In 1850, during the California Gold Rush, a party of Cherokees from Georgia, traveling through the Colorado region [this was part of Kansas Territory at that time], happened to “test the gravel” on Ralston Creek, northwest of present Denver. They found some color (gold), but not in sufficient quantities to deter them from California. After returning home, some talked of returning to prospect Ralston Creek again. They formed a party of 80 men, who, in June, 1858, met two other parties from southern Missouri, at the mouth of Cherry Creek, the present site of Denver. All 104 men fanned out in the direction of Ralston Creek to prospect the region. After 10 days, the majority was convinced that it was a “fools errand”, and returned to the East. 13 men, under the command of William Green Russell, stayed, finding a paying placer at Dry Creek, to the south of Cherry Creek. They convinced a passing drover to carry a bag of gold-bearing sand to Kansas City, where it was panned out by experienced California miners in front of the newspaper office. Glaring headlines of the Kansas City Journal of Commerce, August 26, 1858, read: “THE NEW ELDORADO! ! GOLD IN KANSAS TERRITORY ! !”. Other newspapers in the country picked up the story, and soon the “Pike’s Peak” gold rush was on. Increasingly wild exaggerations of the richness of the find accompanied each retelling. [In the 1850’s, the gold standard was set at $20.48 per troy ounce. At the time, the Pike’s Peak gold was such low grade its value was only about $10 an ounce.]
Americans were still suffering from the Panic of 1857, which had its genesis in wild land speculation, over extension of credit and over expansion of canal and railroad building. Thousands of debt-ridden farmers of the mid-west were forced to sell out and migrate further west. Pike’s Peak presented a golden rainbow for the near destitute, as well as the adventurous. Many parties set out in the fall of 1858 and spring of 1859, “eager to be the first on the ground to gather the gold nuggets”. However, most, upon reaching the gold fields, found that there was no gold to be harvested like grain. Only a few fortunates had found any gold in paying quantities, and then, only with hard work. The disillusioned promptly named it “Pike’s Peak Humbug”, and turned back. These stampeders, having used all the credit they could for supplies, tools and transportation, upon facing reality, quickly became discouraged.
It was estimated that 100,000 seekers started out for the gold fields, in early 1859. Of these, 50,000 reached the mountains, and half of those returned to the East shortly after arriving at the mouth of Cherry Creek. Nearly all who made the trip were lacking in experience, knowledge, and fortitude to withstand the rigors of hard work involved with mining and prospecting. Most didn’t know gold, or its ores, when they saw it. However, the ones who stuck it out, learned, fought discouragement, and did reasonably well, some in gold, some in land, and some in other endeavors. But, for most stampeders, it was a battle just to stay alive, and to be able to return home.
WILLIAM YOUNG DENT, my great grandfather, was one of these gold seekers. At that time, the spring of 1859, he had three children, and one on the way. Times must have been extremely difficult for him and his family, as he was not known as a man who acted on a lark. If he had not returned home so soon, he probably could have made a good life for his family in Denver, as he was a skilled carpenter and mechanic. Unfortunately, the full story of his reasons for going, and of the adventures he experienced, have been lost in time, but the following is part of the story. It was written by his son, ALBERT ELI DENT [my grandfather], in March, 1930, to his son, DONALD [my father]. Sadly, Albert adds that the full story is too long to relate.
“. . . My father, with a company of 28 young men, made the trip from eastern Ohio, in March 1859, to the field of the elusive gold of Pike’s Peak, south west of Denver, Colorado. The story, as I remember his telling, is too long for me to write, however, I will mention a few points in this long, wild, chase he made, when a young man of near 27. The man organizing this company – one “Miles Walters” [who] had already guided a company to Pike’s Peak – [was] a young man from this eastern Ohio section, [so] twas not difficult for him to form a bunch of ‘Boys” to follow him. They went by boat on the Ohio River from Wheeling, W. Va., to Cairo, Ill., then up the Mississippi to Hannibal, Mo.., to the terminous of the Hannibal & St. Joe Railroad, one of the earliest railroads in the West. From St. Joe to Lawrence, Kansas, via Leavenworth, they marched afoot. At Lawrence, they bought their outfits – arms, provisions, wagons and oxen.
“[They made] an agreement to all, to stay together, [which] kept any among [them] from deserting or straying away. At that date, Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado was called the “Great American Desert”, which for the most part was named aright. Their outfit of arms was, first, the near, almost, useless long barreled cap and ball rifle, a revolver, using cap and ball, with a revolving barrel of 5 barrels, then called a “pepper-box”, and a belt with a long (7 or 8 inches) Bowie knife.
“They followed up the Arkansas River, through the barren wastes of Kansas, and, long before they got through, they realized they were doomed to a great disappoint-ment, as they met many discouraged gold seekers returning to the States, but they went on and staid only a few days, then returned through Nebraska, following down the Platte River, crossing the Mississippi River at Omaha.
“The Burlington Railroad, CB & I [actual name was Chicago, Burlington and Quincy RR] at that time was as far west as Eddyville, Iowa, on the Des Moines [River], a few miles [north] west of Ottumwa, Iowa. The civil war of 61/65 stopped the road building.
“For a time the “boys” came back from the ‘far west” by ox team, through southern Iowa to Eddyville, Iowa, then by poorly equipped, unfinished railroad to Chicago, from then to Barnesville, Ohio, on the B & O Railroad, which road in building out of Baltimore, in 1843, was the first railroad in the U.S. using mules as propelling power. They brought home with them a young buffalo [calf], which grew to a larger animal, and in his latter days became cross.”
From the description of the route the “boys” took, they followed the Old Santa Fe trail from Lawrence, Kansas, probably picking it up at Olathe, then west through Council Grove and McPherson to the Great Bend of the Arkansas River, following the river to Bent’s Fort or Fort Pueblo, Colorado (about 45 miles southeast of Pike’s Peak), then northerly to Cherry Creek and on into Aurora and Denver. Their return was along the South Platte River, along the Platte River Trail to the Oregon Trail, near present Julesburg, Colorado, then along the Oregon-Mormon Trail to Omaha.
The length of the Journey of the “boys” was about 3200 miles. They walked and drove ox teams about 1600 miles, went by boat on the Ohio River about 900 miles, and the rest, 700 miles, by train. The length of time spent has not come down to us. It may have been about 5 months. Other chronicles of the gold rush indicate that overland, from Lawrence to Denver via the southern route, was up to 50 days, and return by the Oregon Trail was up to 40 days. In 1860-61, after establishment of Stage Lines, it only took about 15 days to Kansas City from Denver.
In another letter to Donald Dent in January, 1935, Albert Dent refers to the buffalo brought back from Colorado:
“. . . [M]any a piece of jerked or dried buffalo meat I have eaten that your Grand-father Dent brought back from his trip to Pike’s Peak, near Denver, in 1859. The company, also, brought home a young buffalo. He was teased so [much] by [the] boys he became cross, having lost one eye. A boy on horseback – I think this boy was a second cousin of yours – chased [him] through the woods, he ran against a tree and broke his [neck]. I don’t know who got the hide as they were prized at that time in making good warm overcoats when tanned. . . “
The cap and ball rifle spoken of, is still in the family. It was made in Cincinnati about 1840, was .36 caliber, weighs over 10 ½ pounds, and is still operable.
* After researching the Pike's Peak gold rush, Donald R. Dent, Jr. wrote the above narrative as background and inserted, verbatim, the story written by his grandfather, Albert Dent, in 1930, describing William Y. Dent's Pike's Peak adventure.
Provided by Don Dent