Countess Katrina Wolf Murat

Danny Summers
Contributing Writer
Posted 5/11/11

When Countess Katrina Wolf Murat retired to Palmer Lake in the spring of 1887, she was already one of the most famous pioneer women Colorado had ever …

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Countess Katrina Wolf Murat

Posted

When Countess Katrina Wolf Murat retired to Palmer Lake in the spring of 1887, she was already one of the most famous pioneer women Colorado had ever known.

Among her claims that nobody could refute was that she was one of only two Colorado Countesses, and she was the first white woman to enter Colorado.

Murat was 63-years old when she moved to Palmer Lake and built a cottage below Sundance Mountain, where she lived the remainder of her life. She used to sit on her vine-covered porch during long summer days.

Known as the “Betsy Ross of Colorado,” she died at her home on March 13, 1910, having lived a full life from her auspicious beginnings in Germany. A New York Times article from 1901 detailed her incredible story.

The article states that she was born at Baden-Baden on the Rhine to a German innkeeper. She went on to marry Count Henri Murat in 1848. He was of French aristocracy and a great nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. The couple came to America in 1852, traveling the overland to California and then working their way up through Wyoming and back again overland to Denver in November 1858.

They are credited with setting up the first holiday tree in Denver for the original Christmas celebration in 1858. The Countess decorated a sweet smelling spruce, brought in fresh from the mountains, with small candles that sat in holders made from wooden blocks and pieces of wire. She baked tiny gingerbread figures for ornaments.

Henri pursued a variety of occupations, including barber, dentist, innkeeper and gambler. Katrina tried to make up for her husband’s financial misfortunes by various domestic services to the dominant male population. She sold apple strudels and pies, and stitched more than a pant leg or two. She also started a laundry business washing the miners' heavy pants and flannel shirts for the equally outrageous price of 50 cents a garment.

It was said that Katrina was also pretty good at handling a shotgun. Legend has it that the Countess single-handedly held off Native Americans while being barricaded behind sacks of flowers.

Katrina was commissioned to make the future state’s first American flag. According to the Palmer Lake Historical Society, the most likely of many versions of this story has “Old Glory originally flying from the El Dorado's 50-foot flagpole to greet the first overland stage arriving in Denver City on May 1, 1859.” With no yard goods available, Katrina reputably fashioned the flag from her own red, white and blue French lingerie. This memorable sight, flapping in the breeze, provided a short-lived spectacle. The patriotic creation was stolen after just four days.

Henri died in 1885, leaving Katrina penniless. She earned her Palmer Lake cottage herself, with her two hands, washing and doing housework. She came to Palmer Lake because she thought she could make her living keeping summer boarders. Her linen was snowy and she provided home-made fare.

The Countess lived, for the most part, a quiet life aloof from town affairs. By 1900, rheumatism lamed her back and crooked her fingers, and erysipelas impaired her eyesight. She got by on the little she had, as well as the $10 a month pension she received from the Colorado Pioneer Society. The town of Palmer Lake piped water to her door and furnished her with a free supply as long as she lived. Noted persons interested in the beginnings of the West came from all over the country to visit her.

Katrina was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution — the organization that eventually erected her grave marker. Above her grave, located in Riverside Cemetery in Denver, is a marker that states, “In Memory of the Maker of the First U.S. Flag in Colorado.” Katrina’s cottage is referenced as No. 21 on the Palmer Lake Historical Walking Tour.

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