By Maggie Magoffin
In my research and endeavors to get a personal perspective of Lincoln Hills I’ve had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Winston Walker. Several months ago, Winston, a tall, slender, soft spoken gentleman who loves the out-of-doors, accompanied me to Lincoln Hills where we spent several hours with photographer, Julian Gothard. As we traveled from Arvada up to Gilpin County Winston shared many stories and personal insights about the resort, it’s past and present. His thorough knowledge of the area and the people led me to wonder what his connection was to this beautiful oasis away from the hustle and bustle of metro-Denver.
In 1989, Winston accepted a position with Storage Technology Corporation and relocated his family to Colorado. Immediately enamored with the Rocky Mountains, Winston began hiking the Boulder mountains. People heard tales about his adventurous hikes and wanted to join him on his treks. He said, “It was like being a Pied Piper. People would say, ‘Hey, Winston, we want to go hiking with you.’ So, I collected more and more people doing my activities.”
Word got out and interest grew and reached the ears of Jerry Stevens. A former judge and attorney in Denver, Jerry was very active with Outward Bound, and he wanted to talk to Winston. Their meeting took place in 1992, at which time Jerry shared a vision with Winston or forming an organization honoring James P. Beckwourth, a famous mountain man from the 1800’s. He wanted to use the Beckwourth name as a platform for bringing urban kids out of their environment and teach them to appreciate the great outdoors. Winston and Jerry agreed to partner in this endeavor and enlisted the assistance of Charles Corbin, also an attorney in the City of Denver.
In February 1993, Corbin wrote an article for the Denver Post announcing there was to be a charter meeting at the Black America of the West Museum in Five Points. They publicized the meeting and word spread through Winston’s hiking groups. About 26 people showed up for the first gathering where Jerry and Winston’s vision was shared. And so, the James Beckwourth Mountain Club was born. Officers were elected and all necessary legal paperwork was submitted. The first few meetings were held in Charles Corbin’s office on Grant Street, where details were hashed out. But, from the very beginning Winston made it known he had no interest in holding an office or running the organization. His passion was the outdoors and hiking. All he wanted to do was take groups of kids on hikes. And so, he was appointed Hiking Leader. For a period of time he served on the board, but eventually he told the other board members, “Hey guys. I want to leave the board. It’s not my thing.”
Beginning in the mid-1990’s, members of the James Beckwourth Mountain Club began staging reenactments, the early performances being presented in Centennial Park and at the South Platt River confluence. Everyone in attendance dressed in period costumes, and at one time the Mayor and his wife joined in the festivities. The Club formed a relationship with the Buffalo Soldiers and performed reenactments across the state, but the reenactments were primarily done in local schools, libraries and corporations. Eventually, Jane Taylor and Cheryl Armstrong, president of the Club at the time, worked together to create the outdoor education center. Later they put together a proposal for the reenactments to become their own entity under the name of James Beckwourth Mountain Club Reenacting. Winston said, “Jane was very instrumental in pushing a lot of these activities and solidifying how they were going to be run. We’ve had some great presidents, Denver Norman, Sid Wilson, Everett Brinson, Charles Corbin, and my wife Marcia served for a time. They kept the organization going.”
In 2006 the Club, with funds raised and a $247,000 grant from the Colorado Historical Society, purchased Wink’s Lodge in Lincoln Hills, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Members of the Club worked diligently to restore the interior of the lodge to its 1920s grandeur and created a living-history museum and heritage center where they held historical reenactments, seminars and nature outings. Preserving their African American heritage in the area was their primary focus.
Wink’s Lodge was the crowning jewel of the Lincoln Hills resort. Today only the lodge and a handful of buildings remain at the resort between Nederland and Rollinsville. After Jane Taylor’s death in 2006, members of the reenactment group continued on. But eventually, without her tireless encouragement and dedication, the performances wound down. Steve Shepherd and John Thomas continue to participate in reenactments, John Thomas mainly working with the Tuskegee Airmen. On occasion, someone from the former group will get a request to perform and will pull together a few performers. Earlier this year, after several years working with senators and government agencies to include a small parcel of national forest with the Wink’s Lodge property, the Club turned ownership of the property over to Lincoln Hills Cares, LLC. The James Beckwourth Mountain Club has been dissolved. Winston continues to take groups on hikes and runs his “informal meetup group” as the Beckwourth Doers. He said, “I advertise hikes or museum activities. Just to keep the name of Beckwourth alive.”
About James P. Beckwourth
Beckwourth’s life reads like the wildest of fiction. Born in Virginia to a black mother and white slave owner father, he spent his youth in Missouri, and as a young man entered the fur trade of the Rocky Mountains under General Ashley in the early 1820’s. Several years of thrilling adventure as a trapper in the far west were followed by a period of romantic and perilous life among the Crow Indians as warrior and later as chief. Then came a short service with the Army in Florida, followed by another period as fur trader and fighter in Colorado, New Mexico and California.
In 1859, Beckwourth arrived in Auraria-Denver with the A.P. Vasquez & Co. train of merchandise. Some months before, he left his home in California, and returned to St. Louis after years of absence, to see relatives and friends. While in Missouri he visited his old friend, Louis Vasquez, at and at that point was employed to accompany their train to the mouth of Cherry Creek. Upon reaching the destination the large assortment of goods was placed in the Vasuez store on Ferry Street, where Beckwourth was employed during the winter.
A column editorial in the Rocky Mountain News, December 1, 1859, stated: “We had formed the opinion, as has, we presume, almost everyone, that Captain Beckwourth was a rough illiterate backwoodsman, but were almost agreeably surprised to find him a polished gentleman, possessing a fund of general information which few can boast. He is now sixty-two years of age, but looks scarce fifty, hale, hearty and straight as an arrow . . . When coming up the Arkansas he met with the Cheyennes, whom he had not seen for over twenty years; but he was instantly recognized, and his presence telegraphed for many miles to scattered bands, who came rushing to meet and welcome him, whom they consider the ‘Big Medicine’.”
In 1860, Beckwourth was left in charge of the Vasquez Mercantile in Denver. The bottom lands along the Platte were usually dotted with Cheyenne and Arapahoe teepees, and the old time Indian friends paid frequent visits to Beckwourth. A group of nine Cheyenne traveled 40 miles to meet with Beckwourth. One told him, “My chief, we are glad to see you—although we do not like to see you among the pale faces. In passing through our hunting grounds, many pale face has been lost, but never has one come to a Cheyenne lodge without getting plenty to eat, and being set on the right road to his people. Last night I arrived here; have not eaten a mouthful, and pale face has not asked me to eat. Chief, I am hungry.” Beckwourth took them to his boarding house and gave them a meal.
Beckwourth was born into slavery in Virginia in the late 1700’s. He was freed by his father and apprenticed as a blacksmith. He was a mountain man, fur trader, explorer and Indian Chief. He is credited with the discovery of Beckwourth Pass through the Sierra Nevada Mountains between Reno, Nevada and Portola, California during the California Gold Rush years. He improved the Beckwourth Trail, which thousands of settlers followed to central California. He narrated his life story to Thomas D. Bonner and Beckwourth: Mountaineer, Scout and Pioneer, and Chief of the Crow Nations of Indians, published in 1856. He was instrumental in the founding of Pueblo, Colorado. The civil rights movement of the 1960’s celebrated Beckwourth as an early African-American pioneer. He has since been featured as a role model in children’s literature and textbooks.
James P. Beckwourth died in Denver, Colorado, October 29, 1866.