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Lonely stones on the prairie

There’s a grave a few miles north of Falcon. It contains the body of a man named Michael Fagan, or so the story goes.To protect the grave from harm, the owner of the property on which the grave resides is not identified in this article.The grave, marked by several white rocks lined in a row with a large brown rock at the head, lies next to an arm of Kiowa Creek.”When we first bought the land, I didn’t know anything about the story,” the property owner said, standing by the grave.”The reason I believe the story is that journals and diaries of the time have a very accurate and impressive description of the land. They said there was a creek with fresh water nearby and the land was rolling but level in places, and (there was) a cliff you could see for miles from and trees below it and bountiful pasture.”According to unpublished history revised in 1988 by Richard and Mary Ann Gehling of Colorado Springs, the story of Fagan’s grave is tied to the Mormon War of 1857 and 1858.To end Mormon harassment of settlers traveling to California in 1857, President Buchanan sent a military expedition from Fort Leavenworth in Kansas to Utah. The goal was to remove Brigham Young as governor of the Utah Territory and install Alfred Cumming as the new governor.The poorly provisioned expedition arrived at Fort Bridger in southwest Wyoming in mid-November of 1857, only to find that the fort had burned to the ground. Col. Albert Sidney Johnston sent Capt. Randolph Marcy to New Mexico for supplies.After acquiring 1,500 head of sheep, horses, mules and oxen; purchasing wagons and hiring guides, drovers and teamsters; Marcy and his detail of 39 privates headed north over Raton Pass in March1858.Marcy was accompanied by 2nd Lt. John Du Bois and a detachment of 25 mounted rifles and Capt. Bowman, with 75 privates from the 3rd Infantry.After learning that Mormons planned to attack the supply train, Marcy waited along Fountain Creek, at the mouth of Monument Creek and just south of the Garden of the Gods. He camped at various sites near the current towns of Fountain and Widefield.In New Mexico, Capt. Loring raised reinforcements, including Michael Fagan, and headed north, arriving April 27 at the Arkansas River near Pueblo. Loring moved on and spent the night of April 28 at Jimmy Camp. Marcy’s group arrived at Black Squirrel Creek April 29, only to find that Loring had followed the trail seven miles north, camping along Kiowa Creek.Marcy decided to pasture his herd on the fresh grass at the edge of Black Forest.According to “Campaigns in the West 1856-1861: The Journal and Letters of Colonel John Van Deusen Du Bois,” the men built a 250-foot corral from tree trunks and brush to hold the animals.In the evening, Capt. Du Bois rode to Loring’s camp to visit friends. Near sunset, the wind suddenly changed to the north; it turned cold and began snowing. Du Bois tried to return to his camp at Black Squirrel Creek but could not find his way.”It was almost impossible to stand before the fury of the wind. A fire could not be lighted. Half the tents were down and the men under them covered with drifts of snow. All our stock was stampeded,” Du Bois wrote.”Nothing was left in camp. All day it snowed. We could not sleep it was so cold. We drank four quarts of liquor during the day when we were in the snow without feeling any effect.”During the night, we heard cries and opening our tent two Mexicans stumbled in almost dead. Their limbs and faces were completely frozen. One had carried the other for half a mile and being lost in the drifting snow, our light had saved their lives.”In the morning, a dead man was found within one hundred yards of our tent, frozen to death.”According to the Gehlings, the man was buried in a shallow grave, with rocks placed on top to keep wolves away. They erected a wooden cross with the probable inscription, “Michael Fagan, May 2, 1858,” but there is no such marker today.In a transcription of the journal of one Luke Tierney, found with a copy of the Gehlings’ writings, is an item dated June 21, 1858: “We passed a perpendicular rock, five hundred feet high, at the base of which was a tomb of recent origin, occupied by some unfortunate itinerant. At its head stood a wooden cross, bearing the inscription ‘Charles Michael Fagan – 1858.'”The Gehlings also wrote that some days after the storm, a bullwhacker told of how he found the remains of a man burned to death near Fagan’s grave. The man had probably fallen asleep too near a large fire of logs.After a few days of recuperation, the Marcy-Loring expedition headed north, arriving at Fort Bridger June 9, 1858, and then marching to Salt Lake City, which had been abandoned. “By early fall, most of the troops returned east, leaving only a token force to serve as a reminder,” the Gehlings wrote. The Mormon war was over.Some stories claim Fagan was buried alive and his ghost would often appear, standing sentinel over the grave.”I used to let members of a Colorado Springs ghost-story-telling club camp at the grave on Halloween,” the property owner said. “I must have been crazy. They never did anything bad, but now I realize how risky it was.”Editor’s note: A copy of the Gehlings’ history was provided by the owner of the property on which Fagan’s grave resides.Excerpts of “Campaigns in the West 1856-1861: The Journal and Letters of Colonel John Van Deusen DuBois” are available at more information about Fagan’s grave, visit

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