The initial discovery of placer gold, near where Denver one day would be, dated from June 1850, when a Cherokee party traveling to California panned some color near a small stream later known as Ralston’s Creek. As times worsened in the late 1850s, the siren promise of those few flakes of gold intensified—if they could just relocate the place. Veteran Georgia and California miner William Greenberry Russell, known as “Green” Russell, emerged as the major mover in the early days of Colorado mining. Related by marriage to the Cherokee Indians, he had heard about the 1850 discovery of “color.” That intrigued him, as did the idea of seriously prospecting in the Rocky Mountain foothills.
Correspondence during the winter of 1857–1858 between Russell and the Cherokees laid the groundwork. Russell, his two brothers, and six others headed west to Indian Territory in February 1858. There they gathered supplies and other needed equipment, and found more men who agreed to join the expedition. Eventually, the party traveling west included the Russells, some Cherokees, and two groups of Missourians—104 men in all, according to Luke Tierney, one of the early fifty-eighters.
After intersecting the well-known Santa Fe Trail, they traveled to Bent’s Fort, then up the Arkansas River almost to Fort Pueblo before turning northwestward toward Cherry Creek. By May, the Russell party had reached the site of the future Denver and the area in which gold had been found eight years earlier. By late June, all the groups had ended up together.