The Argonauts and the Founding of Denver

Denver, Colorado in 1859

Denver, Colorado in 1859

Andrew Sagendorf and Oscar Lehow drove into the first week in November and built a cabin, which was conspicuous because it had the first glass window in the whole Rocky Mountain region, but it had no door.

“What are we going to do for a door, Oscar?” asked Sagendorf.

Lehow was silent. Later he unstrapped some boards concealed under the wagon in which the two had crossed the plains. Sagendorf had not seen them before. He was surprised and also pleased with the prospect of a door for their cabin. “Why did you bring those boards, Oscar?” he asked.

“If you must know, Andy, I brought them to make a coffin for you,” replied Lehow.

Sagendorf was a delicate man, but, through the recuperative effects of the climate, he outlived Lehow by eighteen years. He filled many important positions and was highly respected.

The first Masonic meeting was held in the Sagendorf and Lehow cabin on December 10, 1858. In January 1859, a lodge was regularly instituted under the authority of the Grand Lodge of Kansas, and its meetings were held in the same cabin.

The politicians were busy even at that early day. An election was held in Auraria on November 6, 1858, about three weeks after the settlement of the town. H. J. Graham was elected a delegate to Congress and A. J. Smith was made representative to the Kansas legislature. In this election charges of fraud were openly made. Two days after this swift political action, Graham set out on his long journey to the national capital to deal with Congress. His instructions were to get the Pike’s Peak region set apart as an independent Territory to be called “Jefferson.” He was a man of ability and earnestly endeavored to accomplish the wishes of his constituents. But, he found himself without influence in Washington. The country was so far away from civilization that Congress refused to consider the scheme of its proposed permanent settlement, and doubtless, regarded Graham as an escaped lunatic. However, later he would have the honor of being Colorado’s first representative in Congress, and his unselfish devotion to the public service was evident in the fact that he paid his own expenses, which makes him a unique character in politics.

A.J. Smith was more successful in Topeka, Kansas. Arapahoe County had been created in 1855 by the first legislature of Kansas, so he was recognized in the legislature, and the region was launched into political existence as Arapahoe County, Kansas Territory.

The Montana City real estate speculators were keeping their eyes open, and one fine day T. C. Dickson, Adnah French, Frank M. Cobb, John A. Churchill, and Charles Nichols walked over to the mouth of Cherry Creek with the view of founding another city. They fixed upon the land on the east side of the creek for their town. These promoters took John Smith and William McGaa into their company on account of their connection with the Indians. They held a meeting and adopted the constitution of the St. Charles Town Association. Frank Cobb and Adnah French drove the first stake for the city of St. Charles.

Denver Pioneers

Denver Pioneers

All of these St. Charles men, except Trader John Smith and William McGaa, decided to go to  Kansas to spend the winter. They had not built any kind of structure on their townsite. When a short distance down the South Platte River, they met parties destined for the settlement at Cherry Creek, and they became apprehensive that some of these people might locate on their unimproved townsite. Charles Nichols was, at once, sent back and instructed to put up a building on the land as evidence of the company’s right to it. Nichols offered to give lots to anyone who would build on them, but town lots “went a-begging.” In eastern Kansas, in those days, all that was needed to establish priority of claims was to cut four logs and lay them in the form of a square, which he did.

In 1858, James William Denver of Ohio was governor of the Territory of Kansas. The reports from the western end of his dominion demanded his attention. He commissioned three county officers — H. P. A. Smith, probate judge; Hickory Rogers, chairman of the county board of supervisors; and E. W. Wynkoop, sheriff, to go to the new county as representatives of the  Kansas government. These officials fell in on the way with a company that had been organized at Leavenworth,  Kansas. They arrived at Cherry Creek on November 16th. The pioneers of 1858 were, as a rule, men of unusual force of character; these Leavenworth men were distinctively so; they didn’t stand around whittling sticks and talking about what they were going to do; they immediately opened a new chapter of local history.

In less than a week after their arrival, they had taken possession of the St. Charles townsite, which they declared was deserted, the only improvement on the land being Nichols’ unfinished cabin. They named the new city in honor of Kansas Territorial Governor James W. Denver.

St. Charles became a historical memory. The whole proceeding was an unceremonious jumping, highly theatrical and very effective.

The cabins of that time were in the prevailing style of round logs and dirt floor, so graphically pictured by the pioneer poet, Greenleaf:

Inspect we this, built fifty-eight, by one of bluest blood;
The logs are all square-hewn and chlnked and plastered o’er with mud;
The roof of poles o’erspread with brush and what you’d call dirt-shingles;
Its chimney square-stones, sticks and mud artistically mlngles.
The earth had been well hardened down to constitute a floor;
They hadn’t got to windows yet — ’twas lighted from the door.

’Twas furnished in Auraria style, and that the very best,
Comprising four three-legged stools, a table and a chest;
The dishes — the prevailing style — were tin; when meals were o’er
What cared he for hot water? ’Twas a step beside the door,
To scoop of dirt a handful, and to pluck a wisp of grass,
Some skillful passes, 10! each plate would shame a looking glass!

That’s how he washed the dishes; next he seized each knife and fork,
And found the ground a substitute for rotten-stone and cork.
When, late at night, he stretched himself on skins of buffaloes
No couch of down held tenant yet who suffered such repose!

Denver City Promoters

Denver City Promoters

In this Denver City Town Company were E. P. Stout, president; General William Larimer, R. E. Whitsitt, James Reed, J. H. Dudley, Charles Blake, Norman Welton, A. J. Williams, General John Clancy, Samuel Curtis, Ned Wynkoop, McGaa and Charles Nichols. Most of their names have been perpetuated in the names of the prominent streets of Denver.

The Denver men were great boosters. They claimed the advantages of the more eligible site and interested the new arrivals at Cherry Creek in their city. The aggressiveness of these wide-awake Denver people caused the Aurarians to lose their tempers. A bitter spirit of rivalry soon developed between the two towns, and they put in much time that winter throwing hard words at each other across Cherry Creek.

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