This article first appeared in the Broomfield Enterprise.
Anyone who has driven along U.S. 36 between Denver and Boulder will recognize the name “Church Ranch Boulevard.” The road is named after the Church family, which was among the earliest and most prominent pioneers in the region.
Back in 1859, during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush, George Henry Church rode an ox train from Iowa to what was then the western edge of Kansas Territory. He tried his hand at mining, but found it unprofitable. He returned to Independence, Iowa. There, 30-year-old George wooed and wed a 22-year-old teacher named Sarah Henderson Miller.
In the spring of 1861, while the ugly noise of the Civil War rose in the east, the newlyweds packed up their “prairie schooner” and left Iowa for the Colorado Territory.
Sarah Church, whose father was both a doctor and a lawyer, kept a diary and later wrote about their adventures. The couple had heeded their minister`s excellent advice and exchanged their fine horses for less glamorous but sturdier oxen, which they named Buck, Bright, Tom and Jerry.
For food on their journey, they “dried potatoes, first mashing them with plenty of cream and then making them into flat cakes, like a large pancake, and drying them in the oven. “We carried potatoes that lasted us through.”
A month after their wedding, they said their goodbyes on a fine May morning. They traveled alone for a week, then hooked up with another family for a time. Near Council Bluffs, they began to encounter discouraged pioneers returning home, who told them there was no gold and no rain in Colorado. The young couple had encountered so much rain on their journey, they happily responded that they`d love to find a place without rain.
At Council Bluffs, they hooked up with a train of freighters, with whom they traveled through Pawnee country. Sarah, the only woman in the train, described the freighters as “very gentlemanly and considerate.” Whenever someone killed a bird or rabbit, the catch was presented to Sarah as a gift.
One night, two Pawnee women came into their camp, and the pioneers shared milk porridge with them. The next day, they passed through the village without incident, as relations continued to be friendly.
For Sarah, the trip was quite monotonous, and she entertained herself by reading books such as “Paradise Lost” and Greek mythology. Soon, several other families joined the train.
One day, a delegation of well-dressed Pawnees came into the camp, reportedly to purchase some “white squaws” for wives. George was offered “nine ponies and $100” for Sarah. The men in the train were having good fun with the exchange until a government agent warned them the Pawnees bargained in earnest and that the situation could get sticky. The “white squaw” market was then put to an abrupt end.
(Source: “Recollections of My Trip Across the Plains in 1861, by Mrs. George H. Church.” Many thanks to Karmen Franklin.)