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Denver City K.T.

Updated: Aug 1, 2019

The following is the exact text from 'Frank Leslie's Illustrated Paper' August 20th 1859 from an article titled 'Sketches At Pike's Peak'. After the article two of the sketches that accompanied the original article are examined. They both provide unique insight into the environment at the inception of Denver City. A PDF copy of the original article is available for download in the website library.

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Paper

Scenes and Sketches About Pike’s Peak-From Photographs From Our Own Correspondent.

Denver History

Sketches At Pike’s Peak

The stirring scenes and events connected with the war in Europe, now happily brought to a close, have interrupted us in our design of publishing a series of engravings of scenes in relation to Pikes Peak, but now that the pressure of War matter is removed, we hasten to make room in our columns.

Our first illustration represents a party of miners starting on a “prospecting” tour, which is an excursion for the purpose of trying all the likely places for gold, and ascertaining where is the best yield.

Cherry Creek

The mode of testing the soil is as follows. We should, however, premise that the “Pay Dirt” is a gold bearing Earth which is found in strata, at depths varying from 2 to 6 feet.

The “pay-dirt” is shoveled into a pan or wheelbarrow and taken to the nearest water, where it is placed in pans, cradles, or long toms. The rocker or cradle, in shape and size, resembles a child cradle; about six inches from the top is a drawer, the bottom of which is made with tin or iron, perforated with holes like the cullender (sic); into this drawer the earth is thrown, water being plentifully applied to it so as to loosen the substance. By rocking the cradle, the earth becomes thin, and sinks through on to a tray below, placed in a slanting direction, with a ledge at the end; and by constant rocking, the particles of earth are held in solution by the water, and washed out into the river, while the mineral, from its superior gravity, sinks onto the tray, where the ledge arrests it. The upper drawer containing the large stones and fragments of rock being removed, the under tray is then taken out, and the results of the washing are seen near to the ledge, where minute particles of gold dust, grit, and some grains of black sand are usually observable. The gold and refuse mixed with it, are then put into a baking tin and rewashed carefully, the black sand being usually abstracted with a magnet, or blown off sheets of paper by the breath; however, some who work on a larger scale, use a more economical but expensive apparatus of quicksilver, which, by the force of attraction, separates the refuse particles without the slightest loss of the precious metal. The working of a cradle requires from three to five persons, according to the character of the diggings. If the “pay-dirt” is rich and easily obtained, three to five are sufficient. Twenty-five buckets of dirt are generally washed through, and then the sediment “poured out,” or washed in the same way as when prospecting. This generally requires about ten minutes time of one person; in the meantime the others rest themselves, anxiously watching the ridge of gold as it rolls up with the black sand at the bottom of the pan. After the results has been investigated and commented upon, another cradle full is washed, and so on the day through.

Gold Rocker
Diagram was not included with the article, added by Wewatta for a better idea of the process.

The largest amount of gold appears to lie in the district around Cherry Creek, which is situated in Arapahoe County, Kansas, about forty miles south of the Nebraska line. Officers for the county are there, and are established at the mouth of Cherry Creek, at Denver City.

Of this city we give several illustrations, taken from the most commanding points. An express line called the Leavenworth and Pikes Peak has been established here, whose office, with the usual crowd of idlers congregated around it, forms the subject of one of our illustrations.

Of course the gold Discovery and consequent rush of excited treasure-seekers have caused the appearance of several cities, and of these Auraria seems to be the leading one. It is the county seat of Arapahoe County, and the crossing of the most important roads leading from the States, from Fort Union, Laramie, Salt Lake, Ridgely, Taos, and Santa Fe.

Denver History

Auraria is possessed of a news-office, not a very imposing building certainly, but still a news-office, and any little faults which the structure itself may have is simply made up for by the name which it bears.

The great Horace Greeley, who has been to Pike’s Peak for the purpose of ascertaining whether the gold excitement is or is not a humbug, met with some comical adventures. The following extract from one of his letters will show how he fared:

“When we reached Clear Creek on our way up three mornings since, though the current rushing from the mountains looked somewhat formidable, I charged it like a Zouave, and was greeted with three ringing abouts from the assembled Pike’s Peakers, as I came up, gay and dripping, on the north shore. But now, though the water was but a few inches lighter, the starch was so completely taken out of me by those three days rough experience in the mountains, that I had neither strength nor heart for the passage. I felt that the least stumble of my mule over the round slippery stones that fill the channel would fling me, and that I was unable to stand a moment in that rushing torrent. So, driving in my mule after the rest of the party, and seeing her reach the south bank safely though with great difficulty- breaking a girth and spilling saddle, blanket, &c., into the water-I betook myself to a spot, half a mile up stream, where the creek is split by islets into three channels, and where a rude footbridge of logs affords a dryshod passage.

Although it has been alleged in many papers that the miners humbugged Greely pretty extensively by “salting” their holes, as the practice of throwing gold dust into the soil so as to make it appear rich is termed, and in many other ways, yet there seems to have been great interest taken in the great editor. On one occasion Mr. Greeley was requested to treat the mining population of the Valley of Ralston Creek, a tributary of the South Platte, to an extempore address. He consented; and, soon after sunset, some twenty-five hundred individuals are gathered around a veritable pine stump, from which Horace commenced holding forth. He first described the impressions he had received from his visit to the mining valley, and, at the same time, advanced a theory of his own as to the original formation of the quartz beds-of the richness of which he expressed himself to be fully convinced. He then proceeded to mount his usual cold-water hobby, which he rode, with evident gratification to himself and good many of the audience, for a considerable time. The gambling fraternity also received some scorching at his hands. He concluded by giving a description of the present condition of the political world of America and Europe, and exhorted his bearers to temperance, industry, and perseverance.

Rocky Mountain News

The country all along the road to the mines is very diversified. The trail in some parts runs through a beautiful country, with wood, grass and water in abundance; in other parts it is a sterile desert with camping grounds many miles apart, and where, in order to sustain life, water and forage must be carried in the wagons.

This traveling with a party, and with wagons and other conveniences, is the only way to get to the mines with any degree of safety. It is true that many, with no other vehicle than a handcart or wheelbarrow, and even some without these, have reached the mines, but it is only after enduring many privations, and in some cases with the loss of several of the party.

With wagons, however, the journey may be performed very pleasantly; the wild, exciting kind of life, exhilarating air, the grandeur and beauty of the scenery through which the road passes, all tend to make the trip enjoyable, and make the traveler, even though his expectations of gold finding may be disappointed, look back with pleasure to his journey through the vast wilderness of the Western prairies.

We have engraved a drawing of the camping ground at Auraria, of a party who came provided with conveniences, and from the appearance of the men our readers will no doubt endorse what we have said above.

Cherry Creek

We do not wish to give such a color to the mines and the journey hither as will induce men to go there, without they have well considered their capability for gold mining and the chances of success, and above all, without taking with them a sufficiently large outfit both of provision and tools.

Many persons who have gone to the mines without provisions or money are compelled to work as common laborers, at from one dollar to three dollars per day and board, until they can procure means of sustenance for the time necessary to prospecting, building sluices, &c. Others, not finding gold the third day, or disliking the work necessary to obtaining it, leave the mines in disgust after a very short trial, declaring there is no gold be found in paying quantities.

Denver History Cherry Creek

In conclusion, we should wish to dissuade those engaged in a business which affords them a means of living from going to the mines. All the diggings are crowded and more are arriving every day, and as all the provisions consumed there must be carried many hundred miles through an almost unknown country, prices must necessarily be high.

In addition to this, in a short time, probably by the middle of October-this whole region will be snowed under and frozen up, so as to put a stop to the working of sluices if not to mining altogether. There, then, for a period of at least six months, will be neither employment, food nor shelter within five hundred miles, and for those who are without provisions or money, there is literally nothing left but starvation.

End Of Article

Two sketches that were mysteriously not discussed in the article but accompany it are ‘View At Pike’s Peak’ and ‘Denver City, K.T.’.

In the Pike’s Peak picture a group of pioneers is seen approaching a small settlement. The placing of the cabins in the settlement seems to be random but the obvious fixture is the tall limbless tree in the center of the picture. Research has proven fruitful, and findings will be discussed in the upcoming exhibit,'Town Rows', but with the trees’ odd look among the rest of the landscape and stretching so high, it would be hard to imagine that it wasn’t a landmark of some sort. Indeed, it has been found that it marks a trading post/market square/rendezvous.

Denver History

The last sketch is Denver City K.T., and I have found this picture to hold the most information within its detailed lines. The scene depicts a row of cabins along the left and other orderly groupings of cabins in the distance. In the foreground there is a group of people that seem to be engaged in discussion.

Denver History

Up close more details can be made out; four of the five are in very different attire, and all five are holding something unique in each of their hand or hands.

Denver History

From right to left and in brief:

William Larimer Jr.

Land Speculator William Larimer Jr. and son Will are seen holding a shovel and dog leash respectively. Larimer had a penchant for casually being called “general Larimer”, and after finding success in the Pittsburgh railroad industry he became a land speculator. Before coming to Denver he had founded a homestead and was living with his family in Leavenworth Kansas from which his party had departed.

William McGaa

William McGaa of the Waiwopta/为挖达 is Denver’s mysterious pioneer and shown holding onto a firearm. He is credited with helping to found Auraria and Denver City as well as originally being part of the St Charles town company. Most of his history comes from town rumor but his responsibility in the naming of the original streets has never been in question.

Little Raven

Chief Little Raven of one of the Southern Hinonoeiteen (Arapaho) bands is pictured holding a staff. Little Ravens’ band camped at the mouth of the confluence of the Cherry creek in the winters. Reportedly, he arrived in the winter of 1858 to find strange groups of settlers camped here and while worried by their presence, he welcomed them.


Liaison officer Straw Sandal of the 挖溪 (Wazee) is the only one of the group in a sitting position; he holds a small curved blade in his left hand that he is stretching to the ground beside him. The Liaison officer was an important diplomatic position in Chinese groups. Every group, regardless of political, financial, or legal ideologies, had one.

Denver History

All of these people gathered together is not only indicative of discussion but their standing in their respective groups illustrates the importance of the discussion. Also, with the Straw Sandal being placed in the group that Larimer met here, it stands to reason that this is supposed to indicate his group was here before the Larimer party was; next to Little Raven suggests preexisting agreements between the two. With McGaa between them and Larimer, his position would appear to be translator and mediator, with his back to them; on behalf of them.

As for the straw Sandal himself, that curved blade is enough to determine identity. From Gerald Rudolph’s ‘Chinese in Colorado’ page 35:

“The Chinese used no machinery and very little equipment in their placer mining operations. The main implements were picks, shovels, buckets, and ropes. Some of the methods and equipment they used were different from those utilized by other minors. Both long and short headed pics were used. The long ones had an extended crescent-shaped head, but a short handle. these unique pics are not known to have been used by other miners.”

On page 36 he states that the distinctive picks were made to order in Morgan’s Black smith shop in Central city, and among the notes on the bottom of the page:

“…Quaint Chinese with their short handled, half-moon picks.”

But his covered face, baggy clothing, the conical hat and whatever the object that is dangling from around his neck are all positive identifiers of his identity as well. From Kil Young Zo’s ‘Chinese Immigration into the United States’ page 109:

“Most of them wore navy blue cotton clothes and broad rimmed bamboo hats. All of them had queues which some displayed over their shoulders at full-length, while others covered their queues by rolling them over their heads into their hats”

And Patricia Ourada from the ‘Colorado Magazine’ 1952:

“The Chinese usually wore wide cotton pantaloons of a blackish color barely reaching to his ankles. His equally wide and shapeless blouse of the same material fell to his knees and and fitted up to his neck”

Apart from the color difference (they wore both blue and black) of the clothes, these descriptions highlight the identifying traits on our Straw Sandal. They are hard to discern at a far and quick glance, and making them easier to miss, these identifiers seem to have been altered at some point before the printing process. The changes were minute but largely effective if the purpose was to obscure identification; the curved blade was darkened in, the hat has been added to, there is hair covering his face plus a bushy eyebrow obscuring the eye, and his queue is tangled into that scribbled design around his neck. Unfortunately, without access to the physical paper, and without an original template, restoration is

… totally possible in a digital world.

Denver Chinese

It should be no surprise to find him here at this time either. When looking at the census numbers of 1860 as well as California population numbers of arrivals and departures throughout the 1850's, it is found that at a conservative estimate, three to five thousand are unaccounted for in California by the end of the decade. Striking out in parties of as big as hundred and as little as ten, numerous groups would have left the legally hostile environment of California in search of another Gold Mountain. They would have headed north towards present day Seattle, North East towards present day Idaho and Montana, and east, through the Rockies, to present day Wyoming and Colorado. Along this last route is Nevada, where Rose Hum Lee, in her ‘Growth and Decline of Chinese Communities in the Rocky Mountains’ (page 67) places a group of Asians in 1858. And what are they doing there?

“Constructing a ditch to conduct water from Carson River to the mouth of the Gold Canon Mines”;

to put it quite literally, they were digging a creek.

Wazee Street Denver
For those of you who have not yet read The Azure Dragon: Study of a Chinatown Joss House in Denver; Wa (挖)=dig/dug and Xi (溪 pronounced ʒē or zhē)=creek

Something that must be remembered is that at the beginning of the article it clearly states:

“Scenes and Sketches About Pike’s Peak-From Photographs From Our Own Correspondent.”

This means that at some time, somewhere, possibly today, there exists in a private collection, a photo set that includes pictures of the inception of Denver City with multiple rows/groupings of cabins (only one is mentioned in the given account), of Larimer and Little Raven (others exist), one of William McGaa (previously “not known” to exist), and at least one of the first Asians in Colorado (twelve years before they are first mentioned in known records).

Also, it makes these particular sketches more than just sketches. They are not quite photographs, but they are far from simple doodles drawn from the imagination of long past events. As far as contemporary corroboration is concerned, they are G.E.P.’s- Good Enough Photographs. More importantly, they are works of art, copied records of our American history, historical testament to the journeys and relationships of the groups they capture. The original photos are still very important of course, there had to be more to the set and there is a good possibility that the grouping was created by tracing from several individual pictures of the subjects to recreate an account witnessed by the correspondent. If so, what else can be seen in the individual pictures? And what of pictures that weren’t selected to be sketched for the Article? What other scenes of early Denver were captured? Although highly unlikely, I will not lose hope that one day they may resurface.

Coming to the Denver City Wing in 2019: ‘Town Rows: Building Blocks of the Queen City’

The tool that the Straw Sandal is holding will be extensively discussed in ‘Turnips and Gold: The Story of Wewatta’, the first exhibit in Wewatta Row.

The method I used to restore the sketch to its present iteration will be discussed in forensic detail in ‘Three Works of Pike’s Peak: Manipulation of the Historical Narrative Through Colorado Art'. The restoration is still in process and the completed version will show the entire sketch. The illustration process for Frank Leslies’ Illustrated Paper will be explained and two other works of art from Colorado History that illustrate a manipulative trend will be examined. It will be the first “exhibit” for the ‘All Around the Plains’ wing.



August 20, 1859. Sketches at Pike’s Peak, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Paper, pp. 182-186


Lee, Rose Hum. The Growth An Decline Of Chinese Communities In The Rocky Mountain Region, Arno Press, 1978, Print From 1947 Dissertation (Available in Website Library)

Zo, Kil Young. Chinese Immigration Into The United States 1850-1880, Arno Press, 1978, Print From 1971 Dissertation (Available in Website Library)

Ricky, Donald. Indians of Colorado, Somerset Publishers, 2008, Print

Chesneaux, Jean. Secret Societies In China In the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, The University of Michigan Press, 1971, Print

Smiley, Jarome. History of Denver With Outlines Of Earlier History of The Rocky Mountain Country, J.H. Williamson, 1901 (Available for free download In the Googleplay library. Searchable by keyword. Search “Chinese” to see what the French suggested about their presence)


Ourada, Patricia. The Chinese In Colorado, The Colorado Magazine,1952, p.275


Michaud, David. Gold Rocker Box, 911 Metallurgist, 2015, Webpage

Library Of Congress. Three Illustrations, 1859 Webpage

Digitized Photos

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. Pike's Peak, street in Denver City, K.T.,1859, DPL LINK

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. Denver City, K.T., 1859, DPL LINK

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