A “tailing” tale of Colonel William (Billy) Yankee

A Colorado Pioneer

By Maggie Magoffin

Born July 31, 1840 in Perryville, Kentucky, William Henry Yankee at an early age moved with his family to Sedalia, Missouri and grew up on a farm there. At only eighteen years of age he drove his oxen team from a prairie schooner across the plains of Missouri to Colorado. After an exciting and perilous journey involving a two-day fight with Indians, he arrived in Denver on June 24, 1859. He remained in Denver only a short time before continuing his journey to Clear Creek Canyon, settling in Russel Gulch. From July to October 1859 he worked steadily at sluicing with nine other miners. On the clean-up they each received thirty-seven cents for their three month’s work. Early that winter, he worked at the Gregory Bobtail Mine for a short time, then re-entered the prospecting field, devoting most of his time to the upper part of the north fork of Clear Creek. While on this trip, in the company of others, they found an immense boulder of lead ore.

In the autumn of 1860, William (Billy) Yankee returned to Missouri and in December of that same year married Sara E. Bourn of Sedalia, Missouri. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Billy enlisted as a 2nd lieutenant in the 23rd Regiment of Missouri Volunteers. Due to severe injury of the third finger of his right hand and partial loss of his right foot, after 18 months of service, Colonel William H. Yankee resigned his commission and was discharged from the army.

Billy and Sara spent the next ten years in Missouri farming and working in the stock business and Sara gave birth to their three children Elgin, Mary and Evalina.

In 1873, Billy and Sara packed up the family and traveled to Colorado where they settled in Empire. There Billy was entrusted with the management of the Knickerbocker Stamp Mill. In 1874, the family moved to Park County where Billy owned interest in the London Mine which sold for $200,000. He then engaged in prospecting in that vicinity and carried on general merchandising in Fairplay. From 1875-1876 he served as Mayor of Alma.

In 1877, the family moved to Leadville where Billy was the third man to engage in lode mining in the region. He located the Chieftain Mine on Yankee Hill, named by the miners after Billy. He held interest in Delmonte, Spring Lode and the T. Y. Consolidated Group on Breene-Hill. He ran on the Independent Party ticket for Mayor of Leadville, but as the ticket was largely in the minority he was defeated. Due to Sara’s failing health, in May of 1880 he disposed of all of his property in Leadville and moved the family to Denver.

Soon after, Billy became involved in the cattle trade and went to Wyoming, where he remained until 1881. Disposing of his cattle business, he returned to Colorado and bought the Buck Horn Mine at “Jimtown” near Boulder. He later sold the Buck Horn and returned to Leadville where he worked the Highland Chief Mine under a lease and made a considerable profit.

April 14, 1886, Billy went to Aspen and engaged in mining in the Express Group, near Ashcroft, and then the Missouri Mine on Aspen Mountain. He took a lease on the Bonny-Bell Mine, but gave up the lease in disgust shortly before a rich body of ore was found within a foot of where he’d stopped.

In 1888 he became Superintendent and Manager of the Regent Mines on Turkey Creek, consisting of the Park, Regent and Tiger and struck a body of ore from which he shipped for a number of years. Sara died in November of that same year.

October 21, 1891, Colonel William (Billy) Yankee married Mary Boyer in Denver. He purchased a palatial residence in the Highlands district of Denver and was a member of several state conventions. He died at the home of his daughter on July 2, 1917 at the age of 76 years.


  The Real Pioneers of Colorado, by Marla Davies McGrath. The Denver Museum, 1934

  History of the State of Colorado by Frank Hall

  The National Magazine: A Monthly Journal of American History, Volume 11

Maggie’s Books

The first two books of my Misadventures of the Cholua Brothers series are available at Mountain Menagerie on Main Street in Central City, Colorado; at,, and The third and final book in the series, Bonanza Beans, will be available February 2017.

For past columns and other information on my speaking engagements, book releases, and events visit me at

I’m always looking for interesting stories about Colorado pioneers and local folk instrumental in the founding and/or development of Gilpin County. If you have stories about family members or friends to share, please contact me at or send snail mail to Maggie Magoffin, P.O. Box 746495, Arvada, Colorado 80003.

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