The title makes it sound like this will be a series ... it may or may not be.
I found this gravestone in the Bald Mountain Cemetery, which was the town cemetery for the once-thriving mining town of Nevadaville, Colorado, where now nothing but a few old buildings, mostly in disrepair, stand. I first looked up one of the Seymour children listed on this stone on Find a Grave because I was so touched and saddened by this gravestone with the names of five children, all having died before reaching one year of age, all belonging to the same parents.
Unfortunately, the photos I took aren’t super great, as I was just using an older phone camera. As it’s a little hard to read, the ages and dates are: age 9 months, died 1876; age 5 months, died 1877; age 2 months, died 1881; age 3 months, died 1883; age 8 months, died 1886.
I wondered if I could find one of the children listed with a cause of death. I found the kids but no further info, only links to their parents. I first followed the link to the mother, Mary Jane, I hoped there would be some explanation for this sad parade of deaths, but there was nothing. She was linked to her husband, Bennett, and I was delighted to find an extended piece on him, his own autobiography, in fact. I was surprised to learn what a prominent and enterprising citizen he had been in my area and it was fun to find him also associated with characters I’ve recently learned about from our expeditions in Breckenridge and Leadville. We like to map out how various 4x4 trails and old mining roads connect and intertwine across the mountains, and now I’m starting to map out how various people connect and intertwine across the 19th and early 20th century mining communities.
I imagine I won’t be able to help myself from eventually making a whole post on Nevadaville and a selection of gravestones in its cemetery. But for now, I’m just sharing a slice of Bennett E Seymour’s life, though to my disappointment there was no mention in the little memoir about how all his children died. It only mentioned that 2 of his 7 children lived to adulthood. This was far from an uncommon situation in these mining communities, there is a preponderance of graves marked “baby” in all of these cemeteries, but somehow the listing of 5 children together above their parents’ names was more poignant. It accentuated the sadness, especially because they were all old enough to have names. There are so many deaths not even remembered by name, merely as "baby," such as these in the Bald Mountain Cemetery.
I read Bennett Seymour's autobiographical notes on the Find a Grave website, reprinted from the publication, “Gilpin County Pioneers.” I found Mr. Seymour’s ancestry interesting, as contrary to common perceptions of early homesteaders and miners, he had far from a shabby or anonymous pedigree. Born in Ohio in 1853, the ninth generation in America, his ancestors came to Hartford, Connecticut, from England in 1639. His ancestor who first set foot here was a great grandson of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector of the Realm during the reign of Henry VIII.
For those with an interest in a pioneer’s life, I’ve condensed and summarized some excerpts from Mr. Seymour’s autobiographical notes. I don’t know what year this was written in, but Mr. Seymour lived to the ripe old age of 87 and died in 1940. From his concluding sentence, I would imagine this was written in the mid or late 1930s.
“On March 18, 1861, according to [my father’s] diary, he started for 'Pikes Peak,' being compelled, as he stated, to do something, and believed that the place for him to go. Reaching St. Joe, Mo., he and some other men bought the necessary outfit and started on the long trip to California Gulch (now Leadville), where they arrived the latter part of April.” Read more about the early days of Leadville and see photos in my post HERE.
“We [his family including mother and sister] began the long trip to Colorado in May 1863. With two yoke of oxen, our wagon, instead of the usual canvas cover had a small house made of thin light lumber, somewhat like the present day trailer, wide enough that my little sister and I could sleep crosswise and our parents lengthwise of the wagon. There was a small window in the side and doors at the ends.”
“As grass and water were necessary requisites for camping we traveled some days farther than others, but I think we averaged fifteen miles a day. When we reached what was then known as the great American desert wood became scarce. A log could be carried by being tied under the wagon. Buffalo chips were used for fuel if necessary. On the trip we saw buffalo, antelope, coyotes, prairie dogs and Indians, the latter being friendly, we sometimes camped near them.”
“We reached Denver, then having a population of a few hundred people, in July. Leaving Denver we soon entered the mountains and after following the Platte to South Park, reached Fairplay, Weston Pass and finally California Gulch and the little settlement called Oro City. Father purchased a hotel which he operated for perhaps a year. He kept the oxen which he used to haul supplies from Denver. Everything we ate or drank except beef and water, had to be hauled in by team.” You can read posts and see my photos from South Park and Fairplay HERE.
“The matter of supplies in winter was very important, as snow came early and was sometimes so deep that goods had to be brought in by donkeys, the men turning out to shovel trails for them. I do not know where the food was brought from, but I do remember its arrival. There were two grocery stores. Billy Young, one of our boarders, once brought us 50 pounds of flour over Mosquito pass, on snow shoes (skis), on which we were all experts.”
Erik and I and Chewie have been to the bottom of each end of Mosquito Pass, but have not traversed it. First photo is the bottom of the Fairplay side, second the Leadville side.
“My sister and I had gone to the country school in Iowa for perhaps a year and were not just the age we should have been in school. As there was neither church nor school in the place [California Gulch, i.e. Leadville], my father taught us evenings when we had the time, by the light of a tallow candle or the glow from the fire place. There were, I think, only about 10 children in the Gulch. Father Dyer, an ardent preacher, came to the gulch occasionally and preached on the street or in a saloon or wherever there was an audience. "Municipal Facts" of December, 1930, has a very interesting article in regard to him. We knew him well.” [I introduced the Father to you in a previous post HERE , about halfway down.]
Here Mr. Seymour goes on to talk some about his mother and sisters, the death of his father. By the time I got to the paragraph below, I didn’t have a good idea where he, Bennett, was in life, so I was taken aback by the last line in it and amused by it.
“I had secured a job with Charles Nathrop, a grocer, [who founded the town of Nathrop, CO, a small town near the more well-known Buena Vista] and remained for some time, working and batching with him in the store, sometimes in his absence, being left in charge. Once he sent me to the Salt works in South Park for salt. I rode one pony and led another, to carry the salt. On the return trip I rode bareback, using my saddle on the other pony to pack the salt. The return trip took two days, the last 30 miles being from Weston's over Weston Pass without seeing a person, a lonely day for a 13 year old boy.”
Haha. There are still kids this age who undertake such journeys in Third or Developing countries, but you certainly wouldn’t encounter an American kid with this pluck, and if you did, his parents would probably be arrested for reckless parenting or something. Different days back then … childhood was a luxury many could not afford.
We drove Weston Pass a couple years ago:
“In the following December I came to Gilpin County by state coach. From Central City I walked to Nevadaville and passed on the way a young girl who some eight years later became my wife [Mary Jane]. We lived together nearly 49 years. She and our seven children, two of whom grew to manhood, are laid to rest in Bald Mountain cemetery, as are also my mother and sister Libbie.”
And so I learned at this point in the narrative that even the two children who saw adulthood pre-deceased their poor parents. Imagine burying 7 children, the totality of your progeny, at 7 different services. One adult son was 28 years old and the other 31 at their deaths. There is a pretty extensive obituary for one of the sons, Burritt, in the Gilpin Observer upon his death in 1907. Some excerpts I found of interest:
“He belonged to no lodges, fraternal or beneficial, but carried insurance sufficient for the protection of his family in the old line companies.” Interesting to me that having carried life insurance was so noteworthy as to be mentioned in an obituary. “… the casket was covered with beautiful floral contributions. A larger funeral is seldom seen in this city, there being upwards of seventy carriages in line. Out of respect for the one whose life was cut so short, the business houses closed during the funeral. He was one of the community's most respected young men and was popular with all … the fact that he was lending his assistance in a ball game intended for the entertainment of the citizens of the town, and while participating in the event should meet with an accident which virtually caused his death, makes his passing away unusually sad.”
He’d been hit in the leg with a baseball, it broke, he went to hospital, caught severe pneumonia and died. I think for Mary Jane and Bennett, they must have been so proud of their son simply for living, in light of their five children in graves to that point, and then for him to become such a pillar of the community, even more pride. I have to think his death was a major blow to them.
But back to Mr. Seymour’s memoir:
“I entered the public school of Nevadaville, and then church school in Central City – this gave me about four years total schooling … a very meager education to begin life with, but the best I could do. I was now between 14 and 15 years of age and soon went to work in the mills and mines of Nevadaville.”
“On May 21, 1874, while working at the American Flag mine I was attracted by smoke at Central City and running the distance from Nevadaville to Central found the place in flames. Going to Hawley and Manvill's store I helped them carry out goods until we could no longer enter the building. After the fire they at once bought the grocery stock of Roworth & Lake, whose brick and stone building was the only one left on Main street, and resumed business. They later sent for me and gave me a position as clerk, and the thus the fire changed my life from work at the mines to the grocery business, which I followed for over 48 years.”
“In 1880, the Hawley Merchandise company was formed with H. J. Hawley president, and I secretary and treasurer, which positions we held, he until his death in 1923, and I until the company's dissolution in 1938. For many years the Hawley Merchandise Company did a large and fairly prosperous business, but it was largely a credit business and losses considerable, there being about $70,000 of worthless accounts left unpaid. We sold the business in 1923, in which year my wife and I moved to Denver, where in 1924, she died, a sad loss to me.”
There still stands today a large warehouse building in Central City for the Hawley Merchandise Company.
There is also a building in the center of town with "Hawley" still painted on it which is now a "mercantile" I've been in several times. It's a huge space with individual booths where you can find loads of antiques and various arts and jewelry by local artists. It's a great change of pace from the small-stakes casinos that have otherwise taken over the town.
Bennett remarried in 1926. “My wife and I realize that we are nearing the end of this earthly journey, but hope God may grant us a few more years' residence in this grand old state in sight of the snow capped Rocky Mountains, a place than which I believe there is none grander or finer anywhere.”
So I never found out how so much tragedy befell the Seymours in the loss of their five infants or the second adult son. But I learned about an interesting Gilpin County pioneer, and I am a sucker for these kinds of pioneer lives and tales. Also, I’m so happy for Mr. Seymour’s last sentence, as I have wondered aloud and in writing before, whether these early miners and townspeople appreciated their spectacular surroundings, or whether they saw it as just working jobs where jobs were to be found, trying to earn a living, support families, and the landscape was coincidental if not menacing in its high altitude harsh climate. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Mr. Seymour.