Looking east from the Highlands area of Denver looking toward the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River, a little left of the Twin Bridges which carry Spear Boulevard that parallels Cherry Creek coming from the Southeast. The skyline dominates the landscape today. Picture taken by Chris Grenard from his apartment on Zuni Street.
Albert Richardson while traveling with Horace Greeley described Denver in 1859:
“True to this instinct, the people of this unfledged community, nominally in Kansas but practically as far from government and civilization as central Africa, were already making a State constitution; and months before, they had laid out Denver City. It was a most forlorn and desolate-looking metropolis…The men who gathered about our coach on its arrival were attired in slouched hats, tattered woolen shirts, buckskin pantaloons and moccasins; and bad knives and revolvers suspended from their belts.
We took lodgings at the Denver House. True to the national instinct, the occupants of its great drinking and gambling saloon demanded a speech. On one side the tipplers at the bar silently sipped their grog; on the other the gamblers respectfully suspended the shuffling of cards and the counting of money from their huge piles of coin, while Mr. Greeley standing between them, made a strong anti-drinking and anti-gambling address, which was received with perfect good humor.”
—-RICHARDSON, BEYOND THE MISSISSIPPI, FROM THE GREAT RIVER TO THE GREAT OCEAN.
An ox train pulls a boiler and covered wagons on Larimer Street in Denver, Colorado. Signs on the buildings read: “W. B. Daniels,” “Post Office,” “Denver Theater,” and “Sloan House.” Picture courtesy of Denver Public Library, Western Photo Archives, Call Number X-19273
Richardson returned in 1865 and noted the changes in Denver City: “At my last visit, five years before, Civilization had barely extended to these wilds the tips of her gracious fingers. Now, Denver boasted a population of five thousand, and many imposing buildings…With fresh memories of the log-cabins, plank tables, tin cups and plates, and fatal whiskey of 1859, I did not readily recover from my surprise on seeing libraries and pictures, rich carpets and pianos, silver and wine–on meeting families with the habits, dress and surroundings of the older States…”
—-RICHARDSON, BEYOND THE MISSISSIPPI, FROM THE GREAT RIVER TO THE GREAT OCEAN.
The Denver Diorama
The Denver Diorama is on display in the lobby of the History Colorado Center located on 1200 North Broadway in Denver. It depicts Denver around 1860 when it was first getting established and it provides an excellent visual introduction into Denver during its beginning.
The diorama was built under a New Deal Program initiated in 1934 and completed in 1936. Initially about six months of intense research was done. None of the buildings exist today, but a handful existed when the project was being built. Some of these buildings were destroyed in an 1863 fire and flooding along the South Platte and Cherry Creek particularly damaged others in 1864.
The model is eleven by twelve feet in size and includes 350 buildings, miniature people, livestock, and even cats and dogs.
Early Denver City flourished as a transportation hub for people and supplies arriving from the east or heading west into the mountains. Local corrals offered food and shelter for horses and oxen.
There were initially two settlements, Auraria to the south of Cherry Creek and Denver City to the north. Freight wagons crowded the streets as new buildings rose on all sides. The Native American Arapaho peoples camped in a village nearby – the land Denver occupied belonged to them.
Cherry Creek - Auraria to left of creek
Closest large building is the Tilton and Company story, once used as City Hall. The first large building on the left (southside) of Cherry Creek (where the bridge is) is the Colorado House. The large building on the other side of the creek to the right of the building under construction is the Tremont House, a well known hotel at the time.
In the spring of 1866, Marshall arrived in Denver. It was a small town that sat alone out in the prairie, hardly a tree between it and the mountains about fifteen miles to the west. Emigrants, like Marshall, initially parked their wagon, animals, and any supplies near the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River.
It wasn’t long before Marshall learned that a copy of the Rocky Mountain News contained a listing of letters arriving from the east. He would obtain a copy of the paper and look for that listing, hoping to hear from Amanda as well as getting updates on what was going on in the rest of the world. What he soon found out is that there was a very long line of emigrants waiting for letters. Mail took about six or seven days on a stage so Amanda’s first letter which arrived on May 7,1866 must have been mailed around the end of April.
Marshall would seek out a job where he could put his strong organizational, medical, and writing skills to work and if options were limited, he could do some freighting. In those days good help was in demand. Wages were high, but so were prices for food and staples.
David Bruce Powers train of Leavenworth at Denver. Photograph courtesy of Denver Public Library, Western Photo Archives Call Number Z-224
A Wagon Freighter?
Freighters typically used either oxen or donkeys to pull long freight trains of wagons traveling cross country or in the mountains. These bull whackers (driving oxen) and mule skinners (driving mules) were at the lowest end of the social ladder, but on the other hand, everyone was doing some freighting in one way or another. Maybe something surfaced where Marshall could put some of his medical and writing skills to work. In addition to Marshall’s skills, his status as a Union Civil War veteran might make it a little easier time finding better quality work.
This 1864 picture shows people, horses, and covered wagons on a dirt street in front of the Planters’ House building, downtown Denver. The location is a two-story, frame hotel and stage stop at the corner of 16th Street and Blake Street. A sign on the building reads: “Overland Stage Line.” Photo courtesy of Denver Public Library, Western Photo Archives, call number CHS.X4774
Stepping off the Stage
On September 10, 1866 Marshall stood in line waiting to pick up a letter from Amanda. Incoming letters were being announced in the Rocky Mountain News and Marshall knew where to go stand in line to pick it up, and there was always a line. The list of letters from the September 10, 1866 are shown to the right.
Based on the timing, the September 10th letter must have indicated when she expected to arrive and probably which stage company she was using. Most stage companies ran fairly close to their schedules and that would enable Marshall to determine where and when he needed to meet her!
Amanda met Marshall when he stepped off the train in Vermont in the summer of 1865. Maybe it was Marshall’s turn to meet Amanda as she stepped off the stage.
Colorado is usually at its finest in late summer and early fall and Amanda’s arrival would be in mid-September. Stage rides can be quite colorful and Amanda must have delivered quite a story. Conversely, Marshall’s stories of Denver would also have been a mouthful. They had both seen everything imaginable in the Civil War. What they were now experiencing would in its own way rival their wartime experiences.
By now Marshall had found a place for them to live, most likely a simple wooden cabin. An insight into where their Denver home was is found in an obituary prepared sixty years later. About the time their first son Ned passed away, a newspaper article entitled “Interesting Facts about the Felch Family” appeared in the Roosevelt Utah Standard. The article stated “Their first home was on the site where the Denver Union Depot now stands. Here the little Sarah was born.” In 1866, the depot was a few blocks out of the mainstream, unlike today where it is at the heart of train and light rail traffic.
Marshall’s cousin Lawrence posted a note in the Rocky Mountain News on August 27, 1866 that he had lost a diamond pin so he was in town and may have been one of the boarders in the cabin. Living in tight quarters was the norm for those times, all you needed was enough space to lie down and sleep at night. Now that Marshall and Amanda were locals, possibly the toughest question at the time was what animals would they keep around the house. Places to graze were almost nonexistent in the area and feed for oxen, cattle, or mules was expensive.
Marshall probably noticed the article below. It was posted in the paper just to the left of the letters list.
Arrival of General Sherman.
This hero of the war arrived in Denver at half-past nine this morning, accompanied by Mayor DeLano and quite a concourse of our citizens (filling fifty carriages.) The general was found, by this party, in his usual unostentatious camp habit, journeying along in his ambulance, and apparently nothing caring for receptions, displays, speeches, pomp and ceremonies that snobbish officers, who are obliged to travel “on their shape” require. He received the Mayor in a cordial off-hand style, and declining a seat in his Honor’s carriage, rode into the city in his own conveyance, and is now our honored guest….
RICHARDSON, ALBERT D. BEYOND THE MISSISSIPPI, FROM THE GREAT RIVER TO THE GREAT OCEAN: Life and Adventure on the… Prairies, Mountains, and Pacific Coast. S.l.: FORGOTTEN BOOKS, 2016.
Smiley, Jerome. History of Denver: With Outlines of the Earlier History of the Rocky Mountain Country. Denver: THE DENVER TIMES THE TIMES-SUN PUBLISHING COMPANY DENVER, 1901.
One of the American dreams has always been to own land; it was most certainly what encouraged Marshall and Amanda to head west. Marshall and Amanda would work, make friends, develop allies as they researched land options in Canon City. Land was rapidly getting gobbled up; they wanted to get in as early as possible and establish a homestead.
Homesteaders didn’t always live on the land right away. Arid undeveloped land did not provide for their immediate needs, but in time it would. Shortly after Amanda arrived, Marshall headed down to Canon City to acquire land. Amanda stayed behind and worked. She kept the home front in order.
They made the journey west, now they needed to establish themselves in a whole new world.