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Picnic Rock

Picnic Rock ... A Rich History

"Tiger Jim" Wilson, who claimed there was no ill intention when he killed the wrong man in the lower Poudre Canyon in the 1880s, would probably grimace and grunt if he could hear that the area of his wayward gun-slinging is a place where people now frolic and play.

The site in the lower Poudre Canyon has a high recreational value as well as a rich history.

Native Americans used the site long before early fur-trappers like Jim Bridger and explorers John C. Fremont and Kit Carson visited the Poudre.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, college students traveled there in buggies and Model Ts to celebrate the school year's end.

 

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Many romances were started at Picnic Rock—kisses offered and accepted on the sly—and occasionally there came sips of spirits from hidden jugs.

A historical tidbit little-known today is the battle for the Poudre Canyon waged in the 1880s between Union Pacific and the Denver, Salt Lake and Western Railroad Company. Each wanted to be the first to lay tracks up the canyon and then to Salt Lake City and beyond.

One hundred laborers spent a year and $50,000—the equivalent of $1.5 million in today's dollars—to build railroad grading into the lower canyon. The project was abandoned near Picnic Rock—too much cost, too much rugged terrain.

The railroad's effort didn't go to waste, though. When convict laborers built the canyon road starting in the second decade of the 1900s, they used stretches of the abandoned railroad grading for the byway.

It was near or possibly at Picnic Rock—historical records on the exact location are vague—where railroad laborer "Tiger Jim" Wilson was fired from his job. Tiger Jim wasn't happy about his sudden change of fortune, so he got a gun to shoot the foreman who fired him. However, Tiger Jim mistakenly killed the wrong fellow.

Today, we live in a fast-paced world and often have little historical knowledge of the place where we live. History, though, gives us a sense of place, of belonging and understanding, and the history of gems like Picnic Rock is well-worth knowing.

This brief history was written by Gary Kimsey, a founder of Friends of the Poudre and the Cache la Poudre-North Park Scenic and Historic Byway (Colorado Highway 14). His research on Picnic Rock and the byway was funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

 

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