A Tale of Two Florissants

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Image is The Castello House. Charles Castello was mayor of Florissant Missouri from 1865 until 1890

By Beth Dodd:

 

 

Like so many other early Colorado pioneers, the Castello family came to Colorado Territory in search of gold. Charles Castello left his home in Florissant, Missouri and travelled by ox team to the gold diggings in Gregory Gulch near Central City in 1859. His father, James Castello followed in 1860. James worked Nevada Gulch near Central City for a time and then moved on to the diggings near Fairplay.

James then sent Charles back home to Missouri to bring the rest of their family to the mountains. James’ wife and Charles’ mother, Catherine Hughes Castello, and her children; Lucy Ann, James Jr., Mary, John, and Frank, boarded a westbound train headed for Atchison, KS in 1863. Three others, Andrew, Hattie, and Henry, had died as children in Missouri.

Catherine and her children were met at the Kansas depot by two guides, John and Aaron Ripley, who led them on a two month ox cart trip into the mountains to join James. In later days, Catherine’s grandchildren would recall stories she told them about life back in Missouri, which was embroiled in the Civil War at the time of her departure. The Castello’s oldest son Charles chose to remain behind in Missouri in spite of the war, and served as the mayor of Florissant, MO from 1865 to 1890.

During their seven years in Fairplay, the Castello’s established the Castello Hotel, a two story log building that was also used to hold town meetings. James Castello had been a sheriff and jail keeper back in Saint Louis, MO before moving west. He was appointed a Park County judge because of this past legal experience. In 1865, he became a member of the first state senate for the Colorado Territory. Judge Castello was also the receiver for Fairplay’s U.S. Land Office, collecting and depositing federal monies up until 1872.

While in Fairplay, Judge Castello also served as an Indian Agent for the Colorado Superintendent of Indian Affairs. He was not corrupt like many other people appointed to work with Colorado’s native peoples, and he became a trusted friend of the Utes. He sometimes worked on behalf of Colorado Governor Evans in interacting with them.

Also while the family was living in Fairplay, the Castello’s daughters got married. In 1865, Lucy Ann married George Barrett, a freighter and miner, and in 1866 Mary wed William Beery. Beery was a teamster on the Ute Pass Wagon Road, and it may have been through him that James and Catherine first learned about the Florissant Valley. Soon after the girls married, the mines around Fairplay were mostly played out and the Castello’s decided to seek a new home.

In June of 1870, James and Catherine left Fairplay behind and built a cabin at the western base of “Fortification Hill” at the junction of East and West Twin Creeks in what would one day become Teller County. The hill was named for a small stone fort on top built by the Ute people in order to defend their hunting grounds from competing tribes.

At the time that the Castello’s moved to Florissant it was open, unsettled country. The area had good fresh water and plentiful game and timber. The Utes had a trail nearby that roughly followed today’s Teller #1 and the Wildhorn Road to travel to the Indian Agency in Denver. The Ute Pass Wagon road, originally another Ute Indian trail and now U.S. Hwy 24, also passed by Castello’s Trading Post. It ran east and west along Twin Creek down through the canyon from Hayden’s Divide.

In the beginning, the Castello’s closest neighbor was eleven miles away and the closest town was Colorado City, now a part of Colorado Springs. However, other families soon moved into the area including the E.J. Smith’s, the Marcott’s, the Westal’s, the Riggs, the Welty’s, the Long’s, and others. The Castello’s soon built a second cabin to use as a Ute Indian trading post. They also added a hotel and started a ranch.

Because Castello and his wife were friends of the Utes and knew their leaders, including Colorow and Ouray, they would often have Ute guests in their home. The Florissant Valley was a preferred camping spot for the Utes, both before and after the trading post was built. For example, Ouray and about 600 others camped in the Florissant area for several months in the winter of 1874-75. However, the local Tabeguache Utes were forced out of the area and onto a reservation in Utah in 1880.

When the Castello’s first built their Twin Creek trading post, the Ute Pass Wagon Road was already being heavily used by Americans travelling to Leadville and other mining towns to the west. The road had been a toll road since 1860 and was used daily by freight wagons and stage coaches. Visitors to the Castello Trading Post recalled the Judge’s warm hospitality and his wife’s good cooking, as well as their petrified wood fireplace. Travelers would often trade away travel weary horses and oxen, and Castello easily acquired stock for his ranch in this manner.

Travelers also brought mail, but this was unreliable, so Castello petitioned to get a post office in 1872. The little community that was growing up around his place had been called Twin Creek, but now he named it Florissant after his old home town in Missouri. By 1876, the population of Florissant had reached around 70 people. The little town included a blacksmith shop, a school, three sawmills, and more than 20 log houses. Florissant would continue to grow and prosper with the coming of the Colorado Midland Railroad and the discovery of gold in Cripple Creek.

Judge James Castello died in 1878. He is buried with other members of his family in the Florissant Cemetery. In addition to his founding of the town of Florissant, he is also remembered with Castello Street in Fairplay