The hardships undergone by the pioneers and the unfaltering courage with which they faced their trials, have been described to you, not as fully as they might be, for it is impossible to put down in black and white or to find words to express the reality of those early days, so we will let that subject drop and turn to another important and visible factor in the lives of the pioneers, not only in the early days, but now among the few remaining ones.
‘Tis a tie that binds them, not as the sworn ties of secret organizations, etc., but a tie of memory and sympathy for their comrades whom fate smiles unkindly upon, and a tie of rejoicing with the more fortunate ones. Circumstances never altered the tie of loyalty that so bound these sturdy and true companions who stood by each other in days of youth and strife up to the days of old age, and let us hope days of rest and comfort, that they so greatly deserve.
To make more clear the loyalty of the pioneers, the address of Hon. N. S. Hurd, who was the president of the Pioneer Society in 1907, and who underwent all the horrors of frontier life and came through them safe and sound, can tell in his own words to a clearer understanding than his already been described.
The following address was given at the expiration of his term as president of the Pioneer Society:
“In vacating the position that I have occupied for the last year as president of the Colorado Pioneer Society, I find that it is hard for me to find language to express to you the gratitude I feel towards you in conferring upon me the privilege of representing you. To be president of this society I consider one of the greatest honors that could be conferred upon any citizen of this state.
There is no gift I could have appreciated more and I wish I had it in my power to more fully express my gratitude, but I can only thank you, while I extend to you my kindest wishes.
We are all growing old together; the ambitions of our lives have been attained or we will have to lay them away among the broken hopes that were incident to the hardships and privations that we had to struggle through when we first came to this country. You remember when we crossed the Missouri river and were leaving civilization six hundred miles in our rear, and like Grant at Vicksburg, our cracker line was cut off and we had severed our connection with the outside world.
What we had to face, we did not know and we cared just a little bit less; we were ready for anything that might come up and we did not care how soon it came up or how long it was deferred; we were always there “with the goods.” With the motley throng that crossed the river with us were statesmen, scholars, poets and sages and others that walked in the more humble industries of life; brave men and women that were too brave ; in fact, all the cosmopolitan conditions of the whole world were scattered out on the broad American desert. Each one had his own hopes and mighty few fears; we were all upon a common level and we each of us had a ‘Howdy’ for every one we met upon the trail.
Those were good old days! Many hardships we had to encounter, but then we thought we knew all we had to do was to get on to the banks of Cherry Creek and from its glittering sands of gold take what we wanted, fill our buckskin sacks that we had provided before we left Omaha, and get back to our sweetheart girls early in the fall.
Well, there were very few of us that went back and I am not among the number.
In the meantime I found that I had crossed “Disable” Creek. I had lost my bag and I did not have the wherewithal to buy a postage stamp to write back to my sweetheart girl to tell her how things stood out in this country. And I want to say to you right now that I, like thousands of others, was up against the “real thing.”
By this time the grub we had brought from the states was all gone, and I only just have to call your attention to the fact that about that time we were long on appetites.
And here the struggle commenced. The gold sack we had brought from Omaha had long since been forgotten; Cherry Creek had proven an iridescent dream. Its golden sands were as mythical as the fountain of youth for which Ponce de Leon and his brave band prospected this country five hundred years before.
It would be beyond the screen of human vision â€” no language could convey to one that sees this country now, with all its marvelous beauty and grandeur, how forbidding and desolate it was when you and I first looked upon it, and its unproductive general appearance was just what its name implied, “the Great American Desert.”
But we were here and were too brave to go back.
There was just money enough made in big chunks by the lucky ones to make us believe that some day we might get through the cap-rock that we might be the fortunate ones; but as the days and years went by everything seemed to go from bad to worse and I do not believe I would quite like to tell the epicures of today just how many of us wintered the first few years we were in this country, but the longer we were here, the more faith we had in the final outcome.
But we were building better than we knew.
Each one of us took up some line of industry and the conditions of this country made them all new and untried. Mine was mining and milling, and when I started my mill on Spanish Bar, our amalgamating table was a wooden affair, about eighteen inches wide, with a quicksilver riffle at the lower edge; and if our ore had been fifty per cent gold we could not have saved ten per cent of its value.
And so it was with every industry that now marks the boundaries of this state, which probably has richer and more varied industries than any other country in the world.
As far as my researches have been able to determine, David Wall raised the first vegetables that were grown here. Judge Downing sowed the first seeds of alfalfa, which changed and revolutionized the agricultural condition throughout the whole state. The Marshall coal land was the first one opened for commercial purposes.
It is estimated that we have more coal in Colorado than they have in Pennsylvania. Last year we mined 11,000,000 tons. Pennsylvania mined 183,000,000. The vast increased condition of commercial enterprises will soon demand that we mine as much coal here as they do there, and when that time comes there will be something doing in the state that you have done so much for. W. H. James, of pleasant memory, and your humble servant set up and ran the first power drill ever operated in Colorado â€” a ponderous machine on a frame as big as one of the old horse cars that were once so familiar. It took ten men to move it up to the heading of the tunnel ; it took from half to three quarters of an hour to clamp it into place so that it could be operated; and with its immense drill on either side, it looked like one of Uncle Sam’s war vessels. Now two men take up a little power drill, pack it anywhere, set it up while you wait, and can do more work with it than we could with the old machine of ancient memory. An old pioneer negro from Joplin, Missouri, built the first smelter and produced the first bullion ever taken out in Colorado, and if he had lived until the present time he might have been at the head of the smelter trust and had great political honors conferred upon him.
It. would be interesting to take each one of the many industries that now make our state so great, from their first beginning, at the hands of the old boys, and follow them down through the many changes of their perfections of the present day.
But with all the great glory that has come to our state at your hands, what about the old pioneer? And now I am getting into deep water. The theme is too large; the responsibility in trying to do justice to them is too great for my ability.
I look over this little handful of old gray haired veterans before me here tonight, and memory is busy in its backward flight, and it conjures up the forms and faces of those who are not here companions of our lives who stood beside us when the storm of adversity gathered around and the future held out but little hope; then their smiles were the brightest and they cheered us on to better efforts and nobler deeds good wives, God bless them! But they sleep their last long sleep.
But we mourn for our dead, and, like Rachel, we fail to be comforted. But listen! We think we can almost hear the stroke of the silent oarsman as he comes across the dark river to gather in the remnant of our little band, and soon we will be on the other shore where the ‘Ho, Jo,’ of the miner may be sounded in a brighter and better land than this.
The full honor and glory of the pioneer will not come while you and I live, but with song and story, and with marble shafts, the memory of your lives will be perpetuated by coming generations. The brightest pages of history will be those that contain the names and deeds of those who carved an empire out of this forbidden land.
We drop a silent tear; we hear the dull thud of the earth as it falls upon the grave of one of our number; we have performed the last duty to one that has been with us so long.
Another pioneer is gone. And right here let me say that the first pioneer that was buried by our society was a man whose financial condition when I first knew him, was as sound as that of any man in the state.
Thousands of cattle and wagons between here and the river were his, the fortunes of war and the vicissitudes of life turned hard against him and our good old friend, Judge Steck, assisted him through bankruptcy, where the liabilities were $862,000, and when he was buried by our society, he did not have a single cent. Let us stay close together, my boys, for we cannot tell what the whirligig of time may do to us.
His or her place can never be filled. Pioneers cannot be made and someone in the days that are not far distant will be the last of the Mohicans. And while we pay tribute to the dead, our first duty is to the living. It has been our hope in days that have passed that some of our big hearted, wealthy members would donate to our society a suitable home where our declining years could be passed, surrounded by the comforts that old age requires. This may never be, but I think I know the feeling of the people of Denver and Colorado well enough to know that no pioneer shall ever want for the necessities of life, and let this be our duty to one another.
While I am no longer your president, I am still a pioneer, and any time I can be of sen ice to the ‘old boys’ individually or collectively, I will be ready to do what I can. Our strenuous work is over and what we want now is social enjoyment and all the comforts that there is in life. My hope is that this may be yours. And may peace be with you.”
Source: True History of some of the Pioneers of Colorado, by Miss Luella Shaw, Press of Carson Harper Co, Denver, Colorado, 1909