The Milner Family
from: PIECES OF THE PAST - The Story of Bobcat Ridge Natural Area, By Carol Tunner
Topography and Geology
The next valley east of Buckhorn Valley is Milner Glade or East Glade. It is traversed by the North Glade Road also known as County Road 25E. The east border of Milner Glade is the large Milner Mountain, all named after the Milner pioneer family who arrived in the late 1860s and had a large cattle ranch. Milner Pass in Rocky Mountain Park is also named for them. Redstone Creek flows southwesterly at the western base of Milner Mountain. Various small hogbacks east of Milner Mountain give way to Loveland and Fort Collins on the edge of the foothills.
The mountains of the eastern foothills are geologically very young, as shown by their sharp relief, cut by deep canyons and steep walled gorges (M. Yelm, Archaeological Survey of Rocky Mountain National Park—Eastern Foothill Districts:9), i.e. in the Big Thompson Canyon. “Milner Mountain was sort of a nonconforming upshoot of an intrusive formation…it was heaved up through the sandstone [sediments]…there were sediments both to the east and west of this sharply inclined mountain of schists and gneisses...and right on top was a bubbling spring of the coldest, sweetest water…which attracted animals.” (G. Spence, The Hunter:68). Green Ridge rock formations are mainly schists and granites but there is one special formation that is a sedimentary knob, that the locals call “Table Mountain.”
Geneology of Settlers
There were a number of key families who owned and occupied portions of Bobcat Ridge from pioneer times to when the City of Fort Collins purchased the property in 2003-2007. Pioneers from the 1860s included the Joseph Milner family and the Edward C. Smith family. The 1870s brought George W. Buffum. Hamilton Franklin Hyatt first appears in the mid 1880s. John Spence arrived in the early 1890s, and the John T. Kitchen and Lewis C. Roseberry families arrived in the early 1900s. The Pulliam family settled in Loveland in 1890.
The Milner Family
The Joseph Milner family figured prominently in the history of the area. Joseph and Ann Milner came from England with their children to Quebec, Canada, in 1830. They moved to Kingston, Ontario where their only daughter Sarah was born in 1843. Joseph was a successful construction contractor and the family lived a social and luxurious life. Always searching for opportunity, Joseph moved the family to Chicago and then Rockford, Illinois. Civil War construction materials shortages caused Joseph’s business to fail. (E. Smith, Pioneer Epic:9-16). Gold had been discovered in 1858 in the Rocky Mountains. In 1864, Joseph moved his family west by wagon train to Nevadaville above Central City. (E. Smith, Pioneer Epic:16-25). Shortly thereafter they moved to Burlington, Colorado (1864-c.1869). Then Joseph bought a ranch with some of his sons on Redstone Creek northeast of what is now Masonville. Milner Mountain and Milner (East) Glade are named for this family. (E. Smith, Pioneer Epic:45).
Daughter Sarah Milner (1843-1939) was one of the significant pioneer settlers in the Buckhorn Valley. She was reportedly a “slip of a thing” and sickly as a child; still she learned to hold her own with six brothers. An educated woman in the Wild West, she became the first school teacher in a public school in Larimer County. She taught in the Big Thompson school district. She married Edward C. Smith and produced two sons, Edward D. and Eugene, and a daughter, Alice. Later, she and her sons owned portions of property in West Glade.
Settlers’ Experiences with Native American Indians
Gold fever struck in the mountains west of present-day Denver in 1858. A rush of settlers and gold miners infiltrated the area. Many were disappointed but stayed to homestead and start a new life. Some of the early settlers near Masonville, like Milner and Spence, migrated to northern Colorado. The southern Arapaho were friendly and there are many incidences of visitation and trading recorded around Denver and Fort Collins in the 1860s. (W. Wood, Archaeology on the Great Plains:460-461). Indians soon saw their lands taken and their bison livelihood destroyed, and they attacked isolated settlers and wagon trains. The white man retaliated with revengeful incidents such as the Sand Creek Massacre. It was a dark period in our history.
In the book Pioneer Epic (taken from diaries by early settler Sarah Milner Smith and written by her son Eugene Smith), Sarah relates that on her 1866 journey west by wagon train from Rockford, Illinois to Colorado, there were several “fearful Indian sightings.” Before they reached Nebraska, “there were ugly rumors from returning teamsters of Indian depredations and killings. Small parties had been attacked along the road and murdered. Large bands of Indians were congregating in western Nebraska, apparently bent on mischief.” Sarah’s party waited in an army post in central Nebraska and again in Julesburg, Colorado, for more pioneer wagons to arrive, in order to form a larger wagon train which was less likely to be attacked. Sarah had been allowed to ride on a burro, a small Spanish donkey, alongside the wagon train. She relates her experiences:
“We soon began to see small bands of Indians at a distance, and Father demanded that I ride close to the wagons…then one day we encountered a band of several hundred savages all in war paint and with no women or children—a bad sign, so we were informed. The savages followed the wagon train too close for comfort, halting and dismounting from their ponies at noon and coming boldly into camp where they impudently put their hands into the men’s pockets in search of tobacco and pocket knives; or taking the bacon out of the frying pans to eat as soon as cooked. So the white men merely gritted their teeth and endured the indignity with the best grace they could. One day in particular, as we neared Julesburg, the savages seemed especially bold, riding closely along side of the train…that day an old chief persisted in riding close to us, also. I was staying as near my father as possible. Finally the chief rode so near me as almost to crowd my burro against the wheels. Then leaning over, he thrust a finger into one of the long curls which my mother still arranged my hair each morning, and lifting the curl on his dirty finger and breathing against my neck as he did so, called the attention of the nearest braves to it. I was terribly frightened, as was also my father, who leaped down and helped me up hastily to a seat beside him, an act that seemed to amuse the chief greatly. In my dreams I can still feel the Indian’s hot breath on my neck, and I wake with a shudder.” (E. Smith, Pioneer Epic:18-19).
Even with big wagon trains for protection, the white settlers feared that the Indians would swoop in at night and stampede their horses and oxen away from the small force watching them. This would leave the wagon train stranded and helpless. The travelers learned of a lone trader up ahead who had lived among the Indians for years, but was found dead and scalped, and his store looted. They travelled across the country in the midst of the Indian Wars, and after hearing many stories on the trail, they were constantly afraid of encountering Indians. But in spite of this, along with bad weather and rocky trails, Sarah’s family made it safely to the Central City area. Later, living in Buckhorn Valley, Sarah speaks of “constantly roving bands of Indians not always to be trusted when they saw they had the advantage of the whites.” (E. Smith, Pioneer Epic:39).
Within a short time, the Milner family moved to the Burlington settlement on St. Vrain creek (Big Thompson Valley) and Sarah provided this description of Indians in Colorado: “There was never any actual difficulty with the Indians by persons of our settlement, although further down the stream one of the Brush brothers was killed almost in sight of their ranch buildings by a wandering band; and up west at Namaqua a Mexican employed by Mariana Modena was slain while at work on a road a mile or so from the fort [Namaqua]. The bands of Arapaho Indians that continually roved the plains of what is now Larimer County, Colorado, for the most part were peaceable toward the whites; but, being savages with a grudge toward all white men for destroying the buffalo, couldn’t entirely be trusted when a clear advantage lay their way.”
Sarah spoke of a small island in the Big Thompson River that was covered with boxelder trees which had survived grass fires common in the area. “The island was a favorite camping ground for the roving bands as it afforded fuel for their fires. But they seldom remained there overnight as the Indians were extremely wary of cloudbursts on all western streams. The Utes from the Western Slope appeared to be our main danger. Even as late as 1880, the Utes were making annual forays every fall over onto the Eastern Slope to hunt and steal. In the early days both the whites and the Arapahos were made their victims. Once quite a battle was fought on the plains near the Poudre River between the Arapahos and the invaders of their hunting grounds. Several times on rumors that the Utes were coming, the settlers of the Big Thompson ‘forted up’ for a night, all gathering at a single home for protection in numbers… The Indian’s favorite hour for surprise attacks was three o’clock in the morning.” (E. Smith, Pioneer Epic:42-43).
Sarah’s father and brothers had a cattle ranch on Redstone Creek at the western base of Milner Mountain, located near Bobcat Ridge Natural Area. Sarah writes that in the late 1860s “the isolated ranch was somewhat exposed to attacks by the Utes who sometimes came down the Buckhorn Valley in the fall. While no encounters with the raiders are recorded in the Milner annals, my son, Eugene [Smith], many years later received a letter from David Hershman, then living in California, in which he recounts an experience with a band of Utes along Buckhorn Creek at the mouth of the Redstone. Camped for the night on Green Ridge west of the creek, he was awakened in the night by an Indian dog licking his face. Arising at dawn he harnessed his team and started hurriedly for home. In the timber along the creek he met a Ute, which he pretended not to see. The Indian was equally blind. Neither man knew how many friends the other might have nearby. Hence the feigned indifference of both parties for the moment of meeting. But on getting out of sight of the Ute, Hershman lost no time in putting distance between himself and a probable band of Utes foraging in enemy territory and therefore dangerous to a lone white man or Arapaho Indian. Evidently the Ute wasted no time after Hershman was out of sight in joining what proved to be a considerable band of his tribesmen and informing them of the fact of their being discovered. On reaching the settlement on the Big Thompson, Hershman quickly raised a posse and returned to the Buckhorn to find the Indians gone. However, the remains of several campfires and the remains of a settler’s cow butchered for meat marked the site of a considerable camp on the bluff now occupied by the Masonville store and post office. Following the well-marked trail of numerous ponies up the creek, the posse came onto another fresh campsite. Having thus learned that the Utes were apparently hurrying back towards their own country on the western slope, the posse gave up the chase and returned home.” (E. Smith, Pioneer Epic:46). The bluff she speaks of would be the hogback that Buffum Canyon slices through. Two Native American Indian burials were found in 1964 in this area. See the section on Indian Burials under Archaeological Resources, page 25.
Sarah Milner Smith relates that her husband Edward had joined Colonel Chivington’s Second Colorado cavalry troop to help protect women and children in the west from Indian depredation. He was “an unwilling spectator of the massacre of the Indian women and children at the terrible Sand Creek battle and he never fully recovered from the effects of it in his mind.” The shock resulted in his broken health and spiritual restlessness the rest of his short life. (E. Smith, Pioneer Epic:44-47). These incidents of avenge and revenge finally ceased, the Indian Wars were over, and the Indians were forced to settle on reservations. The Arapahos were settled in Wyoming and Oklahoma and the Mountain and Southern Utes were settled in southern Colorado.
Life in the Region - Cultural Make-Up of the Community
In June of 1887, Sarah A. Milner Smith bought forty acres on Buckhorn Creek south of what would later become Masonville (established in 1896). (Bureau Land Management, Government Land Office, Tract Book:56). It was known as Buckhorn Valley. Her father and brothers had previously settled further northeast in Redstone Valley where Redstone Creek flows west of Milner Mountain. Buckhorn and Redstone Creeks meet below Masonville and flow south. Settlers were drawn here because of available water. In her diaries, Sarah Milner Smith described the area in the late 1880s:
“The Buckhorn and Redstone valleys at that time were in an extremely backward condition, with only a few small ditches and little land under cultivation. The whole region had been used in the past mainly as cattle and sheep range by about a half dozen owners. The main population was a very backward class of people from still backward pioneer regions in the middle East and South. All of these people were making a very precarious living hauling out pole timber from a large area of fire-killed lodgepole pine timber, or freighting green lumber from the several sawmills then operating in the mountains to the west of Buckhorn Creek. The area of ‘pole timber’ on public lands was also some ten miles to the west of the creek and generally referred to as the ‘pole patch.’ No attempt was being made at the time to regulate timber cutting on public lands in the region, nor to collect payment for the timber harvested from them. There were no roads into the timbered country excepting such rude trails up the steep and rugged slopes as the timber cutters themselves were able to gouge out of the hillsides. Timber was very low in price. A large load requiring a camping trip of several days to obtain, brought only ten or fifteen dollars in the outside valleys. Wear and tear on wagons and harness was great, and ice and snow added greatly to teamsters’ difficulties. Rubber footwear was an almost unknown luxury, the teamsters resorted to such expedients as wiring feed sacks about their feet in snowy weather.
“The homes of the teamster population were either ‘dug-outs’—single-room cabins dug partly underground for warmth—or rough lumber structures of poor construction protected from wind and weather only by a single layer of tarred paper for roofing, and thin building paper for walls. The dug-outs usually had a fireplace at the back, but the frame structures often had only a kitchen range for cooking and heating purposes. The best of them usually had a ‘box-stove’ for heating with wood.” (E. Smith, Pioneer Epic:89-90).
Sarah Milner Smith kept her family going in the 1880s and 90s by selling milk in Boulder for the miners, but after the silver market crash, she shifted to selling to the quarrymen down south in the Buckhorn Creek valley around the quarries of Arkins Park. (E. Smith, Pioneer Epic:96-98). When the quarry business collapsed, she went into stock-raising and grain-growing. (E. Smith, Pioneer Epic:101). When Sarah’s son Edward grew up, he attended college taking mechanical engineering. He had a big barrel butter churn powered by a waterwheel. This wouldn’t work in the winter when the creek was frozen, so he “devised a treadmill to be powered by a good, heavy dog—he used his huge old Mastiff that loafed around the barnyard all day…So, once a week, this 125-pound dog would be boxed in on the treadmill and made to walk for an hour or so getting nowhere, but the butter would be churned. This lovable old dog resisted getting on the treadmill. He just didn’t like it. This big fellow that seemed too stupid or lazy to work cattle finally got his brain cells to working. He disappeared every churning day. Switching churning days apparently got the old fellow so confused he quit hiding out and earned his keep all winter long, until water was flowing in the canal again.” (G. Spence, The Hunter:5-6).
Cattle Ranching - Hardships
Sarah Milner Smith and her sons Edward and Eugene, cattle-ranched the Buckhorn Valley outside Buffum Canyon starting in the late 1880s. They purchased “several fresh cows and ranged them on the open range during the day.” Their experiences are typical of the Hyatts and Spences who also raised cattle in West Glade in the next century. Sarah describes her experiences:
“Open glades [West and East Glades] and unfenced ridges [hogbacks] were on either side of our forty. Like the timber, there was no restriction on the grass on public lands. But out on the range our cows were in competition with a large herd of sheep on the old Milner ranch on nearby Redstone Creek owned by Trowbridge and McWhorter, also with wandering bands of range cattle. Yet all through the fore part of the summer our cows came in with full udders, sometimes with such full paunches of the rich range grasses as to be unable to lie down without smothering until cuds had been chewed for a while to distribute the load to other stomachs.
“To prevent caked bags and loss of flow, or perhaps ruination of udders, it was imperative that the cows be hunted up, and brought in each night without fail, regardless of wind, weather or darkness. With miles of open range over which to wander, the cows often were miles from home by four o’clock when our cowboy, usually Eugene [Sarah’s son], started out to look for them. A large cowbell was strapped to the neck of one of them. Yet even with this aid it was often impossible to determine in which direction the cows had wandered after reaching the open glade in the morning out of sight and sound from the house. If a wrong guess were made at the start of the hunt it might be long after dark when boy and herd reached the milking corral. Then it was up to everyone to get busy at the milking…even the weary cowboy.
“Sometimes heavy thunderstorms or hailstorms were in progress or gathering when ‘cow time’ arrived in the afternoon. But there was no such thing as postponing the start after the cows, and I often worried considerably about my boy’s absence in the storm. Several times cloud bursts had filled the creek channel … with a raging torrent of water while the boy was gone, and the herd must be held on the further bank, sometimes for hours, until the flash flood had passed.”
But Sarah had to hide her fears and persevere “as pioneers everywhere have had to do.” (E. Smith, Pioneer Epic:91-92).
Rattlesnakes were feared. Their habitat is the rocky ledges of the hogbacks, including old quarries. They were found in West Glade, on the hogback, and in Buffum Canyon. Settlers destroyed rattlesnakes whenever they could. Sarah Milner Smith describes them: “Rattlesnakes were plentiful and constituted a real danger. Warned by their sharp buzzing, humans usually escaped, though not always. We had several very narrow escapes when the snakes struck without being heard. Several of our cows came home with heads badly swollen and eyes nearly closed. Their great bodies usually absorbed the poison before it proved fatal. But our little shepherd dog, Chris, [my son] Eugene’s almost constant companion, succumbed, leaving the three youngsters disconsolate. Eugene missed his help sadly when rounding up our twenty cows off the steep hillside. Probably the little dog would have survived the encounter with the snake had it not been that he was miles from water when bitten. For all domestic animals, both large and small, seem instinctively to seek for water holes, where they lie in the mud on the bottom, the water cooling their fever, and the mud seeming to draw the poison out.” (E. Smith, Pioneer Epic:93, 96).