Col. Robert J. Spotswood and family, c.1897. Left to right: Jessie Broad Spotswood, Robert Wolcott, Col. Robert J., and Tudie M. (Howard).
When Littleton streets were renamed in 1961, Littleton Independent publisher Ed Bemis persuaded the city council to change Lincoln-Orchard Street to Spotswood. It was part of an attempt to recognize several of Littleton's important historical figures. Colonel, (the title was honorary), Robert Jones Spotswood had one of the most colorful careers of any local citizen. Bill Brenneman, a member of the Denver Westerners Posse, wrote an article, " 'Colonel' Robert J. Spotswood, Wagon Boss of the Rockies," about Robert Spotswood for their Monthly Roundup publication in May 1962. Brenneman, in turn, drew from a manuscript that Spotswood had dictated to Albert B. Sanford, a curator of the Colorado State History Museum. Unless otherwise noted, and except for local Littleton items that have come from the Littleton Independent about Spotswood's life after retirement from stage-coaching, this article uses material from those two sources.
Robert Spotswood's adventures began as a teenager in the mid-1850s when he joined a supply train under General William Selby Harney who was sent to quell troubles with the Plains Indians. Spotswood survived a large and bloody battle at Ash Hollow in what later became Nebraska.
Col. Robert J. Spotswood, date unknown.
His appetite for western adventure was thus stimulated, and, after returning home to his parents near Columbia, Missouri for awhile, in 1857 he joined an Army force as a teamster under General Albert Sidney Johnston who was ordered to take troops from Fort Leavenworth to Salt Lake City to deal with the Mormon conflict. Their trip across the plains was uneventful, and the Mormons were found to be peaceful. But Spotswood and several other young men nearly lost their lives by attempting the ill-advised return journey by themselves as winter approached, the army having decided to remain in Utah until spring. They did survive, but when Spotswood reached home, he learned that his father had died and his mother had moved to St. Louis.
The Civil War was approaching and young Spotswood had to decide if he would fight and on which side. His family was from Virginia and descended from Alexander Spotswood, one of the Commonwealth's colonial governors. Many Missouri settlers were from such old Virginia families and sectional feelings ran high. Should he take up arms against his own blood or against his country? It is said in his memoirs that he agonized over the decision and that this was when he longed for the counsel of his father. It was an interesting turning point in his life, for within a few weeks he had decided: He would go back to the mountains.
But first he built a reputation as a wagon master on the plains, initially by acquiring mules and a wagon and delivering supplies from Atchison, Kansas to Fort Kearney, Nebraska, followed by successful ox-train trips from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to Denver via the South Platte. His services were becoming known, and because the war was then underway, he was engaged at St. Joseph to assemble three hundred oxen to freight new wagons and other equipment to Salt Lake City, taking the route over South Pass, a distance of over 1200 miles. All this led up to his appointment by General Bela M. Hughes, who was manager of the Overland Stage Company, to serve as the heavily armed messenger on the express stage from Atchison to Denver. He usually rode outside with the driver, day or night, and tied himself to the seat to prevent tumbling off if he fell asleep. The coach was "a cage on wheels with heavy iron doors and an iron safe," built to carry valuables. Spotswood made the trips successfully, carrying as much as $160,000 in gold and never losing a penny.
A point arrived when he was pressured hard to join the Union forces. Instead, his friend General Hughes appointed him superintendent of the Denver to Julesburg division of the Overland Stage Line. He served for a year and then was appointed division superintendent for Denver West, the route from Denver to Salt Lake City, known as the Ben Holladay Line. He was required, said Brenneman, to keep constant check on all stations, which were about ten miles apart. Because of the danger from Indians and bandits, even the passengers were armed; weapons were provided to those who had none. The line passed from Denver through Fort Collins and Laporte, Colorado to Laramie and west. The Virginia Dale stop in Larimer County, Colorado was once the scene of an Indian threat that Spotswood thwarted by tricking them into thinking some wagon parts and a pipe were a cannon.
Brenneman considered Spotswood's greatest achievement to be the purchase of the Colorado Stage Company by him, J. W. Boque and William C. McClellan in the fall of 1872. He described the initial route as running from Colorado Springs to Canon City and up the Arkansas River to Granite and Oro. By early 1873, he said, they had established a Denver to Fairplay route by way of Morrison, Turkey Creek and South Park. Spotswood had finally returned to the Colorado mountains.
Albert Sanford, writing the article, "Mountain Staging in Colorado," for The Colorado Magazine in March 1932, explained that this was four or five years before the discovery of the great lead-silver deposits that made Leadville famous, but when they were recognized, the Post Office Department advertised for bids for a daily mail service from Denver to Leadville. Spotswood was ready. He secured the mail contract and bought new horses and stagecoaches.
He connected with each terminal of the South Park Railroad as it advanced, eventually running five stages each way daily into Leadville, carrying an average of 100 persons besides the express and mail. When the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad reached Leadville through the Royal Gorge, Spotswood retired.
In 1879 Robert Spotswood bought 560 acres on the south side of Bear Creek in the Platte Valley south of Denver and moved onto the land in 1880. This would have been near the McBroom brothers, John and Isaac. It seems likely that they knew one another, but no information about that has been found. Houstoun Waring in his newspaper column November 20, 1980 said that Spotswood sold part of this land to the government in 1887, and soon Charlie Louthan of Littleton and other carpenters were building Fort Logan there. Later Spotswood sold the rest to Henry Wolcott who in turn sold to J. K. Mullen, the millionaire owner of the Hungarian Flour Mill. Part of Mullen's land was donated to a Catholic agency, and the J. K. Mullen High School was built on the site at 3601 South Lowell Boulevard.
On January 8, 1888 Colonel Spotswood married Jessie Broad. She was the daughter of Charles E. and Caroline (Simpson) Broad and had been born in Massachusetts about 1869. About this time Spotswood bought 160 acres for a stock farm from John G. Lilley west of Littleton and south of Bowles Avenue and lived there. In 1890 he was elected one of the trustees of Wynetka, the town that had been incorporated west of Littleton. In 1891 he was one of the directors of the Littleton Milling and Water Power Company, "the new enterprise arising from the purchase of the Rough and Ready Mill property."
Col. and Mrs. Robert J. Spotswood in front of their ranch home west of Littleton, on the site of the present Columbine Country Club. Photo taken about 1895.
Spotswood called his place south of Bowles Avenue the Valley Stock Farm. His ad in the August 4, 1888 Littleton Independent said that he had a large assortment of fancy stock for sale, and the farm engaged in breeding Perchon, Norman and coach horses, as well as giving special attention to the ranching and pasturing of stock. Probably all three of Jessie and the Colonel's children were born on this farm. Their son, Robert Wolcott Spotswood, said he was born there December 27, 1891. He remembered that his father pastured horses for the Denver Omnibus and Cab Company. The other children were Minnie May, "Tudie," who married Hugh Howard, and Flora who died at age two. Son Robert W. described the fishing trips that they took on the Gunnison River. His father had a railroad pass; they would board the Colorado and Southern at its Wynetka stop and ride up the Platte for outings. Spotswood sold the Valley Stock Farm and by 1910 it was known as the MacRose Stock Farm. Later, after several owners in between, what had been the Spotswood property west of Littleton became the site of Columbine Country Club.
In 1890 the newspaper reported, "R. J. Spotswood has begun the erection of a modern business block on the corner of Main and Curtis [Curtice] Streets, opposite Chancy Olmsted's livery barn. It will be two stories and built of stone." This building still stands at 2590 West Main Street and is part of the Littleton Main Street National Historic District.
In 1892 the Spotswoods moved to town. "Colonel Spotswood has purchased from Uncle Fred Comstock an elegant nine-room house on Curtis [Curtice] Street and will move his family there shortly," announced the newspaper. This house is also still standing at 5650 South Curtice Street.
Spotswood grave, Littleton Cemetery, c.2001.
His obituary, probably written by Edwin Bemis, added the note that after he moved to Littleton, Spotswood embarked in the hotel business at Wolcott, Colorado which he conducted for about three years, then returned to Littleton. Robert J. Spotswood died at his home on South Curtice Street in Littleton April 17, 1910.
After Col. Spotswood's death his widow, Jessie Broad Spotswood, remarried in 1912 to Edward V. Bowles, Sr., the son of Littleton pioneer Joseph W. Bowles, and the couple moved to 1038 West 13th Avenue in Denver. She died October 27, 1952 and was buried in the Littleton Cemetery beside Col. Spotswood. Edward V. Bowles, Sr., had died May 11, 1931.
Brenneman, Bill. " 'Colonel' Robert J. Spotswood. Wagon Boss of the Rockies." The Denver Westerners Monthly Roundup. Denver, Colorado: The Denver Westerners XVIII, 5 (May 1962).
Littleton (Colo.) Independent. Littleton Independent Publishers, 1888-
Littleton Museum. Card file: Spotswood, Robert J.; Vertical file: Spotswood.
[Author unknown]. "The Passing of the Pioneer." The Trail. Denver, Colorado: The Society of Sons of Colorado (May 1910).
Sanford, Albert B. "Story of Bob Spotswood's Life." State Historical Society of Colorado collections. MSS XII-13.
____. "Mountain Staging in Colorado." The Colorado Magazine. Denver, Colorado: The State Historical Society of Colorado IX, 2 (March 1932)
Photographs courtesy of the Littleton Museum unless otherwise noted. To order copies, contact the museum at 303-795-3950.
Compiled by Doris Farmer Hulse
Updated April 2021 by Phyllis Larison