The Legendary Barney Ford: The Former Enslaved Man Who Became one of Cheyenne’s Wealthiest Businessmen
Barney Launcelot Ford was born into slavery in1822. From his humble roots in Virginia, the son of an enslaved woman and a white plantation owner eventually became one of the wealthiest men in the west and a prominent pioneer for civil rights.
After teaching himself to read and write as a teenager, Ford was sent to work on the Mississippi River. He escaped from the docks and made his way to Chicago, where he ran a successful barbershop.
In the early 1850s, Ford relocated to Central America and opened his first hotel in the country of Nicaragua.
By 1860, Ford followed the gold rush to Colorado, eventually settling in Denver. He quickly became one of the most successful business owners in the area, operating a restaurant, barbershop, and the Inter-Ocean Hotel.
At the time, the Inter-Ocean Hotel was the largest building in Denver's fledgling Lo-Do district. It became so popular that Ford decided to open another hotel in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
In 1870, Cheyenne was only three years old and many of the town's earliest structures were being replaced by bigger and better buildings.
Upon its completion, the Inter-Ocean became the center of Cheyenne nightlife. Over the years, the Inter-Ocean hosted many traveling dignitaries, including President Theodore Roosevelt, who stayed there on several occasions.
It was also home to the most popular saloon in town. Infamous gunslinger Tom Horn is one of the many regulars who frequented the hotel bar.
By the time he died in 1902, Ford has built a fortune of $500,000; the equivalent of over $100 million today.
Along with the Plains Hotel, which opened in 1911, the Inter-Ocean Hotel remained a downtown landmark until it was destroyed by fire in 1916.
MORE CHEYENNE HISTORY: 1916: Fire Destroys Legendary Inter-Ocean Hotel
After the fire, the land was sold to Cheyenne businessman Harry Hynds, who constructed the Hynds Building, which still stands on the corner of Lincolnway and Capitol Avenue.
In addition to being one of Cheyenne's early architects, Ford is also remembered with a monument inside the Colorado State Capitol and a plaque outside of Coors Field in Denver.
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