Black History Month: The Story Of Colorado’s Clara Brown [VIDEO]
Clara Brown is the name of a historic steamboat in the Puget Sound. In Colorado, however, Clara Brown was a human being who really was such a “human being.” Actually, she was also known as “Angel of the Rockies.” HistoryColorado.org also says, “Clara was probably born into slavery in Virginia around 1800, though Wikipedia says that she was born near Independence, MO on January 1, 1800.
But Clara went west after all four of her children were bought by different owners. They, and her husband, had all been sold away. I had to stop and think about that for a minute. One thing Black History Month can do for us is remind us that there was a time in our own country when this evil was not only possible, but also commonplace. Not that slavery was only this country, but it was an awful institution basically based on color of skin.)
When her owner died, it was in his will that Clara be given her freedom. She was age 56. She heard that one of her daughters had moved west, so Clara went to Colorado, hoping to find Eliza. Not found in Denver, Clara moved to Central City in 1859.
Clara opened a laundry, much needed among gold miners, so she made a lot of money and saved it. By the end of the Civil War, she had 10 thousand dollars. In that time, can you imagine what 10 grand then would be now? Actually, today that’s over $129,000. Clara invested in mining and real estate - still in Colorado Territory until 1876. As you may know, it would be longer until our Cowboy Statehood in 1890, also a territory from 1868 until 1889. depending on exactly where one was after that Wyoming Territory Split.
Now, here’s the part of the story that is really touching. “Aunt Clara” helped people – of any race. She often gave them a place to stay. Pregnant women wanted Clara to help with their deliveries. And she did it all for free.
Clara was secure, and could look for her family. One trip east did turn up other relatives and she paid for them to move to Colorado. She'd help other freed people move west.
In 1864 there was a flood in Denver. Sadly, Clara’s property there was lost. In 1873, her own home and several properties in Central City all became ash in a huge fire. The fortune was gone, but people in the community loved her. One even set her up in a cottage in Denver.
When Clara was about 80 years old she got word that a black woman named Eliza lived in Council Bluffs, Iowa. With money from friends, she took a trip to Iowa, and found they were mother and daughter! With Eliza, Clara lived three more years in Colorado until she died – peacefully in her sleep.
Crowds were at her funeral, which was paid for by The Colorado Pioneer Association. The name Clara Brown and and her likeness would be commemorated all over the state and our nation's Smithsonian Institute. HistoryColorado.org summed up:
“Many say she went from being a slave to an angel, but neither word is accurate. She was an experienced black woman who lived with purpose and passion. … In her own time of crisis, favors and kindness were lovingly returned to her.”
- SHANTI ZAID Colorado Historical Society, Clara Brown intern