Echoes of Parker's Past - The Early Years: 1864-1910

Settlers faced perilous conditions

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The era spanning the town’s infancy was fraught with hardship and conflict, but also triumphs that laid the foundations for what was to come.

The 17-Mile House and 20-Mile House, both of which have been preserved for educational tours, served as resting spots for weary travelers and first put Pine Grove on the map. Westward travelers trickled in and established homesteads, some of which still stand today. They are crumbling reminders of a tougher time when people survived on backbreaking labor, ingenuity and cooperation among neighbors.

Stories persist of families using logs and winches to move their cabin as far as 10 miles, trappers using Native American hunting trails along Cherry Creek, and caravans traveling along the first stage route through the area.

Various industries came and went — ranching and farming were among the few to endure. Gold was discovered in the mid-1880s in Newlin Gulch, where Rueter-Hess Reservoir was recently built, but the rush didn’t last long. It was the presence of a rail line that sustained the town; the need for services led to the opening of a barbershop, school, hotel, church, creamery, saloon and general stores by 1900.

It was only the beginning.

 

Alfred Butters: The Man Who Started It All

The year 1864 proved to be a historic one in Colorado for good and bad reasons. It was the year Alfred Butters arrived in present-day Parker and established the Pine Grove Way Station, a stop for travelers coming in and out of Denver. Pine Grove was founded 12 years before Colorado became a state, and the lone building that supplied provisions and provided a place for travelers to leave messages operated just south of where Parker United Methodist Church stands today near South Parker Road and South Pine Drive, according to a history guide compiled by the Parker Area Historical Society.

Butters went on to serve in Colorado’s State Senate and House of Representatives. His home in the Capitol Hill neighborhood is listed in the National Register of Historic Landmarks.

Settlers explored the general area in the early part of the 19th century, including James Pursley in 1803, Baptiste LaLande in 1804, Stephen H. Long in 1820 and John Charles Fremont in 1843-44, the historical society says.

 

Native Americans, pioneers coexist

Peaceful interactions were common between settlers and Native Americans living in present-day Douglas and Elbert counties before the bloody clashes that put a stain on the history of that time period.

Elizabeth Tallman, the wife of one the area’s first residents, John Tallman, wrote many articles in her later years recalling her experiences with Native Americans, including tribes led by Chief Washington and Chief Colorow. She was often left alone while her husband tended to the cattle, and the Utes would travel along the Tallman Gulch corridor (it’s actually Sulphur Gulch, but a geological surveyor screwed up a few decades ago and mislabeled it, says Sandy Whelchel, whose ancestors moved to the area from Ohio in the 1880s) and pass the cabin, which still stands near Ave Maria Catholic Church, roughly a quarter-mile from its original spot.

One night, Tallman was closing the chicken coop for the night and walked through the door of her cabin to find several Native Americans sitting around her stove. They referred to her as a “heap Bueno squaw” and extended an invitation to her to attend a scalp dance that night, which she politely declined, Whelchel said.

“She could hear them all night down there dancing,” Whelchel said, adding most tribes were “not terribly aggressive” with settlers.

Another time, according to an article written by Tallman for The Colorado Magazine, Chief Washington wanted to barter for her son, who had red hair and was unique to them. He offered up to 20 Indian ponies, but Tallman continued to refuse.

“He just couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t sell the kid,” Whelchel says with a laugh.

Franklin Harn, who lived in Parker from 1933-39, recalled that his boss, a blacksmith who grew up near where Interstate 25 now meets Hampden Avenue, told him that Native Americans would peek inside the windows of his school as a boy. And when they were mourning the death of one of their own, he would “listen to the hooting and hollering all night,” Harn said.

A story that has lived on through local history is one in which a Native American entered a one-room schoolhouse full of children, who fell silent.

“He picked up a book and was looking at it upside down,” Whelchel said. “None of the kids giggled. He was trying to fit in, showing them he could read, too.”

The class remained completely still and quiet and the man calmly left.

 

Conflicts arise between natives, settlers

There exists a headstone in the Parker Cemetery that reads: “Jonathan Tallman – Killed by Indians.” And a monument in Elbert County erected in 1939 by the Pioneer Women of Colorado pays tribute to the Hungate and Dietemann families, who were murdered by Native Americans.

According to historians, it was a combination of cultural misunderstanding, broken treaties and outright aggression that led to notorious massacres in Colorado in the 1860s. Some of the most hotly debated murders occurred in the backyards, literally, of some property owners in Douglas and Elbert counties.

Jeff Broome, a professor at Arapahoe Community College who has written extensively on those skirmishes, led a tour of the sites in August 2013, bringing along the ancestors of the area’s first settlers. They included Linda Vannostrand, the great-great granddaughter of Apollinaris Dietemann, who found his wife and son scalped and shot in present-day Elbert County in 1868.

“I’m hoping to learn everything I can, what really happened,” said Vannostrand, who explained that the story has been passed on through her family. “To have that in your own family is amazing.”

Dietemann remarried and Vannostrand descends from a child from that marriage.

Although the woman who owns the property on which the Hungate massacre occurred on June 11, 1864, no longer allows people on the site, Broome stood on a dirt road in western Elbert County and pointed to the spot in an undistinguishable field. What transpired depends on whom you ask — former Colorado State Historian David Halaas, Ph.D, says there is a wealth of disinformation out there — but there is little doubt that the Hungate massacre ratcheted up the tension and was a factor in Gov. John Evans’ decision to order Gen. John Chivington to assemble the 1st Colorado Volunteers, which later took part in the Sand Creek massacre.

It should be noted that John Tallman, the brother of Jonathan Tallman and husband of Elizabeth Tallman, served in that group.

“John was one of the first to reach the scene of the Hungate massacre in 1864, and witnessed its horrors,” according to the Parker Area Historical Society. “When news of it spread, it inflamed the hearts and minds of the people throughout the area.”

Newspaper accounts from the time say the bodies of the Hungates were displayed in downtown Denver. Broome believes that because rustling was common in those parts at the time, Hungate caught a Native American stealing a horse and shot him, causing the tribe to retaliate and burn the Hungate family from their home before scalping and killing Hungate, his wife and two daughters.

(As a side note, David Hungate, a member of the band Toto and bass player on the “Grease” soundtrack hit, “You’re the One that I Want,” descends from a relative of Nathan Hungate and has taken an interest in his family’s history, contacting Broome for more information).

Halaas, who has acted as a consultant for the Northern Cheyenne for two decades, said most stories are pure speculation and cast doubt on the suspected culprits, the Arapaho.

“We don’t really know what set this off and we don’t know who did it,” Halaas said, adding that a series of treaties were violated by the settlers.

Halaas says he is glad the woman who owns the Hungate site shut it down because “amateurs” were allowed to remove artifacts and were “ruining things.”

Meanwhile, Broome continues to dig into records, including American Indian Annuity Rolls at the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C., and witness accounts taken at the time. His extensive research has led him to the conclusions contained in his writing.

Sandy Whelchel calls Broome's theory “believable” because the Native Americans “didn’t have any concept of things belonging to people,” leading to conflicts.

“It was very strange for them,” she says. “If they saw it and liked it, they took it. Everything was free.”

The attacks left pioneers unnerved. One document uncovered by Whelchel says that classes were suspended at one local school because of fears for child safety, especially in the wake of retaliation for Sand Creek.

Harn recalls an infamous story from Parker’s past that he heard directly from a man he knew as Uncle Billy Newlin, who later owned the Tallman cabin. In 1870, John Tallman’s brother, Jonathan, was killed by Native Americans while he and a friend were riding between the ranch in present-day Canterberry Crossing and Kiowa. The story is also documented in the historical society’s guide.

“Jonathan Tallman was riding a mule he had just purchased and the friend was riding a horse,” the guide says. “When attacked by a roving band of Indians they made a run for it, but the mule was no match for the Indian ponies.”

 

The influence of the D&NO Railroad

It was James Sample Parker who led the charge that enabled the town to eventually flourish. To set things in motion, he sold rights-of-way for future roads, telephone lines and, ultimately, the Denver & New Orleans Railroad for rock-bottom prices.

Remnants of the railroad can still be seen by motorists traveling on Hilltop Road. A noticeable berm that runs along the east side of the road marks the alignment of the old tracks. Further south, on the border of Douglas and Elbert counties near Hilltop and Flintwood roads, is the last remaining building in a now-defunct railroad town call Hilltop. The Hilltop Social Club, a group of mostly women, still maintain the building and its history with donations, grants and help from volunteers.

Because Parker was at the bottom of the steepest grade on the line, it was home to a helper engine for southbound traffic.

The railroad had a profound impact on Parker’s growth. Section hands stayed with local residents, including Jean Martin, who remembers the men renting rooms on the second floor of her Victorian home in downtown Parker. The train also allowed access for visitors and the trading of goods between Parker and Denver.

“If the railroad hadn’t come in, Parker would have probably gone the way of every other little dinky town and not gone anywhere,” Whelchel says.

Various factors led to the demise of the rail line, including a nationwide panic over silver and subsequent economic plight. After the turn of the century, trains also were being “channeled from outlying points towards the transcontinental railroads,” the historical society’s website says.

The Parker depot was closed in 1931 and the tracks were removed in 1935.

 

James S. Parker: The man, the myth, the legend

It’s widely believed that the town was named for James Sample Parker, but that’s not entirely accurate. Parker attempted to establish an official post office in Pine Grove, but the request was denied because a town by that name already existed in Colorado. He then suggested calling the town Edithville, after his daughter, but that idea, too, was rebuffed. In 1882, the post office suggested calling it Parkers’, naming it for the two largest landholders, James and his brother, George. The “s” and apostrophe were later dropped.

James Parker, who died in 1910, served as the first postmaster, and when his daughter reached school age, he constructed the first schoolhouse across the road from the 20-Mile House. But it was George Parker who owned much of the land upon which the town was built, and he began parceling out his spread to families and businesses moving to the area.

 

Part 2

The Simple life: 1911-1994

In June 2014, former and longtime Parker residents alike gathered in Ruth Memorial Chapel in downtown Parker to share stories from the past.

Laughter filled the single room, echoing off the refinished hardwood floors. It was standing-room only as 10 people sat on stage and spoke about who lived where...

Read the rest of part 2 here

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