A Colorado Pioneer
By Maggie Magoffin
Anyone who settled in what is now Colorado prior to February 26, 1861 is known as a pioneer. Previously, the area was little known except to Indians and occasional explorers. Colorado was established as a territory on August 1, 1876. Anyone arriving in the region during that period was known as a territorial son or daughter of Colorado.
Arriving in the Pikes Peak region in November 1858, qualified Corbit Bacon, his wife and son and his friends James A. Weeks, Wilber F. Parker, and Mr. Alverson and his son as Colorado Pioneers.
Corbit was born June 21, 1825 in Jefferson County, New York, the seventh son of Levi Bacon and Sarah (Sally) Green. In 1835, his family left New York and moved to Washtenaw County, Michigan, a few years later settling in Pontiac, Michigan.
When he was still a boy, Corbit Bacon joined a party heading for the California gold fields. Six months after safely arriving at his destination, he grew tired of the country and headed for home by way of the Isthmus of Panama. Back home in Pontiac, Michigan, he took a position with a commercial enterprise where he worked until the fall of 1858. September 22, 1856 he married Juliana (Hall) Simpson in Saginaw, Michigan. In 1857 Juliana gave birth to their son, Frederick, who traveled with them to Colorado in 1858, but died at the age of 17.
Early in 1858 the Bacon party left Michigan, and traveled through the settlements in Kansas, before embarking into the uncharted, unknown wilderness. Corbit had been chosen to lead the party. With only his compass to show the way he focused in on an object on the horizon and headed westward. After traveling for 150 miles, fording swift streams and difficult gorges the Bacon party encountered a band of Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians armed with bows and arrows. The Indians approached the party, dismounted and sat in a circle. They made signs for tobacco, which Corbit gave them, and the group smoked in turn from one pipe.
The road-weary group from Michigan passed the remainder of their journey unmolested. Eventually, arriving on the banks of Cherry Creek they setup camp. (The following spring, Russell and Wadell started the first coaches over the same route, which was later established by the Kansas Pacific Railroad.) Bacon and Baker traveled on to the camp of Auraria where they found a small cabin built by General Larimer and D.C. Collier on the east side of Cherry Creek. Several cabins and tents sat on the west side of the creek. (Gold had not yet been found in paying quantities.)
Procuring the necessary tools from his own camp, Corbit set to building a plank house with a shake roof, the first such ever built in Denver. Soon after, he traveled to the mountains to prospect for gold. Arriving in what was later established as Central City, he found the mountainsides dotted with tents and wagons. Gold was easily found and many men were getting rich, the most prominent of whom was Green Russell, whose rich diggings in Russell Gulch were the most famous in the history of mining in those early days. Bacon first engaged in mining on Quartz Hill. During 1863-64 the excitement became intense and speculation ran rife. Gold sold at high prices. Corbit Bacon, like others, mined successfully and prosperously until after passing through the surface ore. Then came pyrites of iron, forcing them to await the establishment of smelting works. After many years, smelting works and the successful treatment of the ores made the mines of Gilpin County and the surrounding districts among the most valuable and lasting gold and silver producing sections of the world.
Mr. Bacon made Gilpin County his home and from 1877 to 1880 was co-owner with S. I. Lorah of the Saratoga Mine, situated between Russell and Willis gulches. The mine produced large quantities of gold of the finest quality, running as high as 950 fine.
June 15, 1867, an article in the Daily Miner’ Register in Central City entitled “General Sherman and the Indians” told of a conversation between Corbit Bacon esq. and General Sherman concerning protection from Indians for travelers across the plains.
In September 1868, Corbit Bacon was elected Justice of the 1st District in Gilpin County, thereby becoming Judge Bacon.
In 1873 he was U.S. Receiver of Public Monies (a presidential appointment) in Central City.
The Bacon homestead in Russell Gulch burned in 1880, which may have prompted him to leave Colorado for Washington, D.C. From 1883 to 1886 he was the clerk in the U.S. Pension office. At this same time, his brother Levi Bacon, Jr. was disbursing clerk of the U.S. Patent office.
At the age of 62, on March 5, 1886, Corbit Bacon died in Washington, D.C. and was buried in the Congressional Cemetery.
Resources: The Real Pioneers of Colorado by Marla Davies McGrath, The Denver Museum, 1934, Document Division of the Denver Museum, Clerical work by CWA Project No. 551.