Burrows Park

burrows parkThe head of the valley in which the Lake Fork of the Gunnison rises was called Burrows Park in the seventies, after Charles Burrows who prospected the territory in 1873. A small camp of the same name was established in the valley, and another camp called Whitecross was laid out a quarter of a mile above it.

The exact locations of Burrows Park, Whitecross, Tellurium, Argentum, and Sterling are difficult to establish today since almost all signs of the camps have disappeared.

They all sprang to life between 1877 and 1880 following the rich strikes in the vicinity. The post office was established in 1880 as Burrows Park (but was actually located at Whitecross). The name of the post office was changed to Whitecross in 1882. The community maintained a summer population of about 200. The Hotel de Clauson at Whitecross was the favorite meeting place for all of the neighboring camps.

The Burrows Park ores were largely copper pyrites and argentiferous galena, although gray copper, ruby silver, sulphurets of silver, copper, and iron pyrites were also found. There was plenty of waterpower for use in the mines, and the Bonhomme, Cracker Jack, Tobasco, and Champion lodes began to produce extensively. 

Nine families wintered in the park in 1878, and, in spite of severe weather, a few miners and their families spent successive years in the little valley.

“Burrows Park Notes” for Dec. 27, 1881, printed in the Lake City paper says:

Christmas in the Park

We were all invited out…to the Hotel de Clawson where Mrs. Williams and Mrs. Prentice prepared a generous feast…Well filled tables stood there creaking, cracking, straining while trying to hold up the precious burden of roast turkey, chicken, fruits, sauces, jellies, pies, cakes, pudding, sweetmeats, and sure enough, ice cream, sweet bread, and butter, also all the young ladies in town…At nine o’clock we sallied out to our gloomy, silent cabins. Yours truly, Snowball and Icicle

In 1882, Burrows Park was a lively camp with “Clawson still wielding the dish rag at the most popular hotel,” but the development of the region slowed by lack of transportation facilities. Even when railroads were built into the San Juan, they were inaccessible. The railroad at Lake City was reached by a road down the valley, but it was nearly twenty miles away.

In spite of heavy snows “the adventurous Tom Byron crossed the bleak range daily on snowshoes, with the mail to and from Animas Forks and Mineral Point,” and in the summer, “four brand new horses were ready to run a daily buckboard from Lake City to Sherman, Burrows Park, and if business justifies, to Animas Forks, carrying the mail express packages and passengers.”

Between 1890 and 1900, Whitecross had a population of 300, the men and their families living in cabins and tents.

There was a miner at Whitecross who wanted some coffee before going to work on the night shift. There were two coffee pots in his cabin, in one of which four pounds of blasting powder was stored. By mistake, he put the pot containing the powder on the stove!

Burrows Park is located 21 miles southwest of Lake City via State Highway 149 and the road to Cinnamon Pass (along the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River).

Capitol City

Once named “Galena City”, this deserted mining town located nine miles up the Henson Creek/Engineer Pass road was a dream of George S. Lee. His ambition was to become Colorado’s Governor and to change this tiny silver camp to the capitol city of the state of Colorado.

He built his home here with that purpose in mind in the 1870s, at the cost of a dollar a brick hauled from Pueblo, Colorado. It contained a beautiful living room, a small theater with an orchestra pit, several fine guest bedrooms and also a formal ballroom. Other than his home, he built the Henson Creek smelter and the sawmill.

Although his dreams and ambitions of governor were never realized, the name was changed to Capitol City.

The 200 acre townsite had several hotels, restaurants, saloons, smelters, a sawmill, post office, schoolhouse and several houses during the rich finds of 1877. The population was at one time 800, but as the price of silver dropped, the town began to be deserted. Litigation and transportation also aided in the downfall of Capitol City.

All that is left of the grandeur site is the Old U.S. Post Office and Lee’s Smelter Stack. The rest of the townsite has been reclaimed by aspen, mountain willows and evergreen trees.

Please note: There are several private homes and vacant parcels of private property in the Capitol City area. Please do not trespass.

Alfred Packer

Packer-AlferdAlfred Packer and the Remains of his Victims

In the winter of 1874, Alfred Packer was hired to lead a group of prospectors through the San Juan Mountains from the winter campsite of Chief Ouray located near the present-day Delta, Colorado. This turned out to be a particularly harsh winter in the Lake Fork drainage area. Deep snow drifts and sub-zero temperatures slowed the party and supplies soon ran out. Wild game was non-existent, according to Alfred Packer, and these were no fish to be found in the frozen-over streams and lakes. By the time the men had reached the foot of Slumgullion Pass, the men had even chewed the leather from their boots. Starvation was upon them. What was a man to do to survive the winter of 1874?

Six weeks later, Packer appeared alone at the Los Pinos Indian Agency near Saguache. There he told the sad tale of losing his fellow miners in a snowstorm, but he seemed well fed and was spending money freely from several wallets. The story began to unfold when strips of human flesh were found. A search party found the bodies of the missing men at the foot of Slumgullion Pass. They had apparently been murdered and showed evidence of being cannibalized.

Packer escaped and was at large for many years. When he was captured, he was tried at the Hinsdale County Courthouse in Lake City and found guilty of murder. He was sentenced to be hanged on May 19, 1883, but won a new trial in Gunnison. There he was convicted of five counts of murder and was sentenced to 40 years in the state penitentiary at Canon City.

Packer never accepted blame for murdering all five of his companions, but he did admit to shooting and killing Wilson Bell in self-defense. Israel Swan, the oldest member of the party, died of natural causes, stated Packer, and he was cannibalized by surviving members of the party.

Denver Post columnist Polly Pry launched a crusade on Packers behalf. He was paroled in 1901, and spent his final days near Littleton, Colorado, outside of Denver.

Packer died April 1907, after suffering a stroke, and he is buried in the cemetery at Littleton.

The Experts

National attention was focused on Lake City the summer of 1989 as a team of Archaeologist and Forensic experts unearthed the grave of five men who had been murdered 115 years earlier.

Did Packer kill all five of his companions and then live off their flesh for weeks? Did they kill each other? Or, would the scientists find nothing beneath the memorial boulder, which lists the names of those unfortunate men- James Humphreys, Frank Miller, George Moon, Israel Swan and Wilson Bell?

In the summer of 1989, a team led by Dr. James Starrs of George Washington University exhumed the bones of the victims for a scientific study at the Human Identification Lab in Tucson, Arizona. They concluded that the bones did show evidence of cannibalism and violent deaths.

The remains were then returned to Lake City and reinterred on August 15, in a multi-denominational service. The bones from each skeleton were placed in one of five compartments in a single wooden box. The remains of those five prospectors again rest peacefully on the bluff overlooking the Lake Fork.

The Facts Concerning the Alfred Packer Trial

Between November 1873 and January 1874, Alfred Packer traveled with a party of twenty-one men from Utah to Chief Ouray’s camp outside of what is now Montrose, Colorado.

Packer and five other men from the party left Ouray’s camp in early February, bound for the Los Pinos Agency, about 35 to 40 miles northwest of Saguache. Packer was the only member of the party to appear at the agency on April 16, 1874.

While there, he gave his first confession regarding the death of his companions. He was placed in the Saguache jail, from which he would escape, with assistance, in early August. Nine years passed before Packer was captured near Fort Fetterman, Wyoming in March 1883. He then made his famous second confession about the deaths.

Packer’s first trial occurred in the upstairs courtroom of the Hinsdale County Courthouse during the first two weeks of April 1883. He was found guilty. His conviction was reversed, however, on October 30, 1885, and a second trial took place in Gunnison in August 1886. At that time he was sentenced to 40 years in the Colorado penitentiary.

In January 1901 Governor Thomas paroled Packer. He moved to the Denver area, where he remained until his death on April 23, 1907.

Rose’s Cabin

Though little remains today, Rose’s Cabin, a lively inn, was once an important wayside which offered food, lodging, and entertainment to miners and travelers for many years.

Rose’s Cabin has had a long and colorful history. In 1873, Ute Indians signed a treaty opening up the San Juan Mountains to mining and settlement. With the treaty signed, the mining rush was on.

One of the earliest pioneers in this area was Corydon Rose, who built a one-story inn in 1874. Rose carefully located his inn; it was about halfway in travel time between the new mining towns of Ouray and Lake City, a convenient stopover site for miners travelling this route. Nestled among the trees, the site was also a safe distance from deadly avalanche chutes. 

Rose built his cabin to last. Hand-hewn logs were carefully fitted together, then chinked with mud to keep out the ice, winter winds. Because of his cabin’s sturdy construction, Rose is known as the first permanent resident of the Lake City area.

In 1877, Otto Mears constructed a toll road linking Ouray, Animas Forks, and Lake City. The toll road, which passed in front of Rose’s Cabin, increased business here dramatically. No longer used by miners and their mules, today this road caters to 4-wheel drive enthusiasts as it crosses the spectacular Engineer Pass, at an elevation of 12,800 feet.

With the toll road complete, Rose’s Cabin became the principal stop for the daily stagecoach run between Animas Forks and Lake City. The fare for this bouncy trip over Engineer Pas was $2.25. When the dusty stage pulled in, those who wished to spend the night hurried into the cabin to secure their accommodations. Rose himself usually wore a high hat and a long, black coat and often met the weary traveler at the door with a “Howdy, stranger!”

Once, inside, the visitor could unwind from the bone-jarring trop. A bar running the full length of the cabin quenched the thirst of many tired travelers and miners. After drinks, dinner, and perhaps a brisk game of poker, visitors retired upstairs, where partitions formed twenty –two bedrooms. After a filling breakfast the next morning, from a “table that was always supplied with the best in the markets”, those who wished to continue over Engineer Pass to Animas Forks, Silverton, or Ouray, or down Henson Creek to Lake City, could catch the appropriate stagecoach.

The Rose’s Cabin area continued to grow through the 1880s. Several miners, hoping for a quick strike, built cabins nearby and worked mines in the surrounding hills. At its peak, a total of about 50 people settled in the area immediately abound the cabin. By this time, the cabin served as a bar, restaurant, hotel, store, and post office – all under one roof. Rose’s Cabin truly was the hub of civilization in the upper Henson Creek region.

The cabin was also an important transportation link and supply source for local miners. During both summer and winter, miners packed gold and silver ore from mines in the nearby hills to Rose’s Cabin by burro. The ore was transferred to wagons here and shipped down to Lake City for processing. Rose kept 60 pack animals in a stable near his cabin to ship supplies up to the miners, and to carry ore down to the cabin. 

Activity at Rose’s Cabin and in much of the San Juans dwindled with the downturn in mining during the late 1800s, led by the silver crash of 1893. By about 1900, the cabin’s role as a place of rest and refreshment had died.

Little remains of Rose’s Cabins today. The large metal object rusting in the meadow was as once owned by postmaster Charles Schafer. Schafer’s name at one time was embossed on the safe in gold letters; today, the safe sits empty. The only standing structure, the old stable, lies to the right. The cabin itself was situated to the left, keeping silent water over this once-lively settlement.

Help preserve Rose’s Cabin and other historic areas in this region so that future generations may enjoy them. Please take only pictures and leave only footprints.

Thank you
-Bureau of Land Management

The D&RG Lake City Branch Railroad and a Galloping Goose

DGR-TrainThe Denver and Rio Grande Railroad narrow gage engine ran between Sapinero, Colorado and Lake City, Colorado. The High Bride was 800 feet long and 113 feet high.

On Monday evening June 24, 1889, track was laid into Lake City completing the town’s fourteen-year quest for a railroad. The final cost of the construction of the branch was $770,996.80.

At 10:00 A.M. on Thursday, August 15, 1889 the first regularly scheduled passenger train with engineer P.J. Ready at the throttle pulled into Lake City Station, Second District, Third Division. The paper reported, “It is here! We breathe freer.”

The distance from Sapinero to Lake City was 36 miles, with 10 bridges. The train averaged 12 miles per hour. Local residents were fond of saying that you didn’t want the Rio Grande engine to run over you because “it was on you so long”.

From 1889 -1921 for the first 32 years of the Lake City Branch Railroad, Pete Ready (born 1858 near Lexington, Missouri), engineered the train. He was credited with saving many people with his expertise in piloting the train.

Service on the D&RG Railroad between Sapinero and Lake City ended May 25, 1933, after 44 years of service. Mike Burke, miner-turned-railroader replaced the Denver & Rio Grande Western steam-operated locomotive with a “railauto” powered by gasoline internal combustion engine. Burke had his family car, 1 1928 piece-Arrow, remodeled into a railroad vehicle by the McFarland-Eggers machine shop in Denver. The term Galloping Goose was borrowed from the Rio Grande Southern Railroad. The car resembled to some observers a waddling goose getting ready to flight because the flat-face wheels on the auto-turned railroad engine caused it to weave down the track with the flange of the wheel striking the rail.

It has been almost seventy years since any train has run between Lake City and Sapinero. In the Lake Fork Canyon, feared by engineers many years ago, the railroad grade is many feet under water, inundated by the Blue Mesa Reservoir, which some people call progress.

Yet, through the mists of time, on a clam and cool fall day, when the aspens are ablaze with color, one can fell the presence of snorting little narrow gauge engines and the “Galloping Goose” as they chugged and clattered through the high country of the Colorado Rockies. Their days are gone but not forgotten.

From: Colorado Railroad Annual #14

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970.944.2527  •  info@lakecity.com

Lake City/Hinsdale County Visitor Center
800 Gunnison Avenue
PO Box 430
Lake City, CO 81235
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