On the windswept southwestern slopes of Thirtynine Mile Mountain, at the head of Currant Creek, William Harrison Beery had his JI Ranch on the 160-acre homestead, which he proved up in 1890. Although not the first pioneer in the area, the 1880 United States Census shows Beery, a stock raiser, living in Park County on Currant Creek with his wife Mary Julia Castello and four children: James C., born in Missouri in 1870; Leslie Lovejoy, born in Colorado in 1873; Julia A., born in Colorado in 1875; and Frank Ferdinand, born in Alma in 1878.
William Harrison Beery is the great-great-great grandson of Nicholas Beery, who was born in Switzerland in 1707, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1727, settling in Pennsylvania. Nicholas left Switzerland because of religious persecution, and after a four-month journey with 200 other passengers on the sailing vessel Friend Ship, settled in William Penn’s religious- and politically-tolerant Pennsylvania.
The Beery family eventually moved to Virginia and then Ohio, where William Harrison was born over 100 years later, in 1838. William was the first of 12 children born in Ohio and Missouri to John and Mary Beery.
Of the nine sons John and Mary Beery had, five were named after U.S. Presidents: William Harrison, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson (who died at three days) and twins, Millard and Fillmore, who both died at two days.
By 1848, John and Mary had moved to Missouri where they had eight of their children, and died there, John in 1896 and Mary in 1904.
In his own words, Beery said, “I worked on the family farm until March 8, 1860, and then went by wagon train to Summit County, Colorado Territory, probably arriving in Denver in May or June.”
Interestingly enough, Sam Hartsel arrived by ox train in Denver in May 1860 and went on to the Tarryall diggings in Park County. Hartsel then went on to become a prominent South Park rancher and founded the town of Hartsel.
Also, John Reeves Witcher and his older brother William arrived in May 1860 in Denver. The Witchers continued on to the mining town of Montgomery above Alma. JR Witcher went on to become a cattle baron with a vast empire on West Fourmile Creek and Fourmile Creek.
Did any of these four men know each other? There’s no way to know, but a later entry in JR’s ledger mentions William Beery in 1886 and a check written to Beery in 1887.
Probably lured, like most, for the Colorado gold, Beery tried his hand at mining for a year. Beery took out a year’s mail contract carrying mail from Hamilton to Bridgeport to Lincoln City to Parkville and Delaware City (old mining towns). Four months of the year the job was on snowshoes and the rest of the year was by wagon. Beery was also an IRS collector in Summit and Lake counties for nine years.
By 1863, Beery was a Wells Fargo agent and driving express coaches from Hamilton, the first mining town in South Park, to Fairplay. Beery was a teamster on the Ute Pass Wagon Road, built in 1862, from Colorado Springs, as well.
In September, 1864, Beery enlisted as a Union private with Company K of the Colorado 3rd Cavalry. Company K consisted of 21 men commanded by Lt. W.E. Grinnell. The Colorado 3rd Cavalry, known as the “Bloody Third,” only lasted 100 days, participating in the Sand Creek Massacre in southeast Colorado on Nov. 29, 1864. Beery was mustered out Dec. 31, 1864. He later filed for a Civil War Pension as an invalid in March, 1908.
On Aug. 1, 1867, Beery married Mary Julia Castello in Fairplay, and by 1869 had proved up 160 acres a little northwest of Fairplay. The 1870 census shows Beery living near Fairplay with Mary and James C., two months old. Beery was living next to Judge James Castello, his father-in-law, who is listed as receiver for the land office located on Front Street, and was appointed by the President.
Beery’s occupation is listed as a “county trimmer.” Presumably that is county treasurer, an office Beery held for six years.
Beery was an 1870 census enumerator in Park, Summit and Lake counties. Beery’s younger brother John Taylor Beery was a near neighbor in 1870, living with his wife Nettie. John T. was a farmer by trade.
James Castello came to Colorado in 1860, and went to Gregory Gulch in Central City, and then to Fairplay in 1863. He built and ran the log Castello Hotel from 1863 to 1870, when he sold the hotel and moved to Twin Creek.
Castello homesteaded 160 acres at the confluence of East and West Twin Creeks. It was also the area where several Native American trails converged, and a battleground, as many tribal battles also occurred there. Castello built a ranch house for overnight guests, had a trading post and started a post office there named Florissant (French for flowering) after his hometown in Missouri. Florissant was the first white settlement in the Pike’s Peak region.
By the early 1870s, Beery ran one stage per week to Canon City, and a coach over Hoosier Pass once a week. His express and stage office was in the same building as postmaster A.M. Janes’ post office and store. Beery wanted the contract for carrying gold out of Oro City, Lake County, by express, but H.A.W. Tabor, Oro City postmaster, insisted on sending gold nuggets and dust with the regular mail dispatches.
One such dispatch with $1000 of gold dust and a letter with $40 in it arrived from Oro City in Fairplay while Beery was in the store. Janes received it and stashed it away for the morning dispatch.
A little later, on the spur of the moment, Beery decided to organize a dance for that evening at which Janes and his store clerk attended. Unfortunately, Beery had forgotten some refreshments for the dance and had to leave for a time.
While out, Beery entered the store through a small window in the back and took the gold and letter. Beery hid it all in Fairplay’s favorite spot to hide purloined gold, under a manure pile.
It seems that in 1864, during the Reynolds Gang affair when the gang was robbing stagecoaches and express offices, Beery had driven the express coach to safety from Fairplay to Hamilton. He hid the gold dust he was carrying at the time under a manure pile, the safest place he knew.
In 1869, Mr. Farnum, a mail carrier from Oro City to Fairplay, stole two bags of gold and some letters and hid them under a manure pile, too.
The next morning when Janes found that the gold was missing, Beery heartily joined in the search for it, and even conveniently found in Jane’s cellar, bits of the newspaper the gold had been wrapped in. Nothing else was found.
The case remained unsolved until that fall when a special agent came to Fairplay to investigate. The agent came to suspect Beery after following various leads and suspects. When the agent searched Beery’s stable, he found incriminating bits of string and newspaper under the manure pile.
Beery confessed to the crime. Whether Beery wanted to get back at Janes over the gold contract, or settle his grievance with Tabor, some of the gold was missing. Beery repaid the total amount, and because of his good reputation and family connections (his father-in-law was Judge James Castello), the case was dismissed.
In September, 1873, Fairplay’s business district on Front Street pretty much burned to the ground, but was soon rebuilt of brick.
To be continued…