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Identifier: WH29


The James B. Thompson papers consist primarily of correspondence sent by Thompson regarding his duties as an Indian agent in the Colorado Territory. Many of the letters are addressed "General," which is how he referred to his brother-in-law, the appointed Colorado Territorial Governor, Edward M. McCook, and former Civil War General. Thompson attained the rank of Major in the War and was sometimes referred to by that title, though he did not use it in his writing.


The letter books contain copies of correspondence written by James B. Thompson between 1871 and 1880. The copies are sometimes difficult to read, but typed transcriptions of the correspondence in four of the volumes are included in separate folders. Researchers should use the transcriptions, as the letter books are quite fragile. The ledger contains the itemized accounts of expenditures during the years he served as Indian agent.


This correspondence is not very extensive, but contains items when Thompson served as the Ute Indian agent, and when he was seeking reappointment as an agent.


Comprised of letterbook transcripts of correspondence written by James B. Thompson between 1871 and 1880.


  • 1868-1880


The collection is open for research. Due to the fragile nature of some of the material not everything in the collection can be photocopied.


The James B. Thompson 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.


James Baird Thompson was born on November 11, 1840 in Greene County, Pennsylvania, the fifth of seven children of Sylvanus and Harriet Thompson. Sylvanus, originally a farmer, moved his family to Peoria, Illinois where he entered the distillery business.

In 1860, James Thompson (19) was living with the William R. Phelps family in Peoria along with his younger brother Samuel (16) and Mary (14). Soon after Thompson reportedly ventured to California, but once the Civil War began he returned to Pennsylvania.

A General of the Union Army, Edward M. McCook, married James’ youngest sister, Mary, in 1865. This marriage had a profound impact on the rest of James’ life as he often benefitted from nepotism. In 1869 President Ulysses S. Grant appointed McCook Territorial Governor of Colorado. Around the same time James married Eliza Wolcott, who was born in 1841 in Springfield, Illinois. Governor McCook named James Thompson as his private secretary, which took Thompson to Colorado. His pregnant wife stayed behind in Illinois as he assumed his new job.

James Thompson arrived in Denver in 1869 to perform his duties as private secretary to the Territorial Governor. In August, he also took on the added task, and salary, of Special (temporary) Agent for the Seven Bands of the Ute Indians in Colorado. Thompson traveled to all parts of the vast Ute reservation, which included nearly all of the land west of the Continental Divide in Colorado. Thompson also served as Auditor of Public Accounts for his brother-in-law the Territorial Governor while carrying out the positions of Special Indian Agent and Private Secretary. Thompson's office was in the First National Bank Building. He met all of the Ute chiefs including Ouray. Thompson developed a respect for the chief and said in a 1921 interview that “Ouray was a good man, a man who would have measured up to a high standard in any civilized community.” Thompson avoided making a show of military strength and was sensitive to the Ute’s aversion to the presence of military. His actions appeared to give him a position of trust among the Utes. He was called “One-Talk,” meaning he did not lie to them.

By June of 1870, Eliza Thompson arrived in Denver after giving birth to their first child, Charles, in Illinois. James and Eliza's remaining four children, Bessie, Mary M., Julia and Herbert were born in Colorado. On December 15, 1870 he purchased 160 acres of land in El Paso County, Colorado, near present-day Monument. He supplemented his income by selling lumber from the land.

When the 157th (1st Colorado) Infantry (Governor’s Guard) was organized in the spring of 1872, James B. Thompson was one of its first officers, a 2nd Lieutenant. In December of 1875 the company was mustered formally into the territorial service as Company B, 1st Colorado Infantry Volunteer Militia, and became part of the armed forces of Colorado Territory. Thompson was promoted to 1st Lieutenant. When a subsequent reorganization of the Guard occurred on July 7, 1880 Thompson became the Captain of Company I of the Third Battalion of Infantry in Breckenridge, known as the “Breckenridge Rifles.” The First Regiment of Infantry, Colorado National Guard was organized and the regimental roster published on January 18, 1884 listed Thompson as 1st Lieutenant, Adjutant – Denver as a member of the field and staff.

Both Thompson’s sister, Mary, and his wife took an active leadership roll in the fight for women’s suffrage in Colorado. James also championed the cause and in the Rocky Mountain News of February 18, 1877 was among several dozen citizens who petitioned Senator Henry Teller to make a statement on behalf of the cause. Eliza and her sister-in-law Mary Thompson McCook helped organize the first Suffrage Association in Colorado.

After his resignation as special agent he moved his wife and family to northeastern Colorado and built the first house at what became Hayden. He named Routt County after the last territorial and first state Governor, John Long Routt. He named Hayden for F.V. Hayden, head of the survey party for the U.S. Geological & Geographic Survey in the late 1860's. Thompson’s home was near the White River Agency and when Indian Agent Nathan Meeker began trying to turn the Utes into farmers the Utes warned Thompson of impending trouble. Thompson left with his family before the infamous Meeker Massacre at the end of September 1879. He later was called on to testify in the investigation of the massacre.

Thompson returned to Denver in 1880 as a special agent in the General Land Office, but was there only about a year. He worked as a clerk in several companies including the post office until being hired by the Denver and Rio Grande Rail Road in 1887. He remained with them as a clerk, auditor or bookkeeper through 1905. He worked from 1907 to 1916 as clerk and secretary of the Board of Capitol Managers, which was responsible for the maintenance and operation of the State Capitol Building, and other state buildings.

James’ wife, Eliza, died in 1916. She was buried at Crown Hill. Thompson's final job was as Custodian of War Relics at the Colorado State Museum. He worked in that capacity from 1918 until 1921. A fall resulted in paralysis which troubled him for the last four years of his life. James B. Thompson died at home, at 57 Grant, on February 18, 1923, where he had lived since 1904. He was buried next to his wife at Crown Hill Cemetery.


1 box(es) (1.5 linear feet)

Language of Materials



Purchased - date unknown.


Number of Boxes: 1 (1.5 linear feet)




Roger L. Dudley

July 2008


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