A major part of my job as Curator of Decorative and Fine Arts is meeting with donors and reviewing potential donations that may be added to History Colorado's permanent collection. The review of potential donations requires time, research, working with the donor, and a bit of detective work.
Recently we acquired an American-made writing desk dating back to the 1860s. When the donors contacted us in April of 2012, they sent an image and a note stating that the piece belonged to Joel Evens Hendricks, who surveyed in Colorado during the Civil War. Between April and December 2012, when History Colorado staff went to pick up the desk, I learned a good deal more about the desk, Hendricks, his descendants, and his work in Colorado Territory.
Born in Pennsylvania in 1818, Joel Evans Hendricks moved to Ohio with his family in 1820. He spent his youth working on the family farm and occasionally attending school. Gifted in arithmetic, he left the farm in 1936 to teach. A year later, at the age of 19, he apprenticed with a millwright. Over the next four years Hendricks continued to teach and work in the millwright trade, while also studying astronomy and algebra. In 1840, Hendricks took up a new interest, medicine, a profession he continued in for nearly twenty years. Hendricks also worked as a school examiner, county surveyor, country treasurer, county auditor, and deputy provost marshal during the Civil War.
In the spring of 1861 a friend suggested to Hendricks that he should accept a contract to make surveys in Colorado; Hendricks agreed to the job and on August 21, 1861 he arrived in Colorado. According to his autobiography, after arriving in Denver he and his survey party rested a week, during which time he and his men took their oaths and were informed by the chief justice of the territory that American Indians in the area would not permit him to complete the survey. Despite the warning, Hendricks hired an Indian agent, Colonel Boone, who assisted the party in their survey, which was completed on October 28, 1861.
In 1864 Hendricks moved with his family to Iowa, where he worked for another ten years as a surveyor and published The Analyst, a journal of pure and applied mathematics. Hendricks died in Iowa in 1893.
Despite Hendricks' brief stay in Colorado, his story and his desk are significant in that they document not only Colorado Territory history, but Colorado in the 1870s through the present. In 1843 Hendricks married Leah Shelly Gish. Two of their daughters settled in Georgetown, Colorado. Cornelia Ann Hendricks, the fifth born, moved to the town in 1874 as the bride of Jesse S. Randall, the publisher of the Georgetown Courier. (Visit our Library & Research Center to view the Jesse Summers Randall manuscript collection, MSS #515). The eighth Hendricks daughter, Clara, settled in Georgetown after a visit in 1876 when she met and married a miner, Frank Graham. After Frank "struck it rich," the couple purchased a 16 room house on Argentine Street.
To bring this story full circle, the donor of the desk, Isoline (Jane) Woodroffe Headstrom, is Hendricks' great-great-granddaughter. Born in Des Moines, Iowa, Headstrom moved with her husband to Denver in 1950. The couple still lives in Denver, where they raised their three children.
Curator of Decorative and Fine Arts
[Top] Joel Evans Hendricks writing desk, walnut and pine, c. 1860s, proposed acquisition, R.1.2013.1, gift of Dick and Jane Headstrom
[Bottom] Joel Evans Hendricks, from his 1893 Memoriam Book, History Colorado Biographical File
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Stephen H. Hart Library and Research Center
History Colorado Center
Denver, CO 80203