Prospectors named Sopris Peak after leader of expedition
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
“The history of a state is best told in the biographies of its citizens.”
Some men live large lives. They are leaders and men of action. Such was the case with Capt. Richard Sopris.
Sopris was born in 1813 in Pennsylvania. Before he turned 40 years old, he had constructed canals, piloted riverboats and built a railroad. However, like so many others, the call of the west and of gold brought him to the Kansas Territory.
In the spring of 1859, he settled near Denver at Auraria. Shortly after his arrival, Sopris began prospecting in Gilpin County. There he was elected president of the Miners’ Union, an organization designed to maintain order within the mining camps and to establish mining law.
That autumn, Sopris was elected to the Kansas Legislature, representing Arapahoe County, Kansas Territory. Once the legislature was adjourned, Sopris and 14 other prospectors formed an expedition set for discovering gold west of the Continental Divide.
Fifteen men, their provisions, and their pack animals left Denver July 1, 1860. They traveled through South Park to what is today the town of Breckenridge, down the Blue River to the Eagle River and then over to what would become the Roaring Fork Valley.
Once Sopris’ party reached the Roaring Fork Valley, they were treated to the sight of a magnificent 12,953-foot mountain. The discovery so awed the prospectors that they named the mountain “Sopris Peak,” in honor of their expedition’s leader. Today we know this mountain as Mount Sopris.
The Sopris Expedition followed the Roaring Fork River to the Grand (Colorado) River and to the site of what would become Glenwood Springs. They camped, bathed in the springs, and cut trees that were fashioned into a raft. Before using the raft to cross the Grand River, the expedition marked their presence by inscribing on a pine tree, “These springs were discovered on July 23, 1860, by Captain Sopris and a party of prospectors.” Three months later, the party returned to Denver, without gold, but with enough information to aid in the preparation of the first map of Colorado.
Sopris later served in the Civil War, was a delegate to Colorado’s first constitutional convention, was elected mayor of Denver and developed Denver’s City Park.
Although he never gained immense economic riches from prospecting, his energy and intelligence created a rich personal life and a richer Colorado.
Willa Kane is former archivist of and a current volunteer with the Frontier Historical Society and Museum. “Frontier Diary,” which appears the first Tuesday of every month, is provided to the Post Independent by the museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Winter hours are 1-4 p.m. Monday and Thursday through Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.
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