Summary Historical Data - South Table Mountain

By Richard J. Gardner
805 13th St.
Golden, CO 80401

Historic Account of Native Activity on Table Mountains

The only activity by native tribes recorded to have taken place is on North Table Mountain. This consists of an account by the Uintah Ute Chief Colorow, who told of an encounter with a probable Cheyenne/Arapaho contingent led by Black Kettle in the Golden valley during the 1840s. Originally encamped at the base of the mountain in what is now the area of Goosetown in east Golden when discovered by the Utes, overnight they moved to the top of the mountain. Come daylight the plains Indians were said to have waved their blankets at the Utes in defiance, and the disgusted Colorow gave up on any idea of engaging them in battle.

Aside from this, there is no Indian activity of historical record on the Table Mountains. Archeological evidence is all that may reveal what they may have done oil them any further. The only native religious site in the area of the Golden valley that is historically documented was a round ruined stone and mound structure on a knell around the foot of Mt. Zion, possibly constructed by Spanish refugees in the 1680s and used by the Utes as a religious site in 1799. The Ute activity coincides with the disastrous battle which caused plains tribes to avoid the Golden valley for two centuries.

Remains of Native Activity in Area

As previously mentioned, there is no recorded historical native activity upon South Table Mountain, of either live or recounted sightings. It is the only named mountain in the Golden area for which there is no recorded live sighting of any area tribes. This does not mean tribes weren't present there, as obviously people should have been scaling it for millennia, given the Magic Mountain evidence indicating the presence of people here for over 2,000 years. However, it seems in latter years North Table Mountain was of primary interest, and at that it would seem by the plains Indians. The Table Mountains are mentioned in passing in accounts from the 1680s, 1799, 1820, the 1830s, 1834, 1843, 1850 and 1858 prior to widespread settlement but none mention extensive Indian activity on the mountains. From 1799 to the 1980s it appears no numbers of any tribe en masse (solely individuals or small groups) have been known to set foot in the Golden valley. South Table Mountain, they clearly lie within the realm of archaeology.

Documented burials on Table Mountains

In the history of South Table Mountain there has been one documented burial, that of Maria LaGuardia in the year of 1909. She was buried by her assailant, Angeline Garramone, in a gulch on the south side of the mountain at the Cold Spring Ranch, most probably the one which Quaker Street (formerly Lava Lane) now runs through. LaGuardia was an elderly Italian matriarch of Denver who was murdered by a much younger rival, who was tried and sentenced for the murder in 1911 after the skeletal remains of LaGuardia were discovered washed down on the Cold Spring Ranch. The remains of LaGuardia were removed and re-interred in a Denver cemetery, and there are no other known human burials upon South Table Mountain. Any human remains found in a southern gulch of the mountain most likely are hers.

A singular known burial is also known to have taken place on North Table Mountain, that of a mountaineer found in 1908 beneath several feet of debris. His skeletal remains were discovered by quarry crews working to construct an aerial tramway to the mesa top on the west wide that year, and it is believed he was murdered in the 1840s by unknown Indians, with his body covered by rockfall debris. His remains have also since been removed. In total, three people are known to have died on North Table Mountain and six on South Table Mountain, including three by murder, five by accident and one by suicide.

Earliest Accounts of Human Activity on South Table Mountain

After the settlement of the Golden area, there are many known accounts of activity on South Table Mountain and some remains that still exist upon it, primarily in the areas of Castle Rock and Camp George West. The earliest recorded ascent of South Table Mountain was on February 14, 1859, when George Jackson, Tom Golden and members of the Chicago Company hunted mountain sheep atop it. There are several other accounts of hunting atop both Table Mountains throughout the 19th century, including deer and mountain cats. Despite the abundance of wildlife, there are no known accounts of attack by wildlife upon the mountain and only one fatality known in all of Golden's history, none since 1866. The earliest recorded ascent of Castle Rock was in 1860, when Mountain News Junior Editor Edward Bliss and others climbed to the top for a picnic.

South Table Mountain Historical Data

Throughout the 19th century South Table Mountain remained largely a wilderness or a grazing area under multiple ownership, with Charles Clark Welch pre-empting the portion of it containing Castle Rock. He leased this to Charles F. Quaintance in 1908, when Quaintance sought to make good on the idea of a Castle Rock resort which had been tossed around in the community since the 1890s. He constructed a burro trail to the rock, and constructed a dance pavilion at its southwest corner in 1908. In 1913 he turned this into a full-fledged recreation resort, building a funicular up the northwest flank of the slope to the Rock and building a new, larger dance pavilion at the northwest corner of the Rock, with a steel tower lighthouse standing at the western edge of the Rock between the buildings. The original building was converted into a cafeteria. Upon the closure of the resort around 1923, it was converted into the regional meeting place of the Ku Klux Klan, which held key positions of power in Colorado and portions of the United States at this time. Nighttime initiations and demonstrations were recorded to take place atop the rock, with crosses burned at its highest point near the northwest edge. The resort buildings burned in 1927 due to arsonists of disputed origin, and by the end of the 1920s the last structural elements of the Castle Rock buildings were swept away by the elements. Most metallic elements remaining from the resort, including funicular rails and the metal fencing ringing the rock, were salvaged for World War II war efforts.

At the eastern edge of the mountain a gravel quarry was opened in 1908, which coincided with the openings of another quarry on North Table Mountain and the resort. Operated by the City of Denver, this quarry was to macadamize (create paving material) for Denver's streets. Eventually it came to serve Golden's streets as well. The quarry was abandoned around the midpoint of the 20th century and has not been used since. The remainder of the eastern portion of South Table Mountain was purchased by the Colorado government for Camp George West during expansions early in the 20th century. Since that time it has been used for various military activities ranging from vehicular use to shooting ranges, but has not been extensively developed. In 1935 a stone amphitheater was carved into a gulch on the camp's property at the south side of the mountain, as well as an ammunition storage facility, which are now both listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Camp George West itself is a National Historic District.

The exact time of origin for the singular road leading to the top of South Table Mountain, now known as Quaker Street, is not known. The earliest probable date might be around 1912, the year of the first known ascent of Castle Rock by automobile. From 1925-27 it was used by the many members of the Ku Klux Klan who gathered atop the mountain, and news reporters writing down the license plate numbers Flayed a role in helping bring the downfall of the greatly secretive membership. Since that time, it has been used primarily for activity at Camp George West and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. This road was originally known by the far more poetic name of Lava Lane.

Aside from the abandoned quarry and continuing activity of Camp George West and the NREL, nothing much in the way of human remains are known to exist on the mountain, with the exception of the area of Castle Rock. Remains of the resort that still exist include: concrete and metal anchors for the resort buildings atop Castle Rock (1908/13); remains of the railing around the Rock (1913); the flight of 51 steps made of concrete leading from the funicular to the top of the Rock (1913); the concrete housing of the drive mechanism of the funicular at the top of its path (1913); and the remains of the path of the funicular (1913). It is probable the remains of the burro trail remain as well. No known native remains are recorded to have been found atop the Rock, though it's quite possible it has been used for native religious activity in the past. Accounts so far found of sacred activity upon the Rock is that of Protestant Christian activity.

Several human uses of South Table Mountain have for one reason or another never materialized, such as using its northeast alcove as a staging area for supersonic flight, placing a second gravel quarry on the mountain, or even its candidacy to be the home of NORAD. There have been 4 known rockfalls on the mountain, all changing the face of Castle Rock, all during the 20th century. 6 people have fallen from Castle Rock, two of whom were murdered, and two of whom survived, one without serious injury.

One permanent water spring has been known to exist on South Table Mountain, which was used to pipe water for use at what is now the Lookout Mountain School for Boys. This author has identified this spring to exist on the current property of Faith Lutheran Church, and no native remains were found at it during the church's large-scale excavation and construction about it during the mid-1980s. The remains of a coal mine, operated around the late 19th-early 20th centuries at the foot of the southwest flank slope of Castle Rock still exist in the form of two deep shaft pits adjoining the trail up the Mountain at the east end of 18th Street. Also, fossilized plant remains of significance have been found on the western slops of the mountain, which have been excavated by the Colorado School of Mines in the 19th and 20th centuries, and doubtless more remain.

Possible Lessons for Future

There are lessons in the past of human activity on South Table Mountain which provide several lessons for those contemplating it in the future. One is that all of the buildings constructed near the edge of the rock (such as those on Castle Rock) stuck out prominently in the landscape, so much so that the buildings of the resort were generally considered an eyesore at the time they were destroyed in 1927. The 1913 building was known to stand 35 feet tall, which gives one a possible base of reference in determining the visual impact of any future buildings. Pathways up steep slopes big enough for an automobile similarly stuck out, but not those on gradual slopes like Lava Lane. Sounds as loud as explosives could easily be heard in Golden, even from the gravel quarry on the opposite side of the mountain (which Harley West described as being like bombing from a nearby kopje). The top of the mountain suffers from high winds extreme enough to topple sturdy steel structures (the collapse of the lighthouse tower in 1929), which also exponentially increase fire danger (both resort buildings, only partially made of wood, went up within minutes in high winds in 1927). For any sizable set of buildings atop the mountain individual fire protection would be vital, as the amount of time it took for a steam-powered automobile to race at top speed on vacant streets from 13th and Washington down South Golden Road, up Lava Lane to the top of Castle Rock in 1912 (12 minutes) was sufficient time to completely engulf the resort buildings in flames.

While there are known historic remains upon South Table Mountain, if they remain neglected for much longer they will deteriorate beyond repair. At present the remains of the Castle Rock Resort are in fair condition and can be repaired, but are beginning to show signs of advanced deterioration that will cause them to crumble apart in the nearer future if attention is not given to them soon. The Camp George West Amphitheater is in better shape, but it also remains abandoned and neglected. While it may still be utilized as an amphitheater, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory cannot justify the budgetary expense of maintaining such a facility which is tangent to their mission of work. Therefore, it is likewise doomed to deteriorate unless, basically, someone uses it and maintains it.

Overall, it is this author's opinion that the historic remains so far documented on South Table Mountain are well worth preserving, and the historic components of Camp George West are already listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Likewise, Castle Rock itself is eligible for listing there, if anything based on the Frier designation of Quaintance's office building in downtown Golden. Castle Rock itself, with its resort remains, are potentially eligible for National Historic Landmark designation, the highest historic designation in the country, reserved solely for places of documented national historic significance. This is due to the fact that Castle Rock has been a nationally-known natural landmark in the 19th and 20th centuries, the rise of the Klan to power, the national fame of the Castle Rock Resort, and Castle Rock's longstanding recognition as a symbol and trademark dating back over 100 years.


       Date: Saturday, November 28, 1998 1:43 PM
       Subject: And North Table Mountain History
            I have decided now is the time to go ahead and
       inform all that at last my historical data on North Table
       Mountain is completed, in a form I would find
       satisfactory for publication. Along with it I've made an
       updated version of the South Table Mountain history, as
       well as that of the Castle Rock Resort and other specific
       historic places on the mountains. I also have more
       information on the people involved in the history of each
       mountain. I believe all will find the histories quite an
       interesting and enlightening thing to search through.
            The most detailed version of the history, as well as
       my data on the specific locations of archaeological sites
       and other such sensitive data, I'll be giving to Jeffco
       open space and the other permanent owners that eventually
       shake out in this situation, now that I'm in extensive
       contact with personnel at various points in the county
       government, particularly the historic commission. It is
       best not to reveal everything to the general public,
       especially the archaeological site information, for
       reasons I imagine you can figure out. It was wise of me
       to hedge my bets as to absolutely saying no such remains
       existed on South Table Mountain, because I would have
       been mistaken. To the contrary, they are similar to those
       I've seen and know of on North Table Mountain.
            As to actually getting the historical info I have to
       offer, I'll be posting it on the web shortly so that
       there is a simple central place to go to to look at it.
       Among the new info you folks will see will include a
       revision of the earliest known white person to have
       climbed one of the mountains (it is most likely he spoke
       Spanish), the origin and operation of the Cliff Springs
       Resort, a detailed look at the Bussert Farm atop North
       Table Mountain, data on the Pipe and Wyman ranches atop
       South Table Mountain, 3 more tragic deaths bringing the
       overall known total between the mountains to 12; the
       earliest known person we have the name of who climbed one
       of the mountains (the Cheyenne chief Black Kettle, later
       killed at the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864); and much
       more. Right now it is all disassembled, which is how I
       can say the info is complete but can't give it out in
       finished form. Just keep paying attention to the GLA
       portion of the Pullman House site and the history will
       soon appear there.
            What's held up the NTM history this long was
       actually finding its most dramatic death, since I figured
       it would be dishonest to talk something so tantalizing
       without providing proof of its existence. I've basically
       put it in rough summary form since the actual newspaper
       reports were far too graphic to ever be publicly
       published in this day and age. Basically put, it was the
       1882 death of James Belgin, who had been hunting atop
       North Table Mountain, and was descending on the rock
       cliffs with a companion using his rifle to clear out ice
       and snow. The rifle's hammer caught on a rock and fired;
       you can probably figure out the rest. He is the one
       person who has fallen the furthest down one of these
       mountains in their collective history, but fortunately
       died almost instantaneously from the wound.
            Another tragedy is the death of a little boy from a
       rattlesnake bite at the Cold Spring Ranch; but one
       eventually to go with it is that of a mountaineer who
       survived a similar bite on North Table Mountain by
       shooting his own leg, and wrapping a tournequet to stop
       the flow of poison in his body. Those two stories alone
       bode much to say for future open space enthusiasts on
       these mountains. Other, much happier stories abound,
       including the man who fell from Castle Rock and escaped
       with only minor injuries (George Silsbee); the group of
       3 men who rigged up a windlass and bucket to hoist 150
       pounds of honey from a hive in the cliffs of North Table
       Mountain; and the bride who refused to be married until
       she was saying her vows atop Castle Rock (Pauline Snook
            So, I thought I'd give you folks advance notice of
       what was going on. I hope in the future this serves to
       eqalize attention to both mountains, as each has a
       colorful history to share which is different from the
       other, yet STM always seems to get all the attention. I
       will be placing a number of my own photos from each
       mountain at the site too, from the sides and atop both
       mountains, including scenery I doubt many area people
       know even exists. Anyone is free to copy what I put at
       the site, if and only if I get credit for my work.
            I imagine in the immediate future I will have much
       work ahead of me with the county and others to preserve
       and repair the historic remains on both these mountains.
       For that I have the voters of this county to thank. So,
       placing this history where they may see and know it is
       the least I can do to thank them. I hope everyone likes
       it as much as I have.
       - Rick Gardner