A tailing tale of Anthony Arnett

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A Colorado Pioneer

By Maggie Magoffin

Born in the Reichstoff province on the Rhine River in Alsace-Lorraine, France, July 7, 1819, Anthony (Tony) Arnett was about nine years old when he came to the United States. He sailed on a seven-week voyage to New York with his parents, Louis and Clara and nine siblings.

The family settled in New York. They later moved to Warren, Pennsylvania eventually settling on a farm in Whiteside County, Illinois, where his mother gave birth to three more children. As the son’s came of age, they took up their own land and farmed in the vicinity of Prophetstown.

Anthony’s early years were devoted to breaking prairie for homesteaders and farming. He also teamed freight from Chicago to Michigan City. In 1846, he engaged in a mercantile business in Portland, Illinois and went to Iowa where he made $450 breaking prairie and that same year married Mary Rose Graham.

In 1849, with his mercantile business not proving profitable, Tony followed the gold rush to California. Accompanied by his brother and another man, he left his son, Willliamette and his wife Mary at home and sailed from New York, around Cape Horn for San Francisco.

The ship went aground near Valpariso, Chili. The captain agreed to refund all passage money, but the U.S. Consul advised against him doing so. Arnett and his fellow miners suspected treachery afoot and marched up to see the consul. In the face of threats to have them thrown into irons, the miners demanded their passage money. With fists clenched and faces determined the men threatened to take possession of the ship until they received their money. The miners carried out their original plan. However, later that evening another vessel dropped anchor in the harbor. Knowing it could be quite some time before another ship came that way, the stranded miners decided to leave without their money. Arnett and his three companions landed in San Francisco dead broke.

Arnett took a job washing dishes for his first meal, but soon found employment freighting goods over the mountain to placer mines. He later escorted his companions to the new diggings and built a cabin for them.

He returned to Stockton, where the evening of his arrival he was accosted by a man who thrust out his hand and boomed, “Why if it ain’t Tony Arnett!” Two years earlier, in Illinois, Tony had sold a yoke of oxen to the man. Tony inquired about the cattle and the man told him he’d used them to cross the Plains and presently had them grazing close to Frisco. The man agreed to let Tony use the team to haul freight if he split the profits. Anthony contracted to haul freight to the mining camps at one dollar a pound. After his first trip, he bought his partner’s interest in the oxen. He could take 1,600 pounds per load and was soon making a round trip every two weeks. He hauled from October to May, sleeping in the open air the entire time.

Tony’s two companions who came with him to California asked him to haul into Frisco during the winter and bring them their supplies. They were mining and felt certain they were on the verge of a big strike. When he was finally able to freight a load to Frisco he found the men and shared supper with them. The men had made $350 in gold while Tony had earned $13,000 hauling freight. He offered to divide his earnings with them if they agreed to try something different.

The next morning, he suggested building a roadhouse along a nearby creek where many travelers passed through. They put up a wooden frame, covered it in canvas and named it Rock River after the river near their home in Illinois. They made a great deal of money in a short time. Game was plentiful so the meat cost only powder and lead.

While operating the road house, Arnett decided to buy several head of cattle. On his way to make the purchase he ran into a total stranger who offered to loan him enough money so he could buy the entire herd. Tony never knew the man’s name, but he took the money and bought the herd. He sold some of the cattle to miners for a big price and two weeks later paid the man back.

One year later, the partners sold the Rock River roadhouse and invested in mules to start operating pack-trains to mining camps. Soon after beginning their freighting business, Tony’s brother died. A short time after that Tony experienced a serious health condition that nearly took his life. He sold his half of the fifty pack-mules to his partner and sailed back to the States.

He settled down with his wife and son on a farm in Illinois. However, a year after his return, two of his brothers fired up with gold lust, persuaded Tony to return with them to California. The night before they were to depart he got soaked in a rainstorm, became ill and was unable to leave. The impatient brothers left without him.
In 1859, when news of Pikes Peak strikes reached the states, Arnett outfitted three wagons with enough supplies to start a store. This time he took his wife, son and a young man, John Topping. The trip took about two months and the Arnetts spent time in Golden and Boulder. The winter of ’59 and ’60 so impressed Anthony with its mildness that he began to observe everything closely. The country was over-run with herds of antelope and buffalo grazing near the foothills and waxing fat. The few cows and oxen brought by emigrants showed the effects of plenty of feed. Tony determined Colorado would be good stock country. The next spring, he returned to Iowa and brought back 100 head of heifers. Mrs. Arnett returned to her old home so she could be with her family for the birth of an expected child.

Mary returned to Colorado in 1864, with her son Williamette, then eighteen-years-old, and Robert Emmett, three-years-old. Mrs. Arnett was always a loyal helpmate, sharing her husband’s burdens and cheering him with love and sympathy. The story of her pioneering in Colorado with her mild, gentle, refined influence was most remarkable and well known to early-day people. She was a charter member of the Fortnightly, the first women’s literary club in Boulder. Intellectually minded, she made the most of her opportunities by reading and study. Anthony, with a rough exterior, but a generous and kind heart, was sometimes spoken of as a diamond in the rough.

In 1864, soon after his wife’s arrival, Arnett purchased the Boulder House where he was proprietor for many years. In 1865, he took up two hundred acres of land in what is now the southwest section of Boulder. In 1875, he built the Brainard Hotel, later known as the Arnett.

When the Caribou silver discovery was first made, the trade of the camp went to Black Hawk and Central City, by reason of the road that had been built into it from those places. This trade amounted to thousands of dollars each month, and Boulder people looked upon it as their rightful heritage, by virtue of location. If they could get a wagon road into Caribou, the revenue from that immense trade would be theirs. However, it was believed to be impossible to build such a road.

Arnett, along with Amos Wilmer and William Pound, decided they would build the road from Boulder to Caribou. A road had been previously built that traversed up Boulder Canyon, over Magnolia Hill, and across country to Black Hawk. The men’s plan included continuing that road from the foot of Magnolia Hill up Boulder Canyon to Nederland and hence to Caribou. The road passed through rugged country and required blasting and hard labor, but eventually it was finished. Trade commenced and poured into Boulder. However, in spite of the tolls charged, with constant road repairs syphoning the funds, the endeavor proved to provide little profit to the builders. It is said the town grew to have 10 livery stables and the streets were filled with stagecoaches.

When the Boulder Valley Railroad, later the Union Pacific, came into Boulder from Brighton, it was halted by lack of funds. The citizens donated $30,000 and Arnett gave $2,200 and two lots.

When Boulder County needed a court house and had no money to build one, Anthony Arnett and Fred Squires, Sr. constructed a brick building and paid for it themselves.

When it was decided to establish a state university, each city presented claims and it was determined the state legislature would decide which should have it. John Topping, the young man who traveled to Colorado with the Arnett family, had become a member of the Colorado legislature. He had once told Arnett, “If there’s anything I can ever do to help you, tell me.” Arnett called in the offer and told him, “I want to see the state university located in Boulder.” When the legislature met, the location question was a bitter battle between Boulder and its rival. Topping cast the deciding vote for Boulder. Establishing a university is a costly procedure, and the state was hampered by lack of funds. Arnett donated five acres of the present campus and $500. He also gifted the institution with eighty acres of land north of Lover’s Hill.

A rustic monument made of native stone was erected on the University of Colorado Campus with an engraved bronze table that reads: “In memory of Marinus Gilbert Smith, George Asa Andrews and Anthony Arnett, Citizens of Boulder, who in 1872, when the University of Colorado was just a dream, donated land upon which it was to begin its life.”

Anthony (Tony) Arnett achieved much, acquired a considerable fortune in real estate and mining properties, and retired at the age of sixty. In 1894, he and Mary moved to LaJolla, California. Mary died May 3, 1903 at the age of seventy-three and Tony on June 3 of that same year. They eternally rest side-by-side in Columbia Cemetery in Boulder in the shadow of the mighty Rocky Mountains.
The Arnetts had nine children. Five died in infancy. Williamette died in the Klondike while mining for gold. Eugene died in Los Angeles, California in 1918. Jeanie passed away in Boulder in 1928. Robert operated the Arnett Hotel in Boulder until his death in 1944.


The Real Pioneers of Colorado, by Marla Davies McGrath.

Cindi Bigelow uploaded Anthony Arnett’s biography by Forest Crossen to this website, which first appeared in the Boulder, Colorado newspaper in 1933. (

Books by Maggie

The first two books of my Misadventures of the Cholua Brothers series are available at Mountain Menagerie on Main Street in Central City, Colorado; at,, and The third and final book in the series, Bonanza Beans, will be available December 2016.

For past columns and other information on my speaking engagements, book releases, and events visit me at

I’m always looking for interesting stories about Colorado pioneers and local folk instrumental in the founding and/or development of Gilpin County. If you have stories about family members or friends to share, please contact me at or send snail mail to Maggie Magoffin, P.O. Box 746495, Arvada, Colorado 80003.

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