Hardscrabble, Colorado

Lancaster P. Lupton

Lancaster P. Lupton

In December 1846, Lancaster Lupton, the former owner of Fort Lupton farther north in Colorado, arrived in Hardscrabble. He bought or rented a building from Alexander Barclay where he opened a store. His account books mention several other names of people living in the area including Estes, Garnier, William Howard, and John Brown. Lupton arrived just before some of the older settlers started to move away. By this time, the demand for beaver pelts had sharply declined and was being replaced by trade in buffalo hides. Hardscrabble was far from the buffalo herds.

By 1847, the Ute Indians’ fiercest foes were the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Sioux, and a number of skirmishes had occurred between them. That year, a battle between the Ute and an Arapahoe-Mexican alliance was fought near Kinkead’s ranch about six miles above the Hardscrabble. While the battle raged, Luz Metcalf, Terracita Barclay, Juana Simpson, and Cruz Doyle stood in the Hardscrabble plaza and listened to the reports of guns. In the end, the Ute were victorious and soon arrived at Hardscrabble, where they demanded a victory feast. The women prepared a meal which consisted of great quantities of bread, buffalo meat, and corn. Afterward, the Ute left and never returned there to trade.

Because of the hostile Indians, the decline in the fur trade, and poor crops, the settlers of Hardscrabble began to leave. In the summer of 1847, Matthew Kinkead abandoned his cattle ranch and later went with John Brown, Jim Waters and other settlers of Hardscrabble and Pueblo to California. Tradition says they all got rich.

That same year, Turley’s Mill near Taos, New Mexico, the largest distillery and dispenser of “Taos Lightning” was destroyed during the Taos Revolt. The trading post at Hardscrabble had long been a supplier of alcohol to the Indians, from which they made much of their profits.

El Pueblo Trading Post in Pueblo, Colorado

El Pueblo Trading Post in Pueblo, Colorado

In the meantime, Marcellina Baca and his Pawnee wife moved to a small settlement in the Greenhorn Valley. Simpson, Barclay, and Doyle spent the winter of 1847 at Pueblo, then left in the spring of 1848 to build Fort Barclay on the Santa Fe Trail in northeast New Mexico.

After the Mexican-American War ended in 1848, the Santa Fe and Oregon Trails became the highways between the States and the newly acquired territories of New Mexico and California, leaving Hardscrabble high, dry, and useless between these two great arteries of traffic.

By that time, there were only a few settlers left in Hardscrabble, including Lancaster Lupton, Calvin Briggs, John Burroughs, Valentine “Rube” Herring, a man named Noverto, and a few hired hands.

In November 1848, John C. Fremont was on another expedition and stopped in Pueblo to hire men to guide him over the mountains as he looked for a route for the railroad. Old Bill Williams and “Uncle Dick” Richens Wooton signed on. On November 23rd, Fremont and his 30-odd men and 120 mules arrived at the Hardscrabble settlement, which he described as ”a miserable place containing about a dozen houses, corn cribs, and corrals. It is the summer resort of the hunters – the houses are built of adobe, and are very comfortable — they seemed like palaces to us, as we enjoyed the luxuries of table & stools … ”

Hardscrabble, Colorado Area Map

Hardscrabble, Colorado Area Map

Lancaster Lupton sold 130 bushels of shelled corn to Fremont and his men, which packed on the backs of the mules. The expedition moved up Hardscrabble Creek on November 25th, wading through deep snow in the bitter cold and when they caught sight of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Dick Wootton exclaimed, ” There is too much snow ahead for me,” and turned back towards Hardscrabble. Wootton’s instinct was right as the expedition ended up in the frigid San Juan mountains where 10 men died and more than half of the mules ”froze stiff.” Benjamin Kern and “Old Bill” Williams were later killed while retracing the expedition trail to look for gear and survivors. In the meantime, after recuperating in Taos, Frémont and only a few of the men left for California via an established southern trade route.

Lancaster Lupton was probably the last person to leave the Hardscrabble settlement. He and his family left for California in 1849.

In 1852, Spanish-speaking families tried to settle around the Hardscrabble plaza, but they met with resistance from Ute Indians and soon left. The next year, Lieutenant Edward Beckwith, a member of the Corps of Topographic Engineers, passed by Hardscrabble and described it as deserted.

The old adobe buildings of the plaza still stood in 1859, but soon after the adobe bricks were used by other settlers and all trace of the settlement disappeared. The site later became part of a ranch.

A historical marker is located seven miles south of Florence, Colorado entitled “Hardscrabble”

Indeed, the men who have located here are all those whom the wreck of the mountain trade and hunting parties have left on the surface, unfitted to return to former haunts or avocations, with minds alienated by new convictions from home and early friends, and habits transformed by constant excitement and daring adventure from the dull plodding of the sober citizen to the reckless activity and thrilling interest of a border life, open to the aggression of the savage and the pursuit of free will, free trade, and free thinking.

—Alexander Barclay in a letter about life in Hardscrabble

© Kathy Weiser-Alexander, July 2018.

Hardscrabble Historic Marker, Colorado

Hardscrabble Historic Marker, Colorado

Also See:

Alexander Barclay

El Pueblo, Colorado

Fort Barclay, New Mexico

Joseph Doyle


Colorado Historic Marker


Lecompte, Janet S.;Colororado Magazine, State Historical Society of Colorado, April 1954

Wetmore, Colorado Historical Society

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