History of the Golden Gate Area
The earliest known occupants of this region were big game hunters, living in the area between 12,000 and 7,500 years ago, relying on large animals like mammoth and bison to survive. As the climate changed (7500-900 years ago), inhabitants fed on elk, deer, small game and the native nuts and berries of the area.
Tribal groups were first identified in the area around 400 years ago. The Ute Indians have the longest identifiable history in Colorado, occupying the western region of the State, and spreading out into the plains and foothills with the introduction of the horse. The Cheyenne, Apache, Comanche, Kiowa, and Arapaho tribes also inhabited the plains of Colorado.
Generally speaking, two-types of people were drawn to the homesteading lifestyle; speculators who wanted to buy land cheaply and sell it for a profit, and people who wanted to settle on the land and live there. The 1842 Pre-Emption law allowed homesteaders to pay $200 for 160 acres, on the condition that they improved and developed the land within 2 years, by building a home, planting crops, and fencing the property.
The most popular law was the 1863 Homesteaders Act, which required applicants to pay a $16 filing, on the condition that they developed the land within 5 years, followed by a $6 closing fee. Following the 5 year period, if the homesteader had "proved up" or improved the land, they received a patent signed by the President, and the land was theirs.
Prohibition was a national ban on the sale,
manufacture, and transportation of alcohol in the United States. The ban was in place from 1920 to 1933. It was introduced in an effort to curtail intoxication, gluttony and overindulgence of alcohol. The ban was mandated by the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The introduction of the ban created a black market for the production and sale of illegal, home stilled alcohol.
Moonshiners: People who set-up and operated illegal stills. The term comes from the idea that they operated by moonlight to avoid being caught.
Bootleggers: Name given to people who transported the illegal liquor to bars and hotels.
Speakeasies: Underground clubs and restaurants that distributed illegal liquor during the prohibition era. Patrons often had to say a password to gain entry.
The creeks of Golden Gate were sought-after sources of water for illegal still operators. The alcohol was collected in wooden barrels and transported by bootleggers to the speakeasies and illegal bars of Denver (such as the Brown Palace Hotel), and other smaller towns along the way. The delivery trucks were disguised as bakery vehicles to avoid detection by federal agents, known as "revenuers".
The remains of what is thought to be a bootlegger's cabin and still can be found a ¼ mile along the Coyote trail, leaving from the Bootleg Bottom trailhead. There is no record of when this cabin was built, or by whom, but discarded copper tubing and barrel hoops found near the cabin have led to the conclusion it was likely the home of a still operator.
At a still located near the Ralston Creek, up to 6 gallons of whiskey was being produced per day. The finished product was referred to as "stump" or "squirrel" whiskey. Workers lined the barrels with charcoal, giving the pale liquor a more authentic dark brown color on its journey down to Denver. Ranchers were sympathetic to the still operators, and sometimes helped the drivers avoid detection by covering their tire tracks with the hooves of their cattle.
Gold is Discovered
John Gregory was the first person to discover gold in the area in 1859. News of his discovery set off a gold rush, drawing thousands to the area to make their fortune in what would become Black Hawk and Central City. Within two months of the discovery, Central City's population had swelled to 10,000.
Golden Gate Canyon Road brought supplies and pioneers to the area. Over time, many miners moved away from the dangerous work of mining, looking to make a living off the land, by supplying goods to the mining towns. Sixty-one families and individuals settled in and around the land that is now Golden Gate Canyon State Park. These are some of their stories.
John Frazer was one of the earliest settlers in the Golden Gate Park area. He settled in what is now known as Frazer Meadow, accessed via the Horseshoe, Coyote, and Mule Deer trails. Frazer left his job in the gold mines in 1868 and settled in the county. He built a wagon road from Golden Gate Canyon Road north across part of Tremont Mountain and into Frazer Meadow. Traces of the road can still be seen from the Blue Grouse trail. He built a one-room cabin and hay barn. Frazer cleared 25 acres to grow hay for his horses and small herd of cattle.
Because of the short summers at Golden Gate, Frazer only planted hardy crops like potatoes and turnips, and grew oats for his animals. Like many homesteaders of the time, he also harvested timber from the area, supplying the mining camps and homesteaders of Central City and Black Hawk with much-needed building supplies. When he needed money for food, Frazer collected downed wood and branches, strapped the load to a horse-drawn wagon, and drove it to Black Hawk.
Frazer squatted on the land for 15 years before making a Homestead claim in 1883. In 1887 he applied for an additional 160 acres of adjoining land. He lived a simple life alone in the mountains; eating his meals at a small table, cooking and heating his cabin with a wood stove, and sleeping on a blanket roll on the floor.
In January 1896, while hauling a load of logs to Central City, Frazer was killed when the load came loose and crushed him. His land was sold to pay off debts after his death. The cabin burned down in 1980, but the remains of his log barn still stand at the top of Frazer Meadow. The barn was added to the State Register of Historical Properties in 1995.
Hugh McCammon was drawn to the area by the gold rush in 1863, originally working in a foundry (metal smelting factory). In 1865 he bought a team of horses and started a business hauling freight between Central City, Black Hawk, and Denver. McCammon was also among the first homesteaders in the Golden Gate area, claiming 160 acres along Ralston Creek in 1868. He built a house, planted 12 acres of crops, and fenced 140 of the 160 acres. The area he settled in is now known as Ole'Barn Knoll.
In 1869, McCammon was one of five partners to claim and open the Caribou Silver mine near Nederland. Within a year the mine was making a profit. McCammon sold his share in the mine for the equivalent of $333,000 today. With the profits, McCammon was able to buy additional tracts of land from his neighbors, acquiring 1,120 acres in total. He named the property the Mountain Ranch. In 1874 Hugh married Martha Taylor of Tennessee and they raised four children together in the Colorado Mountains.
In 1874, McCammon served a year on the Colorado territorial legislature. During his tenure he helped get the University of Colorado launched by matching the legislature's $500 grant. In 1878 he helped organize the First National Bank in Central City and became one of its directors. Later he sold 2 acres of his land along Golden Gate Canyon Road for the development of the Mountain House School.
McCammon bought and ran a 274 acre ranch in Boulder County. He kept the Mountain Ranch, herding his cattle to the land every spring to graze. Today, the remnants of the McCammon's hay barns can still be seen just downhill from the Ole' Barn Knoll picnic area off Mountain Base Road. McCammon died in Boulder County in 1893. His son ran the ranch with his wife and 4 children until it was sold in 1922. The land passed through a series of owners before the State purchased Ralston Creek, and parts of the Mountain Ranch east of the creek for Golden Gate Canyon State Park, in 1970.
William (Bill) Kriley bought two properties on either side of Ralston Creek around 1886. He named the property Ralston Buttes Ranch. Bill ran the farm with his wife Katherine, growing potatoes and lettuce to sell. Nowadays, much of the former cropland is covered by the Kriley Pond. Katherine bore six children, three of whom died in their first year of life. The Kriley children attended school at the Mountain House School, a mile west on Golden Gate Canyon Road. They only went to school in the summer because the weather was too severe in the winter. Bill continued to tend his farm until his death in 1938.
After his death, Bill's oldest daughter Ella and her husband Harry returned to the Buttes to help the widowed Katherine work the farm.
In 1943 Katherine sold Ralston Buttes to Ella. Ella and Harry ran the farm for another 4 years before returning to Kansas. Katherine stayed on at Ralston Buttes in a log cabin. She died in an automobile accident in 1946.
In 1963, Ella sold 159 acres of the ranch to Golden Gate Canyon State Park. An acre was kept in the family. The original cabin remains today, adjacent to the Park Maintenance Facility and Mountain Base Road turn off.
William and Mary Ann Allgood settled into the Golden Gate area in 1917. Their property straddled both sides of the Ralston Creek, about a mile west of the Visitor Center. They grew oats, peas, lettuce, and hay, and raised cattle.
They had two children, Merrill and Maybelle. Maybelle gained a reputation as a tomboy; she was an excellent horsewoman working the family's cattle. She married one of the Allgood's ranch hands, Joe DeBoer in Golden, when she was 16 and he was 21. They lived in a cabin on the family property. Both Joe and Maybelle worked at the Coors factory in the 1940s. They became estranged and divorced in 1943.
In 1945, Bill and Mary Ann Allgood bought a 600 acre property in Golden on South Table Mountain, but kept their mountain property for raising cattle. Bill died in 1954. Mary Ann moved in with her daughter Maybelle. She died in a house fire in 1958. Maybelle sold the land along Golden Gate Canyon Road that year, and two years later the land was sold to the State.
Edna and George Green, and their two sons moved to the Golden Gate area in 1917 to raise cattle. Their two boys
Malcolm and Ken, went to school at the Bay State School, east of Smith Hill Road, until the flu epidemic reached Colorado in 1919. Malcolm contracted the flu and never fully recovered. He died of heart failure as a teenager. Ken graduated from Colorado State University and worked as a veterinarian for the Federal government.
During this time, families lived in houses with no insulation or internal heating, except for wood-burning stoves. Water was collected from nearby streams or wells. In 1918 the Greens' got a telephone service. In 1925 they dug a well, installed a windmill, and pumped water to the house. They did not have indoor plumbing until 1960.
In 1940, Ken married Lela White, a neighboring
rancher's daughter. They settled into a new house on the Green Ranch, on Robinson Hill. Ken, his father George, and Lela worked the Whites' and Greens' ranches. Over the years, the Greens bought out their neighbor's land, acquiring 4000 acres.
In the summer the herd was driven onto the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests to graze for several months, allowing time for the pasture to regenerate, and grass to be harvested for the winter feed. In the fall, the animals were driven down Golden Gate Canyon Road to the east Denver stockyards (near where the Denver Coliseum now stands), to be sold.
Edna Green died in 1950 and George followed in 1962. Ken and Lela scaled down their ranching in the 1970s, later selling the Robinson Hill Ranch to a developer.
They built a house on Smith Hill Road and lived there until the mid 1980s. In 1995, the Green Ranch property and house became part of Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Lela's family donated their ranch to Jefferson County, where it became the White Ranch Open Space, a popular recreation area just east of Golden Gate.
Gap Road Settlers
During the settlement years, Gap Road was the only way for residents who lived in the northern part of the park to reach the towns of the region. Highway 119 was not established until the 1930s, and Mountain Base Road was not built until the 1960s. Gap Road was almost always impassable in winter, leaving many families house-bound for months at a time.
Born in 1896, Donald Tippet's family worked in the mines of Black Hawk. After graduating from Central City high school, Donald studied theology and became a Methodist minister. He worked on the Western Slope and in Denver. In 1924, he bought a cabin in Golden Gate and settled with his family in the area by Reverend's Ridge Campground. The family lived in the cabin for several years. The remains of the Tippet's cabin are still standing, just east of the campground office.
Donald Tippet worked in many locations around the country, including Manhattan, where his strong support of prohibition cost him an eye. Local thug and illegal alcohol profiteer, Jack "Legs" Diamond took offense to the Minister's sermons on prohibition, and sent a group of thugs to beat him up. One of his eyes was so badly damaged during the fight, that it could not be salvaged. Donald retired as the Bishop of the Western Jurisdiction in San Francisco. The park named its main campground Reverend's Ridge, after the Minister.
John Lindsay was a 53-year-old bachelor when he came to the mountains from Indiana in 1921. His plan was to grow fruit, but most of the desirable land had been sold by the time he arrived. Undeterred, John applied for 160 acres of land that now surrounds Panorama Point – some of the most exposed land in the park. His first berry crop failed in 1923. The following year he successfully grew potatoes, turnips, oats, and timothy grass.
Lindsay occupied the land on and off between 1922 and 1926. Some of his time was spent building the Moffat Tunnel near Rollinsville. His cabin burnt down in 1925, and was rebuilt and expanded upon in 1926 to include a separate kitchen, barn and vegetable garden. For ten years, John Lindsay owned the most spectacular view in what is now Golden Gate Canyon State Park, Panorama Point. He sold Panorama Point and the northern part of the homestead to the Works family in 1937, and moved into a retirement community.
The Works Family
The Works family didn't come to Golden Gate to make a living as homesteaders; they were preservers of the land for recreation and relaxation. Charles and Eleanora Works both came from east coast families with a strong appreciation for the outdoors. They met during their college days at Harvard Law School. They moved to Denver in 1922. On weekends Charles and Eleanora took road trips up Golden Gate Canyon Road to visit friends in Rollinsville. In 1926 they bought land along Gap Road, which included several cabins. The property was extended to include a kitchen, barn and outhouse. In 1926 they bought 80 acres from their neighbors the Vollmans, and 10 years later 160 acres from John Lindsay, which included Panorama Point. Charles Works performed legal work for the families along Gap Road in exchange for maintenance on his property, such as setting up the cabin's water supply, and timber clearing.
After 40 years of living in the Canyon area, the Works family began selling parcels of their land to the State. They retained their original cabin, which was now fitted with running water, electricity, and a telephone. The last parcel of land containing the cabin was bought by the Park in 2005. In 2010, renovation of the site was completed. Today, the Works Ranch Group Area can be rented by the public for group camping. . The original cabin was refurbished and functions as a camper cabin in the summer.
Three generations of the Belcher family lived on and worked the land that is now Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Their original homestead on Gap Road, called the Gap Ranch housed the family for several decades. It was sold to the Harmsen family in 1954 and then bought by the State in 1970.
Gwenllean and Thomas Belcher Senior
Gwenllean and Thomas Belcher moved to Central City from Wales in the 1870s. Tom found work as a mechanic, maintaining the pumps and machinery used by the gold mines.
Gwenllean bought 160 acres off Gap Road from her neighbor John Williams before he died in 1887. It took her some time to convince officials the land had been transferred to her before John's death, but finally in 1890 she was recognized as the owner.
In 1893, Tom Belcher began the process of getting his own homestead.
Tom acquired land west of where Dude's fishing hole now lies. The family built a three bedroom home and planted crops like potatoes, peas and lettuce. They called the homestead the Gap Ranch, now known as the Harmsen Guest Ranch. Tom was skilled in blacksmithing and mechanics in general. He developed a steam-powered sawmill where he cut timber to sell and use. The remnant of the blacksmith shop still stands today, adjacent to the Harmsen Guest Ranch.
In 1900, Tom and Gwenllean moved back to Black Hawk, and Tom returned to his work maintaining the mining machinery along North Coal Creek. He died in 1919, a victim of the flu epidemic that spread after World War One.
Tom Jr. and Hilda Belcher
Eventually, Tom Junior (Gwenllean and Tom's eldest son),
inherited both tracts of land and farmed them with his wife Hilda and their three children. Over the years Tom Jr. bought additional tracts of land from his neighbors, totaling close to 1000 acres by the 1920s.
Severe winters often trapped the family on the property for weeks at a time. Every autumn before the winter set in the family stocked up with enough groceries to last them through the months of snow and bitter cold. Hilda used the walk-in root cellar Tom Jr. had built to store meat, preserved fruit, vegetables, and dry goods. The climate didn't allow them to grow wheat, but they could raise oats, which were used to feed their livestock and make bread.
Harsh winters eventually persuaded the family to rent a house closer to town. They kept the mountain property for raising hay and grazing their cattle. Tom Jr. died in 1946. Hilda held on to the Gap Ranch for three years before selling it. She died in 1986 in a Boulder nursing home.
Laverna (Belcher) Mitchell
Tom Jr. and Hilda Belcher's eldest child Laverna started working for the family when she was 4. Her mother taught her to cook, clean the house and tend to the chickens. Her father taught her how to care for the livestock and crops, and to ride a horse. Laverna attended the Thorn Lake School off Gap Road during the summer months, but was housebound during the harsh winters. She attended high school in Central City, graduating in 1924. While working on the ranch, she took correspondence courses to become a teacher. Upon graduating, Laverna taught students at the Bay State School on Robinson Hill Road, and the Mountain House School off Golden Gate Canyon Road.
Laverna married local boy Fred Mitchell and had a daughter Donna.
The family moved their cattle herd to the original Gap Ranch which had not been lived in for some time. They ran the ranch for several years, sending their daughter to the same Thorn Lake School Laverna had attended. Donna learned to be a ranch hand just as her mother had. The Mitchells continued to work the ranch until it was sold by Hilda in the late 1940s. Laverna and Fred stayed in the area, renting the Kriley house until 1963, when the land was sold. Following this, they rented the Mountain House.
Fred died in 1980, when he was in his 70s. Laverna remained healthy and independent until her death in January 2000. In the 1980s and 90s, she became an unofficial adviser to Park staff on the homesteading families of the area. She also attended the open house events at the Harmsen Ranch (formally the Gap Ranch), providing visitors with interesting information and insights into the area's history.
The Harmsen Family
William and Dorothy Harmsen moved to Colorado from Minnesota in 1942, drawn to the western lifestyle. In 1949 the family opened the Jolly Rancher Ice Cream store in Golden. The store was a success and soon new stores opened up in other parts of Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming. The family added chocolates and hard candies to their inventory. In time, the candy sales grew and the family sold the ice cream business to focus on candy production, and grow what became the Jolly Rancher Candy Company.
The family decided to buy a house in the mountains for weekends and summer vacations. In 1954 they purchased the old Belcher family "Gap Ranch". They restored the dilapidated ranch to its former glory, adding several rooms and an enclosed patio.
In 1970, Colorado State Parks purchased 2002 acres of the Harmsen's property. The family later donated a further 50 acres to the State, including the ranch. In 2006, the Park renovated the house, turning it into the luxury, western-themed Harmsen Guest Ranch, which can be rented by the public.
The Tallman Family
Anders and Christina Tallman
Anders Tallman sailed to America from his native Sweden in 1870. After a year he sent for his wife and three children to join him. His wife fell ill and died on the long journey across the Atlantic. The children arrived safely. In 1876, they settled along Nott Creek in the area now called Forgotten Valley (accessible via the Buffalo and Mountain Lion trails).
With his new wife Christina and children, Anders built a cabin, chicken coop, barns for storing hay and livestock, and a milking shed. In the summer, Anders diverted Nott Creek so water would run across the milking shed floor and keep their provisions cool. They planted crops, kept a flock of chickens, and ran a small herd of cattle.
Anders' wife Christina collected chicken eggs and churned butter from her cows. She traded her produce in Central City, for dry goods like sugar and flour, periodically making the long journey in an ox-drawn cart. At 2 miles per hour, the journey took her all day to complete.
In 1891, Anders suffered a debilitating stroke, leaving much of his ranching duties to his family. However, he was known to sit on his porch with a rifle and take shots at any elk or deer that threatened his crops. Christina would hang and dress any animal unlucky enough to get hit by a bullet. Anders died in 1898, leaving the Tallman Ranch to his wife Christina and daughter Anna.
Nels and Anna (Tallman) Bengson
Anna and her husband Nels established a ranch of their own in Coal Creek Canyon, where they had 8 children; 2 boys and 6 girls. One boy died in infancy, the remaining son was named Rudolph. Over the years, Nels and Anna's daughters married and moved out of the area to start families of their own. Rudolph stayed in the county, running the Tallman Ranch with her grandmother Christina, and helping out on his parent's ranch in Coal Creek Canyon. Christina sold her share of the ranch to her step-daughter Anna when she was 75. In 1908, Anna added another 80 acres to the south of the property, making for a total of 400 acres. In 1917, Rudolph married local school teacher Ruth Goodwin Williams and moved to Golden. Nels died in 1928, Anna lived another 9 years until the age of 84.
Rudolph and Ruth Tallman
In 1924, Rudolph returned to the ranch with his wife
Ruth, and daughter Wilda, primarily harvesting timber and selling it in Central City. He died in 1927, at the age of 48. Ruth inherited the ranch from her mother in-law Anna, when Anna moved to Golden to live with one of her daughters.
Ruth and Wilda continued to run the farm until Wilda left for boarding school in Golden. Eventually, Wilda married and left the Golden Gate area to live with her husband. Ruth continued to live on the land with beau John Wickstrom, a local tradesman she had hired to re-shingle the roof several years after Rudolph's death. John and Ruth later married and the ranch became known as The Wickstrom Place. John died in 1951 at the age of 74. Soon after, Ruth sold the ranch to a series of ranchers who ran cattle on it, until it was sold to a developer. Ruth died in 1967 at the age of 78. The land was eventually sold to the State in 1970.
In 1995 the Tallman Ranch was added to the State Register of Historic Properties. In 1996, a grant from the Colorado State Historic Fund was used to rehabilitate the remaining buildings and install interpretive signage about its former inhabitants. Today the remains of the ranch buildings are along the Nott Creek.
The Strang Family
Stephen Barton Strang was born in Colorado in 1901. He married Ellen Lathrop in 1924 in Pennsylvania. They had two sons, Barton and Michael. In 1930, the family moved to Colorado and in 1932, Stephen bought the land around the foot of Nott Creek. They named the property (which included a house and several other buildings), Ralston Creek Ranch. The family hired laborers and a Master Carpenter to undertake the renovation of the property, and build a steam-powered sawmill further up Nott Creek. They built on the existing residence, naming it The White House, constructed the barns that are now the Red Barn Group Picnic area, and built several cabins along Nott Creek, to house the 15 – 20 students that came to Ralston Creek Ranch each summer to be tutored by Stephen.
The two Strang boys worked on the ranch, feeding and milking the cattle, and caring for the horses, pigs, and chickens. Gathering firewood was a year-round chore; it took an enormous amount of wood to heat the house and run the stove.
Bart and Mike Strang lived at Ralston Ranch until they went to Princeton University to study. Their father had home-schooled them up until then. Mike returned to the Ranch after graduating, eventually leaving in 1960, when he married. The White House caught fire in 1968, when Stephen and Ellen were in their 60s. They were in the process of negotiating the sale of the ranch to the State at the time. The land was sold to the State in March 1968.
The Greenfield Family
Charles and Clara Greenfield, and their three children, Jim, Dottie, and Fred started homesteading in Golden Gate in 1920. By this time, the most desirable farming land had already been claimed. The family set up a homestead on 320 acres in what is now known as Greenfield Meadow (along the Horseshoe Trail).
This was Charles' second turn at homesteading; he had been a farmer in Kansas with his first wife and four children who ranged in age from 10 years to a newborn. Shortly after the newborn's arrival, the entire family contracted typhoid fever from their well water. All but Charles and his son Fred died. Charles and Fred left Kansas for Denver, where Charles met and married his second wife Clara. Clara was 21 years his junior.
During their first year of homesteading, the family lived in a rented dirt-floor cabin, while Charles and Fred built their three room house. They grew potatoes, peas, lettuce, oats, barley and hay for their animals. The boys shot rabbits for meat. In lean times, Charles would sell excess vegetables at the Golden and Denver produce markets, in order to buy staples like dry goods, jam, and kerosene.
During the summer months, the children walked two miles to the one-room Mountain House School. In 1928 the family left Greenfield Meadow for a farm near Golden. The children inherited the land when Charles died in 1952. They sold the land to the State in 1963. Today, all that remains of the ranch are two cellar holes, the rotting timbers of the fallen down house, and the seasonal springs that flow through the area.
Thank you to Malcolm Stevenson for generously allowing Golden Gate Canyon State Park to draw from his exceptional book on the settlers of the Golden Gate Canyon Area: In the High Country - Settlers on the Land at Golden Gate Canyon State Park © 2009. Malcolm's book is available for purchase at the Visitor Center.
Thank you to Lisa for patiently transferring hundreds of historical slides into electronic format, for use on this webpage.