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One would think a young woman who married at 13 years old in the earliest days of Colorado City - 1863 - just 3 years after the frontier town was founded, and bore 7 children, 1 of whom died in infancy, two others later, would not have had much time for being anything more than a homemaker for her carpenter husband Adam Hill and family. They lived continuously in Colorado City into the early 1870s. Then were back in the 1880s into the 90s.
But Charlotte Hill was an amazing woman whose 160th Birthday was just observed - February 15, 2009 - in the small community of Florissant, Colorado, some 40 miles west of "Old" Colorado City.
For Charlotte Hill is now, belatedly, being recognized and honored as the prime mover in getting the rich Florissant Fossil Beds recognized, studied, leading to it being eventually designated a National Monument in 1969. For Charlotte was a budding, self taught amateur paleontologist from Colorado City of all places!
Instead of just looking for crystals and semi-precious stones that many rockhounds and geologists look for in the mountains, she looked for and found fossilized million year old plants, insects, and other ancient critters. She is given credit in scientific literature for some of her findings with entries like this:
"1878-Charlotte Hill collects a well-preserved fossil butterfly, later named Prodryas persephone, from the Florissant Formation in Colorado. The fossil is about 35 million years old"
And at least three specimens (most are at the Smithsonian, Yale, and Harvard) have her name attached - Ulumus Hilliae, an elm, Rhush Hilliae, a sumac, and the best one of all Rosa Hilliae, a rose - all millions of years old.
I am told by Dr Herb Meyer the Fossil Beds Paleontologist- who has spent years creating a database of all her known specimens, that there are at least 169 in formal collections.
Now how did the Old Colorado City Historical Society get involved with - or even learn about - her story? Much less help her Hill and Coplan (Charlotte's family name) decendents figure out just where she, her husband, and other relatives lived in or around Colorado City before they took advantage of the 1862 Homestead Act and homesteaded near Florissant in 1869. And moved there in the early 1870s.
Well, in anticipation of the entire Hill, Coplan, Nickell families - 13 of them - traveling to Colorado from diverse places in California, to attend the celebration in Florissant one family member, Patty Shepherd, found our Web site because, of course, when she put the reference 'Colorado City' from family records into Google, she discovered our Historical Society Web site - http://history.oldcolo.com
And we, being very responsive helping people find locations in or around early El Paso County (and Teller County and thus Florissant was part of El Paso County way back then) related to their forebearers, tracked down where Charlotte and Adam lived, where they had a "rooming house" for a time, and even where the great great grandfather of the Nickell branch of the family had a Colorado City Hotel (Mather House) and purportedly a Saloon!
But the real zinger is that the address they had where they operated a rooming house corresponded perfectly with the long 1859 Gerish and Cobb log building which was at 710 Colorado Avenue - 2700 block today. And which log building was razed in 1959 to make room for a modern building but Lorene Englert saved the logs, and we have three of them - guaranteed to be from 1859 and that log building - at the History Society!
So when 8 of the 13 family members came to our History Center the day before the Florissant all day Celebration, while I showed them on large maps and early city photographs where their kin had been long ago - I also photographed them as a group standing in front of one of those 150 year old logs that came out of the building their amazing Charlotte Hill lived in.
I also discovered something that none of the family - who obviously had done extensive genealogical work from family documents - NOR the National Park Service staff apparently knew.
I found in a tiny Colorado City 'Business Directory' for 1884, ten years before her name surfaces in a 1894 directory the following unmistakable line "Hill, Charlotte - Museum." Colorado City only had 250 inhabitants in 1884, there were only 14 'Businesses' listed - four of them Saloons, and yet Charlotte Hill had a Museum there! I'll wager it displayed specimens she brought down from the Fossil Beds, 40 miles away by horseback or carriage. No trains to or through Florissant for 4 more years! Amazing. Colorado City was too SMALL to have a Museum. Right? Of course in the breezy early "directories" you seldom found addresses, so we don't know what building it was in exactly. Just between, by that time, four Old Town saloons, one hotel and horse barns.
Charlotte Hill was a real Colorado City Pioneer. I want to be sure she is recognized as such.
So there was a grand time held by all up the pass Sunday, February 15, 2009 honoring an accomplished lady from 160 years ago.
This was the Sunday Program
"Homesteaders, Fossils, and Scientists
A Tribute to Charlotte Hill on Her 160th Birthday
-National Park Service
-The Friends of the Florissant Fossil Beds
-Pikes Peak Historical Society
-Florissant Scientific Society
• Hors Doeuvres
• Superintendent, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument (Keith Payne)
• President, Pikes Peak Historical Society (Celinda Kaelin)
• Representative for the Florissant Scientific Society (Tim Brown)
• Vice President, The Friends of the Florissant Fossil Beds (Sally Maertens)
-Speaker Herb Meyer
The homesteader who made the difference: Charlotte Hill's role in
unveiling Florissant's place in world fame
• Steven Veatch
Charlotte Hill and the Princeton Scientific Expedition of 1877
• David Atkins
Charlotte Hill and her influence on paleontologist Samuel H. Scudder
• Beth Simmons
Passing the heritage to brother John Coplen: The Coplen Petrified Forest
• Comments from the Hill Family
-Reception and Celebration
• Cake and unveiling of new wayside exhibit
-Field Trip to overlook the site of the Hill Homestead
February 15, 2009, 11:30 a.m.to 4 p.m.
Florissant Library Reception Hall
A lot of researchers, such as Dr Beth Simmons, did a lot of work researching, not only the work that Charlotte did at the Fossil Beds, but also the family lineages of the Coplen's - back into the 1700s. All in preparation for the Celebration, but also for the continuation of the historical and scientific record. We in the Old Colorado City Historical Society will be pleased to have copies of those, and we will exhibit them at our Center AND online indefinitely.
Delightfully, several of the Hill and Nickell family have decided to join the Old Colorado City Historical Society from afar because of our successful research on their behalf and finding things nobody knew about this amazing woman.
Next week I will write about her equally amazing brother, John David Coplen and his achievments in totally other ways. Another unknown Pioneer from Colorado.