In around 1843, Mexican landowner Charles Beaubien, who lived in present-day New Mexico, established the short-lived Mexican settlement of San Buenaventura de los Tres Arrollos near the confluence of Adobe, Hardscrabble, and Newlin Creeks in Colorado. He brought several Taos, New Mexico farmers and their families to the location, located about five miles northeast of Fort LeDuc. However, with the constant threat from Indians, the settlement was short-lived and Beaubien soon returned to Taos.
At about the same time, Matthew Kincaid established a ranch about six miles above the Mexican town at the mouth of Hardscrabble Creek. There, he built a house of upright logs which became the headquarters of his cattle ranch.
In 1844 three traders from El Pueblo, about 23 miles to the east, including George Simpson, Joseph Doyle, and Alexander Barclay came to the abandoned Mexican settlement and established a trading post. The name was soon changed to Hardscrabble, because, according to George Simpson, it was “hard scrabbling to get in a crop” in the gravelly soil.
The traders built walls and flat-roofed adobe houses which formed a protective plaza to defend against Indian raids. Within the walls were a trading post and a dozen or so adobe rooms. The proprietors of the trading post, Simpson, Barclay, and Doyle, and their families lived within the plaza. Some of the rooms were probably used as storage rooms, trading room, blacksmith shop, dining hall, and kitchen, as was usual in trading posts of this time. Hired hands also constructed their own dwellings near the creek.
British trader, Alexander Barclay, lived there with his wife Teresita Sandoval, who had previously been the common law wife of Matthew Kinkaid. George Simpson had earlier married Teresita’s daughter, Juana Maria Suaso. In the same year that Hardscrabble was established, Joseph Doyle married Maria De La Cruz “Cruzita” Suaso, another of Teresita’s daughters.
On June 2, 1844, George Simpson and his wife had a daughter at Hardscrabble named Maria Isabel. She was heralded in several newspapers as the first white child born in Colorado. Other children, born without much fanfare at the Hardscrabble settlement were a son, Joseph Robert, born to the Simpsons in 1846 and Elena, daughter of Marcellina Baca and his Pawnee wife, the same year.
Though the settlement’s main objective was the trading post, most of the people made their livings by farming. It was one of the first places in the state to be cultivated, irrigated and settled. However, it was also prone to drought and soon suffered from overgrazing.
A contemporary description of the Hardscrabble settlement appeared in a St. Louis newspaper of early summer, 1845:
“Hardscrabble: This is the name of an agricultural settlement on the waters of the Arkansas River, near the base of the Rocky Mountains. It consists of about twenty-five families, old trappers, and hunters, who have built houses and devoted themselves to agriculture. They all have Indian wives of the Snake tribe, they being much preferred to the Indians of the plains, who are nearest to them. They raise considerable quantities of corn, which they trade to the Indians for furs, robes, and other articles. The Indians parch the corn and bruise and pound it into meal in skin bags, and then make bread out of it. The settlers in Hardscrabble have no mills except a few indifferent hand mills, with which they grind corn for their own use. These men are very expert riflemen, well practiced in Indian usages and warfare, and consider themselves against all the Indian tribes of that region if they should be attacked by them. They live a rough, hard, romantic life, but are hospitable to those who visit them or pass through their settlement.”
Expedition leader, John C. Fremont passed the settlement in 1845 and called it ”Pueblo of S. Charles,” to distinguish it from El Pueblo, further to the east.
In about 1846, a Mrs. Felipe Ledoux, visited Hardscrabble and described the people living there. Her description was added to by Mrs. George Simpson. At that time Joseph Doyle and George Simpson still lived with their families in the plaza, but Alexander Barclay had built a house a little above the plaza, opposite from another house owned by Valentine “Rube” Herring. John Burroughs and Calvin Briggs, who were brothers-in-law, married to Snake Indian sisters, shared a jacal cabin. Marcellina Baca, a comparatively wealthy Indian trader, lived in a house on a rise of ground about an eighth of a mile southwest of the plaza. A family of Tafoyas, including Marcellina and Francisca, lived near the plaza, as did B.A. Jones, who worked for Doyle.
Other employees, traders, and ranch hands lived in cabins that were strung along Hardscrabble Creek between the plaza and Kincaid’s ranch house. These included Jean Paisel, a hunter for the plaza (who was probably John Poisel, a well-known trader whose daughter Maggie married Thomas Fitzpatrick), Juan and Francisco Martin, two Frenchmen by the names of Sixhommes and La Fontaine, Maurice LeDuc, Gagnez, and a man named Tom Whittlesey with his woman Candelaria Sena.
While Mrs. Ledoux was at Hardscrabble, resident Tom Whittlesey thought his woman, Candelaria Sena, was having an affair with La Fontaine, and killed the Frenchman. He also killed and dismembered Candelaria. When the people of Hardscrabble heard about the murders, they were revolted and Whittlesey fled to Pueblo.