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Unexpected Greeley Letters Offered to Greeley Museums

 Thank you to all of our generous donors thus far!  If you are still interested in donating to this project, call 970-350-9217.

"What a delightful and unexpected surprise to see this fabulous collection of historical treasures related to the very beginnings of Greeley. These are priceless historical resources for researchers, authors, and genealogists, and every letter provides insight about why people were so interested in coming West with Nathan Meeker." ~ Dan Perry, Museums Manager

Read the transcription of the letter above
Anyone wishing to donate to the
"Greeley – Unexpected 1869 Letters Project" can send a check to:

The Greeley Museums Heritage Foundation,
714 8th St., Greeley, CO 80631
Attention: Mr. Odie Roberts, President.
All gifts are tax deductible.

For more information, contact
Peggy Ford Waldo
at the Greeley Museums, 970-350-9217.

The week before Christmas, two fourth-generation Greeley/Weld County residents visited the Greeley History Museum and offered to sell 320 letters from prospective Union Colony colonists, all written in December, 1869, along with a small Bible given to Arvilla Delight Smith Meeker, by her son, Ralph, in 1864.

Because of financial circumstances, the letters in the estate cannot be donated to the Greeley Museums, but must be sold within two months. They have been appraised for $15,685.00. The Greeley Museums’ budget, however, doesn’t allow artifacts to be purchased. All historical artifacts owned by the Museums have been donated by generous citizens of Greeley and Weld County since 1901.

At a joint meeting of the Greeley Museums Heritage Foundation and the Greeley Museums Advisory Board last Thursday, all members pledged to help raise the funds needed within the next two months to purchase, conserve, and exhibit these original letters as a part of the Museums’ Union Colony collection. Digital technology will allow the letters to be scanned and their contents made available to the public for research, education, and enjoyment.

The letters and Bible, are in an estate, and according to the personal representative, belonged to her father. “In about 1935, my father was helping his father either move or repair the Meeker home and the letters were thrown away. Jack, my father, was about 13 years old and retrieved them from the trash mostly to collect the stamps. They have been in my family’s possession since that time. Jack passed away in 2002 and these have been with my mother until her death earlier this year.”

According to Peggy Ford Waldo, “The Meeker home at 1324 9th Ave. hasn’t been moved, although a barn and smaller structures on the property were razed years ago. Rozene, the eldest daughter of Nathan and Arvilla Meeker, died in Greeley in October 1935. Her last residence was at 229 13th Street, and while living here she had in her possession furnishings and other mementoes that belonged to her family when they all lived in the Meeker Home at 1324 9th Avenue. These letters may have been in Rozene’s home and after her death, someone oblivious to their historical value may have discarded them when the house was emptied and repaired.”

Dan Perry, Museum Manager, was one of several staff members who looked at this collection last week. "So far, 64 letters are from individuals who were chosen as colonists. More research is needed on the remaining 256 letters to see if others made the cut from applicant to colonist.”

The History

On Dec. 4, 1869, Nathan Cook Meeker’s article, A Western Colony, appeared in The New York Tribune. Meeker, having visited Colorado Territory in October 1869, returned to his home in Brooklyn, NY with visions of founding a utopian temperance and agricultural colony here.

Meeker’s article touted the advantages of Colorado Territory and painted a rosy picture of this amazing region of natural resources with unbridled opportunities for success in business, farming, ranching, and mining. Meeker’s article encouraged those interested in joining this colony venture to write to him in care of the New York Tribune. Of course, there were stipulations-----Meeker was only interested in recruiting “proper individuals” who were educated, financially well-off, religious, cooperative, and who abstained from “demon rum.”

Meeker didn’t have to wait long to see what affect his article---one of the finest pieces of advertising journalism at that time---had on readers of The New York Tribune. Within a month, over 3,000 people wrote letters to Meeker, many ready to jump on the wagon and “head to Colorado Territory.” This unexpected outpouring of letters convinced Mr. Meeker that his dream to create a new community in the American West was about to come true. On Dec. 23, 1869 a meeting was held at the Cooper Union in Brooklyn and 59 people paid $155.00 each and became members of Meeker’s joint-stock colonization company known as the Union Colony. Comprised of 737 members, the company established the town of Greeley, CO in April, 1870.

Meeker desired like-minded individuals for a town he envisions with 400 families. He felt that radicals, drunks, or those with dissenting views would hamper the goals of creating a town and irrigation systems on what was then dubbed “the Great American Desert.” According to Peggy Ford Waldo, Development Curator at the Greeley Museums, “Mr. Meeker realized that industrious, determined, and financially fit people would guarantee the new town’s success. He “hand picked” the members of the Union Colony based on the information they provided in the letters about themselves, their finances, their professions, and their philosophies. Some made the cut; others didn’t.”