Colorado Territory Notary History
Three hundred years before Colorado Territory was formed, the first notaries passed through present-day Colorado in the 1500s.
They were royal notaries on horseback who represented the King and Queen of Spain during the search, discovery, and military expeditions of Spanish Conquistadors.
Following the landing of Columbus in 1492, European exploration of the New World began in the Age of Discovery.
Coronado Expedition, 1540
The earliest expedition was the Coronado Expedition of 1540-1542 searching for the Seven Cities of Gold (Cibola). It may have entered the southeastern region of Colorado. The exact route is speculative.
There were also side excursions from the main expedition route, including along the Rio Grande with its headwaters in southern Colorado, and hunting trips for buffalo (bison) on the plains.
In 1869, James H. Simpson, who served in the U.S. Army’s Corps of Topographical Engineers, wrote an article on Coronado’s March for the Smithsonian Institution. He placed the expedition route crossing from New Mexico into Colorado near Raton, then proceeding east, south of the Arkansas River to Kingman, Kansas, before proceeding northeast to Quivira.
The muster roll and a description of the oaths made by all members before the Coronado Expedition started was signed by Juan de Cuevas, Chief Notary of Mines and Reports for their majesties. It is not known if Cuevas or another notary accompanied the Coronado Expedition. But, Spanish law required conquistadors to keep official records.
Ulibarri 1706, Other Spanish Expeditions
The Colorado Encyclopedia states that there were at least 12 recorded expeditions into present-day Colorado between 1593 and 1780. The most significant expedition that documented eastern Colorado was the Juan de Ulibarri Expedition of 1706, 100 years before the Zebulon Pike expedition to the Pikes Peak region.
Ulibarri rode into Colorado and followed the Arkansas River east on his way to El Cuartelejo. His mission was to retrieve fleeing participants of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt in New Mexico that had expelled the Spanish for 12 years.
He made the first recorded claim to Colorado soil in the name of King Philip V of Spain, naming it the Province of San Luis. The event, ceremony, and gun salute were recorded in his journal.
Journals of that time period name Antonio Duran de Armijo, a long-time resident of Santa Fe, as a notary and physician, who accompanied Ulibarri in 1709.
Spanish explorers failed to find a wealth of gold in the region and lost interest in Colorado.
Notaries for Fur Trappers, 1803
Fur trappers and traders in the Rocky Mountain region usually started their wilderness trips in Saint Louis. Before the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, St. Louis was part of French Lousiana Territory, which extended from the Mississippi River west to the Rocky Mountains.
The fur trappers used notaries in St. Louis to notarize contracts with fur merchants. As the Santa Fe Trail, Oregon Trail, California Trail, and other trails became more frequently used by wagon trains of pioneer settlers, gold prospectors, freight wagons, merchants, and the military, some notaries headed west to new towns and trading posts.
First English Speaking Notary in Colorado, 1842
Other than Spanish expedition notaries, the oldest English-speaking notarial act in the region of Colorado Territory was an unknown Missouri notary at Bent’s Fort on the Santa Fe Trail.
A young couple from Pueblo, George Simpson and Juana Suaso, were married before a notary and witnesses at Bent’s Fort in 1842. But, the notarized marriage agreement, with its stamped gold seal and blue ribbon, was later questioned because the trading post was then in unorganized territory and the Missouri notary was outside of his jurisdiction.
San Luis Valley Notaries, 1851
There were probably Spanish-speaking notaries from Taos and Santa Fe who migrated north into the San Luis Valley along the Rio Grande del Norte. Pioneer settlers built homesteads on ancestral Ute hunting grounds motivated by large Spanish Land Grants that encouraged northern expansion along the river and its tributaries.
Mexico won its War of Independence from Spain in 1821. Parts of southern Colorado were in Mexico until the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848 ended the Mexican–American War. New Mexico Territory was formed on September 9, 1850.
San Luis, the oldest town in Colorado and county seat of Costilla County, was founded in 1851, while it was still part of Taos County, New Mexico Territory. On the west side of the river is Conejos County which also had early pioneer settlements.
Old New Mexico Territory notarial records, real estate deeds in the county records, and museum collections may reveal the names of some of the first notaries there.
Arapahoe County, Kansas Territory, Notary History, 1854
Kansas Territory was formed on May 30, 1854, under the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Before gold was discovered, there were few outsiders in western Kansas other than adventuresome hunters, fur trappers, traders, and a few scouting and mapping expeditions by Zebulon Pike, Stephen H. Long, and John C. Fremont.
The land was used as a hunting ground by Native American tribes, primarily Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Kiowa, and Utes.
In 1858, gold prospectors from Georgia established a gold camp at Auraria, now part of Denver. The gold rush of 1859 to the Pikes Peak and Cherry Creek regions caused the population to boom in Arapahoe County, the far western part of Kansas Territory.
According to the Atchison Freedom’s Champion newspaper, Governor James W. Denver appointed local county government officials in September 1858. But, he acted without authority because the legislature did not meet until several months later.
Governor Denver resigned shortly after making the appointments. The early arrivals to the region named Denver City in his honor.
The commissioned officers included H.P.A. Smith, probate judge, known as Judge Smith, and John W. St. Matthew, county attorney. They were also the first appointed notaries in the Kansas county that later became part of Colorado.
Smith was from Lecompton, in eastern Kansas, which served as the Kansas territorial capital from 1855. St. Matthew was from Atchison. Other county officials were from eastern Kansas.
Other Kansas Territory notaries in Arapahoe County included Charles A. Lawrence in 1859, D.C. Collier, J.H. Dudley, Colonel F.A. Hunt, A.O. McGrew, and William T. Muir of Nevada City in 1860, who became Judge of the Miner’s Court.
Here are the Kansas Territory Notary Laws, 1859. Their powers included typical notary powers and the powers and duties of the register of boatmen *. When the notary left office, the notary journal was forwarded to his successor by the county. Kansas Territory Notary Fees, 1857 ranged from ten cents to one dollar.
Kansas became a state on January 29, 1861, with Topeka chosen as the new capital. But, the gold region of Arapahoe County in western Kansas Territory was not included. It had no formal government for a month until it became a part of the newly formed Colorado Territory on February 28, 1861.
Parts of neighboring Nebraska, New Mexico, and Utah territories were also designated by Congress to form Colorado Territory.
*Note: register of boatmen, Kansas has three navigable rivers: Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri. The rivers in Colorado are mostly shallow and not navigable except for small boats, buffalo hide bullboats, rafts, or canoes. There were toll ferry boats at some river crossing locations before bridges were built.
In his 1840 journal, engineer Elias Willard Smith recorded his river journey with fur voyageurs. Seven men with a cargo of 700 buffalo robes sailed in a 36-foot Mackinaw boat from Fort Vasquez, on the South Platte River north of Denver, to St. Louis. They had to wade and push the boat across many sand bars in shallow water for the first 300 miles until reaching the deeper waters of the North Platte. The entire 2,000-mile journey took 69 days.
Jefferson Territory Notaries, 1859
In 1859, gold region miners and settlers established Jefferson Territory and held elections. Robert Williamson Steele served as the Governor. But, the U.S. Congress did not recognize the unauthorized territory, and it never gained legal status.
Jefferson Territory was larger than the present State of Colorado, extending farther north and west. It consisted of 12 counties.
Jefferson Territory officials wrote territorial laws, many were later adopted by Colorado Territory. It appointed notaries including James Aikens, J.B. Atkins, Melancthon S. Beach, James A. Gray, H.C. Harrington, W.D. McLain, John C. Nelson, Elisha P. Stout, and Thomas G. Wildman.
H.C. Harrington of Central City, a grocer, notary, and conveyancer, later served as marshal, deputy sheriff, and Mayor of Georgetown
James A. Gray was elected speaker of the house of representatives.
Melancthon Sayre Beach (1836-1917) became clerk and recorder for Colorado City and El Paso County, one of three county commissioners who organized El Paso County in 1861.
Here are the Jefferson Territory Notary Laws. 1859.
First Notary Laws in Colorado Territory, 1861
Here are the Colorado Territory Notary Laws, 1861. There were only a few basic laws.
First Notaries in Colorado Territory, 1861
On March 25, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln appointed William Gilpin of Philadelphia as the first Governor of Colorado Territory. At the outset, Colorado Territory had 17 counties. Today there are 64 counties. Notaries were originally county officials. Now, they are state officials appointed by the Secretary of State.
Governor Gilpin began appointing notaries for the 17 counties. But, a few months after taking office, he traveled to Washington D.C. to petition for military funding to defend Colorado from both Indians and Confederate attacks. On March 18, 1862, President Lincoln removed Gilpin from office and replaced him with John Evans of Illinois. Gilpin remained in office until May.
Colorado Territory existed for 15 years until Colorado statehood on August 1, 1876.
Information on Colorado Territorial notaries is scarce. Here are the names found by research, some articles, and historic notary documents. Many names were found in the archives of the Rocky Mountain News, which started publishing in 1859.
1861 Charles R. Fish, of Central City, Gilpin County, gold miner, justice of the peace
1862 Colorado Territory Notary Certificate, John M. Francisco, 1862 of Costilla County. See the article on Fort Garland and John M. Francisco. Eugene Weston Pueblo County, Frederick J. Stanton Arapahoe County
1863 Dan Hayden, Pueblo County, worked at a Missouri Stage Company office near Bent’s Fort on the Santa Fe Trail, drew up and notarized an affidavit to clear the reputation of Colonel Albert Gallatin Boone, grandson of Daniel Boone, from false accusations made by rival Mr. Haynes that Boone was a Confederate rebel
1864 Columbus Nuckolls, of Central City, Gilpin County, was also appointed as Territorial Treasurer and Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1867. J. Carr Johnson, Denver.
1865 Alexander W. Atkins, Denver, Arapahoe County. took depositions of key witnesses, including Colonel John M. Chivington, ordered by U.S. Congress for an investigation into Sand Creek Massacre of Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians on their reservation in November 1864, appointed Territorial Treasurer 1864, Superintendent of Public Instruction 1865
1865 John Q. Charles, Denver, Arapahoe County. a lawyer with Charles & Phelps took deposition of Colonel Chivington regarding the Sand Creek Massacre. Eli M. Ashley, Charles Ruter, and John W. Webster, all of Denver.
1866 Colorado Territory Notary Certificate, Robert S. Wilson, 1866 Denver, Arapahoe County
1867 Alfred Sayre, Denver, Arapahoe County. took affidavit of attorney George F. Crocker. John C. Anderson, J.S. Raynolds, and Adolph L. Reichard, all of Denver.
1868 Philip P. Wilcox, Castle Rock, Douglas County, lawyer, rancher, county judge, county commissioner, county attorney 1874, one of three land donors and founders of Castle Rock, Wilcox Avenue is named after him. W.T. McLaughlin of Denver.
1869 Colorado Territory Notary Authentication, A.E. Reynolds, 1869 by John D. Miller county clerk in Pueblo County. Hyatt Hussey of Denver.
1870 Edward P. Jones, Denver, Arapahoe County, notarized Certificate of Organization for The Union Colony of Colorado, located in Greeley, organized by Nathan Meeker and financially backed by Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune
Edward P. House, Greeley, Weld County, notarized Certificate of Organization for The Union Colony of Colorado
John C. Anderson, Denver, Arapahoe County, notarized deed from Denver Land Association to Horace Greeley, Trustee of The Union Colony
William E. Pabor, Greeley, Weld County, notarized deed from The Union Colony of Colorado to W. D. Hartley
And, these notaries from Denver: William N. Byers, editor of the Rocky Mountain News, Samuel G. Collins, M.L. Hobb, H.W. Hubbard, and George C. Schleier.
1871 From Denver: W.W. Deniston, John B. Elvans, E.O. Matthews, W.H. Townsend, and George F. Wanless. From Fairplay, Park County, A.M. Janes, postmaster, and general store owner.
1872 Affidavit of Horse Depredation by Arapahoes, 1872, Las Animas County
From Denver, Joseph B. Cass, A.A. Denman, Peter G. Koch, M.W. Levy, John Walker
1873 From Denver: Orris Blake, W.G. Broad, Henry Clay, Peter Headburg, Owen E. Le Fevre, Charles E. Parker, James S. Watson, and O.H. Whittier.
1874 From Denver: John Dew, Samuel C. Hale, Henry A. Harrington, E.F. Jones, John L. McNeil, W.H. Pierce, M. Spangler, William D. Todd, O.A. Whittemore, and Edward O. Wolcott.
1875 From Denver: George E. Crater, D.C. Crawford, and S.W. French.
Denver City Directory, 1875
The Denver City Directory for 1875 includes names and advertisements for notaries. Notaries worked at banks, law firms, real estate offices, and insurance agencies. Estimated Denver population was about 24,000.
George Bucklin, Julius Crone, Theodore W. Kerr, Samuel S. Landon, Montague R. Leverson, Tallmadge Norwood, Homer L. Thayer, William D. Todd
Notaries for Native American Language Interpreters, mid-1800s
During the mid to late 1800s, Native American language interpreters employed by the federal government would meet with territorial notaries to sign a sworn statement attached to Indian treaties.
The affidavit stated that the Indian chiefs understood the translation of the English language document and had signed it in the presence of the interpreter. The Indian chiefs would make an X, mark, or thumbprint, rather than a signature.
Interpreters including Kit Carson, John S. Smith, John Pizelle, and Robert Bent often lived on Indian reservations, along with the federal Indian agent. The Indian agents had authority under federal law to take depositions and administer oaths regarding depredations in their district.
A canceled U.S. internal revenue stamp was attached. Internal revenue stamps featuring George Washington were required on certain legal documents. They helped to pay government expenses for the Civil War.
Female Notaries in Colorado Territory, 1893
The initial Colorado State Constitution of 1876 did not include equal suffrage, except for school board elections. A referendum in 1877 failed to pass, despite statewide barnstorming efforts by national suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony and others.
Women in Colorado did not get the right to vote until a referendum passed on November 7, 1893. Before then, they were not eligible to hold public office or to be appointed as notaries. They used their voting power to support women’s and children’s rights, and to crusade against alcohol, leading to Colorado’s prohibition in 1916.
Native American tribal members who lived on reservations could not vote in Colorado until the 1970 Voting Rights Act.
Today, the majority of notaries nationwide are women.
1. Description of a register of boatmen see Louisiana Territory Boatmen Laws, 1810.
2. Louisiana Territory Ferry Laws, 1806
3. With Fur Traders in Colorado, 1839-40, The Journal of E. Willard Smith, The Colorado Magazine, July 1950, History Colorado document collection
4. Kansas Territory Boatman Laws, 1855
5. Kansas Territory Ferry Laws, 1859
6. Denver Ferry History, South Platte, 1859
1. Oil painting, Coronado sets out to the north, Frederic Remington, circa 1890, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
2. Medallion, Francisco Vázquez Coronado in the Plaza Mayor de Salamanca, Spain, cropped, Basilio, CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons
3. Drawings from anthropology book of Kachina dolls made by native Pueblo people, 1894, Jesse Walter Fewkes, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
4. Photo, Arapaho Chief Powder Face, wearing war costume, 1864, National Archives at College Park, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
5. Photo, Kansas Territory Governor James W. Denver, 1856, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Public Domain, CC0 1.0
6. Map, Colorado Territory formation, 1861, Rcsprinter123, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
7. Drawing, Mackinaw boat, fur trapper era, cropped, by Tom Bjarnason, Canadian postage stamp design, 1977, Fair Use, research/education
8. Photo, Jefferson Territory Governor Robert Williamson Steele, 1859, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
9. Photo, Colorado Territory Governor William Gilpin, 1860, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
10. Image of notary certificate of appointment, John M. Francisco, 1862, History Colorado, Denver, John M. Francisco Collection #248, Fair Use, research/education
11. Map, Colorado Territory counties, 1861, labels added, Public Domain, 1927, Colorado Historical Society
12. Map, Topo, Colorado Territory counties, 1867, Imprimerie Lemercier, Paris, University of North Texas Libraries, Denton, TX, The Portal to Texas History, from University of Texas at Arlington Library, Fair Use, research/education
13. Image of bank ad, Denver City Directory, 1875, Public Domain, Denver Public Library
14. Image of first Internal Revenue Washington stamps, 1862, Butler & Carpenter of Philadelphia; Restoration and Imaging by Gwillhickers, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons