Joe on Melody
Ute Bill Thompson
Joe on Melody

Mountain Men / Trappers

Mountain Men / Trappers Articles

Jim Bridger
Jim Bridger

Jim Bridger spent quite a bit of time in Grand County and has been cited as "one of the three or four most able, influential, and best known mountain men' according to historian Dan Thrapp.  Born in Virginia in 1804, he was apprenticed to a blacksmith in St Louis at the age of fourteen, and in 1822, left to join Ashley's fur trading operation in the Yellowstone area of Wyoming. He claimed to have discovered the Great Salt Lake in 1824, believing it to be an arm of the Pacific Ocean.  He was a co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, along with Tom Fitzpatrick and Milton Sublette. 

While Bridger was illiterate, he was noted for both his intimate knowledge of the Rocky Mountains and his prevarications to impress newcomers.  He was engaged in some battles with Indians, but was married to two Indian women; a Ute woman who died in childbirth, and then Shoshone women who bore him two children.

Jim's friendship with Louis Vasquez led to construction of a fort named Fort. Bridger on the Green River in Wyoming.  As a guide, he led the infamous expedition of Sir George Gore through Grand County in 1855, in which Gore killed many thousands of animals and birds.  During the excursion, he would join Gore for luxurious dinners with fine table service and discussions of Shakespeare.  Bridger hired a teenaged boy to read him some of Shakespeare's plays but thought that many of the story lines were just "too vicious or ridiculous". 

He was one of the most sought after guides of the West during his lifetime and guided American troops in the so called Mormon War of 1857-8.  In his later years, Bridger acquired a farm near Westport Missouri, gradually became blind and died in 1873.  His two sons buried him in the present Kansas City, but in 1904, his remains were moved to Mountain Washington Cemetery in Independence Missouri.    Jim Bridger is immortalized with his name being given to many places in the West.

Mountain Men / Trappers
Mountain Men / Trappers

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

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

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

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

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

Ranger Stories - Wildlife in Middle Park
Ranger Stories - Wildlife in Middle Park

“He spent the winter of 1886-87 in Middle Park, Colorado … and succeeded in killing three grizzlies, two mountain lions, and a large number of elk, deer, sheep, wolves, beavers and many other animals.” The above is one of the earliest reports of wildlife in Middle Park. It comes from John Wesley Powell in his book The Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons, where he describes local trading post owner Jack Sumner, who accompanied him on their 1869 trip through the Grand Canyon. Forest Service wildlife reports date back at least to 1913. At the end of each year rangers and forest supervisors were required to submit a report on the status of wildlife in their districts and forests. Thanks to the diligence of Sulphur Ranger District wildlife biologist Doreen Sumerlin and her predecessors, those original reports dating from 1913 to 1939 have been retained and protected. They were scanned by the Grand County Historical Association and added to the permanent collection of historic documents in the Pioneer Village Museum. These reports provide fascinating insight into the perceived issues and approach to wildlife management practiced by wildlife managers in previous decades as contrasted with wildlife management today. In the early days of the Forest Service and state wildlife agencies the focus was on providing game for hunters – elk, deer, grouse – and removing any predators perceived to be a threat to those species and to ranchers’ livestock. The following excerpts from ranger reports exemplify this approach. 

 

Ranger Stories: Wildlife in Middle Park Wolves October 29, 1913, Only three wolves have been reported on the Forest …. An especial effort will be made by the Forest Hunter to exterminate these three and it is hoped that losses to the stockmen in North Park from this source will cease. Wolves are on the decrease and it is felt that the total extermination will occur within a few years. -Alva Simpson, Forest Supervisor October 23, 1914, Only one wolf is now reported – the famous “Three Toes” upon whose head an enormous bounty is placed. Being a male, no increase will result unless he finds a mate. The loss from this one wolf is enormous, one cattleman losing last winter eleven head of blooded stock valued at $1,000 or more. Although very wise, the end will come and it will be a pleasure to report his death. -Alva A. Simpson, Forest Supervisor

 

October 29, 1913, Only three wolves have been reported on the Forest …. An especial effort will be made by the Forest Hunter to exterminate these three and it is hoped that losses to the stockmen in North Park from this source will cease. Wolves are on the decrease and it is felt that the total extermination will occur within a few years. -Alva Simpson, Forest Supervisor October 23, 1914, Only one wolf is now reported – the famous “Three Toes” upon whose head an enormous bounty is placed. Being a male, no increase will result unless he finds a mate. The loss from this one wolf is enormous, one cattleman losing last winter eleven head of blooded stock valued at $1,000 or more. Although very wise, the end will come and it will be a pleasure to report his death. -Alva A. Simpson, Forest Supervisor

 

October 12, 1914, Horseshoe Ranger Station, Scholl, CO, There are a few lynx on the district. Gus Champier told me that he trapped three last winter. One was seen this fall near the head of Lost Creek and I also saw tracks in the snow last week where three had gone along the Williams Peak trail where it crosses Lost Creek. -Lewis G. Davis, Asst. Forest Ranger Magpies November 13, 1917, Hot Sulphur Springs, Another menace to them (grouse) and to all song birds is the magpie. In June of this year I noticed four magpies drive a grouse hen from her nest then peck and eat the eggs. If the coyotes and magpies could be exterminated it would help to increase game birds of all kinds. Magpies, hawks, and eagles should be killed whenever the chance comes. -No name, Forest Ranger Bears October 13, 1915, Scholl, CO, The bear are getting to be quite a common thing in this part of the country. I have seen four myself this year, 1 black and 3 brown, besides those trapped by Almirall and his hired help. They got 2, 1 black and 1 brown. Will Darling also trapped a silver tip last spring in Darling Creek. Henry Wilson roped a small brown bear last week and he has seen several on the Muddy while riding for cattle this summer. -Lewis G. Davis, Asst. Forest Ranger

 

Coyotes October 15, 1915, Hot Sulphur Springs, A substantial bounty should be placed on coyotes. As it is now, everyone kills them when the opportunity occurs, but a substantial bounty would make it worthwhile for a man to carry a gun on his saddle always, thus being prepared to kill them at all times. The extermination of this, our most destructive predatory animal, would soon result in a great increase of game. -Bertram A. Goodman, Assistant Forest Ranger Fish October 23, 1914, All the streams have been stocked in the past but even with the heavy stocking most of the streams are fished out. This is the direct result of the tourist industry and the continuance of the industry requires the constant stocking of the streams. -Alva A. Simpson, Forest Supervisor Game Wardens As is the case today, the State of Colorado is responsible for managing the wildlife while the Forest Service is responsible for managing the habitat – the land – on national forests. Apparently, there were issues! October 29, 1913, Effective game protection cannot be had under the present system of enforcement of the law. …The average settler is in favor of game protection, but will not exert himself to see that protection is given when the men paid by the State to protect the game show no other interest than to draw their salaries: I understand that in the City of Denver there are five paid, year-long game wardens. It is obvious that game animals will be not be found in the City unless they appear on the table at a banquet. -Alva Simpson, Forest Supervisor October 15, 1913, The present game laws in my opinion do not protect the game. A person can go in almost any portion of the state and ask for the game warden either deputy or special, and nine cases out of ten if you should ask him the road to some place off the main traveled road, he does not know, he has never been off the main road. -W. M. Leahy, Asst. Forest Ranger October 23, 1914 A yearlong Game Warden has been appointed but his effectiveness is in doubt. Take fifty years, 200 pounds and a 650-pound buckskin pony and you have our representative of the Game Laws. What is needed is a young live man used to the trails and forest byways—endured to the hardships— and with Civil Service standing and a chance for promotion ahead of him. Then our law would be respected, not as a bound volume for winter reading but through the arm as typified by its successful enforcement. -Alva A. Simpson, Forest Supervisor Today, due to requirements of important laws such as the 1973 Endangered Species Act and the 1976 National Forest Management Act, the Forest Service and other land management agencies recognize the value of all wildlife, fish and plant species and work cooperatively to carry out management practices to sustain them.

By Dan Nolan

Coyote hunters Chet McQueary and Pom Ainsley


 

Coyote hunters Chet McQueary and Pom Ainsley

 
The Daily Life of Mountain Men
The Daily Life of Mountain Men

Washington Irving wrote "There is, perhaps, no class of men on the face of the Earth who lead a life of more continued exertion, peril and excitement, and who are more enamored of their occupations, than the free trappers of the West".

The diet of the mountain men at times consisted of nothing more than meat. When possible. wild plants and berries supplemented needed vitamins.  Pemmican, a meat pounded with fruits and dried in flakes, was convenient to carry and lasted a long time. Mountain men made boudins, sausage made from the intestines of newly killed animals.  These sausages were packed full of undigested grasses which probably protected the mountain men from the illness of scurvy.  The mountain men also chewed on leaves and wild grasses to supplement their vitamin needs.  Potatoes soaked in vinegar supplied further balance to the diet.  Jams and orange marmalade were highly valued whenever they could be obtained. Bread consisted almost entirely of hardtack, a touch cracker usually unsalted, which would not spoil and sturdy enough not to crumble.

Beaver tail soup was considered a delicacy by most mountain men.  Another treat was called "French dumplings", made by mincing buffalo hump with marrow, rolling it into balls, and covering with flour dough and boiled.  Coffee was popular, but limited for transport.  Tea from China came in solid blocks which could be shaved off as needed. 

Normally, mountain men could not carry whiskey on the move but at rendezvous or during visits to forts, they were known as fabulous drinkers.  The most common intoxicant in those days was "Taos Lightening", a strong whiskey manufactured by Simeon Truly of Taos New Mexico.  Various writers have portrayed these men as brutes who lived from one drunken episode to the next, but the facts, and common sense contradict that image.  They could not achieve much in either trapping or trading if they did not stay focused on their outdoor skills and survival. 

Smoking pipes was a luxury, mostly at nights as only a limited amount of tobacco could be obtained.  The mountain men would stretch their tobacco supplies by mixing it with kinnick-kinnick and other plants.

While many traders and trappers dressed in buckskin shirts and trousers, wool garments were even more common and needed to be shrunk to fit.  Probably every mountain man carried what was called a "possibilities bag" that contained personal items such as a pipe, tobacco, soap, needles, and small keepsakes such as mouth-harps.

Before the Sharps "Big 50" rifle was invented, it was necessary to carry a waterproof powder horn and a bag of rifle balls weighing fifty to a pound.  A good knife was essential.  The most sought after of these was the Bowie Knife, invented by Rezin Bowie, but made famous by his brother Jim, who was adept at its use.  Jim was one of the heros killed at the Battle of the Alamo in Texas.

Some mountain men simply loved the lifestyle and had no reason to return to their original homes.  Some had wives back in St. Louis and made an annual trek there every year.  Others had Indian wives or female companions.  Some men claimed to have a wife in every tribe they visited.  Divorce within many tribes was often simple, a matter of putting one's belongings outside the lodge.

As journeys by foot or horse were lonely, mountain men were known to play their mouth harps or sing songs along the trail.  The use of profanity was common, except in the presence of white ladies.  One writer claimed the Indians called white men "Godams" because that swear word was used so frequently by the mountain men, ranch hands and mule skinners.     

Articles to Browse

Barger Gulch - Archaelogical site

The prospect of discovering a remnant from a 10,000-year-old stone age society that inhabited Colorado's Middle Park so long ago seemed remote at best - while the suggestion that a prized Folsom point could somehow materialize before our very eyes appeared all but impossible.  For one thing, it was the last day of excavating for the summer at the Barger Gulch archaeological site and the ten member scientific team would soon be packing up and heading back to their ivory towers at the University of Wyoming and the University of Arizona.

Barger Gulch is a desolate spot that the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversees. It is hard, parched dirt dabbled with sagebrush as far as your eyes can see across the flat valley - a haven for all manner of bugs and other forms of native wildlife. In winter, the place turns to the opposite extreme as temperatures plunge to minus 40-degrees and howling winds whip up ghostly images of snow that swirl eerily across the land. This is Middle Park, a high mountain basin with roughly the same geo-political boundaries as Grand County. It encompasses some 1,100 square miles of unforgiving territory flanked on three sides by the formidable wall of the Continental Divide and its terrain soars high over the Great Plains into the thin, alpine air up to altitudes of 13,000 feet above sea level. What would induce these primitive Americans to trek all the way up here without so much as horses for transportation? How would they have survived the brutal winters with only primitive tools and clothing?  And why in the world would they ever want to settle in such a barren, god-forsaken place as Barger Gulch? 

This site could well prove to be one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of its kind in North America, according to BLM officials who oversee the project here. In just three years of work in a relatively small excavation area, investigators unearthed more than 18,000 artifacts - a staggering number ten times that discovered at typical Folsom sites. And this is only one of four sites in the same vicinity.  In addition to Barger Gulch and Upper Twin Mountain, discoveries include the Jerry Craig and Yarmony Pit House sites. Most of these were occupied by peoples described by archaeologists as Paleo-Indians, a catchall term for ancient humans that inhabited North America; Yarmony Pit House post dated Paleo-Indians by about 3,000 years.

But long before Paleo-Indians ever set foot on the Continent, Middle Park was a prehistoric menagerie; 20-million years ago, it was the stomping grounds for prehistoric rhinoceros, three-toed horses, camels, giant beavers, and even small horses. Creatures known as oreodonts also romped across the mountainous terrain. These vegetarians, ranging in size from small dogs to large pigs, fed on grasses and green, leafy plants. In fact, the skull of one of these animals was discovered recently in the vicinity of Barger Gulch. These long extinct, hoofed animals resembled sheep, but were actually closer to camels, and were common in the western U.S. This latest discovery is remarkably well preserved; while the bones have turned to stone, the smooth, hard enamel that encased the animal's teeth is still intact. 

Humans arrived in North America much later - about 12,000 years ago - as the last Ice Age of the Pleistocene Epoch made its exit. These first Americans crossed a land bridge from Siberia to Alaska and began populating the entire Continent; experts believe it is possible they also arrived on boats following the Continental Shelf into North America. Folsom people are best known as nomadic, big game hunters who chiseled out their spear points and finished them off with a distinctive, artistic flourish - a unique groove, or flute, that runs lengthwise along the face that has become the symbol of this Paleo-Indian culture. They honed the tips of these primitive weapons surprisingly sharp for killing frenzies that were necessarily up close and personal: they herded their prey into traps before launching their spears - and archaeologists suspect there was just such a bison ambush site near Barger Gulch. The quarry just over the rise is a gold mine of raw materials, including fine-grained Kremmling chert and abundant Windy Ridge quartzite, which provided a never-ending supply of top grade stone. "It makes sense," explains Todd Surovell. "You would want to camp where you could get as many raw materials as possible within a short distance. That's where you're going to park yourself for awhile."

The bulk of these tools originated with local material, but investigators have found some 200  "exotic" items noticeably out of place at Barger Gulch. One is a distinctive piece of yellow, petrified wood that came from 93 miles away as the crow flies, near the town of Castle Rock on the Colorado plains. Another is a large biface that was brought up from the Arkansas Valley, some 60 miles south. "They worked on it up here in one place and turned it into two, maybe three projectile points," notes Surovell. "One of them broke during manufacture and we have two pieces that fit exactly together."

Fitting these and thousands of other pieces together is what archaeologists do when they get back to the lab. The process begins on site where investigators photograph each find and record its exact location within the excavation block. This gives the team a visual reference to help recognize activity patterns - a way to connect the dots of Folsom society.  But the specks come to an abrupt stop, as if they suddenly run into a solid wall. "If we could figure out that this represented the wall of a structure, that would be really special," he explains. "Nobody's even been able to do that before in a site of this age in North America." Just then, a graduate student pops his head inside the door. "You want to be a camera man?" he asks Surrovell. "What do you got?" "A Folsom point," he replies with a broad grin. We rush over to the site where Waguespack has dug a narrow shaft down the north wall of the excavation pit and hit pay dirt - a Folsom point that remains half buried in the stratum of rich soil.

Topic: Leisure Time

Grand Lake Yacht Club

Grand County often attracts adventurous spirits who prefer its splendid isolation to Wal-Mart and fast food. Others, who never make the leap of faith to live here, enjoy it as a familiar playground, returning regularly to enjoy its vast mountain ranges and unlimited outdoor opportunities.

It has to come many as a surprise to learn that Grand Lake, Colorado - nestled next the Continental Divide at over 8,300 feet elevation - has had a yacht club for over one hundred years! When this adventure began, back in 1902, there was only a stage road into the southeast corner of Grand County over Berthoud Pass. Grand Lake is situated next to the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park, at the far northeast corner of the county, with the rugged backbone of the continent directly to the north and east. At the turn of the twentieth century, it was a summer vacation spot with few full-time residents. Summer visitors and full-time residents alike recognized the grandeur of the their surroundings, and Grand Lake very early became a summer home to many of Denver's elite, and the summer business they brought helped support the local economy.

It was a few enthusiastic Denverites with a keen interest in Grand Lake and sailing who organized the Grand Lake Yacht Club over 100 years ago. The founders included Richard Crawford Campbell, who married Senator Thomas Patterson's daughter and became the business manager of his father's newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News; William Henry Bryant, a Denver lawyer who was active in both sailing and Colorado politics; J. Fermor Spencer, a close friend of Mr. Bryant and long-time treasurer of the club; and William Bayard Craig, who enjoyed a broad education and had been the Chancellor of Duke University before he became interested in "acquiring land in Colorado."  By the end of 1902, according to Denver papers, "the first bona fide yacht club between the Mississippi river and the Pacific ocean" was in operation.

An atmosphere of excitement and pageantry swept over Grand Lake during the early Regatta weeks, when the Yacht Club held its annual races. In Denver, The Friday Evening Times proclaimed during August of 1904, "Yachting season is here", and went on to describe the "enthusiastic cottagers gathered on shore" around Grand Lake to cheer for the yachts. In 1907, Regatta week included yacht racing as well as foot races, donkey races and bronco busting. When the yacht races ended, the boat captain who won the most races had earned the Colorado Cup.

The Grand Lake Yacht Club's small sailing fleet during Regatta week - three days of racing during mid-August - sometimes included only a handful of boats during its first decade or so. Still, according to one observer, "the organization has more spirit to the square foot than I ever saw exhibited before." Races on the first day of Regatta week, 1905, illustrate the enthusiasm well. In the hotly contested first race of Regatta week, Robert Campbell's Highball, built in Racine, Wisconsin, tossed her two-man crew into the icy waters of Grand Lake when she capsized while running in second place. Shortly after, the third place yacht, Duchess, went over too, leaving the Chicago-built Dorothy II captained by Commodore Bryant the first and only boat to cross the home buoy.

Today, Dorothy O'Donnell O'Ryan, Commodore Bryant's granddaughter, maintains her family's summer home in Grand Lake. In 2002, she published Sailing Above the Clouds: An Early History of the Grand Lake Yacht Club, which chronicles the club's first 50 years. Her Colorado roots go back to Colorado territory's last, and the state of Colorado's first Governor, John Long Routt, who was appointed by President Grant in 1875, the year before Colorado became a state. Knowing the early history as she does, and the difficulties inherit with mountain transportation, O'Ryan marvels at "the logistics" of bringing sailboats built in Racine, Wisconsin or Chicago, Illinois over the Continental Divide into Grand County, Colorado by rail and stage road.

Home-built crafts, both crude and highly crafted, competed as well. Many of the first home-built boats were modified rowboats, "with homemade sails and masts." Observing the annual Regatta week in August of 1904, though, Arthur Johnson called attention to "the Jessica, a 16-foot boat belonging to the vice-commodore and built at Grand Lake" that sported "a sail that would have done credit to a venturesome Lipton on the high seas."

If a sailboat in Grand Lake during 1904 "done credit to a venturesome Lipton," Sir Thomas Lipton himself returned the favor tenfold in 1912. It so happened in 1912 that Lipton was traveling by train across the United States and would pass through Denver on his journey. Probably, Sir Thomas had met the well-traveled and enthusiastic yachtsman, William H. Bryant (Grand Lake Yacht Club Commodore) at the New York Yacht Club. Continued correspondence between the two resulted in the Grand Lake Yacht Club inviting Sir Thomas to the Denver Club for dinner in December of 1912, sponsored, of course, by the Grand Lake Yacht Club. Before he left that evening, flattered by the warm welcome he received, Lipton had proffered a silver cup to the Grand Lake Yacht Club.

Lipton became a yachting icon during the early 20th century. His sportsmanship was nearly unparalleled in the sport and he spent most of 30 years and millions of dollars trying to win the America's Cup. Thoroughly devoted to yachting as a sport and highly capable in the art of advertising, Lipton spread his Lipton Cups "around the globe" to promote the sport and himself.  His gift to the Grand Lake Yacht Club energized the young organization.

Today, the boathouse of the Grand Lake Yacht Club still reminds visitors and members of the organization's heritage. Built in 1912 by Grand County pioneer Preston Smith on land donated by fellow pioneer Jake Pettingell, the lakefront log structure sits in the midst of magnificent mountain scenery, with the dramatic peaks of the Continental Divide to the west and north and the Never Summer mountain range to the west.

As the club matured, it began to offer more races to more members and guests throughout the summer season. The original Regatta week still exists as the most important, and festive, event. Races were added, though, in 1912 with the Adams Cup; in 1914, the Lipton Cup was incorporated; in 1923, the inventor of the Sunshine Lamp (which Coleman Lanterns later bought out) presented the Hoffstot Cup; and in 1925, Dorothy Bryant O'Donnell offered the Bryant Cup in honor of the late first Commodore, W. H. Bryant. Well over 20 cups or trophies now highlight the Grand Lake Yacht Club's season. Throughout its evolution the Club has remained as unique as the dramatic physical environment that surrounds it and the people who envisioned and created it.

Topic: Agriculture

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.

The Ish Family

The prosperous John Lapsley (Laps) Ish family are an example of very successful settlers and entrepreneurs in early Grand County. The Ish family, with eleven children, came by covered wagon to Colorado from Missouri 1863 and settled on a farm outside of Denver.

18-year-old Laps Ish came to Grand County in 1881 to attempt his luck at the short lived mining boom outside of Teller, north of Grand Lake.  He tried his luck at mining for 4 years and also carried the mail between Teller and Grand Lake, on skis or snowshoes in the winter and by foot in the summer. 

Laps Ish married Alice Shearer and homesteaded near Rand (in present day Jackson County). They had two sons, Lesley John Ish and Guy Lapsley Ish. Laps and Alice built the Rand Hotel and operated it until 1910.  The family then moved to Granby and built the Middle Park Auto Company garage and ran a stage line to Grand Lake. They built the Rapids Lodge by operating a sawmill on the Tonahutu River in Grand Lake and opened for business in 1915  They also built the Pine Cone Inn in Grand Lake and Leslie managed it for many years. Laps Ish died in 1943.

Rundell & French - Two families of the Sheephorn

October 2009

Here we have a story of two families, who became intertwined in a far away place where there weren't too many people. In fact, there was only a handful.  Three young fellows, the Rundell boys, came from Wisconsin about 1880, to settle on the Sheephorn, an area in the very southwest corner of Grand County.

Al, the oldest brother, chose land on the Upper Sheephorn.  While he was at it, he established a much-needed ferry across the Grand River at today's Rancho Del Rio.  His brother Clarence homesteaded land on the same stream some two miles above the Midland Trail, known to us as the Trough Road. The only home he could afford for a couple of years was a dugout under the creek bank.  That tended to be damp and dingy, but Clarence hung in.  Finally he was able to build a cabin uphill from the stream. Newspapers used as insulation on his cabin walls show the year to be 1882.  Clarence was pleased with his house.  "Now I feel I've really put down roots and am here to stay!" he exclaimed.

Their young brother, Ernest, was frail, for he had suffered all his life from lung trouble.   Still, he loved working with Clarence.  One summer, they were digging a water ditch near Azure, on the Grand, above Radium; Ernest caught pneumonia and died. The poor boy was only about sixteen. Clarence never got over his brother's death and he gave land for a cemetery, where he buried Ernest, the first person there.

The second family were the Rundell boys' neighbors, Charlie French and his older brother, Harry, Jr. who had "hit town" from Iowa just about the same time.  Harry homesteaded upstream from Clarence and anticipated ranching.  By and by, though, Harry remarked to Charlie, "I've discovered I'm not much of a hand at ranching and besides, my land isn't very fertile.  I think I'll sell it and become a U.S. Forest Ranger instead.  If they'll have me." He easily passed the test and soon transferred to the little community of Azure.

Now, Charlie French was a wonderful musician, a whiz at playing the fiddle.  He missed making music with their sister Phoebe.  "You know, Harry," he said one day.  "I'd really like Phoebe to come out and see this country. I'm sure she'd like it.  And besides, we could play together again."

He urged her several times to come visit.  At last she agreed, traveling by train to Leadville, then to Wolcott.  About then, Charlie started to worry.   "Phoebe's only 18," he thought, "and she's such a lady. Is it proper to expect her to ride sidesaddle all the way in from Wolcott?"  He stopped by to see Clarence Rundell.  "Clarence, do you suppose you could take your buggy to Wolcott and pick up our Phoebe?"  He explained the circumstances. "Why, I'd be delighted," answered his friend.

It was a happy development.  At the station Clarence saw a lovely young woman, tall and slender, obviously well-educated.  He soon found she had a beautiful soprano voice and was an accomplished musician who could play both piano and organ.  He took to Phoebe right away, and she, to him.  It wasn't long before the two decided to marry.

Now the French boys' parents, Harry, Sr. and Mary, sold their Iowa farm about now and homesteaded at Azure, to be near their boys, even though Charlie left the country soon after.  Here the old folks remained for many years.  They also had some land up the Little Sheephorn, which they gave Phoebe as a dowry, when Clarence and Phoebe decided to wed.  Shortly after, the happy young couple married and made the little cabin their home.

Their three children were born here, Ernest, named after the brother who died, Marie, and Helen.  Clarence worked very hard, ranching in the summer and cutting logs in the winter.  The young folks were thrifty.  In 1908, Clarence sold his homestead to a Swiss newcomer and bought land above his original site. By 1912, Clarence and Phoebe built a fine three-story house, complete with beautiful hardwood floors.  It was wonderful place to raise the children.  "This will surely be our home forever!"

Harry French, Sr., died in 1924.   "Mother," invited Phoebe, "move in with us, since you're alone now." Mary did this, but then she returned to Iowa to stay with her sister, until her death.  The French name continues on, however, for there are two French Creeks in the Sheephorn area.

Finally, the Rundells decided to buy a home in north Denver and to invest in an apartment house.  All went well until 1928, when everything fell apart at the beginning of the Depression.   Clarence lost nearly everything. "Let's go back to the ranch, Phoebe," he said.  "I still have my 300-400 head of cattle; I know ranching and love it.  Let's go."  Thus they left city life and returned to their ranching roots.

Topic: Granby

Historic Granby Real Estate

William Shakespeare, the historic play writer, said, “There is a history in all men’s lives.” The same could be said for many Grand County buildings. According to author, Lela McQueary in her 1962 book, “Widening Trails,” real estate sales and land giveaways helped to build our towns. “In 1905, a town site was obtained from Jim Snider, who had homesteaded the land upon the sagebrush mesa,” wrote McQueary. “The village was called Granby for Granby Hillyer, a civil engineer. Two general stores, two livery stables, a post office and a tiny café (all built with false fronts to make them appear much larger) were scattered on the north side of Main Street, three blocks long.”  That Main Street today is Agate Avenue. A quick search of the Grand County tax rolls reveals an interesting historic mix of buildings.

For example, the current Brynoff home at 170 2nd Street was the Post Office building constructed in 1910 and originally located at 458 East Agate. That building was moved to its current home to make way for the construction for the new Post Office building in 1945 at 458 East Agate. Deb Brynoff, the Executive Director of the Grand County Board of Realtors, said, “When we updated and built onto the original building, we found old letters stuffed in the walls. Obviously, they used them in the early years to add insulating value. I guess they had junk mail even then!”

On July 1, 1966, a new Post Office building was dedicated at 225 East Jasper Avenue (now the current home of the Grand County Library District Administrative Office). According to Granby-area Realtor, Susie Peterson of Glenn Realty, who used to own the building at 458 East Agate when they converted it to the Granby Veterinary Clinic, “Downstairs was full of those neat glass front post office boxes with the gold dials. You can just imagine the history in that building.”  Other buildings constructed in those early years were 127 4th Street in 1909. In addition to a private home, over the years, businesses such as Re/max Real Estate and Katie’s Flower Shop were located at 247 East Agate, which was also built in 1909. In 1910, the property at 110 Garnet was built.
The Roaring 20s saw a spurt of construction such as 172 Topaz (1922), 307 Jasper and 59 4th Street (1924), 166 Jasper and 291 Topaz (1929). The current Columbine Café property at 395 East Agate was built during the heydays of 1927 when it was called the Town Crier Restaurant.

After the Great Crash of 1929 and the Depression of the 1930s, New Deal jobs and loan programs helped fuel new construction. In fact, in 1933, the famous Payne’s Café was built at 365 East Agate. Today, the Greater Granby Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Enhancement offices, along with Noriyuki & Parker law offices are housed in the almost 75 year-old building.

Today’s Shadow Mountain Chiropractic Clinic of Drs. Jeff and Deb Shaw at 60 2nd was built in 1935 as a private home. On April 18, 1935, the first addition to Granby helped the town grow. In 1938, 387 East Agate was the site of the new pool hall run by Alva West. Today Lorene Linke’s Fabric Nook welcomes customers and quilters at the historic location.

In 1938, the building at 185 East Agate, which was Granby’s first strip mall, also was constructed with Craig’s Café, later Olson’s Café. Over the years businesses such as Maureen’s Clothing Shop, a laundromat, a barbershop and the Carpet Wagon found homes where today the Longbranch and Schatzis Pasta & Pizza Restaurants are found.

Post World War II America and Granby boomed. Granby had an influx of new residents because of the continued construction of the Granby Dam and the Colorado Big Thompson Water Project. In 1946, the Granby Dairy Building at 106 Jasper sprung up. That same year, Carmichael Real Estate Company built a new office at 191 East Agate. Today real estate is still king at that corner building with the Grand County Board of Realtors and The Title Company of the Rockies offices located there.

The Granby landmark, Frontier Motel, at 232 West Agate was built in 1951 by Earl Saylor. In 1954 Jenkins & Fulk began construction of the Granby Trading Post at 231 East Agate. Ken and Debbie Eaker and Jay Young bought that property in May 1995 and renamed the store, The Grand Mountain Trading Company.  

Topic: Mining

Mining in Grand County

Ghost towns and broken dreams are legacies left by the early miners and prospectors of Grand County.  

Ever since 1879 when the first mines were staked out and claimed on Bowen Mountain near Grand Lake, “gold and silver fever” grew like an epidemic.  Men blinded by greed and prospects of a better tomorrow scrambled to the Kawuneeche Valley with picks and shovels to unearth their fortunes.  

Women worked just as feverishly along side their men and encampments gave way to mining towns almost overnight.  Land offices, eateries, and boarding houses sprouted like wild flowers. Claim jumping became a common practice, resulting in fights and even murders.  Most of these injustices would go unpunished, for no one wanted to risk losing their chance of riches.  

In Grand County the mother load was a false prophecy, as only small quantities of low grade gold, silver, and lead ore were found.  In a few short years, Gaskill, Teller City, and Lulu City, three of the more noted settlements, suffered the same fate as the other boom towns.  By 1885 the mining boom had ended in Grand County and ranching had taken it’s place as a sustaining industry.

Topic: Mountains

Berthoud Pass

Berthoud Pass was named for Captain Edward L. Berthoud, who completed the first survey of  this saddle in the main Divide in the spring of 1861.

Berthoud’s expedition of eight people, including Jim Bridger, crossed the Continental Divide at the 11,315 foot summit and established a relatively easy way to get into Middle Park from the east. Berthoud also served as chief engineer on the Colorado Central Railroad.

It is surprising that this famous pass had played no previous role in the history of the region. Even Jim Bridger, who knew the country well, did not learn of its existence until the survey. For reasons of their own, Indians had chosen to go over the divide at higher levels further to the north. One explanation may be that the pass is not evident from most locations on either side of the Continental Divide.

Rocky Mountain National Park

In 1915, thanks to the efforts of visionary Enos Mills, Rocky Mountain National Park became the 10th national park. The concept was then, and still is, conservation of natural lands and wildlife. No commercial enterprises which consume resources operate within its boundaries--no logging, grazing, farming, mining, hunting or trapping.

Almost all private property in-holdings have been bought by the National Park Service and the buildings destroyed. Located within park boundaries, Longs Peak, at an altitude of 14,256 feet, named for explorer Stephen Long, is visible from both sides of the Continental Divide. Indeed, one can look northwest along 17th Street in Denver, to see one of the area’s best known peaks.

Trail Ridge Road, which runs through the park, was completed in 1932 and is the highest continuous highway in the United States. It is open only in the summer. Dignitaries from the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake celebrate the opening each year, often but not always by Memorial Day, with a ceremony at the top called “Hands Across the Nation.”

Topic:

Regions

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

Mountain Men / Trappers