Iron Age

By Steve Smith
Posted 8/24/11

Firearm enthusiasts and historians alike have one more reason to attend Sept. 9’s dedication of Historic Fort Lupton.

    The dedication, part of the city of Fort …

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Iron Age


Firearm enthusiasts and historians alike have one more reason to attend Sept. 9’s dedication of Historic Fort Lupton.

    The dedication, part of the city of Fort Lupton’s 175th anniversary celebration, will feature a return of sorts of a pair of firearms carried by Weld County’s first official lawman, Van Buren Kelsey. A Fort Lupton area rancher born of Irish immigrant parents, as well as first elected sheriff of the county from 1863 to 1865, Kelsey also helped organize area schools, serving for several years on the board of education, all things placing him in early Weld history as a noted figure.
    Colt Fire Arms manufactured Kelsey’s Model 1860 Colt Army Revolver, serial number 6258, in 1860, the first year of the model’s production. A percussion pistol by nature, 250 of the revolvers went to the commander of the U.S. Navy yard in Boston June 8, 1861, prior to the start of the U.S. Civil War. As typical of all Colt 1851 Navy models and the majority of Colt 1860 Army models, the revolver is engraved with a scene of the 1843 battle between the Republic of Texas (US Navy) and Mexican war ships in the Gulf of Mexico.
    Fort Lupton resident Dana Counter, who inherited the piece from his grandmother, Daisy Frink Counter, surmises that the pistol made its way westward after the Civil War headed with its owner for the California Gold Rush, perhaps sold off locally for money and supplies to complete the journey. Regardless of manner, the pistol ended up in the hands of Van Buren Kelsey in the mid-1860s.
    According to family records, Kelsey served as Weld County sheriff from 1863 to 1865. Along about 1868 or 1869, Kelsey sent the revolver back to Colt for a Thuer conversion to convert from percussion to rimfire cartridges. Because there were only 5,000 of the Thuer conversions between 1868 and 1870, the modification further adds to the collectability of the revolver.
    In typical Western fashion, Kelsey carried the pistol on his hip, strapped in an army surplus cartridge belt and holster. The Colt remained in his possession until approximately one year before his death, when he gave the pistol to Daisy Frink Counter, daughter of Fort Lupton pioneer O.E. Frink. According to the history, Kelsey and Frink owned adjoining farms, went to the same church, belonged to the Fort Lupton Claim Club and subsequently became very close friends.
    “Kelsey took a liking to my grandmother, Daisy,” Dana Counter said. “As the story goes, he taught her to ride horseback, shoot, and all that stuff. Just before he died, he gave it to my grandmother. She had that pistol and another percussion rifle hung up in her kitchen, and my dad knew I wanted those guns. When she died in 1971, he told me if I wanted them, I had better get down there and get them before someone else does. They have been under lock and key in the dark ever since.”
    The .40-caliber percussion shotgun up for donation by Fort Lupton native Lon Carlson also belonged to Van Buren Kelsey back in the mid to late 1800s and was probably used for hunting birds and ducks. A Civil War-era rifle, the firearm likely started out as a .45-caliber Springfield, before being rebuilt from a combination of parts on a gunsmith’s bench. During the conversion, the rifle barrel was bored out to a smooth bore .40-gauge shotgun. Van Buren Kelsey handed down the shotgun to Lon Carlson’s grandfather, O. A. Carlson, who married Kelsey’s daughter Cammie in the early 1900s. Subsequently handed down to O.A. Carlson’s son, Kelsey Carlson, the shotgun then went to Lon Carlson after Kelsey died.
    “I took it to a gunsmith just to have it restored enough to where it wasn’t deteriorating,” Lon Carlson explained. “There are some cracks in the stock, and things were starting to fall to pieces. He said it was built from parts from Civil War guns, probably parts that a gunsmith had on his shelves and under his bench and such. It was pretty much for a rancher or landowner to go out and get his meal.”
    The arms may have remained in private hands had a pair of old friends not decided to share them with the city.
    “Lon Carlson and I through the years became very, very good friends, in fact, almost like cousins,” Dana Counter said. “His grandfather, O.A. Carlson, worked for my great-grandfather, O.E. Frink. Lon and I got together last year and decided that we wanted to do something with this pistol and shotgun. We decided the 175th anniversary of Fort Lupton would be a good time to dediocate these to guns to the city, and so the evening of the ninth, that is what we are going to do.”
    The donation is part of the ultimate plan to get the weapons back where they belong, in the pioneer history of early Fort Lupton, with other artifacts from that era.
    “Lon Carlson and Cammie King Gable and I will be dedicating these guns to the Fort Lupton City and Pioneer museums (when completed) the evening of Sept. 9 during the grand opening of the new Fort and Fort Lupton’s 175-year celebration,” Counter said. “We are going to donate them to the Fort Lupton City Museum initially. And when the Pioneer Museum is completed, under contract they (Fort Lupton Museum officials) will send it to the fort, to the Pioneer Museum.”


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