(July 18, 1818 - April 10, 1875)
History is filled with stories of men who rode distances to alert the countryside of an enemy attack - Paul Revere, John Portugese Phillips and Elbridge Gerry. Unfortunately, the story of "the Savior of Colorado" has been neglected.
Elbridge Gerry was born in Massachusetts and for years believed to be a descendant of the Elbridge Gerry who signed the Declaration of Independence. A letter to LeRoy Hafen in 1952 by a direct descendant places substantial doubt on this claim.
Much of Gerry's early life is not known. He sported a tattoo of a ship on his arm and when questioned merely stated it was the secret of his life. It was assumed he was at sea for a period of time before he came west.
The confusion continues because the reference to Elbridge in Osborne Russell's journals was thought to be Elbridge Gerry. Later it was discovered, the Elbridge of these writings was Elbridge Trask - another Fur Trapper.
It is known he worked for Sublette, Bent and the American Fur Trading Company during the fur trapping years however his movements during this period are not known. As the demand for beaver pelts declined, Gerry settle near Fort Laramie and established a trading post. It was here he would marry a Sioux woman.
Around 1853, he moved south and establish a business and ran a horse farm. This residence was at the mouth of Crow Creek as it emptied into the South Platte River about 10 miles east of Greeley. His business was a general store and he traded with the local Native Americans obtaining pelts in exchange for blankets, beads, kettles, knives, etc.
The Governor of Colorado called upon Elbridge Gerry to assemble the nearby tribes for a treaty. Gerry had been used previously to meet with roving bands due to building hostility. As Governor Evans explained:
This E. Gerry was acquainted with all the leading men of both the Arapahoee, Cheyennes and Sioux tribes of Indians, and consequently being a very intelligent man, was a very valuable assistant to me in negotiations with the Indians. With a four-mule-team of goods, Elbridge tried to induce these bands into meeting with representatives for a treaty. However a successful buffalo hunt had filled their stomachs and they claimed the buffalo would last a hundred years and they would not give up their hunting grounds.
In 1864 tensions grew as raids by the Native Americans continued along the South Platte River. Two relatives of Gerry's wife arrived and warned Elbridge to take all his belongings and leave. In three days, they stated, 800 to 1,000 brothers would divide into smaller parties, attack outlying settlements simutaneously, cut all the telegraph lines, march to Denver reassembled and kill all the inhabitants. Gerry mounted his horse and rode 65 miles to Denver warning people along the way. He arrived in the middle of the night on the second day exhausted - some say he was more dead than alive. The Governor assembled every man who owned a gun, telegraphed the settlements which could be reached and sent all the troops he could spare to Fort Latham just east of Greeley.
The all-out assualt was called off when the Indians discovered Denver, Fort Latham and the settlements were prepared. Elbridge Gerry had averted a certain disaster.
However, the Indians also determined Gerry had signaled the alarm. For the next year, they raided his settlement running off over 160 horses and mules. The local people forgot his heroic ride and the government only compensated him $7,650 for $30,600 worth of losses.
He continued to raise fine bred horses, open the Gerry House Hotel in Evans, CO and made other investments in northeastern Colorado.
The Rocky Mountain News newspaper gave the following tribute upon his death:
Never was a man, however humble, turned away from the old man's door, and not a cent would he ever take from a friend or stranger for any service he could render. His generosity joined hands with bad luck in keeping him poorer than many less deserving men...... He loved a horse, and until his heath failed him a few months ago, it was a pleasure to see him ride, for few men, young or old, could sit on a horse more gracefully. Honorable in all his dealings, almost childlike in his confidence in others, ready and glad to help whenever help was needed. "Little Gerry" has left many a friend to mourn his loss.
Elbridge Gerry is buried in the small family cemetery overlooking his former ranch.
Information compiled by Steve Grimm