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Pioneer Diary

Tells Of Early Settlement

By Marian M. McDonough

    5/12/1957 - Did you know that a lot of history is enclosed in the permanent site of the United States Air Force Academy located between Denver and Colorado Springs? As you drive along the highway near there you will see an attractive rustic sign directing you to the Academy area. Among other landmarks, it points to Pikes Peak and the Rampart Range below which stretches the 17,500 acres of the Academy.

    Before you are the new roads cutting through pine and spruce carpeted ridges, scarring excavations and walls rising eventually into beautiful buildings of steel and concrete, glass aluminum and marble.

    However, the map does not locate the little log cabin built about 1871 by Thomas Burgess which he lost with the land for an $80.00 unpaid loan. It does not direct you to the fence-enclosed graves of the little Capps children who died in 1881 and 1885, or others scattered about the mesas. Nor does it point out the old Blodgett ranch, thought to be one of the earliest ranches in the area, or the William Bangs Young homestead where the old log cabin mysteriously disappeared into oblivion  

    The Air Force Academy Construction Agency in Colorado Springs sought to find out who were the pioneers of the academy site. A map was made of the area showing old landmarks, former home sites and the now non-existent small town and railroad stations of Husted, Breed and Pring. Listed there were the names of Blodgett, Young, Capps, Burgess, Teachout, Husted, Porter and Kinner, who were the earliest settlers of the academy area.

    Those pioneers who homesteaded below Eagle Peak, along Monument and Kettle Creeks or near Deadman's Gulch would certainly stare at this where they fought off Indians and built their cabins and lived and worked under conditions such as the Air Force Cadets will never know. One wonders what brought them there and why they settled in this once primitive area. As far as is known there never was a gold stampede or even a gold strike on Monument Creek.

    One of the oldest home sites is the once upon a time location of the Young homestead. In the summer of 1871, tall dark haired William Bangs Young and his blue-eyed, chestnut haired wife, Mary Eliza, left their comfortable home in Chicago, where he was Junior partner in the Hapgood, Young plow company.

    Doctors had advised them to come west to Colorado for Mary Young's lung trouble. They also advised them against taking the rapid climb to such a high altitude by the newly built Kansas Pacific Railroad, which must have made all of 20 or 30 miles an hour. It would seem rather rugged for an invalid but the doctors suggested they travel west from Leavenworth, Kansas by carriage and wagon because of the healthful out-door camp life.

    The Young's golden-haired 13 year old daughter, Marian, and brow-eyed Russell, their 6 year old son, a Dr. H. T. F. Gatchell and his brother, Charlie, and the Newfoundland dog. Chase accompanied them. At Leavenworth, the Tomlinson family joined them with their camp outfit. Leaving Leavenworth on June 4, the wagon party followed the railroad west.

Mary Eliza Young kept a diary. Often, she wrote, the kind conductors of the Kansas Pacific Railroad tosses off a chuck of ice together with the camper's mail and the Chicago Times and Chicago Tribune. All must have been more than welcome as the travelers journeyed into the hot wind-swept plains.

    At kit Carson, Colorado, the Tomlinsons turned toward Denver and the Youngs went south to seek and follow the more shaded Arkansas River.

    On arriving in the Pikes Peak Region on July 31, the Youngs camped where now stands the Antlers Hotel. From their camp they saw the driving of the first stake for the Fountain Colony's new town of Colorado Springs, founded by William J. Palmer. Little did they dream that they would ever meet or become friends with the general who had been in charge of constructing the railroad which they had followed over so many miles. How could they know that they would soon see the building of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad thru their own land by Palmer and his associates?

    Mary Young wrote in her journal, "July 31, 1871. Camp Colorado Springs. We are encamped on a bluff with a grand view of Pikes Peak looming up above all the others with its bare rugged top. The Cheyenne mountains to the left of us are grand with their rugged sides and irregular tops. Colorado City, a miserable town is located under the brow of Pikes Peak, number 45 houses. A new town is started two miles from the old town. The railroad is to be completed to this pint from Denver this fall."

   Mrs. Young's health had improved so much, living out of doors, that William Young decided that ranch and not city life would be best for her. Immediately he canceled their plans to go to Denver. "Mary would get well here," he told himself.

   On Aug 2, Mary Young wrote in her journal, "William and Charlie went off this morning to visit a ranch owned by a Mr. Blodgett." Shortly after this the Youngs bought this ranch about ten miles from Colorado Springs on Monument Creek and took up a preemption claim next to it.

   Saturday, Aug 5, the journal notes, "William went to the drawing of lots for the new town, bought a business lot. After he returned, Doctor, May, Russie and I drove to the "Garden of the Gods" We were delighted with the rocks and scenery."

   The Youngs and little Russell with the Gatchell brothers drove the mule-drawn carriage and camp wagon out to the ranch early on the morning of the eight of August. Marian rode the saddle pony. Don, with Chase trotting behind.

    The ranch had two fine springs, a tiny spring house and a rude cabin which was not fit to live in. On the adjoining claim, the men pitched the tents beside the stream. Their camp faced an irregular bluff dotted with scrub oak, pine and spruce tree.

    According to the diary, their nearest neighbors were the Blodgetts, whose home ranch was about three quarters of a mile or more away, and the Robinson's sheep ranch, two miles to the north. Robinson had been a jeweler in Kalamazoo Michigan.

Refuge Taken

The cold winds blowing off the mountains finally drove the Youngs across the creek into a cave in the bluffs where they pitched their tent much to little Russell's delight. Because of the view and the protecting ridge, William Young decided to build his house below the cave. He and the Gatchells cut and hauled pine logs for the cabin.

    "Finding it pretty hard work for tenderfeet," according to the diary.

    When there was enough timber, the two neighboring ranchers helped them build the house above the creek.

    The cabin had an imposing living room for those days of tiny parlors and what was even more imposing in a period sacred to pot-bellied stoves, a big fireplace. Camp cots for the children were set up at one end of the room while off the kitchen and pantry was the bedroom. From the front piazza and the west windows, one caught a glimpse of rugged Pikes Peak and could see the blue-shadowed range dominated by Cameron's Cone. But the thing that impressed those near and far was the three inch opening left between the walls and ceiling all around the house. William Young was determined that Mary should have plenty of fresh air.

    Mrs. Young, riding side saddle, or Marian, who always rode bareback, took turns going to the Blodgetts for milk, butter, and eggs. Carrying them, the journal says, "...was no easy matter on horseback." Other days, one or the other of them would ride to the Robinsons to purchase meat or they rode the three miles to Teachouts for the mail. Teachouts was a ranch and unofficial post office and one-time stage coach stop. It had been built by Harlow Teachout and it's four-foot thick walls were a haven to the ranchers who fled there from marauding Indians. Later Teachouts was used as a boarding house for some of the construction crew of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. It was located not far from the present southern boundary of the Air Force site.

Picked Flowers

    Some days Mary Young rode the pony up Monument Creek as far as the majestic, gray Cathedral Rock, stopping to pick yellow and lavender wild flowers on the way. Sometimes she and Marian and Russell would take the fringe topped, two-seater carriage and picnic under a mushroom shaped sandstone rock in Monument Valley. Occasionally Mary Young accompanied  William in the warm, fall sunshine along a creek east to where he planned to raise sheep.

    Dr. Gatchell, who was as clever with carpenter tools as he was with surgical instruments, set to work building a kitchen table and sink for the cabin. Mrs., Young and Miss Minna Knapp, a music teacher from, Chicago who had moved to Colorado Springs, cut and sewed curtains and made a carpet. In issues of the Colorado Springs Gazette of 1872 and 1873 are notices announcing, "Miss Minna Knapp, Graduate of the Conservatory of Music, Dresden, Germany, Teacher of Instrumental and Vocal Music."

    In the meantime, Young went to Denver to pick up their two barrels of household goods, shipped from Chicago and to buy a kitchen stove and a little furniture.

    Friday, Sept. 29, Mary Young comments in her diary. "Nights and mornings are so cold we almost froze this morning. It looked and felt so much like snow we moved into the house. I do not like it much, it seems so close and warm." Imagine with that three inch opening all around the house for air!

Log House Raised

    For years the Young's log house stood above Monument Creek. Successive owners added wings, planted willows, enlarged the barn and built corrals. The house was still there and in use in the late 30's. The owner showed me where the three-inch opening in the old cabin had been filled in. Sometime between then and now, it disappeared. None of the old timers know just when or if it burned or was torn down. A few yesterdays ago a ragged blanket of weeds and wildflowers covered the spot and faint remnants of an old corral straggled down to the creek.

    However, the pines under which Mary Young wrote in her now faded diary or taught Marian her lessons; the tree Marion climbed in her copper-toed boy's boots are still there. The view of Pikes Peak had not changed nor that of the blue-shadowed mountains across Monument Creek from the old ranch site. One can even see the mark on a mountain of the old "Skid Row" where logs were once skidded for railroad ties.

    How do I happen to know the story of one of the pioneer families who settled on the Academy site" I inherited a diary! William and Mary Young were my grand-parents and their daughter, Marian, was my mother.

(Article appeared in the Colorado Prospector Vol. 5. May 1974)