On April 19,1866 about the time Marshall arrived in Denver, the Rocky Mountain News had an article on the oil being produced in Canon City stating“A Boston Company since this report was written, have bored a well near Canon City, which is now in successful operation, and is yielding twenty-four barrels of oil per day.”
—Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. Rocky Mountain News
Although the decision to buy or locate land down in the Canon City area appears to have been made weeks earlier in Boston, the decision was reinforced after Marshall arrived and read news like this. Marshall firmed up the trip down to Canon City as soon as Amanda arrived. He would simply buy the land or use his homestead act rights to acquire it. There are three options for the way he would travel, not the route, but the “outfit” he would travel with. The first option would have been a well-stocked wagon; good for at least a month’s long journey and pulled by oxen. A second option is the same wagon, but instead of oxen it could have been pulled by mules. Mules were known to be better on rough narrow roads and trails and Marshall would spend the next few years on such routes. The third option is maybe Marshall had a horse, and traveling by horseback down to Canon City would have been quicker than toting a wagon or mule train behind; he would simply pick up supplies along the trail. This trip would expand his knowledge of the Front Range of Colorado; traveling through Old Colorado City (Colorado Springs) past Pikes Peak. When he was in Old Colorado City, he, like most others, probably traveled the extra two miles up to a site they called Fontaine qui Bouille (fountains which boil). He would then forge southwest hugging the mountain front along the hogbacks before sliding into Canon City past the Beaver Creek area. From Richardson:
“The three fountains, bubbling up from the ground and not boiling with heat, are very strongly impregnated with soda. One, whose basin is three feet in diameter, seems to rise from the midst of a great rock which it has encrusted with soda to the thickness of several inches. A column of water nearly as large as the body of a man gushes up with great force. The supplying channel must be far underground; for between this and one of the other fountains runs a fresh water creek twenty feet below their level.”
—RICHARDSON, BEYOND THE MISSISSIPPI, FROM THE GREAT RIVER TO THE GREAT OCEAN.
After arriving in Canon City Marshall wrote three letters to Amanda. The first letter arrived on October 15, the second on October 29, and the third on November 6, 1866. Like Marshall had done before, Amanda stood in line and picked up his letters.
—–Letter arrivals are recorded in the newspaper. The name of the letter recepient was secondarily recorded in the card catalog in the Western Archives, 4th floor of the main Denver Public Library on Colfax.
Canon City, like Denver, was being developed as a stepping off point into the mountain mining camps that were rapidly springing up. In addition to the business opportunities Canon City provided, Marshall knew about the oil well development north of town known as Oil Creek. On December 10, 1806 the great explorer Zebulon Pike was on his expedition heading into the mountains. He was in search of the source of the Red River when his expedition traversed along what would be called Oil Creek. His expedition team walked on the land Marshall and Amanda would come to own.
—Siegle, Pike in Colorado
The Ute Indians lived in the area, a group I’ll properly introduce when the Felch family permanently relocates to the area.
A Quit Claim Deed
Marshall headed south a little before October 15 and when he arrived in Canon City, he wrote his first letter. It presumably was to let Amanda know about the land he was finding. A second letter arrived on the 29th of October about the time he purchased 160 acres of land. The cover photo for this piece of the story taken in 2017 shows the land in the foreground.
Marshall certainly looked for land to homestead, but none looked near as good as a 160-acre parcel for sale along what they called Oil Creek. It was a good piece of property north of Canon City with the creek running through it. He paid James Pritchett $500 and obtained a quit claim deed for the land title. The purchase was recorded with the Fremont County register’s office in the Territory of Colorado on November 13, 1866.
A preliminary survey of the area where Marshall and Amanda’s land had been completed in 1865 by land surveyors with the federal General Land Office. The register’s office could have insisted on redefining the land description at that time, but instead grandfathered it in. Based on the land descriptions register’s office were accepting, it appears they did not fully understand the federal land settlement requirements or assumed any isssues could be straightened out at a later date. On the other hand, it was a big improvement over the pre-territory days when a claim club kept the records in a bar keepers notebook.
—Donald H. Kupfer, Ph.D., “CANON CITY’S OIL SPRING, FREMONT COUNTY, COLORADO: COLORADO’S FIRST COMMERCIAL OIL PROSPECT (1860); AND THE DISCOVERY OF THE FLORENCE OIL FIELD (1881).”
A Military Land (Bounty) Warrant
Marshall bought the property from James Pritchard. Mr. Pritchard in turn paid Alfred Baker for the property on April 18, 1866. Alfred had acquired the land title shortly before this from a probable relative named John Baker. John Baker, the initial owner of the land, didn’t buy or homestead the land. On March 9, 1866 he submitted something called a “land surrender warrant” to the Fremont County register’s office. They rightfully accepted this as payment for the land. This warrant had been purchased earlier from a Mr. William T. Abbott; a military veteran from the War of 1812 living in the Gloucester area of Massachusetts. The warrant was numbered 104518 and this number enabled tracking through the National Archives and the FOLD3 military records website. Near the tail end of the War of 1812, William Abbott was a corporal with Captain Elwells Company serving under Lt. Colonel Appleton’s regiment within the Massachusetts Militia. His service that was from September 19, 1814 to October 12, 1814 entitled him to 160 acres of land forty years later. The Scrip/Warrant Acts of March 3, 1855 (the last of four land warrant acts) made it not only possible for Abbot to obtain a military land warrant land, it made it legal for him to sell this warrant on the open market. Abbot hired an attorney sometime after 1855 which assisted him with acquisition of the land surrender warrant, but he didn’t receive it for another ten years later, March 1, 1865.
— Department of the Interior. Bureau of Pensions. 1849-1930, War of 1812 Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files.
John Baker purchased this military warrant in 1865 or early 1866. John may have been in the Gloucester area at the time or picked it up second hand somewhere else. When John arrived in Canon City he turned in the warrant for title to the land he had selected, and then soon resold it.
The land Marshall purchased was described as:
“….Beginning at a cabin a little above where the bluffs approach nearly on another or Four Mile Creek, thence up with the course of said Four Mile Creek one mile, thence across the creek one fourth of a mile, thence down with the course of said Four Mile Creek, thence across the creek to the point of beginning, said creek is intended to be the center of the tract…”
It’s important to understand exactly what he bought in relation to what was a legal title from the federal government, something not yet possible in this location. A review of the rather informal description would lead to the conclusion that he bought about a quarter mile wide strip of land about a mile long encompassing Four Mile (Oil) Creek. For reference, a strip of land a mile long and a quarter-mile wide is about 160 acres, and acre comes from an old English term meaning the amount of land an ox pulling a plow could till in a day.
A stream doesn’t make a straight line or stay the same course, especially in mountainous terrain, and what Marshall seemed to have bought followed “the course of Four Mile Creek.”
Public Land Survey
Thomas Jefferson, while an ambassador to France, noticed the land property issues Europeans were having. He quickly recognized that the lack of survey before settlement was at the crux of the problem and brought back the concept that land needed to be surveyed before it was settled. In 1787, our newly formed federal government became responsible for large territorial areas west of the original thirteen colonies. These lands became viewed as a way to both raise money for our new nation and also to reward soldiers for their service in the Revolutionary War. We didn’t want to repeat the land ownership mess Jefferson had seen in France. The Land Ordinance of 1785 established the “survey before settlement” principle and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 established a rectangular survey system.
The land Marshall bought had not been surveyed and would not be surveyed for six more years after it was purchased. He certainly didn’t buy anything that had the look of a rectangle; far from it.
— White, United States, and Bureau of Land Management, A History of the Rectangular Survey System.
Preemption referred to a settler’s right to purchase occupied public land at a federally set minimum price; essentially it was a right of first refusal, sometimes informally called squatter’s rights. Land claim jumping was not uncommon during those years. Even if you had some sort of title, its ownership might be in jeopardy if the property became visibly abandoned.
Occupancy was sometimes called preemption. Informally it was called squatting. Preemption was not just an idea; it was based on federal legislation such as the Preemption Act of 1820. It would be this occupancy that Marshall and Amanda eventually used to formally acquire the land they occupied. Sometimes occupancy was called preemption or, more informally, squatting.
Marshall and Amanda certainly didn’t see themselves as squatters, especially since they had a title. They probably had no idea that they would run into this glitch down the road. The land had a stream running through it and it had good flat ground for farming. Although their title was flawed, it was still a title. The title enabled their occupancy and this was needed in order to keep it. They had a desirable piece of property worth fighting for.
Over the next few years Marshall and Amanda lived and worked in Denver, Montezuma, Saguache, and other places in Colorado Territory. A title wasn’t good enough by itself; while they were away it was essential they maintain occupancy. Presumably the easiest way to do was to rent it out, preferably to friends or family. Think back to the land description there was a cabin on the property. Renters could pay rent, aid with land improvements, take care of any livestock about, and maybe grow some food. Chances are that some, maybe all of these renters, were either close friends or family.
Official Land Title
The land Marshall and Amanda occupied was officially surveyed by the General Land Office in September of 1872. These federal surveyors are still in business today working within the Federal Bureau of Land Management. Marshall and Amanda’s official land title was conveyed to them on May 15, 1876 under the authority of the Preemption Act of 1820. Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president signed it. Grant also happened to be the commanding general they served under during the Overland Campaign; the man Amanda remembered ordering all women off the front in April of 1864. His orders triggered the loss of her wagon, team of horses, and her job.
Now that Grant signed their land title, maybe now Amanda forgave him, then again maybe not! Marshall and Amanda would pay $200 or $1.25 an acre for the 160 acres of land. This time they would have an official title. The transaction would take place at the general land office in Pueblo, about 50 miles away.
I thought we were all done
Marshall and Amanda now held title to 160 acres of land, but it wasn’t as it was described in the original quit claim deed. They now owned four contiguous forty-acre squares in the shape of an upside down “L.” This included the best farm land and the cabin. There was a fifth 40-acre parcel that they would essentially occupy but not own. This piece was an essential part of their farm. Anyone using a standard homestead type claim would want 160 acres and everything to the west of this parcel was mountainous and not good for farming, so presumably no one would want it. This would work for eight years but things would change. This 40-acre parcel would come to haunt them in 1885 in a situation related to the dinosaur story. What they actually bought is shown to the right. The arrow points to the 40-acre parcel that they needed, but which wasn’t a part of their 1876 land title.
Back to Denver
Marshall returned from Canon City and they spent the winter of 1866-67 in Denver.
— Rodney Chipp, “Case of Marshall P. Felch, No. 401703.
In order to understand their story in 1868, we need to verify where they were in 1867. It would have been nice if either of them kept a diary or wrote a letter that anyone could find, but this was not the situation. In this case, the birth date of their first-born child Sarah provides the answer.
Sarah’s Birth Date
Two alternative years are commonly listed for Sarah’s birth, 1867 and 1868. July 28 is the month and day listed in both cases. In all accounts, her birth location is listed as Denver, more specifically on the grounds of where Union Station is today. Numerous family genealogy records list her birth date as July 28, 1868. Less commonly referenced is a year earlier on July 28, 1867. Sarah’s grave stone in the Roosevelt Utah Town Cemetery is the most important piece of evidence supporting the 1868 date; it is engraved in stone that she was born in 1868. The only other evidence is the 1900 Colorado census (recorded before July of 1900) that shows her as 31 years old at the time. When it’s “set in stone” it’s, well, “set in stone”, but let’s explore the 1867 option. The July 1870 census record in Montezuma shows her as three years old, supporting an 1867 birth date. The June 1880 census lists her as 12, also coinciding with an 1867 date. The April 15, 1910 census lists her as 42 which also confirms a July 28, 1867 birth date. The State of Utah Death records list her date of birth as 7-28-1867. The Utah Death and Military Certificate confirm the 1867 birth date. Finally, her obituary, prepared at the time of her death, lists her birth date as 7-28-1867.
The records strongly point to the 1867 date which in turn points to an error on the gravestone. This was possibly something the family noticed, but they were poor, actually very poor. Replacement of the stone was expensive and they had more important financial matters to deal with.
This is important because in our next chapter we’ll learn that in the summer of 1868, Marshall and Amanda had started a hotel (boarding house) in the fledgling silver mining town of Montezuma. This becomes problematic because if Sarah had been born in Denver, the best route for Amanda to return from Montezuma at this time would be over Georgia Pass and into Denver via South Park, a distance of almost a hundred miles. While seven or eight months pregnant, she would have either walked or rode in small wagon pulled by donkeys and this would have been an arduous task for someone in the best of condition, certainly not something astute pioneers like Marshall and Amanda would have planned out. She could have stayed and delivered the baby in Montezuma but she didn’t; the baby was born in Denver.
Denver – Winter of 1866 through 1867
Assuming we agree on the July 28, 1867 birth date, let’s track it back nine months to when the “process began,” That would be early November in 1866. If you recall, Marshall returned from Canon City area in early November. The timing was right. They had arrived in a new land and bought a homestead. They had a cabin in Denver. Methods to prevent pregnancy were known and contraception was legal, but obviously they were now ready for a family. There was work to be found, wages were high, and they were always resourceful. Perhaps, in addition to a little freighting work, Marshall found employment in a drug store where he was able to use his Civil War pharmaceutical skills. Amanda could help keep a hotel or boarding house running even though she was in that “delicate condition. Unfortunately, Marshall continued to struggle with his health. Amanda spoke of Marshall’s health at his 1890 pension deposition:
“The first sickness I knew of in Colo. Was in Denver, winter of 1866-’67. Well, it was the same as he had before at Boston. If I remember right it was brought on by his getting his feet wet. We had Dr. Scott, don’t know as he told me what it was. He had a pain in his left side. Think he was in bed nearly 3 weeks, had neither a cold, cough, fever, or bowel trouble. My impression is Dr. Scott called it neuralgia. No trouble or pain with head or face.”
“Well, he complained of this pain in left side same as before. I worked over him every day with hot applications to his feet, hands, arm and neck, and left side. Was not lung trouble. I place my hand on his heart and it was beating very hard. I called it a “tearing” feeling. No, the Dr. did not say his heart was affected. He [Marshall] made me get up one night and open the window for air, said he couldn’t get his breath.”
— Rodney Chipp, “Case of Marshall P. Felch, No. 401703.”
An Ideal Location
When Marshall and Amanda acquired land in the Garden Park Area, north of Canon City, they did so primarily because of its proximity to the oil wells. They were getting familiar with the Colorado Mountains through the stories they were hearing and now they were starting to notice that their ranch was in a very good location to access those mountains. Those mountain areas such as Montezuma were seriously difficult to access at the time. At this moment in time, most prospectors and miners were accessing Montezuma through South Park. Getting to South Park from their ranch was not really any more difficult than getting their from Denver or Old Colorado City.
“Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection,” April 19, 1866.
Department of the Interior. Bureau of Pensions. 1849-1930.
War of 1812 Pension and Bounty Land Warrant Application Files. Record Group 15: Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, 1773 – 2007, 1871.
Donald H. Kupfer, Ph.D. “CANON CITY’S OIL SPRING, FREMONT COUNTY, COLORADO: COLORADO’S FIRST COMMERCIAL OIL PROSPECT (1860); AND THE DISCOVERY OF THE FLORENCE OIL FIELD (1881).” Drake Well Foundation © 2012 Petroleum History Institute, no. Oil-Industry History, Volume 1, Number 1, 2000 (2000).
“Fold3 – Historical Military Records.” Fold3. Accessed December 5, 2017. http://www.fold3.com/.
Pangborn, Joseph Gladding. The New Rocky Mountain Tourist, Arkansas Valley and San Juan Guide. Chicago : Knight & Leonard, 1878.
RICHARDSON, ALBERT D. BEYOND THE MISSISSIPPI, FROM THE GREAT RIVER TO THE GREAT OCEAN: Life and Adventure on the… Prairies, Mountains, and Pacific Coast. S.l.: FORGOTTEN BOOKS, 2016.
Siegle, Clive G. “Pike in Colorado.” Org. Zebulon Pike – The real Pathfinder. Accessed December 2, 2017. https://www.zebulonpike.org/pike-in-colorado.htm.
“Territorial Records – Fremont County Colorado.” Book A. Fremont County Administration Building – Canon City Colorado: Fremont County, 1866.
White, C. Albert, United States, and Bureau of Land Management. A History of the Rectangular Survey System. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management , 1983.
Next Chapter: Into the Mountains
Sarah is born in late July of 1867. Marshall and Amanda live in Denver for another year but they are planning their next move. Word of silver discoveries in the high mountains abound and there appears to be opportunities to make money. Marshall couldn’t do any hard labor inside a mine but astute entrepreneurs didn’t make money by striking it rich in a mine. They made money servicing the miners. Marshall runs some freight into the high mountains and comes across a new silver mining town called Montezuma. Amanda and Marshall take the plunge. They relocate to Montezuma in the high mountains where they start a boarding house in the roughest of conditions.