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Mollie Dorsey Sanford was a young bride who crossed the plains -- from the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains -- during the Colorado gold rush. She kept a diary and stated that she didn't know if she would face prosperity or adversity. Settling first in Boulder County, in 1860, she and her husband ended up with some of both.

Her journal "Mollie" was first published in 1959 and is a valuable first-hand feminine perspective of the Colorado frontier.

People moved around a lot in the mid-19th century. Cheap farmland had brought Mollie's father from Indiana to Nebraska Territory, in 1857, where he made a home for his wife and eight children. Mollie was the oldest and was 18 years old when the family arrived.

Mollie's family claimed land on the Little Nemaha River, a long wagon ride from the four-year-old town of "Nebraska City." Within a few weeks, Byron Sanford, a 30-year-old bachelor, took up another homestead nearby.

In 1858, modest amounts of gold found by prospectors in what now is Colorado were exaggerated by newspaper editors in Nebraska City and other Missouri River towns. Nebraska City quickly became a staging area and starting point for wagon trains heading west. By 1859, the Colorado gold rush was well underway.

Mollie and Byron Sanford were married in the kitchen of Mollie's parents' home, in February 1860. A month later, a newspaper publisher stopped by on his way east for more printing supplies.


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He told the newlyweds of the great economic opportunities in the "gold fields," and he gave them their first case of "Pikes Peak fever."

The Sanfords and another couple started their 700-mile journey in April 1860. They averaged 20 miles per day. In one of Mollie's journal entries she wrote, "I have been a bride four months tonight ... the weather is so hot and we are so dusty and dirty."

Once in Denver, Byron was approached by a man from the western Boulder County community of Gold Hill. The man offered Byron a job, if Mollie would cook for 20 hungry gold miners. In Gold Hill, she found her wood stove small and drafty, and the work overwhelming. When the men sang "Home Sweet Home," she cried herself to sleep.

Mollie often went to the summit of nearby Bighorn Mountain where she could "see the plains stretching eastward as far as the eye could reach." There, she composed a poem about visiting her Nebraska family "in spirit form."

In September 1861, Mollie's first child was still-born. The Civil War had begun, and Byron soon left to fight the Confederates in northern New Mexico. After his return, Mollie gave birth to a healthy baby boy and a few years later had a daughter.

The Sanfords eventually settled in Denver, where Byron worked in the melting and refining department of the U.S. Mint. Mollie left her journal to her grandson "not from any especial merit it (the journal) possesses, but because I do not want to be forgotten."

"Mollie: The Journal of Mollie Dorsey Sanford in Nebraska and Colorado Territories, 1857-1866" is still in print and makes good reading.

Silvia Pettem's history column appears every Sunday in the Camera. Write her at the Camera, P. O. Box 591, Boulder 80306, or e-mail pettem@earthlink.net