Pieces of History: The James F. "Jimmie" Burns Collection - CSPM
Interior of pocket watch featuring photos of Oly Belle and James F. Burns Jr. given to James F. “Jimmie” Burns, 1904, Courtesy of James and Kimberly Burns

Pieces of History: The James F. “Jimmie” Burns Collection

Caitlin Sharpe, CSPM Registrar

The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum (CSPM) recently received a very special donation from the descendants of James F. “Jimmie” Burns, president of the Portland Gold Mining Company. Interestingly, the donation was received from the great-grandchildren of Jimmie Burns, James Burns and Ann Naughton, who did not know each other until very recently. A series of events led to their meeting and the realization they each inherited important and inter-connected pieces of Burns family history.

Jimmie Burns and wife Olivia Belle (Oly Belle) Parker married in 1900 and had three children. James Burns (the 4th) descended from Jimmie and Oly Belle’s son James F. Burns Jr. while Ann Naughton descended from their daughter, Gladys Burns Nicholson. In addition to owning the Portland Gold Mining Company, Jimmie Burns commissioned the construction of the 1,470 seat Burns Theatre which was completed in 1912.

Front of the pocket watch given to James F. “Jimmie” Burns, 1904, Courtesy of James and Kimberly Burns
Front of the pocket watch given to James F. “Jimmie” Burns, 1904, Courtesy of James and Kimberly Burns
Interior of pocket watch featuring photos of Oly Belle and James F. Burns Jr. given to James F. “Jimmie” Burns, 1904, Courtesy of James and Kimberly Burns
Interior of pocket watch featuring photos of Oly Belle and James F. Burns Jr. given to James F. “Jimmie” Burns, 1904, Courtesy of James and Kimberly Burns
Inscription reading "Made of Portland Gold and Presented to James F. Burns by the “Boys” of the Portland Mine,” Victor, Colo. Jan 28, 1904, Courtesy of James and Kimberly Burns
Inscription reading "Made of Portland Gold and Presented to James F. Burns by the “Boys” of the Portland Mine,” Victor, Colo. Jan 28, 1904, Courtesy of James and Kimberly Burns

Burns was one of the wealthiest mine owners from the Cripple Creek/Victor Gold Rush, but unlike most of his fellow mine owners, he came from working-class roots. As a result, he recognized his workers’ rights to join a union. This made him a popular figure among miners. This pocket watch and accompanying letter from the committee of employees of the Portland Mine speak to this.  In the letter, the employees reference the “heroic stand” that James Burns took to support his employees during the labor strikes of 1903 led by the Western Federation of Miners.

Letter to James F. Burns by a Committee of Employees of the Portland Mine, 1904, Courtesy of Ann Naughton
Letter to James F. Burns by a Committee of Employees of the Portland Mine, 1904, Courtesy of Ann Naughton

The watch created by Bohm Bristol Co. of Denver used, “…gold taken by our own labor from the mine inseparably identified with our fortunes and prominently associated in the struggle you have made for justice and human liberty.” The watch dial is imprinted with photographs of Burns’ wife, Oly Belle and son, James Burns Jr. so that, “…they may be a constant reminder of the good will and happiness that the givers wish you and yours.” The inscription on the watch echoes this sentiment and includes the date, January 28, 1904, the “boys” of the Portland Mine presented the watch to Jimmie Burns.

Both the watch and the letter, separated for years, but treasured by family members, have been reunited at the museum where they will be preserved as part of the permanent collection. We are so grateful to members of Burns Family for donating these irreplaceable pieces of family history that help tell the story of James F. Burns and the impact he made on miners during the Colorado Labor Wars. In addition, James Burns donated a portrait of Jimmie Burns, a print of the Portland Mine by Charles Frizzell, and numerous family photos. All of these materials taken together – reflect a unique part of our regional history that the CSPM is honored to preserve into perpetuity and share with our community.

Burns Theatre

Jimmie Burns and the Burns Theatre are highlighted in the "COS@150" Exhibit.

Caitlin Sharpe, CSPM Registrar

We have been a collecting institution since 1896. Since then, thanks to our generous donations the collections now comprises over 70,000 artifacts — ranging from artwork to paleontological specimens — and over 6,000 cubic feet of archival materials, including manuscript collections, photographs, maps, blueprints and ephemera. Caitlin oversees collections care and management of the Museum’s three-dimensional objects and artifacts. Learn more about the CSPM’s Collection.