Hayden’s Early Start: The Bear River Colony
On April 29, 1874, the Brunot Treaty was signed by the US Government with the Utes, which opened the Northwest corner of the Colorado Territory to settlement. While this Treaty was being signed, a group of investors, spearheaded by veteran explorer and entrepreneur Porter Smart, was busily organizing a venture to colonize these newly opened lands. The central site of this colony, which included what is now west Routt County & Moffat County, was originally referred to as ’Haydenville’ in reference to the explorer F.V. Hayden who surveyed the area in the early 1870’s for his U.S. Geological & Geographical Survey of Colorado published in 1873 . It was later shortened to just Hayden in the 1875 Post Office application.
Porter Smart was a man always on the move. He was born in New York around 1820 and headed west as a young man settling first in Illinois where he took up several land patents and met and married his wife Sarah. Never the one to sit still while opportunity abounded in the newly expanding West, he moved his growing family to Wisconsin before moving to the Colorado territory in the early 1860’s. Porter was a leading citizen of Gilpin County with investments in mining and land speculation, before moving to Middle Park in the late 1860’s. He was politically active and served on the Colorado Territory Commission of Immigration, which was created and funded by the territorial governor to induce settlement of the territory in order to eventually secure statehood. The governor allocated $6000 a year for the Commission to research and print pamphlets noting the terrain, public lands, mining and coal field opportunities of the sparsely settled rugged areas of Colorado which were difficult to get to and close to Indian lands As part of the Commission, Porter explored Middle Park and western Colorado as early as 1862 when much of the land he was exploring was considered Indian Territory. In 1864 he accompanied C. S. Stowell of Georgetown and U.M. Curtis, a government interpreter for the Utes, taking a tour through Middle and Egeria Parks and the Grand River area. In 1865 he traveled with a Major Oakes and a Mr. Whitely, an ex- Indian agent, along with a Prof. Denton of Boston, exploring western Colorado by way of the White River to Salt Lake, travelling through Strawberry and Uintah valley to Green River then to the White River by the Berthoud trail through Middle Park crossing the range into Gilpin County through the Boulder Pass. Porter saw a future opportunity in the region however travel was difficult, as most of the roads were little more than old trails, and the land was not officially open for settlement.
With the signing of the Brunot Treaty, Porter saw his window of opportunity. He secured $250,000 in Eastern money to incorporate two companies: The Bear River Wagon Road, which would provide the needed roads for settlers to get to the newly open lands through the mountains from Hot Sulphur Springs; and The Western Improvement Company, which sought to develop the Bear River Colony by attracting settlers who would pay a $25 fee for Smart to locate a pre-emption claim site for them.
According to Thomas Iles diary, “12 men and 1 woman” were the first of the Bear River Colonists to settle in the Valley in the summer of 1874. This included Porter’s sons Albert & Gordon as well as Albert’s wife Lou along with their children, and settlers Thomas Iles, Joe Morgan, Frank Ganson, brothers Homer and Jim Polip, George Schloser, Frank Man, John Newton, and two other men , one an old trapper by the name of Tow and another man known as ‘Uncle John’. Joe Morgan was the first to set up an Indian trading post on his claim. Abert Smart established the Hayden post office by November of 1875 at his homestead near the Yampa River just north of the present site of Hayden. In 1876, JB Thompson, a former Denver Indian Agent, brought his family to the valley and established a trading post near the Smarts. When Routt County was established in 1877 it encompassed over 7,000 acres extending westward to the Utah border. Hayden was appointed the county seat by the county commissioners Gordon Smart of Hayden, Thomas Iles from Elkhead area (east of what is now Craig, and A.J. Bell from Hahn’s Peak due to its central location. JB Thompson served as the County Clerk. Hayden was to serve as the County seat until a county wide election could be held. Things looked promising for the new settlers, however the events of September 1879 would change their plans and the history of Hayden. As for Porter, although Hayden was the central location of his operations . he never took up permanent residence in the Valley. He returned back east where he passed away suddenly in 1885.