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Murphy Family Ranch
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."


 

 

Murphy Ranch
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.

Ranching in Western Colorado
Ranching in Western Colorado

Article contributed by Nichole Fuqua

 

Ranching in western Colorado first began in 1866 when Texas cowboys began moving cattle into western Colorado. With this rising growth of cattle into Colorado, ranching was forever changed and became a natural part of Colorado's society.

Although the idea of establishing cattle operations in the mountains did not appeal to many, the cattle and ranching industry in western
Colorado began to flourish in 1882. Three causes greatly influenced this move. First, the flat grass lands from Texas to Montana were unavailable. Second, the Ute Indian tribe were being run out and soon removed from the mountains of Colorado. Third, the grasses in western Colorado were abundantly nutritious, especially in the autumn.

 

When cattle ranches first began, it was organized chaos. Up until the 1930's, all of the land used by cattle ranchers was open-range land. During the winter months the cows lived in the lower valleys where snow accumulation was small. Once spring began the cows were then rounded up and moved to the high mountain tops. This spring round up usually took place in the early part of June, between the first and second hay cutting. The main goal of the spring round up was to gather and sort all of the cattle into their respective herds; unfortunately many herds intermixed because of the open-range. Along with the sorting of the cows, the calves that had been born earlier that spring were branded.

 

During the open-range era, brands on cattle were very important. Brands were used as a marker to distinguish between herds. Today, branding is still used along with ear tags. The fall round up usually began in the early fall and was completed in stages. The first stage, involved the gathering up of cows that were going to be sold at the market. These were the first to descend from the mountains. The rest of the cattle were then taken down from the mountain and released into the lower valleys to live during the winter months. The 1930's ended the open-range era which also brought an end to fall and spring round ups.

 

Family life on a cattle ranch was very different from normal life in a town. The cowboy's job demanded a lot of devotion and self motivation. The men of the family were often away from the house for days sometimes weeks at a time moving and tending to the cows.

 

The women of a cattle ranch lead very isolated lives. During the winter months traveling was unheard of. Once the snow began to melt the water's run off caused creeks and rivers to overflow, which caused traveling in the spring to be tough.  During the summer and early fall, gardening, food processing, house keeping, raising children, and the general ranch duties kept a woman busy.

 

The children of a cattle ranch were treated very maturely. By the age of five to the age of twelve kids were considered miniature adults. By the age of thirteen or fourteen most kids were able to perform heavy labor tasks around the farm. Ranch families exhibited very strict discipline toward the children of the house and felt very strongly in a child's education.

 

Cattle ranches are still found all over western Colorado. The attitude has changed throughout the years since the first cattle ranch began but some of the same traditions still exist. 

 

Sources: Reyher, Ken. High Country Cowboys. Montrose: Western Reflections Publishing Company, 2002.

Peters, Aaron. Cattle Drives & Trail Drivers. 2003. 8 Mar. 2008 http://www.co.wilbarger.tx.us/cattle.htm.

 

Squeaky Bob's Hotel de Hardscrabble
Squeaky Bob's Hotel de Hardscrabble

Robert L. "Squeaky Bob" Wheeler homesteaded the northern end of the Kawuneeche Valley in 1907, setting up his tent camp at the base of Shipler Mountain.  He called his accommodations Squeaky Bob's Hotel de Hardscrabble.  He was one of many guest lodge operators who catered to the leisure traveler seeking relaxation through recreation.  These vacations were quite rustic, especially by today's standards. At least two guests at a time were asked to share lumpy beds. The sheets were said to be "refreshed" with talcum powder rather than changed and laundered.  The outhouses were stocked with mail order catalogs rather than toilet paper.

Despite these conditions, Squeaky Bob was very successful and his hotel hosted famous travelers from all over, including President Theodore Roosevelt. Squeaky Bob was known for entertaining his visitors with amazing tales and witty yarns.

Teller City, Crescent City and Tyner
Teller City, Crescent City and Tyner

The original Grand County contained North Park as well as Middle Park, and during the mining boom of the early 1880's there were several mining camps east of the modern town of Rand. It was several years after the mining boom northern area of Jackson County was created.

Teller City was founded in 1879 and named for Colorado's famous Senator Henry M. Teller, who later became U.S. Secretary of the Interior.  By 1882, the population of Teller City was about 1200.  It had a fine hotel with 40 rooms, a newspaper and two steam saw mills.  It was a lively Old West town with twenty seven saloons and a number of "houses of ill repute".

Some high quality ore assayed at Teller City was as much as $3000 a ton, but most of that soon ran out and by 1884, the high shipping costs to far away smelters dropped the price per ton dropped to $20. The best mine, Endomile, was three miles from town.

Crescent City, southwest of Teller City had an even more brief existence, but there was population enough for a U.S. Post Office in 1880. 

Rumors of valuable silver three miles sough of Teller City drew a number of prospectors to found the camp known as Tyner.  John Noble Tyner was the First Assistant Postmaster General of the United States and visited the mining camp so named in 1879.  He promised the miners a weekly mail delivery if at least 2 miners mined through the winter.  Tyner had been a special agent for the Post Office from 1861 thru 1868, at which time he was appointed to serve in an open seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for Indiana.  He ran for election win the appointed term ended and was elected and continued to be reelected and serve as a Representative until 1875 when President Grant appointed him Second Assistant Postmaster General.  Grant would later appoint him to the "big job" of Postmaster General in 1876. 

Tyner worked to elect Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 and after Hayes was elected and took office in March of 1877, Hayes appointed a new Postmaster General, but gave the second spot, First Assistant to the Postmaster General to Tyner.  Historians suggest that Tyner's demotion angered him to the point that he allowed wide spread corruption in the day to day operation of the Postal Service which was his responsibility to over see. He resigned in 1881 under great public pressure from what became known as the "Star Route Fraud scandal".  He would remain a political figure  being appointed  various positions  with the U. S. Postal Service until shortly before his death in 1904.  Although indited three times for corruption in his Post Office management, he was never convicted.  The "Star Route Fraud scandal", may have local implications.  It had to do with over charging and providing needless postal routes, roads and post offices and kick backs to politicians from contractors .

The Davison Ranch
The Davison Ranch

* Copyright 2006.
No portion of this story or photos may be reproduced without the written permission of Gary or Sue Hodgson (www.hodsonmedia.com)  

Early morning, mid January in Colorado's Middle Park is not for the faint of heart. It's forty below zero. Six inches of new snow have fallen over night, adding to the three feet that have been building since early November. Ranchers in the area don't even bother to look at the breath taking beauty of the Gore Range to the West as they trudge to the barn. Their minds are focused on hope the big diesel tractors will start. Snow has to be moved and cattle fed. Life in these parts revolves around "feeding". Soon, ranch yards will be full of diesel engines belching black smoke clouds. Up and down U.S. Highway 40, this scene is repeated on ranch after ranch ... except for one. 

Just south of mile marker 169, a landmark rendered meaningless by snow much taller than the signpost, sets the Davison Ranch. Several hundred cattle wait semi-patiently to be fed in the surrounding meadows, yet there are no black smoke clouds or clattering engines. One might think the ranch deserted were it not for muffled sounds creeping through the huge log walls of the old tin roofed barn. Inside, a crew of five are performing a morning ritual that began in late November and will be repeated, regardless of the weather, seven days a week until mid May.  Mark, Molly, Dolly, Nip and Tuck are getting ready to feed.  

A crew this small is rather unusual for a ranch that encompasses over 6,000 acres. More notable, only one member is a man. The other four are horses, big, stout, work hardened draft horses. Standing on the wooden planked floor, side by side, surrounded by logs a man could hardly put his arms around, are four beautiful black and white Spotted Draft Horses. While not rare, the National Spotted Draft Horse Association celebrated it's tenth anniversary in 2005, the spotted giants are not a common sight. It is fitting such unusual horses would be found on this ranch. The big black and whites fit right into a program in place nearly fifty years. Mark Davison relates the Davison Ranch history as he harnesses the big "Spots." 

Mark's father, Charles Edward "Tommy" Davison, had been saving to buy a ranch since he was six years old. When the old place north of Kremmling came up for sale, the young bachelor fulfilled his life long dream. Tommy made a few observations. The ranch did not produce gasoline for the old tractors that came with the ranch. It did grow grass to power the two long ignored draft horses, also included. Then, there was the snow to deal with. It seemed easier for horses to pull a sled full of hay on top of the snow than trying to drive a tractor through it. The ranch was strewn with old harness and equipment including an ancient hay sled and various hitch components. He was single with an old house to spend the winter nights in. Why not spend a little more time outside with the animals he so loved.  

Not all of Tommy's plans went according to schedule. The hay laddened sled required more horsepower than his two horses. Two more "kinda" draft horses joined them. The old log house burned to the ground in December that first year. Hurriedly, he built a small cabin to live in until another house could be constructed. In 1958 he met and married Laurayne Brown. The Kremmling native beauty was used to the harsh winters and loved the big horses. Tommy and Laurayne made as good a team as Nip and Beauty, one of the better teams they would own in those days. As the ranch grew they realized they needed more help. New Year's Day 1960 they interviewed a likely prospect. Jerry Nauta sat at the Davison kitchen table as they talked. Finally, he uttered memorable words. "If you treat me right," he said, "I will never leave this ranch." Addressing Laurayne he went on, "I will probably eat more meals at this dinner table than you will." 

Although the ranch owned several tractors as much work as possible was done with the horses. The ranch's hay crop, wonderful sweet smelling Meadow Brome, Timothy and Red Top was put into giant loose hay stacks. No need for big gas guzzling tractors pulling expensive balers on this ranch. A few other ranches also kept draft horses in those days. A big attraction at Kremmling's Middle Park Fair was the draft horse pull. Ranchers from neighboring North Park descended on the event with their horses, toughened by a summer of harvesting the Park's huge hay meadows. Most years they returned to their home valley with the Middle Park trophy. Tommy decided enough was enough. Even though he had never competed before, his team of the skittish Nip and gentle Beauty who scarcely knew a day out of harness, left the "invaders from the north" in their dust. The trio returned several more years, winning every single time. Finally, a bad referee's call moved another team into first place. Tommy, Nip and Beauty never entered again. It wasn't necessary. They had proven their point. 

During those years, money would sometimes be so tight the loyal employee Jerry couldn't be paid. Tommy would sign a promissory note to him for wages. He was always repaid, with interest. Tommy told friends, "Jerry is my banker!" Jerry became a third parent to the three boys born to Tommy and Laurayne, Matt, Mark and Cal. They joined the early morning harnessing ritual, standing on a milk stool to reach the big horses under this watchful eye. When their father suffered a broken leg followed by a ruptured appendix, the boys, averaging ten years old, stepped into rolls as hired men. They calved cows, lambed the ewes in residence on the ranch in those years and, of course, harnessed and drove the teams to feed. If harnessing and driving a four horse hitch wasn't enough of a challenge, the feeding process creates men as tough as the animals pulling the heavy sled. Up to three tons of long stemmed loose hay have to be pitched onto the sled. Once the feed grounds were reached, every single blade is forked onto the ground as the patient team slowly moves ahead of the hungry cattle. Most days three or more loads were required to complete the task.           

Tommy Davison fell ill in 2000. Mark who had remained involved in ranch operations while establishing another ranch in Wyoming, returned to the Kremmling ranch full time to oversee operations there. When Charles Edward Davison passed away in 2001, Mark leased the ranch from his family. Just as his father had done nearly fifty years ago, Mark took stock of what he had to work with. The harness, some nearly 100 years old purchased here and there over the years was in pretty good shape. The horses, however, had grown too old to be worked every day. He needed two more to complete his four horse hitch. Harley Troyer?s well known Colorado Draft Horse and Equipment Auction was coming up in Brighton, Colorado. Mark traveled to the "flat lands" and returned with two roan Belgium geldings. Sadly, one died within a year. He tried a "unicorn hitch" placing a single lead in front of the wheel team. It was not practical for the loads and trails they encountered. Mark headed back to Troyer's Auction once again. A novelty of the upcoming event was a pair of black and white Spotted Draft horses originating from Canada. When he arrived at the auction Davison found not two, but four of the Spots, two geldings and two mares. All were only two years old. To most, the big youngsters would need years of seasoning before they would be dependable. A lifetime spent around draft horses gave Mark Davison a different view.. He noticed how much time previous owners seemed to have spent with them. It showed in their responsiveness and manners. Auction owner Troyer remembers them as "A nice four up." When his gavel fell, all four were headed to Kremmling.

Today, as nearly every day of the year, the wheel team of Nip on the left and Tuck to the right of the wooden tongue, follow the lead team of Molly and Dolly, left and right respectively. They begin pulling when Mark softly commands "gitup" and stop when told to "whoa-a." Armed with an antique True Temper three tine pitch fork (this model is no longer made according to Mark) he hardly notices their direction as he pitches hay to the trailing cattle. The scene is spell binding to anyone fortunate enough to see it. Soft commands, creaking leather and steel clad wooden sled runners gliding over the snow summon long forgotten instincts. 

Though Mark describes himself as a "Dinosaur," all that happens on the Davison Ranch is part of a plan that arose from necessity. He points out that when hitched to the sled, only the wheel team is attached to the tongue. The lead team's evener, an antique itself, is attached to a log chain r nning back to the front of the sled, not attached to the tongue in anyway.  Tight corners the team must navigate winding into the mountains to feed the cow herd make a conventional arrangement dangerous. If the wheel team follows the lead teams tracks too closely, the sled would cut the corner and plunge off the precarious road. The loose chain arrangement allows both sets of horses freedom to follow their own path. The horses, sensing their safety as the reason for the odd arrangement, work quietly beside the chain. If one happens to step over it, the next step will be back into place without so much as a twitch of an ear.  

Feeding begins around 8:00 a.m. The teams are usually back in their stalls eating "lunch" by 2:00 p.m.  Six hours, eight tons of hay and nearly ten miles every single day make the horses tough and strong. They symbolize the word that describes life on the Davison Ranch. Harmony. The horses work in harmony with each other and their care taker. Horses and man work in harmony with nature. There is a strong respect for tradition on the Davison Ranch. The old ways made sense then and now. There is no need for electric engine heaters or big diesel engines on this ranch. The beautiful black and white horses seem to be thankful for the chance to live the life for which they were bred. They express their gratitude with loyalty to Mark Davison.  

Loyalty might also be used to describe the Davison Ranch business plan. Remember Jerry Nauta's pledge to never leave the ranch if they treated him right?  Jerry lived in the small cabin Tommy Davison built when the ranch house burned down from January 1, 1960 until a few months before his death in July 2005. He was 92 years old.

Life is different on the Davison Ranch. Old fashioned values reign amidst modern Spotted versions of man's first and perhaps best machinery, the draft horse. Men and horses are a lot alike, you know. Treat 'em right and they'll reward you with loyalty.

Timothy & Clover at Hurd Creek Ranch
Timothy & Clover at Hurd Creek Ranch

Before the invention of seeding machines, a farmer or rancher would walk across his field in a straight line carrying a bucket or sack of seed with one hand. With his other hand he would fling fistfuls of fertile grain in a wide arc in front of his path. On reaching the end of the field, he would refill his bag, move over a few yards and repeat the process on the way back. After hours of walking and the casting of numerous sacks of seed, one handful at a time, the field would be planted.

I guess I was about 13 or maybe 14 when my father decided to plant timothy and clover on the east half of the meadow on the mesa. The area to be planted was probably forty acres or more that the ranch had leased to a Hindu man to grow lettuce and other truck crops. For several years we had gotten free lettuce for our table and our milk cows had loved the turnips from his harvest that were either too big or too small to be sold. I guess the profits from his work weren’t very good and the risk of growing lettuce in the rainy valley was too high. The Hindu had abandoned his lease and we would now put the water and the land to our own good use. Since we had no seeding equipment, we would broadcast the seed by hand. It would take hundreds of pounds of it to do the forty acres.

I was eager to help. Dad looked skeptical but finally agreed to let me try. After a bit of instruction he sent me off across the field. “Remember,” he had said. “You have to spread it even and don’t miss any spots.” I soon developed some regrets about volunteering. Not only did we have to plant the field once, but we had to plant it a second time as well. It seems that a planting of timothy and clover grows only a few inches high the first year and doesn’t produce a harvest. In order to avoid losing an entire season, it was customary to plant a second crop on top of it. In our case, Dad had chosen oats for the second planting. This choice would produce lots of feed right away even though the growing season in the Fraser Valley was too short to yield any grain. We planted the hay crop on one day and the oats the next.

I was exhausted by the time we had finished. In fact, if memory serves me right, Dad did the last five or ten acres by himself. When fall came, we had oats four feet high. They were cut, stacked like hay and fed out the following winter. The year after, there was beautiful timothy and clover that has continued to produce a fine crop for more than 60 years. When I visit friends on Ranch Creek every August, I drive by our field both coming and going.

Each time I see it, I remember my work and experience a sense of joy and accomplishment. All the things I produced over a professional career of nearly 40 years are now obsolete but the timothy and clover seeds planted so long ago are still growing. They will continue to do so until the Hurd Creek Ranch sells its water right and the field dries up. In our modern world, a 40-acre field of timothy and clover isn’t much. But how often, today, does a teen-ager have the opportunity to do work that will serve for a lifetime?

The above material is copyrighted by the author, Robert K. Peterson. Reproduction is any form is limited to the personal use of the view and/or to educational purposes. Neither the sale of nor any other commercial use of the text or illustrations is authorized.

Worm Farms and Other Gardens
Worm Farms and Other Gardens

Have you ever heard of a worm farm? Harry French Sr., who lived for many years at Azure, on the Colorado River, loved to fish, anywhere and anytime.  He had brought the first angleworms into the valley from Iowa.  At his Azure homestead, he made a worm bed and got his worms established. Pretty soon, everybody came by to get some worms for their own needs.  

Worms can’t be found just anywhere in these high mountain valleys. However, at the Arkell place (Diamond Bar T) on Ranch Creek in the east end of the county, luckily someone had planted worms in a corner of the garden plot and this was the only place the Arkells could find worms.  At one point, Gertrude Arkell’s cousin Rose started a small business, digging worms from the garden and selling them to fishermen who happened by.  She even charged the rest of the family if they wanted worms!  

Gertrude described planting their own garden in 1916 after they moved to the ranch.  Papa spread several loads of well-decayed fertilizer from an old corral onto the garden and plowed it, creating a fine base for his vegetables.  Of necessity, pioneers coming into Grand County started immediately to see what would grow here.  They had to eat, and gardens were one of the first items on anyone’s agenda.  Coming over Dice Hill from the Blue and into the Sheephorn area about 1880, Joseph McPhee, a Scot, homesteaded the grass-covered McPhee Flats in Garden Gulch, site of the first garden in the area.  There were only two other homesteads on the Sheephorn at that time.  

Possibly Nancy Veatch Schissler, (Mrs. Henry Roric) planted the first garden on the Williams Fork in 1883.  She asked the men to plow her a bed, but they were positive nothing would grow.  So, undaunted, she planted lettuce, onions, and radishes on her dirt roof and potato peelings along the ditch bank, all of which grew!  Her little daughters fetched pails of water to hand to her up on the roof for irrigation.  

George Henricks, on the farthest reaches of the Troublesome, rarely had access to stores.  His wife, Aurella, bravely started radishes on her sod roof before the ground thawed, later transplanting them to a sheltered spot along with other vegetables.   What were the usual high altitude crops?  Lettuce, green onions, peas, root vegetables, and beans generally grew well.  Willis Call near Kremmling brought the first white potatoes to Grand County. 

Now, the Arkells on Ranch Creek had been told that at 8900 feet altitude, beans would freeze, and they did.  So did the potatoes, except those planted high up the hill in a spot where the soil was deep and black.  An aspen grove had grown there once, maybe for hundreds of years.   The family anticipated a good crop, but in early September or even in late August, a heavy frost completely melted the patch down.  That crop yielded bushels of small potatoes, few larger than golf balls.  Still, the Arkells stored them in their so-called ice-house, because until Papa got a cellar dug, there was nothing else.  They hoped the ice-house would keep the cold out, as it did heat, but the potatoes froze as hard as rocks.  Mama would bring in enough for a meal and immediately put them into a kettle of boiling water.  When done, they tasted like fresh potatoes! 

Before July, the family had early green onions, lettuce, and radishes, since these didn¹t mind the frost.  They froze every night but still lived, grew, and were good.  The white radishes grew long, slender, and crisp.  Head lettuce could be eaten early as leaf lettuce, or later as a fine firm head.  Peas didn’t mind the cold either but grew fast and tall. The package advertised them as “Telephone Pole Peas.”  They bloomed, set on peas ready to pick, and kept right on blooming and growing more peas, producing right up till early frost.  By late July, the Arkells had small rutabagas to eat, a crop new to them.  Turnips in late July were already large, and by fall they were gigantic but still sweet and good to eat raw. Turnips were pulled in the fall and stored in a great pile. Rabbits chewed off the outer skin and ate it but left the rest.  The remaining skinless turnips soon froze and made good cow feed.

Actually, a number of ranchers grew turnips for cattle food, particularly for show cattle.   Over on the Sheephorn, Helen Anghern Curry related that families shipped plenty of potatoes and peas out of Radium to Denver.  Farmers had to get up very early to pick the vegetables in order to get them on the train. That was almost fresh!  

Grain was grown more commonly than one might expect, especially on the west end.  For instance, a young English chap on the Blue River, Tom Pharo, experimented with growing vegetables and grain as early as 1877.  The Company Ranch on the Williams Fork planted many acres in grain.  And Dr. Hoagland, on the Blue, regularly put in oats and barley for two years, before planting seed for hay crops, in order to break up the soil and gradually level the rough ground.  Others raised many grains such as wheat, rye, oats, and barley, as well as hay.   High altitude lettuce became a main crop to be shipped out of Grand County about 1920.  Before this decade, lettuce sent by train was grown, especially on the upper Sheephorn and on the Blacktail. 

Later, centered around Granby, farms spread to the Williams Fork and the Troublesome, as well as Ranch Creek.  Japanese laborers harvested much of the crop.  In 1919, there had not been a single truck farm in the county; in 1929, there were 34.   On the Troublesome, Roy Polhamus was famous for his lettuce.  His daughter, Catherine, lined the crates with heavy paper in the packing shed. After being cut in the fields, trimmed of bad outer leaves and packed, the crop was shipped to Denver by truck. It depended on how big the lettuce was as to how many dozen would fit into the crate.  Roy also grew enough potatoes that he could spare many for Granby stores in the winter.  

Encouraged by Nathan Hurd, a Mr. Henderson, on a little ranch straddling the shoulder between Hamilton Creek and Ranch Creek, tried growing lettuce long before the lettuce craze the west end of the county. Nobody had thought of growing it before and people were quite sure he was crazy.  His lettuce was as sweet as any ever tasted, but when the big craze hit, for some reason he gave it up.  Before he quit, he had some 2000 crates of Los Angeles Head Lettuce to sell and planned for 40 acres the following year.  Everyone laughed at him two years before when he started, but the laugh was on them now.  His 2 1/2 acres of jackpine paid him over $750/acre.   The lettuce was grown on new ground and no water; ­dry land farmed.  He called his place “The Happy Lettuce Farm”. 

In the same area, a group of Basques did all the work.  They irrigated at night, little lights at hand to show them the way.  This local lettuce was stored in Tabernash in a shed, before being put on the train.  This shed was later hauled to Granby and became the Grand Old Inn.   Other crops were raised, too. 

At Radium, sweet corn and strawberries were grown for sale.  Harry French’s wife, Mary, had a very green thumb, and at the 1914 County Fair, special mention was given to “Mrs. French of the Sheephorn area, then age 77, for her splendid display of Brown Australian onions, raised from seed.”  In addition, “she had a very handsome display of crabapples and tomatoes.”  Mike Leroux, also in the Sheephorn area, said that his family almost always won a prize at the county fair in Kremmling, because they had one of the few spots in the county where one could grow apples!   Women and children gathered wild berries for jams and pies.  Wild strawberries, raspberries, and gooseberries went into these treats.  The residents on the Troublesome picked chokecherries, and service berries, currants, in addition.  

Marie Craven George remembers growing rhubarb at their cabin.  Some of it still grows there.  Many years later, after Marie married, she and her husband dug up some of that rhubarb and took it to their own garden in Kremmling.  Marie remembers that, as a little girl, she stuck a gooseberry up her nose once and they had to hang her upside-down and spank her, until she sneezed the berry out.  She decided gooseberries were for pies and jams, not noses!  

Getting off the train, the Arkells often walked from Arrow, to check on the raspberry crop, for great quantities of bushes grew along the tracks.  The wild strawberries, though very small, were so full of unexcelled taste that one cup would be enough to flavor a shortcake for all of them, with whipped cream on top.  Using a kind of rake, they also gathered gooseberries, wild currants, and wild blueberries, which grew everywhere.  Bob Peterson maintains the best berry patch for blackberries or red and black currants was on Cabin Creek a mile of so above Devils Thumb Park.

Articles to Browse

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: People

The Knight Ranch and Charles Lindbergh

In Grand County during the 1920's, you might have been lucky enough to have taken a plane ride over Grand Lake with Charles Lindbergh.  It may sound preposterous, but Gordon Spitzmiller and his father, Gus, were two of the many fortunate people who got private sightseeing tours over the Grand Lake area with Charles A. Lindbergh as tour guide.

In the early 1920's, the aviation industry was a brand new field open to the adventurers, the thrill seekers and the adventurous.  Charles Lindbergh was one of those men.  In the spring of 1926, Lindbergh had the dream of flying solo over the Atlantic Ocean, from New York to Paris nonstop.  He was a determined man and was resolved to be the first man to cross the Atlantic and win the Orteig Prize.

On May 22, 1919, Raymond Orteig of New York City offered a prize of $25,000 "to be awarded to the first aviator who shall cross the Atlantic in a land or water aircraft (heavier-than-air) from Paris or the shores of France to New York, or from New York to Paris or the shores of France, without stop."

Besides Lindbergh, there were four serious contenders for the Orteig prize, one of which was Commander Richard Byrd, the first man to reach the South Pole.  Lindbergh's courage and enthusiasm for such a flight were not enough; he needed financial backing.  Lindbergh found his financial answer in Harry H. Knight, a young aviator who could usually be found bumming around the Lambert Field in St. Louis.  This was the beginning of the Knight-Lindbergh partnership that would soon change the course of aviation history. 

After being denied any financial assistance by several of St. Louis's businessmen, Lindbergh made an appointment with knight at his brokerage office.  Knight, the president of the St. Louis Air Club, was fascinated with Lindbergh's plan and called his friend, Harold M. Bixby, president of the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce.  Bixby also displayed a strong interest in the obscure stunt flyer and mail pilot.  Together Knight and Bixby formed an organization called "the Spirit of St. Louis", which was dedicated to gathering funds for the flight.  More than $10,000 was needed in order to build a single engine plane and acquire the proper equipment.

Knight went to his father, Harry F. Knight, who was a major power in the realm of finance and an equal partner in the firm Dysart, Gamble & Knight Brokerage Company.  Like his son, the senior Knight was interested in the aviation field and backed every effort to make America conscious of airplane transportation.

Without the financial aid and moral support offered by the Knight family, Charles Lindbergh may not have been able to cross the Atlantic in 1927.  Lindbergh's gratitude to these two men never ebbed.  Lindbergh and, his famous wife Ann Morrow, came often to Grand County as guests of Harry F. Knight whose ranch encompassed 1,500 acres on the South Fork of the Colorado River.  The ranch today is covered by the waters of the Granby Reservoir.

Knight, a nature lover, spent much of his time at this ranch.  It was a haven for sportsmen and adventure seekers, and Lindbergh was a natural for these two categories.  One of the largest and best airstrips in the west was added to the Knight Ranch in order to accommodate the owner and his guests.  Besides the airstrip, the ranch boasted a miniature golf course, a 28 room estate, a private guest "cabin", a good selection of livestock and an array of entertainment that would suit all.  It was a sanctuary for the affluent.

Local people were so enthused about the handsome aviator that they named a 12,000 ft. peak in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area (east of Granby) "Lindbergh Peak". However, during the 1930's the hero was honored by Adolph Hitler and Lindbergh made a speech favoring Nazism.  This lead to a fall from grace in the eyes of the public.  Even though Lindbergh changed his mind as World War II began, it was too late to regain his former popularity. The peak was renamed "Lone Eagle Peak" which was a nickname for the famous aviator.

After Harry F. Knight died of coronary thrombosis in 1933, his son, along with ranch manager Harry Morris, turned the ranch into a major breeding and beef cattle operation.  It continued as such until 1948, when the Knights were asked to sell it to the federal government or have it condemned to make way for the reservoir.  Moss bought out the cattle operation and most of the buildings were sold, but the colorful memories of the Knight ranch were buried in the depths of Granby Reservoir.

Topic:

Water/Lakes/Reservoirs

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.


More on water issues in Grand County

The Norton Family

From his earliest memories, Mike Norton recalls playing with model ships and submarines with his older brother. His older brother had a ship, and he had the sub. The small pond on the Circle H ranch where he spent his early life before Lake Granby filled up gave little boys' imaginations an ocean. Marbles gave them depth charges. "But I could never find a way to shoot marbles from the sub," Norton laughingly remembers. As the water literally rose above his home, it shaped his life.

The history of Lake Granby and the Norton Marina goes as deep as the water, literally. Grand County's pioneer ranching history lurks at the lake's bottom, sharing its place with rainbow trout amid the vast water supply for eastern Colorado and beyond. Before the lake filled up as part of the Colorado Big Thompson project, ranches like the Lehmans, Knights and Harveys had been stage stops, cattle and dude ranches and even an airstrip used by Charles Lindbergh.

Mike's dad Frank came to Grand County to ranch. "All I ever really wanted to do  first was to be a rancher here," Frank Norton told the Sky-Hi News back in 1997. At fifteen or sixteen years old, Frank Norton in a Model T Roadster traveled from Okmulgee, Oklahoma to Grand County, where he "fell in love" with the ranch that his mother and step-father started around 1930. The Circle H, started by his step-father Jim Harvey in the valley that is now Lake Granby, became his summer home.

By all accounts, Frank Norton loved ranching. The Circle H "was a working ranch and a dude ranch." Harvey's ranch provided a spectacular backdrop highlighted by the Indian Peaks, reaching 13,000 ft high along the Continental Divide. The Circle H offered a caricature map for tourists looking for a real western experience. It led them over Berthoud Pass along hwy 40 to hwy 34 and then right at the Circle H sign to the Ranch. Leaving on horses from the Circle H, Frank Norton and Jim Harvey took them into a vast and remarkable country that, for the most part, can only be reached on foot today.

In those days, the area now protected as the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area faced less threats from overuse. Ranchers hunted the region to supplement the sometimes skinny winter rations. "Jim Harvey shot two elk from his saddle," Mike Norton proudly recalls of his grandfather as we look at a romantic image of Harvey on horseback. Nowadays, quotas limit use through the peak season. The National Park and Forest Service restrict horse traffic and campfires as well. Early Harvey and Norton history highlight a different time and place, when the remote reaches of Indian Peaks could still be reached by trusting a cowboy with a Winchester rifle to get you there and back safely.

For Mike Norton, the water that drowned out his family's ranching history also floated Norton Marina. Going from ranching to the marina business may seem an odd transition, but Mike's family history shows how flexible they were! Frank Norton spent his early youth traveling with his father's tent show, Norton's comedians. "Dad had such funny stories about that," Mike says. When the traveling troupe era ended (talkies and the Great Depression meant "they didn't eat too well sometimes"), Frank Norton moved to Oklahoma with his father before finally joining his mother and Jim Harvey in Grand County.  

Regardless of his occupation, Frank Norton was a showman. Remarkable old photos save the rich history of pack trips into the Indian Peaks area, camp sites on the shores Lake Monarch and rich harvests of rainbow trout. But Frank Norton and his horse Oak rearing high like the lone ranger really show Frank Norton's flare and charisma.

In many ways, Norton Marina continued the Circle H's heritage. Frank's marina included the Gangplank, a restaurant and dancehall that looked like a boat, with porthole windows and originally a rainbow trout aquarium for the bar. His admiral's hat, which Mike still has today, replaced his cowboy hat and a 25 foot Chris Craft named the Bonnie B replaced old Oak as his ride. More or less, this is the world in which Mike Norton grew up.

Growing up Frank's son meant work too. "I was 8 or 10 years old" when we started "Norton's Ark," Mike smiles, referring to the Gangplank restaurant. It was the early fifties in Grand County. "What backhoe?"

No bailouts either! "Those first few years, I nearly starved to death," Frank Norton once told a reporter. "But," he added, "every year the business kept growing and before I knew it we had a good marina going." Before it was over, Norton Marina fulfilled Frank's dream of a family business, only in "boating recreation" instead of ranching!

"It wasn't all roses," Mike agrees. As a boy, Frank Norton went to military school. "They disciplined him and he used the same technique on his kids." Frank expected his kids to help and to obey his commands, without question. Using Tide and a G.I. scrub brush, Mike Norton recalls scrubbing lower units. They painted wooden boats in the wintertime in the shop. The kids came in from school, changed clothes and started working. "Dad and mom had a lot of kids cause they needed a crew!"

Maybe his most memorable job was cleaning out the septic tanks for the cabins that his dad built to help offset the lack of income at a Rocky Mountain marina during winter. After digging up the lids, "dad would put a ladder into the septic tanks." Then, Mike crawled in and shoveled out the waste while his dad hoisted the buckets out. "I was so glad when Ernie Seipps started his septic clean out business," Mike says as we motor along beside Grand Elk Marina's covered docks on a pontoon boat.

The hard work and experience at the marina paid off when Mike joined the military. Like so many of his generation, Mike received his notice to join ground forces in Vietnam. Luckily, about that time, Navy recruiters were in Granby. They showed a strong interest in a National Honors Society student who lived a life on water! The pieces of the puzzle fit, and "that got me in the Navy," says Mike with real appreciation.

In 1973, the family tradition passed on to Mike and his brother Frank when they bought the marina business from their dad. A lifetime of experience came with them. But it took more than dock maintenance, boat service and customer service to run Norton Marina. And, as the brothers took over, the old Admiral Frank Norton stayed in the house he had built next door to the gangplank, insuring that his strong personality was never far away.

Lots of obstacles exist for a marina on public lands. As Mike took over sole ownership from his brother, he also fought to bring the marina under the National Forest Service instead of the National Park Service, which effectively removed the "power of condemnation." "We had to fight for our livelihood," Mike explained when he sold the Marina in January of 1997.

Mother Nature challenged the marina too. Ice might remain on the water for half of May. June snowstorms blow in monster clouds, as awe-inspiring as the calm sunsets. Freezing rain rips into all but the best prepared boaters nearly any time of year, and hailstorms can hit in a heartbeat. "We're like farmers in that way," Mike recalled. "Drought, winters, high water, low water, you can't really help, we understand that."

On the other hand, the glassy waters of Lake Granby reflect the awe-inspiring Indian Peaks along the Continental Divide on calm, sunny days. Tourists and locals try their luck catching the Mackinaw that makes it attractive to sportsmen and women. Intrepid wake boarders mix with sweet sailboats against a beautiful background of rugged peaks that reach high above tree line. On those days, it's hard to think of a more spectacular place.

Through it all, Mike Norton clearly enjoyed his life at Norton Marina. "I liked being out in the elements with the boating public."  He also counts the independence of self-employment and the uniqueness of the marina as blessings in his "good life."

Grand Elk runs the marina today (2009). Its operation rents out slips and moorings, daily pontoon boats and other related services. It's as beautiful as ever to peer across the lake at sunrise in August, and it's as cold and forbidding as ever when the winter winds whip across the thick ice an snow of the lake in January. Few wooden hulls appear during summer season as in the old days, but beautiful boats, both motor and sail, still surround the Marina.

Yes, its original character remains, not far from the surface. The Gangplank changed its name to Mackinaws, where customers in the main room still look out portholes across the lake to the rugged outline of Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, although there is no longer as much space on the dance floor. Those familiar with Indian Peaks recognize old Abe Lincoln lying in his grave along the Continental divide, where Mike's early ranching family led pack trips and today can still be reached, albeit under more controlled circumstances. Today's anchored concrete docks and gas dock continue the process that started with Frank Norton using finger docks that Mike staked in the ground and an old chicken coup from the Circle H to fuel boats.

And in all of Grand Elk Marina's features and history, Frank Norton and his family exist. In the house that they built on site where all of his children were photographed as they grew up and as they graduated from Middle Park High School. In the restaurant where Mike remembers finding the nerve to ask pretty young gals to dance. And, in the numerous family photos that show a smiling, handsome Frank Norton and his attractive family surrounded by high mountains, wooden Chris Craft and a sense of high expectations.

Mike remembers his dad as the "greatest storyteller I've ever known," which he used to his advantage in all occupations. In 2001, I met Frank Norton, only once before he died the next year. He told us about the time Jim Harvey knocked the federal agent who came to tell take their land away to the floor, placed a foot on his chest and said, "If you get up, I'll knock you down again." We could see it happening as he told the story more than 50 years later.

But the story continues beyond Frank Norton. From traveling tents shows to dude ranches to a forty-plus year family run marina, the Nortons made one of Grand County's most enduring "institutions." Entertaining, industrious, and life-loving, Mike simply says, "It's been a really good life." And that's a family tradition.

Topic: Biographies

William Byers

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

Born in Ohio in 1831, William Byers became a surveyor in Iowa, Nebraska, Oregon and Washington during the 1850's.  He described himself later as "a mountain tramp". In 1859, he hauled a printing press to the new town of Denver, where he founded the Rocky Mountain News. He also served as postmaster of the settlement.

He was enthusiastic about the mining prospects of Colorado, and wrote endless editorials about the wealth to be found in the mountains to the West.  However, many disappointed prospectors took to referring to Byers newspaper as the "Rocky Mountain Liar".  Among his promotions was the idea that the South Platte River could be made navigable. That vision never became reality due to the size of the river. He wrote inflammatory articles against Indians which contributed to the infamous Sand Creek Massacre, a slaughter of peaceful natives by Colorado militia in 1864.

Fascinated by the co-called "boiling springs" in Middle Park, Byers managed to obtain rudimentary land titles from Indian claimants and promoters to establish the town of Hot Sulphur Springs in 1863.

Byers developed Hot Sulphur Springs into what was probably Colorado's first resort town.  He also tried to grow grapes and other commercial garden crops in Grand County, with little or no success.  He invested in sawmills and was part owner with William Cozens of the Hilry Harry & Company "Brand H" ranch.

In 1901, at the age of 70, Byers undertook the ascent of the peak which had been named for him by the official Hayden survey.  The next year he donated land for the Grand County Courthouse in Hot Sulphur Springs

William Byers died in 1903.  His fame is preserved in the names of Byers Canyon, Byers Peak and the town of Byers. He was one of the founders of the Colorado Historical Society, which owns the Byers-Evans House, a historical museum in Denver.  There is a stained glass window of his portrait in the Colorado State Capitol building.

Sources: Don and Jean Griswold, Colorado's Century of Cities, Denver CO 1958.

Thomas J. Noel, The Colorado Almanac, Portland, OR 2001

Samuel Bowles, The Switzerland of America, Springfield, MA, 1869

Robert C. Black, Island in Rockies, Boulder CO, 1968

Lulita Pritchett, Maggie By My Side, Steamboat Springs CO, 1976

Dougall MacDonald, Long's Peak: Colorado's Favorite Fourteener, Englewood CO, 2004

Carl Ubbelokdre, Maxine Benson and Duane Smith, A Colorado History, Boulder CO 1972

Alice Reich and Thomas Steel, Fraser Haps and Mishaps, Denver CO  1990 

 

Topic: Railroads

Moffat Road

 

"I shall never forget it as long as I live. Nor do I ever expect to experience anything comparable to it again. Civilization had found its way across the mountains into Middle Park," reflected Mrs. Josephine Button in 1955 on her 91st birthday, as she recalled seeing smoke from the first Denver Northwestern and Pacific work-train on Rollins Pass, high above the Fraser Valley and Middle Park. Once those rails made it over the Continental Divide all the way to Hot Sulphur Springs, "changes came thick and fast." Many men, many dollars, many routes and many dreams tried to bring a railroad over the Continental Divide into Northwest Colorado, and the "Hill Route" over Rollins Pass that finally accomplished it a century ago has retained its allure ever since.

The Moffat Railroad built a cafeteria, telegraph station, living quarters for Moffat's "Hill Men" (as the railroad crews up there were known) and a fine hotel - all collectively called Corona Station. Soot-filled snow sheds protected over a mile of this windblown section of track. And where today silence is the most powerful sense, colorful locomotives pulled passenger and freight cars, filling the rare atmosphere with black smoke and mechanical clatter.

Decades of men's dreams lay behind the once massive snow shed that cut the bitter winds from the north and west, behind that fine hotel that offered some of the most spectacular scenery in America, behind the hopeful Town of Arrow nestled below tree-line ten or twelve miles west of Rollins Pass, and behind that first work-train that Josephine Button watched from her hay ranch along the Cottonwood Pass Wagon Road to Hot Sulphur Springs. Competent, often powerful, men in the 1860's through the 1890's filed surveys, graded road beds, and even began drilling before being stopped by severe storms that foiled the best laid plans or their inability to fund the ambitious projects.

Dreams to penetrate the high mountains along the Divide in central Colorado began when the Front Range was flooded with miners during the Gold Rush of 1859. Even before Colorado became a territory in 1861, Golden City, just west of Denver along Clear Creek, recognized its potential as a gateway to the rich mineral resources of mountain towns like Central City, Black Hawk, and Georgetown. Golden City's ambitions went beyond becoming a mountain transportation hub, believing that with the right incentives, enthusiasms, and leadership, its location supported a future as a national commerce center. 

Golden City certainly had men of vision, ambition, and wealth among its ranks. William Loveland and George Vest, both young and feverishly ambitious to see Golden City reach its potential, vigorously pursued their dreams for a powerful commercial center in Golden City. From Missouri River towns like Leavenworth in Eastern Kansas, leading town founders also recognized the benefits of linking their water and rail routes to the east with the resources of the west. Finally, as if destiny had demanded it, Edward L. Berthoud, a young civil engineer and surveyor with energy and ability, arrived in Golden City from Leavenworth in April of 1860 to unite the similar passions of leading citizens from both locations.

From 1861 until 1866, Berthoud, Loveland and Vest focused on bringing a direct transcontinental railroad route through Golden City. First, Edward Berthoud, along with Jim Bridger and a capable young cartographer named Redwood Fisher, blazed a trail across Berthoud Pass through Middle Park all the way to Salt Lake City. Returning to Golden City on May 28, 1861, Berthoud reported "a good wagon road could be ?quickly' built" from Denver to Salt Lake City over Berthoud Pass for about $100,000.00. According to the local hyperbole, a railroad would surely follow.

In spite of considerable enthusiasm, disappointment plagued early efforts to put a rail line over the mountains in Colorado Territory. In 1862, Territorial Governor John Evans sent the Surveyor General for Colorado and Territories along Berthoud's route and others to confirm or deny the potential of a railroad line. About the same time, the Union Pacific Railroad Company sent an independent reconnaissance to examine potential routes over the divide that included Berthoud and Boulder Passes (Boulder Pass became Rollins Pass in the early 1870's, when John Quincy Adams Rollins built a toll road over it, and then Corona Pass when the Railroad crossed it). Surveyor General Case and the UP agreed that neither route offered much hope for a standard gauge railroad. The dream of a transcontinental line over the Continental Divide through central Colorado seemed to die with the UP surveyor's words, "I learned enough to satisfy myself that no railroad would - at least in our day - cross the mountains south of the Cache la Poudre..." 

Multiple failed attempts to bring a rail line over the Divide through Middle Park during the following decades strengthened the UP's "death sentence." Against the odds, Berthoud and Loveland continued to solicit support for a railroad west over or through the Continental Divide, using improved surveys and maps to support their requests. In the 1880's, survey crews from a variety of railway incorporations were scattered over the high country on or near Rollins Pass. Over Berthoud, Rollins and other passes, they marked potential railroad lines with their wooden stakes. It was during this stretch of strenuous surveying activity that David Moffat, a highly successful Denver capitalist, got involved with an unsuccessful effort to bring through the mountains instead of over the top. 

 In the early 1880's, Mr. Moffat invested in the Denver, Utah and Pacific Railroad, which intended to tunnel through the mountains near Rollins Pass. Like the other efforts, though, the Denver, Utah and Pacific vanished in a few short years. Unlike many other lines that accomplished little more than surveys and maps, the DU&PRR completed significant grading and began tunneling before reaching the "end of its resources."

Money, power and success supported Moffat's dream to put Denver on a direct transcontinental railroad line. Doctor Robert C. Black, III, wrote that David Moffat's failed efforts in the early 1880's converted him to the idea that Denver needed to be on a direct transcontinental rail line. Moffat considered the route over Rollins Pass valuable enough to have surveying and grading crews working on it throughout the winter in 1902. The Denver Rocky Mountain News claimed that Moffat's route through Northwestern Colorado included "the largest strip of fertile land as yet undeveloped in the United States..." With his Denver, Northwestern and Pacific Railroad, David Moffat planned to make good his intentions to put Denver on direct transcontinental railroad line.

Moffat's original plan called for the "Hill Route" over Corona Pass ? the name changed from Rollins Pass in honor of Corona Station at the top ? to last for only a few short years. While the "temporary" route over the top generated resources by extracting the resources of Northwestern Colorado, a tunnel was to be bored through the Continental Divide. Even the wealth and power of Moffat, though, failed to adequately finance the tunnel before he died in 1911. The temporary line, therefore, lasted for nearly of a quarter century, from 1904 until 1928.

Its obstacles proved as enormous as the mountains it crossed. Work crews had to cease operations because of snow for most of April in 1920. The road was closed from late January until May in 1921. In December of 1924, engine number 210 busted "a main reservoir pipe," causing the train to fly down the hill out of control until it jumped the tracks and crashed into the valley below. Clearly, the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad, which took over Moffat's DNW&P after his death, needed a tunnel to replace the expensive effort over the "Devil's Backbone."

 As Denver and Salt Lake Locomotive Number 120 came through the tunnel in early 1928, it represented the culmination of a massive undertaking through wet, unstable rocks which required considerable engineering ingenuity and caused six deaths in a 1926 cave-in. It also took an enormous amount of coordination and effort to secure the necessary funding. Through local bond issues, private investors and other means, the project was completed. And through a connection at Dotsero, a railroad station less than 30 minutes west of Vail on I-70, freight and passengers could make a direct Pacific connection from Denver. Posthumously, David Moffat's dream became a reality.

For significant periods of time since the trains stopped operations over Rollins Pass in the late 1920's with the opening of the Moffat Tunnel, on-road vehicles crept along its relatively easy grades and wide curves from Rollinsville on the east slope to Winter Park on the west side of the Divide. Like now, the road ran through an area attractive to backcountry campers and sport enthusiasts. On September 1, 1956, local officials and private citizens met on Rollins Pass to celebrate a "joint state-federal-county project to convert the old D. & S. L. railroad right of way over Corona Pass into an access road for sportsmen." According to the Denver Post, the game and fish department's construction division reconstructed the road during the summer of 1955 for about $20,000. The following year, the road became a scenic route over the Continental Divide for family cars and jeep caravans alike. And after it was built, or at least reconstructed, they did come. Intrepid tourists into Middle Park.

Topic:

Granby

Article contributed by Betty Jo Woods

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.

Sources:
R.C. Black, Island in the Rockies. Pruett Publishing Company, 1969

Topic: Water

Early Water Disagreements

As fast as settlers arrived in the county, conflicts arose over water use.  George T. Bell, an early rancher on the Blue River in the 1890's, had water rights coming out of Deep Creek, Spring Creek, and Soda and Iron Springs.  Daughter Maud Bell had married James Mugrage and when her father died in 1925, she and James stayed on the ranch of about 800 acres, to operate it.  She reported years later that when Noonen, a large rancher also on the Blue, built his ditch, he took much of the Bell water and used it for his own benefit.  Many years later, Maud discovered that although her father was long dead, those early water rights still belonged to the Bells, not the Noonens. 

Another family, that of George Henricks, settled far up the Troublesome Valley, about 1900, in what was truly an inaccessible spot.  What possessed him to pick such a remote area for his ranch?  Because when he and his wife Aurille lived in Nebraska and tried to make a living on their farm, farmers upstream stole their water to the point that they couldn't keep their crops alive.  Aurille actually had to use the same batch of water for two or three purposes!  As water fights escalated, George vowed to find a place where nobody could be above him and his water source. Rancher Will Call took him far up the Troublesome valley to a large meadow, reachable only by foot or horseback.  Life wasn't easy, for George and Aurille had to do everything from scratch, and they lived in a cabin with a dirt floor for many years.  But nobody took his water! 

Even more recently there was a case on Crooked Creek, where a ranching family that owned quite a good spring and used it to water their hay, discovered that a new neighbor was diverting the water from the spring over onto his own land, to water his own hay!  The rancher protested and diverted the water back where it belonged.  The newcomer turned around and stole it again.  This situation went on for many years without good satisfaction.

The Kirtz Ditch development on the Troublesome began about 1890.  In 1911, an Elias T. Copelin homesteaded land, later adjacent to the Alexander and George Murray Baker ranches.  One day Copelin and Murray Baker, one of the brothers, got into an argument over water rights in the Kirtz Ditch, each accusing the other of stealing his water.  Murray, who was a little guy with a fierce temper, picked up a shovel and gave Copelin a mighty whack with it.  Copelin fell to the ground but after a bit picked himself up, climbed on his horse, and headed toward his home.  However, the blow must have damaged his brain because he was found the next day, dead on the ground at his own gate

High on Meadow Creek, in the early 1900's, lumber activity began in the area later known as Sawmill Meadow.  About 1910, the Western Land and Flume Co. put in a little dam near what is now the trailhead to Columbine Lake.  The resulting lake, today filled with water lilies, was used as a holding pond for logs that would be moved by flume to the main mill downstream in Tabernash.  This lumber company sold to Western Box & Lumber Company in 1912.  Business flourished.  There was even a short railroad going into the woods, with the tracks made of logs about 6" to 8" in diameter.  Prospects looked good.  However, from the beginning water rights were an issue. Some people say it was Nathan Hurd who broke the company.  Western Box had lost some of its water to the Strawberry Ditch (going to Granby) in 1914.  More trouble was looming.  Hurd wanted to keep the water from the little reservoir for the ranchers and lettuce farmers below.  The timber folks wanted to use the water during the summer months to keep the flume going.  Nobody was willing to give up anything, so in 1915, the big mill closed.   Still, efforts continued.

Then in 1919, the planing mill at Tabernash burned.  In the early twenties, further contention led to the withholding of more water from the lumber companies who wanted permission to ditch Trail Creek water across into Meadow Creek, replacing water taken higher up for the flume and Strawberry Ditch.  This would have been quite easy because, about seven miles out of Tabernash is a nearly flat saddle that exists between the two creeks.   Nevertheless the Hurds wouldn't hear of it.

Then one Henry Jarvis showed up on the scene.  He was known to all the timber men.  In 1923, Jarvis, using a box of TNT, "blew the dam" of the irrigation reservoir at Western Box.  People suspected that he did it for T.S. Huston, one of the big lumber powers of the area.  The feeling was that "if the lumbermen couldn't have the water, neither could the ranchers and the Granby farmers."  In any case, that basically was the end of Western Box Company. 

Topic: Biographies

Betty Cranmer

November 2007

 

Betty Cranmer, a longtime Granby resident, says she doesn't like to be in the spotlight. Her modest home with brown siding and roof, tucked into a hill behind a stately spruce tree, reflects nothing of her and her family's past.  Betty's story - full of heartache and triumph - deserves recognition.

She is a World War II veteran, a cancer-survivor, and the mother of five children (her sixth son, Forrest, died when he was 33.) She is the wife of the late Chappell Cranmer, whose father, George Cranmer, is the Cranmer the ski run at Winter Park Resort is named after.  At 86 years old, Betty has lived a fuller life than many - and she shows no signs of slowing down.

She was born in England on Aug. 29, 1921. When she was 18, she joined the Women's Royal Air Force and was stationed at a burn and plastic surgery hospital, later named Queen Victoria Cottage Hospital. Deep down, she had wanted to be stationed at a fighter station instead - closer to "where the action was" - because she had just lost her first love, an Australian man, who was shot down by enemy fire.  "My job was to clean up burns, which were very bad," Betty said. "A lot of them didn't have eyelids, or their noses were burned off."

Betty was fascinated by the way the doctors would build up the soldier's faces by skin grafting, she said.  "It was very interesting, once you get over the smell of burns, and get into the feeling you're doing a service for those people," she said. Betty served at the hospital for four-and-a-half years. Her home was in a small town in Sussex, 30 miles from the south coast of England. The town was sometimes known as "bomb alley" during the war. Because of the town's proximity to London, German planes would often drop their bombs on her town on their way to London, she said.

She recalled pilotless planes - "big bombs with wings, nothing else" - and running for cover, although there wasn't any. She recalled the Battle of Britain, and how the sky was "almost black" with hundreds of German planes. One night, as she was working at the hospital, a young pilot from Denver was brought in. He was a member of the Canadian Air Force who had crashed in the North Sea, and spent 14 days on a dingey with no food or water. When he was finally found, semi-conscious, he was brought to a nearby hospital. "When they took his boots off, his toes came off, because they'd been immersed in water and cold for so long," Betty said. "So they sent him down to our hospital to see if we could do some grafting on his feet."

After a year of treatment, however, there was nothing the hospital could do for the young pilot; to save his life, they amputated his legs, and he was forced to use a wheelchair.  He and Betty struck up a friendship, and she would often take him to town where they'd visit the cinema or local pub. Eventually, they fell in love.

One day after leaving the cinema early because Betty had to return to work, they were heading down a hill toward the hospital when a German plane flew over them. Both of them were in uniform.  "I said, "My goodnesss!? There were no sirens, nothing ."  The plane circled and opened fire.    "I was so frightened, I let go of his (wheel)chair. Thankfully he grabbed the front wheels and was able to stop himself."

Betty and the young man returned to the hospital safely, but the attack had brought in many casualties. Eighty people were killed and 250 were wounded. The cinema they attended was destroyed by a single bomb. Betty's eyes glaze over as she remembers how lucky they had been to survive that day.  "I wasn't a believer ... I didn't know there was a God in those days, because when you're in a war, well ... But I think then, by the grace of God, we got out of that."   Betty and the pilot were married in the mid-1940s, and had a daughter named Susan after the war ended. Although the war was over, life wasn't any easier, Betty said.  "It's hard for people who were in the war in
England to describe rationing to people in this country. ... We had two ounces of meat per week, per person. You could not buy anything in the shops at all without giving up coupons. Two ounces of butter, four ounces of sugar."

Betty was pregnant with her second child when her husband died suddenly due to complications. Before his death, he told her to move to Denver where his father lived. It was 1946, and America offered a better life. Betty took Susan and all that they had and moved to Denver; she first set foot on American soil in May 1946, where she eventually had her second child, Holbrook.
Two years later, she met Chappell Cranmer, who was an investor at the time. They were married and had four children: Allen, Bruce, Genie and Forrest, and lived in Denver for 25 years. In 1969, her husband decided to move to Granby.  "He attended seminary school and was ordained as a priest," Betty explained. "The Bishop said, I want you to move to Granby.' "Betty joined her husband one year later, and they bought a home she would continue to live in the next 37 years.

 

Chappell, or "Chap," started a church in 1981 called St. Columba Chapel - later named Cranmer Chapel - that is located behind the Silver Screen Cinema in downtown Winter Park. It is there to this day and is a vital part of the local community. Betty and her husband continued to visit England every two years to see her parents, but in 1994 she was diagnosed with cancer in her abdomen. Betty beat the cancer - despite a doctor's prognosis that she had three weeks to live - and would go on to fight and survive two more major bouts of cancer.

Chap died in 2000, two years after Betty fought off colon cancer. She continues to travel, and has just returned from a trip to England and Spain with her son.  As she sits in her couch chair, her white and gray hair framed by the sun peeking through her window, one can't help but be in awe of Betty Cramner. Her home is immaculate but cozy and inviting, and the rooms are filled with photographs of children and grandchildren. She loves living in Granby, she said, where everything is close by.
"I'm very independent. I don't like driving in big blizzards and stuff like that, so I can walk to the library, the post office, the church every Sunday. ... So I like living here. I couldn't live in a big city anymore."

Betty knows she has led an amazing life, but her humbleness is what makes her unique. As she rattles off her daily routine - snowshoeing, walking, swimming, attending four different Bible studies - she mentions she is a volunteer at Cold Springs, a local greenhouse just up the road. "I love flowers," she said, as she turns and faces her bay window full of geraniums and different types of plants. "Would you like one? I have plenty."

Ute Legends of Hot Sulphur Springs

Ages ago, there were many Ute Indians who enjoyed life in Middle Park with its plentiful game and lush meadows.  They lived in peace and harmony for "as many years as there are hairs on the head."

In spite of this idyllic life, there was one young brave who yearned for more adventure and material goods.  He proposed that the Utes attack the Sioux, who lived beyond the mountains on the plains of the rising sun.  As victors, they would return in glory with much wealth and many captives.

Spiquet Pah (Smoking Water) was an elderly medicine man who foresaw only grief in the prospect of such a war.  He spoke before a council meeting, warning of the devastation that such an action would bring upon the tribe.  He foretold " As the North Wind soon brings the snows and death of winter, so will he bring sorrow and death to our own people.....if you do this, strength and peace and plenty will be but for a few; joy will be seen no more."

Disregarding his warning, most of the young men were tantalized with the temptation of the grand adventure of such a conquest.  In the autumn of the year, when they usually did their hunting, the young men rallied behind the young brave and followed him over the Great Divide into combat with the plains people.  As the fighters departed, a saddened Spiquet Pah went into the heart of the mountain "and pulled the hole in after him."

The young Ute men found the enemy better armed and organized than they expected. Many Ute braves were killed and others were taken as slaves. The prophecy had come true as starvation and disease plagued the tribe as there were too few men to hunt for food. The old man sat on his haunches beside his subterranean fire which he heated water from an underground stream.  From the mountain at Hot Sulphur Springs, water flows even today as a reminder of the rash behavior of so long ago.

Another legend holds simply that the Hot Sulphur Springs water acquired medicinal qualities in answer to the prayers of an old chief who has be left by his tribe to die.  The old man built fires within the mountain, and after drinking the water and bathing in them, we was restored to health and rejoined his people.

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