Ute Bill Thompson
Spruce Lodge

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: Skiing

Skiing

Grand County was one of the first areas in Colorado to enjoy sport skiing.  While mail carriers, loggers and other workers used the "Norwegian Snowshoes" as necessary winter transportation, it was a natural progression to begin racing down the slopes for fun.

An 1883 newspaper noted that in Grand Lake "Coasting on snowshoes has taken the place of dancing parties.   Quite a number of ladies are becoming adept at the art.  First class snowshoers, B.W. Tower and Max James are the best; or at least they can fall more gracefully then the rest".

According to famous Hot Sulphur Springs champion Barney McLean, that town had three jumping hills in the 1920s and held the first Winter Carnival in the West there in 1911.  By 1925, Denver sent special "snow trains" there for the recreating tourists.  Skiers such as Bob McQueary and Jim Harsh competed in statewide events along with skiing "veterans" Horace Button and McLean.  Grand Lake's Jim Harsh became the first Coloradoan to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team.

In 1932, the Grand Lake Ski Club held its first winter sports week on Denver 25-January 1st.  Featured was a motor sled with an airplane engine which pulled skiers over the frozen lake are speeds of 90 miles per hour.

Colorado's first ski tow was opened at the summit of Berthoud Pass in 1936.  Berthoud Pass operated on and off throughout the next 60+ years but was finally closed and the lifts dismantled in 2002.  

What became the resort of Winter Park featured skiing at the West Portal of the Moffatt Tunnel and the Winter Park Ski Area opened as a result of efforts by Denver Parks & Recreation Director George Cranmer. Early lodging resorts in the area, then known as Hideaway Park (now Winter Park), included Sportland Valley, Timberhaus Lodge, and Millers Idlewild Inn.  Eventually trains made daily runs to Winter Park, loaded with intrepid skiers.  Steve Bradley invented the first effective snow packer on the slopes of Winter Park.

With a strong record of winning high school ski teams, Grand County accounted for a remarkable number of skiers who later took park in FIS (International Federation of Skiers) meets and U.S. Olympic teams.

A later ski area, now know as Sol Vista Ski Basin (formerly Silver Creek Resort) opened in Granby in the 1980's.  World class cross country ski areas in Grand County include Snow Mountain Ranch and Devil's Thumb Ranch.

Topic: Biographies

Nathaniel "Nathan" Shore

Nathaniel "Nathan" Shore was born in Cottonwood Harbor Canada in 1856. When he was about 16 years old he had visited and then worked as a freighter hauling groceries to different towns in western Colorado. He saved enough money to purchase his own wagons and 2 yoke of oxen for each wagon to continue freighting.

Nathan became famous as a man who carried his Bible in one hand and a gun in the other. Nathan returned to visit his family and met Sarah Jones in Springfield Missouri. They were married in 1885. Their trip to Colorado and the Williams Fork was undertaken with Sarah driving a team of horses pulling a covered wagon and Nathan herding their few cows.

The cows helped start a homestead ranch east of the Williams Fork river. In 1907 they sold the homestead ranch to the Curtis Family. They had purchased the Anders Anderson ranch close to Williams Peak and the Joseph Jackson ranch on Bull Run Creek.

They lived on the Anderson place until the forest fire that burned along the Williams Fork Mountains. Nathan told Sarah to hitch the horses to the hay rack, load the furniture that it would carry, take all the children and move to the Jackson place while he helped fight the fire. Nathan's team of horses were stolen so he broke 3 heifers and a steer to work in the yoke.

He still did a lot of freighting to make a living for his family. He freighted to Hot Sulphur Springs and also from Georgetown. He returned home to the ranch about once a week. He sold butter, that Sarah had made and hung down in the well to keep cold, in the mining town of Breckenridge.

Nathan Shore died June, 1928 when his pickup stalled on a railroad crossing in Utah. He was trying to find the trouble under the hood and didn't hear the train as it whistled and whistled. He was headed for a trip to Hawaii.

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.

Topic: Towns

Granby

Granby was settled in 1904 and incorporated the next year. The town was created along the railroad line being built by Denver, Northwestern & Pacific, and was a connection with the stage route to Grand Lake. The Granby site was also chosen because of the dry ground and and good view of the surrounding mountains.

The town was named in appreciation of the services of Denver attorney Granby Hillyer, who worked to lay out the town site. Its central location makes it a natural trade center for east Grand County. Specialty truck farming, principally lettuce, became a major crop for Granby. At the peak of the market, the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City proudly advertised Granby Head Lettuce on its menus. Later, after WW II, Granby was called the “Dude Ranch Capital of the World.” Today the town offers a mix of recreational amenities and residential charm.

Topic: Biographies

Billy Cozens - First Settler in the Fraser Valley

William Zane Cozens was born in Canada on July 2, 1830. After spending some time in New York, he moved to Central City Colorado in 1859, lured by the rumor of gold in the mountains. There, he became well known as a steady and trusted lawman.

In December 1860 he married Mary York, who had been born in England in 1830.  Mary was a devout Roman Catholic and was not happy with the uproarious mining camp of Central City and the constant threat to her husband in his role as Sheriff. So by the mid-1870's, they decided to relocate over the Continental Divide and established a hay ranch and stage stop in Middle Park (north of the present town of Winter Park). They had seven children, although only three ? Mary Elizabeth, Sarah Agnes and Willie ? survived infancy.

Mr. Cozens became the Fraser postmaster in 1876, holding the position until his death in 1904. On July 29, 1878, there was a total eclipse of the sun over Colorado.  The Ute leader Tabernash took that as a divine omen to take action against the increasing encroachment of white settlers, miners and hunters into Ute hunting grounds. Tabernash gathered 40 armed warriors and set out to attack the Cozens Ranch. Billy Cozens negotiated with the group, offered food and finally persuaded them to move on.  The group ended up confronting another rancher and the face off resulted in the death of Tabernash (more details under Tabernash page). 

Mary worked very hard to make their isolated home a pleasant place.  She even ordered dandelion seeds from a seed catalog in order to add color and zest to her garden.  One can speculate that the source the abundant dandelions in the Valley are the result of Mary's original plants.

The Cozens Families' stage stop became a well-known stopping place for summer tourists, who often enjoyed Mary's fine meals and "Uncle Billy's" (Mr. Cozens' nickname) tales from his days as a Gilpin County lawman. When Billy dies in 1904, none of his children had any offspring so Mary left the ranch to the Catholic Church and Regis University, which built a retreat on the property.  In 1987 the ranch house was given to the Grand County Historical Association and now houses a museum.   

Source:

 

Topic: Biographies

John Charles Fremont

Captain John Charles Fremont was born in 1813 and at the age of 31, in June 1844, was exploring the northern reaches of the Republic of Texas when he passed through Grand County.  This marked the first appearance of official government enterprise in Grand County.

His expedition included some 40 explorers, including people of Creole, French, and Black descent. The guides were Thomas Fitzpatrick and Kit Carson. This expedition entered Grand County via Muddy Pass and exited via the Blue River, never traveling into the eastern part of the County. 

They met with some 200 Arapahoe Indians, who were traditionally suspicious of the intruders, but through the giving of trade gifts, overt conflicts were avoided. The cartographer for that expedition was Charles Preuss, who provided the first map on which all of the central Rocky Mountain Parks were named and mapped accurately.

Topic: Granby

The Naming of Granby

Granby Hillyer was born in Cartersville, Georgia on July 7, 1874. The third of six children, born of Shaler Granby Jr. and Lelia (Holloway) Hillyer, and the grandson of the Rev. Shaler Granby Hillyer, Sr. who was born in Granby, Hartford County, Connecticut. When Granby was 13 years old the Hillyer family moved to Washington, D.C. where Granby graduated from public high school. He then entered government service and at the same time studied at George Washington University, receiving a Bachelors of Law Degree. A postgraduate law degree was awarded in 1896 from Columbia University School of Law. He moved to Colorado in 1898 settling at Lamar (Prowers  County) launching a 40+ year legal career. On June 16, 1900 he married Miss Annie Creaghe, from a prominent southern Colorado pioneer family, and a daughter of an Apache County, Arizona sheriff. To this union were born 3 children St. George Creaghe, Granby Francis Ridgeway Jr., and Helen Edna Dolorine (Jane) later Mrs. Albert Hunt of Boston, Massachusetts.

Granby Hillyer was a member of the Republican Party. He served as Lamar City Attorney, Prowers County Attorney, and Deputy District Attorney. He was also affiliated with the Elks, Masons, Sons of the American Revolution, and Woodmen of the World fraternal organizations.

At 28 years of age, the citizens of Prowers, Baca and Las Animas Counties, elected Granby Hillyer to serve in the 14th Colorado General Assembly, House of Representatives, making him one of the youngest elected officials in state legislature history. He served one term from 1903-1905. During this tenure he plotted the streets at no cost for the Frontier Land and Investment Companies newest town on the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific Railroad (The Moffat Road). In doing so, Mr. Hillyer was honored by having the Town of Granby, Grand County, Colorado named for him.

Governor Carlson appointed Mr. Hillyer as the Third Judicial District Court Judge, at Trinidad, Colorado from 1914-1916. Her served as the United States Attorney for Colorado from 1922-1925. Afterwards he enjoyed a large private law practice in Lamar and Denver.

In 1928 at Lamar, Granby Hillyer was a speical prosecutor in the "Fleagle Gang Case".  On May 23rd, the First National Bank was robbed, resulting in the loss of four lives.  The case has been credited by the F.B.I. as the first robbery solved from a single fingerprint.

The Denver Post on July 21, 1931 page 9, reported "Granby Hillyer Is Disbarred By Federal Courts." In a decision reached by the United States Circuit Court of Appeals, predicated by a Colorado Supreme Court tribunal, of neglecting the interests of his clients in a number of cases.

Tragedy then struck the Hillyer family twice with the loss of St. George Creaghe in June 1932 and October 1933, Granby Jr. was killed in an automobile accident near Lamar. They both were attorneys. St. George and Granby Jr. were born 16 months apart and passed away 17 months apart. Both funeral services were held at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Denver, with the same set of pallbearers for both young men. They were laid to rest at Denver's Fairmount Cemetery. Their father Granby Hillyer, joined his sons on January 2, 1942, passing away at Denver Mercy Hospital, after suffering a heart attack at age 68.

The name Granby also comes from Great Britain, one of the original references was for the "Marquis of Granby," John Manners. A Member of Parliament from 1754 until his death in 1770, he also was a popular army officer and hero of the Seven-Year War 1756-1763, obtaining the rank of Lieutenant General. In 1766, he was named British Commander-in-Chief of the Army. John Manners once had his hat and wig shot off during a cavalry charge, thus leading to the British expression, "to go baldheaded at something." He had his office attacked by the pseudonymous political writer "Junius." The Marquis of Granby resigned most of his offices and died in debt.

Curiously, Granby Hillyer had an uncle and a brother named Junius.

Topic: Mining

Dutch Town

When two Germans, having imbibed too liberally shot up the mining town of Lulu City, they were run out of town.  They went higher and established camp, on the side of Red Mountain near timberline.  There they found a lode of low grade gold, silver and lead.

While it lasted only two years, this encampment came to be called "Dutch Town".  Gradually the fierce winters and lower quality of ore drove the settlers out, leaving only a few empty cabins about a mile west of Lulu City. 

 

 

 

Topic: Dude Ranches

Devil's Thumb Ranch

According to local lore, Native Americans named Devil's Thumb, a rocky outcropping that towers high above the Ranch. As legend goes, after the warring Ute and Arapahoe tribes settled their differences in the Ranch Creek Valley, they buried the devil, but left his thumb exposed to remind them of the evils of war.

Before the Trans-Continental Railroad opened up the area in 1904, a stagecoach route from Idlewild (now
Winter Park) joined the Rollins Pass route. A state station was situated east of what is now our Ranch. The road extended transversely over the Ranch where it followed the course of the existing County Road 83. The land was rich agriculturally, and was used for cattle grazing in the early 1900s.

After the railroad was introduced, settlers began moving west in search of wealth and opportunity. Many ended their journeys in the
Rocky Mountains. During this time, there were more people living in the Fraser Valley than there are today. One favorite hangout of the railroad workers was a dance hall on Black Ranch, located immediately north of Devil's Thumb Ranch.

In the 1930s, Margaret Radcliff built the original Ranch homestead and operated it as a dairy. However, it was brothers Dan, Louis, and George Yager who started Devil's Thumb Ranch as a vacation property in 1946. The Yagers incorporated the Radcliff homestead in to the Ranch facilities and the original building exists today as the Ranch House Saloon.

The Yagers operated Devil's Thumb Ranch as both a working ranch and dude ranch until 1972. They introduced cross-country skiing in the winter of 1975-1976. Dick Taylor, a 1964 Olympic cross-country team member, designed 35 kilometers of the area's Nordic trails.

The Ranch was well known as a Nordic destination, but one without many amenities or niceties. The current owners purchased it in 2001, saving it from a group of developers who planned to fill the valley with residences and a golf course. They immediately began making improvements to the facilities, all the while impacting the land as little as possible.

Mountain Men / Trappers

Many noted fur trappers and traders are reported to have been familiar with the headwaters of the Grand (Colorado) River as early as the 1820s. Among them were Thomas Fitzpatrick, Jim Beckwurth, Christopher “Kit “Carson, Henry Fraeb and Peter Sarpy. Louis Vasquez built a trading fort on the South Platte River and ventured into what is now Grand County, where a pass east of Berthoud Pass is named for him.

His partner, Andrew Sublette, also came across the Divide to trade in Grand County, as well as Ceran St. Vrain, whose fort was near modern Platteville. 26 year old Tom Smith was with a group of trappers who entered the northern part of Grand County in 1827, where they were attacked by either Ute or Arapahoe Indians. Tom was hit in the leg by an arrow, splitting the bone and creating a life threatening infection. Amputation was needed but none of the party had the nerve to perform the operation. So Tom took a butcher knife and amputated his own leg. As “Pegleg Smith” Tom later became noted as one of the greatest horse thieves in the West, but was never prosecuted.

The beaver trade was essentially over by the 1840s as silk replaced beaver pelt as the stylish material for top hats. In 1842, famed traveler Rufus Sage came over Muddy Pass into Middle Park, but recorded almost no hunting activity there. On the other hand …fishing was great! His party caught over 50 pounds of trout in one morning. Noted mountain man Jim Bridger and another guide, Joseph Chatillon, let the infamous Sir George Gore on an extravagant hunting expedition in Middle Park. Despite the senseless slaughter of thousands of game animals, Gore has been immortalized with a mountain range, canyon and pass named for him.

One of the earliest of the mountain men to discover what was to become Grand County arrived in the Fraser Valley as early as 1860, soon after gold was discovered in Colorado. Charley Utter, known as “Colorado Charley”, was considered the prototype of rough trappers and traders. He was unique, though, in that he insisted on taking a bath every day, whether in the hot springs or beneath frigid waterfalls. In 1864, Charley was one of the first to make use of Berthoud Pass driving cattle that he raised at Troublesome Creek. His home was host to various adventurers who came to explore the prospects of Middle Park. He would eventually work with the famous Buffalo Bill Cody, appearing in “Wild West” shows.

When Kentuckian Beverly D. William spent some time in Grand County, he realized the Grand River was originally named the Colorado. As a Washington delegate from the newly organized “Jefferson Territory” (as this area was known at the time), he was instrumental in getting the named changed to the “Colorado Territory”, although the river was called Grand River until 1921.