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Break out the party hats: Today is Denver’s REAL birthday

William Larimer: Not an official general, not an official city founder.
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Now that the Democratic National Convention has come and gone, Denver’s getting ready for another big shindig: Its sesquicentennial birthday party. As the (recently much-repeated) story goes, on November 22, 1858, General William Larimer, a town promoter from Kansas, and his gang of speculators organized the redundantly named Denver City Town Company and staked a square-mile town called Denver at the junction of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek. So on November 22, 2008, 150 years after that date, the city of Denver that grew up from those humble beginnings will be celebrating its birthday with a two-week bash and other shenanigans.

There’s only one problem: Party planners got the birth date wrong.

Let’s set the Waybac Machine to slightly before that supposedly auspicious November 22, 1858 day. When Larimer and company first arrived in the area earlier that month, they found scores of folks already there – and not the Native Americans who’d camped and hunted in these parts for eons. White prospectors had been regularly panning along Cherry Creek and the South Platte since that spring, and one crew in particular, comprised largely of Montana City miners, had established the town of St. Charles near the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte. Most of St. Charles’ founders had then returned east to avoid the harsh winter, leaving behind just a few men to guard their claim. This meager band was no match for Larimer’s newly arrived posse, which knew an attractive piece of real estate when they saw one. Threats of hangings and liberal amounts of whiskey were enough to unseat St. Charles’ defenders, allowing Larimer to take control of the area and re-establish it in the name of Kansas Territory governor James William Denver.

So if we want to celebrate a bunch of greedy, drunken, violent land-grabbers, by all means unleash the festivities on November 22, the day Larimer named his town. But if we want to recognize the true beginning of a permanent establishment here, Denver’s sesquicentennial should occur 150 years after St. Charles was founded, on September 24, 1858 – and that’s today.

We’re not suggesting the city needs to completely reschedule its birthday revelry. Lord knows it was hard enough to get everything ready for the DNC. We’re just hoping for a little something today in recognition of the occasion – such as, say, changing the city’s name back to its original title, St. Charles.

After all, do we really want to be named after some random territorial governor nobody remembers? St. Charles has a much more cosmopolitan ring to it, bringing to mind a lively metropolis where half the population speaks French, bars stay open all night and the McDonald’s serve French Fries covered in gravy and cheese curds.

What? St. Charles is already taken? Sure, a few U.S. burghs have that name, like that dinky city in Illinois. But screw them. We’re taking the moniker, damn it – and if they have a problem with it, we’ll be breaking out the noose and the whiskey. -- Joel Warner

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