Colorado Springs at 150 | Brig. General William Palmer shaped Colorado – sometimes using ruthless tactics | Premium
Editor’s Note: In July, as Colorado Springs prepares for its 150th anniversary on the 31st, The Gazette prepared a series of articles on the history of our city. Return for a fascinating glimpse into the people and events that made Colorado Springs the landmark it is today.
Brig. General William Palmer holds an important place in the minds of some Colorado Springs residents as the visionary who laid the foundation for the city. But his dreams and his railroad took money to build, and although many communities across the state felt his influence, not all of them remember a philanthropist.
“Knowing him for what he only did in this city is not knowing him. … Its influence, good and bad, extends statewide, ”said Leah Davis Witherow, curator of history at Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.
Palmer was an idealist with a grand vision for Colorado Springs to become a spa town in the middle of a barren short-grass prairie, and for a railroad that would run from Denver to El Paso, Texas, then to Mexico City, but he had no personal fortune to help him build it.
He came from a middle-class Quaker family who counted on him for support from his early teens. A gifted student, he got off to a good start in the rail industry working for J. Edgar Thompson, president of Pennsylvania Railroad, one of the world’s largest and most successful railroads.
After fighting in the Civil War and going into business, he had to travel extensively with his friend Dr William Bell, founder of Manitou Springs, to find investors on the East Coast and in Europe. He created numerous companies to handle real estate sales, from the coal mines and the steel mill in Pueblo to provide rails for the railroad, among other businesses. At least a dozen of his fellow Civil War veterans came to help with the management, Witherow said.
The companies pumped money into each other to help build the railroad at a time when southern Colorado was sparsely populated and failed to see the rapid growth Palmer needed or envisioned, a declared Witherow.
It also didn’t have many large outside clients to support its businesses early on and had to deal with several recessions.
“He is idealistic when it comes to profit. He’s an idealist in the markets, ”Witherow said.
To support his railroad, Palmer used some of the ruthless methods of other railroad companies to raise funds.
For example, the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad told Pueblo that it plans to bypass the city westbound from Cañon City unless residents sell $ 100,000 in bonds to help fund the construction of the path. of iron. As the railroad neared Pueblo, the company returned for an additional $ 50,000, according to an article in The Pueblo Lore by Peggy Runco Willcox.
Then, instead of stopping in Pueblo, Palmer bought 48,000 acres and created a new town across the Arkansas River and called it South Pueblo, a community which was later annexed to the Most big city.
“There have been negative feelings for decades,” Runco Willcox said.
Some of the seething anger is apparent in an 1873 story published in the Colorado Daily Chieftain after the Denver and Rio Grande failed to build a train depot a year after they came to town: “We don’t think so. not that our people deserve such treatment at the hands of the company. In Colorado Springs, the company has (sic) made available a comfortable room for the passengers. Why not here? This is just one of the grievances we have heard our people complain about.
Denver and Rio Grande then created new cities outside of Cañon City, Trinidad, Salida, and Animas City, which we now know as Durango, the city created by the railroad.
Perhaps the most obvious community that didn’t get rail service was Old Colorado City, founded much earlier in 1859 and the territory’s first capital.
Palmer did not want to serve existing communities as the land around the new train stops had to be sold to businesses and residents to fund the extension of the railroad, Witherow said. Congressional grants to support the railroads ended due to widespread corruption before Palmer began building, and he had no low-interest loans or land grants including other railways. iron had benefited, she said.
“Money is an almost constant struggle for General Palmer,” Witherow said.
Then his railroad faced stiff competition when the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroads arrived in southern Colorado and the two fought for the way west of the silver mines of Leadville through the Royal Gorge.
The intense and protracted conflict of 1878 to 1880, known as the Royal Gorge War, escalated into violence on several occasions, most notably when crews from Denver and Rio Grande took over the railroad by force as a result. of a court order granting them control, according to the Royal Gorge Route Railroad.
As Denver and Rio Grande won the Royal Gorge, it lost Raton Pass to the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroads and Palmer had to give up his dream of connecting to El Paso.
Disappointing profits also made him vulnerable to a takeover and in 1883 he lost control of Denver and Rio Grande, Witherow said.
The early days of the Pueblo steel mill founded by Palmer were also rough, and workers slept in shacks or on the ground because there was no housing, said Victoria Miller, curator of the Steelworks Center of the West.
The company later became the state’s largest employer after Palmer’s competitor, John Osgood, took it over. For a time, belching chimneys helped promote the city as a symbol of wealth, Runco Wilcox said.
One of his later projects, the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, formed in 1881, connected with Salt Lake and the Utah mines and made Palmer’s fortune.
“There really is a goal instead of a dream. … His idealism kept him from succeeding with his first two ventures, ”Witherow said.
He also came to regret some of his trading decisions, writing to his wife that the market was so competitive that it forced men to do dishonest things and that he was ashamed of certain actions, she said. .
“He always stood up and questioned his decisions,” she said.
Upon retirement, Palmer built on his initial vision for Colorado Springs to be a place that nurtures physical and spiritual health by donating many additional acres of parkland to citizens.
These gifts of land showed that he could be both an industrialist who believed the West was open to take and an advocate for the environment, just as he was a Quaker who followed his conscience and fought for civil war because he believed that slavery was a greater evil than slavery. conflict.
“It’s a study of contrasts,” Witherow said.