Aunt Clara Brown: Unearthing a Legacy of Compassion and Strength

Jeff Campbell

Clara Brown's life story is deeply interwoven with her steadfast Christian faith, a faith which guided her every action and became the cornerstone of her remarkable journey. The centrality of her faith is embodied in her quote, “I only do what Jesus tells me to.” 

As Clara navigated the opportunities of entrepreneurship, she leaned into the opportunity to serve others. Clara exemplified the Christian virtues through her ceaseless acts of kindness. Even when faced with personal losses and the erosion of her hard-earned fortunes, Clara's reliance on her faith remained unshaken, inspiring her to continue her mission of helping others. 

Clara Brown's story, rooted in her devout Christian faith, is a beacon for us to follow.

In the records of history, certain stories gleam like nuggets of gold amidst the riverbeds of the past, offering priceless insights into human resilience and kindness. The story of Aunt Clara Brown is such a treasure, enriched with lessons of compassion, strength, and selflessness. Known as "The Angel of the Rockies," Clara Brown's life during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush of 1859 epitomizes how the most valuable discoveries often come from the most unexpected sources.

Clara’s journey west began alongside a wagon train traversing the rugged terrain from the Arkansas River, along the Smoky Hill Trail, and into the Rockies. Despite her age, over fifty, and the hard life she had endured, Clara was hired as a cook, walking alongside the wagons that carried her cooking supplies but not her. The men doubted her strength to endure the 700-mile trek by foot, yet she proved her resilience and determination under the challenging conditions of the gold rush.

Arriving in Central City, Colorado, Clara did not seek gold in the soil; instead, she mined the opportunities around her. Starting a laundry business, she quickly became a pillar of support for African Americans new to the territory, helping them settle and find work. Her success allowed her to invest in real estate, fund miners (known as grubstaking), and contribute to community infrastructure like churches and schools. Clara's investments went beyond the monetary; she invested her whole self into the welfare of others, recognizing the power of education and opportunity as she had been denied these freedoms in her own youth.

Despite personal tragedies, including several failed attempts to locate her own dispersed family, Clara’s home became more than a residence; it was a community center, a Sunday school, and a beacon of hope. Even when unscrupulous business dealings eroded her financial resources, she relied on the robust network of relationships she had built to support her through hard times.

The pinnacle of her emotional journey was the reunion with her daughter, Eliza Jane, in 1883 – a poignant reminder of her personal sacrifices and unyielding spirit. The community's recognition of her lifelong service came when they collected funds to send her to Council Bluffs, Iowa, to meet her long-lost daughter. Clara Brown passed away two years later, leaving behind a legacy enriched by her deeds and the lives she touched.

Today, as we navigate our own challenges, Clara Brown's story is a beacon, illuminating the virtues of endurance, faith, and altruism. Her life teaches us that the true value of our endeavors lies not in the wealth we accumulate but in the goodwill we foster. Each act of kindness, each effort to support another, adds value to our collective human experience.

Clara Brown’s legacy is a reminder that we, too, can be miners of goodwill in our communities. By embodying her strength, enduring against the odds, and acting with compassion, we can uncover and share the rich veins of humanity that run deep through our history. In this way, Clara's spirit continues through us, proving that the most profound legacies are those that enrich the lives of others.

Curious about Clara brown?

Listen in as the Histories of Christianity in our City team discusses the inspiring life and legacy of Clara Brown on their podcast.
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Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell is a storytelling coach, playwright, and narrative strategist. He is the founder and director of Emancipation Theater Company in Denver, Colorado. Jeff Campbell will be a speaker at the Histories of Christianity in Our City event, A Legacy of Love – The Life of Clara Brown.