COBWEB CORNERS: The West’s early explorers

By Mel McFarland

       The first recognized explorations of this area were probably in 1543 when Coronado visited the southern part of what is now Colorado. He saw the southern mountains, but we do not think he saw the big, white mountain. The exploration of Zebulon Pike in 1806 led to that event. He was followed by Major Long in 1820, which resulted in naming the mountain (temporarily) James Peak. Adding to that was John C. Fremont in 1842.
       Mixed in with these were dozens of unrecorded visits. The area became part of France in the 1700s, and Napoleon sold it to the United States in 1804. This led to the great influx of explorers mentioned above. Some know that Pike's visit in '06 was not his first in the West. In 1805-06, he was sort of following behind Lewis and Clark along the Missouri into Minnesota and Nebraska. After that he came through Kansas and Oklahoma to Colorado.
       There were the explorations of Engleman and Ruxton, as well as the much later Hayden Survey. Each of these added to easterners' desires to see this big, open countiy that some called the great American desert. With each visitor out here, word spread of the beauty of the Front Range and its mountains.
       Even General Palmer was out here exploring before he founded Colorado Springs. He came here looking for a place to build a railroad to California. The location of Colorado City was fairly well known when he spent several nights here just after the Civil War. It would take lots of other things that would put him in line to build his own railroad. One of those things was the influence of Dr. William A. Bell. The doctor had come to the U.S. to see the West and learned of a job opening as a photographer with an exploration team. He did not know much about photography, but he did know the basics of chemistry, which was necessary for a photographer back then.
       He joined the survey, which was led by Palmer. The team traveled to California, and Bell took pictures along the way. Unfortunately, few of the pictures survived, but Bell and Palmer both wrote books about their experiences. Together, the men made this area their home.