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Photo at Right, Frederick W. Pitkin
The Frederick W. Pitkin Collection comprises approximately 4 rolls of microfilm and 2 cubic feet of records. Record series included in the collection are the Executive Record; correspondence; reports; and speeches and messages to the Gene ral Assembly. While the collection is relatively small there are important records documenting Denver being chosen the capitol of the State and the initial dealings concerning the site of the Capitol building; Indian matters; law enforcement activities; l abor issues; and military affairs. The Executive Record and correspondence are the most valuable record series in this regard.
by Jason Brockman
Frederick W. Pitkin, Governor of Colorado from 1879 to 1883, was born at Manchester, Connecticut on August 31, 1837. As a descendent of an esteemed family that was dedicated to public office for over a century, Frederick Pitkin's education at Wesleyan Un iversity and Albany Law School was focused toward developing his leadership skills as well as his mind. In 1860, Pitkin moved to Milwaukee to establish a law practice, and eventually became a partner of the prominent law firm Palmer, Hooker & Pitkin. Di srupting his successful practice, however, was an illness which caused Pitkin to go to numerous European cities seeking a cure. In 1874, after a year of traveling, Pitkin came to Colorado's San Juan Region where the climate seemed to be beneficial for h is health. For the next three years he invested in mining and opened a small legal practice in the region. With this experience in the southwestern section of the state, Pitkin became fairly well known and also regained his health.
His popularity and mining contacts enabled Pitkin to win the 1878 gubernatorial race. While both of his two administrations were fraught with conflict, Pitkin's executive strength held up well under the pressure. The first conflict was the railway war of 1879 between the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe and the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad Companies over the ownership of the Royal Gorge Route to Leadville. While both companies had previously agreed to share the road to Leadville, the new found mineral weal th in the area influenced the Rio Grande officers to aggressively develop the road. The Rio Grande Railroad forced the Santa Fe off the route using various legal tactics as well as a small private army. Despite the Rio Grande's legal maneuverings, a Fede ral Court gave the road rights to the Santa Fe Company. The Rio Grande subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court. While the case was being contested, the two railroads raised corporate armies to actively defend their claims. Ultimately, the Supreme Cour t gave the Rio Grande the line which allowed the company to finish its railroad extension to Leadville, and be the first to reach this lucrative destination in July, 1880.
Another divisive issue during Pitkin's first term was the Indian reservation system which was created to force the Indians onto set-aside land in order to open the region to non-Indian settlement and development. One of the most tragic and illustrative e vents of the frustration created by the reservation system was the Meeker Massacre in present day Rio Blanco County. The Utes had maintained a long history of peaceful relations with the white man, especially with John Wesley Powell who lived among them in 1868 and 1869. This changed when Nathan C. Meeker accepted the position as Indian agent to the White River Utes in 1878 in order to pay off a huge debt owed to Horace Greeley. Using the utopian community model developed by Greeley, Meeker attempted to make the White River Ute settlement into a Christian farming commune. After a year of attempting to culturally transform the Utes, the frustrated Indians revolted. When the tribe discovered that Meeker had called for military reinforcements, they kille d him, burned the reservation, and took women and children captive who were later released due to the efforts of Ute Chief Ouray and former Ute Indian agent General Charles Adams. The tribe also ambushed Major T.T. Thornburgh and three troops of cavalry a t Milk Creek on September 29, 1879. Thornburgh was killed and the troops were put on the defensive for six days. On October 5th Colonel Wesley Merritt, with over three hundred soldiers, ended the Ute revolt at the Battle of Milk Creek. The result for th e Utes was to be moved to yet another reservation in Utah.
The next struggle that Pitkin had to work through was the 1880 Leadville Strike. The community of Leadville was part of the California Mining District, a district in which half of the population were miners. One man, Michael Mooney, saw a need for the development of a representative body that would aid these workers against corporate tyranny. When Mooney and the miners demanded a wage increase and an eight-hour workday for those employed in the wet mines, the California Mining District officers refuse d. Mooney led the miners in a strike that became so violent and destructive that the Lake County law enforcement activities were paralyzed. The citizens of the county petitioned the governor to send in the militia and declare martial law. Pitkin, unsur e of his constitutional right to do so, allowed Lieutenant Governor Tabor to actually issue the orders while he conveniently went on an unplanned trip to Cheyenne. In short, with his reelection campaign coming up soon, Pitkin allowed Tabor to take the responsibility should the Leadville strike worsen. This set him up for glory if the constitutionality of his decision was upheld. Ultimately, the strike was successfully broken by the militia.
If these events were not enough to deal with, Pitkin attempted to mend a schism within the State Republican Party. When long time Senator Jerome Chaffee declared that he would not run for reelection in 1879, Professor Nathaniel Hill of Blackhawk announc ed his candidacy. The problem arose when Chaffee later reversed his announcement and chose to run against his friend and fellow Republican in the primary. Senator Hill won the race and made sure that Chaffee and his supporter Senator Teller were politic ally punished for their betrayal. Senator Hill's patronage of President James A. Garfield made this revenge easily administered until Garfield was assassinated.
President Chester A. Arthur then appointed Senator Teller to the cabinet position of Secretary of the Interior, which overshadowed any political clout Hill was able to acquire up to that point. This situation was further complicated by three vacancies in the United State Senate. Pitkin ended up choosing to run for one of the seats but lost by two votes, which finally ended his exhaustive political career. Thereafter, Frederick Pitkin moved to Pueblo and opened up a successful law practice. He died in Pu eblo on December 18, 1886, and is buried at the Riverside Cemetery in Denver.
Cannon, Helen. "First Ladies of Colorado, Fidelia James Pitkin." Colorado Magazine, #40, pgs. 187 - 192.
Cornish, Dudley Taylor. "The First Five Years of Colorado Statehood." Colorado Magazine, #25, pgs. 220 - 232.
Dunbar, Robert G. "The Origins of the Colorado System of Water - Right Control." Colorado Magazine, #27, 4, 255 - 256.
"Historic Denver Families Profiled." Denver Magazine, vol. 18, #10, September 1988, pgs. 49 - 54.
Pitkin, A.P. The Pitkin Family in America. 1887.
Pitkin, Walter Frederick Collection. Colorado State Historical Society. Denver, Co.
Roussalis, Mary. The Administration of Colorado's Governor Frederick W. Pitkin, 1879 - 1883. Denver, Co.: University of Denver, Unpublished Master's Thesis, 1962.
The 1880 Leadville Strike Blair, Edward. Everybody Came to Leadville. Leadville, Co.: Timberline Books, 1973.
Coquoz, Rene L. The Leadville Story: Brief Story 1860 - 1960. Boulder, Co.: Johnson Publishing Co., 1971.
General D.J. Cook Collection. "Confidential Telegrams from Governor Pitkin concerning Cook's command of State Forces to Preserve and Protect Property during the 1880 Leadville Miner's Strike." Denver, Co.: Colorado Historical Society, 18 40 - 1907.
United State Bureau of Labor. A Report on Labor Disturbances in the State of Colorado from 1880 to 1904, Inclusive. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1905.
Warford, Sherrill. Verdict, Guilty as Charged: Leadville Justice, 1879 - 1886. Leadville, Co.: Warford Publishing, 1977.
The Meeker Massacre and The White River Utes Dawson, Thomas Fulton. The Ute War. New York: Garland Publishing, 1976.
Emmitt, Robert. The Last War Trail; The Utes and the Settlement of Colorado. Norman, Ok.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1954.
Meeker, Josephine. The Ute Massacre. New York: Garland Publishing, 1879.
Owen, William O. Jo Rankin's Great Ride: The Ute Uprising of 1879; the Meeker Massacre. Los Angeles, 1932.
Rankin, M. Wilson. Reminiscences of Frontier Days: Including an Authentic Account of the Thornburg and Meeker Massacre. Denver, Co.: Smith - Brooks, 1935. (at University of Wyoming)
Sprague, Marshall. Massacre: The Tragedy at White River. Boston, Mass.: Boston, Little, Brown, 1957.
United States White River Ute Commission. White River Ute Commission Investigation. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1880.
Werner, Fred H. Meeker: The Story of the Meeker Massacre and the Thornburgh Battle. Greeley, Co.: Werner Publications, 1985.
The Executive Record contains executive orders; appointments; legislative messages; pardons; extraditions and requests; honorary citations; and proclamations which were issued by Governor Pitkin. It includes the proclamation making Denver the permanent seat of Colorado government.
Except for the Executive Record, the bulk of this collection is correspondence. An index to the correspondence is available. Major subjects that are addressed include the building of the Capitol; labor and strike matters; Indian relations ; military affairs; law enforcement activities especially regarding comutations, pardons and extraditions; and appointments. There is also correspondence concerning Company C, 1st Regiment - Colored Unit's Muster (1880) and Judge Gerry's death sentence fo r Alferd Packer (1883).
This series consists of reports from state agencies. It is a small series.
Addresses and messages to the General Assembly comprise this series including Pitkin's inaugural addresses in 1879 and 1881. Pitkin's political beliefs are reflected through these speeches.
In order to obtain access to the Pitkin Collection please contact the Colorado State Archives. We will be happy to provide you with additional information concerning this collection or others, and the fees that are ass ociated with doing research here.
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