Peter Magnes

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Magnes - Peter mid to late 1800s
Peter Magnes, date unknown.

Born in Sweden, March 12, 1824, Peter Magnes grew up a hard-working, versatile agricultural man who worked on a farm, but also worked as a veterinarian and blacksmith. When he turned 26 years old, he emigrated to the United States, settling in Ottawa, Illinois. There he married Bertha in 1859.

Peter soon became attracted to the stories of the Pikes Peak gold rush in Colorado, then part of Kansas Territory. He and his wife decided to move to the area. Packing all their goods into a covered wagon, they traveled the long miles to Denver. Denver in 1859 consisted of log huts and frame businesses set amid muddy streets, with a camp of Arapahoe Indians nearby along the Platte River. Into this settlement the couple stopped for a few weeks while their first child, Lena, was born on the banks of Cherry Creek.

Peter and Bertha drove south of Denver to an area of vacant land where they decided to settle. Peter purchased 160 acres and built a small log cabin. He had brought with him seeds to plant and among the first crops he planted were potatoes. Although he planted them later in the season than other farmers in the region, he harvested an excellent crop.

A devastating flood hit the Denver area in April, 1864, causing damage to the Magnes crops as well as many others. Undaunted, in 1865, Peter sent away for seeds from France. These seeds were for sugar beets, and from the very first, Peter grew an excellent crop of sugar beets. He drove them to Denver in a wagon, beginning the sugar beet industry in Colorado. Soon, he imported machinery to process sugar beets.

Magnes - Farm mid to late 1800s

Peter Magnes farm, date unknown. In 1865, Magnes settled at and founded the town of Petersburg, Colorado, which was later renamed Sheridan. In 1877, Magnes moved to this farm 2 miles southwest of Littleton on Platte Canyon Road.

Peter laid out the town of Petersburg in 1865, and then encouraged Swedish families to emigrate to the area. The town had one hotel, the Petersburg Hotel, a 2-story log structure located on what is currently Hampden Avenue, just west of Santa Fe Drive. There were also ten taverns, four blacksmith shops, a railroad station, a post office, a church, a school, and a weekly paper in the town. The business area was centered around Hampden and Zuni streets, called Sheridan Junction for General Phil Sheridan. The name of the town was officially changed to Sheridan in November, 1887. Isaac McBroom led the name change.

In 1873, Magnes' crops suffered heavy damage in a grasshopper infestation. In 1874, Magnes built the Queen Grist Mill near his farm. For reasons unknown, the mill failed. He bought a weekly paper, the Denver Weekly Blade, in 1888 and changed the name to Swedish Correspondent. Magnes became known as the "King of Swedes."

After Magnes enlarged his house, he held weekend gatherings on his ranch every summer. These became popular with politicians and "silver kings" (those who had made their fortune in silver mining). Part of his land was known as Camp Magnes, or Magnes Grove, and was used as a cadet camp. The cadets trained and put on parades and demonstrations throughout the summer.

Peter Magnes was about 5'8" tall, and husky. Contemporary descriptions called him "without finesse" or polish; however, he was honest and likeable. His wife Bertha had four children, but the marriage was suffering. The couple agreed to a divorce and Bertha continued to live in the area with the children. Peter sent to Sweden for a woman named Marie Lyunberg. She moved to the Sheridan area and married him on June 24, 1880.

On January 3, 1898, two masked robbers entered the Magnes farm. Marie was grabbed from behind and choked, while the other burglar walked inside the house and pointed a gun at Peter and his 17-year-old nephew, Daniel Young. The two Magnes men were seated at a table, reading. Daniel surmised that his "aged" uncle would not be a match for the burglar, so he decided on his own to run for the door. He made it without being shot, and ran outside across the farm to a tenant's house. From there he "gave the alarm" (presumably by telephone). In the meantime, Peter and Marie were being held inside the farmhouse where Peter was hit on the head by a revolver and Marie was also injured. Soon, the robbers realized that the police were coming. They took off the masks that covered their heads and ran away without taking any valuables. Apparently, the Magnes family did not recognize the intruders. Both Peter and Marie recovered from their wounds.

Magnes was active in local politics. He served as a county commissioner from 1886-1893. He was also civic minded and bought a "poor farm" of 40 acres in 1889 for $300 in order to have a hospital built on the land. He donated land in Petersburg for the community church and a school. Magnes also bought the land where the jailhouse was built in Littleton. He organized the first stock growers association in the region, and had the first brand recorded in their brand books.

Despite his generosity to those in need, Magnes was generally known to be quite frugal. On one occasion he sued the county for apparently being overcharged by only 10 cents by the sheriff.

Peter died in 1902. The homestead, including buildings and 165 acres, was purchased by a Mr. Bailey. In 1907, F.F. Burton bought the land for farming. He reportedly planted celery with the intentions of creating the best celery farm in the state.

Peter's first wife, Bertha, passed away in March of 1912. Peter's second wife, Marie died in 1915.

Bibliography

Goff, Kenneth. The History of Sheridan, Colorado, 1858-1956. Sheridan, Colorado: Sheridan Historical Society, 1957.

Littleton (Colo.) Independent. The Littleton Independent Publishers, 1888-

Littleton Independent. The Story of Littleton, Denver's Best Suburb, Golden Jubilee Number, July 22, 1938. Littleton: Littleton Independent Publishers, 1938.

Littleton Museum. Vertical File.

Photographs courtesy of the Littleton Museum unless otherwise noted. To order copies, contact the museum at 303-795-3950.

 

Compiled by Rebecca Dorward
Edited by Phyllis Larison and Lorena Donohue

Updated May 2017