Cultural Resources South Mesa Hike
Trailhead: South Mesa Trailhead
Difficulty: Easy to Difficult
Distance: 0.3 miles one way to approximately 6 miles round-trip
Amenities: ADA accessible trail to Dunn House, picnic tables and restrooms.
How to find the trailhead: 1.7 miles south of Highway 93 on Eldorado Springs Drive on your right (west side of highway).
Heads up: There's one theme that keeps popping up in all the oral histories for this area - the people who lived here all remember rattlesnakes! There are stories about finding them in gardens, mistaking them for sticks and vines and even eating them. The stories take place all the way from the Dunn House up to the Stockton Cabin. Please keep an eye out for them when you hike in this area! Please stay on trail! It will help conserve our cultural resources and it will be a lot easier to see snakes on the trail than around buildings and ruins!
History: The South Mesa Cultural Landscape offers a wide variety of resources that reflect the history of our area. A fun day's hike here will take you to see everything from historic ranches to stone walls to summer retreats.
The first site you will see is just after you cross the second bridge from the trailhead. This portion of the Dunn House was built in 1875 by John DeBacker. An interpretive sign stands near the trail on the east side of the house. The photograph featured on the sign shows the original portion of the building which has since been demolished.
DeBacker sold the house to John and Emma Dunn in 1901. The Dunns raised three children in this house. Their daughter, Ruth Dunn Helart, in an interview given in 1982, recalled the Dunns' famous berry bushes and apple orchards, remnants of which can be seen just south of the house. Although this area was covered with farm buildings and stone walls which served as fences, the only things you'll see now are the foundations of the buildings and a few walls that have survived the years.
To continue the resource hike, from the Dunn House, you will proceed to the Mesa Trail. Take a right (north) and proceed 0.7 miles on this trail to the South Boulder Creek Trail. Take a right (northeast). Hike on this trail for about a mile watching to your right (east) for a stone wall a short distance from the trail, about three feet high, between open space and the residences along South Boulder Creek.
This wall was built for Bill Blake, whose homestead is just along South Boulder Creek. Bill was born on the property in 1868, and in 1893, commissioned Welsh miners to build the wall for him after they became unemployed by the Silver Crash. Admire the wall and try to imagine the enormous amount of work that went into building it, but please don't wander into private property on the other side of it.
When you've had a good look at the wall, turn around and double back to the Mesa Trail intersection. If you aren't into a moderate climb, you can go back down to the Dunn House. If you'd like a little more adventure, take a right (north) on the Mesa Trail to the intersection with Big Bluestem. Proceed to Upper Big Bluestem and proceed up the hill about half a mile. Just before crossing a gully, you will see log debris and some stone walls. This is what is left of the Brammeier Homestead.
The Brammeiers came here from Iowa in the late 1890s. The house was home to the entire family including seven children, for several years. On June 9, 1902, the oldest son, Fred Brammeier, age 19, was shot in the back and killed by John Dunn (see Dunn House above). According to the Denver Post, the shooting was the result of a dispute caused when the Brammeier's cattle broke into the Dunn's alfalfa field. However, the Boulder Daily Camera cites the cause as a dispute from some years earlier over a division fence and right of way. Dunn was eventually found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and served one year in jail.
You can wander here and imagine how seven kids could live in one cabin, then make your way back down to the Mesa Trail. Turn right, going south, on the Mesa Trail for about a mile. Keep an eye out on your right for rusted, metal debris near the trail. A few feet above that you will find a pile of boards which represent the ruins of the Schoolmarm's Cabin, which was used as a summer retreat for a schoolteacher from Denver named Miss Lane. Depending upon the time of year, you may see iris growing on either side of the cabin. These are domestic, not wild iris, and the original bulbs, probably planted by Miss Lane, are about 100 years old!
Be sure to look around at this site - there is a shed that is nearly collapsed up the trail a few feet on your right. You can also see a rock wall on the right (north) side of the trail which may have been built as a part of the original site.
To proceed with the hike, turn around at the cabin and follow the Mesa Trail back down the hill a short way to the intersection with Shadow Canyon Trail. Turn right (west) and almost immediately in front of you to your left you will see tall wooden fence posts. Just beyond this is a small outhouse and a few feet farther in front of you is the McGillvray Cabin. The main part of the McGillvray Cabin was built sometime between 1870 and 1885. An addition was made in the mid-1920s and since their construction style is quite different, it's easy to determine the original cabin from the new. According to a conversation recorded during a DeBacker family reunion in 1989, Hugh and Nellie McGillvray bought the house from a homesteader's widow, Marie Pruden, in 1906.
The McGillvarys originally ran cattle in this area. The corral that you see near the cabin was used for branding and sorting. The outhouse was originally a milk shed and then a playhouse for the Dunn homestead near the trailhead. It was brought up the hill to the McGillvray site to be used as an outhouse.
Jerome DeBacker married Katheryn McGillvray and the cabin became a summer home. Gertrude DeBacker Anderson, their daughter, remembered the gardens, for which the family was famous. Once, while picking peas, she mistook a snake for a vine, which made a pretty big impression on the little girl! Iris and lilac bushes are found near the foundation and the original plants are about 100 years old!
Enjoy the cabin from the trail as you try to imagine life in the little cabin near the creek. As always, please do not climb on the resources, vandalize or collect artifacts that you may find nearby. And don't forget that the rattlesnake found by Gertrude DeBacker probably has descendants nearby!
If you are done for the day, you can double back and head down the Towhee Trail. If you are up for a steep hike, continue up the Shadow Canyon Trail (west) for about another mile and half to the Stockton Cabin.
The land on which this was built was homesteaded in 1910 by Jessie Stockton, a well-known Denver writer and public reader. When she homesteaded this land, the cabin was known as the Spring Cabin. Her son, Roscoe, was a poet, composer, inventor, schoolteacher, radio artist, drama coach as well as an avid mountain climber. He often referred to himself as the "hermit of Spring Brook" and he owned the cabin and the 160 surrounding acres until his death in 1950.
Roscoe's wife, Pansy, was an artist whose "sun paintings" were known all over the world. Instead of watercolors or oils, she used plant materials found near the cabin. Her two sons remembered their mother packing lunches for them in the morning and saying "come on boys, we're going naturing today!"
In 1970, Boulder mountain parks ranger Jack Kissell took the Stockton's sons, Oakely and Paul, on a trip up the steep trail to the old cabin. The sons had remembered making most of the trip in a Model T. The road ended about a quarter of a mile from the cabin and everything had to be carried up on their backs after that - including a pedal organ that had to be carried all the way up from the McGillvray cabin!
Roscoe died in 1950 and his ashes were scattered near the cabin. His family carved his initials in the base of The Matron, a popular climbing area.
By now you're probably ready for some downhill coasting! Turn around and head back down the hill. When you reach the McGillvray Cabin, keep your eye out in front of you for the intersection of Shadow Canyon Trail and Towhee Trail. Take a right (southeast) and proceed down the trail (unless you are hiking with a dog, they are not allowed on Towhee Trail so you can take Homestead or Mesa Trails).
As you approach the Dunn House, you will have an excellent view of what was their ranching and farming area. There is a dry ditch just above the Dunn landscape. This is the historic South Boulder Foothills Ditch which dates back to 1883. It ran from South Boulder Creek to Viele Lake - it was officially abandoned in 1983. The ditch was running when the DeBackers and Dunns were here, which would've made this a very good place for farming and ranching. You can imagine how green this area was when the ditch was running, and imagine all the Dunn's berry bushes and the apple trees flourishing near the house.