Collections Blog

Phillips Family Colt

In 1959, the Phillips family, a pioneer family from the Oak Creek area, donated a revolver to the newly established Tread of Pioneers Museum. I recently found a letter in our archives prepared by the family regarding the revolver. Here is the content of the letter:

This gun is presented to the Tread of Pioneers Museum by the Phillips family. Worn and used by John P. Phillips, Sr. when he came to Routt County in 1881.

In the spring of 1881 William Bird had a team [of horses] stolen from his home in Florissant, Colorado. A prospector who had come through Egeria Park saw the team and told Mr. Bird about them. It had been two months since the team had been stolen, but he decided to go after them; so accompanied by John P. Phillips and S.D. Wilson, they started out to find them.

When they reached Egeria Park they found the team in what is known as the Van Camp grove in Yampa. They claimed the horses and returned to Florissant, but were so impressed with the fine grass and water in the Yampa Valley they decided to return the next year to make their permanent home.

In the summer of 1882, William Bird, his sons Tom and Albert, R.L. Wilson, and John P. Phillips came to Egeria Park and filed on homesteads.

They brought a few tools to build cabins and plenty of ammunition and previsions. Each had a good saddle horse and Mr. Bird had a team and a wagon.

They spent the summer building cabins and cutting the wild hay that grew so luxuriant along the river. On August 4 [1882] in returning to their cabin, they found someone had entered and taken their provisions. Being many miles from a new supply, they started in search of the thieves.

They heard of three wagons passing through the valley and then contacted Ed Watson, another settler. The deputy sheriff from Leadville, Colorado happened to be at Watson’s place and joined them in the search. They caught up with the wagon train, but the people were not known by the sheriff. However, they were told that the two men with a well packed mule had camped below the wagon train the night before and had spent the evening shooting their many guns.

The men [of the search party] went on down the valley and soon came in sight of the men [the thieves] and the mule in the Oak Hills, close to what is now Oak Creek. When the men [the suspected thieves] saw they were being pursued, they ran behind some rocks and opened fire. Tom Bird who was in the lead fell from his horse as one of the bullets hit him. The battle was soon over and the two men [the thieves], as well as Tom Bird, were dead. Ed Watson had a bad burn from a bullet that passed real close. The two men had no identification on them, but one of them was wearing John Phillips' new boots. They [Albert Bird & John Phillips] took the boots and the mule loaded with their supplies and other stolen property and the body of Tom Bird back to Albert Bird's homestead and buried him. A few days later James Crawford and W.H. Dever came up from Steamboat Springs and buried the thieves.

William Bird, his son, Albert, and John Phillips went back to Florissant soon and remained for the winter; but they returned the next spring of 1883 with all their worldly goods and families, accompanied by Thomas Gibbs and his wife and lived the rest of their lives in Egeria Park.

“Colt Revolver Given to Museum Recalls Much Pioneer History”

In 1962 the Steamboat Pilot ran an article titled “Colt Revolver Given to Museum Recalls Much Pioneer History”, the article is verbatim to the 1959 letter addressed to the Museum (above). A photo of the firearm accompanied the article (click thumbnail above).

Neither the newspaper article nor the letter states that this revolver was used by John Phillips during the gun fight described, or that John Phillips took part in the gun fight. However, it seems to me that the intention of the letter was to provide historical facts regarding revolver and Phillips involvement in the incident.

In recent months, the Tread of Pioneers Museum has worked to ensure the best and safest museum-quality storage for our entire firearm collection, including this Colt revolver. The collection has undergone cleaning, records updates and are now housed in new locked cabinets for safe, long-term storage. The Phillips family Colt is currently on display in the Western Heritage exhibit, located upstairs in the Museum’s Victorian House.

Posted by Katie Adams at 14:55