Joe on Melody
Ute Bill Thompson
Joe on Melody

Indian Legends

Indian Legends Articles

Origins of the Ute People
Origins of the Ute People

Before there were any people anywhere, the Creator, "Sinawaf", cut sticks and placed them in a large sack.  After many days, this aroused the curiosity of the coyote.  When Sinewaf was away, the coyote could no longer control himself and opened the sack.

Out came many people who scattered in all directions.  Each spoke a difference language from the others.  When Sinewaf returned, there were only a few people remaining in the sack.  He was furious with the coyote, as he had planned to distribute the people equally in various parts of the land.  As there could now be no such equity, there would be wars among the different people, who would fight for the best locations.

Of the small group left in the sack, Sinawaf called them Ute or Nuche, which meant "the people".  They would be a very brave and strong tribe.

The Ute Legend of Grand Lake
The Ute Legend of Grand Lake

A group of Utes were camping on the shores of Grand Lake when they were suddenly attacked by an enemy tribe of the Arapaho (and in some versions the Cheyenne as well).  As the brave Ute warriors began fighting, the women and children were hurried onto a large raft for safety and pushed to the middle of the lake.  As the battle continued, a treacherous wind overturned the raft and all the women and children were drowned. Many Ute warriors were also killed during the fighting. 

The legend holds that you can still see ghostly forms in the morning mist rising from the lake and hear the wailing of the lost women and children beneath the winter ice.  The Utes avoided the lake for many years because of these tragic events and evil spirits.

Ute Legend of Canyons
Ute Legend of Canyons

Major John Wesley Powell was in the first party to make a recorded climb of Pikes Peak in 1868.  Later, he would lead the first expedition of the Green and Colorado (Grand) Rivers. He was very interested in the Indian tribes that he encountered and later became head of the new U.S. Bureau of Ethnology.  He recorded this legend as told by the Utes on his first visit to the Colorado mountains, during his Pikes Peak climb.

A chief of the Utes mourned the death of his beloved wife, and his grief was so deep, that no one could console him.  Then the Great Spirit, Ta-Vwoats, appeared to him and promised to take him southwest to where he could see where his wife had gone, if he would promise to grieve no more.

Ta-Vwoats rolled a magical ball before him and it crushed mountains, earth and rocks, making a trail to the land of the afterlife.  Following the ball was a rolling globe of fire which the Great Spirit and the chief followed.  At last they were in the happy land where all was blessed with plenty and joy.  This was where the chief's wife had gone and he was glad to see it.

When they returned, Ta-Vwoats told the chief that he must never travel that trail again during life and warned all the people against it.  Knowing that those who had lost their loved ones would be tempted to make the journey, Ta-Vwoats rolled a river into the canyons so that no one could enter.

Ute Legend of the Quaking Aspen
Ute Legend of the Quaking Aspen

It is amazing to behold the continuous quivering of aspen leaves in groves around Grand County, even when there is no apparent breeze.

According to Ute legend, the reason for this unique aspect of the aspen tree happened during a visit to Erath from the Great Spirit during a special full moon.  All of nature anticipated the Spirit's arrival and trembled to pay homage.  All except the proud and beautiful aspen. The aspens stood still, refusing to pay proper respect. The Great Spirit was furious and decreed that, from that time on, the aspen leaves would tremble whenever anyone looked upon them.

Ute Legends of Hot Sulphur Springs
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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Topic: Water

A Dream Smashed in Gore Canyon

The idea of a water passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean had long captivated the imagination of early explorers.  Soon after the Territory of Colorado was established, the United States government made a standing offer of $3,750 to anyone who could demonstrate such a route.

In 1869 a dreamer named Sam Adams convinced some people in the town of Breckenridge that goods could be sent upriver via the Mississippi, Missouri, Platte and South Platte Rivers to South Park.  Then, with a short portage over Boreas pass, they could continue down the Blue River to the Grand (Colorado) River and then through Gore Canyon the Sea of Cortez.

Volunteers were told they would share in the prize, and they built four boats of green lumber for the voyage.  The flotilla was launched with great celebration, the lead boat bearing a banner proclaiming "Western Colorado to California ? Greetings!"  A little dog was given to the crew to keep up morale.

As the boats went down the Blue River, the waters were a bit rougher than expected. When the men arrived at the Grand (Colorado) River, the crew set up camp. However several of the "sailors" declared they had had enough and began a trek, via dry land back home to Breckenridge.

When the boats reached Gore Canyon, they encountered violent upsurges and dramatic drops.  The wild waters smashed all four of the vessels on dangerous rocks.  Fortunately, all members made it to dry land, even the little dog.  No reward was ever given for the attempt.

Topic: Dude Ranches

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.

Topic: Towns

Grand Lake

Grand Lake was established in 1879 and incorporated in 1944. It is named for the largest natural body of water in Colorado.

In 1867, when only a few people resided near the lake, Major John Wesley Powell (the man whose group first rafted the Grand Canyon) came to explore the possibility of floating down the Grand (now Colorado) River. That summer, Powell, local resident Jack Sumner, and William Byers, founder of the Rocky Mountain News, made the first recorded ascent of Longs Peak from Grand Lake.

In the early 1900’s a Yacht Club was formed by enthusiasts who were attracted by the demands of attentive seamanship the lake demanded. In 1912, Sir Thomas Lipton contributed an impressive cup to be presented annually to the winner of the annual August Regatta. This event still draws skilled sailors to the challenging competition. 

The town was founded during a very brief mining boom, but because of it's natural beauty, tourism has long been the sustaining feature of it's economy.

Topic: Water

Water

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

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

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

John & Ida and the Sheriff Ranch

Sheriff Ranch lies in a valley just below Highway 40, 2 miles east of the Town of Hot Sulphur Springs. It's the serene world of John & Ida Sheriff. Old cabins with outhouses align themselves against the riverbank of the Colorado River. They tell a story of the fishermen who once rented the cabins for just a dollar a day-a long time ago.

It's a quiet Sunday morning and only the sound of geese flying overhead can be heard. The cattle are quiet in the meadow as the sun begins to rise and feeding time comes close. They sense the presence of this stranger. The air is cool and damp as Ida comes to greet me. John is not far behind. Looking across the meadow, a calf seems to have caught herself in a fence and to my surprise, the entire herd rushed off to help her. Suddenly she's free and the cattle slow to a stop. The cows quiet down as John throws hay from the pickup. The calves are more curious and come right up to us. One mother cow took off with her young one and Ida called her by name, "Oh, Spook, why are you running off?-she's always taking off! She's afraid you're here to brand her!"

John & Ida begin this morning just as they have for the past 57 years, checking on momma cows ready to give birth and carefully watching the newborn calves. They all have a name, just like children. Two calves, not quite awake, lie together on the hay while chewing on the tender hay. The sound of the cows chewing is soothing to the ear.

A story of the ranch heritage unfolds while we sit at the kitchen table enjoying a cup of tea and fresh baked date-nut bread.

Marietta Sumner Sheriff and her sons came to Leadville, Colorado from a farm in Keithsburg, Illinois, in search of mining claims recorded by her deceased husband, Matthew. (Many farmers and ranchers moved to Colorado ? the promise land of gold). Some years later, Marietta and her sons moved to Hot Sulphur Springs where her sister, Mrs. William Byers lived (1859 Rocky Mountain News founder, William F. Byers).

The ranch has been passed down from generation to generation since then. John Sheriff was the eldest son of Glenn and Adaline Sheriff (Glenn Sheriff was County Commissioner for 21 years, County Assessor, Director of the State Welfare Board for 13 years, and President of the Board of the Middle Park Union High School). He attended the Hot Sulphur Springs Public School through the 12 th grade. Everyone had to share in working the ranch and John was no stranger to peddling milk door to door for 10 cents a quart before he went to school.

Harsh winters closed off travel over Corona Pass (Top of the World) and the only way into the County was on snowshoes. Middle Park was a tough place to live with 50 degrees below freezing for weeks on end. Many people stocked up on flour and sugar and other supplies for the winter because they couldn't get into town for supplies. The Sheriffs were more fortunate and would use a horse and sled and follow the river into the town of Hot Sulphur for supplies.

Ranch life was not a wealthy profession as many may have thought. The Sheriffs know how hard it was to keep the family ranch. In the 1930's, Roosevelt's New Deal (Agriculture Adjustment Administration-AAA) forced ranchers and farmers to kill off half of their herd to level out the economy. Cow hides were sold for 5 cents a hide. Ida recalls, "Everyone in agriculture had to start over. Everyone was in the same boat. Some people couldn't take the stress and just moved off their ranches-- just leaving them!" The Sheriff ranch was in debt following the depression era. Ranches were up for foreclosure everywhere; banks didn't want them. The family just hung in there until they could get a herd of cattle going again.

Joining the Navy, John served in the South Pacific during World War II, and returned home to attend Colorado State University where he studied general agriculture. He met and married Ida Marte in 1949, daughter to early Grand County pioneers, Liberat and Bertha Marte. Ida is known over the years for her involvement with historical societies, documenting the history of the County, and maintaining original cemetery plots for the Hot Sulphur Springs Cemetery.

The years after the war were a struggle. With not enough hay to put up and only a handful of cattle, ranchers turned to raising sheep and harvesting crops of lettuce. Japanese prisoners of war were sent here from California to work on ranches.

"We always had to have an outside income ?cabin rentals, John's dad, Glenn was commissioner, and Mom worked at the library to help pay expenses. Once in a while we would have enough cows or lambs to go to market. The Federal Land Bank saved a lot of ranches allowing us to borrow money to get going. We were all afraid of another recession after the war," Ida said.

In the first 30 years of their marriage, John & Ida did not see much of each other. John traveled back and forth taking cattle to auction. When they got married, the ranch was so much in debt that they were "darn lucky that we didn't loose it".

The Sheriff homestead was registered in 1881 with 1350 acres and had as many as 250 head of high grade Herefords by 1975. Pure-bred bulls were purchased from neighboring ranches (Taussig Brothers, Hermosa Ranch, and Lawson Ranch) improving the quality of the herd. Sheriff ranch's registered brand-Bar Double S---is still known to be the oldest registered brand in the County.

In 1984 a large portion of ranch acreage was sold to Chimney Rock Ranch Company and the remaining acreage is where Ida and John live today, raising a small herd of cattle. They no longer make trips to auction. Today, a buyer comes to the ranch.

With no electricity in the early years, trudging through deep snow to the barn's generator was a morning ritual to power the lights in the house. In later years, electricity allowed the Sheriffs to start the generator with a flick of the switch from within the main residence.

The years of struggle and hardship, hard work and the desire to keep the family ranch has been a great sense of pride for the Sheriff family today. John and Ida, their ancestors and their family are a living example of family ranches surviving today. Not many remain, but this ranch, with a great family history, has a river of life flowing through it.

Ninety Four Winters So Far

January, 1911.  Five years ago they were teenagers in Torsby, Sweden, oblivious to the sweeping changes that history and hope would bring to their lives.   Now they’re in a mountain valley halfway around the world from their Scandinavian homeland, marveling at the tiny bundle of flesh and spirit who has just joined their family. It’s the coldest week of the year in one of the coldest spots in America, but there’s a fire crackling in the woodstove, and their hearts are warm with love for each other and their firstborn child.   For the next few days, a parade of fellow Swedes stop by to pay their respects to the newest resident of the town of Fraser: Elsie Josephine Goranson.  

February, 1918.  It’s barely dawn, and a blizzard is howling across the valley, piling snow against the sturdy wooden house.  George Goranson puts on his boots and woolen overcoat and trudges towards the barn.  There are cows to milk and horses to feed.  There are no days off.  Meanwhile, in the house, 7-year old Elsie stokes the perpetual fire in the cook stove, while her mother grinds the beans for a second pot of strong coffee.  Later they will make sour cream cookies.   Her younger brother Hill is sick in bed with influenza.  He will survive.  Many others will not.   

March, 1925.  The logging camps are humming, the Moffat Tunnel is under construction, and the valley is brimming with workers and their hard earned pay.  Fraser merchants and boarding houses are doing a brisk business, as are the local bootleggers.  Elsie is waiting tables at the “Victory Café”, named for its proximity to the new coast-to-coast “Victory Highway” that passes through town, and each morning she serves breakfast to the nice looking (if scantily clad) girls from the corner house of ill repute.  Soon the local vigilante committee will force these ladies of the night to leave town, but for now it’s business as usual, and Fraser is hopping.   In fact, “Russell’s Riot Squad” is playing at a dance tonight at the Thomas Hotel.  

April, 1927.  Sleigh bells jangle as a team of horses pulls four young couples down valley to a dance in Tabernash, the most happening town in the county.  The roundhouse is there, as are the wages of engineers and brakemen who guide the trains over Rollins Pass.  There is even a movie house, where Elsie saw her first moving picture, “Jackie Coogan”. As the sleigh glides across the moonlit snow, Elsie feels a mix of excitement and nervousness.  This is her first date with Chuck Clayton, a hardworking man from Oklahoma. Chuck is handsome as he steals glances through the cold night air, but her Dad doesn’t approve of his drinking and gambling.  Other dates will follow: motor trips in a Model A Roadster to Garden of the Gods, picnics in Rocky Mountain National Park, and plenty of dancing.  “I’ll never marry you,” she tells him everyday.  “Yes you will,” he insists.  

May, 1933.  One child underfoot and another in the belly, and Elsie Clayton is tired.  Chuck bought a house for 20 dollars and used the lumber to build a hamburger stand (soon café and bar) right along the newly paved Highway 40, the main route from Denver to San Francisco.  For the next 38 years, their lives will be a blur of ham and eggs, New Year’s Eve parties, and a long medley of songs on the jukebox.  The school bus will stop there, as will the “Steamboat Stagecoach” bus line, and three generations of folks looking for a home cooked meal or glass of beer.  There will be marathon cribbage games, war stories, and “Friday Night Fights” watched live on the first television in town.  Despite the booze and boxing, Clayton’s Café and Bar will be known as a family establishment, especially compared to the “Fraser Bar”, a.k.a. the “Bloody Bucket”, where a love triangle will one day lead to murder.  

June, 1945.  It’s 4:30 a.m.  Elsie tiptoes downstairs and into the café.  She brews coffee, warms up the grill, then sits and enjoys a rare moment of relaxation before her workday begins.  In the distance, a steam locomotive blows its whistle as it chugs towards town.  Before her life is over, nearly a half million trains will pass through Fraser, an endless stream of rumbling horsepower that conjures up different images as the years pass by: trains bringing home soldiers from the Great War; trains loading up ranchers’ fattened cattle in the fall; trains delivering newspapers and mail; trains colliding head on in the Fraser flats; a train’s whistle frantically blowing to alert sleeping townspeople to a midnight fire; streamlined diesel trains ushering in a new era, and countless coal trains, hauling the carbon wealth of Western Colorado to the factories and power plants of far off cities.  

July, 1950.  Summer’s here, and all are invited to the town picnic down by the Fraser River.  Aging Swedish bachelors will be there, sipping steel cans of Coors and swapping stories of crosscut saws and the rowdy “Lapland” logging camps up St. Louis Creek.  Young men will dance with young women.  Young men will start fistfights with other young men.  Navajo railroad workers will perform a rain dance. Children will play Audie Murphy in the riverside willows and drink Coca Cola from thick glass bottles.  Meanwhile, the deluxe brick barbecue will sizzle as Elsie spreads mayonnaise on buns and Chuck flips burgers and jokes with friends.      

August, 1953.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower is coming to town to fish and relax.  “We come Ike” banners wave in the breeze as the motorcade turns off Highway 40 and onto the dusty gravel of Main Street.  Cheers erupt and flashbulbs pop as a smiling Ike emerges from his limo and waves to the crowd of 300.  It is the biggest day in Fraser history, but Elsie sees none of it, for even as her husband, the Mayor of Fraser, is welcoming the leader of the free world to town, she’s in the cafe tending to the crush of reporters and tourists who’ve come to see an American hero.   Tomorrow, after the excitement dies down, she’ll personally deliver two of her homemade pies to the President, who will rave about the perfect crust.   

September, 1971.  Retired.  Chuck and Elsie sit on the porch of their new home on the edge of town, watching cows graze just beyond the fence, and taking in the unobstructed view of Byers Peak.  Labor Day has come and gone, and now town is peaceful, the highway quiet.  Freed from the busy schedule she’s kept for decades, Elsie will soon embark on a reading frenzy and will begin to keep a modest journal of the days’ events:  A Grandchild born, an illness in the family, an exceptionally cold morning.  Chuck busies himself planting trees, tending a garden, and mowing his spacious lawn.  Tomorrow they will pack a picnic lunch and drive the Denver Water Board roads in search of raspberry bushes.   

October, 1978.  Today is Chuck and Elsie’s 50th wedding anniversary.  It’s a perfect day, sunny and warm, Indian summer if there ever was such a thing.  The mountains shimmer beneath a blanket of fresh snow.  Hay meadows glow golden beneath the cloudless sky.  Family and friends gather in the yard for photos before heading to the Crooked Creek Saloon, formerly Clayton’s Cafe and Bar, for a long afternoon of celebration and reminiscing.   

November, 1999.  After 71 years of marriage, Chuck has passed on, and Elsie is suddenly alone.  She sits at her dining room table, peering out the frost fringed window at the town she was born in, the town she has lived in her whole life.  The ridge she once sledded down is covered with condominiums.  The willowed wetland where her brother trapped muskrats has become a large parking lot.  Her father’s horse pasture is now a shopping center.  Everything has changed, yet memories remain, taking on a life of their own.  Horses still pull wagonloads of hay up the highway.  Loggers come in from the woods every Saturday night for revelry and roulette.  A young couple poses for a photo in front of their new cafe.  A sharp axe splits a chunk of pine.  Life goes on.   

December, 2004.  Christmas Eve.  There is plenty of food, including the homemade potato sausage that’s been served at every family Christmas for centuries, and plenty of gifts stacked beneath the brightly lit tree.  Elsie sits at the head of the table, quietly marveling at this clan she has wrought.  Her surviving children are here, as are her grandchildren, some of who have grandchildren of their own.  Five generations of family pour gravy on potatoes and crack jokes.  As she looks at their faces, she remembers her own parents, her grandparents, and her husband.  Everyone is here.   In a few minutes, in a ritual as old as Elsie can remember, her great-great grandkids will hand out presents, and the house will resound with laughter.  

Winner of  the “One Grand Essay” contest 2005

Topic: Towns

Parshall

The town-site of Parshall was part of the ranch homesteaded by Fred Dean in the 1880s. Before 1900 the ranch belonged to William Byers, founder of the Rocky Mountain News and town of Hot Sulphur Springs. In 1902 Frank Byers, son of William Byers, sold the ranch of 480 acres to Cordelia and Simon Parshall.   

Cordelia Parshall died on March 30, 1904, leaving the ranch to her son Clyde. In 1907 Clyde sold 60.6 acres of the northeast corner of the ranch to Alonzo F. Polhamus, a civil engineer. Polhamus dedicated the town plat to Grand County on July 26, 1907 and named it for his friend and the Parshall homestead. The original primitive store operated by Walter Dow was the drawing card for visitors. Parshall was the headquarters of the “Williams Fork Telephone Company,” a highly informal operation that is said to have transmitted its subscribers’ voices along barbed wire fences.

The town was never incorporated and today still has a bar and restaurant, a post office and a chapel, plus the Grand County Road and Bridge Dept. District 3 maintenance shops. Population varies seasonally between 75 and 90 people.

Edits and corrections to original posting by Don Dailey, 10-2021.

 

 

 

Topic: Regions

Church Park

George Henry Church and his brother John had a substantial ranch in Jefferson Country, prior to Colorado Statehood.  When the Timber and Stone Act of 1878 was passed, it permitted the purchase of land unfit for agriculture for $2.50 an acre.  Thus the Church brothers obtained land in Middle Park for summer grazing.  They would move their cattle into the Park by driving them over the Rollins Pass.   The area they used is just west of the town of Fraser and became known as Church Park.

In 1910, the Church Ditch was created to divert water across the Continental Divide for irrigation.  The remains of this early trans-mountain project can still be seen today at mile marker 241.5 on U.S. Highway 40.

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

Christmas at Fraser

The lights dimmed; mothers had already found their seats after coming from the classrooms where they had put makeup on little children’s faces and checked their costumes to make sure angel wings and halos were secure and costumes were on right side round.  I was at the piano, music and script lined out. The gym was full to the brim, every seat taken, with folks lining the sides and back walls, for the whole town had turned out.  Early birds got the seats!  Christmas wasn’t Christmas in the Fraser Valley unless it included the program at Fraser School (now the Town Hall).   I began the overture and chatter stopped.   I had played for this event for ages, starting in 1958.  High school students were gone by then, moved to the new Union High School in Granby, but 7th and 8th graders were still there.  And in 1958, the first kindergartens in the district were established.   It was a time of excitement and anticipation, of fun, and of panic? Well, no, not panic, for the teachers were beautifully organized. 

The program was chosen during October. Each teacher had a specific job. For instance, Martha Vernon, the art teacher, did sets.  Helen Hurtgen was responsible for dialog.  Edith Hill did costumes.  Nancy Bowlby was in charge of the music.  Others coordinated the whole.  And I played the piano, with Nancy sometimes accompanying me on her violin.  

Mothers were asked to contribute sheets and any fabric they could spare.  Patterns and material for costumes went home to be sewn into various sizes and shapes -- angels, gingerbread men, knights or royalty.  In the gym, we stitched on finishing touches, bright patches to decorate jester outfits, townspeople, and such, while watching various groups practice. Bits of tinsel became crowns, tinfoil turned into wands, cheesecloth into wings.  Lace scraps and sequins added color and “class.”   The budget was extremely minimal at first, but over the years, more money was directed to Christmas programs.  Instead of old sheets, we could buy cotton fabrics, velveteens, sometimes satin.  One year I even stopped by a furrier’s in Denver and begged some fur scraps.  Were we uptown then!  We had fur trim around the necks, cuffs, and hems of the costumes for the prince, queen, and king.  

The day before the play, PTA mothers gathered in the gym to fill brown paper sacks with an apple, orange, nuts, and candies, provided by R. L. Cogdell from his grocery store.  

Every single child in school took part in the play, as a class, except for those with speaking parts, of course.  Fraser grew and grew, then as now. Soon the 7th and 8th grades moved to Granby.  Then the 6th graders went, but the 4th and 5th graders handled the leads neatly.  Our stories were usually simple Christmas tales, but sometimes we tackled ambitious efforts such as the Nutcracker Suite or a version of Gilbert and Sullivan.   The only children not included were the Jehovah Witness youngsters.  They couldn’t be in the play and they couldn’t come watch it either.  We all felt very sorry for them, because everyone had such a wonderful time.  Their teachers tried to give them special projects to entertain and interest them while they sat off in a corner or in their classrooms.   The plays always went well.  Tiny kindergartners came out onto the stage, to stand behind the colored lights.  They knew their song perfectly in practices, but I have to admit that a number of them usually stood silent, stunned by that mass of faces looking up at them.  No matter.  They were darling. “Hi, Mom,” some were sure to call. “Mom” beamed.  

There might be a glitch or two every year. For instance, little Diane was chosen to do the Arabian dance in Nutcracker Suite.  Her parents were dark, as she was, and she was slender as a dancer. Trouble was, she didn’t have an ounce of grace in her body at that stage of her life.  I thought Nancy Bowlby was going to have grey hair before she got that child moving properly.  But the night of the program, Diane looked like Anitra herself, doing her exotic dance.   One year the king jumped his cue and entered on stage.  His first words were, “Did I miss anything?”  The prince muttered, in an aside, “Yes, three pages!”  But the cast went on as if nothing had happened, while down at the piano I sat, flipping pages rapidly, trying to figure out where the dialog was now.  

Another year, our son James was to take part in a minuet.  “Uck!  I have to touch a girl?”  By the greatest good fortune, he broke his leg and got to be a guard at the palace door, standing at attention on crutches, while another boy took his place.  (I think he did that on purpose.)   Songs and parts were adapted to the talents of the students.  We had five boys once, who couldn’t talk, dance, sing -- anything.  So they wore monks’ costumes and filed on stage, supposedly singing a Christmas carol, but supported strongly by the cast present.   Another time, Twyla’s parents couldn’t come, so Miss Vernon took her home to get ready. Now, Twyla usually looked like a dirty ragamuffin, but after a bath and hair wash, she truly looked like the angel she portrayed.   For the finale, the entire school came on stage to sing a last carol, with the audience joining in.  Then Santa showed up to distribute the goodie sacks, and the great night was over.  Coming out into the quiet night was a wonderful feeling.  Sometimes we moved through drifts of new falling snow; sometimes the sky was filled with icy stars.  Gay lights showed in windows throughout town. 

We never talked much on the way home, as we thought of the play, the success of everyone¹s efforts, and how happy the children had made their parents and families.   My last program was the first year after the new school was built.  It was fun still, but the school population had grown enough that it was impossible for whole classes to participate as one. Things weren’t the same as they were in the little old school.

Indian Legends