From Mountain Men to Scouts and Farmers

Many mountain men traversed this area and trapped beaver.

They were men lured by the adventure of exploring uncharted wilderness. They made their living by supplying animal hides to traders.

From the early 1800s until the mid-1840s, beaver pelts were in high demand. The soft underfur was made into felt for stylish top hats. In the 1840s, silk top hats became more fashionable, and the bottom dropped out of the beaver market.

Many of the trappers began hunting bison or scouting for western expeditions. Some became traders. Still others settled down to become farmers. The following true story tells of one man’s evolution from a mountain man to a respected citizen of a small western town:

George Simpson was lured west by the exciting tales of trappers and mountain men. In May of 1841, he joined a group from Missouri and headed west. In June, Simpson met old Bill Williams at Fort Laramie. Williams said to the young man,"Come along, sonny, you are as green as a gosling and as soft as a boiled turnip, but I’ll make a beaver trapper of you in a few seasons." Simpson eagerly took up with-the trappers instead of continuing west. He made his way down to Bent’s Fort, a popular trading post along the Santa Trail. There, he met Robert Fisher and the two men discussed plans for a trading post near the confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River. In 1842, along with Matthew Kinkead, Joseph Mantz and Edmond "Francisco" Conn, they built the trading post "El Pueblo." In that year, Simpson also married fourteen-year-old Juana Suaso.

El Pueblo would become the couple’s home for three years. The fort’s adobe walls enclosed a placita, or courtyard. The men from the small adobe fort went out to trade with the local Indians. Buffalo hides were traded for sugar, corn meal, flour, blankets, guns, coffee and other trinkets.

For several years the traders conducted a profitable business. Then in June of 1845, Mexican trade restrictions prevented traders from getting goods from Taos. One by one, the partners left El Pueblo. Simpson and some of the others headed 23 miles west to Hardscrabble to try farming. El Pueblo was abandoned.

In later years Simpson headed to St.Louis, leaving his wife and children behind. Undoubtedly lured by gold,spent from 1850 to 1852 in California before he returned to Pueblo to be reunited with his family.

In 1858, Simpson drove a wagon hauling supplies for the U.S. Army. While they were camped at Cherry Creek (near present-day Denver), Simpson panned a little gold from the creek. Later, on the Oregon Trail, Simpson told some men he had found the gold near Pikes Peak. Soon the news of gold in Colorado spread far and wide. Before long, hundreds of people were heading west with "Pikes Peak or Bust" emblazoned on their wagons.

Simpson and his family eventually settled in Trinidad, Colorado. There, George became a respected citizen, serving as County Clerk, writing articles for newspapers and serving on the school board. Simpson died in 1885. He had grown much since his days as a mountain man.