A tailing tale of Captain Ira Austin

• Bookmarks: 613

Colorado Pioneer

By Maggie Magoffin

A descendent of Irish and English Ancestry, Ira Austin was born May 30, 1807 in Bristol, Ontario County, New York. A native of Western New York, his father Levi Austin was a farmer by occupation and extensively engaged in fruit and vegetable cultivation.

In February 1831, Austin married Harriet Benjamin, daughter of Amos Benjamin of Bristol, New York. In 1837, Harriet gave birth to their son, Schyler. In 1838 they purchased 160 acres of land in Will County, Illinois where they grew fruits and vegetables. In 1843, their first daughter, Julia, was born.

In 1846, Ira contracted to build a portion of the Illinois & Michigan Canal, completing the same I 1847. In 1848, the Austin’s second daughter, Helen, was born.

In March 1849, Ira set out to make his fortune in the California Gold Rush. With a six-mule team, 13 wagons and 41 other men, he traveled overland to Placerville, Eldorado County, California. In 1850, succeeding in his mining endeavors, with enough profits in his pockets to buy more land in Illinois, he returned home to his family. His return trip home began with traversing through the Isthmus of Panama rather than traveling overland.

Ira purchased 1,100 acres in Will County, Illinois and there directed his attention to raising sheep. Ten years after returning from California, in the summer of 1860, Austin again left his family on the farm and set out for Colorado. He outfitted eight wagons with supplies, milling and mining machinery and joined the Pike Peak Gold Rush. It is believed this was when he earned the title of “Captain” from his role as leader of a wagon train.

Upon his arrival at Boulder, he visited the mines at Gold Hill, but concluded to proceed to Gilpin County and set up his mill in Lump Gulch.

In 1864, Harriet and the children joined Captain Austin in Gilpin County. Austin continually diversified his business interest, and in 1866 he invested in 1,400 acres of coal rich land near Erie, Colorado. He later sold 800 acres containing the principal mines to the Boulder Valley Railroad Co. By 1869, he was operating a 50-stamp mill in Gilpin County and owned a ranch in that same region. For one year, he held the office of a Gilpin County Commissioner.

In 1870, Ira, Harriet and their daughters moved to Boulder. Their son Schuyler remained in Gilpin County where he worked at farming and mining. Ira became president of the Boulder Valley Railroad and for two years held the position of president of the Boulder Valley Telegraph Express Co. He was elected twice to the Colorado State Legislature.

Captain Ira Austin died in Boulder, Colorado in 1893.


  The Real Pioneers of Colorado, by Marla Davies McGrath. The Denver Museum, 1934

  History of Clear Creek and Boulder Valleys, Colorado J. Harris Mills; W. B Vickers; Frederick W. Pitkin; Chicago: O.L. Baskin & Co., 1880

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 February 2017.

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.

Warning: json_decode() expects parameter 1 to be string, object given in /home/customer/www/ on line 66
6 recommended
bookmark icon

Write a comment...