Chauncey Thomas memorial
Ute Bill Thompson

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:

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:

Biographies

From Indians and explorers to doctors and developers, click on the drop-down menus to learn about some of the remarkable people who helped shape Grand County.

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: Water

Water

Grand County is home to the headwaters of the famed Colorado River — the river that brings water to five other arid Western states. Water is the lifeblood of semi-arid Colorado and Grand County is one of the most water-rich areas of Colorado, and yet faces a shortage due to historical water agreements, written long before population pressures and the environmental awareness of the current age.

On average, the water diversion projects in the county move a whopping 305,000 acre-feet per year from the Fraser, Colorado and Williams Fork rivers — all headwaters of the Colorado's main stem. 60 percent of the water in Grand County is diverted elsewhere and there are plans underway, mostly from Front Range communities, to divert as much as 80 percent of the county's headwaters by the year 2010.

Two of the main water utilities, Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District face a quandary: how to take the water from Grand County without further damaging the delicate environment and the region's economy, which is fueled by tourists who expect to play in the very water the Front Range wants to take.

Stafford Family

James "Jimmy" M. Stafford was born in 1849 in Wexford Ireland. Jimmy immigrated to Leadville in the 1870's to work in the booming silver mines. In Leadville, he met and married  Deborah Helen Acey (born 1846 in Trenton New Jersey) in 1880.  In the 1880's the couple moved to Dillon and then homesteaded the Stafford Ranch on the Blue River at Spring Creek Road. Jimmy built their home by hand carrying logs from Green Mountain.  They had one son, Frank Elmer Stafford, born in 1886. Jimmy and Deborah also operated the stage stop, boarding house and saloon called the "Halfway House" between Kremmling and Dillon on Highway 9.  It remained in operation until the stage lines ceased in the early 1900's and the buildings were dismantled in the 1940's.  

Frank went on to marry Alice Smith in 1909 and they had six children, including their first, a son, James Elmer, who died at age 8 in the worldwide flu epidemic of 1918. Frank and Alice built the Stafford General Store, directly across from the "Halfway House".  Frank was instrumental in installing the first telephone lines in the area and served as Grand County Commissioner from 1928 to 1936 and as County Commissioner from 1948 until his death from injuries in a car wreck in 1950.  Alice was called the "Blue River Belle" and kept the general store until 1960.  Alice lived in Kremmling until her death in 1969.  

 

Topic: Regions

North Park & Middle Park - Politics and Whiskey

The Territorial legislature defined the boundaries and county seats for the West Slope in 1861.  Geographic knowledge of the Colorado mountains was somewhat limited at that time.  North Park (a name now synonymous with Jackson County) was an Indian hunting ground and little was known about it.

A boom started with the discovery of gold and silver at Teller City in 1879.  North Park was considered to be part of Grand County, and now there was property to assess and tax.  The Grand County road tax in North Park for 1881 applied only to males between the ages of 21 and 45.  They had to either pay $3 in cash or do two day's work on the roads. John Mills, a Teller City resident who acted as an attorney for mine owners, served as a Grand County commissioner and was one of the commissioners killed in the July 4, 1883 gun battle at Grand Lake.

As ranches became established and more mineral deposits were discovered, the Larimer County commissioners began to speculate that the "Snowy Range" that defined the western boundary of Larimer County was the Park Range on the west side of North Park rather than the Medicine Bow Range.  This opinion soon degenerated into a dispute between Grand and Larimer counties, ultimately ending up in court. In 1886 the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that North Park was part of Larimer County.

A trip to the county seat in Fort Collins was a considerable undertaking.  If everything ran on schedule it was possible for travelers to leave Walden on the morning stage, catch a train from Laramie to Cheyenne, another train from Cheyenne to Greeley, still another from Greeley to Fort Collins, and arrive at the county seat before closing hours the following day.  The fares amounted to a significant expense.  It was probably more common for a North Parker to travel to Fort Collins in his wagon, take care of business, and come home with a wagonload of provisions.  The trip by wagon took three to four days each way.

As the population of North Park grew, so did the desire to split from Larimer County.  In 1908 the Loveland newspaper stated that Larimer County was too big and advocated a new county with Loveland as the county seat.  The Walden newspaper agreed that the county was too big but felt the wrong division line had been picked, pointing out that "A Loveland man can get to the county seat in three hours anytime, but it takes a North Park man three days most of the time."

Ranchers resisted early efforts to set off the area west of the Medicine Bow Range into a county of its own as they carried the largest part of the tax burden and felt their taxes would increase if a new county was established.  But by 1908 there was general agreement within the Park that it was time for court and administrative offices to be more conveniently located.

The total valuation assessed in 1908 of North Park property by Larimer County was $771,776, which generated $16,979 of revenue.  The salaries of some of the paid officers of the new county was estimated as follows:

     Assessor                                                    $800

     County School Superintendent                   $800

     Water Commissioner, 2 districts                $1000

     County Commissioners                             $1000

Even adding in salaries for the sheriff and county clerk it appeared quite likely that the new county could be operated efficiently without a tax increase and the proposal to create "North Park County" had nearly unanimous support from North Parkers.  The bill passed the legislature easily in April 1909, with a name change to Jackson, and was quickly signed into law on May 5 by Governor Shafroth.

While North Parkers were eager to sever their legal ties to Larimer County in 1909, they clearly weren't ready to give up the pleasures of offered by a nip of the bottle.  Like most frontier areas, North Park had a significant number of single men who liked to occasionally get together and enjoy a few drinks with their friends.  Walden was the center of socialization.  According to an 1899 newspaper article, Walden residents worried about the "toughs" who came to town to "drink barbed-wire bitters and then shoot up the place."

In addition, local married men sometimes frequented the bars when they could have been spending more time at home helping out with domestic chores.  As a result, a strong temperance movement soon divided the community.  One of the two local newspapers, the North Park Union, endorsed the temperance movement in early 1902 and soon found itself the target of a boycott by both advertisers and subscribers.  Although the editor declared it a "boycott of no great magnitude", the paper had a new owner/editor within a month.  The issue of whether Walden should be wet or dry was on the 1902 ballot.  By a very decisive majority, voters decided Walden would continue to be wet.

Just before the 1906 election, the Walden newspaper criticized the local Republican Party bosses for providing a lot of free whiskey in every North Park precinct on election day, and urged North Parkers not to sell their vote for a drink.  The temperance movement enjoyed its first victory when it combined forces with the local church and convinced the businessmen of Walden to close their stores on Sundays.  The closing did not stand in high favor with ranchers.  "When a man can't buy axle grease for his wagon when it runs dry and something else for himself when he runs dry, it is time to call a halt," they declared.  Quite a number of the ranchers started going through to Laramie for their provisions, and the Sunday closing rule was abandoned six weeks after it was implemented.

When news reached Walden in early 1909 that the bill creating Jackson County had cleared the legislature, the newspaper reported that the town was moved to the point of a merry celebration.  The brass band marched, guns were fired, and at daybreak "the women, as becomes their sex, were among the few who were sober."  A few weeks later news that the Governor had signed the bill was cause for another celebration.  The newspaper reported that, "the air about town clouded up and filled with burnt powder and raucous vocalizations.  The festivities continued in the evening with flying anvils propelled by stick powder . . ." The first hundred years of Jackson County had commenced.

Topic: Agriculture

Agriculture of Grand County

The first settlers in Granby realized the sunny days and cool nights were perfect for growing one crop in particular, lettuce. Lettuce farming boomed in the 1920's and a new industry was born. Granby had become an important railway center as tracks were laid over the Divide at Rollins Pass,giving the Moffat Railroad access to Salt Lake City.

Granby produced some of the best-known lettuce in America. There are even tales that New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bragged of their “Granby Lettuce” on the menu. Then a blight settled into the soil, probably brought in by the wooden crates used for shipping, and the lettuce business was ruined. Since then, ranching has replaced agriculture as Granby's major industry.

Topic: Regions

Three Lakes

The Three Lakes area encompasses the north-east corner of Grand County and is so named because of the three connected lakes of Grand Lake, Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Granby Reservoir. 

The two reservoirs were formed as a part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which takes water from Grand Lake on the western side of the Continental Divide to the Big Thompson River on the east.  Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Granby Reservoir. connected by a   unique pumping plant, assure that the Grand Lake water level remains consistent. Further reservoirs were added in the Three Lakes area, including the Willow Creek and Windy Gap Reservoirs.

Topic: Mining
Mount Baker

Gaskill and the Wolverine and Ruby Mines

Mount Baker

The Wolverine Mine was discovered in 1875 by James Bourn and Alexander Campbell. Bourn was the brother-in-law of James Crawford, the founder of Steamboat Springs. James Bourn was the twin brother of Crawford's wife, Maggie.  A Grand County recording error forever changed the name of Bourn in the area to "Bowen".  The mine was located in the Rabbit Ears Range on Bowen Mountain, up Bowen Gulch, approximately 10 miles northwest of Grand Lake.  This discovery sparked additional exploration in the area that lead to a number of new mines. Within a week of the original discovery,  interested parties formed the Campbell Mining District which included Bowen Mountain, Bowen and Baker gulches.  Some of the Middle Park residents who participated in the mining exploration  were John Baker, Charles Royer, Charles Hook, John Stokes and the Redman brothers, William and Mann. The Redman's  eventually  discovered the Sedalia mine. Bourn and Campbell  in less than a year lost the Wolverine mine by not fulfilling a grubstake agreement with the Georgetown grocers, Spruance and Hutchinson.

John Stokes leased the Wolverine Mine from the grocers until Edward Phillip Weber, an agent representing a group of Illinois investors, purchased the Wolverine Mine in the Summer of 1879.  Weber continued purchasing other Campbell Mining District claims which created a great deal of local excitement.  Weber hired Stokes  to assist him and also hired Lewis Dewitt Clinton Gaskill to act as the first foreman for the Wolverine mine.  Gaskill had mine operation experience, having successfully operated the Saco Mine, on Leavenworth Mountain, above Georgetown for several years.  A mining camp was built  below the Wolverine Mine that contained a large bunk house building and a more substantial mine office building.

Gaskill, a Civil War veteran of the 28th  Regiment of the New York Volunteer Infantry,  had come to Colorado in 1868 as a representative of a group of Auburn, New York bankers to invest in mining properties.  He eventually successfully operated the Saco mine in 1873 and 1874.  He invested in the Georgetown, Empire and Middle Park Wagon Road in 1874, which was a toll road that finally made the Berthoud Pass road passable for wagon traffic.  Gaskill also acted as the foreman during the construction of the road. The principal investor in the road was William Cushman of the First National Bank of Georgetown. The bank had a financial collapse in 1877.  At that time, Gaskill was the secretary of the road company and lived with his family in the company house just below the summit of Berthoud Pass on the west side.  William Hamill, a wealthy Georgetown businessman, bought the wagon road in a foreclosure auction in 1881 for $7,000.  Gaskill continued to live with his family in the Berthoud Pass summit house until 1885, when he moved his family into the Fraser Valley and homesteaded 160 acres along Elk Creek.

The settlement of Gaskill began when  in August of 1880,  Al J. Warner built a log cabin store in a meadow below Bowen Gulch on the trail/road that lead to both Bowen Gulch and Baker Gulch.  The settlement was also strategically well placed midway on the trail/road between Grand Lake and Lulu City and the Lead Mountain Mining District.  Another store was built in September by  John K. Mowery.  By that October, Mowery was appointed as the first postmaster of Gaskill.  The following spring E. Snell, opened a large general merchandise store that prompted the original store keeper, Al Warner, to relocate to Grand Lake as Al's Place. The town was named to honor L.D.C. Gaskill, the greatly respected foreman of the Wolverine Mine, the road builder/operator and the Civil War veteran.  By 1882, the town covered 60 acres.  E.P. Weber of the Grand Lake Mining and Smelting Company got involved in the town real estate development by laying out a city grid and offering lots for sale.  Weber's plat renamed the town Auburn after L. D. C. Gaskill's home town of Auburn, New York, but the Gaskill name stuck.  By the close of 1882, there were over 100 residents living in Gaskill.  The most substantial building was the Rogerson House, a well appointed two  story, squared log hostelry, Horatio Bailey Rogerson, proprietor.  Rogerson, would be elected County Commissioner in November of 1882, but would not serve because of a sudden discovery of ineligibility.  Instead, lame duck Colorado Governor Pitkin, appointed E. P. Weber to the post.  Weber was killed in the infamous July 4, 1883 shoot-out at Grand Lake.   

The Bowen Gulch trail lead to many of the  most productive and worked mines in the Campbell Mining District which included the Wolverine, now owned by the Grand Lake Mining and Smelting Company, E. P. Weber superintendent and the Ruby and Cross mines owned by Kentucky and Colorado Mining and Smelting  Company, John Barbee superintendent. Barbee, who lived in Grand Lake,  would go on to serve as superintendent of schools, Justice of the Peace and briefly the editor of the Grand Lake Prospector.  Barbee's partner in many endeavors was Antelope Jack Warren. Warren was as rough as Barbee was refined.  He acted as a foreman and, by one account, a bodyguard for Barbee.  The Bowen Gulch trail continued up the mountain to Bowen Pass and then descended into North Park and the Jack and Park mining districts which were organized by the end of 1880, to the settlement of Teller City.  Passable roads that could handle wagon traffic were needed and often planned but rarely built.  The high cost of building and maintaining  wagon capable roads in Middle Park was a difficult proposition for local governments and private entrepreneurs.  

The Grand County Commissioners in July of 1877 had declared the trail from Grand Lake to the mining gulches of the Rabbit Ears  Range to be a county road.  However there was little county money to pay for improvements to make the trail a road.  Private investors were reluctant to invest in wagon roads when there was the persistent  rumor that railroads were coming spawned by the numerous railroad surveys that were performed in the area.   Albert Selak, a Georgetown brewer, in August of 1878, organized a toll road that would branch off of the Georgetown, Empire, and Middle Park Wagon Road at the Ostrander Ranch on Red Dirt Hill, and proceed to Grand Lake and continue on to the Rabbit Ears Range mines and continue on into North Park and on to the Wyoming territory line.  John Barbee invested in the Middle Park Toll Bridge Company, a toll bridge company that intended  to build a bridge across the Grand River  above the confluence of Willow Creek and the Grand River.  However, this project languished, and was taken over by the county with an expenditure of $150.  

If ore wagons would need to haul ore to the nearest reduction mill which was over 60 miles in Georgetown, the toll road might have been a financial success. However, the lower grade ore from these Rabbit Ears Range mines would not yield a sufficient profit to cover the transportation and processing costs in a market where the market value of silver annually declined.  So the ore piles grew.  What was needed was a nearby reduction mill or cheaper transportation, like a railroad or a higher price for silver.  Weber had  repeatedly promised that a reduction mill was coming, but nothing was ever built.  By April of 1883 with tons of ore piled up and waiting for transport to be processed,  Weber temporarily closed the Wolverine Mine and laid off his miners.  He admitted  in June of 1883 that the ore from the Wolverine was “rather refractory” and that it would not justify shipment without local reduction.  Some hoped the closing was a strategic move by Weber to trigger a sell off of area mining properties  so that he could acquire additional mines before he built the reduction mill, but it was not to be. Weber would soon be shot dead by his political rival, John Gillis Mills.

The favorable newspaper stories of Rabbit Ears Range mining would continue, but for the informed, it had become  clear that without a major investment in improved transportation including a railroad or a major investment in a reduction mill in the area, the mining concerns were doomed to fail.  Mining claims had to be worked in order to be kept.   A minimum of $100 of labor or $500 in improvements had to be expended each year to maintain the claim or else the claim would be deemed abandoned.  Many claim holders leased their claims to miners to work for a percentage of the return.  Without the ability to sell and process the ore for a profit, there was no return.  The speculative mining investment money began to dry up and the miners and their supporting merchants began to leave.  By the end of 1886, the Middle Park mining boom had  ended. To further add to the decline,  a border dispute that arose between Larimer County and Grand County over the taxation and mineral wealth of North Park was finally decided in 1886 by the Colorado Supreme Court in favor of Larimer County.  North Park was part of Larimer County, not part of Grand County.  A lawsuit would follow so that Larimer County could recover the wrongly collected taxes of $20,000 from Grand County.  Grand County's total tax income at the time was less than $3,500 a year.

Topic: Regions

The Troublesome

Tradition holds that an army party led by one Lt. Col Johns gave the name of Troublesome to what had sometimes been called Oties Creek.  The Army was plotting a road in 1865 and had to go north to the forks of the East and West Troublesome in order to cross it, because of the soft soil, thereby being a “troublesome” creek.  Some historians claim that mountain man “Colorado Charley” Utter had built a cabin on the creek in 1861, which became a popular stopping place for early hunters and trappers in the region.  Another report credits John S. Jones of Empire with a cabin near the mouth of the Blue River, a few miles away, that same year.

Among the earliest settlers on the Troublesome were Barney Day, Henry King and Martin “Dock” McQueary, who had a cabin there in 1871.  In 1878, a post office was established at the King home. 

By the end of the century, many ranches had been established at on Troublesome Creek.  Farthest upstream was the remote George Hendricks ranch, difficult to reach year round and totally cut off from the rest of the world during winter snow.  Mrs. Hendricks had a large library and gave her children a sound education prior to their high school years in Kremmling. 

Among the most prominent ranches were those of George and Forrest Wheatly.  Probably the largest ranch (3000 acres) was that of the family of Con Ritschard, lying just north of current day U.S. Highway 40 east of Troublesome Creek.

Life was hard for the settlers in the area.  Like much of Grand County, the soil was frozen as deep as eight feet in the winter.  One memoir noted that when there was a death in the winter, the corpse was placed in the roof of a cabin, well swathed, until the spring thaw allowed for permanent burial.

There was a six year school (second to seventh grade) and a post office established at Pearmont about half way up the Troublesome, in the 1920s.  This area was named for local settler Gus Pearson.

Ranching was not the only pursuit along the Troublesome Creek.  Settler Roy Polhamos grew lettuce and shipped it through the Granby Cooperative to Denver.  He also had a potato contract with one of the Denver grocers.  Other growers contributed to the 125 refrigerated train carloads of lettuce that were shipped from Granby in 1924.  By 1929, 34 farmed from Granby to Troublesome netted $46,000, a highly respectable profit in those days.