Grand County Colorado

History Article Library

 

Explore the History & Culture of Grand County Colorado

Welcome to the Grand County Historical Association (GCHA) stories page!

 

GCHA operates four museums located in Grand County, Colorado: the Cozens Ranch Museum, the Emily Warner Field and Aviation Museum, Heritage Park, and Pioneer Village. Visit https://grandcountyhistory.org.

 

GCHA hosts a variety of events throughout the year, from exhibit openings, author talks, history treks, kids programs, special museum events and fundraisers such as the annual Taste of History. Be sure to subscribe to our Email Newsletter to get the latest updates about what’s happening. Visit the Events page for a complete listing of scheduled events.

 

You'll find over 200 stories to explore for research and inspiration. Let us know if you have an idea or a comment on any of the articles written by over 30 volunteers. Send us a note on the contact form.

 

This website is managed by the Grand County Historical Association. For more information, contact Dede Fay at dedefay@hotmail.com.

 

Articles to Browse

Topic: Ranching

Murphy Ranch

It's hard to imagine that there was a life before all the new homes filled in the spaces of the spacious lands around our towns. With all the high-tech innovations and new homes rising, ranch-life as it was in the late 1800's isn't thought about much. We're visiting today with John Murphy of the Murphy Ranch to capture some of the labors of ranch-living as he remembers it--before it is all too forgotten.

The Murphy Ranch sits just outside of the Town of Granby and on a somewhat overcast morning, John Murphy is seen ambling down the road heading toward the cabin just above his log home where he enjoys life with his wife Carolyn. Driving next to him, I ask if he'd like a ride. "No", he said, "this is a good walk for me". In his hand he holds an electric bill that he is passing on to his tenant. He looks at the company car and asks, "Is that one of those hybrid cars?" I replied that it wasn't and he just shook his head.

John with his gentle face sits with Carolyn on the sofa and begins the story of the Murphy Ranch. Jim and Margaret were the oldest Murphy siblings; John being the youngest. It wasn't uncommon to ride to school on horseback. John attended school in Granby where the apartments now stand across from the Community Building. In the winter, the horses would be stabled in a barn by the Trading Post (now Grand Mountain Trading).

"On the ranch, we milked cows and sold cream," John said. "Mom sold a lot of butter too. She'd milk 5 gallons of cream and head to the depot. Most of the cream was shipped to Denver and Boulder. We had a well out back and Mom would store the butter in a bucket and put it down in the cold well-water. In the winter, we would saw off blocks of ice from the river and pack it in sawdust to store in the cold shed where we kept our meets. Meats were screened in. We raised goats for meat.

Our first electric poles were set in 1942. Got all the poles in past the Barnard Ranch. Then the war started in 1945. Before we had electricity, we used kerosene lanterns. Mom loved to read and she read by the light of oil lamps. We used kerosene lanterns to milk the cows and the wind would often blow the flame out. With no bathroom facilities, you would have to use the outhouse in the middle of the night. We'd go to bed early because we had no lights. It was dark except for the oil lamps. Once we had electricity, we stayed up longer and read the Farmer's Almanac and Capper's Weekly.

Every year we shipped 35 carloads of cattle to Omaha with cattle from Kremmling and North Park ranches (Linkes, Ainsleys, Sheriffs) and it was a big excitement for us. We'd ride in the caboose and travel back on the California Zephyr." After the war, Japanese families would live in colonies above the ranch. They helped harvest the lettuce fields. Lettuce was a big commodity and there were four packing plants set up on the riverbed. They shipped lettuce to Chicago, New York and Yuma, Arizona. They were hard working families. A lettuce warehouse was sitting where the Old Grand and Silver Spur Restaurant now sit. Lettuce was raised from Yampa to Tabernash in those early years. Suddenly, it disappeared because they found rust in the lettuce. Some say it was the soil.

"Things were tough but we always had meat and potatoes. Never missed a meal. The only thing we didn't have was fresh fruit. At birthdays, we always had a special treat of concord grapes. A juice guy would come every few weeks. We'd love to see him, and he loved to see us-Mom always fed him."  After the war, there were more responsibilities on the ranch. There was lots of physical, hard labor. Brother Jim was commissioner for two terms.

John and his family have seen a lot over the years. Like many other ranchers, they have seen and experienced it all. Unlike today with all the modern conveniences, their lives were much different then and few today would know what it was like in those early years. Each ranch story is different in its way, but all have the same backbone---hard working families with a labor of love for ranch-life.

Topic:

Regions

Grand County has a stunning variety of terrain, landscapes and distinctive regions.  The county encompasses 1869 square miles with almost 68% of the land is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management or the National Park Service. The Continental Divide marks the northern and western boundary of the county and the county is also the headwaters of the Colorado River.  Regions have been established by proximity to water sources (The Troublesome, The Muddy, The Blue, and Three Lakes) or by their geographic features (Middle Park, Church Park, and the Fraser Valley).

Topic: Ranching

Murphy Family Ranch

Article contributed by Tonya Bina of Sky Hi Daily News, October 2009

 

As late as this summer, John Murphy, 94, mowed ditches on his ranch land and built a new fence. "You got to keep busy doing something," he said.
His longevity, he said smiling at wife Carolyn across the table, is owed to "having a good wife to keep you healthy."

And then he added, "and being stubborn and contrary, I guess." But, Carolyn believes John's secret to healthy aging is due to "hard physical labor from an early age," plus the privilege of being raised where there is good air, little junk food, fresh vegetables, fresh milk daily and ranch-harvested meat. Dancing and regular rodeo jaunts also don't hurt.

This week, the Murphys are pausing to acknowledge a 100-year milestone, when John's parents first bought the ranch in greater Granby. John Murphy was born in the family's white two-story ranch house, which still stands on the property, six years after his parents Anna (Rohracher) and James Murphy bought 160 acres from Leopold Mueller in 1909. He had purchased the land from the widow of Edward Weber, who was one of the Grand County commissioners shot in the Grand Lake shoot-out of 1883. Weber's grave is still surrounded by a white-picket fence, located just northwest from the Murphys' newer home.

Mother Anna had crossed the ocean from Austria in 1882 with her family, then in the spring of 1884, they walked over Rollins Pass from Ward to homestead at Eight-Mile Creek south of Granby. The town of Granby didn't sprout until the railroad came through in the early 1900s, so twice a year, the family would travel over Berthoud to Georgetown to buy groceries - a testament to the fortitude people had back then. "How often do you go for groceries now?" John asked. "Twice a day?"

Anna and James married in March of 1907 and had three children: Margaret, James and John. When John was just two years old, his father died and his mother was left to care for the ranch and the three young children. She later married Joseph Reinhardt who had the ranch above theirs.

Upon her death in 1952 at the age of 75, "The Middle Park Times" saluted Anna for having been "a hardy pioneer woman" who prided herself for her ability to horseback ride and milk cows, and called the latter a "fine art rather than a chore."

"It was a pleasure for her to sit down and milk cows," John said. "That's when she could rest. She would milk half of the cows while me and my step-dad milked the other half."

The ranch had about 35 cows, and the cream and milk they produced was shipped to Denver where it was sold. When the lettuce colonies came to the Granby area around the early 1920s, the Murphy ranch prospered selling milk and butter to local settlers.  "Where the airport is now, there was a shack or tent on every 10 acres over there," he said, "and five packing warehouses along the railroad." Even a section of Murphy land was leased to grow lettuce and spinach.

When young boys, John and his brother would sometimes find entertainment riding on the backs of calves in the barn - always out of sight from their mother who would have disapproved, he said. And the younger John would horseback to the Granby schoolhouse located across from the present day Granby Community Center.

Back then, Granby was barely a settlement, and the Murphys' closest neighbor was farther than a mile away. Granby, especially, has grown in the past 20 years, threatening the lifestyle he has known all his life. In the past, ranching families made up the community, and neighbors looked out for one another, he said. "There was kind of a togetherness," he said. "Now we don't have that."

Nodding to the golf courses and newer homes surrounding Granby proper, "We're losing it, losing all the ranchers," he said. "Like any piece of property, I hate to see it change hands, but progress happens and there's nothing you can do about it."

John Murphy began running the ranch in 1934 and his older brother James ran another ranch near Fraser, land the brothers originally had purchased together.
John's first wife Edith died during childbirth, and John became a single dad to a daughter and son who were 2 and 4 years old at the time, running the ranch and raising his children like his own mother did when he was a toddler.

At its height, John Murphy's commercial cattle operation had about 2,000 acres and about 120 pair of cows and calves, with the calves selling at the top of the market in Omaha. John said from working his land for hay through the years, he has found buffalo horns. "There must have been quite a few buffalo here in the 1800s," he said. The land has since been leased, split, and some shared with John's family, including daughter Jennifer Baker and son Steve Murphy.

Although the winters are no longer as harsh as he remembers them - "It would get 30 to 40 below for the whole month," he said - he and wife Carolyn now winter in Arizona. John met Carolyn in the 1970s, and the couple would dance at haunts such as the Circle H and Hazel Mosle's (now Johnson's Landing). "I just held the girls, and they did the dancing," John said. "She complained I held her too tight," he said, of Carolyn. "And she's been suffering every since."


 

 

Topic: Towns

Grand Lake

Grand Lake was established in 1879 and incorporated in 1944. It is named for the largest natural body of water in Colorado. In 1867, when only a few people resided near the lake, Major John Wesley Powell (the man whose group first rafted the Grand Canyon) came to explore the possibility of floating down the Grand (now Colorado) River. That summer, Powell, local resident Jack Sumner, and William Byers, founder of the Rocky Mountain News, made the first recorded ascent of Longs Peak from Grand Lake. In the early 1900’s a Yacht Club was formed by enthusiasts who were attracted by the demands of attentive seamanship the lake demanded.

In 1912, Sir Thomas Lipton contributed an impressive cup to be presented annually to the winner of the annual August Regatta. This event still draws skilled sailors to the challenging competition. The town was founded during a very brief mining boom, but because of it's natural beauty, tourism has long been the sustaining feature of it's economy.

Topic: Time Line

Statehood

Colorado was the 38th state admitted to the Union, and is known as the “Centennial State” because of its entrance into the union in 1876, one hundred years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The Colorado River was named earlier, and is Spanish for “red“, the color of the water that the Spanish explorers observed.

People have been living in Colorado at least 9,000 years. Spanish explorers were here in 1540, but the discovery of gold caused a major population explosion in 1859.

The state consists of 3 topographic zones: plains, mountains, and plateaus. The Continental Divide bisects the state, north to south and there are 54 peaks above 14,000 feet.

Denver is the State Capitol at 5,280 feet, one mile above sea level. Colorado is noted for its waterways and is the only state in the U.S. from which all water courses flow out of the state. Rivers that have their origins in Colorado include the North Platte, South Platte, Arkansas, Rio Grande, and the Colorado with its headwaters in Grand County.

Topic: Biographies

Redwood Fisher

Article contributed by Corinne Lively

There were two Redwood Fishers, grandfather and grandson, who made significant contributions to the development of the Grand Lake area. 

One of the earliest pioneers was the senior Redwood “Woody” Fisher, born in Urbana, IL in 1839.  He learned surveying skills in New Jersey, and received a degree in Civil Engineering in New York City, where he met his future wife, Louise Perrenoud.  He arrived in Denver in June 1860 and borrowed money to purchase his first surveying instruments.  His bride to be, her two sisters and widowed father arrived in Denver in July 1862 in a mule drawn ambulance. They had traveled for six weeks from Omaha to deliver the vehicle which was used as an ambulance and hearse.  The first marriage license in Denver was issued to Woody and Louise, and their wedding took place May 6, 1865. 

The day after his marriage to Louise, Woody joined General Hughes and E.L. Berthoud as Chief Surveyor in building the wagon road from Denver to Provo, Utah over Berthoud Pass.  The expedition followed a route laid out by Jim Bridger. 

Woody held the offices of Denver city and county surveyor and county commissioner.  He was foreman of Hook and Ladder Co. #1, and helped fight many Denver fires. 

In May 1870, Woody was killed attempting to stop a runaway team of horses at the corner of California and 14th Streets.  While trying to save the lives of several children, he fell and the wagon wheels ran over him.  Woody left his wife with three children, Louise, Charles and Ella.  He is buried in Riverside Cemetery.

Redwood must have spoken in glowing terms about his time in Grand County since his son Charles, only two when his father was killed, spent most of his life near Grand Lake, built a summer home on the North Inlet below the Rapids Lodge, purchased 160 acres on the east side of the Colorado River from the Fred Selak estate.  He died here in August 1945.  Charles and his wife Sara had a son in May 1907, whom they named Redwood.

The junior Redwood “Red” Fisher also spent most of his life in the Grand Lake area.  He was an early Park ranger and helped stock many of the high lakes on horseback.  After his marriage to Helen Schultz in 1928 he started ranching below the present Shadow Mountain dam on land purchased from Mrs. Cairns.  He later acquired the 7V/ on Stillwater Creek.  He was President of the Colorado Dude Ranch Association in 1947 and traveled to conventions in Chicago and elsewhere promoting Colorado’s guest ranches with displays of fancy roping and riding.  His own dude ranch, Fisherancho, was on the land below Shadow Mountain Dam and served guests until the 1950s.  The barn still stands, and is now part of the Arapahoe Recreation Area. 

Sources:
Lela McQueary, Widening Trails, World Press, 1962
Middle Park Times, August 12, 1945 and May 6, 1993
Colorado Families: A Territorial Heritage, CO Geneological Society, 1981
Brand Book, Middle Park Stock Growers Assn.
BLM General Land Office Records
Conversations with local decendant Toots Cherrington


Topic: Biographies

Isabella Bird

In Yorkshire, England on October 15th 1831, a clergyman and the daughter of a clergyman gave birth to small, sickly girl who would grow up to be one of the most well known travel writers of her time, an exceptional accomplishment in an era when women rarely ventured far from home unescorted. In 1850, after a childhood full of ailments, Isabella had an only partially successful operation to remove a tumor from her spine. Following the surgery, Isabella suffered greatly from depression and insomnia; it was then that her doctor recommended that she travel.  Isabella's father, becoming increasingly worried about his daughter, gave her a hundred pounds and sent her off to see the world.

Ms. Bird traveled throughout the world including Canada, Hawaii, Australia, China, Tibet and Morocco.  She came to Colorado right after the territory had officially been become a state. Isabella loved it in the mountains, so much so that she wrote many letters home to her sister which eventually came to become her third and most famous book, A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains. In this document, Isabella wrote of her adoration of the area saying, "I have found a dream of beauty at which one might look all one's life and sigh."

Upon her arrival to Colorado, she traveled into the mountains west of Estes Park. She wrote about adventures and challenges and of her romance with Jim Nugent, or "Rocky Mountain Jim" a one eyed outlaw with an attraction to violence and poetry. He was shot and killed a year after Isabella left Colorado.

Throughout the letters, Isabella mentions the wonderful sights of the lands she explored near current day Grand County.  In one of her letters, Isabella wrote of the time she rode a horse through a blizzard with her eyes frozen shut.  She found herself in another adventure when she was snowed in a cabin with two young men for several months.

Isabella grew eventually grew homesick and headed back to Edinburgh Scotland where she married a doctor. After five years of marriage, her husband died and Isabella returned to travelling. When Isabella returned to Edinburgh in 1904, she grew very ill and died while planning another trip to China.

Topic: Biographies
, Gram Wood on horseback

Lillian Russell Smith Wood - "Gram" Wood

, Gram Wood on horseback

Lillian Russell Smith Wood was born in Dunlap, Kansas, in 1884, she was not a particularly healthy child.  Born just before her and just after her were sets of twins, 2 of the 4 sets born to her parents and the only 2 sets that survived into adulthood.  Lillian spent her adult years on the Williams Fork and then in Parshall. Known as “Gram” Wood to most everyone who knew her, she was grandmother to 39 who bear the names Wood, Noell, Stack, and Black.  And her history in Grand County beginning in 1905 made her one of our pioneers. 

In the fall of 1905, the local newspapers report that Herb Wood had lost a large portion of his right hand in an ore crusher accident.  Herb had come into Summit County originally with a mule team for “Uncle Joe” Coberly, another Williams Fork resident and apparently worked in or around mines and mining equipment while also hauling the timbers for mine use.  Herb needed some round the clock nursing, and in those days, for Gram to take proper care of him and still be in an acceptable position, they needed to be married. One source says the situation was so different that a Denver newspaper picked up the story with a headline of “Loses Three Fingers, Wins a Bride”, indicating that they married 3 days after they met.  Research has never turned up a trace of that story, and it’s unlikely in the mining camps in the area that they hadn’t met until he was injured.  Still, they were married by Judge Swisher, well known area businessman, in short order in the hotel room where Herb was recovering .  A short time later they made a brief wedding trip to Denver and then returned to Argentine.

Before fall set in that year, the newly married couple moved to the Little Muddy.  Herb had been sending money to a partner who was helping him to secure a homestead there not far from where Joe Coberly lived.  It was probably with anticipation of a great future on their own land that sent them into Middle Park to face their first winter as a couple without having had a chance to raise a garden or preserve any winter supplies.  They moved into one end of a two room cabin with a man named Ranger Charlie in the other.  And about that same time, they discovered that Herb’s partner had been drinking the money he’d sent over the years.  What devastation that must have caused!

On the other side of the valley just across the creek was the large  ranching operation known as the Hermosa Ranch, owned by Dr. T. F. DeWitt, a well-to-do doctor from back East.  With the dream of his homestead gone, Herb went to work for DeWitt, eventually becoming one of his foremen.  Gram probably helped out with cooking and cleaning, but within a few months, she went back to Kansas to await the birth of their first child. Over the next 21 years, she raised kids and gardens and developed her love of fishing, which helped feed a family that eventually totaled 13 kids, including a set of twins born 2 weeks before Christmas and delivered by Herb when a doctor couldn’t reach them in time. Pictures of the time show a large family of 9 boys and 4 girls with Gram, all 5’2” and maybe 100 pounds of her on one end, and Herb with a child or two on his lap at the other.  The kids recall Christmases being supplied mostly by Mrs. DeWitt and sometimes being late if the trains got snowed out of the area. All attended one room schools, Hermosa and Columbine, and stories of their lives together can make one wonder why any of them survived.

Life continued  pretty much routinely until 1928.  That summer, the youngest daughter, Marilyn, a premature baby and ailing child caught whooping cough.  She lingered and languished until early October, and then she passed away.  The close-knit family had suffered it’s first loss. Two weeks later, Herb came in from the hayfield complaining of not feeling well.  Gram followed him into the living room and sat down with him on the couch. Minutes later, he collapsed in her arms and died of a cerebral hemorrhage.  They buried him alongside Marilyn in the Hot Sulphur Springs Cemetery.

The boys continued the work for Dr. DeWitt for several years, and in 1932, they built a 2 bedroom house for Gram several miles from where DeWitt had relocated his ranch.  Her sons made sure she had what she needed as she finished raising the youngest ones who had been little more than toddlers when Herb died.

By the time I was old enough to remember much about Gram, she was already a “little old lady” who lived in a small, pink mobile home next to Uncle Kenneth in Parshall. Everyone knew that she was one of the best fishermen in the country, having caught as many as 1200 in a season when she was feeding her family by herself.  She enjoyed creek fishing the most, and even as she got older her ability to maneuver around the biggest holes and catch fish in any small body of water never faltered.   I never saw her get wet.

In the winter, she was totally unafraid getting a couple of her grandkids on a sled and making a run down the hill in Parshall that ended at the store and U.S. 40, which then went through the center of town.  Had her feet not worked so well as brakes, we could have ended up on the pavement.  But we never did.

She must have driven many teams of horses in her day, and I believe she was a good rider. She never drove a car, but unless she needed to go to the doctor in Kremmling, she didn’t need to leave town. Her friends included Doc Ceriani’s mother and fellow fishermen from Hot Sulphur, a couple from Poland with heavy accents.  Somehow, somewhere she had met Ralph Moody, author of the “Little Britches” series. And she, too, had a “fish” experience with warden Henry “Rooster” Wilson.

Only once did I get into trouble because of Gram.  She was fishing one day near where I was getting ready to ride, when she laid down her pole and walked over to me.  After watching me for a minute she said, “Can I ride?”  What do you say to your 80 year old grandmother but, “Of course!”  I saddled up the gentlest mare we had and helped her aboard.  She only made a couple of trips around the small pasture, but as she rode, walking only, I’m sure I saw a young woman next to her husband on horseback in front of one of the Hermosa’s big barns.  It’s one of the pictures you’ll find at the County Museum in Hot Sulphur.  When dad found out what I’d done, he turned deathly white.  “Don’t you know if she’d fallen or been thrown she could have been seriously injured or killed?”  No, I had to admit.  This was one rider’s request to another, with age no consideration .  And to her at that particular moment, had either occurred I believe she would have considered those few moments worth the risk.  When she was finished, she walked back to her fishing pole, satisfied that nowshe was done riding.

Gram introduced me to horehound candy, something I will also think about each time I taste it.  And because she didn’t like my first name, I didn’t even know what it was until I started school.  She taught me that barn cats do fish and that survival in a small living space was possible The one thing she didn’t teach me was anything about her growing up years or about my grandfather.  It seemed like we knew as very young kids that we didn’t ask about him.  I believe that hers was a love so strong that even to the point where her mind grew dim, the pain of losing him was too much to bear.  One regret we all have, however, is that we never asked to her to go with us up to Summit County to show us where she lived and to tell us stories of that life and time.  And unfortunately that’s been lost forever. Gram passed away in 1980, at the age of 97.  She is buried with Marilyn and Herb and their son, Melvin who died during World War II in a family plot in Hot Sulphur with other family and pioneers characters nearby.

She left a true legacy through her kids and grandkids who continue the nostalgic traditions of their beloved Gram.

Topic:

Irving Hale's Adventures in Grand County

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

At the age of 17, Irving Hale was the first graduate of the Denver Hugh School in 1878. That summer, he and his younger brother decided to go to Grand Lake to catch trout with the plan to sell the fish in Central City and make a tidy profit.

 

On July 5th, they camped atop of Berthoud Pass, building a "roaring fire to keep mosquitoes away".  The next day, they reached Cozens Ranch (stage stop in what is now Winter Park) but their jackass, carrying much of their supplies, had wandered off.  They feared that he had returned to Georgetown, where they had purchased him earlier in the week, but they found him grazing in a nearby pasture.

 

They almost drowned attempting to cross the Fraser River but finally found their way to Grand Lake on July 9th.  There, they camped and fished and collected enough trout for their return trip to Central City.  On the way back, the fish started to smell so they found some ice and started over the Continental Divide.  They realized they wouldn't make much money so were happy to sell their rotting trout for 25 cents per 10 pounds.  On July 25th they shot a deer and had a terrible time trying to skin it and cut up the meat.  Discouraged, they finally returned home to Central City.

 

Irving Hale was given an appointment to West Point and during his career he rose to the rank of Brigadier General. He was given command of troops in combat in the Philippines following the Spanish-American War. As Colorado's first combat general, he retired to Denver in 1906, and published his experiences as a youth in  "A Tramp Through Middle Park".

 

When the World War II cold weather camp was established near Leadville Colorado, it was named after Irving Hale. Many of the ski and mountaineering troops, the Tenth Mountain Division, became the founders of many of the modern ski areas of Colorado.  

 

Sources:

Rocky Mountain News, April 15, 1888

Sons of Colorado, Vol. I, 3&, 1906

Fay, Abbott; A History of Skiing in Colorado; Ouray, CO; 2002

 

Topic: Biographies

William H. Kimball

The span crossing the Colorado River on State Highway 9 southeast of Kremmling is known as the Kimball Bridge.  It honors the memory of William H. Kimball who carried the mail over Berthoud Pass from Empire to Hot Sulphur Springs by foot, winter and summer.  Kimball was born in Maine and accepted the Middle Park mail contract in 1875.  Although reportedly nearly blind, Kimball traveled on snowshoes all winter carrying a backpack of mail weighing 70-105 pounds, day and night, at least once a week.

In  1884, Kimball established a flat bottom ferry over the Colorado River near the spot where the bridge now stands.  Before that time, no wagons could cross at that area.  With the addition of the ferry, load of game meat and fish could be taken up the Blue River to be traded for much needed staples. 

Kimball never married and lived at a nearby ranch until his death in 1909.