Elbert County, Colorado History and Genealogy

Monday, March 28, 2011

John C. Fremont in Elbert County

Today we have a guest post by Terry Courtright. Terry is a retired geologist living in the Elbert area who is interested in the history of the area. He recently gave a presentation at the Elbert Library on John C. Fremont in Elbert County and I'm happy to have him share some of his findings here.

Although Fremont travelled through the west on 5 mapping expeditions and other times on personal trips, only on his 1843 expedition did he enter the area now in Elbert County, Colorado. The map below shows his route, taken from a map in his journal, overlain on a modern map showing county outlines, major roads, towns and larger watercourses.

On the night of July 9, 1843, Fremont and his party camped "on a small stream, near the road which runs from St. Vrain's fort to the Arkansas". This would be in today’s Russellville Gulch, just south of Franktown and along the old Trappers Trail and just west of the Elbert County line. More excerpts from his journal as edited by Jackson and Spence, 1970, p. 440-443, for the days he was actually in Elbert County follow.

"July 10.--Snow fell heavily on the mountains during the night, and Pike's peak this morning is luminous and grand...Leaving the encampment at 6 o'clock, we continued our easterly course over a rolling country, near to the high ridges, which are generally rough and rocky, with a course conglomerate displayed in masses, and covered in pines...In six miles we crossed the headwater of the Kioway river, on which we found a strong fort and corral that had been built in the spring, and we halted to noon on the principal branch of the river. [The distance may be a little short of the actual, and they would have crossed today’s Running Creek nearly where Colorado Highway 86 passes through Elizabeth. The “strong fort and corral” may have been built by the Bent-St. Vrain Company along the ‘express route’ between Bent's Fort on the Arkansas River and St. Vrain's Fort on the South Platte River. Their lunch stop would have been approximately 3 miles north of today’s Kiowa.]...We encamped on Bijou's fork, the water of which, unlike the clear streams we had previously crossed, is of a whitish color, and the soil of the bottom a very hard, tough clay...The greater part of the people were sick today, and I was inclined to attribute their indisposition to the meat of the bull which had been killed the previous day." [This camp would be 4 to 5 miles north of where Highway 86 crosses Bijou Creek today.]
"July 11.--There were no indications of buffalo having been recently in the neighborhood; and, unwilling to travel farther eastward, I turned this morning to the southward, up the valley of the Bijou [the map shows they stayed along the west side of the creek.]...As we were riding quietly along,...we discovered...a large grizzly bear...He did not fall until after he had received six rifle balls. He was miserably poor, and added nothing to our stock of provisions. We followed the stream to its head in a broken ridge,...This is a piney elevation...from which the waters flow in almost every direction, to the Arkansas, Platte and Kansas rivers; the latter stream having here its remotest sources...Descending a somewhat precipitous and rocky hill side among the pines;...we encamped at its foot, where there were several springs, which you will find laid down on the map as one of the extreme sources of the Smoky Hill fork of the Kansas. [We now know Fremont was mistaken and that this east flowing stream is the upper reaches of the Big Sandy.]...Elevation of the camp 7,300 feet."

This camp would have been just south of the Elbert County line, north of today’s town of Peyton, and marked the exit of Fremont from his only visit to the immediate area.

Source: Jackson, Donald, and Spence, Mary Lee, editors, "The Expeditions of John Charles Fremont, Vol. 1, Travels from 1838 to 1844," Univ. of Iilinois Press, 1970. Available through your local library.

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