Born Joseph Bevier Sturtevant in 1851, Rocky Mountain Joe is one of Boulder’s most colorful historical figures. If you’ve been in Boulder a long time, you might recall the cafe in his name, but do you know what made him stand out in the annals of history?
Rocky Mountain Joe was known in his own time for two main things: storytelling, and photography. In fact, anyone interested in Boulder history could hardly do worse than to check out Joe’s vast array of surviving photographs of Boulder in its infancy, tracking how it grew in the late 1800s-early 1900s. He had a good eye for composition, and therefore his body of work stands as an important artifact of Boulder as a city.
Joe served in the Civil War, and lived with the Native Americans of his local Wisconsin area before he came to live in Boulder, marry, and settle down here until his untimely death in 1910. He was known for keeping his hair long and wild, and dressing in buckskin with fringe, just like he did in his tracking days. He was a popular, if colorful character that local Boulder folks loved to listen to when he spun his tales.
- He was a crack shot with a rifle.
- His storytelling mainly consisted of tales from his experiences in the war and with the Native Americans.
- His death was a mysterious one: he was found bleeding with a hole in his forehead near railroad tracks. It was thought for a while that he had been murdered, but further investigation showed he had most likely fallen as he attempted to board a train.
- To enjoy Rocky Mountain Joe’s prolific body of work, visit the Carnegie Library, Boulder’s historically-focused library, either in person or explore some of the collection here.
Photo Credit: Photo by Donald Campbell Kemp, 1898