JOHN KERNAN MULLEN:
THE LIFE OF A ROCKY MOUNTAIN PHILANTHROPIST
William Joseph Convery, III
B. A., University of Colorado, 1991
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
1998 by William J. Convery, III
All rights reserved.
This thesis for the Master of Arts
William Joseph Convery, III
has been approved
hovch n. cm
Convery, William Joseph, III (M. A., History)
John Kernan Mullen: The Life of a Rocky Mountain Philanthropist
Thesis directed by Professor Thomas J. Noel
John Kernan Mullens contributions to Colorado business, agriculture, and
philanthropy were vital to the development of the state in the nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries. As a boy, Mullen emigrated from Ireland with his family during the later waves of
migration following the Great Famine of 1845-55. Taking a position as a flour mill hand in his
early adulthood, he experienced anti-Irish prejudice at first hand. Mullen recognized
opportunities for economic success in the West and followed the expanding railroad lines to
new grain frontiers in Kansas and Colorado. Combating religious and ethnic prejudice
through a lifelong promotion of religious tolerance and temperance, Mullen survived cycles of
economic boom and bust to become a leading businessman and Catholic layman in Colorado.
Following a period of agricultural depression and drought in the early 1880s, Mullen
spearheaded the consolidation of Colorado's flour mills into the Colorado Milling and Elevator
Success created unique relationships between Mullen and his clients and
employees. He combined his working-class experience with nineteenth-century theories of
labor paternalism to create liberal policies regarding pensions, sick leave, and profit sharing
among his workers. His relations with Populist and largely Protestant farmers, on the other
hand, suffered. From the consolidation of the Colorado Milling and Elevator Company in
1885, farmers remained convinced that Mullen conspired to rob them of their livelihood. At
times, Mullen's actions seemed to confirm their fears.
Mullen acted on his charitable instincts with a combination of pragmatism and
principle. His views of philanthropy adhered to the norms of contemporary businessmen, yet
he mixed his beliefs with an agenda of interdenominational tolerance which transcended the
values of success of his time. As a prominent member of Denver's Catholic community, he
supported his church vigorously. Yet, by acculurating within the Protestant community, he
guided his own business through the breaches of intolerance. His acceptance in Denver's
elite business circles, as well as the persistence of Denver's Catholic institutions, attests to
the success of his agenda.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidaffisjhesis. I recommend its
To Lyra Armeling Garson
The author wishes to express his appreciation to the J. K. Mullen
Foundation, the Weckbaugh Foundation, Inc., the Eleanore Mullen
Weckbaugh Foundation, and Peter Grant for research funding. The author is
also particularly grateful to Dr. Thomas J. Noel for his tireless advocacy, as
well as exhaustive editing. Credit also belongs to Dr. Pamela Laird and Dr.
Mark Foster of the University of Colorado, Denver, and Dr. Stephen J.
Leonard of Metropolitan State College for their counseling and criticism. I
am grateful to the Weckbaugh family, John F. Malo, Timothy O'Connor, and
Sheila Sevier for access to their personal manuscript collections. Valuable
archival guidance and information was provided by Sister Mary Hughes,
archivist for the Archdiocese of Denver, Rev. Vincent J. Kelly of St. Joseph's
Church, Oriskany Falls, Rev. John Anderson of the Cathedral of the
Immaculate Conception, Denver, the archive staffs of the Western History
Department of the Denver Public Library, the State Historical Society of
Colorado, the Utica Public Library, the Oneida County Historical Society,
Stella Cieslak of the Limestone Ridge Historical Society, and the Minnesota
Historical Society. Thanks also to the Michael J. Collins Chapter of the
Ancient Order of Hibernians, Rosemary Fetter, Robert Pulcipher, Dennis
Gallagher, Patrice Weddig, Marcie Morin, Caron Stone, Heather
Weckbaugh, Tom and Helen Mullen of Oriskany Falls, NY, Paula Aven, Thor
Nelson, William and Eileen Convery, and most of all, to my wife, Cara.
1. FROM IRELAND TO AMERICA: GALWAY, IRELAND TO ORISKANY
FALLS, NEW YORK, 1847-1867.................................8
The Assimilation Dilemma............................13
2. THE GRASSHOPPER YEARS: ORISKANY FALLS, NEW YORK TO
TROY, KANSAS, 1867-1871...................................21
The Softening of a "Strict Catholic"................26
The Banner Mills....................................29
3. "I AM ONLY ASKING FOR A CHANCE TO WORK," DENVER,
COLORADO TERRITORY, 1871-1874.............................31
The Pioneer Period..................................31
"I Am Only Asking for a Chance to Work".............34
4. "MY DARLING KATE": CATHERINE SMITH MULLEN, COUNTY
CAVAN, IRELAND TO DENVER, COLORADO, 1851-1874.............39
"They Were Very, Very Welcome.......................47
5. J. K. MULLEN AND COMPANY, 1875-1879....................63
Mullen and Seth.....................................63
"I Was the Company".................................67
6. THE PROGRESSIVE MILLER, 1880-1885..................... 76
The Ebullient Eighties..............................76
J. K. Mullen and the Progressive Milling Movement...78
The Hungarian Mills.................................83
7. BEHIND THE LACE CURTAIN: COMMUNITY ASSOCIATIONS,
The Society of Temperence...........................94
Politics, Class, and Ethnicity.....................100
The Irish-American Land League.....................104
8. "MY GOOD FRIENDS APPEAR TO THINK THAT I AM...DAFFY":
J. K. MULLEN AND PHILANTHROPY, 1880-1929..............114
9. THE COLORADO MILLING AND ELEVATOR COMPANY, 1880-
Grain Boom and Bust: "The Serialized Adventure" of the
Consolidation of Colorado's Flouring Mills.............131
The Lessons of Consolidation...........................144
10. FLOUR, CATTLE AND THE "BLACK PANIC," 1886-1895......147
The First National Bank of Denver......................147
Personal and Professional Difficulties.................149
Cattle Companies and the American Protective
Fire and "the Black Panic" of 1893.....................159
11. THE CHURCH OF ST. LEO THE GREAT, TENTH AND COLFAX,
12. THE MERCHANT PRINCE, 1895-1913..........................175
"Every New Town Wanted a Flour Mill"...................176
Domestic Tranquility and Turmoil On Quality Hill.......180
Telephones, Teenagers, and Tyson Dines.................193
13. THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION CATHEDRAL, COLFAX AND
14. THE ENEMY MILLER, 1914-1919.............................215
Wartime Wheat Restrictions and The Denver Post........216
Restitution: The Broncho Buster and the University of Denver
15. J. K. MULLEN HOME FOR THE AGED,
3629 W. 29TH AVE.............................................231
16. THE "TIDAL WAVE" OF THE TWENTIES, 1920-1925.............244
Illness and Expansion..................................245
The Challenges of Charity..............................250
The Death of Catherine Smith Mullen....................261
17. ST. CAJETAN'S CHURCH, 1178 NINTH ST., AURARIA.......266
18. SIR KNIGHT MULLEN, 1925-1929...........................279
"What Would You Have Me Do?": J. K. Mullen and the Ku
"Melting Into Gold"..................................285
"There Is Nothing Wrong With Me!"....................295
19. THE J. K. MULLEN HOME FOR BOYS, 3601 S. LOWELL
20. CONCLUSION: THE LEGACY OF J. K. MULLEN.....................310
A. National vs. Colorado Wheat/Flour Prices, 1874-1893..319
B. Colorado Wheat/Flour Wholesale Prices, 1874-1893.....320
C. Freehold Properties Owned by the Colorado Milling and
Elevator Co., 1889...................................321
D. National Wholesale Wheat/Flour Prices, 1880-1930.....322
E. The Estate of J. K. Mullen...........................323
F. J. K. Mullen Biographical Timeline...................325
G. Baby Doe Tabor and the Matchless Mine................332
H. The Origins of Flour Milling in Colorado.............337
LIST OF PHOTOGRAPHS
John Keman Mullen, (WHDDPL)..................................4
Burr Dressing, c. 1860, (Minnesota Historical Society)......14
Catherine Smith Mullen, c. 1920, (Timothy O'Connor collection).40
Katherine, May, Ella, and Edith Mullen and unidentified friends,
c. 1888. (Weckbaugh family collection)................50
1178 Ninth Street, c. 1880, (WHDDPL)........................55
J. K. Mullen, c. 1880, (WHDDPL).............................70
The Hungarian Mills and Elevator, Eighth and Wazee streets,
c. 1880, (WHDDPL).....................................87
Immaculate Conception Cathedral, c. 1920, (WHDDPL).........122
The Alamosa Mills, c. 1883, (WHDDPL).......................164
896 Pennsylvania St., c. 1900, (Weckbaugh family collection)...182
Ella, Joseph, and Eleanore Mullen Weckbaugh, c. 1916,
(Weckbaugh family collection)........................191
"Tyson Dines Attacks J. K. Mullen," (The Denver Post,
Immacuate Conception Cathedral, c. 1915, (WHDDPL)..........201
"The Shadow of Debt" and cathedral dedication ceremonies,
1912, (Archdiocese of Denver)........................210
"Two Chief Enemies," (The Denver Post, Jan. 17, 1918).........224
A. Phiminster Proctors Broncho Buster, Civic Center Plaza,
(Michael J. Convery photo).............................227
Residents of J. K. Mullen Home for the Aged, c. 1918,
(T. J. Noel collection)................................234
J. K. Mullen Home for the Aged, c. 1918, (WHDDPL).............240
CM&E "Location of Operating Properties,"
(Colorado Historical Society)..........................249
J. K. Mullen grandchildren, (Weckbaugh family collection).....256
John and Kate Mullen, c. 1921, (Timothy O'Connor collection)..262
Hand-carved altar, St. Cajetan's Church, (WHDDPL).............276
Pallbearers escort J. K. Mullen's remains from Immaculate
Conception Cathedral, Aug. 12, 1929, (WHDDPL)..........298
J. K. Mullen Home for Boys, c. 1932, (WHDDPL).................306
J. K. Mullen Monument, Mt. Olivet Cemetary, (Michael J.
Hungarian Mills prior to urban renewal, 1974, (WHDDPL)........315
Horace and Elizabeth McCourt "Baby Doe" Tabor, Colorado's Silver
King and Queen (WHDDPL)................................333
Baby Doe Tabor at the Matchless Mine, 1933 (WHDDPL)...........336
Auraria map, 1889 (WHDDPL)....................................355
"He was Irish and American both--but he was more than both, for all humanity was
his kin." The secret of his inner power to capture and to hold the love of those
who knew him...was the instinct of his race--an instinct that has often cost them
dearly--his sympathy was ever and always with the loser on the battlefield of life.
Sister Justine, Little Sisters of the Poor, quoting John Boyle O'Reilly, in honor of
J. K. Mullen, 1932.1
John Kernan Mullen's 150th birthday, June, 11, 1997, passed quietly
in his adopted city. The Denver Catholic Archdiocese, which
commemorated his centennial with a special mass in 1947, allowed the
philanthropist's sesquicentennial to lapse without fanfare. Nevertheless, J.
K. Mullen's monuments remain as mute reminders of his civic, social, and
religious spirit. As a patron of the Broncho Buster statue in Civic Center
Plaza, his name is attached to one of Denver's most famous symbols of the
wide-open romantic frontier. Another plaque resides alongside the pure,
white marble communion railing in the foyer of Denver's Cathedral of the
Immaculate Conception. His name adorns the J. K. Mullen Home for the
Aged, which, flanked by a multi-million dollar annex, remains a nationally
acclaimed model facility for elderly care. In southwest Denver, the Christian
Brothers have replaced his Mullen Home for Boys with an elite prep school,
1 Sister Justine, L. S. o. P., "Dedication of Mullen Home for the Aged Recreation Center,"
speech transcript, 1932, Little Sisters of the Poor/Mullen Home for the Aged papers,
Archdiocese of Denver.
J. K. Mullen High School. Ground was recently broken for a new annex
there, as well. The Mullen Manuscript Room of the Western History
Department of the Denver Public Library bears his image. Internet browsers
discover research information regarding the J. K. Mullen Memorial Library at
the Catholic University of America in Washington, D. C. Other
commemorative plaques adorn St. Cajetan's Church, a survivor of Auraria's
urban renewal period, St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Oriskany Falls, New
York, and the future site of an educational facility on the Auraria campus.
Still other structures attest to the persistence of his philanthropy in
succeeding generations. The Catherine Smith Mullen Nurse's Home and
the Ella Mullen Weckbaugh Memorial Chapel at St. Joseph's Hospital,
Camp St. Malo, located near Long's Peak, and Camp Santa Maria along the
South Platte River, all derive from his family's sense of philanthropic
responsibility. The charitable foundation which bears his name appears on
still other markers, including the brand-new Tropical Discovery and Primate
Panorama exhibits at the Denver Zoological Gardens. The Weckbaugh
Foundation and the Eleanore Mullen Weckbaugh Foundation, products of
his daughter's generosity, provide equally important sources of medical,
social, and religious giving.
J. K. Mullen, the poor Irish immigrant boy who grew up become the
head of a multi-million dollar flour milling empire, appears cast as the model
of an instructive Horatio Alger character. Indeed, like his fellow temperance
advocate William Makepeace Thayer, Mullen believed that Providence
guided "each one [who] possessed character, a noble purpose, ability to do,
industry, perseverance, and patience...Whatever other qualities they
possessed, these led the van and controlled all."2 Like many of his
contemporary business associates, such as John D. Rockefeller and Andrew
Carnegie, and such contemporary Colorado magnates such as John Francis
Campion, Walter Scott Cheesman, John Evans, Charles Boettcher, Albert
Humphreys, and Dennis Sheedy, J. K. Mullen could define himself as a
success as a businessman and as an investor in the spiritual, cultural, and
moral fabric of his community. As a self-recognized "self-made man" Mullen
embodied a progressive desire to channel his success for the benefit of
His efforts to acquire and maintain a personal fortune contributed to
Colorado's financial, civic, and commercial climate. Mullen's investment in
the Colorado cattle industry and his organization of the western flour milling
industry into the mighty Colorado Milling and Elevator Company bolstered
the agricultural facets of western economic development. His success was
typical of intelligent, hard-working speculative capitalists who operated in
the boom-bust climate of the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Yet, J. K. carefully avoided the reckless plunging which brought ruin on
some of his contemporaries for most of his lifetime.
The key to both his hard-won business success and tragic personal
failures appears in his uncompromising personality. A genial man, whose
2 Thayer, quoted in Richard M. Huber, The American Idea of Success. (New York: McGraw-Hill
Book Co., 1971), 54.
good works encouraged unqualified praise, Mullen aggravated friends,
family, clergymen, and colleagues by his desire to dominate all aspects of
his business, family, and religious life. His single-handed domination of the
Colorado milling industry created bitter mistrust in the regional farming
community and frustrated dissension among his board of directors. His firm,
often strident opinions on religious issues led to strained relations with
Denver bishops Nicholas C. Matz and John Henry Tihen. His attempts to
control the financial behavior of his unruly younger brother led to a lawsuit
and a bitter deathbed rift between the families. Yet if the price to pay for his
ambition was high, J. K. never expressed regret.
Ironically, Mullen displayed a willingness to acculturate to Protestant
American values, despite the uncompromising Catholic streak in his
personality. A self-identified Catholic, the philanthropist witnessed acts of
anti-Catholic intolerance from a very early age. Feeling vulnerable to the
sheer numeric weight of Protestant culture in American society, the
businessman chose to react to nativism-including the anti-foriegner, anti-
Catholic American Protective Association and Ku Klux Klan movements-by
showing his religious antagonists how far a Catholic could succeed in a
Protestant society. His behavior contrasts with that of working-class Irish
miners in the Irish-dominated copper mining town of Butte, Montana. There,
writes ethnic historian David Emmons, the Irish-dominated work
environment allowed for a strong expression of ethnic and labor solidarity.3
3 David Emmons, The Butte Irish: Class and Ethnicity in an American Mining Town., 1875-
1925, (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989), 198.
Unable to control the workplace conditions in New York, Kansas, or
Colorado, J. K. Mullen abandoned his ethnic identification and strove
instead to fulfill the success and tolerance ideals of the dominant Protestant
middle-class reform culture. In so doing, he accepted many of the values of
his Protestant peers.
As a deep believer in the purity of faith, Mullen defended and
reinforced Catholic institutions at the parish level. Yet his willingness to
accept Protestant influences was a source of continual exasperation to his
bishops. J. K. blended traditional Irish cultural views on religion with new
perspectives which he learned in a largely Protestant society. As such, he
was an early example of the new path chosen by American Catholics.
Like many businessman/philanthropists, Mullen's motivation to give
came as a cultural attachment to his success. His philanthropy enriched
Colorado's religious, educational, and social life. Unaccustomed to
celebrity, the philanthropist preferred to give in anonymity. Yet, when he
wished to make a moral point, he very often demanded the attention which
his prominent position deserved.
Another important aspect of Mullen's life was his commitment to
Colorado's philanthropic community. Mullen's philanthropy was tied closely
to his family life. J. K. struggled to reconcile material success with domestic
values, often at the expense of his family life. Yet on the whole, J. K. created
a successful family structure through which to pass the responsibility of his
philanthropic beliefs. Often, business matters served to alienate J. K. from
his brothers, his daughters, and his sons-in-law and his daughters' families
from each other. Philanthropy, shared and shaped by the entire household,
was the strongest of bonds with to tie the family together over time.
FROM IRELAND TO AMERICA:
TO ORISKANY FALLS, NEW YORK,
In the famine year of 1847, when John Mullen was born, 105,536 Irish
men, women, and children entered the United States. When his father
packed up his family for the trip to America in 1856, they joined another
54,350 refugees. In John Mullen's first nine years of life, nearly 1.2 million
emigrants abandoned Ireland for the hope of better opportunities in
America.1 Although, Charles W. Hurd, the author of an admiring
biographical sketch, contended that John Mullen "cherished fond boyhood
memories of his native country," it seems that poverty, opportunity, and
aspiration carried John Mullen westward from a very early age.1 2
At fifty-one, John's father, Dennis [1806-1886], found it difficult to start
over. Dennis had started his family late, even by Irish standards. When his
wife, Ellen Mulray [1816-1888], delivered their first child, Patrick, in April,
1844, Dennis was already thirty eight. Other children followed, including
1 U. S. Dept, of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. ''Immigrants by Country: 1820-1970.''
Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to 1970, Vol. 1 (Washington, D. C.:
GPO, 1976), 106.
2 J. K. Mullen, Letter to Ella M. Weckbaugh, Aug. 25, 1925, Weckbaugh family collection;
Charles W. Hurd, J. K. Mullen, Milling Magnate of Colorado," The Colorado Magazine. XXIX:2,
(April, 1952): 117.
John , Ella , Dennis , Kate , and at least one other
who did not survive.3 With so many mouths to feed, however, emigration
provided the only realistic alternative.
Prior to the famine, Ballinasloe, Ireland, had provided a living for
Dennis and his family. The Shannon River market town was situated on the
road between the western prefecture of Galway and Dublin. Located in the
heart of Ireland's oat-growing country, the town supported three oatmeal
mills, two breweries, and a flour mill in more prosperous times. Dennis and
his brother, Thomas, crafted barrels for the mills. By 1856, however,
prosperity was a distant memory. After ten years of famine, western Ireland's
agriculture was in ruins. Even city-dwellers such as the Mullens found the
prospect of emigration more appealing than unemployment, starvation, and
eviction. The Mullens joined the exodus which reduced the western Irish
population by one-third.4
Like many other Irish refugees, Dennis's search for work would lead
through Boston to central New York. Their destination, Oriskany Falls, was a
small village situated on a modest cascade of a tiny tributary to the Mohawk
River in the farthest southeastern comer of the Oneida County township of
Augusta. There, on Cooper Street, Dennis and his brother bought small
3 U. S. Dept, of Commerce. Bureau of the Census. Manuscript Census, Population
Schedules: 1865, Town of Augusta, Oneida County, New York, Microfilm Copy, Utica Public
Library, Utica, New York.
4 Samuel Lewis, A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland. Vol. I., 1837 (Reprint, Port
Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1971), 110; Ruth Dudley Edwards, An Atlas of Irish History,
(London: Meuthen & Co., 1973),168-9, 218-9.
adjacent houses in which to shelter their extended families and ply their
Before the Civil War, the American grain frontier ran through central
New York. With Cooper Street emanating from the doors of Oriskany Falls's
primary flour mill, Dennis's sons and daughters grew up in the shadow of the
milling industry. Unless they chose to join the army of Irish diggers
constructing the Erie Canal in nearby Utica, John, Patrick, and Denny Mullen
each faced the option of either following in their father's footsteps or
obtaining work at one of the nearby mills. Employment came quickly to
Colorado's future milling tycoon. Too young to take up arms in the Civil War,
John discovered that the manpower drain, combined with the increased
demands of mobilization, created new opportunities.
In 1861, Miller's Mill, at the head of Cooper St. along the cascades of
Oriskany Creek, began hiring local workers. Citing "family necessity,"
fourteen-year-old John abandoned his "very few years" of public school
education to take a job at the new mill.6 Young boys commonly occupied
industrial positions in 1861, particularly among struggling Irish families who
"needed the labors of all to survive."7 At the age when late twentieth-century
boys are typically beginning their sophomore year of high school, John
5 U. S. Dept, of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Manuscript Census, Population
Schedules: 1865, Town of Augusta, New York.
6 A. Stella Cieslak, ed. The Colonel's Hat: A History of the Township of Augusta. (Orksany
Falls: Limestone Ridge Historical Society, 1979), 82; Mullen, Letter to his daughters, 1928;
7 Hasia R. Diner, Erin's Daughers in America: Irish Immigrant Women in the Nineteenth
Century, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983), 13.
Mullen became one of the primary wage earners in his family. His education
from that point on would be informal, practical, and self-regulated.
Indeed, as milling historian Robert Murray Frame points out, "fora
miller-millwright...little prior schooling beyond literacy was either assumed or
considered necessary."8 Miller's Mill operated on the principles which flour
manufacturers had relied upon since the 1790s. The two-story structure
drew power from the falls to drive its two grinding stones-massive disks
known as French buhrs. As an apprentice, John learned how to hand clean
the wheat kernels and pour them from the second story into the circular
granite wheels on the first floor. The burrs spun like a top on a spindle,
which kept them balanced in rotation, while the stone pressed the wheat
berries against sharp-grooved channels, pulling the bran from the germ and
mashing the kernels into a coarse powder. Finally, operators sifted-or
"bolted"-the slurry through a silk or wire mesh to separate the unground
middlings and bran from the finely powdered flour. While requiring an
understanding of complex mechanics, this pre-industrial method reflected a
time-honored process which apprentices absorbed on the job.9
Mullen would embrace innovation in the future, but his training was
grounded in eighteenth-century tradition. Before technical innovation
demanded increasing specialization, millers were expected to perform a
wide range of operations. Master millers guided their apprentices through
8 Robert Murray Frame, "The Progressive Millers: A Cultural and Intellectual Portrait of the
Flour Milling Industry, 1870-1930," (Ph.D. diss. Univesity of Minnesota, 1980), 16.
tricky lessons in physics, engineering, applied mathematics, marketing, and
business practices. With the help of assistants, millers hand built and
repaired each part of the mill-all while coordinating a whirring
conglomeration of belts, cogs, pulleys, cams, shafts, levers, and engines.10 11
"Millwrights, as a rule," explained milling historian R. James
Abernathey, "were fairly good mechanics."11 To assist their training, most
American millers relied on the preeminent milling handbook of the time-
Oliver Evans's Young Mill-wright and Miller's Guide. This guidebook, which
had remained virtually unchanged since its first publication in 1795,
contained all of the mechanical principles and business techniques that
were presumed necessary for a miller to know. According to Frame, "It
existed in one volume as a complete education for a miller-millwright."12
Yet even during Mullen's apprenticeship, times-and technologies-
were changing. In 1860, Evans's handbook underwent its fifteenth and last
reprinting. Within the next two decades, new innovations increased the
output and efficiency of mills, and as in other industries, required new
specialization and new management techniques. The changes rendered
the Young Mill-wright and Miller's Guide obsolete. "Thus it was no accident,
Frame concludes, "that the Evans Guide last appeared just as the milling
10 R. James Abernathey, Practical Hints for Mill Building, (Moline, IL: R. James Abernathey,
1880, microfilm), 2.
12 Frame, 16.
world...was verging on another revolution which would generate a new and
different literature."13 It remained to be seen whether he could keep up.
Miller's Mill also conditioned the young apprentice to the working-
class lifestyle. From boyhood, John Mullen struggled to control the constant
forces of friction which simultaneously produced the whitest flour and
inevitably dulled the edges of the brittle granite mill stones. Mullen cut his
teeth in the milling industry as a "burr dresser"-sharpening the grooves of
the mill stones with a pick ax for two dollars per week. This tedious job
physically identified Mullen with the working-class. Chips of granite,
dislodged by his pick ax, imbedded in the backs of the boy's hands. They
left permanent calluses and dark scars resembling powder stains which C.
W. Hurd claimed made him looked like "he had been shot at short distance."
Nevertheless, until the end of his life John proudly displayed his scarred
hands to visiting schoolchildren as the badge of distinction for a self-made
The Assimilation Dilemma
The Irish who fled the Great Famine often faced the challenge of
preserving their cultural identity in America. One of the common methods of
coping with this problem was to cling fiercely to their religious/spiritual
devotion. This "devotional revolution," as historians Emmett Larkin and
Andrew M. Greeley call the phenomenon, left the American Irish with "a
13 Ibid., 15.
14 Hurd, 106; Anne Weckbaugh, personal interview, Feb. 6, 1998.
stubborn, dogged, counter-Reformation form of Irish Catholicism, about the
only explicit cultural form left them by their tragic history."15 The immigrants
practiced their religion against a backdrop of intolerance, which forced the
most visible Irish Catholics to regulate their behavior, accommodate to the
cultural backdrop, or face persecution.
Under the tutelage of his parents and that of circuit-riding priests,
John Mullen received the fundamental guideposts of Catholicism by which
he ordered his life. The young miller shared the traditional Irish respect for
the clergy as well as the weekly ritual of Mass. The Mullen family was one of
only forty Irish-Catholic families in Oriskany Falls. Catholic services
occurred irregularly in the village and John often traveled to the neighboring
town of Vernon to attend Mass. The small congregation commonly hosted
Mass in their homes, performed by priests loaned from the neighboring
parish.16 Because of the effort required to attend, John learned to habitually
go out of his way to find Catholic services. On his way west, and over the
course of his lifetime, he strove to attend Sunday Mass wherever his travels
took him, dutifully reporting his attendance, or lack thereof, in his letters and
Church appealed to the young man because it blended spiritual and
moral fulfillment with social intercourse. By contrast, another common
meeting place for Irish immigrants, the saloon, provided only the social
15 Andrew M. Greeley, That Most Distressful Nation: The Taming of the American Irish
(Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1972), 84.
16 Cieslak, 23-4.
environment without the uplifting qualities of the former two. For many
working-class Irishmen, immigrant saloons were havens of recreation,
nationalism, and employment where alcohol formed social glue.17 From an
early age, however, Mullen acquired a social aversion to alcohol. Perhaps
as a sign of his growing responsibility to his family, he signed a pledge of
sobriety at the same time that he began working at the mill.18 Thereafter, he
pursued temperance as conscientiously as regular church attendance.19
The importance of sobriety and a clean standard of conduct became
apparent whenever Mullen traveled to Utica, where anti-Irish sentiments
often ran high. Each Fourth of July, the Mullen family took advantage of
reduced train fares to attend the annual fireworks display in the regional
capital. Often, their participation in the American holiday included displays
of public drunkenness among Irish and native-born Americans alike.20 On
other occasions, the Mullens witnessed, or, if they could, avoided a different
type of patriotic demonstration.
Construction of the Erie Canal attracted a large influx of Irish laborers
during the 1860s and 1870s. Their presence incited resentment among
native-born laborers. As a result, the Irish were frequently mocked by
effigies of stereotypic Irishmen decked out in "rosaries of potatoes, beaten,
17 Thomas J. Noel, The City and the Saloon, Denver, 1858-1916. (Lincoln: University of
Nebraska Press, 1982) 58.
18 Patrick H. Mullin, Letter to J. K. Mullen. Mar. 16,1873, Weckbaugh family collection.
19 Hurd, 114.
20 Patrick H. Mullin, Letterto J. K. Mullen, July 7,1872, Mullen papers, State Historical
Society of Colorado (Hereafter cited as Mullen papers, CHS).
or provoked into fights by "Paddy baiting" rowdies on public holidays such
as the Fourth. When Irish canal diggers reacted, local papers carried
sensational accounts of the disturbances of "drunken paddies."21 While
there was little that working-class families like the Mullens could do, other
than keep out of the mob's path, prominent Irish political and business
leaders tried to counteract this unfavorable image.
Typical of the conservative Irish leaders was Francis ("Frank") Kernan
[1816-1892]. As the head of the richest Irish Catholic family in Utica, Kernan
intentionally presented himself as an admirable role model for aspiring
young Irish Catholics. An attorney by trade and politician by inclination,
Kernan was a regional operative for the Tammany political machine (where
he battled with the equally machine-oriented Republican Roscoe Conkling).
In that capacity, Kernan served as state assemblyman from Utica, U. S.
congressman, contender for the office of New York state governor, and
United States senator.
Although a member of the corrupt Democratic organization centered
at New York's Tammany Hall, Kernan strove to keep his personal reputation
beyond reproach. All too often, Irish representatives in the New York state
assembly, machine members or not, received blanket condemnations
regarding their supposed tippling, coarseness, lack of education, and
general brutishness. New York State Assemblyman Theodore Roosevelt
provided one such generalization: "[The Irish Democrats] are a stupid,
21 Pula, Cheryl A. and Philip A. Bean, Utica's Irish Heritage," Ethnic Utica, James S. Pula, ed.
(Utica: Utica College of Syracuse University, 1994), 74.
sodden, vicious lot, most of them being equally deficient in brains and
virtue."22 Kernan sought to prevent such unfair characterizations from
ruining his political and social career. An exemplar of abstinence, he
chaired the Utica Temperance Society. He also remained visibly aloof from
his party's machinations, positioned himself as a reform candidate within his
own party, and avidly attended religious services.23
Intentionally or not, Kernan's behavior influenced John Mullen. The
extent to which the milling apprentice wished to identify with the politician is
suggested in an unverifiable story related by Mullen's daughter, Ella. As a
boy, Mullen was supposedly teased good-naturedly by Kernan about his
lack of a middle name. Without the respectable weight of three names,
Kernan chided, "You'll never amount to anything, Johnny Mullen." To
counter this, Mullen adopted the name of the man he most admired--
At first glance, a ward politician such as Kernan seems an unlikely
man to set the standard for J. K. Mullen's values. However, the ward boss
groomed an image as a staunchly moral, upstanding Catholic gentleman
which boxed Mullen's own moral compass. Other members of the Mullen
family also held Kernan in high opinion. When he ran for as the Democratic
candidate for governor in 1872, Mullen's brother, Patrick, praised Kernan in
22 Cited in Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, (New York: Ballantine Books,
23 "Francis Kernan," Biographical File, Oneida County Historical Society, Utica, New York.
24 Walters. Weckbaugh, personal interview, Denver, Colorado, Jul. 21,1997.
the highest terms he could articulate. "He is an honest leader," Patrick
insisted, "which is accounted for by the fact that he is a good practical Irish
Kernan's example held one more lesson for a mature J. K. Mullen. As
a young man in Denver, Mullen closely followed the politician's
unsuccessful campaign for New York governor in 1872.26 Although praised
as a "cultivated gentleman" by the New York Times, he was nevertheless
condemned as a tool of the Democratic bosses who manipulated New
York's political apparatus. The Times charged, "a vote for Kernan is a vote
for the restoration to power of Tammany Hall."27 Moveover, The Times
quailed when Kernan boasted of being "'a severe'-that is bigoted--Roman
Catholic," responding, "Ninety-nine out of every hundred Irish-bom Roman
Catholics vote whatever is commended to them as the Democratic ticket."28
Backed by the anti-Catholic rhetoric of The Times, as well as the recent
Tweed Ring scandal, Republican candidate John A. Dix cast himself as the
true reform candidate and defeated Kernan.
When assessing which was more damaging to Kernan's political
career, his Catholicism or his Tammany associations, it is significant to
observe that following Kernan's defeat, New York's next three governors--
25 Patrick Mullin, Letter to J. K. Mullen, Aug. 3,1872, Weckbaugh family collection.
26 Patrick Mullin, Letters to J. K. Mullen, Aug. 3, 1872; Sept. 23, 1872; Mar. 16, 1873,
Weckbaugh family collection.
27 New York Times, Oct. 27, 1872: 3.
28 NYT, Oct. 28, 1872: 5.
Samuel J. Tilden, Grover Cleveland, and David Hill--were all Democratic
Protestants. Tilden defeated Dix in 1874 with massive Tammany support,
and the Republicans were locked out of New York power channels for the
next twenty years.29
Keman's unsuccessful bid for New Yorks highest office underscored
for Mullen that die-hard Catholicism could block success in a largely
Protestant society. Mullen decided that personal integrity alone was an
insufficient pathway to ultimate ambition. Accommodation to the larger
society, in Mullen's opinion, became an equally important key to success in
America. As result, Mullen concluded that he needed to practice both
carefully in order to succeed in a frequently intolerant culture.
29 David M. Ellis, James A. Frost, Harold C. Syrett, Harry J. Carman, A Short History of New
York State (Ithaca: New York University Press, 1957.), 359, 361.
THE GRASSHOPPER YEARS:
ORISKANY FALLS, NEW YORK
TO TROY, KANSAS,
While J. K. Mullen developed his early social habits and attitudes, he
also advanced in skill and responsibility in the milling business. He did not
so much drop out of school as transfer his focus to the aquisition of an
applicable trade. Mullen applied himself early, learning the process of mill
management from the bottom up. Although he possessed what would now
be equivalent to only a formal ninth-grade education, J. K. was literate and
excelled in applied mathematics. Dick Skinner, his boss in Oriskany Falls,
allegedly characterized Mullen's mathematical skill in a one-line letter of
recommendation: "He ain't never made a mistake with figgurs."1 Coming
from Skinner, a man of supposedly exacting mathematical, if not
grammatical, standards, this was high praise. Mullen used his arithmetical
skill to rise through the ranks of responsibility. Skinner placed Mullen in
charge of the Oriskany Falls mill in 1867. When Mullen later noted that his
first position of responsibility came "before I reached my twentieth birthday,"
he recognized the mark of his first success.1 2
1 J. K. Mullen Dies at 82," The Southwestern Miller, Aug. 23, 1929: 33.
2 J. K. Mullen, Letter to his daughters, 1928.
A success he may have been, but by the spring of 1867, the young
journeyman was also restless. Feeling constricted in Oriskany Falls, Mullen,
or J. K., as he signed his corespondence, formed plans with a boyhood
friend, Adelbert "Dell" Barker, to move West. The road West, he later
explained, led to opportunity: "We young fellows started off to the West,
hoping to find employment and better our condition."3 In so defining his
aspirations, J. K. expressed his belief, shared with those who believed in the
doctrine of the self-made man, in the equation of a fluid American class
system based on geographic mobility. Mobility represented expanded
horizons of opportunity. "In the American experience," writes historian
Richard M. Huber, "readiness to migrate across space...was restless motion
with a purpose-moving out towards opportunity and up towards
The two adventurers, Mullen recalled, left in an enduring image of
romantic Western opportunity. The pair roared out of Oriskany Falls on a
westward-bound Conestoga stage, their friends and family cheering them
out of sight. As soon as convenient, however, Mullen and Barker shifted to a
more practical conveyance, disembarking from their dusty, bumpy stage at
the railroad station in Utica. Further westward travel would be done via the
4 Richard M. Huber, The American Idea of Success (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1971),
New York Central or other railway lines.5 Their route led through Buffalo to
Niagara Falls. From Niagara, the two friends took the Grand Trunk Line to
the Lake Huron town of Fort Sarnia, Canada. They proceeded south
through Detroit and Chicago, before heading back into farming country by
rail. At Quincy, Illinois, the friends split up. Dell crossed the Mississippi
River to take a job in Hannibal, Missouri. Mullen continued alone to
investigate "three or four" mills in Atchison, Kansas.6
In 1867, as the historian Sean Dennis Cashman pointed out in
America in the Gilded Age (1993), the core of the large-scale milling frontier
had barely inched across the Mississippi into eastern Kansas. Atchison
represented both the end of the railroad line and the frontier of large-scale
commercial milling. Farmers hesitated in their ragged westward crawl
between the ninety-fifth and hundredth meridians, which demarked the edge
of the arid Great Plains. Softer Eastern varieties of wheat struggled in the
arid trans-Mississippi region. Russian and German farmers had just
introduced newer varieties of European spring wheat and hard, red,
drought-resistant Crimean wheat into the Dakotas, Kansas, and Nebraska.
One consequence of the introduction of these new varieties was a lag
in milling technologies. The water-driven methods of grinding that J. K. was
familiar with did not remove impurities from the more robust immigrant wheat
as efficiently as it did for the softer native varieties. New advances in milling
technology that could handle the vigorous new grains were still four years
5 J. K. Mullen, Letter to his daughters, 1928.
away. (Edmund N. La Croix solved this problem by inventing the gradual
reduction process for Washburn Mills in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1871.
This new process crushed wheat kernels over ribbed rollers of gradually
diminishing sizes.) Until engineers could solve the milling problem, mill
capacities were sharply reduced by the same stubbornness that made dry
land wheat suitable for Western climate.7
Disappointment greeted Mullen in the West, as it had many others. In
1867, Mullen later recalled, Atchison "was very dull...the entire crop had
been consumed by pesky grasshoppers."8 The influx of pests, combined
with drought, ruined the eastern Kansas crop in 1867. As a result, the mills
stood idle. Fortunately, the federal government was buying corn. Mullen
hired on with the Blair and Ault mill in Atchison, sacking corn at five dollars
per week. The job was a dead loss against his seven-dollar-per-week
boarding house bill, so he earned extra money by dressing the burr stones
at the dormant mills. After a few weeks, he confessed his dire economic
condition to his manager. The boss apologized but told him that, under the
circumstances, five dollars a week was the best he could offer.
Unable to afford employment at that rate, Mullen briefly took a job in
Doniphan, Kansas, working on a Missouri River ferry for two former Oriskany
Falls acquaintances, the brothers Robert A. and Freedom ("Fred") Snow.
The following spring, Mullen learned that mills in the Doniphan County seat
7 Sean Dennis Cashman, America in the Gilded Age, 3rd ed (New York: New York University
Press, 1992), 288; Frame, 37.
8 Mullen, Letter to his daughters, 1928.
of Troy were hiring at better wages. Strapped for cash, he hitch-hiked" (by
alternately walking and sharing a horse with a companion) to Troy to sign up
with the Banner Flour Mills.9
Troy offered hard but lucrative work. J. K. recalled that, unlike the
previous summer, 1868 promised to be "a good wheat year."10 11 He pulled
double shifts as a mill laborer and field hand, sweating out his twenty-first
birthday in a sweltering Kansas field, forking heavy loads of wheat into the
cradle. Soon after, his seven years of milling experience and administrative
knowledge impressed Banner Mills owner, Frank Tracey. Tracey promoted
Mullen out of the wheat fields and into the position of mill manager,
rewarding his talented employee with a handsome salary of $135 each
month. In return, Mullen served as Tracey's proxy, buying wheat and
overseeing day-to-day operations at the mill in Tracey's absence.11
Mullen judged Tracey "the kindliest man I ever knew."12 Along with
the management assignment came a large amount of responsibility. The
boss of the Banner Mills kept busy in multiple roles of sod-town promoter,
merchant, newspaperman, agricultural booster, Doniphan County treasurer,
9 In a June 1,1926 letter to his nephew, John J. Mullen, J. K. Mullen described the "ride and
tie" method of traveling which introduced the word "hitch-hiking" to the American lexicon:
"Someone was going on horseback up to Troy...and he very kindly agreed to ride the
horse...a half mile and hitch it to a post and go on, and then I would come on and get on the
horse and ride the horse and pass him on the way and tie the horse, and then I would walk
on." Mullen papers, CHS.
10 J. K. Mullen, Letter to his daughters, 1928.
and Kansas adjutant general. He therefore entrusted virtually complete
control of the Banner Mills to his new lieutenant for the next two years.
The Softening of a "Strict Catholic"
The Kansas experience was crucial for the development of Mullen's
business and social philosophies. Although he had served as mill manager
in Oriskany Falls, managing Western mills required an altogether different
mentality. Kansas millers shared with their customers the peculiarities of
Kansas's uncertain climate. Western wags claimed that Kansas produced
three crops--drought, grasshoppers, and politics.1'13 In lush, well-irrigated
New York, millers could count on steady harvests. In Kansas, one took
chances and tried to plot the best course from year to year. The strain often
told on the farmers, who, in turn, resented the miller's domination of the
wheat market. The situation required delicate treatment of the farmers on
the part of the miller. In Kansas, Mullen had his first experience with what he
came to know as the "suspicious" western farmer.14
At the same time, the young Catholic miller from rural New York
absorbed new ideas from the Protestant community of Troy. He was one of
only two or three Catholics, in his own estimation, who lived in the county
seat of 3,000. The Protestant atmosphere influenced the Catholic minority.
J. K. had brought with him to Kansas a fairly dogmatic set of beliefs and
13 Colorado Farmer and Livestock Journal, Sept. 3,1874, 569.
14 J. K. Mullen, Letter to W. S. Bunt, Mgr., Claflin Flour Mills, Feb. 12,1924, Weckbaugh
practices, but he later admitted that the lax example of local Catholics
caused him to relax some of his stricter observances. "I was so strict that...l
was afraid I would break my fast on Fast Days, and so I didn't eat any meat
on either Friday or any day during Lent."15 However, he capitulated when
he noticed that his Catholic neighbor, U. S. Army Capt. John Kirwin,
commonly ate meat on Fridays.
Mullen's friends and spiritual companions among the Protestant
community also contributed to his partial assimilation. He developed, for
example, a friendly theological rivalry with his roommate:
Cad Chapman...was the son of a Presbyterian minister from Newark, New
Jersey...who was studying for the ministry. He had his St. James' version of
the Scriptures. I went down to St. Joseph [Missouri] and paid $28.00 for a
Catholic bible, and together in the evenings and on Sundays we would go
over the Scriptures from one end to the other. I guess likely I became
somewhat more liberal.16
Once away from his Catholic enclave in central New York, Mullen
opened up to changing social conditions. This tendency towards
accommodation is supported by historian Stephen J. Leonard's observation
that frontier Roman Catholic churches achieved a certain flexibility in
adapting to the surrounding Protestant culture. "Denver and many other
small towns," Leonard wrote, "were places in which the immigrant
underwent more rapid acculturation than he did in the large cities of the
15 J. K. Mullen, Letter to John J. Mullen, Jun. 1, 1926, Mullen papers, CHS.
Northeast and Midwest."17 Conversely, in the Irish-controlled mining town of
Butte, Montana, the presence of a large Irish workforce, as well as Irish shift
bosses and Irish mine owners like Marcus Daly, allowed the Irish to maintain
a persistant ethnic culture based on the security of their workforce
domination.18 As one of only a handful of Catholics in Troy, Mullen's
livelihood depended on mutual trust between him and his Protestant clients,
friends, and co-workers. In 1923 he summarized his dependence on
businessmen who looked beyond his religious creed:
From the time I started in business by myself nearly fifty years ago-the very
best friends that I had, and the very men that rendered me the greatest
assistance and help, and who stood ready to comply with practically every call
I made to them for assistance, were men who were not affiliated in any way
with the Catholic Church. I had to depend upon these men for assistance
continually-and have to do so yet...I know that they are just as honest and
just as anxious to do what is right and to save their souls as are men of my own
Although the social atmosphere of Troy helped Mullen relax his
parochialism, the miller was less willing to compromise on the social
question of alcohol consumption. In a 1926 letter to his nephew, John J.
Mullen, the flour miller remembered, "There was all kinds of drinking going
on there." Not only did he refuse to break his temperance oath, but he
hoped to combat the abuse through organized, evangelical abstinence.
17 Stephen J. Leonard, Denver's Foreign Born Immigrants, 1859-1900," (Ph.D. diss.,
Claremont University, 1971), 115.
18 Emmons, 198.
19 J. K. Mullen, Letter to Rt. Rev. Bishop J. Henry Tihen, Mar. 3,1923, J. Henry Tihen Papers,
Archdiocese of Denver, Denver, Colorado (Hereafter cited as Tihen papers).
Since the only abstinence organization in Troy was the Protestant Good
Templars Society, Mullen asked his diocesan priest in Atchison for
permission to join. Temperance was an issue where Catholic and
Protestant reform ideologies coincided. The priest assented. Within three
months, the Good Templars' elected their sole Catholic member as financial
secretary. Mullen encouraged tipplers to take the pledge by persuasion and
example. When he left Troy, he had achieved the status of Worthy Grand
Chief in good standing.20
The Banner Mills
Because he worked so hard to set forth an example of moral
brotherhood, Mullen got along well with his middle-class neighbors in Troy.
The key exception was Frank Tracey's brother-in-law and partner at the
Banner Mills, whom Mullen refers to only as "Parker." Whatever his warm
feelings for Frank Tracey, Mullen "didn't take kindly" to Parker.21 Sometime
in late 1870 or early 1871, a feud erupted between Mullen and Parker over
control of operations at the mill. The disagreement created a crisis at the
Banner Mills which compromised Mullen's authority. Rather than continue
working under Parker, he resigned. Unwilling to part with a valuable
employee, Tracey offered Mullen a placatory half-interest in his nearly-
completed hardware store. Mullen declined 22
20 J. K. Mullen, Letter to John J. Mullen, June 1,1926, Mullen papers, CHS.
21 J. K. Mullen, Letter to his daughters, 1928.
The incident revealed a key personality trait in the young Irishman. In
later years, when Mullen ran his own organization, he earned a reputation
for going to great lengths to secure the loyalty of his employees. His own
ambition, however, often created tension with his employers. Mullen rarely
backed down from an offered fight until his own sense of honor was
satisfied. To surrender any concession compromised his sense of pride.
Rather than accept an superior position elsewhere, Mullen resigned from the
The rift presented a fortuitous opportunity for the young miller. When
J. K. had moved to the Jayhawk State in 1867, he was, for all practical
purposes, at the end of the agricultural line. The lands beyond Kansas
resisted easy exploitation, and without the railroad, few flour mills could
expect more than modest operations. By 1871, however, the Kansas Pacific
reached out to new Western territories and opened up new markets in the
Rocky Mountain mining camps. Mullen thought about the recently finished
rail lines into Colorado and to what they might ultimately lead. In the fall or
early winter of 1871, he politely turned his back on Troy and set out for
Lawrence, where the railhead of the Kansas Pacific line reached to
23 Mullen resided in Troy until at least July 25, when he loaned $150 to the Snow brothers or
possibly Aug. 25,1871, when the debt came due. Robert M. Snow, Promissory note to J. K.
Mullen, Jul. 17, 25, 1871, Shelia Sevier private manuscript collection, Denver, CO.
"I AM ONLY ASKING FOR A CHANCE TO WORK"
DENVER, COLORADO TERRITORY,
The Pioneer Period
J. K. Mullen's migration to Denver coincided with the territorial
capital's emergence as the Queen City of the Rocky Mountains and Plains.
With the arrival of the railroad in 1870, Denver expanded into a regional
economic and political power as a combined rail hub, storage depot, and
mining supply center. Farmers looked to Denver as a central marketplace
for their produce.1 The fledgling city provided opportunities unlike any that
the journeyman miller had previously experienced. With a major boom in
Colorado wheat farming imminent, flour milling, wheat's industrial affiliate,
stood to prosper. (See Appendix G).
Mullen was also struck by the youthful energy that surrounded him.
"When...l came here," he remembered, "there were no old people, we were
all young."1 2 The young miller stepped out of the Kansas Pacific car in late
1871 and into a booming young city. The railroad annually brought
1 Stephen J. Leonard and Thomas J. Noel, Denver: Mining Camp to Metropolis (Niwot:
University Press of Colorado, 1990), 39.
2 J. K. Mullen, Letter to Sister Germaine, Mother Provincial, Little Sisters of the Poor, Jun. 12,
1926, Mullen Papers, Western History Dept., Denver Public Library (hereafter referred to as
thousands of newcomers to the Queen City. Mullen joined the initial wave
that would multiply Denver's population sevenfold over the next ten years.
According to the previous census, Denver contained only 4,759 citizens. In
ten years, the population would increase to 35,629 making the Queen City
the fastest growing urban center in the United States.3 Within a few months
of his arrival, Mullen witnessed the inauguration of both street car service
and gaslights. It seemed as if Mullen's arrival coincided with the arrival of
civilization. Still, Denver was woolly enough to impress Mullen with his own
pioneering odyssey. Denver was, in the words of the English tourist Isabella
Bird, a busy place, the entrepot and distributing point for an immense
district, with good shops, some factories, fair hotels, and the usual
deformities and refinements of civilization.1'4 Like Isabella Bird, J. K. needed
only to look around him to observe rough frontier types mingling with refined
sports and gentlemen. Miners, Indians, and roughs prowled Denver's
streets and saloons, while tuberculars and asthmatics crowded into
boarding houses and hotels.5
Youth exemplified Denver's business set in the 1870s as well. Many
of Mullen's contemporaries and future business partners, including Thomas
Patterson, David H. Moffat, Walter Scott Cheesman, and George W. Cassler,
3 Carl Abbott, Stephen J. Leonard, and David McComb, Colorado: A History of the Centennial
State, Third ed. (Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1994), 392.
4 Isabella L. Bird, A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains, First ed., 1878. (Norman: University of
Oklahoma Press, 1988), 138.
were in their early twenties.6 Since youth was the shared condition of
Colorado's population, the compact twenty-four-year-old fit right in.
Denver's rough miners, hunters, and railroad men, towered over the five-
foot-eight Mullen. Nevertheless, he was described as "a giant in physical
strength and in power of endurance, [who] could put in longer hours of hard
work, on less sleep, than was possible with most men."7 The young miller
tackled the territory just as Colorado's business opportunities were
beginning to flower.
Denver's Irish community undoubtedly welcomed skilled men like the
young miller. As a management-level employee, Mullen enjoyed an
advantage over more than half of his countrymen who crowded into the
ranks of the unskilled or semi-skilled. Comprising less than four percent, the
Irish represented a small minority of the Queen City's total population.8 Yet,
as Stephen J. Leonard pointed out, the Irish enjoyed a higher level of
toleration in Denver than in other American cities. Because of their visible
anti-British/pro-American sympathies, because of their political clout, and
because Denver suffered from an acute labor shortage, the Irish could
expect better opportunities than in the east. Mullen would not be barred by
signs which read, "No Irish Need Apply."9
6 Leonard and Noel, 29.
7 Hurd, 110.
8 Leonard, "Denver's Foreign Born Immigrants, 1859-1900," 118.
9 Ibid., 92, 101, 105.
"I Am Only Asking for a Chance to Work"
Mullen carried respectable credentials into Colorado Territory. In
1871 he was a journeyman miller of ten years experience. He knew the
milling business intimately and had logged valuable years of firsthand
responsibility in both day-to-day and long-term Western milling operations.
Colorado's agricultural epoch lay just ahead and Colorado's boosters were
determined to publicize the fact. Nevertheless, the economic climate
provided fewer opportunities than the young miller expected.
When J. K. arrived, Colorado farmers were not sending enough grain
to Denver's mills to allow full operation. Consequently, the city millers
initially turned Mullen away. He approached mills in Pueblo and Manitou
Springs with the same result. Discouraged, he returned to Denver. If the
young man's confidence was shaken, he kept a straight backbone. He
arranged for an interview with the West Denver milling company of
Shackleton and Davis, which resulted in a probationary job for room and
Like his scarred hands and his labor in the wheat fields of Kansas,
Mullen's first Denver job became part of the mythology of character which
justified his later success. As he later related the story to his daughters, he
approached milling partner O. L. Shackleton at his West Denver office one
Saturday night in 1871. Shackleton expressed interest in Mullen's skills, but
forced Mullen to admit that the Colorado practice of "tempering" or
10 J. K. Mullen, Letter to his daughters, 1928.
dampening wheat before grinding was unfamiliar to him. When the
journeyman assured Shackleton he was willing to learn any new process
required, the manager agreed, "Yes, I guess we can give you work, but we
couldn't pay you much wages."
"I never asked anyone what wages they would pay me," Mullen
replied, "I am willing to work for whatever you see fit to pay me."
"Well, we will pay your board down at the Williams' House on West
"Very well," Mullen replied, "When do you want me to begin work?"11
Mullen accepted the disadvantageous offer out of a combination of
economic pragmatism and confidence in his own ability to overcome the
circumstances. Since he had worked his way up into management positions
twice before, it is safe to assume that he expected to succeed. Over time,
however, the story increased in symbolic value as an example of Mullen's
character, his willingness to prove his ability through hard work, his
persistence, and the strength of personality which persuaded Shackleton to
take a chance on him. Mullen's willingness to work for room and board--or
as Charles Hurd dramatically quoted him, "I am not asking for pay; I am only
asking for a chance to work."--reinforced his identity as a self-made man.11 12
12 Hurd recounts a more heroic account of the interview: "[Charles R.] Davis told him that he
had no work for him. But the young man did not give up; he was sure that he could make
good if given a chance, so he said, "Well, can't you find something for me to do?" At that, Mr.
Davis replied, "Yes, but I can't afford to pay you for the work that I might hunt up for you to do."
Again the young man came back, "I am not asking for pay; I am only asking for a chance to
work." [Davis replied,] "Well if you want to work that bad, you may begin tomorrow morning. If
we get along all-right I will pay you board and room. Hurd, 106.
Self-confident or not, Mullen later admitted to his daughters that he
was anxious enough about the new job to make a rare compromise of one of
his most steadfast principles-the sanctity of the Sabbath. When he asked
when he should report to work, Shackleton replied, "Tomorrow morning."
Mullen observed that the next day was Sunday, and objected, "I have never
worked a Sunday in my life." Shackleton replied that the young laborer
"needn't come if [he] didn't want to." For once, Mullen acquiesced on a point
of principle: "I remember that I went to church at 5:00...Sunday morning, and
was over at work at 7:00."13 Neither did he forget the compromise. As
director of the CM&E, he prohibited his employees from working on Sunday,
(except to repair equipment which, if allowed to remain broken, would
prevent normal operations on Monday.) "We consider Sunday a holy day,"
he declared, "the obligations of which should be observed by all good
Shackleton first charged Mullen with extending the Smith Ditch
through Overland Park and Rufus Clark's celebrated potato fields. The
young man dug ditches through the summer and spent the winter keeping
the headgates free of ice. His job responsibility required him to break the
sanctity of the Sabbath yet again, as he waded the ditches on freezing
Sunday evenings, numb from the waist down, breaking up ice in the mill
14 J. K. Mullen, Letter to W. S. Bunt, Mgr., Claflin Flour Mills, Feb. 12, 1924, Weckbaugh
15 Walter S. Weckbaugh, personal interview, July 21, 1997.
As in New York and Kansas, Mullen soon rose into a position of
responsibility. He proved his value to Shackleton and Davis and began
drawing a regular salary. Within two years, the partners promoted him to mill
manager. Lest he wonder what to do with his income, Erlanger Bank
advertisements pasted on fences and telegraph poles between his boarding
house and the mill encouraged him to save responsibly.16 Mullen deposited
his paychecks with the bank and paid his living expenses out of the one-
percent interest. He also sent support money back to friends and family in
Oriskany Falls and encouraged his brothers to join him in Colorado. His
appeals fell on receptive ears; the New York economy was so depressed
that his brother Patrick complained that he was considering closing the
family cooper's shop because there would be "no work next winter."17
Likewise, Mullen suffered through, and rebounded from, the Panic of
1873. When the panic claimed the Erlanger Bank, J. K. lost his life savings
of $1,200. He frantically wrote his brother to collect on various loans he had
made in Oriskany Falls. Patrick replied pessimistically, "Business is dull
here...I wish I could help you but I cant." Worse, Patrick wrote, "I probably
never will be able to repay you what I owe you."18 J. K. carefully squirreled
his income, and reinvested in the Union Savings and Loan Association.
Over the next eight years, he bought enough shares to become a director.
16 J. K. Mullen, Letter to his daughters, 1928.
17 P. H. Mullin, Letter to J. K. Mullen, Aug. 3,1873, Weckbaugh family collection.
18 P. H. Mullin, Letter to J. K. Mullen, Oct. 6, 1874, Mullen papers, CHS.
By 1881, he was president. This investment, he recalled, "turned out very
profitably."19 The Union Savings and Loan fund served Mullen as a
foundation of both capital and credit.
With financial stability, Mullen began planting roots in Denver's
business and religious communities. He attended services at St. Mary's
Catholic Church, a brick edifice at Fifteenth and Stout streets. As one of the
influx of Catholics who swamped St. Mary's parish in the 1870s, the young
businessman tried to do his part to alleviate the pressure.20 He began
teaching at the boys' Sunday school. There, he met the girls' teacher, an
Irishwoman from Central City named Catherine Smith. The pair became
attracted to one another and began courting soon after. Suddenly, the
bachelor Mullen found himself thinking about settling down to start a family.
19 RMN, Jul. 21, 1881: 5; J. K. Mullen, Letter to his daughters, 1928.
20 Thomas J. Noel, Colorado Catholicism and the Archdiocese of Denver, 1857-1989 (Niwot
University Press of Colorado, 1989), 20.
"MY DARLING KATE":
CATHERINE SMITH MULLEN,
COUNTY CAVAN, IRELAND TO
DENVER, COLORADO, 1851-1874.
In later years, J. K. Mullen claimed the right to call himself and his wife
pioneers. By the accounting of the Sons of Colorado Territorial Pioneers,
which the Mullens joined in the 1910s, the appellation was technically
correct for anyone who emigrated to Colorado before it became a state in
1876. Yet the title of "pioneer"' was more appropriate for the woman who, as
his wife, would at times dictate the direction of his philanthropy.
Successful self-made men, according to the doctrine of the time,
avoided moral dissolution by carefully choosing wives who would support
their achievements. Self-help writers advised:
The young business man who desired a good name...to marry, because a
good wife would be the means of saving him from loose women, gambling,
drink, and other vices which damaged reputation...The good wife enriched
her husband by bringing profitable qualities of character...into the home.
She was economical, hard-working, orderly, neat, steady, and firm in
1 Irvin G. Wyllie, The Self-Made Man in America (New York: The Free Press, 1954), 30.
Catherine Smith Mullen, c. 1S20. (Source: limothv O'Connor collection).
So, too, Irish culture emphasized the strength and centrality" of females
within the Irish family.2 Kate upheld her side of the arrangement by keeping
house, cooking and cleaning for employees, and more importantly,
providing investment capital through her own and her brothers' property.
Catherine Theressa Smith was bom in October, 1851, the youngest of
eight children born to the Smith family in the central Irish county of Cavan.3
Katie, or Kate, as she was known by those close to her, was described as a
blue-eyed, pretty, bright souled" girl.4 A photograph of her in later years
shows a woman small in stature, with apple cheeks, a round, gentle face,
and a firm chin. Her nose flared slightly in the middle, but turned up
delicately at the tip. Her mouth carried a thin-lipped pertness, but laugh
lines dimpled her cheeks in later years.5
Her birth coincided with the peak of the great migration from Ireland.
In 1853, her father died, leaving the sizable family without a dependable
means of support. After much deliberation, Kate's mother, Mary Smith,
decided that Ireland held no future for her family. In 1854, she packed up
her children and joined the stream of immigrants flowing out of Ireland
bound for North America. Three-year-old Katie entered the United States
2 Diner, 45.
3 J. K. Mullen, The Family Register of John K. Mullen and Kate Theressa Smith, his wife,"
Weckbaugh family collection.
4 Depending on the source, John Kernan Mullen's wife's name was spelled with a "C or a "K.
Official documents generally refer to Catherine." Mullen himself used Catherine" to others,
"Katie" or "Kate" between themselves.
5 The Denver Post, Mar. 26, 1925: 29.
with her family via the port of New Orleans after a relatively tranquil three-
week ocean crossing.
Mrs. Smith and her children ascended the Mississippi and Ohio
Rivers, stopping briefly in Indiana and Kentucky. Eventually, they settled in
the eastern Iowa town of Burlington, on the banks of the Mississippi across
from the Illinois border. Kate's older brothers, John, Thomas, and Charles
drifted back down the river to St. Joseph, Missouri. When the Pike's Peak
Gold Rush began in 1859, the Smith brothers began freighting supplies
overland to the emerging gold camps. Soon, the brothers busily shuttled
back and forth between St. Joseph, Denver, and the mining centers as often
as thrice a year, supplying hungry miners with food and sundries.6 In 1862,
the Smith brothers earned the gratitude of Denver's fledgling Catholic
community when Bishop Joseph P. Machebeuf engaged them to haul the
first Catholic cathedral bell from St. Louis to St. Mary's Catholic Church. The
brothers charged $305.90 for the service, lugging the 800 pound bell by
oxen nearly 900 miles.7
As the older boys prospered, their mother moved with her younger
children from Burlington to Atchison, Kansas. She set up residence in this
small town located midway between St. Joseph and Denver. Kate listened
to her brothers' stories about the mining camps of Colorado Territory and
also read the letters of her married sister, whose husband owned a share of
6 William Newton Byers, Encyclopedia of Biography of Colorado: History of Colorado
(Chicago: The Century Publishing and Engraving Co., 1901), 133.
7 Byers, 133; Noel, Colorado Catholicism, 17. The bell now rests at the Catholic diocesan
center at the St. Thomas Seminary in Denver.
the Kirk mine above Central City in Nevadaville. In 1864, the thirteen-year-
old girl finally joined her brothers on an exciting wagon trip across the
prairies to Central City.
Like her future husband, Kate became enchanted with the Rocky
Mountains. The bustling camps seemed young, fresh, and exciting.
According to Charles W. Hurd, "[s]he was so pleased with the mountains that
she went back home to persuade her mother to come and see the wonders
of the West."8 In all, Kate crossed the prairie three times in her brothers'
wagons. The final overland trip that Kate made with her mother in early
1865 nearly ended in disaster. Any winter crossing was dangerous, but this
one proved particularly so. Nighttime temperatures plummeted below zero
on the exposed prairie. Worse, the heavily-loaded caravan suffered from
poor political timing. The Southern Cheyennes, retaliating for the atrocities
committed at Sand Creek the previous November, had virtually cut off traffic
and communication to and from Denver.9 Like the travails of many other
pioneers, Kate's hardships became magnified in family folklore. Kate and
her mother allegedly endured no less than three Indian raids on their
journey to the mining camps.10
If the Smith ladies were disturbed by the violence of the prairies,
Gregory Gulch was surprisingly peaceful. Although the ladies first moved in
with Kate's sister in Nevadaville, the tiny camp proved to be too far removed
8 Hurd, 110.
9 Stan Hoig, The Sand Creek Massacre (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1961), 174.
10 Hurd, 111.
from the social and religious activity of Central City. Kate remembered
walking to services from Nevadaville in all sorts of weather. Eventually, Kate
moved to Blackhawk before finally settling in Central.11
By 1865, the regional gold camps looked to Central City as the center
of order and society. Frame and brick buildings climbed haphazardly up the
sides of Gregory Gulch. Central City supported daily papers, churches,
schools, "and all the best materials of government and society that the East
can boast of."11 12 Respectable, upright women such as Kate and her mother
were a welcome addition to the community. Historian Sandra L. Myers
stated, "Education and religion were considered the twin harbingers of
civilization," and women provided for both institutions in the mining camps.13
Gregory Gulch had a thriving Catholic population which held services in a
frame house donated by the town sheriff and his wife.14 In what was
essentially a mission city, women were burdened with seemingly endless
Their main fund-raising tool was the Catholic Fair. This combination
handicraft exhibition and social gala sustained cash-strapped congregations
throughout the mining frontier. Parishioners made and sold handicrafts,
baked goods, and preserves, provided singing and entertainment,
11 Walter S. Weckbaugh, personal interview, Jul. 21,1997.
12 Samuel Bowles cited in Carl Abbott, Stephen J. Leonard, and David McComb, 69-70.
13 Sandra L. Myres, Westering Women and the Frontier Experience, 1800-1915
(Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982), 186.
14 Noel, Colorado Catholicism, 301.
sponsored fortune-telling "sybils" (sic) and "voting contests," and offered
raffle tickets for a glittering array of religious mementos.15 The festivities
often ended with a full-blown, if carefully monitored, ball. Young ladies
organized and ran the Catholic Fairs, managing finances, sponsoring and
running tables, soliciting contributions, and arranging for decorations. The
Smith ladies were prominent fair organizers. As late as 1880, a reporter
noticed that the Central City table at Turner Hall "is under the direction of
Mrs. John Mullen.1'16 The struggling parish benefited from her volunteerism,
which in turn instilled a sense of duty in the young woman.
Her sense of duty made Kate a formidable force in Mullen's later
philanthropic activities. Her almost daily work with the poor, the sick, the
orphaned, and the homeless, placed her in sympathy with their needs. Her
awareness of the constant pressures of fundraising placed her in a position
well suited to exploit her husband's success. Although Mullen earned
deserved credit with his benevolent largesse, he freely admitted his debt his
wife as a consultant, guide, and inspiration.17
Along with her moral strength, Kate enjoyed financial independence.
As social historian Hasia R. Diner pointed out, single Irish women often
enjoyed a certain degree of economic independence in America. Desired
as semiprofessional, white-collar laborers, single Irish women were often
15RMN, Jan. 22, 1888: 4.
16 RMN, Oct. 20, 1880: 3; Jan. 22, 1888: 4.
17 J. K. Mullen, Letter to Frank W. Howbert, Apr. 4, 1925, Mullen Foundation papers,
more employable than their unskilled or semi-skilled male counterparts.18
This held true for Kate, who, by the early 1870s, had moved to Denver in
order to teach girls' Sunday School classes at St. Mary's Church. The
pretty, bright-eyed Sunday school teacher was an attractive match for
potential suitors such as J. K. Mullen. Kate's virtuous demeanor not only
matched his interests but reflected well on an aspiring community leader.
Moreover, she had improved her economic circumstances. Her assets
included two lots and a house at Fifteenth and Glenarm streets, a dozen
shares of loan association stock, and various notes of debt. She also
enjoyed access to investment capital through her brothers' successful
freighting business and her brother-in-law's mining ventures-capitai which
would indeed become important to Mullen.19
Kate's combination of material assets, reputation, and personal charm
overwhelmed the young miller. On Oct. 12, 1874, with Father Nicholas
Chrystosom Matz presiding, John Kernan Mullen wed Catherine Theressa
Smith in St. Mary's.20
The wedding signified a certain level of acculturation. In Ireland,
couples married late, after "they were well established as grown-up
18 Diner, 71.
19 J. K. Mullen, "Statement concerning the individual business of J. K. Mullen," May 25,
1902, Mullen papers, CHS.
20 J. K. Mullen, Letter to his daughters, 1928; J. K. Mullen, Letter to Rt. Rev. Bishop Nicholas
C. Matz, Sept. 18,1913, Rt. Rev. N. C. Matz papers, Archdiocese of Denver, Denver,
Colorado (Hereafter cited as Matz papers).
members of their community."21 At twenty-seven and twenty-three
respectively, John and Kate were young by Irish standards, but they had
attained enough financial stability to buy a new, two-story house at 339
Ninth Street and accept a stream of guests, relatives, and children.22
"They Were Very, Very Welcome
At twenty-eight, Mullen assumed responsibility for a rapidly
expanding family. Mullen enjoyed the prospect of a large family, reminding
his wife in 1876, "You know, Kate, that I was bound to have something in the
cradle...ever since we were married, ain't that so?"23 The Mullen family
increased quickly and regularly. On July 23, 1875, just nine months and
eleven days after their wedding, Kate delivered the first of five Mullen
daughters, Ella Theressa, at home.24 Ella was followed by May Rose on
May 30, 1877, Catherine on November 4, 1879, and Frances Edith on Sept.
16, 1881. John and Kate's youngest daughter, Anne was born on January
21 Diner, 46-7. While no national average exists, Diner cites local statistics such as in Buffalo,
New York, where on the average, Irish men married at 31, and only eight percent of Irish
women married before age 30.
22 1051 Ninth Street according to current enumeration. David J. Luebbers, Directory of
Ninth Street Historic Park, 1871-1900," Unpublished manuscript. (Dept, of Planning and
Development, Auraria Higher Education Center, Dec., 1977).
23 J. K. Mullen, Letter to C. S. Mullen, May 19,1876, Weckbaugh family collection.
24 Mullen Family Register," Weckbaugh family collection. The births were usually attended
by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, who travelled from home to home in their midwifing
duties. By assisting in these births, the tireless sisters earned the gratitude of the Mullens,
who repaid their debt with donations which helped establish St. Joseph's hospital. W. S.
Weckbaugh, personal interview, July 21,1997.
4, 1884. Tragically, "Nannie" died just four years later, a victim of "brain
The steady succession of daughters produced mixed emotions in
Mullen. He enjoyed coddling his children, protecting them from the harsh
world, and instructing them in Catholic values. He used tenderness as a
means soften his frequent absences on business, as well. An example of
his sentimentality appears in a letter to his wife and three-year-old daughter,
Ella, written from Pueblo:
My love to Papa's Little Girl. Learn [sic] her to say God Bless Papa in the
mornings & Kiss her good night for Papa when she goes to bed in the
evening & now Papa will say God Bless and preserve his Little Girl & Guard
and Protect his faithful Wife who is watching over her-Who is the Life of us
But his rough, working-class experience often clashed against the ideal of
raising his daughters to the potential of his newfound wealth. The proud
papa delighted in his infant children, talking of little else when each of them
was born. Holding them was a different matter. His callused hands, the
proud symbols of his working-class background, scratched their tender skin,
causing them to cry out. The noise upset and confused the awkward father,
who was slightly hurt when his babies reached out for their mother instead.27
25 Mullen Family Register; Anne Weckbaugh, personal interview, Feb. 6, 1998. When the
Mullen family transferred their plots from the abandoned Catholic cemetary in Denver to Mt.
Olivet, Anne's remains were relocated. She is buried alongside her mother in an unmarked
26 J. K. Mullen, Letter to C. S. Mullen, Feb. 22,1877, Mullen papers, CHS.
27 J. K. Mullen, Letter to C. S. Mullen, Aug. 10,1890, Mullen papers, CHS; W. S.
Weckbaugh, personal interview, July 21, 1997.
Ella, May, Catherine, and Edith. Precocious and feminine, J. K.'s
beloved daughters were nevertheless "four wild hairs" of his own flesh and
blood, instilled with their fathers willfulness. They loudly proffered their
opinions on all manner of subjects. They snuck into the Tivoli brewery on
dares. Worse, each new daughter underscored the absence of a male heir.
As a result, J. K. instilled respect into his daughters which bordered on terror.
Generous and sentimental with his children when relaxed, he could be a
strict disciplinarian who generated "an absolute fear of God" when angered.
Although he encouraged them to call him "Papa," they often referred to him
as "Mr. Mullen when speaking of him in the third person. He sometimes
expressed his disappointment in his daughters, reminding them of their
shortcomings as women and openly wishing for a son. His disapproval hurt.
No matter how obedient, reverent, or accomplished they were, they could
never become the one thing he wished them to be. As a result, each
competed to gain an advantage of approval over the others.28
Typical among Irish families, the Mullens accepted siblings, parents
and cousins into their household. The extended family was a by-product of
immigraton to America, wherein Irish families not only sponsored migration
but provided support in the cycle of crises of poverty and illness, desertion
and widowhood," which restored the familial bonds which had disintegrated
in famine-stricken Ireland.29 Moreover, Mullen assumed responsibility for
28 W. S. Weckbaugh, personal interview, July 21,1997.
29 Diner, 45.
John and Kate's four daughters, (seated, left to right: Katherine, May, Eila, Edith),
decorate the wedding of an unidentified family friend, c. 1888. (Photo source:
Weckbaugh family collection.)
his family when he took his first job at fourteen. Wherever he went, his family
was welcome. According to the Denver City Directory, the Mullens hosted J.
K.'s parents Dennis and Ellen, his sister Kate, his brother Patrick and his
family, as well as Dennis and his family.30 Various cousins, friends, and
relatives enjoyed the Mullen hospitality and Catherine's brother Charles
passed away in their home.
Their first guest was Catherine's mother, Mary Smith, who moved in
immediately and lived with her daughter and son-in-law until she died in
1894. Mullen later blessed the memory of this "good soul" who lived under
his roof for twenty years. A more disruptive house guest was J. K.'s younger
brother, Dennis W. Mullen [1850-1916]. "Denny" came west in 1873 to
improve his health, to keep his then-bachelor brother company, to "quit lying
around doing nothing" in New York, and to escape the "very dull" economic
conditions.31 J. K. boarded with his brother and sponsored him for a flour-
packing job at the West Denver Mill. Two years later, Dennis still lived in the
Denny often exasperated his straightlaced older brother. He ran with
fast company, plunging deep into the fledgling Denver Democratic machine,
where he affected the gentlemanly demeanor that earned him the nickname
"Honest Dennis." He spent money on fine carriage teams. He speculated
recklessly in mining, from which his brother bailed him out upon occasion.
30 Like D. W., Patrick H. Mullen's Colorado business career was sponsored by his brother. In
1875, P. H. set up another cooperage in North Denver, where he made flour barrels for J. K.
Mullen. Mullen later appointed P. H. as an officer in the CM&E.
31 J. K. Mullen, Letter to Rev. Raymond J. Mullen, S. J., May 5,1916, Mullen papers, CHS.
He drank excessively. His frequent illnesses required constant attention.
Soon after his arrival in 1874, Dennis contracted typhoid fever. His older
brother and pregnant sister-in-law strained to care for him. "When he lived
with us there was but one bed in the house." Mullen recalled, "My wife and I
slept on the floor and gave Dennis the bed. We nursed him for seven weeks
when he was ill, because he was not strong and rugged."32
Dennis was one of many relatives who relied on the graciousness of
John and Kate. The collapse of the New York milling industry and the
depression of 1873 obliged Mullen to support his parents and siblings. For
a time, Mullen sent $50 checks to his father in New York. Finally, with "no
work next winter" expected in Oriskany Falls, John's parents and older
brother fled New York for the West in order to seek employment in Mullen's
The pattern applied through the next generation, as well. Ella and her
husband, Eugene Weckbach, first lived together under the paternal roof. In
the 1920s, the Mullens opened their house to their widowed daughter May
and her son Teddy Tettemer. J. K. later speculated that Catherine would
give her blessing to May's second marriage only if May promised to remain
with her husband at home. Irish families accepted the accommodation of
relatives as natural, and the busy household bothered Mullen not in the
32 Ibid.; ''Obituary of Dennis W. Mullen," The Trail. IX, 1 (June, 1916): 29.
33 P. H. Mullin, Letter sto J. K. Mullen, Sept. 23, 1872; Aug. 3, 1873, Weckbaugh family
least. "I am sure you will all understand," he wrote of his many guests near
the end of his life, "that they were very, very welcome."34
To meet the growth of both immediate and extended family, J. K. paid
$1,300 for a two-story house on 339 Ninth Street at the corner of Curtis in
West Denver.35 When Mullen became partners with Theodore Seth, the
family moved again to the Chrisman House in North Denver, where May
Rose was born. After Mullen took over the Excelsior mills in 1878, he
purchased a two-story, twelve-room house at 1178 Ninth Street on the
corner of Lawrence. The family returned to West Denver.36
West Denver, located across Cherry Creek from Denver, was a mixed
residential-industrial community with a significant proportion of working-
class immigrants. Employment opportunities, as well as the establishment of
the Catholic parish of St. Elizabeth by German settlers in 1878, attracted
Irish Catholics such as the Mullens. Over the years, Mullen's neighbors
34 J. K. Mullen, Letter to his daughters, 1928; Mullen often failed communicate this hospitality
from behind his formidable reserve. Resident sons-in-law, like Eugene Weckbach and May's
second husband, John L. Dower, squirmed under the vaguely disapproving stare of their
father-in-law. Dower wrote, "We have been living in the same house at night and in sight of
each other during the day for a period of years, and, strange to say, we are still strangers and
far from understanding each other as we should, and I think this is a sad and deplorable
reflection on us both." Dower, Letter to J. K. Mullen, Jun. 5,1926, Mullen papers, CHS.
35 Luebbers, "Directory of Ninth Street."
36 Like Mullen's foursquare home on Pennsylvania Street, these houses have been
destroyed. Mullen's first family home at 339 Ninth Street (1051 Ninth St.) was torn down in
1902. His family's second Auraria home on Ninth and Lawrence served briefly as the chapel
and rectory for St. Cajetan's Catholic Church, before it was torn down to make room for the
current structure in 1925.
included a mix of professional and laboring-class native-born Americans, as
well as German and Irish immigrants.37
The proximity of Denver's flour mills particularly attracted milling
professionals to the neighborhood. On the preserved section of Ninth Street
between Champa and Curtis streets known today as Ninth Street Historic
Park, lived Mullen's former employer Charles R. Davis and his wife Betsy-
Welsh immigrants who ran the Eagle Flour Mills. Davis built another house
nearby as a wedding gift for his daughter, Kate, and her husband, Stephen
Knight. Knight became the favored son of the CM&E, rising through the
ranks to become chairman in the 1920s. Another Mullen protege on Ninth
Street was Irish immigrant Maurice Dolan, a future manager of the Excelsior
Significantly, J. K. thought of the house at 1178 Ninth Street as the
family "homestead." He applied the term repeatedly in his deliberations
regarding donating the Auraria lot and building a church for the Hispanic
parish of St. Cajetan's in 1925. For example, when the parish held services
in the house's basement, Mullen wrote to Bishop J. Henry Tihen in order to
express his concern that "the purpose that my wife and myself had in
deeding our homestead to them, namely the building of a church, will not be
accomplished.39 He wrote again to Tihen in February, "When Mother and
37 Leonard, "Denvers Foreign Born Immigrants," 229, 232; Noel, Colorado Catholicism, 350.
38 Luebbers, Directory of Ninth Street"; Rosemary Fetter, "A Walking Tour of Ninth Street
Historic Park," pamphlet (Denver: Auraria Higher Education Center, 1976).
39 J. K. Mullen, Letter to Rt. Rev. John Henry Tihen, Jan. 19,1925, Tihen papers.
Constructed by flour miller 0. L. Shackleton in 1869, this two-story Italianate house at Ninth and
Dewer^ubHct.tora'ry^H ^ Kat6'S "homestead"in 1879- (Courtesy: Western History Dept.,
myself gave up our homestead to those people, we did it with the
expectation that there would be a church built thereon."40 The comer lot in
working-class West Denver was not a 160-acre plot of land as defined under
the Homestead Act of 1862. Nor was it a working farm (although, like many
neighbors, the Mullens kept their own milk cow and hen house on the
property.) Instead, Mullen used the term as a metaphor for the base of his
climb to respectability.
The homestead metaphor reflected the transformation of the
American pioneer ideal to an urban/industrial setting. In The American Idea
of Success, Richard M. Huber describes the transition: "If the pioneer was to
land feet first on the frontier and not go under, he had to keep at it, work
hard, and save his money...For those who were urban rather than agrarian
capitalists, the same qualities were mandatory for anything more than mere
survival."41 Mullen justified his success in part by comparison with his
humble beginnings in the Ninth Street home. His remarks about St.
Cajetan's suggest that he believed the land would provide the same
opportunity for the Hispanic parishioners, if they, like he, applied
The homestead metaphor suited businessmen in the milling industry.
Even as they embraced the urban-industrial setting, late-nineteenth century
millers were rooted in a livelihood which derived its commerce from
agriculture. Like the farmers with whom he traded, Mullen worked hard. He
40 J. K. Mullen, Letter to Rt. Rev. J. Henry Tihen, Feb. 3,1925, Tihen papers.
41 Huber, 11.
spent a great amount of time on the road, selling flour, buying equipment,
starting new mills, or borrowing money. "It was not uncommon," C. W. Hurd
remembered, "for him to get off the train at two or three o'clock in the
morning in a distant town and...drive into the country, visiting prospective
wheat shippers."42 Even at home, J. K. pushed himself through a rigorous
work regimen. His stamina and concentration meant greater capacity for
production for the firm even if it meant a disrupted family life. Over the years,
he developed a regular morning routine-rising before dawn, eating a simple
breakfast, and quickly departing for work. His evening schedule was less
predictable. Significantly, it was Kate who noticed how J. K.'s working habits
disrupted domestic life. Hurd writes:
Mrs. Mullen said that for many years, seven o'clock in the morning never saw
him at home, and she never knew when he would get back at night. If he was
not there on time for the evening meal, she would put his dinner in the oven
to keep warm, as he might not show up before nine o'clock.43
Simply coming home did not necessarily mean that J. K. could shake his
concentration in favor of domestic endeavors. Mullen, who admitted, "I hate
to go to bed early," often retired to his library to catch up on the latest milling
developments and current events, sometimes not extinguishing his light until
two o'clock the next morning.44 As if to make up for his lack of formal
education, he read voraciously, particularly histories, trade journals, and
42 Hurd, 111.
43 Ibid., 110.
44 J. K. Mullen, Letter to C. S. Mullen, May 19,1876, Weckbaugh family collection.
newspapers. (Until a Rocky Mountain News solicitor convinced him of
unacceptable Republican bias in the competition, J. K. subscribed to all of
Denver's journals.)45 His sequestrations served another purpose. Unable
to leave the pressures of business at the office, Mullen returned home tired
and foul-tempered on occasion. At such times, his eldest daughter, Ella,
remembered, "everybody in the house just sort of shut down."46 Mullen's
study was a place of refuge where he could go to unwind, but where
everyone else passed on tiptoes.
Even in relaxation, Mullen favored diversions which required mental
concentration, preferring to unwind in his own parlor rather than in social
clubs or outside activities. "My home is my club," he told friends 47 His
interests included reading, chess, and frequent Saturday and Sunday-night
poker games, all of which could be pursued in the comfortable confines of
his home. He particularly favored whist and other card games, inviting a
small gathering of close friends, including the clothing clerk, George Cottrell,
and his wife to play "most every evening."48 The local clergy, Protestant and
Catholic, received standing invitations to Sunday dinner. Their
conversations stimulated Mullen, who admired the variety of topics
discussed, the depth of knowledge, and the moral atmosphere which the
45 J. K. Mullen, Letter to C. S. Mullen, Mar. 16,1893, Mullen papers, CHS.
46 W. S. Weckbaugh, personal interview, July 21,1997.
47 Post, Aug. 9, 1929: 4.
48 Hurd, 111; J. K. Mullen, Letter to his daughters, 1928; J. K. Mullen, Letter to George F.
Cottrell, Jan. 25,1929, Weckbaugh family collection.
black robes contributed to his home. To his children, however, Sunday
dinner was a weekly ordeal of enforced good behavior, to be skipped
Mullen tried to make up for his long road trips by writing meticulously
to his "darling Kate." His surviving letters show his effort to be a loving
husband and father from afar. He composed one such letter to Kate on an
1880 business trip to secure funds for the Hungarian Elevator. Steaming
down the Hudson River on the packet, Daniel Drew, Mullen retired to his
cabin to write. He began by comparing Kate to the luxury of the Daniel
You know Kate I cannot describe riches & elegance ..but this steamer is rich
in every part...Its furniture surpasses anything I ever imagined [but] more to
me than all the rest of the world & among the riches & splendor of this elegant
steamer the drawing room of which is a very palace...you are a magnificent
work of art.50
Awkward and uncertain socially, Mullen retreated from the grand ball taking
place that night on deck. Instead, he stood at the rail below and observed
the moonlit traffic along the river, "coming and going like flashes in the
Kate I somehow feel guilty tonight & have never been as lonesome in my life
and just because there is so much here to enjoy & yet I am alone among all
this throng. I know if you were here with me we would enjoy it all but as it is I
cannot & have left it and come in to speak to you about it.51
49 W. S. Weckbaugh, personal interview, July 21,1997.
50 J. K. Mullen, Letter to C. S. Mullen, Jul. 17, 1880, Mullen papers, CHS.
Whether J. K. was home or away, it was Catherine who represented
the domestic center of the household. In the early years of their marriage,
her labors matched his own. She raised their five daughters, operated the
mill's boardinghouse, oversaw a home crowded with extended family
members, sewed and administrated for the Denver Dorcas Society and the
St. Vincent's Orphanage Ladies' Aid Society, hosted an endless procession
of priests, nuns, and businessmen, and counseled, cooked, laundered for,
and made love to her loving, although difficult husband.52
Mullen depended on Kate to fulfill tasks for which he was ill-suited by
his nature and by his cultural role in Victorian society. In his wife's absence,
Mullen failed as a housekeeper. When Kate took Ella to visit relatives in
Omaha in the spring of 1876, the businessman complained about the
problems he faced around the house. After escorting Kate and Ella to the
station, he raced to the top of the nearest hill, hoping to wave the departing
train out of sight. Arriving too late, he realized despondently that "Kate was
gone for sure." Instead of cooking for himself, he took supper at his old
bachelor digs in Williams' Boarding House. Returning home, he pottered
about" in the hen house, juggled his prize into the kitchen, and "flung the
eggs" into an empty cradle. He over watered the house plants, creating a
muddy mess of on the living-room floor. Surrendering, he retired to the
52 Kate's work with the Dorcas and St. Vincent's Ladies' Aid Societies is cited in RMN, Feb. 7,
1889: 6; Denver Times, Dec. 6, 1901: 12; Aug. 8, 1902: 3.
masculine cloister of his study, then back to the mill until late at night, leaving
the cleanup for Kate's return.53
On the surface, the drive to succeed in business conflicted with
Mullen's drive to enjoy a complete family life. Yet, the entrepreneur
recognized no disparity between the two demands because he believed that
both aspects achieved the same ends. A well-nurtured family was as much
as an asset as any piece of mill equipment, and as a tycoon, Mullen fondly
recalled the days when his oldest daughter Ella, "was all we had."54 His
belief was consistent with the Victorian-American dual culture of success,
which legitimated the accumulation of wealth, so long as it was used to
support the fundamental values of religion, family, and philanthropy.
Richard M. Huber explains:
Success writers [in the nineteenth century] almost always bounced back and
forth between two types of success. The first was generally money; the
second was final, ultimate, or "true success." "True success" was happiness,
the joy of living, developing yourself by doing your best with the faculties that
God has given you, leading a self-respecting life with a noble character,
peace of mind, service to others, or the love and respect of family, friends,
The twin goals of success often clashed. Nevertheless, businessmen
worked hard to cultivate success at both ends. Although Mullen's family life
suffered at the expense of his business activities, he tried to balance the
53 J. K. Mullen, Letter to C. S. Mullen, May 19,1876, Weckbaugh family collection.
54 J. K. Mullen, Letter to C. S. Mullen, Aug. 10,1890, Mullen papers, CHS.
55 Huber, 97.
respectable, but ultimately hollow act of money-making with the deeper
aspects of domestic life.
J. K. MULLEN AND COMPANY,
Mullen and Seth
During the mid-1870s, Rocky Mountain News editor William Byers'
enthusiastic predictions about the Garden of the World appeared within
reach. Nature kindly sprinkled the plains with better-than-average rainfall
each year from 1873 to 1885. Where nature failed, private and communal
irrigation developers attempted to make up the difference. Colorado's wheat
crop flourished. The number of farms increased by 260 percent between
1870 and 1880, and again by 360 percent between 1880 and 1890.1
Although the wet years set the table for ultimate disappointment, in 1875 it
seemed that the agricultural banquet would never end.
Ironically, as Colorado farmers rushed to feast on golden grain, they
drove down the price of their commodity through overproduction. In October,
1874, the local wholesale price for one hundred pounds (cwt.) of wheat
stood between $2.25 and $2.40, slightly less than the national average price
of $2.53. By July, 1879, wholesale wheat had dropped to between ninety
cents and one dollar, whereas the national average stood at about $2.04.
The price of wheat pulled the price of flour down with it, but not nearly as
1 Abbott, Leonard, and McComb, 173, 393.
precipitously. Flour which wholesaled locally between $3.75 and $4 in
October of 1874 leveled out to between $2.65 and $3 in July of 1879.2
Additionally, owners of adequate large-scale storage silos-which meant
millers almost always and farmers almost never-could afford to wait for local
price fluctuations before unloading their grain supplies.
Expansion of wheat agriculture meant opportunities for middlemen.
Between 1874 and 1878, the number of Denver flouring mills doubled from
three to six. The city mills alone produced between $250,000 and $300,000
in flour annually.3 Countryside mills, such as Littleton's Rough and Ready,
flourished as well. The Colorado Business Directory reported a statewide
increase from nineteen to thirty-four mills between 1877 and 1884. The
result was increased (or, as categorized by former CM&E general manager
Herbert E. Johnson, "irresponsible") competition, increased pressure to
perform efficiently, and reduced prices to the consumer.4
This confident atmosphere of growth presented seductive
opportunities for experienced millers looking to strike out for themselves. In
1875, Mullen was managing Shackleton and Davis's West Denver millthe
mill where he had started for room and board-when just such an opportunity
2 Local Market Prices, Rocky Mountain News, Oct. 22,1874, Jul. 10,1879; National averages:
U. S. Dept, of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States,
Colonial Times to the Present, Vol. 1 (Washington, D. C.: GPO, 1976), 208.
3 Corbett, Hoye, and Ballenger, Denver City Directory, 1874-1878, microfilm, Western History
Dept., Denver Public Library (DPLWHD).
4 Herbert E. Johnson, Letter to Guy Thomas, Pres., Colorado Milling and Elevator Co., Jun.
10,1943, Timothy O'Connor/Julius Johnson private manuscript collection, Denver, Colorado.
(Hereafter cited as O'Connor/Johnson collection.)
arose. Charles Davis bought out his partner, O. L. Shackleton, and offered
the half-interest to Mullen. J. K. refused-as in Kansas, he colored his
decision with his personal opinion of his boss. "I didn't take kindly to Davis,"
he admitted. Possibly, Mullen understood that Davis, as senior partner,
might override Mullen's authority in milling operations as Parker had done in
Kansas. Such an arrangement did not sit well with Mullen's sense of
Thinking it over, Mullen decided to start his own business. He
resigned from Davis's firm and formed a partnership with the veteran flour
miller Theodore Seth. With the help of Mullen's friend, the recently-arrived
Irish attorney Thomas M. Patterson, the pair drew up an agreement which
divided their operating duties.6 Seth, the superior craftsman, oversaw the
physical operations of the mill while Mullen focused on the aspects of
administration, capitalization, supply, sales, and mechanization. The terms
of the agreement make it clear that Mullen did not wish to be tied down in an
permanent partnership. The millers drafted a one-year contract, scheduled
to expire on July 9, 1877. Their contract contained clauses allowing either
party room to withdraw with ten days written notice. Each partner agreed to
invest $4,000 into the venture over the course of the year. Mullen turned to
his wife's brothers and sister to help raise his portion.7
5 J. K. Mullen, Letter to his daughters, 1928.
6 In a 1916 letter to his nephew Rev. Raymond Mullen, the miller referred to his habit of
retaining papers and correspondence: "Tom Patterson drew up the contract. I have it in my
7 J. K. Mullen, Letter to Raymond Mullen, May 5,1916, Mullen Papers, CHS.
Doing business as Mullen and Seth, the partners next approached O.
Chrisman with an offer to lease the dilapidated Star Mills, located on
Fifteenth Street in North Denver. Chrisman agreed to a one-year term, with
an option for two, on the condition that the partners spend at least $800
renovating the derelict mill. The renovations required Mullen's nearly round-
the-clock presence. He sold the house at 339 Ninth St. and moved his
extended family into the Chrisman house next to the North Denver plant.
The Star included its own boarding house, where Catherine cooked and
cleaned for the mill hands. Mullen extended the family business when his
older brother Patrick arrived from New York and set up a barrel manufactory
at Fifteenth and Wazee streets with exclusive contracts to build Mullen and
Seth flour barrels.8 A second daughter, May Rose Mullen, was born into the
busy boarding house on May 30, 1877.9
Following the overhaul of the Star Mills, Seth came up short on the
remainder of his $4,000 investment. Mullen immediately proposed to break
up the partnership. He offered to buy Seth out, or give Seth the chance to
do the same. Seth declined, but the partners finally agreed to borrow the
balance of Seth's share. Mullen personally signed the loan from City
National Bank and put up seventy-eight shares of stock from Union Savings
and Loan as collateral. Mullen conducted the loan, but Seth agreed to
repay the 18 percent interest.10
9 "Mullen Family Register," Weckbaugh family collection.
10 J. K. Mullen, Letter to his daughters, 1928; J. K. Mullen, Statement concerning the
individual business of J. K. Mullen," May 25, 1902, Mullen papers, CHS.
Although the debt put Mullen's shares of the savings and loan at risk,
Seth owed the money to his partner, not to the bank. This put Mullen in
control of the company's future. During the nine months of actual operation,
however, the partners quickly made up their expenses. At the end of the
agreed-upon year and after paying off outstanding debts, Mullen and Seth
cleared $7,750 in profit. The partners split the balance, and after some
haggling, Seth sold Mullen his remaining interest for $1,000. He then
withdrew to ventures in Park View, New Mexico, leaving Mullen in sole
control of the company.
"I Was the Company..."
On July 10,1877, just a month after his thirtieth birthday, Mullen
began doing business as J. K. Mullen and Company. He counted among
his assets $4,829 deposited at City National Bank; interest in the Union
Savings and Loan Company; an accumulated stock of flour, grain, and feed;
improvements on the Star Mill; four lots of real estate on Fifteenth and
Wewatta streets, earmarked for future expansion; a lot and house on Ninth
Street; and a growing reputation in the Colorado milling and Catholic
community. Furthermore, he was free and clear of debt.
His choice of a new corporate name, J. K. Mullen and Company,
reflected his aspirations. "I was the company," he declared on one occasion.
On another he boasted, "no one in the world had an interest or invested any
money in the business with me except my wife and her relatives."11 He
bolstered his family network by establishing his brother Patrick in a new
barrel factory and bringing Dennis on as a mill hand. The latter move was
designed to keep his younger brother out of dissolution. Dennis's excesses
worried Mullen. The teetotalling older brother glowered: "[Dennis] had got
into bad company and was drinking a little more than he should." Worse,
"he got into politics and was hobnobbing with politicians, spending his time
up at the Graystone [Democratic] Club."11 12
J. K. made Dennis an offer designed to curb his unruliness: "I said, 'D.
W., if you quit that kind of business I will give you a working interest in this
business of ours.1" The concerned older brother hired his sibling away from
C. R. Davis, placed him in an office, raised his salary from $2 to $2.25 per
day, and began pestering him to get married in the hope that he would settle
down.13 Over time, Mullen promoted his brother to manager of the
Hungarian Mill. From this position of responsibility, Dennis created more
problems for his brother later on.
11 J. K. Mullen, Letter to his daughters, 1928; J. K. Mullen, Letter to Raymond Mullen, May 5,
1916, Mullen papers, CHS.
12 J. K. Mullen, Letter to John J. Mullen, June 1,1926, Mullen papers, CHS.
13 Ibid.; Mullen took satisfaction when his brother finally married Anna Hughes of Oriskany
Falls, NY in May, 1882: "I hold in my hand a letter he wrote to me from Oriskany Falls on June
3, 1882, in which he goes on to express his appreciation of what I had done for him, and to tell
me that he realized the way he had previously acted and promised me from that time on he
would never give me reason to complain. He said he had not drank anything for several
months an did not intend to ever again. Mullen promptly paid for his brother's wedding suit,
sent him $150 in travel money, and paid for jewelry that Dennis later presented to his bride. J.
K. Mullen, Letter to Raymond Mullen, May 5, 1916, Mullen papers, CHS.
Mullen, in turn, depended on the good graces of other, more obliging
relatives. Instead of constructing new facilities, Mullen preferred to renovate
existing mills, thus squirreling away his capital for additional expansion. In
March, 1878, Mullen used his in-laws' capital and his own profits to lease
two more mills in the yards behind Union Station--the Shackleton (later
called the Ironclad) on Nineteenth Street and the Sigler on Twenty-Second.
In accordance with his business philosophy, he continued to acquire grain
for future speculation. During one cold winter he scrambled to procure
storage space for incoming grain even though the canal which powered the
Star was frozen solid.14 The surplus was sold to the farmers' co-operative
Grange Mill at Twenty-Fourth and Blake streets. His aggressive buying
tactics paid off. His mills succeeded so well that he offered double rent
payments on the Star (which he renamed the North Denver.)15
Mullen felt a great proprietary interest in the welfare of his company.
He extended his personal working hours to the maximum, taking advantage
of his ability to function on little sleep. He often visited outlying towns such
as Pueblo, La Veta, El Moro, Trinidad, Longmont, and Grand Island to
procure wheat and sell his flour. During one dry year, he personally hauled
loads of wheat from Ephriam and Gunnison over a fifty-mile road to Nephi,
Utah. The wholesaler in Nephi, Andrews and Co., refused to receive his
grain until Mullen loaned them the purchase price. His ability to scrounge
14 J. K. Mullen, Letter to Herbert E. Johnson, May 15, 1920, O'Connor/Johnson collection.
"The dominant feature in the conduct of a business so far as I was individually concerned was
to accumulate wheat in the early Fall...and pay less attention to the sale of flour."
15 J. K. Mullen, Statement of Business," 2.
J. K. Mullen, circa. 1890. The flour miller remained bearded until the summer of
1898. On a sales trip to Memphis, the unacclimated Coloradan was forced to
shave in order to cope with the oppressive heat. (Source: Western History Dept.,
Denver Public Library.)
wheat when others came up empty-handed earned him a reputation as a
Jim Richards was then operating the first mill that they built [in Utah] and he
came over and begged me for a carload of the wheat...Richards was
continually coming over and buying...sacks of flour...[he] wondered where in
the world I got the wheat to make the flour.16
J. K. took pride in handling such matters personally. His belief in the
personal touch of salesmanship is reflected in his reputation as president of
the Colorado Milling and Elevator Co. Accompanying farmers into the fields
during threshing season, Mullen inspected crops and personally convinced
his clients to sell to CM&E. The gregarious salesman worked through a
surprising degree of physical discomfort on these trips. He suffered from
neuralgia, a condition brought on by damaged nerve endings acquired in an
unrecorded accident. The disease produced excruciating pain which was
usually aggravated by jolting wagon rides. In 1880, after a particularly
agonizing trip up the deeply-rutted road from the end of the railroad line in
Granite to Leadville, he complained to his wife, "It is enough to kill
Leadville's rough roads also led to the silver boom of 1877-1880,
which lifted Mullen's business to new success. As miners rushed to
Colorado's latest mineral strike, they cried out for large amounts of staple
goods, including flour. Mullen secured several contracts as a supplier to the
16 J. K. Mullen, Letter to Herb Johnson, May 15, 1920, O'Connor/Johnson collection.
17 J. K. Mullen, Letter to C. S. Mullen, June 21,1880, Mullen papers, CHS.
booming silver city. The contracts paid better than most Leadville silver
mines. While surplus wheat stagnated in Denver at around $1.66 per
hundred pounds, the powdery white flour wholesaled in Leadville at $6 per
In order to keep up with the demand, Mullen expanded quickly.
Rather than take the costly and time-consuming step of building his own mill,
he first sold his lots on Fifteenth and Wewatta and purchased John W.
Smiths Excelsior Mills and canal works in West Denver. The sale, which
included 22,000 pounds of wheat "piled four or five feet deep" in the
Excelsior elevator, was transacted for $33,000. Mullen exchanged $10,000
in cash, $8,000 in refined flour, and $15,000 in four-year promissory notes
for Smith's plant.19 On November 20, 1878, Mullen wrote out the notes,
making each payable to "myself," and then endorsing them over to Smith.
Each note drew 10 percent interest every three months. Although the notes
were not due until 1882, Mullen paid off each note ahead of schedule,
retiring the last on May 20,1880.20
Even with the new facilities, Mullen scrambled to keep up with the
Leadville demand and remain ahead of the competition. He incorporated
significant new milling techniques. Although the Excelsior was already a
"big, substantial brick structure" powered by three turbines which dipped into
18 Market Price, Rocky Mountain News. May 22 and June 12,1879; Smith, Rocky Mountain
Mining Camps, 198.
19 J. K. Mullen, "Statement of Business," 2; Letter to his daughters, 1928.
20 J. K. Mullen, "Promissory Notes on Excelsior Mills," Nov. 20,1878, Mullen papers, CHS.
the adjacent Smith ditch, Mullen envisioned a larger, state-of-the-art plant.21
During the winter of 1878-79 he made the last old-fashioned improvements
to the Excelsior, adding two grinding burrs, enlarging the canal, and
constructing a fourth overshot waterwheel and flume. Later that spring, he
enlarged the mill again, this time taking advantage of the latest technology
provided by Milwaukee-based consultants and work crews from the
American Middlings Purifier Company.22
Along with the Milwaukee crews, Mullen hired Scottish consulting
engineer William Dixon Gray to help modernize his mills. Gray, an engineer
for the Milwaukee milling supplier Edward P. Allis & Co., had previously
helped introduce the European roller mill to the United States, designed
mills for Pillsbury and Washburn in Minneapolis, and, according to historian
Robert Murray Frame, invented "the first automatic, all roller, gradual
reduction flour mill system, resulting in the construction of the first complete,
modern flour mill."23 Gray and Mullen became lifelong associates. The
engineer added ten new sets of burrs to the Excelsior and replaced fragile
porcelain-jacketed grinders with a pair of long-lasting steel rollers designed
to eliminate more bran and produce a finer, whiter flour24 The new
automated processes ground a greater amount of wheat than had been
previously considered possible in Colorado.
21 J. K. Mullen, Letter to A. J. Simonson, July 30, 1926, Mullen Papers, CHS.
22 Hurd, 109.
23 Frame, 71.
24 Hurd, 109.
Two factors still challenged Mullen's ability to keep up with the
Leadville demand. The first was power. By July, 1879, it was clear that even
with the expanded canal, the Excelsior could not draw enough water from
the South Platte River to meet its growing energy requirements. Mullen
traveled east, determined to find the tools to help out. On July 12, he bought
a pair of boilers from his St. Louis "boiler man," John W. Wangler. A few
days later, he purchased a 105-horsepower Harris-Corliss steam engine in
Providence, Rhode Island.25 The steam engine gave Mullen a temporary
edge over many of his competitors, who relied on water produced during
uncharacteristically warm winters or wet summers to power their mills.
The second problem was capital. Despite his expressed aversion to
debt, Mullen commonly relied on credit to fund his yearly operations. He
admitted that one of the keystones to his success was that he bought
enough wheat during harvest time--when grain prices were at their lowest--
to last the entire year by borrowing the capital in advance. Many of his
competitors, who did not have access to similar credit, were forced to renew
their stocks in the spring, when wheat prices were at a premium.26
Mullen secured credit by borrowing at higher rates than normal and
paying promptly. He gambled that his wheat supplies would pay off the
difference in the long run 27 In order to expand, he borrowed $4,000 from
City National Bank at a higher-than-average interest rate of 18 percent,
25 J. K. Mullen, "Statement of Business," 2.; Letter to his daughters, 1928.
26 J. K. Mullen, Letter to Herbert E. Johnson, May 15,1920, O'Connor/Johnson collection.
borrowed more from his affluent in-laws, and put up shares of company
stock as collateral for another note at his own Union Savings and Loan.28
Fortunately, the Leadville demand held up through 1879 and 1880, allowing
Mullen to quickly put these debts to bed.
The new mill necessitated another move, and Kate Mullen found
herself packing again. Their new house at 1178 Ninth St., on the corner of
Lawrence, was, at last, a place where Kate could raise her family in relative
tranquillity.29 More importantly, after 1889, when J. K. Mullen quietly put the
title in her name to guard against creditors, the house became her property
and security. "The little house on Ninth Street" became the Mullen home for
twenty years; a family symbol of their pioneer days. When they graduated
into their "castle" in the Quality Hill district of Pennsylvania Street in 1898,
the house on the corner of Ninth Street in the working-class neighborhood of
Auraria would be fondly remembered by the entire family as the Mullen
28 J. K. Mullen, Letter to his daughters, 1928.
29 Relative tranquillity. In order to accommodate the mill hands and visiting Milwaukee crews,
Mullen bought the O. L. Shackleton residence and ran it as a boarding house. As at the Star
Mill, Catherine cooked and cleaned for the hungry laborers. J. K. Mullen, Letter to Raymond
Mullen, May 5,1916, Mullen papers, CHS.
THE PROGRESSIVE MILLER,
The Ebullient Eighties
On New Year's Day, 1880, a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News
forwarded good tidings from the Excelsior Mills in West Denver:
That splendid flour manufactory is in good order, and in full operation, with a
very large stock of the staff of life on hand. The proprietors...have skill,
experience, capital and other requisites for successful milling, in addition,
they have perfect machinery and a mill with extraordinary capacity. The senior
partner has been intimately connected with the mills of Denver for more than
For Colorado's farmers and millers alike, these bulging stores of "the
staff of life" represented the confident tone of the early 1880s. Between
1874 and 1884, local farmers benefited from stable global wheat prices, a
decade of above-average precipitation, and increased local demand
generated by the Leadville and Aspen silver strikes of the late 1870s.1 2 The
News summarized figures compiled by the Colorado Agricultural College to
illustrate the rise in wheat production. In 1878, Colorado farmers grew 1.25
million bushels of wheat worth $870,000. The following year, Colorado
produced 1.5 million bushels of wheat worth $1.5 million dollars-- a gross
1 RMN, Jan. 1,1880:17.
2 Abbott, Leonard, and McComb, 173.
increase of forty cents per bushel. During the same ten-year span, farmers
enjoyed reduced storage and shipping rates brought about by increased
milling and railroad competition. With a network of irrigation canals under
development, the News predicted "a prominent increase" of wheat acreage
for the coming years.
Underneath the confidence, however, discontented rumblings lay
ready to flower. As wheat farmers expanded this single crop, some
observers noticed the first signs of soil exhaustion. Even so, few advocated
crop rotation and diversification amidst the optimistic clamor. Secondly, the
growing mistrust between farmers and the milling middlemen crept toward
open revolt. "There is always room for dispute," the News admitted, because
farmers "very largely favor withholding the facts...in the fear that millers and
middlemen will take advantage of them."3 The paper chided farmers for
allowing the millers to monopolize storage facilities, thus letting the
middlemen take advantage of short term price fluctuations. Increasingly,
discontented farmers grumbled about how they might change this situation.
A strain of dissatisfaction undercut the milling industry as well. Wheat
prices remained high, holding down milling profits. Additionally, as
technology and market conditions improved, aspiring flour manufacturers
crowded into the state. Milling became increasingly competitive. The 1880
Colorado Business Directory listed twenty-six mills operating in Colorado,
six of them in Denver. By 1884, when the Colorado Milling and Elevator Co.
3RMN, Jan. 1,1880:16.
was founded, the number reached thirty-four. Certainly, farmers applauded
the reduced rates which resulted from the increase in mills, but the situation
threatened the stability of established plants.
Mullen's Excelsior Mill prospered despite increasing competition.
Between November, 1879, and November, 1880, the Excelsior took in
10,825,284 pounds of wheat and sold 7,250,000 pounds of flour, making a
News correspondent whistle, "the intelligent reader can readily imagine the
amount of capital used in such a business."4 In the bullish wheat market,
such Excelsior brands as "Pride of Denver," "Silk Finish," "Hard to Beat,"
Inter-Ocean," and others were traded in markets as far away as Boston.5
Mullen enjoyed a leading position in the state milling industry. He started
planning the largest, most technologically advanced mill in the region to
date-the Hungarian Mills. In the process, he began the transformation of
Colorado's milling industry from a haphazard cluster of competing millers
into a single corporation, which eventually dominated the Rocky Mountain
grain industry for the next sixty years.
J. K. Mullen and the Progressive Milling Movement
The Leadville demand and the drive to modernize kept Mullen busy
searching for more efficient sources of power. In 1879, he purchased the
4 RMN, Jan. 1,1881. p. 24; At the average published wholesale price of wheat and flour in
1880 (Wheat: $1.94 and Flour: $3.25), J. K. Mullen and Co. bought $210,010 worth of wheat
from which it made $235,625.00 worth of flour. Since Mullen commonly bought wheat at a
bulk discount as low as $.60 per pound, he probably cleared considerably more.
5 J. K. Mullen, Letter to C. S. Mullen, Jul. 17,1880, Mullen papers, CHS.
Platte & Denver Ditch company, becoming the owner of the ditch from which
he first cleared winter ice. The summer of 1880 found him again pursuing
newer and larger steam engines. He visited St. Louis and wrote back to his
wife, "I suffered more from heat...than ever before in my life."6 Traveling on
to Indianapolis and Providence, he wrote back tersely, "Have not found
anything in the shape of an engine that can be had in ninety days." He
promised his wife, however, that he would attend Mass each Sunday,
"wherever I am."7
Mullen's efforts to increase the capacity of the Excelsior can be
contextualized within the progressive milling" movement of the 1870s and
1880s. The 1870s saw the introduction of several new inventions and
processes, including the middlings purifier, which removed impurities from
the first grinding process; porcelain and steel roller mills, an efficient
alternative to stone grinding; and gradual reduction. Each process rapidly
modernized an industry which had seen no significant innovation since the
1790s. Milling historian Robert Murray Frame explains the speed with which
the innovations overlook the industry:
The relatively quiet influx of new technology...suddenly exploded into a
revolution in the 1870s...The purifier and roller mill, new process and gradual
reduction, should be seen not as discrete developments but together as a
response to milling difficulties, and as a revolutionary synthesis, born and
nurtured first in Minnesota, but soon spreading through mills everywhere.8
6 J. K. Mullen, Letter to C. S. Mullen, Jul. 1,4 1880, Mullen papers, CHS.
7 J. K. Mullen, Letter to C. S. Mullen, Jul. 17,1880, Mullen papers, CHS.
8 Frame, 25.
Colorado mills had utilized the traditional method of grinding-passing
grain through revolving stone burrs and allowing the friction of the stones to
pulverize it. While the time-honored burr system easily processed the softer
spring varieties of wheat common in the East, it was not as efficient with the
hard winter wheats which adapted best to the arid West. On the first pass,
burrs usually ground only three-quarters of the wheat into flour. Burr
grinding failed to remove much of the wheat germ, bran, and other impurities
and required a second pass to clean and regrind the leftover grain, or
The first two significant developments of the 1870s-the middlings
purifier and the roller process-took advantage of increased mechanization.
Prior to the invention of the purifier, most high-grade cleaning was
performed by hand. The purifier replaced the old hand-cleaning process
with large scale automation. Likewise, porcelain and, eventually, steel rolls
replaced the stone-and-spindle method of grinding. In the roller process,
wheat descended through vertical tiers of rollers, which pulverized the
kernels more efficiently. Whereas burr-ground wheat required multiple
passes through the grinders to produce high quality flour, rollers contained
several levels through which wheat passed, effectively creating higher
grades of flour with fewer impurities and leftover grain in fewer tries.10
A third method-the Hungarian process-promised to eclipse the
former two. During the late 1870s, Austro-Hungarian millers in the milling
9 Abemathey, 225-6; Frame, 39.
10 Abernathey, 224.
center of Plest, Hungary, developed an automated combination of millstones
and rollers which produced large quantities of clean white flour. Unlike
previous processes, which "reduced the grain by bruising, grinding, and
pulverizing," the Hungarian process involved the "gradual reduction" of
wheat.11 An intricate series of specialized rollers and cams applied
incrementally increasing amounts of pressure to the wheat kernel. Each
successive roller performed a specific function-gradually cracking and
cleaning the wheat, peeling the outer husk (or bran), and finally stripping
away the outer layers. By introducing several steps in one machine and
avoiding pulverization, the specialized method of gradual reduction
removed more impurities and required less reworking of middlings. As a
result, the Hungarian system caught attention of the milling world by
producing higher quality flour at less cost.11 12
With the introduction of the Hungarian process and gradual reduction
milling, technicians, led by Mullen's consulting engineer William Dixon Gray,
of the Milwaukee firm of Edward P. Allis & Co., implemented a "great mill
rebuilding and remodeling program" between 1878 and 1882. Publicized
by Gray, as well as by new milling handbooks such as James Abernathey's
Practical Hints on Mill Building (1880) and progressive trade journals like
The Northwestern Miller, news of the innovations spread quickly beyond the
Great Lakes region.13
12 Ibid., 226-30.
13 Among the so-called "progressive" millers of Minneapolis, adopting the new technology
represented the achievement of status in the milling community. Abemathey exalted the
The late nineteenth-century industrial expansion caused millers to
look at themselves and their business culture in a new way. The so-called
"progressive millers," writes milling historian Robert Murray Frame,
"constituted those who embraced the new methods, purchased the new
machines, and built or rebuilt mills to accommodate the machines and
processes. Those who hesitated were promptly termed 'old-fashioned'
millers."14 Unlike old-fashioned millwrights, who were, in the words of
milling handbook author James Abernathey, "just what their name implies,
literally mill builders," progressive millers represented one aspect of the
industrial and organizational revolution.15
According to the progressive milling doctrine, millers who adopted the
new milling technologies were enlightened harbingers of modernization,
while those traditionalists who rejected the revolution were characterized as
lazy, intellectually bankrupt hicks. Abernathey described the rapid
recognition of the process among "the enlightened millers of America and
Ireland," although it had not often penetrated "the prejudice and
conservatism with which the English miller is surrounded."16 The
Northwestern Miller described the progressive miller as "a manufacturer of
"enlightened millers who adopted the Hungarian process ahead of "prejudice[d] and
conservative" milling industries. (Abernathey, 239.) The leading trade magazine, the
Northwestern Miller disparaged "Stick-in-the-Mud" millers, who "shut their ears to outside
information and closed their eyes to progressive ideas [and are] waiting till the shadows have a
little longer grown to pass into eternal commercial night." Frame, 170.
14 Frame, xii.
15 Abernathey, 2.
16 Ibid., 239.
flour and a dweller in cities...a man of affairs," whereas the old-style miller
stagnated in his "placid, murmuring, poetic, artistic ivy-grown structure,
lurking modestly on some quiet stream, half hidden by trees."17 The former
image evoked nostalgia for a dead past, but it also portrayed an image of
decay for the miller who rejected the progressive program.
The Hungarian Mills
Mullen, who read the journals, decided to see for himself. In May,
1881, he joined Gray for a tour of several Milwaukee plants which used the
Hungarian system. The industrial city itself did not impress the miller. He
declared that Milwaukee was a good place to do business, but the city's
uniform grayness depressed him. "I wish I was out of here anyhow & back
home," he wrote his wife.18 The multilingual swirl of the city's Eastern
European immigrants bewildered and amused him:
[There are] Dutch, Norwegians, Danes, Scandinavians, Polanders &
Austrians. Some Hungarians. No Irish but me you bet! Such a blabbering
you never did see or hear either...Every man you meet is a Dutchman & every
woman a Dutchwoman & I suppose every girl is a Dutch girl but I dont meet
any of them you know. The news boys yell out the news in their own or some
The business at hand left little time for sightseeing, however. "I have
been right busy since I came and am anxious to get away from here." The
veteran miller found Milwaukee's milling system nearly as unintelligible as
its multiple tongues. Mastery of the new technology required an
17 Northwestern Miller, cited in Frame, 159.
18 This and subsequent references regarding Milwaukee and learning the Hungarian system
are cited from J. K. Mullen, Letter to C. S. Mullen, May 18, 1881, Mullen papers, CHS.
understanding of specialization and organization unlike that which his
generation of millers had experienced. Mullen complained about his new
education, "There is so much difficulty in working in the systems & [it]
requires so much study & labor that it crazes a fellow. I found another gray
hair today in my head." He worried over the task of converting his existing
mill to the Hungarian system, which would require a complete retooling of
Their system is so extensive & so intricate that it is very difficult to master and
still more difficult to apply it to a mill that is using another system without first
quitting out & leasing out the machinery now in use & replacing it in
connection with the new that is to go in its place.
Trained as a miller of the old school, he struggled with the complex
new process, concluding that "I don't know yet what [the chances are of]
success." Nevertheless, after inspecting the bright white flour that poured
from Milwaukee's rollers, he concluded that the Hungarian system would
revolutionize his business: "I feel well repaid already as the system of
milling that...they call the Roller or Hungarian System is way ahead of
anything I ever seen [sic] producing better flour & better yields than the burrs
can possibly do..."
Although Mullen took the lead in introducing the Minneapolis-based
"revolution of the 1870s" to Colorado, he wavered between reconverting his
Excelsior mill and building an entirely new one. At first, he proceeded in
both directions, beginning the retooling of the Excelsior upon his return but
at the same time purchasing land for a new mill. On July 31, 1881, the
Rocky Mountain News printed a one-line notice that "Mullin [sic], the miller, is
erecting an elevator on the west side." The small elevator was the first step
in his ambitious expansion. Two weeks later, Mullen received a permit to
build a frame grain elevator, a twenty-six by sixty foot brick warehouse and a
twenty by twenty-four foot engine room worth $8,000 on the site of the
Arbuckle Brothers coffee warehouse between Blake and Wazee streets on
Seventh Street.19 In honor of the patent process which he hoped would
bring him primacy, he named the new structure the Hungarian Elevator.
By the first of January, 1882, a Rocky Mountain News correspondent
was able to describe the miller's progress. The Excelsior (which Mullen also
temporarily renamed "The Hungarian") had resolved its power problems and
was partially transformed to the Hungarian process: "These mills are run by
an engine of one hundred and twenty-five horsepower with a water power of
equal strength and a capacity of sixty thousand pounds of flour daily."20
Likewise, the grain elevator and its accompanying feed mill occupied a
thirty-foot frontage on Wazee Street. Served by a forty-five horsepower
elevator, it stood seventy feet deep, thirty feet high, and had the capacity for
sixty thousand bushels of wheat. The two-story warehouse had been
expanded to sixty by sixty-two feet. A railroad siding served the buildings
from the rear.21
19 RMN, Aug. 18, 1881:4.
20 RMN, Jan. 1,1882:13.
Despite the rapid growth, J. K. Mullen and Co. still faced heavy
competition from rivals in Golden, Longmont, Loveland, Greeley, Fort
Collins, and Trinidad who had just as quickly taken advantage of the new
milling developments in order to increase their share of the wheat market.
The Hungarian trailed its major rival, the Crescent Milling and Elevator Co.,
in the Rocky Mountain News's 1882 New Year's Day milling survey. The
News pronounced the Crescent "the model of beauty and perfection,...it has
no superior anywhere [and] cost more money than any other mill of its size."
Owned by a financial coalition led by the capitalist William Barth, the rival
mill enjoyed a favorable location behind Union Station on the South Platte
River. It led all Denver mills in production, capacity, and revenue. Whereas
Mullen averaged about $700,000 in business between 1881 and 1882, the
Crescent Mills cleared over one million dollars.22
Mullen fought back through diversification. He kept his elevator active
by joining in partnership with wholesale grain dealer Lorin Butterfield, with
whom he speculated on the booming wheat, hay, and feed markets.
Meanwhile, armed with faith that the progressive milling movement would
provide the competitive edge, he began consolidating lots to build a
"monster" mill, in the model of the Washburn and Pillsbury mills of
Mullen's plans for expansion were halted temporarily by a serious
accident. On January 12, 1882, Mullen returned from a trip out of town. As
23 Frame, 94.
The Hungarian Mills, Elevator, and Warehouse, located between 7th and 8th streets on Wazee.
Served by a Denver and Rio Grande railroad siding, the elevator boasted a 150,000-bushel
storage capacity. By 1887, the mill ran twenty-four sets of gradual reduction rolls and four stone
grinders twenty-four hours per day, six days per week. (Source: Denver, Colorado Fire Insurance
Map. New York: Sanborn Map and Publishing Co., 1887. Photo credit: Western History Dept.,
Denver Public Library.)
he unharnessed and rubbed down his favorite wagon horse, the animal
suddenly became startled. The horse lashed out twice with its hind legs,
striking Mullen in the jaw and delivering a glancing blow to his head which
knocked the miller the ground, unconscious. Family members discovered
him and carried him into his house, where he regained partial
consciousness. Hastily summoned doctors pronounced him "in a very
dangerous condition.1'24 The incident kept him bedridden for several weeks,
and the injury to his jaw prevented him from speaking for some time.
Although Mullen surprised the doctors with his rapid recovery, the
accident delayed his plans for the Hungarian Mills. Not until March did he
begin purchasing the lots which surrounded his elevator. By January, 1883,
he had paid out $3,500 for surrounding real estate and had sunk a 330-foot
well to feed his steam boilers.25 In May, 1882, he arranged for direct access
to South Platte River farming communities by petitioning the Denver City
Council for a Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy railroad siding to the
Hungarian elevator.26 He finally broke ground on the Hungarian Mill in the
first half of 1883, importing timber from Divide, Colorado, to construct the
frame.27 The mill, built at a cost of $128, 000, opened in September and
24 RMN, Jan. 13, 1882: 8; Jan., 24,1882: 1.
25 The well, located on the corner of Seventh St. and Auraria Parkway, still irrigates the Auraria
26 RMN, Mar. 25, 1882: 7; May 6, 1882: 8; Jan. 10,1883: 3.
27 In later years, Mullen regretted his early belief in the unlimited access to resources, and the
environmental devastation that businessmen like himself caused in the rush to build Denver:
The first water well we dug for boilers at the Hungarian gushered at 330 feet, the second one
at 600, the third at 1200, and now we have to lift the water more than 3000 feet...The
Hungarian Mills were built out of lumber on the Divide, within twenty-five or thirty miles of
reached full production by November, 1883. Soon after completing the
Hungarian, Mullen narrowly escaped a blunder which left him vulnerable to
his rivals at the Crescent Mills. The young grain dealer had relied primarily
on City National Bank for credit since he had formed J. K. Mullen and Co. In
the early 1880s, the owners of the Crescent Mills, including William Barth
and the "Denver merchant princes" Junius F. and J. Sidney Brown, assumed
control of City National.28 Despite the fact that his primary creditor was now
also his primary competitor, Mullen negotiated an $80,000 loan from City
National, having first received assurances that the bank's directors
recognized no conflict of interest. The directors paid out an initial $28,000,
then waited until Mullen left to negotiate rates with the Union Pacific Railroad
in Omaha, to notify him that his remaining credit had been canceled. "You
bet, I took the first train home," he later remembered. Mullen approached
Samuel Wood, president of First National Bank of Denver, with his hard-luck
tale. Wood granted him enough credit to meet his current obligations and so
won over a new customer "that minute." "First National has taken care of me
ever since," he wrote in 1929, "and has been loyal and helpful from that day
Denver. When you drive out there today in your automobile, there isn't a stick of timber in
sight." J. K. Mullen, "Duties and Obligations of Merchants and Manufacturers," speech
transcript, 1912, Weckbaugh family collection.
28 RMN, Sept. 13, 1882:4.
29 J. K. Mullen, Letter to George F. Cottrell, Jan. 25,1929. Weckbaugh family collection.
Mullen returned the favor. In 1917 he became a director, and encouraged his wealthy friends
to switch to and stay with First National.
The fears of the Crescent owners were well placed-the construction
of the Hungarian catapulted J. K. Mullen and Co. to the head of the Colorado
milling industry. At the beginning of 1883, the Excelsior was capable of
producing five hundred 100-pound sacks of flour per day. By Christmas, the
new steel rollers of the Hungarian churned out an additional 1,200 sacks of
Hungarian Patent, Pride of Denver, Charter Oak, Plymouth Rock, and Inter-
Ocean brands daily. In the last four months of 1882, Mullen manufactured
two million pounds of flour, worth $450,000. Added to grain sales, J. K.
Mullen and Company made nearly as much in the last quarter as in the first
nine months of the year.30
When the Crescent Mills burned down in September, 1882, it was
replaced by the Hungarian as the leading flour producer in Colorado.31
According to a Rocky Mountain News estimate, the Hungarian's output
nearly matched the combined production of Denver's next three greatest
mills, the Crescent, Charles Davis's West Denver, and Mullen and Seth's old
Star Mills (now operated by Chrisman and Burnell) in North Denver.32
Mullen was in a financially solid position. "I didn't owe anybody a dollar," he
boasted. By the summer of 1885, the Hungarian elevators fairly bulged.
I had the elevator almost full of grain-so full that it was so difficult to invoice it
that a disinterested committee of three directors was appointed in 1885 to go
30 RMN, Dec. 25,1883: 9.
31 RMN Sept. 13, 1882: 4.
32 RMN, Dec. 25, 1883:9.