Life is for one generation. A good name (or a bad one) is forever. The area known as “the Divide” has a historically strong name or reputation for inclement Colorado weather. The May snowstorm of this last year serves as a reminder that at almost any time of year, we might be able to expect frosty conditions.
Recall recent history with the blizzard of October of 1997 when nearly 300 people needed refuge from the storm and spent most of the weekend in the Falcon Inn and the Monument Town Hall. Rescue workers worked non-stop for days and some nearby areas spent the next week digging out.
But it has carried that reputation for a long time.
Lee Whiteley’s excellent 1999 book, “The Cherokee Trail, Bent’s Old Fort to Fort Bridger,” considers the unpredictability of weather here as it related to early pioneers traveling the Cherokee Trail through “the Pinery” or Black Forest as it is known today.
“Bad weather conditions were a real problem for trail travelers. Although most of the travel through eastern Colorado was during the spring and summer months, violent storms could occur at any time,” he wrote.
As early as 1842, Rufus Sage noted the same problem. “The country hearabouts … is much subject to storms of rain, hail, snow, and wind, — and it is rarely a person can pass through it without being caught by a storm of some kind.”
And get caught, they did.
Capt. Randolph B. Marcy’s expedition through the area in 1858 is a well-known example.
“This is a locality which is very subject to severe storms, and it is here that I encountered the most severe snow-storm that I have ever known, on the first day of May, 1858. I would advise travelers to hasten past this spot as rapidly as possible during the winter and spring months, as a storm might prove very serious here,” Marcy wrote and Whiteley include that account in his book.
“It was a mild and pleasant spring day, with no appearance of bad weather, but as night approached it became cloudy, and about dark a snow storm set in accompanied by a violent gale of wind from the north, which increased until it became a perfect tempest, and continued without cessation for 60 hours.”
Charles Michael Fagan, a muleskinner with that expedition, froze to death in that storm trying to recover horses and mules spooked by the severe weather. His grave on the trail at the base of Point of Rocks became a landmark for generations that followed.
Fagan was not the only one to lose their life in a severe storm on “the Divide.”
Mrs. A.C. Hunt wrote the following on June 25, 1859 in her journal.
“Traveled 15 miles to a pine forest – very beautiful but sad from number of graves here – 8 are in view of persons who have frozen to death, one as late as June Third, ’59. The changes are so sudden even in the summer that from being warm it will be so cold as to benumb the body before fire can be made to warm it.”