Reprints: Mary E. Miller – The “Mother of Lafayette”

Mary E. Miller, the founder of Lafayette, was born in Geneseo, N.Y., August 9, 1842. In 1853, with her parents, she removed to Michigan and settled near Hastings. Later she moved to Iowa and on December 24, 1862, she married Lafayette Miller who died in Boulder, Colorado in 1878.

“Like others,” she said, “We were full of enthusiasm for the country ‘out West.’ Our bridal trip was one round of interest. The preparation was simple enough: but the home partings were as though we were going to the end of the earth. We waited our team until the required number had made up the train. What we now call a long freight train will pass over a given knoll in at most ten minutes.

By Stuart Elizabeth Loyd
for Boulder County Miner

A long ox train has been a whole day in winding its lengthy way over a similar knoll, the lead wagon being far out of hearing of the end. The civil conditions of 1862 were draining the country of guards and the Indians were a constant menace. Our only protection was our great numbers.

“Our first home in Pikes Peak was Burlington now Longmont, Colorado. In 1865 we bought the tract of land now known as the Goodhue Ranch. Here we conducted an old farm house, a station for the Denver-Cheyenne stage.” In speaking of this home, Mrs. Miller said, “One could hardly imagine the vast difference between that time and the present: as far as the see could see there was nothing but vacant land and our nearest post office, Denver; Pikes Peak was sixty miles away. Our nearest neighbors on the south were the Churches, five miles distant; Uncle David Kerr on the present site of Louisville; and Mr. Waneka on a tract now the Vulcan mine was seven miles from Boulder creek.

“We did no farming excepting the cutting of hay. At that time it was believed that only on the creek bottoms could a man pursue agriculture. Out of this idea grew the hope, first a very little hope, of the cattle industry. At first everyone kept a few Texas cattle, and two or three milch cows. But the herds grew; the plains were wide; and beef brought good returns, even if it did bring trouble, too.

Butter was worth $1.00 per pound, eggs $1.25 per dozen and hay $100 per ton. Flour sold from $25 to $50 per sack, and sugar at times for $1 per pound. Many old settlers still have account books showing similar figures.

“Our fire wood was brought all the way down from the mountains. Little did we imagine that coal mines would ever dot this valley. There were a few trees in the valley along the streams, of course, but most of the saplings were broken and twisted by the buffalo’s rubbing and hooking. In later years I remember going with my husband to a little coal bank where Erie is now situated. Our early mining was primitive, the coal being trundled out of the mine in a wheelbarrow.

“In those early days the principal towns were Black Hawk and Central City. We hauled our hay to Black Hawk, and there too, sold most of our butter and eggs. Denver was a very small village, if we could call it even that; but everything was freighted by ox train across the plains to Denver and we had to pay whatever they asked, or do without. In a measure this is true today.

“Denver was really the only place where we could ‘go shopping’ and all of us even in the far northern part of the country traded in Denver. Ft. Collins ranchers drove fifty miles to our house, took food and cared for their broncos, not autos in those days, and then went on to the ‘City.’

“We got most of our news by ‘riders.’ I shall never forget the day that a man rode through the country to tell us of the death of Lincoln. All mails came by pony express and this was an ‘extra’ sent out from Denver like a black pall. We were way out here, so busy working that we often forgot there was a Washington. But when the blow came, the death of our president was like the lopping off of an arm. We were as crippled out here, in the wilds, as the states at his very elbow.

“There was extremely little sickness among us. Good old Dr. Goodwin on the St. Vrain took care of most of the early pioneers. A kick from a vicious horse, or a cut from a straying arrow were the most natural causes. Now and then a baby came to cheer us on the way.

“Speaking of arrows, during the later years of the war, we were bothered occasionally by the Indians, and sometimes by grasshoppers and white men. The grasshoppers I’ve seen so thick that for three days the sun was invisible, and when I hear persons complain of hard luck I often think a grasshopper storm would do them good.

“Meat in those days was cheaper than at present. Often I have seen my husband start for the cows and come herding them home, an antelope thrown over his horse. I must have been this constant contact with range and wild animals that led my husband to go into the meat market business. In 1871 he and my brother, James Foote, built the stone meat market in Erie, and we lived in that town for a little while and then moved to Boulder.

“But I got ahead of myself. It was while we were still on the old road house that the railroad reached Cheyenne, and then we did feel that we were somebody. All freight then was brought from Cheyenne to Denver for the mountains by ox train, or mules. It made things lively in this valley. We could hear the wagon freight train coming long before they reached us; those drivers knew more of the art of cracking whips and ‘cuss’ words than any men living. It came to them natural as air; they were not profane. When the stage coach commenced to run from Cheyenne to Denver, it brought many noted men who drank from the old well at White Rock, among them were Grant and Sherman.”

Not even the hardships of the route and a new country could daunt the spirit of circus people. “It was in the year 1869,” Mrs. Miller laughed, “that I cooked one morning for the biggest bunch of travelers that ever put up at our house. The coach stopped, and what I would now call the advance agent got out at our door. He said that his circus was moving our way, and asked if we could feed half of the actors, he’d send the rest on to the next place, Churches. Well, when they finally arrived, the animals were worn to threads, and everybody was so tired and hungry that we let them stay, one hundred all told. I had a six weeks old baby, and my only help was a half grown boy in the kitchen. With the extra help of my brother, Jim Foote, I made hot biscuit, opened canned vegetables and gave them lots of milk and cream. Then we watched them while they fed the animals, and no need to tell you that we enjoyed thoroughly the first circus that came to Colorado.

“One day about 1876, A.C. Goodhue and George Rabb brought a drove of one hundred high bred horses to this country. They found the place so habitable that they bought us out. What was then the old stage road is now the A.C. Goodhue orchard.

“About the time my husband and brother, Jim Foote, who were then a partnership, built the meat market in Erie, he filed upon the tract of land now Lafayette, and later preempted it for $1.26 per acre. Coal was discovered in small quantities in 1872 or 1873. But in 1884 a fourteen foot vein was struck; this marked the real beginning of the town I’ve worked harder for than anything else in the state. This big strike was the Simpson mine. It was made by James Simpson and his son, John H., men from Maryport, Cumberland, England, who came first to Louisville and then to Lafayette. James Simpson, father of our present postmaster, died nine years ago, and John followed him three years later.

“The town of Lafayette was laid out in 1889-90. The great feature in every deed for lots included in my lines was a clause prohibiting the sale of liquor on the premises. For years, after the liquor dealers tried to force their way into Lafayette, I kept them out by going to each individual (county) commissioner and getting his pledge to grant no license. Then one day one of the commissioners went back on his promise and so we have what we have.”

Mrs. Miller regrets the advent of the liquor house, but she is grateful for the good things that have come to her town. Over in Louisville they call her the Mother of Lafayette. In November, 1900, Mrs. Miller was made president of the Lafayette bank. At that time she was the only woman president of a bank in the world. Her company now operates banks in both Louisville and Erie. Mrs. Miller is a progressive woman: she has directed the building of a growing town. Three thousand inhabitants derive some personal good each year from this woman’s business judgment. Her children were five in number. Thomas Jefferson, born at Burlington, but now deceased and a strong Republican in spite of the fact that his forefathers on both sides were set Democrats; Charles, Rock Creek, now in California; George I., Rock Creek, vice president Lafayette Bank; James P. (or Jig), Erie, cashier of Lafayette Bank; Frank born at ranch, now deceased; and Amelia (Mary) Boulder, now deceased.

Mrs. Miller, a few days ago, received a letter from Mr. Hipp of Denver. In answer she says she is as keen for the cause of prohibition as ever before. Mrs. Miller was the choice of her party for the United States Senate. In this last honor, she has no rival. As an all around woman she has no superior.

As for the town, Lafayette is a coal camp. In it is the cleanest set of men in all coal mining districts. They are an English speaking people, desiring and maintaining schools and churches. They are not renters, they own their own homes. They have a good fire system, as the result of plenty of water. For a small town they are leaders, having two big manufacturing concerns, the Lafayette Manufacturing company, and the Lafayette Iron Works, and both kept busy. Their latest stunt is the personal donation fund for a school gymnasium.

They all hang together and everybody helps. That is Lafayette.

From Lafayette Leader and Free Press, November 29, 1912

(Lafayette History editor’s note: This “Reprints” blog posting is content that appeared in a publication that is no longer in print or is no longer copyrighted. No effort was made by the blog editor to correct misspellings or errors in fact. Please be aware that reposted items in the “Reprints” category of this blog may contain significant factual errors. If you wish to cite “Reprints” content and need help sorting out what’s fact and what isn’t, please feel free to contact the Lafayette History editor.)