Mariano Medina - Mountain Man

Mariano Medina 1812-1878

Born in Taos, New Mexico in 1812, Mariano Medina was a friend of Kit Carson, Louis Vasquez, the Bent brothers along other legendary mountain men like Jim Bridger and Tom Toblin.

With his early experiences as a trapper, trader, hide trader, bounty hunter(captured 2 Utes for a reward), and known for his vast knowledge of the wilderness. Known as a half-breed, half-breed Frenchman, Jicarilla Apache, and a Spaniard according to frontier terminology. His ability became apparent when in the service as an aide to John C. Fremont in his exploration of the west. Along with providing his skills to Fremont, he also was employed as a guide for Captain Randolph B. Marcy's exciting trek across the Rockies in the winter during the Mormon War.

It is known through reports of these events and journals of several fur trade companies that one Mariano Medina was in their employ from time to time, he had spent time on the trail and in camps and on the trap line throughout the fur trade making life long friends with many famous mountaineers.

With the days of the fur trade coming to an end and growing older for providing a guide service for explorations, Mariano settled down and proclaimed he was the first settler on the Big Thompson Creek (River) in1858 (the unorganized western district of the Territory of Nebraska) near present day Loveland, Colorado.

The years spent on the Sweetwater and Green River had taught him a thing or two about water, crossing it and building structures that would withstand its force. Starting business with a raft to ferry teams across and charging fifty dollars in gold for the service, after a season a toll bridge built high enough to avoid the high spring run-off with its construction and eventually building a fort and trading post "Marianne's Crossing", soon it became the favorite stopping place for the growing numbers of travelers involved in the western movement and of course his now famous mountain friends made frequent stops.

Many references in journals, newspapers of the time, mention of famous mountain men: "Kit Carson spent the past week with friend Jesus Garcia Mariano Medina at his post in the Big Thompson canyon". Loveland News June 1858 or "Mr. Ceran St.Vrain has been seen in the company of Mariano Medina near Estes Park, a family outing with several other famous people - William Gilpin (future governor of Colorado), Jos'e de Mirabal and William Bent (trader)". Rocky Mountain News 5th of Sept. 1858.

In March 1861 Tim Goodale and his wife, Jennie, joined old friend Mariano, on the Thompson. Noted in their journal that a group of Indians where living about a mile or so below (on the south side of the river) from Mariano's place, the leader was Nawat (Niwot, or Left Hand) [Arapahoe]. North were Cheyennes with their leader Big Mouth, they spent most of their time watching a thousand ponies pastured on the Cache la Poudre. Also noted was the viewing of a hunting party of Sioux working their way up the Thompson canyon near present day Estes Park Mariano had lots activity around his location, he was happy and business and times where good at this location according to friends and family.

"His post was a known location for the "pony trade", "Whites", "Mexicans" and "Indians" traded on a regular schedule here in the Big Thompson Valley........" reported the Denver Rocky Mountain News. This horse trade attracted many groups of Indians, they counted theirs and Mariano's wealth by the number of ponies one owned, this turns out to be trouble for "Marianne's Crossing".

On the morning of 17 April 1861 Mariano Medina experienced a raid on his post and the stealing of his ponies, that throw him into a rage. In the days to follow Medina, Goodale, and Mirabal tracked down the stolen ponies and the band of Indians that had taken them. "On the morning of 21 April 1861 they discovered the remains of a camp fire on the banks of a creek and spotted the culprits, at which time they discharged their rifles and charged forward, the Ute Indians fled in all directions with Mariano, Tim and Jos'e in hot pursuit". according to W.J. Menton, reporter for the Rocky Mountain News.

"Cowards !" yelled Mariano, "Come back and fight for horses !" Suddenly the Indians wheeled around and charged Mariano, taking his hat off and waving as though signaling for help, where upon the Indians scattered, thinking they where out numbered. Mariano shot several of the Indians, leaving the battleground bestrewn with blood, their arms [weapons] thrown in all directions, they escaped with only five ponies." the report reads. Three days later Mariano and his group return with fifty head of stolen horses, the Indians had shot five and had gotten away with five.

Twenty one shots where fired, in something less than three minutes according to some reports, with the highest praise given to Medina, Sueze Luis, Merival and 'Uncle' Tim Goodale for their skilled handling of the event. After this attack Mariano had his Mexican labors start building his fort to protect the people living at his settlement.

It has been noted that in the 1871 Medina loaned the new founded First National Bank of Ft. Collins, Colorado a sum of money to start business, money gotten from the toll bridge operation and trading post enterprise - $61,000.00. A large sum like this shows how successful his business had become, it's said that some would pay as little as 25 cents to make the crossing on a busy day and as much as $100.00 on a slow day, freighters loaded with gold would usually pay the most and Mexicans crossed free. With such extreme changes in "crossing" costs, some researchers claim Mariano was responsible for many of the small communities around the Loveland area. Settlers waiting for a busy business day to make their crossing in moving westward would decide that the area and available homestead ground was more attractive than first thought.

In his later years he was known as a fashionable gentleman of the area, stories of his parties with the new settlers, travelers and guests coming to his settlement, his wines, Santa Fe cooking, and great hospility was becoming legend, Mariano had come into his own. On occasion he would show his now famous Hawken muzzleloader "Old Lady Hawkens", parade around in his white Spanish style leather jacket, leather breeches, fancy knitted long socks and beaded moccasins. One visitor remarked "what a worldly gentleman Mr. Medina was and a credit to the country", while ladies were charmed by all the airs of this Spanish gentleman, the men from the States were impressed with his guns, and trophies of a wilder time.

Something about this Mexican and his flashing smile fascinated everyone, locals and newcomers alike, anyone that had ever heard of him, a legend in his own time, stories that had gotten better with each telling. One such story is about Mariano and his new gun. He was sitting outdoors examing the new rifle, lining up the sights, fingering the trigger, and testing its weight, like a child with a new toy. Suddenly without warning, Mariano raised the gun to his shoulder and fired, shooting a Mexican laborer off the roof of a building he was repairing.

When the sheriff asked Mariano why he shot the man, Mariano replied "AW, him make such a purty target, all dressed up in his white shirt." Another story was a tale that after the death of his Indian wife, Mariano bought a white wife from one of the early settlers, paying for her with whiskey.

Stories and tales of legends aside, it is clear that Mariano was not to be taken lightly. The following appears in the court records of Larimer County, Colorado Territory:


Personally appeared before me, this 29th day of October,A.D. 1864 Richard Castillo who after being sworn entered the following complaint-to-wit-that on the 28th day of October,1864 Marrianna[sic] Medina did make an assault upon the person of the said Richard Castillo with a hatchet or tomahawk with intent to commit bodily injury, and did unlawfully beat and injure the said Richard Castillo.

At times "Medina's Crossing" was referred to as "Marianna's Town" and he was its "major domo"-the "Don Juan of the Thompson."

Mariano's daughters where famous for their expensive tastes, styles and clothing, appearing at fashionable engagements with the upper crust of Denver, its fashionable night spots and appearing in parades throughout the area. Stories, poems and articles of these ladies, their father and brother where common news in the weekly papers. To be an associate, friend or guest of the Medina family was to be the "in-thing" in Colorado at this time in history.

Lena Medina still lives on even in 1960, when the family graves where moved only one female body was identified, that of Mariano's Indian wife - "John". Then the story of the Indian burial on the ridge northwest of Loveland is brought to mind. Harold Dunning, Loveland's historian labels the burial that of an "Indian Princess" to be Lena's resting place, now the appearances of Medina's step son at this location several times a month starts to add up, he's visiting his step sister's grave, along with other family members. Not much has been written about some of the children, Lena and Louis seem to have been the most visible in the eyes of the researchers over the years.

Louis, the French trapper's son and Mariano's step son; raised by Medina he recalled going with him (Mariano) to Ft. Bridger, Ft. Vasquaz, Ft. Laramie, and the remains of Bent's Fort, getting his one and only spanking by his mother for racing his pony on the sand dunes of the Salmon River in Idaho.

Louis would have been in his early teens when coming to the Big Thompson Valley with his family, he worked most of his adult life with cattle and cattle ranches in the Estes Park, Colorado area.

Louis Papin (Papa) was well known in the Loveland area and very visible in public as the yearly town marshall for the Loveland Parade and other events in the early 1900's, he was often seen riding his white horse and wearing his father's fancy clothes (seen in several accounts wearing the white breeches and long knitted socks) at special occasions. He rode in the hills around Loveland and up the canyon of the Big Thompson from Loveland to Estes Park most of his life, he would travel northwest of Loveland several times a month to visit family member graves near Masonville, Colorado, now covered by years of quarry work.

Not much has been written about Medina when compared to other mountain men of this period. Zethyl Gates a local librarian living in Loveland, is considered the expert on Medina the legend, she wrote a book about him published in 1981. Probably the most complete work assembled of the man, his life and his time from February 20, 1812 to June 28, 1878, along with family relations into the 1920's. Gates has spent much of her life researching this interesting individual, his family and his ancestors, even going to Spain to search family records.