The Nicksons: Another Plum Creek seduction
Article and photo by Joe Gschwendtner; courtesy photo
To study Douglas County’s early history is to dig into events around the headwaters of Plum and Cherry creeks. Nowhere is it more colorful than the upper Plum Creek basin, where John Perry, Ben Quick and John Kinner harnessed their lives to the spectacular high-country meadows.
In 1849, future neighbor, 19-year-old George Nickson arrived from Cheshire, England, first migrating to the Old South. He was a skilled hostler, caretaker of horses. When the Civil War arrived, he joined the 11th Alabama Regiment, a Confederate unit that would suffer a 40% casualty rate.
After mustering out, he joined a wagon train to Colorado, eventually rendezvousing with his sister and brother-in-law in today’s Perry Park. On the way, he crossed prime land, homesteading 160 acres of it and filing a preemption claim on another 160. Parts of West Plum and Bear creeks crossed the property. Eventually encompassing 840 acres, Nickson named it “Park Valley Ranch.” A small log cabin served as home.
There was a social life in Colorado Territory. During a dance held at Ben Quick’s home, located within the Fort Washington stockade, Nickson met a Welsh woman, Sarah Paddison. Recently immigrated, she was a guest of her Aunt Julia, wife of Henry Curtis of Oaklands Ranch, set to the west and north of Wolfensberger Road today. A year later, they wed. Charles Nickson, family historian and the last of their 10 children, speculated the honeymoon wagon was powered by Dave and Tom, George Nickson’s reliable oxen duo.
The family prospered, active in the valley in countless ways. The first two children, Andrew and George were born in the log cabin. By 1876, George built the family home, still standing today on the Wiens Ranch.
Excellent water availability allowed the Nicksons to raise GN-branded Texas longhorn, then shorthorn and milking stock, with the requisite hay and silage to feed them. Storage needs grew and the cornerstone for a 58 feet by 60 feet barn was laid in 1899. While the two oldest Nickson boys built the foundation using Perry Park sandstone, a German builder named John Rohner took care of the rest. Likely a shipwright, Rohner used not a single nail, rather only hardwood pins in the entire frame.
Charles Nickson was the family biographer. At a 2013 family reunion, a bound copy of his work, “Just Reminiscing,” was presented to those in attendance. As these things go, it was epic. Reading it lifts the soul, as it addresses yarns that have become part of family lore. One enjoys recollections of prodigious cows, Bessie, Blaze and Snowflake, “all who gave a full pail,” or stories of the Oaklands Schoolhouse at Wolfensberger Road and SH 105 (now the site of the Pfeiffer Sanctuary), as well as renditions of the coming together of valley volunteers with money and sweat to build the Bear Canon Church and cemetery.
Perhaps it’s something in the water. Whether yesterday’s pioneers, today’s ranch owners or simply visitors, many are attracted to the area. It’s magnetic…spiritual really. George Nickson clearly sensed it. The open meadows, low rolling hills and soaring rock formations – perhaps sculpted by God Himself.