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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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
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
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
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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