A Glimpse at James H.B. McFerran

A letter to the editor submitted to a Colorado Springs, Colorado, newspaper offers a glimpse at the personality of James H.B. McFerran, once a leading citizen of Gallatin, MO, active in Democrat politics and organizer of a Union militia unit which fought in the Civil War.

A letter to the editor submitted to a Colorado Springs, Colorado, newspaper offers a glimpse at the personality of James H.B. McFerran, once a leading citizen of Gallatin, MO, active in Democrat politics and organizer of a Union militia unit which fought in the Civil War.

To the Editor of The Gazette:

September 21,1891, a human light went out in Colorado Springs. It was the passing of Judge J.H.B. McFerran. Though only 20 years in the world life since today, his name is seldom mentioned. And yet Colorado Springs has had few men, in good circumstances who as quietly and without show came to the relief of so many in the hour of need. During the despair years following the panic of 1873, I doubt if there were any half dozen others in their combined strength who did so much to help the needy to tide over their periods of distress, as Judge McFerran. For many weeks at a time he provided coal and food and shelter. He often loaned small sums when he never expected a return. But for his good offices many in our state, now too proud to acknowledge their former condition of beggary, would most likely today be toiling under unfavorable circumstances for their daily bread.

It was my privilege in the early dark days frequently to be called upon for relief. When I was not able to give that relief myself there were a few to whom, without humbling myself, I could go. Among them were D. Russ Wood, Dr. Culver, F.L. Martin, Dr. Kimball, Judge McFerran, and three or four others. As Judge McFerran could better afford to give than the others, my appeals were generally made to him, or perhaps I ought to say my statement of the case was generally made to him, and that was all the appeal that was necessary.

During a cold spell, in the winter of 1875-6, I think, my attention was called to a poor woman, with three or four little children, living in the south part of our village, who had had no fire in her house for a week. This was confirmed by a neighbor who said that he was practically out of coal himself. Meeting one of the bankers a little later, I asked him to provide two or three tons of coal, for the family. His reply was: "my house is not an eleemosynary institution." He thereupon undertook to give me a lecture on poverty as a result of waste and idleness. Considering the lecture out of place and untimely I said: "I am here to get money, or something, to keep a poor woman and her children from freezing to death tonight and I have no time to hear a lecture." With a kind of a Spanish body-twist he said: "So!" and handed me a dollar. At once I hastened to Judge McFerran’s and made the statement I had made to the banker. Without hesitating a moment he replied: "It is too late to order coal from Lennox’s. I will do that tomorrow. My man can take her down some from our bin, at once, a hundred pounds of coal."

Judge McFerran, however, was not only a sympathetic helper in the hour of real distress, but one of the most far-seeing, at that time, in the direction of the highest interest of Colorado Springs. In 1874, he consulted with K.P.R.R. officials as to the propriety of extending their road from Hugo to Colorado Springs, and he received their assurance that they would do so provided El Paso county would give a bonus in bonds of $200,000. Through jealousy and Republican leadership stupidity the bonds were voted down and there and then Colorado Springs lost her chance of being the great city of Colorado. In 1880, a vice president of the K.P., while speaking of the mineral resources of southern Colorado and the astonishing richness of Leadville, said: "If in 1875-6 we had extended our road to Colorado Springs, 1879 would have found us in Leadville and your citizens who first had control of Leadville would not have been driven to Denver for better railway facilities. Denver is not the natural outlet for Leadville."

What the gentleman said about the relation of Denver to Leadville was true of the relation of Denver to all southern Colorado. For years the greater part of gold and silver ores reduced in the great smelters, later established near Denver, was carried through our city and over the Divide at extra cost, as well as a large part of the fluxing ores, all the coke not brought from east of the Mississippi River, and all their good coal.

Judge McFerran was also in favor of the city owning South Cheyenne canon, when it was offered for $6,000, and of securing at the same figures the Seven Lakes’ water rights.

We have not one unpleasant thought against Denver. She saw her opportunity and used it; we are proud of her today. We, however, cannot help being more or less ashamed that we allowed contemptible politics and the littleness of our natives to destroy the efforts of the men of experience and foresight.

James Hutchinson Kerr. October 1,1911

This letter forwarded from Tom LeCompte of Cambridge, Mass. (July, 2005)