William Brown family: Earlier pioneers a portrait in toughness

This article first appeared in the Broomfield Enterprise (2/15/09).

If you ever doubt how good we’ve got it these days, just dig back into history a bit (say, before the advent of plumbing) and have a look at what those folks went through. Take, for example, the life of one of Broomfield’s earliest pioneer families, William and Hattie Brown.

Englishman William Brown filed for a Broomfield homestead in 1885. The 160-acre spot he chose is now home to the tangled intersection of Highway 36 and Wadsworth. The industrious Mr. Brown built his own 12 by 12 frame house, plus a barn and a granary. He dug a 50 foot well and put up two miles of fencing. He planted crops and apple trees. The homesteading process in those days took five years, and Brown’s homesteading fees added up to a grand total of $34.

For a time, William was Broomfield’s only eligible bachelor. Among his few neighbors was another pioneer family, Thomas and Sarah Burton. This hardy couple had a married daughter named Hattie back in Pennsylvania. In 1893, a pregnant Hattie packed up her daughter Frances, left her husband, and came to stay with her parents in Broomfield. Three years later, Hattie and William married.

Farm life was hard and it should have gotten easier with two on the job, but William and Hattie were in for a rough time. In addition to Hattie’s two children from her previous marriage, she bore four more daughters during the next four years. Two of those girls died, along with the son she was carrying when she left Pennsylvania. A few days after the birth after the fourth child, Hattie herself died. Their life together had lasted only four years.

William Brown was left a widower, now with three children to raise on his own. At that time, he had 21 head of cattle and several horses. He did have help, however, from his eldest child, step-daughter Frances Cron, who was 12 years old when her mother died. He also had a farm helper nicknamed Cookie.

Young Frances kept a diary, in which she described a fire that nearly killed William Brown. The fire started one night by a spark from a passing train. It worked its way across the fields, fanned by our delightful Front Range winds. Before it reached the barn, William and Cookie drove the horses and cows out, but then a large haystack fell over on top of William. He managed to crawl out with an injured arm, which Frances bandaged. Luckily, the fire did not take the house, nor the precious piano inside.

In 1914, William Brown remarried. His new wife was Amie Collum, the sister of their neighbor, Annie Burgess, who took them in and cared for them the night of the fire. The children were growing up by then. Frances, who was not able to attend high school because of her farm duties, later inherited some money, went to Barnes Business School and became a secretary in Denver. (Source: Broomfield: Changes Through Time by Silvia Pettem.)

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Her first week on the job, and Marshal Beth Mayo is hit with a sex assault case. It’s a nasty shock for the bucolic mountain town of Sugarloaf and for Mayo, who is still recovering from her husband’s death. Her initial skepticism grows into disbelief over the victim’s zany story, and she dismisses the case as a false report. Unfortunately, the same woman is soon discovered in the ruins of a ghost town, most definitely murdered.

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