Teddy and Trains

Do you know who we have to thank for the park at the Royal Gorge? I’ll give you a hint, he has a children’s toy named after him! That’s right, it’s Theodore Roosevelt! Today is his birthday so it seemed appropriate to talk about him and his connection with Cañon City and Fremont County.

In 1906, an act of congress, signed by Theodore Roosevelt granted the land surrounding the Royal Gorge to the city of Cañon City as a park for the use and benefit to the public. Prior to this, he had visited the area a few times as both a hunter and a political figure.

In 1900, Roosevelt rolled through the area in a train while a candidate for Vice President on the Republican ticket with William McKinley.  During this whistle stop tour, Roosevelt stopped in Cañon City and gave a short speech before moving on.

Roosevelt came back through Colorado as the President of the United States in 1905 after a hunting trip and stopped at various cities on his way back to Denver. Both Florence and Cañon City were on the ticket on Monday, May 8th. In Florence, the Mayor issued a proclamation requesting all business be suspended during the noon hour. The train was expected to depart Cañon City at 12:19 pm and depart Florence at 12:38 pm. To truly put this in perspective, the train was expected to arrive in Florence at 12:35 meaning it was only in the city for a total of three minutes before departing! Of course all the best laid plans go awry. According to the article written later that week, the train didn’t arrive in Cañon City until 12:20 pm even though it was expected at 12:05 pm. According to the news write up, about 4500 people gathered to hear the President speak, with even greater enthusiasm shown than when he had come 5 years earlier as a candidate for vice president. During this trip he also passed through the Royal Gorge and paused to take a photo at the Hanging Bridge.

Another known naturalist, conservationist, and hunter in the area is, of course, Dall DeWeese. We like to claim Theodore Roosevelt was one of the many visitors to DeWeese’s lodge in Lincoln Park. It seems logical to think DeWeese could have been part of a hunting trip with Roosevelt in Colorado at some point but his name was never mentioned in any reports of these trips so we have no proof of a friendship existing. While we know DeWeese wrote to Roosevelt pleading for wildlife preservation in Alaska we have no evidence that Roosevelt ever stayed in DeWeese’s lodge. But it’s practically a national pastime to claim a president, really any president, has slept either here or there. So the legend persists!


President Theodore Roosevelt, Cañon City 1905 Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center

The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.


The Lady and the Library

In 1901, the average number of books checked out at the library was 1,548 per month. Compare that to now with a total of 12,549 items checked out from the public library in September of this year! The library holds an important place in the community and we have the Cañon City Ladies Library Association to thank for the beautiful building we have today. There’s one woman in particular who should be thanked, since it was largely through her efforts that Andrew Carnegie granted money for a public library to be built. Emma Webster served as the first librarian at the new Carnegie building. Not only that, she was also in charge of providing janitorial services for a grand salary of $14 per month!

Emma was a pioneer, having moved to Cañon City with her parents in 1871. In 1882 she married Henry Clay Webster, who had moved to Colorado for his health. They were married in the Presbyterian Church which once stood on the plot of land where the Carnegie Library was later built. Emma was part of many associations including the Friends in Council of which she was a charter member. And then of course she was a member of the Cañon City Ladies Library Association!

The first meeting was held in 1886 with a total of 25 ladies who called the group the “Ladies Round Table.” The very next meeting they changed the name to the Cañon City Ladies Library Association and a book social was held to collect books. Somewhere during this time, Emma supposedly marched through town pushing a buggy full of books to show the need for a library. Originally called the Reading Room, the library’s first location was on Main Street in a rented room. The first city to receive money for a library from the Carnegie Foundation Grant was Grand Junction in 1899. It is possible Emma Webster actually traveled there, paying her own way to find out how they received that money. The ladies wrote a letter requesting the grant and in 1901, a grant of $10,000 was given provided a suitable location could be found. The old Presbyterian Church was to be vacated soon so the ladies decided on the land on Macon Avenue. An additional $3,000 was granted in addition to the original $10,000 once it was realized the cost was slightly higher than originally thought.

The library was completed in 1902. As the librarian chosen in 1900, Emma was in charge of this move; not an easy task! But from all accounts, Emma was a cheerful person who energetically threw herself into making the new library a wonderful place to visit. So thank you Emma Webster for all your work in helping Cañon City receive and enjoy a public library! Happy Birthday!


“Life is like a rug, wherein are woven the dull threads as well as those that shimmer and glow. My rug is almost completed and as I look it over I think the bright threads predominate. But there are enough of the darker threads to give the pattern a rich mellow glow. I meant to weave it well. I hope I have succeeded.” –Emma Webster

The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.

Italians in Fremont County

Join us for a free program presented by Sons of Italy here at the museum at 612 Royal Gorge Blvd. this Saturday, October 14 at 2 pm!

Sons of Italy Poster

Sons of Italy in America is a non-profit organization established in 1905 to support Italian immigrants and now supports many national charitable groups.

The Royal Gorge Lodge was formed in Fremont County in 2010 and hosts several fundraising events throughout the year to present scholarships to students in Fremont County of Italian decent.

Please join us to learn more about Italian history in Fremont County and the contributions Italian families have made in the area.

The Colfax Colony

October 6 is German-American Day which celebrates German American heritage. The holiday was celebrated as early as 1883 in Philadelphia and similar celebrations developed in other areas of the country over time. The custom died out during World War I due to anti-German sentiment but was revived in 1983. Ronald Reagan proclaimed October 6 as German-American Day and called upon the people to celebrate the day with appropriate ceremonies and activities. So, why bring this up?

Well, did you know we had a German colony just south of Westcliffe? It was organized as the German Colonization Society in Chicago in 1869 with Carl Wulsten as president. Wulsten’s proposal was “formed only to enable men of small means and poor men to take advantage of the homestead law, and become happy settlers on a beautiful country.” The only jobs many immigrants could obtain in Chicago were of dangerous factory work in cramped buildings with poor ventilation. Wulsten’s hope was that moving to the unoccupied lands in the Wet Mountain Valley would lead to better opportunities. Men who wished to join had to be of good moral character, between the ages of 21 to 45, in sound physical and mental health, and provide a payment of $250. In February of 1870, the men and their families who decided to move to Colorado from Chicago departed on their journey. On the side of the train was a placard that read:

Westward the Star of Empire takes its course – German Colonization Society of Colfax, Fremont County, Colorado Territory – organized at Chicago, August 24, 1869 – Carl Wulsten, President; Albert Phillip, Secretary; T. Merten, Treasurer – under the auspices of the National Land Company!

The colony was known as Colfax Colony after Schuyler Colfax, who was vice president of the United States at the time. The group arrived on the chosen site in March of 1870 and set to work building their settlement. Unfortunately for the colonists, the area that Wulsten had chosen sat at an elevation of 7,000 feet meaning that the growing season was shorter and frosts came early to kill crops. Many of the colonists did not have farming experience and their leaders were fairly inexperienced. The colony was disbanded by the end of 1870 and only a few families remained in the area to try to make a living off the land. While the colony itself was a failure, some of the families that moved out did in fact succeed, some opening their own businesses.

Many of the families moved to areas such as Cañon City and Pueblo while others moved to the present site of Westcliffe. Businesses were started and the area continued to grow as more people moved out. Custer County was created in 1877 out of the southern half of Fremont County which included the original site of the Colfax Colony and Westcliffe. Carl Wulsten died in 1913 and is buried in Rosita. While the colony was not the success that Wulsten envisioned, it did play an important role in the early settlement and history of the Wet Mountain Valley.


The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.

Happy Birthday Karol Smith!

Fremont County has had its fair share of movies filmed here; not only the old silent westerns but also those filmed after 1958 at Buckskin Joe. In regards to many of the movies filmed at Buckskin Joe and the surrounding area, there’s someone who played an important role in bringing those films companies here. Karol Smith, a photographer, a veteran, and director of the Colorado Motion Picture and Television Advisory Commission.

Karol Smith was born September 28, 1918 in Grand Junction, Colorado. He started working with the movie business early on. Beginning in high school he worked at Fox West Coast Theatres in Florence, which later became McCormick Theatres. Then World War II broke out.

Karol enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1941 and was put in charge of photographing landing operations for reports. So if you are interested in photographs from World War II, stop by to see our collection! Karol himself was present at the signing of the Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri and captured the moment on film. Karol was discharged in 1945 and returned to Cañon City where he became the manager of the Fox Inter-Mountain Theatres and McCormick Theatres.

Karol continued as a photographer and took photos for both the Canon City Daily Record and the Denver Post.  Karol took plenty photos of the 1947 prison escape for the newspapers. After being asked to be the location coordinator for the movie company that produced the film Canon City, Karol saw how much money filming that movie brought to the area. He set about trying to bring more movies to Fremont County. He even put together bound books with pictures of the area, went to California, and delivered them to the location departments of major motion picture companies. And it worked! Movies were filmed in the area and the idea to build Buckskin Joe was formed.

Building started in 1957 and it opened in 1958. Buildings were brought from all over the state including the general store once owned by Horace Tabor in the original Buckskin Joe. Cat Ballou was the first movie to be filmed there and if you like westerns keep an eye out for Buckskin Joe!

Karol presented his idea for a film commission on a statewide business bill and the bill passed due to the efforts of State Senator Harold McCormick.  The commission started on July 1, 1969. It was the first state to do so! Karol worked with the commission until his retirement in 1989. He passed away in 1992 at the age of 73 but he certainly left his mark on local history.

So thank you Karol Smith for all your contributions not only to the county but also to the state. And happy birthday!    


The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.

A Fowl Affair

This Saturday is the unveiling of the new splash pad in Centennial Park. While the water will only be turned on for that one day between 1-4 pm before it’s turned off for fall, it will certainly be a nice addition to the park when the weather becomes warm again. It will be a great place to cool off and splash around!

Of course, there are some other inhabitants of the park who enjoy splashing around too! Residents of the city fondly refer to Centennial Park as Duck Park because of the multitudes of ducks and geese that inhabit the pond in the northeast corner of the park. And just last year some citizens were concerned the population would suffer when the pond was drained for cleaning and reshaping. But the ducks weren’t interested in ceding their territory and quickly returned once the pond was refilled. But the concerns of 2016 were the opposite of those held 28 years ago.

In the fall of 1989 the city hosted a….unique animal adoption program. With the population of ducks and geese overwhelming the pond, which was built for only around 50 ducks, the city held a giveaway. People could come and adopt ducks or geese in pairs to help alleviate the problems caused by overpopulation. And if not enough people wanted to take the fowl? The city planned to sell them to a duck trader. Duck traders traveled across the country buying and selling ducks. Fortunately for our feathered friends, there were so many people willing to adopt that a duck trader wasn’t needed in the end. While local residents were given preference, apparently even people as far as Pueblo, Rye, and Eads showed an interest.

It was certainly a unique way of solving the problem and appeared quite popular! If you have any stories to share about this event feel free to leave us a comment! We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Do you have any unique stories of your own to share? Visit us at the museum Wednesday through Saturday between the hours of 10 am-4 pm!


The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.

McCandless and His Town

This weekend is the “Florence Pioneer Days”, a celebration of Florence, Colorado’s pioneer history. It coincides with the incorporation of Florence as a town in Fremont County. Of course, there are some choices for a specific date when Florence was incorporated in 1887. Florence residents petitioned the Fremont County Court for incorporation August 11. The election was held September 6 and the petition passed. By some account the certification was filed September 12, but according to the List of Incorporated Cities and Towns in Colorado on the colorado.gov website, the filing date was September 13. So there is a range of dates that could have been chosen. One thing that can be agreed upon however is 1887 as the year Florence was incorporated!

Florence is named after Minnie Florence McCandless, the daughter of James A. McCandless, the founder of the town. McCandless had laid out the town against a rival of Fremont County, William Palmer. Palmer founded the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad and had a habit of bypassing previously established settlements and putting rail depots where he wanted. But McCandless prevented it this time with Florence and stopped people from moving to Labran, the land laid out by Palmer.

Oil was discovered in 1862 and the first oil well drilled west of the Mississippi went into business. This makes the Florence oil field the second oldest commercial oil field in the United States! And by the end of the 1800s, both the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad and Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad served Florence.

Florence is now known as the Antique Capital of Colorado and boasts a historic downtown. If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Florence or Fremont County, stop by the museum during our open hours of Wednesday through Saturday between 10am-4pm!

Florence Main Street

Florence Main Street 1932 Courtesy Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center

The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.