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Identifier: WH1686


Most of the items contained in this collection were published in 1966 in a book edited by Nolie Mumey entitled Alexander Taylor Rankin, 1803-1855, His Diary and Letters: A Pioneer Minister Who Fought Lawlessness with Religion on the Prairies of Eastern Kansas and the Frontier Settlements of Denver Where Life was Harsh and Brutal. However, the correspondence in file folder 6 regarding the murder in Mexico of A. T. Rankin's son Sylvester is not contained in Mumey's book.

The Alexander Taylor Rankin Papers contain 48 letters, written primarily by Rankin to his wife in New York, and two diaries which record his daily missionary work throughout Eastern Kansas and in Denver between 1859-1861. Letters and diary entries provide detailed descriptions of stagecoach travel, encounters with buffalo, wolves, and details of life in Denver at a time when the city's "drinking saloons, billiard rooms and gambling houses occupy the most public points in the city and do a large business."

The Rankin papers describe the difficulties of missionary life, working with limited resources and awaiting word from the Presbyterian General Board of Home Missions about his next appointment. The letters and diaries record the types of church services Rankin led, where the services were held, and often give names or details of the participants. The collection is a first hand chronicle of the life of a pioneer missionary in the West. It also provides details of life during the first two years after Denver's incorporation, including descriptions of business life, observations on national politics and accounts of local crime and punishments.

Collection also available on microfilm: Mflm183.


The correspondence consists mostly of personal letters written by Alexander Taylor Rankin to his wife, Ann Smith Rankin, niece, son, son-in-law George Shaffer, Mrs. Kelly, and reports to Reverend Musgrave and Reverend Happersett offering Rankin's predictions for the future of the Presbyterian Church in Kansas Territory and Jefferson Territory (later Kansas and Colorado). A few of the letters were received by Rankin, and were written by his son Sylvester or by Reverend Musgrave and Reverend Happersett. Rankin sometimes wrote to his wife on the verso of these letters so that both letters are visible on a single page.

Rankin describes his arduous stagecoach journey to Denver and the delay of the stagecoach due to a massive buffalo crossing. He recounts a visit to the Rocky Mountain News office with General Larimer moments before the attempted assassination of editor William Byers. Letters illustrate Rankin's first impressions of Denver, lawlessness, hangings, and the progress of the fledgling Presbyterian Church. The correspondence also contains details of travel to mining towns in present-day Gilpin County.

File folder 6 contains unpublished letters written to Rankin and family members about Dr. Sylvester Rankin's murder in Mexico. Letters from his widow, Francesca Rankin, and a military friend, Lieutenant Colonel Foster, describe the circumstances of the murder and the condition of the bereaved Francesca and young daughter Anita. One typeset letter, from Clinton to John Henry Broas, has unknown provenance.

SERIES 2 DIARIES BOX 1 1859-1861

Two leather bound volumes illustrate many of the same events mentioned in the letters from Series 1. The 1860 diary describes A.T. Rankin’s first year as a missionary in Kansas and Jefferson Territories (later Kansas and Colorado). Entries, which are initially brief but become lengthier as time passes, provide a glimpse into Rankin's daily activities including church services, baptisms, marriages and ordinations, often naming participants. The diaries record details of his travels, the weather, and give expense and provision lists.

The 1860-1861 diary gives details of Rankin's travels to mining camps near Central City, describes life in Denver including the growing Presbyterian congregation, lawlessness in town, baptisms, weddings, pastoral visits to the sick and dying, funerals and the high cost of provisions. Rankin describes reactions to Lincoln’s election. Entries mention Rankin's own highly anticipated return trip to “America” or "the States" in December. Rankin's travels back to New York are outlined, as well as his observations about mounting tensions between secessionists and abolitionists, an apparent assassination plot against Lincoln, and details of Rankin's trip to Baltimore to see his daughter and granddaughter.

Transcriptions of the letters and the diaries are combined and organized chronologically in the book Alexander Taylor Rankin, 1803-1855, His Diary and Letters: A Pioneer Minister Who Fought Lawlessness with Religion on the Prairies of Eastern Kansas and the Frontier Settlements of Denver Where Life was Harsh and Brutal edited by Nolie Mumey. Wherever possible, Mumey’s printed volume should be used instead of the originals.


  • TBD


The collection is open for research.


The Alexander Taylor Rankin Papers are the physical property of the Denver Public Library.


All requests for permission to publish, reproduce, or quote from material in the collection should be discussed with the appropriate librarian or archivist. Permission for publication may be given on behalf of the Denver Public Library as the owner of the physical item. It is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which also must be obtained by the customer. The Library does not assume any responsibility for infringement of copyright or publication rights of the manuscript held by the writer, heirs, donors, or executors. Reproduction restrictions are decided on a case-by-case basis.


Alexander Taylor Rankin was born near Dandridge, Jefferson County, Tennessee on December 4, 1803, the youngest of eleven boys. In 1826, he graduated from Washington College, a Presbyterian institution, and was ordained a minister in 1830. On October 26, 1829, he married Mary Merriweather Lowery in Felicity, Ohio. She died in 1841 at Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Alexander Taylor Rankin was a Presbyterian minister who led churches in Ohio and Indiana before becoming the pastor of Breckenridge Street Church in Buffalo, New York in 1858. The Alexander Taylor Rankin house in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is on the Indiana Register of Historic Sites and Structures (State Register) and the National Register of Historic Places because Rankin was a well known abolitionist and was active in the Underground Railroad movement in Indiana and Ohio.

Rankin left Buffalo, New York to become a missionary in western Kansas in 1859 per the instructions of the Presbyterian General Board of Home Missions. In July of 1860, he arrived in Denver, becoming only the second Presbyterian minister to visit the young city. In September 1860, he established Denver's first Presbyterian church in a room on Larimer Street. He remained in Denver just four months before returning to Buffalo.

Alexander and Mary Rankin had five children, but only three survived to adulthood. Daughter, Julia, married George Shaffer Esq. of Baltimore, and had a baby girl who later became Mrs. Walter S. Hine. Sons William, who was in the freighting business across the plains, and Sylvester, a surgeon who had served in the Union Army, had some contact with their father during his western missionary work. Sylvester lived briefly in Central City before moving to the San Juan mining fields by way of Taos and Santa Fe. He eventually settled in Mexico, married Francesca Garcia, and had a daughter named Anita. Sylvester Rankin was murdered in Mexico in 1881.

Rankin's second wife, Ann Smith, died in Buffalo in 1865. Rankin married a third time in 1872, to Mrs. Annie Burt Kelly, who died less than a year later in 1873. Alexander Taylor Rankin died on April 30, 1885 in Baltimore, Maryland, and is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York.


1 box Boxes (.25 linear feet)

1 reel ilm (Mflm183)


Fred Rosenstock donated the collection in December 1976.


Alexander Taylor Rankin, 1803-1855, His Diary and Letters: A Pioneer Minister Who Fought Lawlessness with Religion on the Prairies of Eastern Kansas and the Frontier Settlements of Denver Where Life was Harsh and Brutal.

C285.1788 R167ra


Number of Boxes: 1 box (.25 linear feet)

Microfilm: 1 reel (Mflm183)




Abby Hoverstock

July 2007


Ellen Zazzarino

Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Denver Public Library, Western History and Genealogy Repository

10 W. 14th Ave. Pkwy
Denver CO 80204 United States