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Historical Perspectives

In search of lost towns

Colorado’s Rocky Mountains are full of ghost towns, but the Falcon area has its own history of lost towns, such as Eastonville (eight miles north of Falcon) and Amo, which was supposedly located where Curtis Road and Highway 94 intersect.Then, there’s the settlement at Bijou Basin.Located about seven miles north of Peyton, Bijou Basin takes its name from Bijou Creek. “Bijou” means “little jewel” in Breton, a Celtic language spoken in Brittany, now a part of France.The basin is surrounded by bluffs and mesas on its west, south and eastern sides; all dotted with pine trees.Bijou Basin is known for Fremont’s Fort, a cone-shaped geologic formation with a flat top that stands on the basin’s eastern side, flanked by Eagle Rock (or Rick) and Kelly’s Butte. The formation gets its name from John Fremont, who explored Colorado in the 1840s.On the first of five expeditions, Fremont and a band of scouts left the main group for a side trip to what would become eastern El Paso County. Fremont may have followed a tributary of the Platte River, following smaller and smaller streams until he came to Bijou Creek, where he was set up by Indians.Legend has it that Fremont and his band sought safety at the top of Fremont’s Fort. Under the cover of darkness, one man was sent on foot to get help from Denver, 60 miles away. Fremont lived to tell the story and conduct four other expeditions, so it’s thought that help arrived in time.The first settlers in Bijou Basin included Lewis Haden, D.M. and Steven Holden, who arrived in 1860; followed by Jim and Litt Johnson, Dan Maxon, J.O. Phillips, Jim Bruce, Sol Boyd and John Bell. First names of four other earlier settlers have been lost to history: Petty, Peterfish (a blacksmith), Smith and DeWitt.A Mrs. Z. L. Holden claims the basin was the site of El Paso County’s first school, a log cabin built in 1874. The site of the log cabin was described as seven miles south and two miles west of Fremont’s Fort.In the 1880s, the log cabin was moved to the Colbert Ranch and replaced by a white clapboard building. It still had one schoolroom but the building also had a two-room “teacherage” (teacher’s living quarters) beyond a connecting door.Unlike many of today’s schools, the children could look outside, as this school had six tall windows, three on each side.A Mr. Holden remembers the schoolroom had three rows of double benches with attached writing shelves. Underneath the shelves were others for storing books.In addition to a school, Bijou Basin had one general store, owned by Mr. Petty – and stocked by wagon from Denver. When someone needed flour or sugar, they ordered it and it came in 100 lb. bags. It was not unusual to place an order for 1,000 pounds of flour at a time.Everyone raised their own meat, vegetables, chickens and cows, so they also had their own eggs and milk.Bell and his family lived on the Colbert Ranch. He’s remembered for his disappearance. One day, he hitched his wagon up to his team of horses, loaded the wagon with his camping outfit and headed off to a mining camp, never to be heard from again.Bijou Basin had its own post office, and D.M Holden was its first postmaster. Mail arrived by a tortuous route, going from Monument to River Bend (another town that has vanished), near Limon. Then, it was carried to the basin by cart or horseback, depending on the weather. Despite the distance and rough nature of the route, mail arrived daily.When the mail route was changed to Peyton in 1914, Mr. Banta became the basin’s last postmaster.Bijou Basin also had a cheese factory founded by Mr. Cappelle, but it was later moved to Peyton. The factory included a tavern and also sat on the stagecoach route.At one time, a train crossed Bijou Basin and there was a train station, but it and many other buildings were swept away by the Memorial Day flood of 1935, which also took the town of Eastonville, never to be rebuilt.Information for this article is from the writings of Inacio Castro, pupil, and Marion McLaughlin, teacher for School District 15, written sometime before 1949 and published in “El Paso County Heritage,” a collection of local history stories published by Juanita and John Breckinridge in 1985.To visit Bijou Basin, take Highway 24 to Peyton Highway. Turn left on Peyton Highway and follow it north until it turns sharp right at Steeplechase Drive and becomes a dirt road. Follow Peyton Highway through Bijou Basin.Today, recently built houses are sprinkled on the basin’s western hillside, and a few older ranch houses remain.Return via Peyton Highway or follow it until it dead ends at an old homestead. Bear left for a couple of turns to reach Elbert Road. Turn left on Elbert Road to head south to Highway 24.According to, Fremont’s Fort has a height of 7,123 feet, and its GPS coordinates are N 39.122212 and W -104.414689.

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