In 2007 a favorite display returned to El Pueblo History Museum--a slice of an old tree. Not just any tree, "Old Monarch" was a landmark that stood on Union Avenue in Pueblo's early days. Why was the tree cut down? Just what is the truth about this unique artifact? The one-ton piece is a cross-section from a stately cottonwood felled in 1883. Donated to the Colorado Historical Society in 1959 and displayed at El Pueblo History Museum until 1992, the cross-section was on hiatus for several years. It's now back on exhibit thanks to the fundraising efforts of Pueblo schoolchildren.
As Pueblo grew into a city in the 1880s, horse and foot traffic was diverted around the tree's massive trunk. Unfortunately, the authorities deemed Old Monarch an obstacle, and although passionate speeches were made and petitions gathered to save it, the South Pueblo City Council ordered the tree cut down. Outraged citizens memorialized the tree and effects of the outcry were far-reaching, including election losses for city councilmen.
After the tree was cut down, citizen Jack Martin took one of its largest sections and painted the surface with a scroll of "historical facts" about Pueblo. But are they true facts or the stuff of legend? History Colorado staff have disproved many of the items listed and created an associated panel detailing Fact Versus Legend. For example:
"In 1850 there were 36 persons massacred by Indians while camping near the tree." LEGEND! The massacre occurred in 1854 at the El Pueblo trading post, which was actually located about one-half mile from the tree.
"Fourteen men were hanged on one of the limbs at different times. UNKNOWN! Works Progress Administration interviews refer to citizen accounts that the tree was used for hangings, but conclusive evidence has not been found.
Even though many of the scroll statements are incorrect, the scroll is now part of the tree's history, as are the hundreds of initials carved into it and the painted advertisement on the backside for "Sweeney Undertaker and Embalmer." The tree section (H.6236.1) is located in the lobby of El Pueblo History Museum, where visitors are invited to discover its facts and legends for themselves.
Kathleen Eriksen and Deborah Espinosa
El Pueblo History Museum, March 2011
Contact the Library
Stephen H. Hart Library and Research Center
History Colorado Center
Denver, CO 80203