Public Art: Pioneer Monument Fountain
Also Known As: Smoky Hill Trail Monument
Sculptor: © Frederick MacMonnies (1863-1937)
Date: Unveiled 1911
Description: Let’s start with the water basin, which is created from granite and set on a stepped granite base. In the center of the basin is three larger than life-size cast bronze sculptures representing a pioneer women, a hunter, and a prospector.
The top bronze figure represents Kit Carson who is, with a rifle in hand, mounted on his trusty stead and dressed in his buckskins and cowboy hat. He is looking towards the east (back to the civilization he left behind), while pointing the way west (to the promised land). Underneath Kit Carson on the second tier are small bronze conquered Indians.
Location: Corner of Broadway and Colfax Avenue in Denver, Colorado, USA.
Funded by: Public subscription.
Controversy Surrounding the Pioneer Monument: Frederick MacMonnies was commissioned in 1906 to create a monument at the end of the historical “59ers” Smoky Hill trail, Denver, as part of Mayor Robert W. Speer’s “beautification” of Denver plan. The monument was going to be a feature of the Civic Center Park, but MacMonnies suggested that the monument have its own little space elsewhere in a circular plaza. After much ado about nothing the council agreed.
The original model the sculptor produced, featured a fountain surrounded with statues of a miner, a trapper, and a pioneer woman. But here comes the controversy, the main feature, which would tower above everything, was to be a sculpture of an Indian. Well, didn’t that just outrage the good citizens of Denver? To say they were appalled would be an understatement. Instead, the residents wanted no one other than their hero Christopher “Kit” Carson (enemy of Navajo Indians) perched at the peak. MacMonnies went to France to have the Kit Carson and the other bronze statues cast. So enthusiastic were the City they organized Kit Carson’s real rifle, powder pouch and hunting coat to be sent to France so the sculptor would be sure to get it right.
In the end, the politically incorrect monument was erected in 1911 to great cheers, as Kit Carson was immortalized forever in bronze, on his favourite horse. To add insult to injury MacMonnies included a series of small bronze Indian sculptures below Carson on the second tier, they are depicted as captured and defeated.
Originally the fountain sat in a circular plaza complete with a circular row of trees and ornamental lights. However, over the years the original circular design has been whittled away, due mainly to Denver’s expansion. In the 1920s the circle was changed to a triangle space to ease the traffic flow then, over the years, as Colfax Avenue was widened numerous times, less and less space has been left for poor old Kit and his water fountain. There are currently plans to redesign the area, going back to the original circular design and removing the ugly bus stop which is right near it. The fountain runs in the summer (unless there is water rationing) and in winter, the fountain is drained.
Well I Never! : On the 21st of October, 1999, a 28-year-old man scaled the Pioneer Monument shouting he was armed with dynamite. Colfax, Lincoln and Broadway streets were subsequently closed during rush hour. From his perch, he invited the media to come to his house so he could explain his outrageous behavior. He believed he had been chosen by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Son of Man and was to be crucified. His attention-seeking antics fell on deaf ears, as the media outlets were more interested in reporting on the Jon Benet Ramsay case. No one turned up for his hearing and he was charged with possession of a false explosive and refusing to leave a premises. Sorry, can’t tell you anymore as no outcome was reported.
The tablet is the
property of the State of Colorado
Here was the end of the famous
Smoky Hill Trail
Immigrant and stage road extending
from the Missouri River to Denver.
Traversed by pioneers in 1858.
Surveyed by W.G. Russell in 1860.
Route of Butterfield’s overland
despatch and Wells-Fargo Express.
The trail took its human toll-
death by thirst and Indian raids.
The State Historical Society of Colorado
from the Mrs J.N. Hall Foundation
and by the City and County of Denver
Subscribers to the Pioneer Monument Fund
Elizabeth M Byers- Junis F Brown-(Horace W Bennet
and Julius A Myers)-Arthur P Church-Walter S Cheesman
Adolph Coors-Ernest A Colburn-William Cooke Daniels
William G Evans-John Evans-Edward B Field
Frank W Frueauff-John S Flower-Simon Guggenheim
John Good-Charles Hallack-William A Hover
Moses Hallett-Harry C James-Charles B Kountze
Maria T Kassler-(FrankM Ladd and John F Sanger)
David H Moffat-George McCullough-JohnK Mullen
Thomas M Patterson-Jerome S Riche- Richard T Root
Dennis Sheedy-George C Schleier-Dennis Sullivan
Joseph A Thatcher – Henry R Wolcott
Thomas F Walsh – Phillip Zang
State of Colorado City and County of Denver
Erected under the auspices of
the Denver Real Estate Exchange
Federick MacMonnies Sculptor
The Pioneer Monument
Restored December 1983 by
The Park People
The City and County of Denver
with the assistance of
Adolph Coors Foundation Fulenwider Foundation, INC
The Denver Foundation Patrick D and Paula Broe
Hamilton Oil Foundation G.A. Norgren Foundation
George and Sue Gannon The Weckbaugh Foundation
Martin J. and Mary Anee O’Fallon Trust
Blanche and Arthur Cowperthwaite
and more than fifty generous donors