The Sad Story of the Sesame Canyon Trail
By Eric Swab

There is a little gem of a trail that once connected the High Drive with the Penrose Trail. It starts about ½ mile up the road from the gate at the bottom of High Drive, and climbs up a narrow-forested valley with interesting rock outcroppings, and sometimes a trickle of water. Once you reach the Penrose trail you are on a ridge which offers views out over the City on your left and down into and across North Cheyenne Canon on your right.

 

Why is this a sad story? Because the trail has been closed by the Forest Service to protect the Greenback Cutthroat Trout. There is a second reason to be sad, but more on that later.  

 

The trail is well over 100 years old. It appears on Manly Ormes 1913 map of “Mountain Trails of the Pikes Peak Region”. In his 1916 edition of this map, it is given the name “Sesame Cañon”. However, the trail is even older than 1913.

 

Hikers who were lucky enough to hike the trail before it was closed, may remember a small sign nailed to a tree above a cliff that read “Esmos.Falls”. I believe this sign was meant to commemorate a miner, Fritz Asmus, who once lived in a cabin in the canyon. The cabin is gone, but spring time hikers will remember the Wild Iris that flourish in the clearing where the cabin once stood. The existence of his cabin was documented in several 1904 newspaper stories, and recorded on film by Manly Ormes.

Photo by Manly Ormes, Courtesy Colorado College, Special Collection.

Another old trail climbs out of the valley to the southwest to a 10-foot-deep mine shaft and a 50-foot-long mine tunnel. The trail continues on past the mines to the last switchback on High Drive before Captain Jacks. There is no proof these were Fritz’s mines and trail, but the fact that the trail starts at his cabin and the presence of mining tools found in his cabin suggests that it was.

 

Very little is known about Mr. Asmus. He was born in Germany in 1841. It is believed he came to the U. S. in 1882, traveling with a woman and two children. He apparently worked in Leadville where he controlled several mining operations and made a fortune. He lost that fortune due to some poor investments decisions. It is not known when he came to the Pikes Peak Region and settled in Colorado City. Once here he convinced Adolph Foersteman to provide him with the tools needed to begin prospecting in the hills.

 

He chose Sesame Cañon as his base of operation. There he built a small one-story log cabin. He built a corral and fenced in his yard where he planted a garden of flowers and vegetables. Newspaper articles refer to him as the “Old Man of the Hills”.

 

Along the way Fritz befriended two boys, Louis Wood and Walter Stemfel. They helped get him back to his cabin after he became drunk in Colorado City. Halfway up the trail Fritz refused to go any further. The boys set up camp and built a fire, and kept it going all night to keep the old man warm. In the morning they woke him and got him to his cabin. The boys being exhausted from their all-night vigil returned to their camp and fell asleep. About noon they were awakened by a rifle shot. They got up and hurried to Fritz’s cabin and found that he had shot himself in the head and was dead.

 

The boys hurried back to Colorado City and contacted the authorities. Sheriff Birdsall, Officer Rippeteau and the Coroner retrieved the body from Sesame Canon. His death was ruled a suicide without an inquest. Fritz Asmus was buried June 29, 1904 in Fairview Cemetery. The newspaper reported that a “number of carriages” were in attendance. Edwin Beyle, the funeral director spoke a few words. Mr. Foersteman paid the $49.75 cost of burial.

 

I photographed the “Emos.Falls” sign in 2012. Someone had remembered the “Old Man of the Hills” more than 100 years after his death. Fritz Asmus’ presence and death in Sesame Canon makes this story doubly sad.

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