The Centennial State turns 142 years old on August 1. And birthdays, whether we like them or not, are causes for looking back. From Mesa Verde National Park to Bent’s Old Fort, Colorado has plenty of famous, well-trafficked monuments that pay homage to its history. But the state also boasts a slew of lesser-known landmarks that, while small, provide a rich glimpse into how our 100,000 square miles grew up.
1. Westall Monument | Jefferson County
On August 28, 1898, Billy Westall—an engineer for the Denver, South Park, and Pacific Railroad—spotted sand and gravel blocking the tracks near today’s County Road 96 and Dome Rock. His sharp eyes allowed him to slow the train and save its 450 passengers, but the engine flipped over and killed Westall. A year or so later, the Ancient Order of United Workmen placed a granite monument near the crash site to honor the vigilant engineer.
2. Homestake Mine Disaster Headstone | Leadville
About 130 years ago, one of the worst avalanche disasters in Colorado history killed 10 miners outside Leadville. Nearly two weeks of heavy snow led to the slide, which buried several bunkhouses filled with sleeping miners. To pay tribute, Leadville residents raised almost $1,900 (about $50,000 today) to help pay for a six-foot-tall gravestone of a kneeling, head-bowed woman. The monument stands in the town’s Evergreen Cemetery, where eight of the men are buried.
3. Dearfield Agricultural Settlement | Weld County
After reading Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, Denver entrepreneur Oliver Toussaint Jackson decided to create Dearfield, a self-sufficient agricultural settlement for black people. Founded in 1910, it thrived until the Great Depression and Dust Bowl, when droughts and economic hardship forced residents to desert the town. A few abandoned buildings—including Jackson’s home and a gas station—remain.
4. Silas S. Soule Assassination Memorial | Denver
An Army officer who came to the state to search for gold, Captain Silas S. Soule famously refused orders to attack a peaceful camp of Arapaho and Cheyenne Native Americans during the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre. Sixty-seven days after testifying against Colonel John Chivington, the leader of the assault, 26-year-old Soule was assassinated—likely as payback for exposing his boss’ actions. A small plaque at 15th and Arapahoe streets, erected in 2010, marks the approximate murder site.
5. Canary In A Coal Mine Memorial | Trinidad
The late 1800s coal-mining boom in southern Colorado helped transform sleepy Trinidad into a mini-metropolis (at least for a little while)—with big help from a small bird. Canaries are ultrasensitive to toxic underground gasses, and their squawks warned miners to evacuate their tunnels ASAP. In 2010, Trinidad celebrated the noisy little lifesavers by erecting a massive bronze statue of a caged canary, midchirp, on the town’s Main Street.