Colorado Experience: Last Stop ’til Denver
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Colorado Experience: Last Stop ’til Denver

August 11, 2019


[music playing] Four Mile House is the oldest
standing structure in Denver. That building was built
when Abraham Lincoln was president, when Colorado
was not even a territory. It is a place where
nobody famous lived, nothing famous happened. But it basically represents a
great piece of social history. If you can imagine, you’ve been
on the trail for two weeks– a very, very long trek across
the Great American Desert. The journey itself
was a challenge. It was a bumpy, rough ride. –very dry terrain. You’re hungry for a clean
bed and a clean bath and, maybe, a good
stiff shot of whiskey. And Four Mile House provided
all of those and more. Four Mile House was the last
stop before you reached Denver. This program was funded by
the History Colorado State Historical Fund. Supporting projects
throughout the state to preserve, protect,
and interpret Colorado’s architectural and
archaeological treasures. history Colorado State
Historical Fund– create the future, honor the past. With support from the Denver
Public Library and History Colorado. With additional funding
and support from these fine organizations and
viewers like you. Thank you. [music playing] For most of the
19th century, people viewed the region that
became Colorado as part of the Great American Desert. It was a barrier
that needed to be overcome in order to get
from the United States to California. It was forbidding terrain. And it wasn’t a place that you
went to if you had any sense. Because as far as most
Americans understood, there wasn’t anything
of value here. The attraction to move west
began after Lewis and Clark came back with some very
fascinating stories about what was going on in the West. And that was followed by
Zebulon Pike and Steven Long. Along about 1849, gold was
discovered in California. The people that were looking
for gold in California happened to stop by in
Colorado and found some gold. Word got out. And people started coming to
Colorado looking for gold. And so wagon roads
started to be formed by running wagons along rivers. In the 1850s, this area would
have had nomadic Indian tribes. And it would have
looked somewhat like Eastern Colorado
does now, if you take away the farmers’ fields. This would have been an arid
area with just some trees along the creeks. It was a frontier. While there had been
trappers and traders back into the 1830’s,
certainly before that some Spanish
exploration, there really wasn’t much going on in
this part of the world. In 1858 and 1859, at the
beginning of the Pikes Peak Gold Rush, this area was part
of four different territories, Nebraska, Kansas,
New Mexico, and Utah. There was no Colorado Territory. There was just a little
tiny village of Denver. It was one of several
little competing villages. This was not an area that
was very well known back in the United States,
as they used to say. Gold brought people to Denver. It has been discovered down
right about at the confluence of Cherry Creek and
the Platte River. Denver was founded
by people who hoped to get rich, not
only mining gold, but mining the miners
who came out here. Lots of people came from
the Midwest and also the East Coast. The eastern US was in
a financial depression. Lots of people were out of work. There are even stories
of people arriving here pushing their worldly
belongings in wheelbarrows. The mood of the nation
was very unsettled. The conflict between
the North and the South was beginning to heat up. The California Gold Rush
had, sort of, played out. The very early days were wild. You could stake a claim and
position yourself for either, hopefully, a great
prospect as a gold miner or, certainly, a key
player in the transportation scene. Tens of thousands of people
left the United States in the hope of seeking wealth
in the Rocky Mountains. Denver, at this time
period, was more of a lean-to, kind of,
shanty town organized around Confluence Park. Denver was a bustling town. It was beginning to supply these
mountain towns, where the gold was actually being panned. More miners going
into the mountains– but in order to get
to the mountains, you first had to come to Denver. Crossing the plains was
never easy or cheap. For an average day laborer,
the cost of a stagecoach ticket was probably more than
they could afford. They were going to have
to find another way. A steamboat could’ve taken
you down the Ohio River, up the Mississippi,
up the Missouri River. To get to Colorado,
you would have wanted to get off your
steamboat in a place like present-day Kansas City
or, maybe, St Joseph, Missouri or Omaha and Council Bluffs. There were frauds, which said
you could take a steamboat all the way up the Platte River. The Platte River was about
a foot deep in those days, just like it is today. From your place that you
embarked off the Missouri River, you were on your own. Families would have
traveled to Colorado in small, covered wagons. They would pack
up the necessities from their home back east. Unless you were really
elderly, sick, or a newborn, you wouldn’t be in the wagon. You’d be walking alongside it. So it was a long foot
journey out here. Multiple trails led into Denver. We’re on the Cherokee
Trail, which came up from southerly locations. A new trail– the
Emigrant Trail– had come in off the Oregon
Trail, following the Platte River out where
Interstate 76 is today. If you followed a longer trail,
say, along the Platte River, you had water. But if you took
the shorter trails across Kansas– including
the Smoky Hill Trail– you ran out of water. In the early days, travelers
along the Smoky Hill Trail would lose their way and not
be able to find food or water. So it was known in the earliest
years as the starvation trail. Hayah! [whipping noise] Yah! A very fast stagecoach could
do it in a matter of days. But you could expect to spend
a couple of weeks on the trail. It was a bumpy, rough ride. We’re talking about
deeply rutted dirt roads. Many of the stagecoaches
were suspended on slings of leather and steel
so that, as you jostled around, it wasn’t the thumping and hard
bumping that you would have on, like, a Conestoga wagon. It was as good as it could
get, with padded seats. But it was a very
long, long journey. Traveling by the
stagecoach was the most luxurious accommodation that
was available at the time. But it was still
pretty primitive. [horse whinnying] You’d cram into this cramped,
confined, Concord stage. There might be five
or six passengers. Nobody’s washing. Some of them might be
imbibing as you go along. Well, that went on day after
day after day after day. And maybe, on Sunday, they
would take a little break, do some laundry, do a little
rest, have a little fun, and then start in again. And they had to do this
early in the spring. They didn’t want to be coming
out here in the winter time. They were leaving about the time
the tornadoes were starting. Thunderstorms. Wildfires. Encounters with wild animals,
perhaps bandits or ruffians on the road. Your wagon could break down
in the middle of nowhere. But if you’re an American
in the mid 19th century, this is the adventure
of a lifetime. You are seeing landscapes
that you have only dreamt about or read about. You’re encountering
wildlife like bison and coyotes and jackrabbits. You’re encountering Indians
and trappers and mountain men. And for many people who
came across the plains, they knew that this was going to
be an unforgettable experience. Very quickly after the
Pikes Peak Gold Rush, private companies began
providing stage service from the United States to Denver
City and in the territories. The most sophisticated of them–
such as the Overland Stage Company– developed
their own stage stops. They would divide the route
between the United States and Salt Lake City
into divisions. And each division agent would
be responsible for recruiting stagecoach drivers,
finding the horses, and establishing the way
stations along the way. So that a stagecoach could
travel relatively swiftly from stop to stop to stop,
stopping only long enough to change out the tired horses
and mules for a fresh team or to provide some
accommodations for the travelers. In time, these
private stage networks stretched all over
the West, branch lines into the mountains,
to Cheyenne, down into New Mexico and Arizona. Before the railroad
came, stagecoaches were the way to travel
around in the West. A wayside inn in
the 1860’s would’ve been a lot like what we
think of as rest stops today, if rest stops
could also have, kind of, a hotel component to them. The accommodations in those
home stations varied wildly. Some of them were
very luxurious. Some of them were
extremely primitive. Mark Twain took a
stagecoach across Colorado and across the plains
in the 1860’s, described a meal that was rancid,
and the water was foul. And there was a common
washbasin with brown, kind of gooey water. And a community toothbrush. And at that time, that
was just common practice. And a comb that
everybody shared as well. And a washcloth that he said
just didn’t bear considering. The Brantner brothers
came from Ohio. And their profession was more
in the barrel-making industry. And you can see that in the
architecture of the Four Mile House. They made their way out to
Colorado to start farming. And they happened
upon this homestead. They had squatter’s
rights for 160 acres and, then, build the original
part of the structure in 1859. They had a German ancestry. And they were great,
skilled builders. This is an absolutely
beautiful log house. It was not called
Four Mile House yet. It would have just been
called a log house. The roof line in
the loft portion is curved like a barrel. Beautifully dovetailed joints. The logs running through the
ceiling of the main floor were hand-hewn logs that we
have dated back to coming from the pinery in this area. The Brantner’s felt that, to
run any kind of a farm that supplied the settlers,
their prospects were better northeast of
Denver along the other trail. They were here for a short
period of time, only a year. They ended up moving north
to Henderson, Colorado, where they became,
primarily, farmers. Once the Brantner
brothers decided that they wanted to move on,
they sold to Mary Cawker. Mary– who was a widow
from Green Bay, Wisconsin– took over. And while the Brantners
had run a family farm and family farms along
trails were expected to take in travelers
and help them out, Mary turned it
into a mile house. A mile house was, kind
of, a general store. You could buy and sell
goods there, have dinner. Every so often along a trail
system, you could stop, rest your horses,
get them water. You could, yourself, get
a bite to eat or a drink. You could socialize
with other travelers. But then, if need be–
if it was late at night– you could also rent a bed. As you traveled
closer to Denver, the stage stations
began getting names, which indicated to you– the
passenger– how far away you were from reaching
your destination. They measured miles
from trail junctions. And in this case,
the trail junction was right about were
our state capital is. If you were coming up
the Smoky Hill Trail, you would stop at the
20 Mile House, and then the 12 Mile House, and
then the Nine Mile House. And the last stop, before
you reached Denver, was the Four Mile House. Being so close to the
destination, more than likely, it was the last chance for
these passengers to freshen up. To get out of their
dusty road clothes and put on their cravats
and their jackets, and the women and their
fine dresses and hats– so when they
reached Denver, they could step out of
that stagecoach into the streets of Denver
and look like they just left a fancy hotel. Four Mile House was that
costume-changing point where people could
make the change, so they could have a grand
entrance into Denver. Why was Four Miles convenient? People were coming out
strictly in wagons. The wagons were usually
pulled by oxen, maybe sometimes by draft horses. And these animals needed to
have a break about every three to five miles. Four Mile House was
an established stop along the Cherokee
Trail into Denver. It was simply one piece in
a transportation network which connected California
to the East Coast. And so, when you think
about this place in kind of a continental
scale, Four Mile House is serving an extremely
important role in the project of Americanizing North America. And there’s probably
one stagecoach a day. But there were accommodations
on the second floor, a large, open sleeping
room initially. And there could have been
many overnight passengers that weren’t stagecoach
passengers, people just stopping. There were large corrals. There was water here. It was a safe distance
from the bustling city, where all kinds of
craziness was going on. Mary was the primary cook. She and her daughter would have
played hostess to everyone. And her son would have
helped any gentleman coming through with
their teams of horses or getting the animal
livestock taken care of. He would also play host
to the men in the tavern. Because women weren’t allowed
in that part of house. The strongest beverage sold
in our bar was Taos Lightning. Taos Lightning was at
least 180-proof alcohol, sweetened with things
like strychnine, tanbark, and gunpowder. And it probably got a
little rowdy down there. Card games would
have been going on. A fiddler would
have been playing. And Mary Cawker would
allow the female travelers to come in the side
door, not even have to deal with the Taos
Lightning-swilling riffraff. She could run that
bar and handle any man who was
twice her size who’d had too much Taos Lightning. Mary’s wagon train encountered
not-very-friendly Indians. And Mary saved them. And the way she saved them
was, this little woman reached in her mouth,
pulled out her false teeth, and went like this
at the Indians. And the Indians were sure she
was in witch, and they fled. Mary ran an orderly house. If you got disorderly, she
would show you the door. She was a very independent,
vivacious woman that was very entrepreneurial
and started her own wayside inn as a woman in this
part of the country. In 1860, it was a pretty
dangerous occupation. In 1864, a huge flood had gone
down our little Cherry Creek. The friendly Arapaho
and Cheyenne Indians had warned the whites,
look out for that creek. It will flood. And the whites, evidently,
didn’t believe them. Four Mile House, luckily,
was just high enough. But you had flood
debris everywhere. Mary was very discouraged. About that time, Mary
encountered other people from Wisconsin. The Booth family
had just arrived. Mary was from Green Bay. And they were from Madison. That may be one reason
they liked each other. The Booth family purchased Four
Mile House from Mary Cawker. They struck a deal. And the Booths bought
Four Mile House for $800. So they continued to operate
the home as a wayside inn for a few years. Millie and Levi
Booth very quickly expanded the operations. They expanded beyond being
at a simple stage station to having a farm and to
producing honey and livestock and apple orchards,
ultimately growing wheat. He built three
irrigation ditches and got the water
rights from Cherry Creek to irrigate all these lands. –making the area into a
thriving farm community. The Booth family struck a deal
with the Butterfield Stage Company. The deal was that
Butterfield stage would have just come a long distance. They would’ve used trail horses
to get it across the plains. These horses were very tired. Here at Four Mile House,
they would switch horses. Levi Booth would arrange to
take care of the trail horses and outfit the stage with some
new, fresh horses, which we’re known to be high-spirited. The stage would roar into
downtown Denver, which was a great sales ploy
if you wanted to travel the Butterfield stage. In time, Four Mile House
became a very important hub of a rural community. It became, not only a
supplier for travelers, but actually a
producer that produced the goods that people needed
as they moved back and forth. Four Mile House was a
crossroads for people who were trying to reach
Denver and the mines. It was really a little
mini-settlement outside of Denver, where all of
the goods from the farms and all of the
travelers came together. They were able to turn
a 160-acre piece of land into over 600-acre farm. Millie also ran small industry
businesses out of her home. She had a butter making
business on the side as well. So she was quite the
entrepreneur herself. She helped kickstart
what we know of as an “agricultural
grange” in this area. They were very instrumental in
starting schools in the area. But then, a couple
of things happened. The Butterfield Stage Company
eventually went bankrupt. Then, the railroad
arrived in Denver in 1870. And after that, no one
needed to travel to Denver through the old Cherokee
Trail right by Four Mile House anymore. They could just ride the train. That spells the end of the glory
days of the stagecoaching era. Stage stations like Four
Mile House begin to fade. But they don’t quite go away. Because even with the
arrival of railroads, branch stage lines
served the railroads. So places like Four
Mile House continued to have some importance
in the community. The owners of Four Mile
House made a very successful transition to a
broader contributor to the farming community. Four Mile House was at
the agricultural heart of that farming community
well into the 20th century. The family would live here
over three generations, all the way up to 1945. The heirs to the 600
acres eventually sold it and ended the Booth’s
connection with the property. So the Four Mile House,
by the late ’60s, looked like it was in shambles. It was just really
in bad condition when the city
purchased the property. The house was
literally boarded up. Everything had been painted
white, including the brick. The chimneys had been restored. And the city had put a
new roof on it in ’77. The grounds were barren. It had been a dump. The building itself was
pretty dismal looking. In 1975, Glendale was
going through a bit of a boom of its own. Post-war single-family
homes, the American dream was taking place all around
the Four Mile House property. And there were many apartments
being built around the Four Mile House site. There is an intense pressure
to find land by developers. And the rumor was the old Four
Mile House, with about 12 acres surrounding it, was going
to be scraped off and made into a condominium complex. The park people really
helped to save this place and start the
restoration process. Four Mile House is the oldest
standing structure in Denver. During the restoration
process, they did carbon dating with
the hand-hewn logs that are used in the ceiling
of the main floor. And that’s how they
were able to determine that the home was
constructed with wood from 1858, early 1859. An 1859 house, which
had an 1883 addition, and it’s now the 1970s. I’m visualizing, maybe
this was a 1950’s house that had shag carpeting. It had modern conveniences. Modern walls were taken
down to, sometimes, expose the old
original log walls. Glass and some of our
windows that we can tell is the historic glass. We have a lot of old
pictures of our volunteers and all the work they did
to take Four Mile House back to what it had been. The original log house,
as you see it today, is pretty much the
same as the Brantners built it, a two-story
log house, not a cabin. It had a earlier edition
and an outside staircase that led to the second floor. So that was removed to make
way for this 1883 edition. The original house was
probably exposed logs. Exposed logs was, kind
of, considered a crude and not a elevated look. And so very, very shortly
after the log house was built, it was clapboarded over to
disguise its humble beginnings. Our idea was to interpret
the years 1859 to ’83 and show that change
from being a wayside inn and a stagecoach
stop to being a diversified agricultural farm. So what you see here today–
in terms of the barns and the corrals and the
buildings and, somewhat, the way the site is
laid out and used– is similar to how it progressed
over that period of time. Four Mile House represents
our past, the good and bad. For 21st century city
dwellers, what they find here is a green oasis. Life is a little slower here. [children chattering] Anybody want to try
some vegetable soup? Preserving a location like
this also gives people a sense of place
and a sense of time and how they fit into the
storyline of their own history. It’s really important
to preserve places like this in the fabric
of our urban setting. This is surrounded on all
sides by a modern city. But in here, there’s sort
of a bubble in the past. And it lets us be
reflective of who we are and who we want to be. Hi, folks! How are you today? We have many different
types of visitors. Hi, everybody. School groups that
can come year round– they engage in what the
experience moving out West was, packing up your home,
what you would have left, what you would have
taken, the journey West. Then, we go through and
talk about settlement in the area, how you
would have homesteaded. There weren’t
established neighborhoods like we see today. They would have
had the animals– [chickens clucking] –chickens, goats,
dairy cattle– and a barn for the horses. We also have an old
trapper’s cabin here. And we have a root cellar. What we envision for Four Mile
Historic Park moving forward is becoming a more
engaging historic landmark. We’ll continue to have
artifacts on display and historic demonstrations. We also want the visitor
to be able to take part in that process and really
kind of get their hands dirty and really experience
what life would have been like. We want this site
to continue to be recognized as a significant
historical place in Denver’s history. As much as anything else,
the Four Mile House today is about the essential
nature of farming. We’re so disconnected from
the source of our food. Four Mile House is a place where
you can come and reestablish those connections. By running a small model
farm here on the site, children learn the
sources of their food. And they learn a little
more about the cycle of food production. This is a place
where you can come and you can really learn
about your connection to agriculture and to the land. We are the gatekeepers. We are the ones who have
to keep this, use it carefully, and then pass it on. You had your history
book in front of you when you were in grade school. But how about you get to
go see Four Mile House and really visualize
what it was like. The Brantners, and Mary
Cawker and her children, and the Booth family were really
great stewards of this property and of this home itself. And Four Mile Historic Park,
as an organization now, wants to continue to be
a similar good steward to the area and
to the community. And we want to leave this
place better than we found it. The legacy is that
they lived here, I think more so than
what they accomplished. The Brantners being true
pioneers; and Mary Cawker, the serial female entrepreneur;
and the Booth family, an agricultural family,
smart sophisticated– they represent the story
of most of the people who came to Colorado. And as Colorado becomes
a more transient state, this gives us a notion
that we’ve always been a state of
immigrants, people seeking new
opportunities, looking for the next big
chance, and needing the help and the support that
a place like Four Mile House provided for its
travelers 150 years ago. [music playing] [flag fluttering]

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  1. Lol the used carbon dating to determine the house was built either 1858 or 1859? I haven't looked into the science of carbon dating recently but I don't think you can date things to an accuracy of 2 years.

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