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A Letter from Uncle Sam Hawken.


September 1859

From The Missouri Democrat, Monday, September 12, 1859.



DENVER CITY, K.T., Aug. 29, 1859

Editors of the Missouri Democrat:

Well, here I am, in the new El Dorado of the far distant West, in the thriving city of Denver, which is situated at the mouth of the famous Cherry Creek; and as it is now customary almost with every one to write home something for the newspapers, giving their opinions and ideas of this country, &c., I think that I am entitled to say something myself in regard to this country, for I am one amongst the oldest men that crossed the Plains for the ever memorable Peak this spring, footing as I did nearly all the way with my rifle on my shoulder, a good part of the time, which is a distance, I think, of near 800 miles.

After a residence of thirty-seven years in St. Louis amongst you, I think I have some little claims upon the St. Louis press, and believing so, I shall ask your indulgence to give my letter publication in your journal. I will now give you a hasty sketch of my trip across the Plains, and then give you my opinion of the “gold mines.”

I left St. Louis on the 20th of April, in company with seven young gentlemen of St. Louis, on board the “good steamer” A. B. Chambers, crowded with “Pikes Peak” adventurers, and arrived in Kansas City, our starting point, in due time, with safety. We then went out a distance of six miles to Mr. Wm. Bents’ farm, and there camped for one week waiting for the grass to to recruit our cattle; and on the 2d day of May pulled up stakes and launched out upon the “beautiful green prairie,” bound for the Peak, and “no back out,” all of us being in excellent health and good spirits. For the former we were under obligations to Divine Providence, and for the latter for our own “buoyant hopes and courage.” Nothing scarcely worthy of note took place until we arrived at the “Cottonwood,” more than getting our wagon stuck fast in a mud hole once in a while; but through the kindness of some of the passing Pike’s Peakers, who would take some of their cattle, and hitch them on before our six yoke, with whooping and hallooing, we always made her come. At the Cottonwood we got into the buffalo country, and first met the disappointed and “home sick” Pike Peakers, with long faces, all telling the same yarn of Pike’s Peak as a humbug, when not one in a hundred had ever got half way, and those few who had got to Cherry Creek, at Denver City, not finding the sand in that stream (of which there is plenty) pure gold dust, turned right around in one hour after their arrival, “homeward bound,” crying “humbug,” not having been up in the mountains, or panned out one panfull of dirt. During our trip across the Plains, I saw no suffering whatever on our route, (the Arkansas) al had plenty of food, and those going back had plenty to sell. We saw but few Indians, and they were quite harmless. We saw thousands of buffalo. In one herd there must have been over ten thousand, I think. One party killed number of them, and for some time we had plenty of buffalo meat. Of all those we met, I saw really but one happy man, and he was the happiest man that I have seen since I left St. Louis. He was riding on his horse, laughing and highly pleased, with his violin in hand, playing the “Arkansas Traveler,” and on inquiry, he said he was “going home to see Katy and the baby.” We arrived in Denver City on the 30th of June, having been fifty-seven days in performing the trip, but we lost much time owing to the heavy rains, &c. Otherwise, we would have made the trip in a little over forty days. After arriving in Denver City, we camped on the Platte for a day or two, and then we started to the mines for the famous “Gregory diggings,” on on the 4th of July your humble servant was crossing the Rocky Mountains on foot; and here let me say that thirty-seven years ago, on the 5th day of June, I arrived in St. Louis, then the far “distant West,” being one of its early pioneers, and now again here I am in the still farther distant West, one of the pioneers of the Rocky Mountains of “Pike’s Peak celebrity.” Our party were all pretty well fatigued at night, I assure you, for climbing over these steep, rugged mountains is no “school boy’s play.” On the evening of the 4th of July we camped in “Echo Valley,” and here we saw quite a display of celebrating the 4th by a party who had camped near us, who formed themselves into a line and marched up to our camp. Two of them had an ox yoke on their necks, while another had a “tar bucket” for a hat, with fife and tin pans, for music “had its charms.” We gave them three hearty cheers for the 4th, and they passed on, highly pleased, to another group.

The next day we arrived in the famous Gregory and Russell’s diggings, and here everything presented activity and business. Here, for the first time in my life, I saw the miners at work washing out the “precious stuff,” and then I was fully convinced that “Pike’s Peak was no humbug, notwithstanding the hue and cry that was raised to the contrary. Our party remained in the mines for about one week. We then returned to Denver City, and disbanded, and shared our effects, as it was a “joint stock company.” Since that, some have gone to the mines, while others are engaged at the other occupations, and here I am once more at my old trade, putting guns and pistols in order “how to shoot.”

Now, in regard to the mines. That there is gold in large quantities in these mountains, I think no one will any longer doubt, for I believe there are millions of gold in the Gregory mountain alone. When they get out the necessary machinery to crush the quartz, of which there is now a good deal taken out, it will then begin to tell. At present, there is not a quartz mill in the country. Miners who have had good claims have made from ten to twenty dollars a day and upwards, while hundreds again have not made one dime. In my opinion, where one succeeds and makes a fortune, hundreds will not make anything. I would not advise any one who is making money at home, to leave it to come here to do better. But to those who are doing nothing, and who are fond of a “romantic life” and “hard work,” I would say come, and you may make a fortune, if you persevere.

This city is improving very rapidly. New houses are going up every day, and more would be going up was it not owing to the scarcity of lumber, which sells readily at $75 per 1000 feet. It has about three hundred houses; last January, I am told, there was ten houses here. Auraria, situated across Cherry Creek, is also improving rapidly. The want of a banking house here is severely felt, as coin is scarce, and there is no place where miners can sell their dust. If there was a banking house here gold dust would then go into the States in much larger quantities by express than it does now. The climate here is delightful, and my health and appetite never were better. The nights have been so cool and pleasant this summer, that I have slept with comfort under one or two pairs of heavy blankets. I am now living in company with Mr. Wm. Graham, well known in St. Louis as a druggist, who was one of the young gentlemen who accompanied me out here. We keep “bach together,” and live in a log cabin, one of the first that was built here. I will now close, for my letter is already too long. I have now given you all the news of my trip and the mines, worthy of interest at present, but will promise you more at some future time.

P. S. I forget to mention to you what a sumptuous dinner we had, which consisted of hard biscuit and fat bacon, with a glass of “Adam’s Ale,” which flows out fo the mountain as clear as crystal.

I remain your old friend,