Fremont CountyMuseum BlogWomen's History Month

Pioneer Women

While many of the street names in Cañon City are named after early male settlers, many of those men came west with their families. Their wives made the same trek and were just as instrumental in creating the city we call home. This article will highlight just a few of these women, but there are more stories to find in the archives of the museum.

She had a queenly bearing and her face was that of a woman who had borne and had emerged from the battle only sweeter and stronger.

Cañon City Record, July 16, 1908

Thomas and Mary Virginia Macon came to Cañon City from Iowa in 1864 as part of a group named the “Resurrectionists”, as they revived the town following the American Civil War. Virginia was born in 1836 in Salem City, Virginia to Jeptha and Ann Harrison. As a young child, Virginia moved with her family to Burlington, Iowa. It was there that she married Thomas Macon in 1854. They lived in Cañon City until 1875, when they moved to Denver. Virginia was very involved in Cañon City society and was a talented musician. An article in the Cañon City Record on April 30, 1903 noted that Virginia was much involved in keeping musical entertainment going in the early days of the city. The article also stated, “No work of public interest lacked her ready support.” She was also involved in charitable work and was a member of various women’s clubs. Virginia Macon passed away in July 1908 and is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Denver, Colorado.   

Mary Virginia Macon, ca. 1875. Object ID: 2005.093.010; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center

Few people in Colorado had a richer or more varied experience of pioneer life in the west than Mrs. Catlin and she underwent its vicissitudes and hardships…

Cañon City Record, April 29, 1915

William and Mary Catlin came to Cañon City in 1860, residing in the city until their deaths. Mary’s maiden name was Pilmore and her mother, Elizabeth, made her home in Cañon City and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery. Mary was born in Lincolnshire, England in December 1826 and moved to the United States in 1853. She married William Catlin while still in England and the couple lived in Ohio and Nebraska before moving to Colorado. Mary and William made their way west in a covered wagon with a cow and a steer attached to the back. They first went to Leadville, where Mary was the only woman in the camp. There were few people upon their arrival to Cañon City and their son Harry was the second white child born in the community. Mary was familiarly known as “Grandma” Catlin in her later years. She passed away in April 1915 at the age of 89 and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.

Mary A. Catlin, year unknown. Object ID: 1986.047.001; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center

Death closed the term of a long and useful life last Monday afternoon when Mrs. Anne Clelland, mother of Mrs. James H. Peabody passed away…

Fremont County Leader, November 23, 1916

Anne Clelland and her children joined her husband, James, in Cañon City in 1872. However, the family had been living in Denver, Colorado since 1865. Anne (née Bain) was born in Sterling, Scotland in October 1826. She was married to James in Scotland before they immigrated to the United States. Upon their arrival to America, the couple settled in Charlottesville, Virginia. They then removed to St. Joseph, Missouri for some time. The family was living in Atchison, Kansas when James partnered in a company that engaged in the transport of military supplies. It was at this time that the family moved to Denver by covered wagon. James first established himself as a businessman in Cañon City in 1870 before bringing his family down a few years later. Anne passed away at the age of 90 in 1916 and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.

Anne Clelland, year unknown. Object ID: 1986.047.001-158; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center

…the travel to the West was beset with risk and only the bravest men and women were willing to undertake the trip.

“Across the Plains DeLuxe in 1865,” Frances Clelland Peabody, 1941

Frances Peabody was the daughter of James and Anne Clelland, making the journey with her parents by covered wagon at only four years of age. Her 5th birthday was celebrated while on the journey and she received a doll which her mother spent time making clothes for while their wagon crossed over the plains. Frances later published an account in 1941 of her experiences on the trip titled, “Over the Plains DeLuxe in 1865”, which was published in The Colorado Magazine. According to the account, the wagon was fitted with all the conveniences of the day with carpets, featherbeds, blankets, and comforters to make a soft foundation for the six-week journey.

Frances was born in July 1860 in St. Joseph, Missouri. She attended Saint Mary’s Academy for her elementary education and graduated from Wolfe Hall, a private school in Denver in 1878. Frances married James Peabody the same year she graduated. James  started work as a bookkeeper at the Clelland Grocery and Merchandise Store but eventually gained a partnership. He went on to serve as the mayor of Cañon City in 1901 and the governor of Colorado from 1903 –1905. The couple returned to the city after Peabody’s time as governor was over. Frances was involved in many organizations in Cañon City including the Ladies Library Association, Territorial Daughters of Colorado, and the Dickens Club of Cañon City. Frances died in April 1945 at the age of 84 and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery.

Frances Peabody, year unknown. Object ID: 1986.047.001-154; Copyright Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center

…[Harriet Rudd] was one of the earliest pioneers of Colorado, having lived in this state nearly sixty years, and was frequently alluded to as “the mother of Canon City.”

Cañon City Record, January 5, 1911

Harriet and Anson Rudd arrived in Cañon City in 1860, having originally been on the path to California. Upon seeing Cañon City, Harriet thought it was better than anything they had yet seen on their journey and the couple decided to stay. Their cabin, which still stands on the museum property today, was built in 1860. Their son Anson Rudd Jr., was born in the cabin.

Harriet was born in 1818 in Colebrook, New Hampshire to Benjamin and Abigail Spencer. Anson and Harriet were engaged when she was 19 and he was 18 but they did not get married for another 20 years. Anson volunteered for the Mexican American War and served with Company K in the First Regiment of the Illinois Volunteers. Anson then headed to California and spent time there in the gold camps. It appears rather than searching for gold, he acted as a guide for the men making their way west. He finally made his way back and married Harriet in Iowa where Harriet was living. The couple lived in Cañon City until 1904 and moved to Louisville, Colorado. Harriet passed away in January 1911 at the age of 92 and is buried in Fairmount Cemetery in Denver.

The Rudd House, located behind the museum at 612 Royal Gorge Boulevard, is currently under restoration with a grant from the Colorado State Historical Fund.

The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *