Denver’s 1863 Fire

 A constant fear for western towns was fire. The buildings were wood, and with the dry weather, they soon became kindling. During Denver’s 1863 fire that fear became a reality. A pile of garbage behind the Cherokee House Hotel ignited. A wind whipped up the flames into a citywide inferno. The resulting damage was estimated to be in the range of $350,000, which doesn’t sound like much, but in the 1860’s that was most of Denver.
               
As with most tragedies, it brought out the worst and the best in men. When it came time to rebuild the area the local Kountze Brothers Bank announced that they were willing to give loans to merchants… The best in men? Not really. The interest was a whopping 25% per year… And we think interest rates are high today.
 
Prior to the fire there was quite a bit of animosity between Denver City and neighboring Cherry Creek. With both cities adversely affected, they put aside their animosity and worked together… Truly the best in men.
 
One of the individuals who borrowed money from the Kountze Brothers Bank was a Black entrepreneur by the name of Barney Ford. He operated a barbershop that was destroyed in the fire. Barney borrowed $9,000 at the going rate of 25% interest.
 
But, Barney Ford didn’t use it to reopen his barbershop. He used it to open the People’s Restaurant. Along with great food, the restaurant advertised fresh oysters and Havana cigars. How did Barney Ford do? Well, even at the high interest rate, he paid off the loan in just 90 days. 
Denver's 1863 Fire

Denver’s First Trial

When the cry of silver or gold goes out, immediately hundreds and even thousands of people flock to the area. Overnight, the area is dotted with crude structures called homes. And stores, restaurants and the mandatory saloons pop up right along with the homes. What doesn’t happen immediately is the town’s infrastructure… regulations to insure people are civilized, and a means of enforcement when people aren’t civilized. That’s what happened with Denver, Colorado. But, on January 13, 1859, some of the citizens of Denver decided it was time for law and order. This led to Denver’s first trial.
               
A makeshift court was assembled along the Platte River, which would always be known as the locale of Denver’s first trial. The hardened criminal was brought before the court. The man was charged with stealing… six cans of oysters. That’s right oysters. They were a delicacy to the miners. And, those six cans were probably the last oysters in town. Besides, they were valued at $30.
 
He was found guilty. And, since there was no jail in the area, his punishment was 20 lashes. However, there were those who thought he should be hanged.
 
When they discovered that he was drunk at the time he stole the oysters, and, since most of the jury were probably heavy drinkers themselves, the final verdict was amended. They decided the offender should be banned from the settlement.
 
However, realizing that the draw of gold might mean that he would sneak back, they added one more caveat to his sentence. That was that if he returned to the village anyone could shoot him on sight.
 
I understand he was never heard from again. 
Denver's First Trial - Six Cans of Oysters

The Cowboy Kid

Johnny Baker was born on January 12, 1869. While still a young kid he met and became enthralled with Buffalo Bill Cody. At the age of 9 little Johnny would hold Buffalo Bill’s horse, and run errands for him. At this time Buffalo Bill was appearing on the stage and the subject of many a dime novel. About five years later Buffalo Bill came up with the idea of starting a Wild West show. Johnny Baker was only 14 years of age… but he talked both his parents and Buffalo Bill into letting him join up. It was discovered that Johnny was a pretty good shot. So he became the shows trick shot expert under the name “The Cowboy Kid.”
The Cowboy Kid, Johnny Baker
One of the features of the Wild West show was a shootout between Annie Oakley and The Cowboy Kid. Whether planned or not, the Cowboy Kid never won.
 
Even after the Wild West show closed, Johnny remained loyal to Buffalo Bill. And, after Buffalo Bill’s death Johnny tried resurrecting Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. But it didn’t last long. Still wanting to be a part of the circus atmosphere, he went to work for the Miller 101 Shows, which were more like a rodeo. For a while Johnny was their arena director. And then they closed their doors.
 
Johnny still yearned for the excitement he experienced while traveling with Buffalo Bill. He started working with the town of Denver, Colorado to open a museum. And in 1921 the Buffalo Bill Memorial Museum was opened.
 
Johnny Baker ran the museum until his death. It stands today, not just a monument to a great showman, but also an indication of the love Buffalo Bill’s unofficial foster son had for the showman.

Old West Women Dueling

Women Dueling - Mattie Silks - Cort ThompsonThe year was 1877. The location was Denver, Colorado. In May, the locals were entertained by midget Tom Thumb in P. T. Barnum’s stage show. Three months later, there was a performance of another type that entertained some of the Denverites. It was the first of its kind recorded in the Old West; one where there are women dueling.
           
Mattie Silks had a boyfriend named Cort Thomson. Now, Cort was a bit of a rounder. And he started sneaking off and seeing a Kate Fulton. When Mattie found out about it, she was upset. Many a woman would have gone into her room close the door and cry her eyes out. But not Mattie. She looked up Kate and challenged her to a fight to the death with pistols.
               
On August 25, the two women met on the street, each was given a single shot pistol. Of course, boyfriend and scoundrel, Cort Thomson, had to be there to glory in the whole affair. The two women squared off and fired. Neither woman hit their mark. In a strange twist of fate, the only person hit was boyfriend Thomson. But, it was only a flesh wound.
 
After missing each other, the women threw down their pistols and commenced a fight. In the process, Kate ended up with a broken nose. Realizing Mattie was not one to trifle with, the next day, Kate left town.
 
What is not known is whether Mattie Silks took Cort Thomson back and nursed him to health. But, I can assure you, if she did, Thomson’s eyes didn’t stray again. Incidentally, it’s not known which woman actually shot Cort. But, I would suspect that whichever one did it that was her aim.

Old West Newspaper Battle

old west newspaper battle

William Byers

In 1859 the Pikes Peak Gold Rush was a bust. The settlements of Cherry Creek, Montana City and Denver City were on the verge of becoming ghost towns when another gold vein was discovered, and people came running. This set the stage for the first Old West newspaper battle.

           
John Merrick decided the area needed a newspaper. He bought an old press and headed to Cherry Creek. Not seeing any reason for haste, Merrick took his time putting his newspaper together.
               
But, four days after Merrick had arrived; William Byers arrived from Omaha, Nebraska also with a printing press and the same idea. Byers immediately located an office in the best building in town… It happened to be an attic of a tavern, and the roof leaked so bad a canvas had to be hung over the press to keep it dry.
 
old west newspaper battle

First Office of the Rocky Mountain News

A race was on. Bets were placed, and everyone cheered on their favorite editor. Finally, on Saturday evening, April 23, 1859, William Byers’ Rocky Mountain News hit the streets just twenty minutes before the first copy of John Merrick’s Cherry Creek Pioneer. In the news industry, a scoop of twenty minutes is like a lifetime. So, John Merrick sold out and left for the gold fields.

 
William Byers had the area to himself. However, his troubles weren’t over. There was a battle between two neighboring towns on either side of Cherry Creek. So that Byers couldn’t be accused of favoritism, he moved his equipment to a building that was virtually astride Cherry Creek. Not a good move. Four years after he started his newspaper, the area flooded, and washed away the building. His press wasn’t found until 35 years later. 
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