Historic Marker Program

Search Road Markers
Suggest a Marker
Report a Damaged Marker

Marker Text

Return to Search Results

In its own way, Brown's Hole at the turn of the twentieth century was a bastion of law and order. People generally got along with their neighbors and minded their own business, governing themselves and settling their own scores. They often turned a blind eye to cattle rustling and tax evasion and tolerated the likes of Butch Cassidy, Isom Dart, and Black Jack Ketchum, but that's just the way things were in this remote valley. All in all, Brown's Hole was a friendly and prosperous place . . . unless you wore a badge. One Wyoming sheriff, afraid to chase a fugitive into the valley, assigned the task to a man named Philbrick--who was himself wanted in three states.

As the unlikely head of her own "gang," Elizabeth Bassett combined Southern gentility with raw frontier courage. Neighbors and ranch hands basked in her generous hospitality, but good manners only went so far in Brown's Hole. Bassett backed down from no one in this valley full of coarse characters, doing whatever was necessary to ensure her family's well being. Her two daughters were just as fearless. Ann Bassett, the "queen of the cattle rustlers," defied prosecutors and murderous rivals who tried to run her out of Brown's Hole. Her sister, Josie, built a homestead in Utah and worked it independently for half a century. She was still chopping her own wood at the age of eighty.
Photo: Outlaw with guns
Isom Dart
Denver Public Library, Western History Department

Photo: Wild Bunch
Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch
Denver Public Library, Western History Department

Photo: Cabin
"Doc" Parson's cabin was a popular hideout for the outlaws of Brown's Hole.
Kerry Ross Boren Collection

Photo: Ann Bassett
Ann Bassett
Colorado Historical Society

“It is a low one-story building constructed of wood and clay, with three connecting wings and no enclosure . . . . The whole establishment appeared somewhat poverty stricken, for which reason it is also known to the trappers by the name of Fort Misery.” – Frederick A. Wislizenus, 1839

The Rocky Mountain fur trade was in decline by the late 1830s, but it remained alive and well on the banks of the Green River at Fort Davy Crockett. Built soon after Crockett's death at the Alamo in 1836 and named in his honor, the post hosted such luminaries as Kit Carson, Jim Beckwourth and Joe Meek. With more accessible regions trapped out, Brown's Hole enjoyed a brief stay at the industry's forefront, entertaining thousands of guests for summer rendezvous. But changes in the fur market soon left free trappers out in the cold. By 1841 Fort Davy Crockett's proprietors had departed for more promising ventures, and the remaining tenants turned to horse raids and Indian fights. By the time John C. Frémont came through Brown's Hole three years later, the old post was abandoned.
“We had formed the opinion . . . that Captain Beckwourth was a rough, illiterate backwoodsman, but we were most agreeably surprised to find him a polished gentleman, possessing a fund of general information which few can boast.” – Rocky Mountain News, December 1, 1859

The boundless West could barely contain Jim Beckwourth. Born into slavery, then released by his white father, he came to the Rockies in 1824 and trapped the streams of Colorado and Wyoming with such mountain masters as Thomas Fitzpatrick, Jedediah Smith, and Jim Bridger. For forty years Beckwourth crisscrossed the wilderness as a trapper, scout, and businessman, making and witnessing history. He lived among the Crows as a war chief, helped establish El Pueblo on the Arkansas River, rode with the U.S. Army during the Mexican War, turned up in California on the eve of the gold rush, and operated one of Denver's first trading posts. Universally respected, Beckwourth never ceased his roaming. The life of this former slave is a monument to freedom.
Painting: "Trapping Beaver," Alfred Jacob Miller, 1858-1860
Colorado Historical Society

Photo: Green River
The Green River at the Gates of Lodore, Brown's Hole, Colorado
Colorado Historical Society

Photo: Jim Beckwourth
Colorado Historical Society

The hardscrabble canyons of northwestern Colorado offered no rich farmland, furs, or precious metals. But they did have enough pasturage to lure a few ranching families in the 1870s. Scattered over an area 300 miles square, these "neighbors"--crusty Charley Crouse, the tightknit Hoy brothers, the hard-working Spicers, the resourceful Bassetts--wrung decent livings out of this unwanted ground, one of the nation's last unsettled frontiers. They took on all comers, stubbornly facing down rustlers, Utes, bandits, and, when necessary, each other. They even outlasted the cattle barons, whose huge herds ran here from the 1890s until World War I. By then the grass had almost given out, but the pioneer spirit remained. To this day, family ranches endure in northwestern Colorado.

“Thirty-eight hundred sheep were stampeded over a bluff into Parachute Creek on September 10th. . . . One of the herders, Carl Brown, resisted and was shot in the hip.” – Craig Courier, September 14, 1894

When forty armed cattlemen ordered him to stop grazing his sheep in northwestern Colorado, Jack Edwards spat, "This is public domain, and I have as much right to use it as anybody!" The law agreed with him, but his captors had tradition--and guns--on their side. By local custom, whoever first grazed a section of open range held "rights" to it; sheepherders were considered trespassers and treated accordingly. In the 1890s and again in the 1910s, the cowmen terrorized their rivals, clubbing sheep to death and shooting defiant herders. The sheepmen countered by buying or leasing private acreage. Peace finally came in 1934, when Congress passed the Taylor Grazing Act, which imposed strict grazing regulations. By then Jack Edwards had retired a wealthy stockman--in Oregon.

Photo: Seated Cowboys
Cowboy Camp Along Yellow Creek, Northwest Colorado
Colorado Historical Society

Photo: The old Bassett Ranch in Brown's Hole, 1936
Utah Historical Society

Photo: Sheep Camp
Utah Historical Society

Photo: Jack Edwards
Oregon Historical Society

Return to Search Results