Editor’s Note: As we enter 2017, Pueblo’s history is an important element for our readers. Reprinted in January 2016.
James Pierson Beckwourth one of the original builders of Fort El Pueblo
Born in 1798 into slavery James P. Beckwourth was to have an impact on the initial founding of Pueblo, Colorado. His mother was a mulatto and his father was Sir Jennings Beckworth of English and Irish nobility.
Freed by his father in 1824 he joined the William Ashley’s fur trapping company and became fur trapper and mountain man. He later joined the Rocky Mountain Fur Company and spent time with the Crow Indian nation. Later in 1837 he volunteered with the United States Army to fight in the Second Seminole War in Florida.
Beckwourth by 1840 was independent trader and in 1842 it was initially written that together with George Simpson, Alexander Barclay and Joseph Doyle they help built Fort El Pueblo a trading post on the Napesta (Arkansas River) and Fountaine Qui Bouille (Fountain Creek). Later research documented that Robert Fisher, Mathew Kinkead, Francisco Conn, George Simpson and Joseph Mantz were the original owners and builders.
The walls of the Fort were over eight to twelve feet high, the walls were of adobe and the fort was patterned after Bent’s Fort located down river 70 miles. The Fort and had cooking facilities, blacksmith shop, tailor shop carpenter shop as well as good well water.
The Fort was to play a vital role in new trade opportunity with Cheyennes, Arapaho, Apaches, Utes, Comanches, Kiowas and roving bands of Crows, as well as the Shoshoni. Beckwourth in his memoirs states that he erected a structure for a store in the Fort. He did not make much money and left in a few months.
In 1852 Beckwourth met Daniel Bonner and worked with him to publish his memoirs in 1856. By 1864 Beckwourth was in Denver and was hired by Col. John M. Chivington to act as scout in campaign against the Cheyennes and Arapahoe Indians. He was one of the scouts that found the two tribes at Sand Creek, now known as the Sand Creek Massacre.
The U.S. Army employed Beckwourth as a scout at Fort Laramie and Fort Phil Kearny in Wyoming. He returned to a Crow village and in October 29th 1866 he died and was buried on a platform in a tree. Beckwourth Pass is named in his honor. It is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, State Route 70, and at the elevation of 5,221 feet.
A reproduction of Fort El Pueblo was built on the original site and is the home of the El Pueblo History Museum. Located at 301 North Union in Pueblo, Colorado it is open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 4pm The Museum is a must see for history buffs.