A tailing tale of the Arbuthnot Brothers

Colorado Pioneers

By Maggie Magoffin

William Arbuthnot was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, August 30, 1835. His brother Samuel (Sam) August 17, 1836.

In the spring of 1859, when the news of the discovery of gold at Pikes Peak was heralded throughout the East, twenty-three-year-old Samuel (Sam) Arbuthnot and his twenty-four-year-old brother William crossed the prairie from Iowa to seek their fortunes in mining.

The two brothers worked claims at Gold Hill, Russell Gulch, and Central City before William gave up all hope of striking it rich and returned to Iowa. Sam continued working the gold fields for several more years before giving up and returning to a profession he knew could sustain him. He acquired some land and started faming along Left Hand Creek near what is today Longmont, Colorado.

Hearing about the free land Sam had homesteaded, William returned to the Pikes Peak region in 1863. That same year, William worked with several other men in constructing the Left Hand Ditch. He eventually purchased 160 acres of land in that same area, a farm that became known as the Haystack Mountain farm. The Arbuthnot brothers were the first settlers to acquire property from the U.S. Government at the foot of Haystack Mountain.

William and Sam’s closest neighbors were the Baders and Johnsons with whom they became quite close. One might say they were as close as family, since the brothers eventually married Mary Bader and Mary Johnson. Mary Bader and William Arbuthnot were married in the spring of 1869 and Sam married Mary Johnson one year later.

The Arbuthnots, Baders and Johnsons eventually built and managed several ditches together on Left Hand Creek.

William Arbuthnot lived on his farm until April 1882, when he was kicked in the chest while branding a colt and later died from his wounds. He lived just long enough to see his rights to the Left Hand Ditch Company secured by the Colorado Supreme Court.

Samuel (Sam) Arbuthnot died in 1915.

The Arbuthnot-Bader descendants left Haystack Mountain farm in 1944 and moved to Boulder.

Excerpt from portrayal of Mary Elizabeth Bader Arbuthnot presented by Donlyn Arbuthnot Whisssen, great-granddaughter of Mary and William Arbuthnot:

“It was a lot of fun sitting around those campfires hearing about the Arbuthnot family. You know Carson Arbuthnot, William’s father, he came up in Gold Hill with James, and the other brothers spread out, looking for gold. And he became –voted in—as sheriff up there in Gold Hill in 1860. And some of you—I heard talking about some other folk that were up there: McCaslin, and Mr. Housel, and—oh! Oh! Mr. Coffin. We Arbuthnots don’t care much for Mr. Coffin. The Arbuthnots were up there—in the gold hills up there—when Mr. Carson was sheriff up there. There were 41 miners present when he was voted in as sheriff. It took 17 votes for him to win that, because there were four people that ran for sheriff that night. Peter Housel was one of them. He got one vote.

So, I felt pretty good about this Arbuthnot family. They kind of knew the area. They were even part of the law to where we were headed.

We arrived in this area, went up to Jamestown, and found my Uncle Bader, my Uncle Nicholas Bader. My father was up there and was digging in the dirt—he wasn’t really much of a miner, but he did enjoy growing things. And he disproved the ‘fact’ that you could not grow fruit in Jamestown. But he realized that down on the plains, you could do a better job to grow fruit. So we came down and settled just west of Haystack Mountain.

Well, guess who was settled on the other side of Haystack Mountain? William Arbuthnot. There were lots of people coming down from Gold Hill and settling. Like Mr. Housel. He got his farm out there. (Mary’s mother died on the trip out west. After settling near Haystack Mountain, her father George married Mary Roberts who had two children and was adamant about living where her children could receive a decent education.) . . . He didn’t take, ‘No’ for an answer. He built the Bader schoolhouse out there on Oxford Road. Well, they got married, and a month later, they went up to Weld County there in Greeley and got her a divorce. She was a proper woman!

I was the first teacher there at the Bader schoolhouse, and they decided to have a picnic for me one day, to thank me for my work and my father’s building the schoolhouse .And that’s where I really too a shining too Mr. Arbuthnot.”

Reference Resources

  Donlyn Arbuthnot Whisssen’s presentation to the Maria Rogers Oral History Program from February 29, 2012, in Longmont, Colorado for the Longmont Genealogy Society. //

  The Real Pioneers of Colorado, by Marla Davies McGrath.

  A Land Made from Water: Appropriation and the Evolution of Colorado’s Landscape, Ditches and Water Institutions by Robert R. Crifasi

Books by Maggie

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 December 2016.

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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