That’s what early settlers who visited Colorado for the gold rush were saying.
Gold prospectors shouted Colorado’s Gold Rush was the hoax of ‘59. In 1859 Denver wasn’t much more than tumbleweeds and barren land and people looking to make their fortunes by finding gold in the hills. Many who came, died or left disappointed and only a few realized that early American Dream.
However, the so-called hoax helped create many cities now part of Colorado. And, the two people accused of being the liars perpetuating the hoax were D.C. Oakes and William Newton Byers who went on to be founding pioneers of the Denver area.
Traces of gold in Colorado’s South Platte River in the summer of 1858 is what really sparked the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush. Today, this area is mostly industrial, with railroad tracks, roads and warehouses near Denver’s Alameda Avenue bridge.
But, by 1862, Colorado was producing $4 million dollars worth of gold annually. In 1865 that number dropped to 3 million and by 1866 dropped another million. 1867 marked an end to Colorado’s gold rush. The true hoax was that early gold rushers were heading to Pikes Peak- where there was no gold. Instead the gold was found 100 miles away in the mining towns west of Golden and in the Denver area.
D.C. Oates was an early gold prospector around 1849 in California. Gold prospectors who didn’t hit it rich there, began heading east again, through the Denver area to try their luck again. When again they didn’t find gold, many of them created graves to mock D.C. Oakes with headstones that read:
“Here lies the bones of D.C. Oakes, Killed for aiding the Pike’s Peak Hoax”
The “Hoax of Fifty-Nine” wasn’t just blamed on him, however. William Newton Byers, the founder of Colorado’s first newspaper also came under attack. In April 1859, he printed a letter that included a death threat for his life, luckily that threat never came to fruition. Byers has had several Denver area locations named after him and he is buried in Denver’s Fairmount Cemetery. Daniel Cheeseman Oakes has a memorial at Riverside Cemetery in Denver.
Imagine for a moment why these first settlers would have gone through, and why they may have been so upset as to create mock headstones for Oakes and submit death threats to Byers’ Rocky Mountain News. What would it have been like in that time?
Imagine yourself a young man, likely one who did farming in the plains… you pick up a newspaper to read reports of gold in the West. California had their big boom in 1849 and you have heard accounts and stories, and now, maybe now is your time to find a fortune in Colorado.
With a mix of skepticism and excitement, you get your guidemap to the Pikes Peak region, maybe even D.C. Oakes’ “Pike’s Peak Guide and Journal” and plan your trip. You prepare all you can for the long journey, including cattle, food, water, camping gear, cooking supplies.
You leave your home and family, hoping to return with wealth, but more likely to not return at all due to illness or murder. You camp alongside rivers, wondering where you will encounter a city for any needs including hay for your horse. Finding timber is difficult and without it, food and water become poison rather than nourishment.
At a pace of about 20 miles a day, you lose cattle overnight, pass buried bodies on your route, some of them unearthed by coyotes or wolves. You fear gunfire, trek through rough terrain and fight the weather. You pass Indians and sometimes trade with them, and fear all who you meet, some who tell you disheartening stories and tell you to turn back.
You get to the land you dreamed of and can’t find gold, or work. You are homesick, lonely, disheartened, wondering if you will find what you need. You have a fear of going home empty handed and worry if you could even make the trip back alive. You are riding the line between despair and hope each day. You write in your journal something like this prospector did:
From the Journal of a Gold Seeker: (edited for readability)
“SATURDAY 14TH Here we are camped on Cottonwood crick. It has rained hard and steadily all day. Our cattle all look poorly, the sick ones are better. We shall stay here today and tomorrow, it being 40 miles to wood and 18 miles to water. There is 6 or 700 camped on this crick. There is Buffalo and Deer and Elk and Antelope here.
“MONDAY JULY 4TH, 1859 This is the 4th of July. Have been at work on our race all day. Little does it seem like the 4th.
7/20/1859: “Smith Rube and McShaw have gone prospecting and I am here alone. I have been reading and meditating. I love to be left alone sometimes to commune with silent nature, which is beautiful here. Tall and rocky mountains surround our camp on every side and a rapid river comes rushing down over the rocks in a few steps of our door. I frequently see deer and sheep pass along the side of the mountain.”
You curse D.C. Oakes for his guidebook because you certainly didn’t find anything. You decide to either head back as a “go-backer” or stay in the beauty of Denver.
Therefore, it may be true that the hoax of ‘59 was the catalyst for the development and growth of present day Denver. But, Oakes and Byers weren’t liars. And while many didn’t hit it rich through gold prospecting, they may have made their fortunes in ranching, banking and businesses who offered services to those prospectors and their families. Byers was a huge proponent for the growth of Denver and even ran, unsuccessfully for political office.
Byers was born in Ohio in February 1831, moved with his parents in 1851 to Iowa and settled in Omaha, NE in 1854. At the early age of 24, Byers became the first deputy surveyor and helped create the first plans of the layout of Omaha in the Nebraska Territory. He served in a few political seats before heading to Denver in 1859 to find gold. His idea of gold may have been different than others, however, as he took with him, via an ox cart, a printing press and the first stories and page layout ready for the newspaper he already titled, “The Rocky Mountain News”. He based his writing on the stories he had heard of the gold towns and he knew newspapers would attract people to the area, bringing money and business.
Denver may not have been what Byers had envisioned from what he read in the newspapers, but he was determined to create a local paper, and did so within days of arriving in Denver and strategically days before his competitor, therefore staking his journalistic claim. Although Byers sold it in 1878, The Rocky Mountain News continued publication until 2009.
William Byers helped organize the Colorado Historical Society, Chamber of Commerce and the Denver Tramway Company. The Denver Tramway Company was a system of electric car transportation that eventually handled transportation to Fairmount Cemetery where he is now buried.
“In 1886, John Evans and his son William Gray Evans incorporated the Denver Tramway Company (DTC) with William Byers, hotel keeper Henry C. Brown and businessman and library builder Roger Woodbury… The Denver Tramway Company became one of Denver’s biggest employers and an essential part of many people’s lives. Most, lacking horse and carriages, took streetcars to work, to shop and to play. Special tramway cars were rented out for weddings and honeymoons, while Funeral Cars A and B took many Denverites on their final rides—to Riverside and Fairmount Cemeteries.” SOURCE: Denver History
William Byers had become very popular due to his efforts in the growth of Denver, his fight against crime in the city and The Rocky Mountain News. He was seen as a strong contender for Governor of Colorado in the first year of their statehood. However, his run was short lived when his mistress, Hattie Sancomb attempted to kill him, creating a political sex scandal. His wife Elizabeth stayed by his side and they moved to south Denver. Their home, currently named the Byers-Evans House, at 1330 Bannock in Denver, is now a historical museum. The home was purchased in 1889 by William Evans, the President of the Denver Tramway Company and restored to the 1920’s period and turned into a museum in 1981.
Byers was a leader in bringing pioneers into the Denver area. He cared about Denver’s water, food, transportation, growth. His south Denver home was torn down to create the William N Byers Junior High School in 1921, which features many trees planted by the Byers’ family. William became the Postmaster of Denver in 1880, and passed away on March 25, 1903.
A lot has changed over time in the years since then, but there has always been a pull for some to cemeteries, for a variety of reasons. We wanted to take a playful look back at some of those reasons, whether spontaneous or planned and offer some of the things we have heard of happening or have experienced ourselves and bring some humorous insights.
Fairmount is home to over 20 varieties of trees- we even offer a walking tour of them. Our rose garden boasts over 300 bushes of roses, some of them heritage roses unique to us. Our 280 acres of beautifully landscaped space causes some people to spread out a picnic basket and relax. We love and welcome this. However, we have heard that some people find that the lush grounds create an ambiance of love, and with the spring in the air, well, let’s just remind everyone that this is a family place, not a place to make a family.
It’s hard to believe sometimes that when Fairmount opened, people visited in horse-drawn carriages. We were responsible for the growth of the railroads in this area so people could have a place to bury their loved ones outside the city. Millionaire’s row was likely the first to be visited by guests in motor cars, so it’s no wonder that our simple, low congestion roads are a starting point for many new Denver drivers. We see teens and their parental guides slowly maneuvering around the grounds and smile, but we weren’t so excited when we had to call the Denver Police Department for a car vs. headstone accident. No, we aren’t kidding. Some of our headstones are art in their right, and the family expects a level of safety, as they should, for that property. If you choose to learn to drive on our grounds, stay on marked roads that allow for traffic or find a nearby parking lot or neighborhood.
Yes, cemeteries naturally make for a good telling of ghost story it seems to be a tradition of every kid who has ever walked past a grave marker. At Fairmount, we have history living here- from Colorado Pioneers to early Lawmakers, Veterans to Historical Namesakes, with many of the most influential people in Denver’s founding interred here. We have stories of the murdered and the inspired, fighters and healers. With several tours, both paid and free, offered here, we invite you to learn about history and honor the stories of those buried here and save the conjuring of ghost stories for times around campfires.
There must be something about cemeteries that make it a prankster’s paradise. While Fairmount invites you on the property for the enjoyment of concerts, movies, and nature, we want this to be forever a place known for honor, respect and memories. On our vast acreage, it is not uncommon to see birds, deer, rabbits, foxes and more. While here, honor the wildlife and the land, for all it contains. Avoid littering or destruction of both the natural and manmade property. Bring your camera, paints, and easel or other artist supplies and enjoy the vast beauty here. From ornate headstones, sculptures, and statues, to flowers and wildlife, beauty lives here.
Walkers and joggers, as well as cyclists and snowshoers, love our property. Many guests bring their pets on walks in our dog-friendly space. Our park like setting is tranquil and reflective, and that makes it perfect for getting some outdoor exercise. While you breathe in fresh air, you likely don’t want your tranquility disrupted by a ‘gift’ little Fluffy left behind. Be a responsible pet owner and bring the proper items to clean up after your dog. Again, we want to be known for the beauty and respect we offer, and we aren’t able to scope the grounds for pet waste. Part of being a responsible pet owner also means being familiar with state and local dog laws. If you’re unfamiliar please review before visiting. Enjoy the exercise, and please bring your furry friend, just leave the space the way you found it.
Every year Fairmount Heritage Foundation hosts a Rose Sale to benefit the preservation of Denver’s oldest cemeteries. With over 50 varieties of roses here and, even more, flowers, Fairmount is a place for photography and art, but not for picking. Some roses are heritage roses, brought by early founders and unique to Fairmount. Learn more about why cemetery preservation matters and buy a flower in our annual rose sale.
There are so many ways to honor and celebrate the lives of those who have passed on before us. A walk or drive around the cemetery will reveal how different people and cultures celebrate. You may see flags left at a Veterans grave, rocks on the headstones of members of the Jewish community, or toys left for children in Babyland. We love that people celebrate and offer remembrance of their loved ones, and it’s important to us that those things stay intact and honoring. By showing respect to guests, and the gravesites, mausoleums, and memorials, we are creating a safe place for traditions of all people.
History lives at Fairmount Cemetery, and we invite you to become part of what we continue to create. Tour our grounds to learn more about whatever piece of history interests you, enjoy the tranquility or celebrate in one of our many venues. Contact today to schedule a tour, or just stop by for a visit.
Fairmount, founded in 1890, hosts two Denver Historic landmarks: the Ivy Chapel and the Gate Lodge. But historic and beautiful Fairmount cemetery is a Denver landmark in its own right. The cemetery is a preserve to hundreds of wildlife, 3800 trees and heritage roses. The 280 acres are adjacent to Denver’s Highline Canal, and as Denver’s second oldest cemetery, many prominent Denver leaders, pioneers and families have made Fairmount Cemetery their final resting place and have become a part of our history.
Do you recognize these names?
These, and many more, can be found here at Fairmount Cemetery.
The layout of the cemetery was created by German landscape architect Reinhard Schuetze, who was also responsible for the design of City Park and Cheesman Parks in Denver. The serene, park-like setting of Fairmount was intentional, with sweeping vistas, trees, rose gardens, statues and unique buildings. Designated by the Division of Wildlife as a Colorado Wildlife Viewing area, sightings of deer, fox, coyote, hawks, eagles, owls and other birds, are quite frequent.
Families of any religion and walk of life can be laid to rest with dignity surrounded by the true beauty of trees, flowers, and water, all cared for year round. Visit a loved one or walk the serene grounds while learning more about history, nature or the many activities Fairmount offers local families.
Within the 280 acres that makes up Fairmount Cemetery is the Ecclesiastical Gothic Ivy Chapel. Built in 1890, the same year as the cemetery, it features a sky penetrating spire, arches and windows. Twenty six feet wide and sixty four feet long, Henry Ten Eyck Wendell’s design reminds onlookers of a miniature Notre Dame Cathedral.
The space is typically used for services and celebrations of all kind and seats up to 200. Historic and beautiful, it is worth a visit when touring the grounds.
Also built in 1890, the Gate Lodge was home to the cemetery’s superintendent and his family as well as the sexton. The 20 foot archway served as the entrance to the 280 acre property. Today, the building serves as offices for the new Q event center and offices and archives of the Fairmount Heritage Foundation.
Even as late as the early 1800’s American cemeteries were called graveyards, simply an ignored part of culture, an inevitable place for the dead. They were given no aesthetic value, not cared for, and overall dismissed. Only about the middle of the 1800’s did citizens become concerned and step in to make changes. Cemeteries began to feature lawns, flowers and trees.
Founded in Denver in 1876, Riverside Cemetery allowed Denver, with over 30,000 residents, to boast of the first modern cemetery in the west. In fact, the Riverside Cemetery founders made a statement regarding their objectives with a brave, bold new idea:
“…to disassociate our cemeteries as much as possible from all that is repugnant or unduly sombre.. is neither wisdom or good taste…[a cemetery’s] peaceful and restful aspect can be as fully preserved and enhanced by a system of improvement that will be pleasing and beautiful..” Source: Fridtjof Halaas, D.1976. Fairmount and Historic Colorado, 25-26
America’s earliest cemeteries did not require record-keeping until the 1900s. Mount Prospect was the first organized cemetery in Denver with the first burial being that of Jack O’Neill in March 1859. Mount Prospect was not well managed according to the Denverites who fought to create a more attractive and better suited cemetery in the area.
The site of the City Cemetery was chosen by William Larimer and William Clancy in 1858. The cemetery was divided into three sections: Mount Prospect or Prospect Hill, which was for anyone; Roman Catholics were buried in Mount Calvary; and Jewish were in an area named Hebrew Burying and Prayer Ground. In addition to the City Cemetery, the Acadia Cemetery was created in 1867, as a Masonic cemetery. Records show the cemetery only functioned for about 5 years, and though it is assumed the bodies were moved, there is no record of that. This area is what we currently know as the Highlands, between 29th and 31st and between Tejon and Zuni.
Mount Calvary, the section for Roman Catholics, had their last burial in 1908 and many bodies were moved to Mount Olivet Cemetery in present-day Wheat Ridge. The Hebrew cemetery moved some bodies to Riverside Cemetery, the majority however, were placed in a 15 acre plot within Fairmount Cemetery called Emanuel Cemetery and is owned by Congregation Emanuel.
Riverside Cemetery opened in 1876 followed by Fairmount Cemetery which opened in 1890. The opening of these two cemeteries, caused burials at the City Cemetery to decline drastically and the decision was made to no longer allow burials in there in 1893. History suggests that only about a fifth of the bodies were moved from the City Cemetery to other cemeteries, leaving the remaining bodies buried deep below Denver’s Botanic Gardens, Cheesman Park and Congress Park.
Today, Riverside Cemetery has become dry due to a loss of water rights and are fighting for its preservation. Fairmount Cemetery still remains as strong, lush and beautiful as it did when German landscape architect and civil engineer, Reinhard Schuetze first created it. Ironically, Schuetze went on to create several Denver parks including Congress Park which covered the original City Cemetery.
Several additional cemeteries have been developed in the Denver area, yet none have the rich history and tranquil, beautifully maintained 280 acres of land that make up Fairmount Cemetery.
Fairmount Cemetery is home to several of Colorado’s historical figures and veterans. Of them are those who have served in several wars including:
World War I
World War II
Lt. Col. Stephen W. Dorsey (February 28, 1842- March 20, 1916)
A Union war veteran, he enlisted in the Union forces in the Civil War as a private, and served throughout the conflict. At its end, Dorsey held the rank of Lt. Colonel. After the war, Col. Dorsey was a United States Senator from Arkansas from 1873 to 1879.
Major General Orlando Ward (November 4, 1891- February 4, 1972)
General Ward is probably the most decorated veteran in the cemetery. He was a veteran of four wars including the Mexican War, WWI, WWII and the Korean War. He retired in 1953 after 44 years of service to our country.
John Gaylord Church (April 25, 1973- February 25, 1953)
The only military marker in the cemetery with three wars noted upon it, John Gaylord Church served in the Spanish-American War, WWI and WWII. He was a Captain in the US Navy.
Guy S Hooper (1877-1900)
Guy served in the 1st Colorado Infantry. His monument is worth as visit as the carved stone is in the shape of a backpack with a hat resting on the top. Located in Block 12 at the Fairmount Cemetery.
Francis Brown Lowry (December 1, 1894- September 26, 1918)
Lieutenant Lowry was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for bravery in France when he was killed there. He was buried there and then moved to Fairmount in 1921. The Lowry Air Base in Colorado was named after him.
Herbert Adams Lafferty (1876 – September 17, 1898)
Lieutenant Lafferty was a graduate of West Point class of 1898 and went directly into the Spanish-American War were we was injured and eventually died from his wounds.
Thomas M. Patterson (November 4, 1839- July 23, 1916 )
A Civil War veteran, journalist, and political leader, he was elected Colorado’s first United States Representative and later returned to Washington DC as a US Senator.
General Don Carlos Hasselteno (1825-1903)
Sentenced to death three times in three different countries, Don Carlos Hasselteno was a graduate of Miami and Yale Universities, Heidelberg University and the Naval Academy. He fought in the Civil War and became a prisoner of war but escaped to St. Louis. He was ordered to report for the Union Navy and later fought in the Spanish-American war.
W.A.H. Loveland (1826-1894)
William Austin Hamilton Loveland was a veteran of the Mexican-American War of 1848. He helped plan the layout of Golden, Colorado and was responsible for making it the state’s capital until 1867. He was the President and Founder of the Colorado School of Mines. Both the mountain pass and town of Loveland are named after him.
Henry M. Porter (1838- ?)
Porter was captured by Confederate troops in 1861 while stringing line for the Overland Telegraph. After his release, he came to Denver, became wealthy through banking and is responsible for creating Porter Memorial Hospital. Henry M. Porter is featured in the Colorado Business Hall of Fame.
John Wesley Iliff (December 18, 1831- February 9, 1878)
Born in Ohio, John Wesley Iliff moved to Colorado to open a retail store. He met Elizabeth and they were married and had three children before he died from tainted water. Elizabeth “Lizzie” became a widow at the age of 33 and inherited John’s significant fortune from his cattle ranching business. Five years after his death, she remarried Henry Warren, a methodist bishop, and together they founded the Iliff School of Theology in Denver in 1893. They also build the Fitzroy Place mansion.
Located in Lot 31, Block 63 of the Fairmount Cemetery.
Iliff Avenue runs East/West through Aurora, Denver and Lakewood. It becomes Evans Avenue as it hits Denver and runs right past DU, adjacent to the Iliff School of Theology. Businesses and homes share the space along Iliff Avenue in present day.
Robert Speer (December 1, 1855- May 14, 1918)
Robert Speer was born in Pennsylvania and moved to Colorado in 1878 after getting tuberculosis. He became the City and County of Denver’s first Mayor in 1904. He was responsible for several city park space expansion and beautification. He ran for Mayor again in 1916 and planned the Civic Center Park and the City and County Building, neither of which he lived to see come to pass. Overall, Robert Speer served 5 terms as Denver’s Mayor.
Located in Block 24 at Fairmount Cemetery.
Today, Speer Blvd runs diagonally through Denver along Cherry Creek. Most notably along Speer is the 9News building as well as the Denver Country Club as it turns into 1st Avenue which runs through the prestigious Cherry Creek Shopping Area.
Ralph Lawrence Carr (December 11, 1887 – September 22, 1950)
A Colorado native, Ralph Lawrence Carr grew up in Cripple Creek and became a U.S. Attorney for Colorado in 1929 under President Hoover’s assignment. Carr was elected governor of Colorado in 1938, making him the 29th Governor. He served from 1939 to 1943 and may have lost his political career due to his unpopular stance against Roosevelt’s push for Japanese internment camps.
…“the Japanese are protected by the same Constitution that protects us. An American citizen of Japanese descent has the same rights as any other citizen… If you harm them, you must first harm me.” Source: Ralph Lawrence Carr
Denver has a statue of Carr to commemorate his efforts on behalf of Japanese-Americans that was erected in 1976 at 19th and Larimer in downtown.
Buried in Fairmount Cemetery. When you visit, don’t miss the Nisei Japanese-American Memorial.
Carr Street runs North to South on the west side of town through Arvada, Wheatridge and Lakewood. A mix of residential homes and small businesses call Carr Street their home, including the Foothills Gold Course.
Jacob Downing (April 12, 1830- 1907)
Major Jacob Downing served in the American Civil War as subordinate of John Chivington, most famous for his role in the Sand Creek Massacre. Born in New York as the youngest of 11, he passed the bar in Chicago in 1858 and moved to Denver in 1859. He helped to establish City Park and gave land and financial backing for Denver infrastructure.
Buried in Fairmount Cemetery
Downing Street in present day runs North to South in Denver east of Broadway. Porter Hospital is located on Downing Street, and coincidentally, it is named after Henry Porter, who is also buried in Fairmount Cemetery.