Built solely for the
purpose of keeping a certain class of citizens out of a county, Fort Peabody is
the highest sentry post of its kind in the USA. The guardhouse and remains of a
flag mount and sniper nest, squatting on top of a 13,365-foot ridge in
southwestern Colorado, have been approved by the Keeper of the National
Register of Historic Places as a site important to the state's history. It is
also a site of significance to the nation's labor history.
Fort Peabody's mute
wood and crumbling stone tell the story of conquest, class struggle, and the
role of government in the labor disputes of a century ago. The cartridges found
at the site speak volumes of a time when the Colorado National Guard (CNG)
could be sold to businessmen and used to oppress citizens, and to gain control
of legal, political, and economic authority.
The sentry post, which
commands a breathtaking view above Imogene Pass between Ouray and Telluride,
was built in 1904 during the height of statewide labor disturbances. At the
time, the Western Federation of Miners was managing legal strikes in the San
Juan district, Cripple Creek district, Colorado City, and other regions of the
state. The CNG Troop A, First Squadron Cavalry specifically built the post on
the county line to prevent union miners or their sympathizers from entering San
Miguel County, and to thwart deported men, classified as "undesirable
citizens," from returning home via Imogene Pass.
Troop A was under command
of Captain Bulkeley Wells, mine manager of the Smuggler-Union Mining Company.
The CNG unit was actually created by Wells and approved by Governor James H.
Peabody in January 1904, the members mustered in on January 11. Membership
consisted of Wells' Smuggler employees, friends, and cowboys from the west end
of the county. The cowboys offered to serve without pay, furnishing their own
horses and weapons. Wells paid for their ammunition and rations, housing them
in his company's buildings, thereby making it evident that CNG soldiers were in
his personal employ. Troop A sentries occupied Fort Peabody after Wells took
command of the district on February 21, 1904.
MaryJoy Martin, author of
the award-winning book on labor history, The
Corpse on Boomerang Road: Telluride's War on Labor 1899-1908, nominated
the site for the National Historic Register in November 2004. "The process
takes a few months," Martin said, "but the research can take much longer." She
said Fort Peabody was occupied until martial law was revoked in the district on
June 15, 1904. She said evidence indicates the post may have been occupied as
late as 1908, since Wells used his mining company employees as sentries. The
guardhouse was never used for anything else.
The USDA Forest Service
acquired this property from the Idarado Mining Company in 2002. Leigh Ann Hunt,
archeologist for the Grand Mesa,
Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest, and the Forest Heritage Program
Manager said, "It is a miracle this little stone hut survived to the present
day." Hunt believes it is essential "to have its historical importance
documented in the form of a National Register nomination, which will assist us
in managing it for the future."
The site was surveyed and
mapped by Jonathon C. Horn, a co-owner and Principal Investigator at
Alpine Archaeological Consultants,
Inc. of Montrose, Colorado. "Fort Peabody has the most incredible view of
any historical site in the state," Horn said. He identified cartridges from the
site as consistent with those used by National Guard troops in 1904. Several
different calibers were in use, and the .30-40 Krag cartridge with the "W.R.A.
Co. 30 U.S.G" headstamp found at the site, "may indicate that National Guard
troops were using cast off U.S. military rifles," according to
The first sentries at this
post were armed with rifles and bayonets and their own sidearms. Two or three
men on duty at the post slept in the small guardhouse. A flagpole was mounted
on the highpoint above the pass at 13,365 feet and the US Flag was said to be
visible from the valley west of Telluride. A small stone shelter was built a
few dozen yards below the flagpole mount. This was the "sniper nest," where a
sentry perched with his rifle trained on the pass road.
The story of the labor
struggles in San Miguel County has been fully documented in Martin's book. She
believes, "Fort Peabody is probably the only remaining structure exclusively
representative of Colorado's labor troubles in 1903-04. Its inclusion on the
National Register will make certain this dark era isn't forgotten. Such things
as those nightmarish abuses of power should never happen in a
To read the story of Fort
in the context of Telluride's labor history, see the
on Boomerang Road: Telluride's War on Labor
Copyright by TMM 2005
[No part of this material may
be used without permission of TMM]
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