Two Brothers & Friends: Isaac W. Chatfield
ISAAC WILLARD CHATFIELD
Isaac Willard Chatfield, born in Geauga County, Ohio, led an eventful and interesting life almost from the beginning. He was not quite eight years of age when his family moved to Mason County, Illinois where his father continued to follow his vocation of farming. However, Levi T. Chatfield was never blessed with the best of health, and in 1848 illness forced him to give up the farm and return to Ohio, where he died a few months later. Isaac was only 12 years of age when he lost his father.
Isaac’s mother soon afterward returned to Illinois and once more established the family home in Mason County. She taught school for a while in the town of Bath before entering into the hotel business. In the meantime, Isaac worked on a farm until he was 19 years of age, at which time he became associated with the commission firm of Gatten & Ruggles. He remained with the company four years, during which time he was rapidly promoted.
While he was employed by Gatten & Ruggles, Isaac took charge of a hotel in partnership with his mother, and they prospered in the undertaking until a fire destroyed the building early in 1858. Gatten & Ruggles financially backed him for another venture in the hotel business, but not long afterward his mother died about the time excitement over the discovery of gold in Colorado was sweeping the country. Isaac became infected with the “gold fever”, sold his hotel business at a profit, and with his new bride, the former Eliza A. Harrington whom he married May 20, 1858 at Havana, Illinois, he joined a wagon train headed for Denver.
There is no record as to why Isaac Chatfield did not remain long in Denver, but there is a great possibility it was because the “choice diggins” had been already claimed. Regardless of the reason, he went eastward to Kansas where he settled on a squatter’s claim near Fort Scott. Here his daughter Ella, who was destined to become one of Colorado’s most talented sopranos, was born in 1859.
Not long afterward the border troubles with all their attendant violence broke out in Kansas. Isaac did not believe the environment was conducive to the safety of his family, so he sold out and journeyed back to his former home in Bath, Illinois. There he was variously employed until shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War, at which time, on Aug 12, 1861, he enlisted in Company E of the 27th Illinois Infantry. (Photo at left was taken a short time afterward). Although his military record has yet to be thoroughly investigated, it is known that he participated in the battles of Island #10, Stone River, and Farmington. In 1863 he was mustered out of the military service for medical reasons, first lieutenant.
Upon leaving the Army, Isaac once again determined to go to Colorado. Accompanied by his wife, daughter, sister Ellen, and R.M. Wright, he travelled to St. Louis where he fitted out with ox and horse teams. After a journey of eight weeks the little group arrived in Fremont County where, on the site of today’s Florence, Isaac established a farm of 160 acres, which he later expanded to 280 through purchase. It was at this time that he began raising cattle, a vocation which would eventually make him one of the most prosperous men in Colorado.
Isaac Chatfield farmed and raised cattle in the area until 1871, at which time he, for reasons never ascertained, sold out and moved to the region southwest of Denver where today is located the Chatfield Dam and Recreation area. He at first bought out J.B. Hendy, whose ranch comprised 160 acres along Bear Creek, but soon afterward he traded this for the Daniel Wetter Ranch on the Platte River. Here he farmed and raised cattle until 1879, expanding his holdings to 720 acres. During this period, in 1878, he became a stockholder of the Last Chance Ditch & Irrigation Company.
Sometime in 1879 Isaac seems to have decided to change his lifestyle, for he sold his ranch and moved to Leadville where he at first engaged in the railroad contract business and acquired one-fourth interests in the Late Acquisition and Smuggler #2 mines. Not long afterward he gave up the railroad contract business and, together with Joseph Brinker, Jr., formed the grocery firm known as Brinker & Chatfield. Of particular interest is the fact that young Brinker was the son of the founder of the Brinker Collegiate Institute, a boarding and day school in Denver which was attended by the Chatfield children.
By mid-1880 Isaac Chatfield had established himself as one of the most respected and leading citizens of Leadville and was elected as city alderman. His grocery business also grew in reputation and soon became one of Leadville’s most successful wholesale/retail outlets for miners’ provisions. In early 1881 a New York grocer by the name of Albert Wheeler joined the Brinker-Chatfield partnership and the name of the firm was changed to I.W. Chatfield & Company. However, in April of 1882 this partnership was dissolved and Isaac took on a new associate named Wing; whereupon the store became known as Chatfield & Wing.
News notes in Leadville’s contemporary newspapers add to our knowledge of Isaac’s activities outside the grocery business, giving the genealogist a more detailed insight of the man, himself, as well as the family, yet posing some interesting speculation. The record reveals that he went to Denver quite often “on business”, especially in early 1882 when he made the trip at least once a month on the Denver & South Park Railroad; yet there is no mention of what the “business” might have been. At the same time his daughter Ella, then in her 20s, was also making frequent trips to and from Denver, but seldom in company with him. It is quite possible that she could have been visiting her sister, Jacqueline, and brother, Elmer, who were attending the Brinker Collegiate Institute, but one must puzzle over such trips during the dead of winter when storms in the high country reach blizzard proportions.
Items in the June and July issues of the Leadville Daily Herald in 1882 stir the imagination regarding Ella and her relationship with the family. Following an earlier news note that Ella Chatfield had gone to Denver, the Daily Herald stated, on June 23rd, that she would “not return to Leadville this summer, but will visit Ohio for the benefit of her health.” Inasmuch as the humid climate of Ohio has NEVER been known to be especially beneficial to one’s health, this account is rather curious. Regardless, Ella did not complete the trip, for in mid-July she fell seriously ill in Kansas City. Ten days later she recovered sufficiently to return to Denver where she was met by her father. Whatever her illness had been, it seems to have had a profound effect upon her outlook on life, for she became more active in the Leadville M. E. Church, her vocal solos earning frequent notice in the local newspapers.
Ella’s illness was only one of several adversities to plague the Isaac Chatfield family over the next two years. Actually, the beginning of Isaac’s misfortunes began on Mar 26, 1882, when he was defeated in his bid for nomination as mayor of Leadville. Following Ella’s illness, the other children suffered various ailments, and on Dec 2, 1883, Isaac’s second oldest son, Phil Van Wert (Wirt) died of Bright’s Disease in Denver’s St. James Hotel. There is also strong circumstantial evidence that his daughters, Grace and Myrtle, died during this same period. In early 1884, obviously discouraged by his declining political popularity and the tragic events within the family, Isaac sold his business interests in Leadville and moved to Denver.
However, Isaac did not remain long in Denver. After engaging in a few cattle deals and purchasing range land in Rio Blanco County, he moved the family to Aspen in September of 1885. Here he became partners in a wholesale/retail mercantile business with his brother Clark S. Chatfield, who had established the firm in 1882. (Clark may have been the compelling force behind Isaac’s decision to move to Aspen). The store became known as the Chatfield Brothers Grocery and Isaac’s oldest son, Elmer, became a regular employee of the firm.
While Isaac and his oldest son were prospering in the mercantile business, daughters Ella and Jacquelina, and son Charles, began making their mark in the social world. The girls became members of the Alpine Club and were in regular attendance at the monthly balls. They were also members of the local opera company and received rave notices for their performances in the operetta “Penelope”. The newspapers were especially praiseworthy of Ella’s “beautiful” voice. Meanwhile, Charles seemed to favor the skating crowd and won races at the local rink which garnered the attention of the newspapers.
By early 1886 Isaac seems to have obtained sole ownership of the Chatfield Brothers Grocery, for on Jan 30th of that year, the Rocky Mountain Sun noted, “I.W. Chatfield has sold his business to the Theodore Blohm Merchandise County”. From that point onward his major occupation seems to have been cattle raising, for local newspapers made frequent mention of his visits to his ranches on Willow and Yellow Creeks in Rio Blanco County. During this same period his son, Elmer, now 23, also entered into the cattle business with the establishment of a ranch near Emma.
Heartache and sorrow once more plagued Isaac Chatfield and his family as summer, 1886 approached. On Jun 3rd, a close friend of the family, Eppa Strait, fell from the bell tower of the Presbyterian Church and died soon afterward. Two days later, while Ella sang at the girl’s funeral, another tragedy was unfolding closer to home. Ida Chatfield, 19-year-old daughter of Clark, had not returned home after visiting at her Uncle Isaac’s home on Friday, Jun 4th. A thorough search failed to turn up any clue as to her whereabouts, and everyone began to fear the worst. A week after Ida’s disappearance, her father offered a $200 reward for information leading to the recovery of the young girl.
The family’s worst fears were realized nine weeks later when, on Aug 6th, two fishermen found Ida’s body in the waters of the Roaring Fork River below Red Butte. Isaac was in Texas at the time, so it fell upon Ella to identify the body as that of her cousin. (Contemporary newspapers do not explain why Ida was not identified by her parents). The mysterious manner in which Ida died caused many questions to be asked – questions which were never answered. One week after her burial in the Aspen Cemetery, her father talked of selling out and moving the family to California, but the 1900 Census finds them in Basalt, Eagle County, Colorado.
While the search for Ida was in progress, Isaac and his 15-year-old son, Charles, travelled to the Texas Panhandle to purchase 1000 head of cattle for Elmer’s ranch on the Sopris Creek near Emma. Whether it was because of Ida’s strange disappearance or for some other less apparent reason, Isaac moved his family – with the exception of Ella, who stayed at her brother’s ranch – to Denver while he made the trip to Texas. According to contemporary newspapers, Isaac Chatfield’s family was to move into a new brick home upon their return to Aspen in early Sep, 1886, but the house was not yet ready for occupancy at that time. The family stayed in their old frame house until Oct 7th, at which time they were able to occupy the brick home. Here they lived until early 1889 when Isaac moved the family back to Denver.
The move to Denver proved to be of short duration, for Isaac bought a ranch of 160 acres at Emma, a short distance from Elmer’s holdings, and moved his family there in mid-summer, 1889. Shortly thereafter he became quite active in politics once again, and was elected to Colorado’s House of Representatives in Nov of that year. (This was Isaac’s first state office, which is contradictory to what his biography claims in PROGRESSIVE MEN OF WESTERN COLORADO). In 1893, Isaac was appointed to the State Board of Inspection, a position which he held until 1895. In 1896 he ran for State Senator from the 11th Senatorial District, but was soundly defeated in his bid after local newspapers revealed that he had disposed of all of his holdings in Pitkin County and had made arrangements to make his future home in Denver.
It is of interest to note that while the contemporary PROGRESSIVE MEN OF WESTERN COLORADO states that Isaac Chatfield moved to Rifle after his unsuccessful bid for State Senator in 1896, the Colorado Business Directories for the years 1896 and 1897 list him as a fruit farm owner at Basalt, a small village in the vicinity of Emma. It is possible, indeed probable, that he lived in Rifle for a brief period in 1898, as this is the only year for which we have no positive record of his whereabouts. It is known that between the years of 1899 and 1908 Isaac lived in Denver, for he is found in the Denver City Directories during that period, and he is listed on the 1900 Census. It is known also that he maintained his cattle ranges as late as 1904, for he is listed as “livestock dealer” or “cattle raiser” in city directories until that year. In 1906 he became associated with the W.E. Moses Realty & Investment Company, and in 1908 became First Vice President of that firm.
Between 1908 and the time of his death, on June 14, 1921, there is only sketchy information about this early Colorado pioneer. At a yet to be ascertained date between his 50th wedding anniversary, May 20, 1908, and the year 1911, Isaac’s wife, Eliza, died. He remarried, at about 75 years of age, a woman known only as Sarah Jane. He next appears in California in 1911, married to his second wife. He is buried at Oak Hill Memorial Park, San Jose, California. The Chatfield Dam and Recreation Area west of Littleton is named in his honor. He was the father of nine children:
1. Ella Chatfield, born near Fort Scott, Kansas, married, on May 11, 1887 to Josiah A. Small, whose family lived at Aspen during the same years as Isaac Chatfield’s. She was a soloist with a musical group that toured Europe in the late 1800s. Further information concerning Ella is not available except for family tradition which says she lived to be more than 90 years of age.
2. Elmer E. Chatfield was born in Fremont County, Colorado. Following a brief endeavor in the grocery business with his father at Aspen in 1885, he bought a ranch near Emma and raised cattle for at least five years. At this writing further record of him has not been located except the known fact he married.
3. Phil Van Wert Chatfield, born in Fremont County, Colorado, died of Bright’s Disease when only 17 years of age. His mother and father were at his side at the time, in Denver’s St. James Hotel. He is buried in the Littleton Cemetery, where he was interred on Dec 3, 1883.
4. Jacqueline Chatfield, born in Fremont County, usually accompanied sister Ella to all social functions and often sang duets with her. She married Fred Adams at Aspen on Jun 10, 1891, and had two known children: Marian, and Catherine.
5. Charles Henry Chatfield, born in Fremont County, married Nellie Chamberlin [b. Mar 7, 1873 at Kansas City, died 2-Jan 1956 at Chico, Cal.], on Dec 26, 1894 at Grand Junction, Colorado. He eventually moved to Montana where he owned a large ranch for many years before moving to California. He continued to follow his vocation as rancher until his children were all grown and away from home, at which time he went to work for the Diamond Match & Box Company at Chico, California. He died on July 23, 1942 at Oroville and was returned to Chico for burial. He was the father of ten children: Charles Joseph, who m. Velma Avis Turnbull, Leo Willard, who never married, Howard Francis, who married Evelyn Alice Wilson, Roy Elmer, who never married, Nellie Mary, who mar. Edward Waldon McElhinney, Gordon Gregory, who never married, Verda Agnes, who m. George William Day, Arden Ignatius, who never married, Ina Jacqueline, who married James Leroy Fouch, and Noreen Ellen, who married Carl John Clemens.
6. Myrtle and 7. Grace Chatfield are two members of this family who present a challenge to the genealogist. While records of their deaths are extent, exact dates are missing. They were obviously living only between census years, for their names cannot be found on any census record. They are buried in the Littleton Cemetery next to Phil Van Wert Chatfield, but the stone marking the graves has been destroyed and burial records list only the date of 1885. Inasmuch as we know Phil V.W. Chatfield did not die that year, then it must be assumed that 1885 was the date of reinterment. Considering the birthdates for Isaac’s other children, the likely birth and death dates for Myrtle and Grace are between 1870 and 1879. The vital statistics for these two children continue to elude research
8. Calla Chatfield, born possibly in Lake County, married, on Feb 17, 1908 in Denver, Burtis T. Joslin of Big Horn Basin, Wyoming. She lived with her parents until the time of her marriage, although she was a music teacher practicing a private business.
9. Willard James Chatfield, born probably, though not certainly, in Lake County, is another member of this family who presents a challenge to the researcher. Family tradition holds that he died at 17 years of age, yet he cannot be found on any census record of the Isaac Chatfield household! The only Willard Chatfield recorded on ANY census is a boy, age 4, in the Clark Chatfield household of 1885. This Willard Chatfield is not listed on the 1900 Census, indicating he had died prior to that date. This might have been Isaac’s son, who could have been staying with Clark Chatfield when the 1885 census was taken. On the other hand, family tradition may have placed Willard James in the wrong Chatfield household! The identity of this Willard cannot be definitely determined until other records come to light.
Source: TWO BROTHERS & FRIENDS: A CHATFIELD HISTORY & GENEALOGY, Volume IV, Copyright 1990 by Harry E. Chatfield, Chatfield Western Publications. Box 5703, Security, Colorado, 80931
Note: Pictures inserted by Catherine Sevenau
Note: Errors above is now corrected in the timelines