Atop a 13,365-foot ridge above Imogene Pass sits Fort Peabody, the highest sentry post of its kind in the entire nation.
"Fort Peabody has the most incredible view of any historical site in the state," says Jonathon C. Horn, principle investigator for Alpine Archeological Consultants, Inc.
But the site holds significance beyond magnificent views and fascinating structures. A crumbling guardhouse, a flag mount of decomposing wood and a degenerated sniper nest hint at an elaborate story of labor disputes over a century ago. The site has recently been approved by the Keeper of National Register of Historic Places as a site important to the state's history. The U.S. Forest Service acquired the property from the Idarado Mining Company in 2002.
Fort Peabody has amazingly withstood the drastic geological transformations that have taken place over the course of the last century.
"It's a miracle that this little stone hut survived to the present day," says Leigh Ann Hunt, archaeologist for the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest and the Forest Heritage Program manager. Hunt believes it has been imperative "to have its historical information documented in the form of National Register nomination, which will assist us in managing it in the future."
MaryJoy Martin, author of the award-winning book, The Corpse on Boomerang Road: Telluride's War on Labor 1899-1908 , nominated the site for National Historic Register in November 2004.
Fort Peabody was built solely for the purpose of keeping a certain class of citizens out of the county. Excavations of the site have yielded cartridges from a time when the Colorado National Guard could be bought by businessmen and used to oppress citizens in an effort to gain legal, political and economic authority.
The sentry post was built in 1904 in the midst of statewide labor disputes. The Western Federation of Miners was organizing legal strikes in the surrounding region at the time. The First Squadron Cavalry built the post on the county line to prevent union miners or their sympathizers from entering San Miguel County.
The first sentries at the post were armed with rifles and bayonets. Two or three men on duty at the post would sleep in the small guardhouse. The flagpole mounted on the high point above the pass was said to be visible from the valley west of Telluride. The "sniper nest" was a small stone shelter a few dozen yards below the flagpole where a sentry perched with his rifle fixed on the pass road.
Archeologist Horn has identified cartridges from the site as consistent with those used by the National Guard troops in 1904. A myriad of different calibers were in use, and some are indicative the National Guard's use of cast-off US military rifles.
The cavalry troop was under the command of Captain Bulkeley Wells, mine manager of the Smuggler-Union Mining Company. Governor James H. Peabody approved the unit in January 1904, and members began to take their posts on January 11. Wells's employees, friends and cowboys offered to serve without pay, furnishing their own horses and weapons.
Martin says that Fort Peabody was occupied at least until martial law was revoked in the district on June 15, 1904, but evidence indicates that the fort may have been occupied until as late as 1908. Since Wells used his mining company employees as sentries, the guardhouse was never used for anything else.
Telluride's labor disputes have been thoroughly documented in Martin's book.
"Fort Peabody is probably the only remaining structure exclusively representative of Colorado's labor troubles in 1903-4," Martin says. "Its inclusion on the National Register will make certain that this dark era isn't forgotten. Such things as those nightmarish abuses of power should never happen in democracy."