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Friday, May 20, 2011

Forts Across the American West

The forts of the American West varied in type from military posts, to fortresses established by fur trading companies, to private enterprises built solely to protect the pioneers within.

Most often when we think of Old West forts, we imagine a high stockade type wall of sharpened logs that surround a number of buildings. Inside these walls are hardy pioneers and soldiers, valiantly defending themselves from hostile Indians on the outside. Though western films have perpetuated this idea, and sometimesforts were built in a stockade type manner, the purpose and style offorts varied widely and this "typical" scenario was the exception rather than the rule.

Contrary to the myths perpetuated by western films, most militaryforts of the American West were not established to protect the settlers from Indians; rather, they were built to maintain peaceamong the tribes, as well as between Native Americans and white emigrants.

Alcatraz Island
Many people are not aware that Alcatraz was a fort
 before it became a Penitentiary. Photo by
John Sullivan, March, 2005.
This image available for photographic prints
 and downloads HERE!
U.S. CavalryFurthermore, they were seldom solidly constructed stockades with numerous permanent buildings. Sometimes, they were little more than a couple of blockhouses. Other types of fortifications were constructed by traders to protect their businesses and by settlers to protect their homes.
As more and more settlers moved west in the 19th century Army posts were established on the basis of anticipated use, sometimes to keep the Indian tribes from waging war with each other and at other times, to keep white settlers from encroaching upon native lands.
It was generally only when white settlers insisted on encroaching upon native lands, especially during the many gold and silver rushes, that the Indians retaliated. Only then did the forts’ primary purpose change to protecting the settlers. As westward expansion continued, threatening the Indian's livelihood, war between the whites and Indiansintensified, resulting in the push of Native Americans onto reservations. Once the Indianswere placed on reservations, some forts served as Indian agencies and distribution points for annuities given to tribes under treaty agreements.
When the many trails began to open such, as the Santa Fe Trail in the 1820’s and theOregon Trail in the 1840’s, traders and pioneers often met with not only, opposition from the tribes, but also, by road agents interested in relieving them of their money or their goods. In response, more forts were established to protect commerce along the trails.
When establishing a new fort, the soldiers would sometimes occupy buildings already established, but more often, were required to construct the new fort from materials available in the area. In forested areas, wood was usually used; adobe in the desert, and stone, where available. The typical frontier fort consisted of officers' quarters, barracks, stables, storehouses, and headquarters buildings, grouped around a central parade ground. Mostforts did not have walls surrounding them because attacks were generally unlikely.
Many army posts were referred to as "camps,” when there were only a few people assigned to the location or when the site was temporary. To be considered a "fort,” a full contingent of troops had to be permanently assigned to it. Both forts and camps were utilized by the U.S. Army during the Frontier Campaigns.
Fort El Reno, Oklahoma Commisary and Weapons Magazine, November,
2005, Kathy Weiser. This image available for photographic prints and
 downloads HERE!

Reacting to the quickly changing needs of the vast west, the Army would set up a post and then abandon it when no longer needed.
Though it was not the original intent to establish militaryforts to fight the Indian Wars, this changed when the U.S. government failed to protect tribal territorial rights and uphold treaties. Increasingly upset with treaty violations and travelers, settlers, and railroad crews encroaching on their lands, the Indians were retaliating in full force by the mid-1800s.
As a result the U.S. Government began a series of frontier campaigns to "tame” the Indians, force them on to reservations, and convert them to "civilized” life.

For the soldier, life was difficult and often monotonous at these many frontier outposts. The vast majority of recruits saw little or no combat and spent their time doing manual labor. Many forts were so isolated there were no nearby towns for single enlisted men to relieve the monotony or meet women. The normal "dull existence” of frontier life was too much for many of the troops and desertion rates were high.

Today, many of these Old West forts have been preserved, restored or rebuilt as monuments to our heritage and can still be seen as museums and national or state parks.


© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated January, 2011.


Also See:


Fort Verde, Arizona

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Treasure Hunting in the Colorado Rockies


Chacuaco Canyon Treasure
In 1858, there was a wagon train traveling through the southeast part of Colorado, in what is now Las Animas County, which was carrying 1,500 pounds of gold Ingots. Suddenly, the wagon train was attacked by a group of outlaws and renegadeIndians. At first, the wagon train prevailed, driving off the would-be thieves and, in an effort to elude their tormentors; the travelers detoured through Chacuaco Canyon.
However, the outlaw gang continued to pursue the wagon train with a vengeance. Three members of the wagon train quickly loaded the gold ingots onto six mules and led the loaded animals to a rock outcropping along a nearby creek. While the three were hiding the gold, the outlaws caught up with the wagon train and, furious, they slaughtered each and every member of the party.

While the massacre was taking place, the three men escaped to a Mexican nearby village. However, when they returned to retrieve the gold, they were killed by Ute Indiansbefore ever reaching their destination.
To this day, the treasure has never been found.
Update! June, 2009 - From one of our reader's, Legends of America has learned that though the facts of our tale are partially incorrect, the legend of the treasure is true. Doing his own research for a number of years, our reader has determined the "real story" and has located the vast majority of the treasure which included small gold bars with Spanish insignias.
Round Mountain
indians imageLong ago, a party of four French Canadians were said to have been trapping on the Snake River near Round Mountain. However, the Canadians were discovered by American trappers who took their furs and traps and ran them off. The four traveled south into western Colorado and one of them found a gold nugget in the headwaters of the Gunnison River.

Here, they spent the next month successfully panning the gravel in the creek beds. Ute Indians discovered the Frenchmen and attacked them. In the running battle, which lasted several days, three Frenchmen were killed. The fourth managed to escape over Cochetopa Pass (just west of Saguache). Sensing that his pursuers were closing in, he buried the gold on Round Mountain with the hopes of later returning for it. The Indians caught and killed the lone French-Canadian near the summit of Poncha Pass.   
The treasure was never found, but the story endures, hundreds of years later.

Irish Canyon
butch cassidyIn the late 1800’s Irish Canyon was a popular hideout of outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Wild BunchMatt Warner, Isom Dart, and many others as they spent time in the Browns Park vicinity in Moffat County. Supposedly, $30,000 in silver coins remains buried somewhere in the canyon. 
While you are looking for the treasure, you can also enjoy many excellent trails, hiking and mountain opportunities. You can also visit the Irish Canyon Rock Art Site, where you can see the Fremont rock art from an elevated platform.

Moffat County is in the extreme northwest part of Colorado. Irish Canyon is northwest of Maybell. From Maybell, take US-40 to Colorado 318. Turn northwest onto 318 and continue to Moffat County Road 10N, which runs through the canyon.


In 1863, a stagecoach along the Overland Trail carrying an army payroll of $60,000 (which would be about $1 million dollars today) in ten and twenty dollar gold coins was destined for Fort Sanders inWyoming Territory. The gold shipment represented several months of back pay for the soldiers at Fort Sanders; however, the unfortunate soldiers never saw the gold.

Only about a mile from the Virginia Dale Station, the stage was robbed by six masked outlaws at Long View Hill. The gang took the strongbox from the stage and headed west towards the wooded foothills, where they blew the lock off of the box, removed the gold coins, and buried the treasure.

However, before they could spend their ill-gained wealth, the bandits were pursued and killed by the U.S. Cavalry. The Cavalry later found the iron strong box in a nearby creek, the sides and bottom gone, riddled with bullet holes – and, obviously, empty.

Overland Trail Stage Team
Stage Coach on the Overland Trail
The Overland Trail stage line was regularly terrorized by outlaws, where the surrounding area provided multiple opportunistic hideouts. One hideout, labeled the Robbers Roost atop Table Mountain, was so popular that the outlaws built a cabin there. Table Mountain, only about a mile northeast of the Virginia Dale Stage Station, was a perfect hideout, as it is difficult to climb with practically perpendicular cliffs and a rim of shale.

At the time, it was rumored that Joseph "Jack" Slade, the Station Master was the leader of the gang. Jack Slade, not as famous as many other outlaw characters, was nevertheless, as notorious as many of them. Slade was said to have had an uncontrollable temper, was a heavy drinker, had murdered in the past, and was eventually hanged in Montana. Though the stage line suspected Slade, they could not prove it, so they just fired him. Uncharacteristically, the bad-tempered Slade, left without any problems.

Later Jack Slade moved on to Virginia CityMontana. A heavy drinker with a bad temper, he wrecked a saloon soon after his arrival. Jack was arrested but he tore up the arrest and threatened the judge. Though he pleaded for his life, he was immediately hanged.
Virginia Dale, his girlfriend (or common law wife) was brought to town by one of Jack'sfriends, took his body home, pickled it in alcohol in a metal casket, and kept it under her bed for several months. She then took it to Salt Lake City, Utah and buried him in the old Mormon Cemetery where his body remains today.
The gold taken by the robbers at Virginia Dale has never been found.
Today, Virginia Dale is nothing more than a ghost town, located in the northern part of Larimer County, about 45 miles northwest of Fort Collins, and just about four miles south of the Wyoming border on US Highway 287. The old Overland Trail Stage Station is listed on the National Register of Historical sites and recently efforts have been made to preserve the old station.

The stage station is situated at the very end of County Road 43F, about 1 mile east of US 287. A monument erected for the station marks the beginning of CR 43F. Follow the county road through a narrow gorge beneath Lover’s Leap, past a ranch, and it will take you right to the door. The station itself is on private property, but the access to the site is on a county road. If you intend to visit the Stage Station, you can take pictures of the grounds and the exterior of the building, but please do not trespass onto the private property.Kathy Weiser/Legends of America




Wednesday, May 11, 2011

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Friday, May 6, 2011

CALIFORNIA LEGENDS Lost Chinese Cache Volcanoville


By Anthony Belli

Forgotten now are the thousand or more places where much of El Dorado County’s history was written. In mining camps and towns such as… Hell Roaring Diggings, Loafer’s Hollow, Whiskey Flat, George’s Town, and Poverty Flat. The names of other camps frequently told you much about who was mining there… Chile Bar (Chileans), Kanakatown (Hawaiians), Frenchtown, Alabama Flat, Texas Bar, Cooley Mine (Chinese), Indian Diggings, Mormon Gulch, even Puritan Camp. Forever consigned to the records of time each of these camps had it’s own unique and often colorful history. One such place is the ghost town of Volcanoville where tales of it’s past includes mining, and buried treasures. 


Volcanoville, California
One of a few remaining abandoned buildings left standing in the ghost town of Volcanoville, photo by Anthony Belli.

It was here during the days of the California Gold Rush when the Volcanoville boasted a lively population of thousands, including a large Chinatown. In the cemetery, two headstones remain which speak of the town’s past. The tombstones tell of two 49ers interred here -- both youths had been murdered for their miner’s poke by Gold Rush highwaymen.

Located in northwest El Dorado County, Volcanoville sits just south of the Middle Fork of the American River. Today telephone poles along Volcanoville Road mark the edge of progress - stopping just short of the old town site where few old buildings stand in defiance of encroaching development.

It was during the mid-1870’s when Volcanoville saw a serious decline in mining as many quartz mines played out. With gold more difficult to find, anger and hate for all non-Anglos in the diggings became a hot subject. Most Chinese were now working in the larger cities in Northern
California, for those who remained in the Mother Lode they suffered the most since they represented competition to White miners. Such was the case in 1874 when Chinese miners discovered a 10 oz. pure gold nugget on their claim at the Cooley (Chinese) Mine in Volcanoville ....

One evening a group of miners gathered at a local saloon where their conversation turned towards the dreaded Chinese. With enough liquor, words quickly turned to action leading to the massacre of at least 15 Chinese that night. The Chinese miners were rounded up by the drunks and herded into a cabin. With the Chinese locked inside, the cabin was set a fire. Those who died in the inferno were only spared a bullet; those who ran from the flames and thick smoke were quickly gunned downed in flight. None survived.

While many Chinese were mining along the Middle Fork of the American River one group of 12 from Volcanoville was buried alive in a cave-in during the 1890’s. By the time aid reached the men they had died from suffocation.

Another story from Volcanoville tells of a wealthy Chinese store owner who ran a thriving general store. He sold out to another China man and himself returned to China. For years he remained in his homeland before returning to Volcanoville.

Chinese miners in Calfiornia, mid 1800's.
Chinese miners in California, mid 1800's.

He claimed he returned to retrieve a cache of gold he’d hidden years earlier. A major fire had destroyed much of the town in 1879 which left the older former store owner with no landmarks to guide him to his treasure. He returned several times over the next several years looking for his lost cache but never found it.

For years treasure hunters have sought to answer the question of the lost Chinese caches buried in and around Volcanoville.

Volcanoville was founded as a small trading post in 1851 but grew into a large prospering Gold Rush town by 1855. Other industry in the area included a steam driven sawmill and tannery at Mt. Gregory. Volcanoville became a voting prescient in 1854 and established it own Post Office in 1858.

 Mining became prosperous here again during the 1880’s and remained so through the 1890’s supporting a twenty-stamp mill. At that time the largest working quartz mine was the Josephine. As most of the town’s residents were employees of the Josephine Mine, in 1895 the Post Office changed the name of the town from Volcanoville to Josephine. The Josephine Post Office operated until discontinued in 1917. The town saw two devastating fires, the first in 1879 then again in 1907. All of the remaining original buildings to survive the 1879 fire were destroyed in the 1907 fire. A small community re-established itself here but the town never recovered.

Somewhere I once read that "25% of all the precious metals and gems ever recovered have become lost". It is true during the era when global transportation was provided by the great sailing ships of the day much treasure went down the result of accident, piracy, or violent storms. The next cause has been laid to natural disasters. Finally the remainder is credited to the individual who acquires wealth and buries it for safekeeping. For whatever reason, the owner of the cache is separated from his wealth and is never able to recover it. It is said that a dozen or more of these buried Chinese caches is connected to the history at Volcanoville.



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