Contact Us

Simpson rules the rest

True or False? George S. Simpson was the first clerk and recorder of Huerfano County in 1861. George S. Simpson was the first clerk and recorder of Las Animas County in 1866. And the answer is: (3) Both of the above. George S. Simpson was that rarest of frontiersmen – not only could he read and write, but he seemed to enjoy it. He went so far in his enjoyment as to compose verses and poetry. Simpson was born in St. Louis, MO, May 7, 1818 to a physician of some means who insisted his son have a formal and thorough education. While his father had hoped George would follow in his footsteps, the young Simpson fell victim to the wandering spirit that consumed so many men of St. Louis of the time, to head into the beckoning west to find adventure and fortune. He left home around 1840, heading for the newly opened country that would become the Territory of Oregon eight years later. However, in Wyoming he met Kit Carson and other mountain men who convinced him to

join them in the southwest. So he did, and became a trader in Taos. 1842 was a big year for Simpson. Along with several others involved with trading with Native Americans as well as United States and Mexican citizens, he assisted in building an adobe fortress along the banks of the Arkansas River. This became known as El Pueblo. That year he also had had managed to find the time to romance a Miss Juana M. Suazo of Taos and to marry her in November. His wife accompanied him back north where Simpson had settled at a new trading post he’d helped to establish about 30 miles west of El Pueblo on Hardscrabble Creek, and there their first child was born in 1843. She was named Isabel. Some claim Isabel Simpson was the first American child born in what became the State of Colorado. In 1849, Simpson and a close associate, Alexander Barclay, built another adobe fort and trading post in New Mexico. In the 1850s Simpson became attached to several military units in the Taos area as a guide. He also may have acted as an interpreter and hunter. In 1857, he accompanied one unit as far north as the later site of Denver, and his stories about finding traces of gold in Cherry Creek were believed to have helped fuel the famous Rush to the Rockies in the following years. Christmas Day 1854 brought the attack by Ute Chief Blanco and his band that ended the tenure of El Pueblo, not to mention the lives of its residents. The previous year, Charles Autobees had taken up Ceran St. Vrain’s offer of free land to improve. He settled on the Arkansas east of El Pueblo. Autobees there built a fortress with bastions guarding its many rooms, dug irrigation ditches and began raising fine crops. By 1861, this area was producing more food than any other in Colorado Territory. Simpson claimed some land nearby and built his own plaza to house his family and workers. Autobees’ plaza was situated on the south bank of the Arkansas just above the junction with the Huerfano River. Eighteen miles south was Joseph Doyle’s ranch. Colorado officially became a territory on Feb. 28, 1861. Autobees, as one of the two major settlements in the vast new Huerfano County (the other was Gray’s Creek, near Trinidad), became county seat. The first election, on Dec. 2, 1861, found Autobees and Doyle to be county commissioners and Simpson clerk and recorder. Interestingly, Simpson was then living at Doyle’s ranch, which was also the polling place. On Feb. 9, 1866, Las Animas County was carved out of Huerfano. George S. Simpson was appointed by the territorial legislature to serve as first county clerk and recorder. By this time Simpson was living near the future City of Trinidad. In 1866, the notorious Kaniache (Ka-ne-ha-che, Coniache), who had been wounded by settlers some 10 or 12 years earlier and whose son had been recently killed by whites, went on the warpath. He so troubled the settlers in the Trinidad area by destroying crops, burning homes, stealing livestock and other depredation and harassment that the Army was summoned. Sometime during this furor, Simpson and young Isabel got caught out on the plains by a Ute raiding party. Fleeing for their lives to the closest high point, they scaled the heights now named Simpson’s rest where they hid in a pine tree (or in a cave) and escaped discovery. It is said Simpson then declared the rocky hill had saved his life, and that he would like to be buried on its summit. The story of Simpson by Sister Blandina in her 1932 book about the Santa Fe Trail credits Simpson with drawing the Indians away from the citizens of Trinidad in a selfless act. Simpson was, by the late 1860s, driving stagecoaches across Raton Pass. In the 1870 census, he was listed as a “book dealer” in Trinidad. Simpson wrote a rather lengthy poem about his favorite hill. Its opening stanza reads, Lay me to rest on yon towering height, Where silent cloud-shadows glide. Where solitude holds its slumberous reign, Far away from the human tide. Simpson evidently wrote this poem, which runs to six stanzas, before 1878, when the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe Railroad built its tracks into Trinidad and on across the once-hazardous Raton Pass, bringing the “human tide” nearly to the foot of his resting place. What he would say about I-25 running so close to his lofty grave might not be printable. In fact, it is intriguing to imagine just how Simpson felt about the gradual change of his beloved plains in the 40 some years he lived there. Was it gratifying or heartbreaking for him to see the country fill up where once he planted crops, hunted buffalo and raised his children in splendid isolation? George Simpson died Sept. 7, 1885. Per his wishes, he is buried on Simpson’s Rest, where his daughter Isabel is by his side.