Now & Then: Red and Yellow “Buckeye” Trees Native from Missouri and Ohio

By:  Loretta (Stevens) Bailey and George Stevens

Cañon City Municipal Building, ca. 1950. Object ID: CCMM.025; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center

Note: To the readers, there is a quiz at the end of four leaf rubs of the trees listed in the blog: The Buckeye, Cottonwood, Maple, and Elm. So, how did the Buckeye get its name? Who planted the old Cottonwood trees along the Arkansas in 1862-1863? The answers to these questions are somewhere in the blog. Have some fun with detective work.

Now: There are two Buckeye trees still standing and one that has been cut down that my brother George and I are aware of in Cañon City. One is a Red Buckeye tree that is in full bloom located on the west side of the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center (RGRM&HC). I estimate it is about twenty feet tall. Its tubular shaped blossoms are 4 to 10’ inches long and attract humming birds and butterflies.

The tree at RGRM&HC may have been planted when a fish pond (now a flower garden) was built in the early 1930’s. The building was built in 1928 with help from Dall DeWeese, who has a gallery named for him on the top floor of the museum. DeWeese’s main profession was developing vast acreage of nursery stock orchards in South Canon and Lincoln Park.

Now:  Brady’s and Lippis both have tree nurseries in South Canon, next to the Arkansas River near where Dall DeWeese once had his nursery.  

A Yellow Buckeye tree, also in full bloom, is located at 12 Riverside Drive on the east side of the Robison Mansion and estimated to be about forty feet tall. The tree may have been planted as early as 1884 when Lyman Robison had his Victorian mansion built.  Lyman selected a beautiful natural cottonwood tree grove on the south side of the Arkansas River for his home.

As George remembers, the Buckeye tree that has been cut down was on the southwest side of the First Street Bridge, close to the Robison Mansion. It was there when George was growing up on Riverside Drive in the 1950’s.

Now: The questions are, who planted these non-native trees? When did they plant them? Where did the seeds or saplings come from and are there others in the Arkansas River Valley? Are the nuts edible from Buckeye trees?

Last fall, an employee of the RGRM&HC, Brandon Mares, found nuts under a tree.  He bought one inside and asked George if he knew what it was.  George knew it was a “buckeye” and told Brandon and got its name for the resemblance to the deer eye.

Then: The buckeyes are edible. One of George’s childhood buddies tasted one and survived…but only took one bite as they are extremely bitter.

Buckeye with ribbon attached, year unknown. Object ID: 2018.009.299; Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center Collection
Rudd cabin, 1996. Object ID: 2018.002.148; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center

Cañon City Daily Record
May 6, 2016
City Celebrates Arbor Day, Tree City USA
By Carie Canterbury

The City of Cañon City has been named Tree City, USA by the National Arbor Day Foundation for the 36th consecutive year.

Mayor Preston Troutman and representatives of the city council and city staff gathered Friday to plant a tree in celebration and in observance of Arbor Day. John Grieve with the Colorado State Forest Service presented a Tree City, USA plaque to the community.

Municipalities entering the nationwide program receive the designation on the recommendation of the state foresters. Grieve said communities must have adopted a city tree ordinance, have a comprehensive urban forestry program, and annually observe Arbor Day.

Parks Director Rex Brady said the City first received recognition in 1980 as a result of its tree maintenance and planting program and its Dutch Elm Disease Program…


A broadside proclaiming that April 23, 1875 shall be a day devoted to tree planting signed by Thomas H. Craven, April 16, 1875. Object ID: 2014.009.011; Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center collection

Bountiful Trees History

Now:  As George and I researched the Buckeye trees, we found out why Cañon City was honored as a Tree City, USA for so many consecutive yearsMany of the Cottonwood trees on the land Robison built his mansion are still standing today.

Then:  Around 1862-63, Anson Rudd and William Catlin (whose cabins stand behind the museum) planted Cottonwood saplings along both sides of the Arkansas River.  The life span of Cottonwood trees are 160-180 years.

These fast-growing, shady water lovers, with roots that have a natural tendency to find water, are starting to fall.  Their emerald green leaves have a delicate swivel action that with a little breeze will set them to quaking or “whispering” in a gentle swishing matter.  These trees are true pioneers, setting the way for trees of a higher order.

Rudd Cabin at 612 Royal Gorge Ave. with Cottonwood on left side and Elm behind cabin, 612 Royal Gorge Blvd., May 2020

The first maple trees were planted by William Greenwood in 1871 along Macon Avenue. In 1871, Judge Terry planted cotton-less Cottonwood trees. In 1934, 2,200 Elm trees were planted in North Canon. Unfortunately, Dutch Elm Disease, a fungal infection spread by beetles, has caused havoc for the city for many years.

Cañon City Daily Record
February 28, 1959
Kit Carson Tree, Landmark of Early Days, Going Down

The Kit Carson Tree, located in the yard of Lee Petty, 1635 Sherman Avenue, will be no more after Sunday when it will be removed because of the danger of rotten limbs.

The tree, which is eight feet in diameter and 23 feet in circumference, will be choped [sic] down Sunday by Jerald Lohnes assisted by Bill Jones.

This ancient cottonwood tree, which legend says was the spot of many pow-pows between Kit Carson and the Ute Indians, was for many years a lone tree on the mesa (Lincoln Park) and was recognized by early pioneers as an important landmark because it could be seen from a long distance.

Tales of early settlers say Kit Carson, trapper and scout, used this tree during the years 1835-45 as his guide in leading expeditions and scouting parties across the plains. It was the foot of this tree that he met a Ute Indian chief to establish a peace agreement before he and his parties would continue their travel in the Ute country and into the Rocky Mountain region.

Early in the 1900s a substantial home was built at the base of the tree which was long cherished for its beauty and shade. The property on which it is located was called the Hutchison Place and figured in a couple shootings involving Mrs. Stella Hutchison and her husband.

The Kit Carson tree received nationwide fame in April 1955 when a picture and story of the tree was distributed all over the country by Enterprise Tree Experts Inc. of Cincinnati, a firm specializing in treatment of diseased trees and in tree surgery. Each month the firm issues a blotter with a picture of a tree and the history of it and Canon City’s big old cottonwood was selected for their blotter that month.

Leaf Quiz

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Leaf types (clockwise from top left): Buckeye, Elm, Maple, Cottonwood

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