Look out, Colorado! John Lawrence Boggs was born in Callaway, in Boone County, Missouri on March 23, 1823. He grew up in a well-known family, a cousin to the state governor of Missouri. Attending Columbia College in the borough of Manhattan in New York City, John earned a law degree and graduated with highest honors in 1839. He went on to teach school and began practicing law. He married his first wife Elizabeth in 1841. Ready to begin his new life in the alluring American West, he brought his family to Denver in 1860, he practiced law until 1868. He represented Douglas County in the Colorado Territorial Legislature, prepping Colorado for statehood. Enlisting in Third Volunteer CO Cavalry found him ‘chasing Indians’, this pursuit gave him his first look at the Beulah Valley.
He liked what he saw and, he later moved to Fort Pueblo. He stuck to his law practice, while pursuing life as a cattle rancher. At times, his roaming livestock drifted, and complaints prompted John to spend the winter of 1866-67 on Peter K. Dotson’s Ranch. The following Spring John, Elizabeth, and their four sons (David W., Oliver L., Lewis G., and J. Denver) and his brother George moved into nearby Mace’s Hole (soon to change names to Beulah in 1876). A newspaper article notes the Boggs family was growing potatoes in the heart of the Beulah Valley by 1869.
A man of science, John Lawrence was finding a solid foothold in Colorado, and practicing phrenology (before the advent of neurology), his openness for the future would lead him further afield. The early, and undeveloped, Beulah Valley appealed to the enterprising John and his family.. John brought a new set of credentials and talents, and the Valley was ripe for the picking. Still practicing law, he was elected in 1872 to serve as a justice of the peace for three terms. In 1873, he was a mail contractor and carrier on the new weekly route between Canon City and Greenhorn via Mace’s Hole and Osage Avenue.
At that time many newcomers faced immediate shelter and food challenges. Instrumental for the times and still in use today, was developing irrigation systems-like the Sease and the Pioneer ditches. John helped to engineer the Pioneer ditch. As well, he planted apple orchards in the central part of the Valley. Growing fruit trees was not only popular for a renewable food source, but also met the Improvement Regulations requirement set forth for gaining a U.S. Land Patent (i.e., owning your property after 5 years of living there and developing the site). For forty years, Professor John made his mark on the area by building homes, outbuildings, fencing, harvesting crops, bettering the land, trying out new farming ideas, and building roads- building a toll road from Panther Creek to North Creek in 1877.
Seasons passed, and many of life’s challenges were met. He lost his first home to fire in 1886, but soon rallied by building a home on Pennsylvania Avenue (street number 6020, owned by the Charles and Evelyn Jones Family). After Boggs’ first wife died, he married again, and again, and again, and again; a total of five times according to one account. All totaled, he fathered ten children in his lifetime!
Due to John’s engaging demeanor, his studies, oratory skills, industrious experience, and teaching past, people favorably called him “Professor.” Entertaining with phrenology further endeared him to fellow settlers. Upon invitation, Professor John put on shows at card parties, luncheons, dinner parties and other popular social functions. He shared how placing his hands on someone’s head and feeling for characteristic skull bumps would reveal their personalities or tendencies.
This practice gave Beulahites a fun social break from the rigors of settling a valley and maintaining peace with the nearby Native American population. It was once reported that while blindfolded, he “read” a valley-grown pumpkin, with sheep’s wool atop.
However, law and order kept Professor John L. Boggs focused as he served as a Pueblo County Deputy Sheriff for 16 years with many trials and court proceedings, making for both early mornings, and late nights.
Pearl Smith, teacher at the Cedar Grove School just outside of the Valley, could attest to his desire to serve justice. Riding her horse to and from school, she used a short-cut over Mr. Holman’s land to save herself and her horse a longer ride. After school one day, she found Holman’s gate wired shut. Pearl, being a woman of resolve, pulled the staple and lowered the fence for her passage. Mr. Holman popped out from hiding in a hollow. “You’re trespassing on my land!” In truth, Pearl was now liable to arrest, and Holman took the case to court. However, John L. Boggs handled her case, and the jury decided in the pioneer teacher’s favor. Mr. Holman paid a costly $93 for court fees for his zealous landowner approach.
John’s children took the lead of their industrious father. His son, Lewis, took on the role of the first official Postmaster of Mace’s Hole. He participated in the renaming of the community; son Oliver, carried the first mail route. He and four sons, including David who built his first home further north at 5862 Pennsylvania Avenue. A cabin that is known locally as the ‘Pioneer Cabin’ (Beulah’s oldest residence), having laid the foundation in 1882.
The beautiful, and eye-catching cabin still stands today because of the efforts made by Ward and Pat Stryker, beginning in the 1950s; preservation continued with the existing owners Bill and Betty Burton; both working hard to maintain the integrity of the original cabin.
Other early Beulah settlers and trappers, Almon Coburn and John Root, helped David with the construction of the cabin. Three of David’s daughters, Ellen, Amy, and Bertha, were born in the cabin. His fourth daughter Lillie was born on South Pine Drive (in the second home David built, see above, unknown if it is standing.).
In the 1880s, the Boggs brothers found Whistling Cave near Mt. Nebo, at least eighteen caves are dotted around Beulah. The largest, with approximately 800 hundred feet of passage, this cave was dynamited at the turn of the century for safety reasons.
Sadly, not all of the Boggs’ boys claimed desired life outcomes. Mystery surrounds son J. Denver. When Professor Boggs died in Beulah, January 2, 1906, J. Denver left his home in Clayton, New Mexico, to attend his father’s funeral and burial in the Beulah Cemetery. However, he never made it to the funeral or back to Clayton. He was last seen in Pueblo; circumstances are unknown; his body lost or destroyed.
Professor Boggs may have been pranked once with a pumpkin, but not the case when it came to “Solid Muldoon.” While a lot of effort had been put forth to create the baked giant with which to lure the world into believing was a petrified giant, but John balked. The Solid Muldoon was exhumed on September 20, 1877, by Mr. Conant of Colorado Springs, and John Boggs’ common and scientific senses ended up giving the possible missing link story a thumbs down.
He’d visited the discovery site, the little cedar knoll near the head of Rock Creek. Considering the soil, color and composition of the petrification, the lack of ancient armor that would’ve notably been buried with a figure of importance, and apparently the unproportioned body, respected Professor Boggs doubted authenticity. He felt it his duty to weigh in more widely on the situation, and despite P.T. Barnum paying $25,000 dollars for this sensational discovery, Boggs expressed his skepticism, and his declared the giant a hoax in the form of a poem in the Pueblo Chieftain.
“It is surely a humbug for Barnum.
Is this great huge thing, a rock or a king?
In what age did you live?
This simple answer will you give?
Your title race or blood—
Say did you ever live before or since the flood?
It was a mighty blunder,
when the statue fell asunder.
~ Prof. Boggs.”
In 1877 this sentiment summarizes the pioneering Boggs family, “Five more peaceful, industrious, temperate and honest farmers cannot be met with.” Hardworking, and intelligent, the versatile Professor John L. Boggs secured his place in Beulah history by immersing himself in higher pursuits, and offering his talents to the community. John Lawrence Boggs is buried in the Beulah Cemetery. v
Karen Hudgins is a published author, and member of Beulah Historical Society. Of Note: Another man named Boggs was a freighter, using oxen and wagons to move shipments from one place to another, had grazed his ox-teams in the marshy, open area that gained the moniker of Boggs Flats. It offered space for growing hay and grain and boasted an ever-running spring. Freighter Boggs and Prof. Boggs weren’t related. Also, Boggsville, CO, 1866, two miles south of Las Animas, was named after Thomas O. Boggs. He was not related to Prof. Boggs, either, but worth a mention to prevent confusion.