Who was this Charles Baker guy?
Baker had been involved in Colorado's first gold rush at Cherry Creek. With the financial backing of his employer, S.B. Kellogg, Charles Baker crossed over Cinnamon Pass in the summer 1860 on his way through the San Juan Mountains. The group consisted of fifteen prospectors entering into hostile Ute Indian Territory.
Captain Charles Baker led the contingent which divided itself into three groups as a strategy for survival. As the Baker expedition progressed towards Silverton, all five men in the middle group were killed by Ute Indians. Broken wagon parts and discarded camp equipment could be found for year giving evidence of the Baker Party Trail. Who knows, maybe even today, treasure seekers may find artifacts dating back to those days along Baker's path.
Charles Baker did discovered gold in 1860 near the present location of Silverton. Back in those days this area was referred to as Baker's Park.
The placer deposits that most prospectors were equipped to mine, were often rich at first, but played out quickly. The real mineral wealth in the Rockies required hardrock mining.
Baker's Bridge, just north of present day Durango was named after Charles Baker. The Baker Party spent the winter of 1860 - 1861 at Baker's Bridge and named their home Animas City. Animas City was founded in 1861 near present day Durango by some of those who had accompanied Charles Baker into the San Juans.
Just 35 miles north of Baker's Bridge, along the Animas River, the prospectors made significant gold discoveries. This new discovery of gold led to a large number of persons flocking there the following year in the Spring of 1861. For the next thirteen years, the site of this short lived mini gold rush was known as Baker's Park, which now known as Silverton.
Around the late 1860s an Army scouting party stumbled upon this original Animas City. In their report: "...within the Pine Forest on the North end of the Animas valley were found fragments of household, mining and cooking utensils, agricultural and other implements, scattered profusely in wild and lonely confusion through some 50 half decayed log houses spread over a clearing." There was a single street with the cabins strung out on either side several hundred yards.
The Utes realizing that these miniers were intent on staying in the area picked up the level of hostility. With this threat to life and their luck playing out, the early prospectors evacuated very suddenly on July 3, 1861 - many answered the call to arms at this time of the inception of the Civil War.
Some reports say that Charles Baker become a Captain in the Confederate Army.
Legend says that the Baker men left as well, leaving their cache of minerals buried up the river from Baker's Park (Silverton). They marked the site with trees; each member being given a map. After the Civil War, some of the men who had survived returned to hunt for the cache of gold but found that more recent miners had cut down the trees marked on their map. According to legend, the gold lies still buried.
In 1868 a treaty was negotiated with the Utes that ceded them roughly the western quarter of Colorado Territory, clearly including the site of Animas City. The Utes kept most intruders off their land until 1870, when discovery of rich lodes in Baker's Park, lodes that had been unknown to Charles Baker, began another gold rush.
In 1873 Felix Brunot negotiated a treaty with Chief Ouray to free the "San Juan Cession," an area of 6000 square miles, from Ute control so that miners and settlers could legally enter this zone. This treaty opened the Animas Valley to settlement and the rest is history.
Wagon Wheel Gap (a side story)
Legend has it that while in route to the San Juans, Charles Baker, lost a wagon wheel here when he wrecked his wagon while fleeing the area after a confrontation with the Ute Indian, Colorow. Colorow was known to be hostile towards miners because they offended the gods by digging into the earth and removing its precious rocks.
A wagon wheel was later found stuck in the the mud and the "place where the wagon wheel was found" was later shortened to Wagon Wheel Gap. "Gap" means where the canyon narrows.
This location eventually became an important supply town and stage stop in the 1870's, serving as the first tollgate for the stage between South Fork and Lake City. Because of the surrounding rock and the paralleling river, barely enough room was available for the toll roads which followed the Ute Indians' ancient footpaths.
The area below Wagon Wheel Gap had great spiritual significance for the Utes because of the healing powers of the hot mineral waters located nearby. The more than 30 bubbling pools were called "Little Medicine" by the Utes. A worn trail led south and ended at "Big Medicine", or Pagosa Springs. Settlers later developed these hot springs into resorts.
What happened to Charles Baker?
One author says that Charles Baker was with a group of other miners panning on the Animas River when they were attacked by some Ute Indians. It is claimed that Baker was killed early in the attack. The remainder of the minning group quickly built a raft and put it in a river. Which river, was not documented. According to the story all the remaining men drowned except a guy named James White, who claimed he eventually floated through the Grand Canyon. Evidently, few believed him.
Another author claims that Charles Baker was killed while prospecting on the Colorado River in Utah.
All of these stores of his death were dated in 1868.
In 1870 a man named Baker was int he party that discovered the lodes in Summitville. Baker was a common name and no one knows for sure if it was the Charles Baker.
This Baker evidently built a toll road through Pagosa Springs and was charted byt the Territorial Legislature in 1877.
Maybe there were two Charles Bakers in Southwest Colorado in the mid-1800s.