroughly the operations at, and test the reports about, the new gold mines.” After a short time spent nosing around the diggings, Smith decided to winter over at Fort Larammie; he was dissuaded by D.C. Oakes, who needed help writing a guide to complement Tierney’s journal.

Back in Iowa, the pair concocted a guide that was little more than a sales pitch for Pacific City. “Pacific City,” they wrote, “is situated on the east side of the Missouri river, immediately opposite the mouth of the Platte...Everything needed for outfits, from a team to a coffee pot, can be obtained here on as reasonable terms as at any other point...Here will be found the best crossing of the Missouri river.”

Title Page of Smith & Oakes' Guidebook

Despite their bias for Pacific City as an outfitting point, Oakes and Smith did offer sound advice for a safe passage of the plains. Use proper care with firearms, they cautioned. Never place a loaded gun in your wagons. When hunting buffalo, go on foot. Leave your horses behind. Nothing wears out saddle horses like buffalo hunting. And as for friendly Indians, “extend to them the usual salutation and pass on, manifesting no fear, and as little emotion of any kind as possible...If they should stop a train, and demand presents, they will usually leave after receiving a little tobacco or flour, or something of that kind. Should this fail, and there is danger of collision, the best weapon that can be used is an ox-goad or whip.”

The Tierney-Smith-Oakes guidebook, with its sound advice and excellent account of the Russell Party’s activities, was published in February of 1859, just in time for the great Pike’s Peak Gold Rush. Kearny Smith peddled the printed copies up and down the Missouri River, putting them up for sale at all the major jumping-off towns. In later years, D.C. Oakes remembered that every gold seeker train “bought from one to a dozen copies...but in spite of the large sale the guide-book had that year I never personally received enough from it to pay the publisher.”

Fifteen additional Pike’s Peak guidebooks were issued during 1859. They varied in size from the miniscule vest-pocket book to the bulky newspaper supplement, and in length from an eleven-page railroad guide to an illustrated 300-page handbook for prairie travelers. Most contained maps. Some reprinted gilded newspaper accounts of the new gold fields. One published a rousing 1858 speech given by Colonel William Gilpin to an audience in Kansas City.

The majority of the guidebook writers had never been west of the Missouri River settlements, a fact that did not deter them from offering advice on routes to be taken or outfits to be chosen. Two notable exceptions were William N. Byers and U.S. Army Captain, Randolph B. Marcy. Captain Marcy had a quarter of a century’s experience on the western plains. His book, The Prairie Traveler, was never intended for the exclusive use of Pike’s Peakers; it became, in time, a classic guide to western travel. Byers, a government surveyor living in Omaha, had been to Oregon in 1852. The guidebook he co-authored witrh John Kellom was filled with practical advice: “In selecting young oxen, let them be of medium size - neither very young nor very old - round bodied, with clean limbs, high heads, and brisk walkers...Provisions should be packed in sacks as far as possible; meat can be piled together in one end of the wagon. Corn meal should be sifted before starting...To save carrying a coffee mill, coffee may be pounded in a piece of buckskin or cotton cloth; pepper the same.”

Though including fifteen pages of advertisements from the Omaha-Council Bluffs area, Byers and Kellom prided themselves on not recommending one jumping-off point to the exclusion of all others. Several of the other guidebook writers, however, had a home town to advertise or a favorite route to recommend. Pratt and Hunt promoted Atchison as the best place to outfit, Parker and Huyett favored St. Louis, Gunnison and Gilpin Kansas City. Lucian J. Eastin, editor of the Leavenworth Herald, recommended Leavenworth. In an eight-page supplement to his paper, Eastin printed a map of western Kansas, a table of distances, details on a typical miner’s outfit, news from the gold regions, and a history of Leavenworth. The supplement was advertised as “the cheapest work ever published.” It sold for ten cents per hundred copies, with postage added. The Leavenworth city council bought 20,000 copies for promotional purposes.

Three of the fifteen guidebooks were little more than railroad leaflets. The Pike’s Peak Guide was issued to promote travel on the Ohio and Missisippi R.R. from Cincinnati to St. Louis. The Traveler’s Guide was printed for the benefit of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy R.R.; it included information on connections with the Hannibal and St. Joseph R.R. and the Burlington and Missouri River R.R. The Complete Guide carried a condensed time table for travel from Boston to St. Joseph, Missouri. Among the railroads recommended were the Great Western and Michigan Central, the Hannibal and St. Joseph, and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy.

Several of the guidebook writers seized the opportunity to promote other projects of interest to themselves. Newspapermen James Redpath and Richard Hinton produced a guidebook which was as much a history and atlas of Kansas Territory as it was a guide to the mines. Their advice: “we say to all industrious, intelligent, active, and energetic men who are thinking of ‘going West,’ to go to Kansas. It is at present the best territory open.”

W.B. Horner, a real estate agent in Chicago, used his guidebook to advertise his own Gold Mine Emigration Office at 75 Dearborn Street. His suggestion to the westward-bound gold seekers was to have their supplies transported by freight wagon, “AT LESS COST THAN IT WILL REQUIRE TO SUSTAIN THEM AT HOME,” perhaps $60-$75, a man could walk to the mines beside the freight wagon “and spend the coming summer along the slopes and amongst the valleys of the most beautiful mountains in the world.”

All in all, the guidebook writers performed their tasks well. Despite some obvious errors and miscalculations, they provided invaluable guides to the Cherry Creek mines. They also helped raise the Pike’s Peak mad to a fever pitch, sometimes with unforeseen results. In later years, D.C. Oakes told of his return to the mountains in the summer of 1859. As he proceeded west along the Platte River Road, he was initially pointed out to passing emigrants as the man who wrote the guidebook they were all following. “Everybody accordingly regarded me with envy and admiration as a person of consequence and authority, and treated me with the utmost deference, making my journey for the first two hundred miles resemble the triumphal progress of a conquering king.”

But not far from the Upper Crossing, Oakes began to meet the first of the stampeders - busted gold seekers returning home without any gold and thoroughly disgusted with that God-forsaken Pike’s Peak country. When these stampeders learned that the man they were passing was one of those who wrote the guidebooks, they broke forth with such a string of curses and threats that Oakes decided he’d better keep his identity a secret for the remainder of the trip. Soon after, he stumbled upon a freshly dug grave beside the road. The grave was marked with buffalo bones, on which were crudely written in charcoal and axle grease the following epitaphs: “Here lies D.C. Oakes; dead, buried and in hell!” and “Here lies the remains of D.C. Oakes, who was the starter of this damned hoax.”

The implications contained in the empty grave should have been enough to scare any promoter, but the Pike’s Peak guidebook writers were a special breed. Oakes continued on to Cherry Creek. “By the time we arrived at the diggings,” he said, “the feeling against me had died out and everybody was as friendly towards us as we could wish.”


Next Chapter - The Townbuilders



Home Page



Sources

1. Anselm Holcomb Barker Diary, edited by Nolie Mumey, (Denver: Golden Bell Press, 1959).

2. Lawrence Republican, 11 November 1858 & 18 November 1858.

3. Council Bluffs Bugle, 9 September 1858 & 20 November 1858.

4. Kansas City Journal of Commerce, 27 August 1858, 28 August 1858, 1 September 1858.

5. Leavenworth Times, 21 August 1858.

6. Junction Times, 10 October 1858.

7. Kansas Weekly Journal 24 July 1858.

8. Brownville Nebraska Advertiser, 9 September 1858.

9. Wyandotte Gazette, 18 September 1858.

10. MissouriDemocrat, 25 September 1858.

11. Kansas Weekly Press, 23 October 1858.

12. Richmond Mirror, 2 October 1858.

13. Boston Daily Journal, 21 September 1858.

14. William B. Parsons, "The New Gold Mines of Western Kansas," edited by LeRoy R. Hafen, Pike's Peak Gold Rush Guidebooks of 1859, (Philadelphia: Porcupine Press, 1974).

15. W.B. Horner, The Gold Regions of Kansas and Nebraska, (Chicago, 1859).

16. Oakes and Smith, "A Guide to the Gold Mines of the South Platte." In the Luke Tierney Guidebook, edited by LeRoy R. Hafen, Pike's Peak Gold Rush Guidebooks of 1859, (Philadelphia: Porcupine Press, 1874).

17. Wm. N. Byers and Jno. H. Kellom, The Hand Book to the Gold Fields of Nebraska and Kansas, (Chicago, 1859).

18. James Redpath and Richard J. Hinton, Hand-Book to Kansas Territory and the Rocky Mountains, (New York, 1859).

Copyright © 1999-2008 Richard Gehling. All Rights Reserved.

E-mail me.