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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.

 

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.

Articles to Browse

Topic: Mountains

Mountain Names

While the origin of the names of many mountains in Grand County has been lost to history, we do know the source of many of the more notable mountains.  The name originations of some mountains of Grand County are as follows:   Adams Peak – Named for either Jay E. Adams who owned a cottage in Grand Lake or Alexander and Louise Adams, original owners of the Grand Lake Lodge.  

Mount Alice – 13,110 ft. – Named in 1911 by request of geologist Dr. William S. Cooper.  Who “Alice” was, was not explained.   Arapaho Peak – Named for the Arapaho Indian tribe who frequented Grand County during hunting season.   Arikaree Peak – Named for the Arikaree Indian tribe by James Grafton Rogers in 1955.   Baker Mountain – Named for John Baker from Indiana, a well known prospector and hunter of the 1850’s and 1860’s.  

Bills Peak – Named after an early settler in the area whose last name was not known.   Bottle Mountain – Named for the bottle shape of the mountain, three miles north of Byers Peak.   Byers Peak – 12,790 ft. – Named for William N. Byers, publisher and editor of the Rocky Mountain News and early promoter of Hot Sulphur Springs.   Mountain Cairns – 10,800 ft. – Named for James Cairns, first storekeeper at Grand Lake.   West Carter Peak and North Carter Peak– Believed to have been named for a member of the original U.S. Geological Survey team.   Cascade Mountain – Also known as Loder Mountain, popularly named for cascading stream.  

The Cleaver – Believed named by early settlers for location between two other peaks.   Coal Mountain – Named for visible coal seam.   Mount Cumulus – 12,725 ft. – Named for cloud formation resemblance.  One of three “cloud” peaks.   Diamond Mountain – Named for rumors of diamonds found there or its shape.  Located four miles East of Muddy Pass.   Mount Epworth – Believed named for a Methodist youth group founded in 1889.  Located east of Rollins Pass.  

Fairview Mountain – Named for scenic view.  Located ½ mile south of Parika Peak.   Mount Flora – Named for fields of flowers on mountain.   Mount George – 12,876 – Named for Dr. R.D. George, a geologist.  Its north spur is Lone Eagle Peak.   Green Mountain – Named for the green trees covering the mountain.   Grouse Mountain – Named for the grouse that inhabit the area.   Hallett Park – 12,713 – Named for William H. Hallett who lived from 1851 to 1947.  The mountain was named in 1887.  

Howard Mountain – Named for John Howard, a prospector.  The mountain was named in 1880.   Mount Irving Hale – Named for Brigadier General Hale who lead Colorado troops in the Philippines during the Spanish American War.  Hale was a member of the first graduating class at Denver High School and won an appointment to West Point.  Camp Hale, near Leadville, was a training site for World War II ski troops and was also named for him.

Topic: Skiing

Winter Carnivals

Carl Howelsen, a ski jumping champion in his native Norway, came to Denver to pursue a career as a stonemason in the early years of the 20th Century.  He amused himself and others by demonstrating ski-jumping in the foothills of Denver. 

In 1911, Howelson went to Hot Sulphur Springs, where he taught locals such as Horace Button the art of jumping.  Under Howelson's leadership, the first winter carnival west of the Mississippi Rover was held there on February 10-12.  According to the Middle Park Times, "Never before in the history of the Territory and State of Colorado has such an event even been contemplated, much less held!".

Norwegian immigrants Howelson, Angell Schmidt of Denver and Gunnar Dahles of Williams Fork (Grand County) all staged jumping competitions during the carnival.  There were also skating and tobogganing events and a Grand Ball.  Hot Sulphur Springs continued holding Winter Carnivals annually until World War II, when they were discontinued until the 100th anniversary celebration, called the Grand Winter Sports Carnival scheduled for December 30, 2011-February 11, 2012.

Topic: Water

Grand Lake

Grand Lake is Colorado's largest natural lake.  The clear blue waters are surrounded by magnificent mountain scenery and a haunting Indian legend.  

Judge Joseph L. Wescott, an early white settler, wrote a poem about a Ute story he heard from an Indian camping at the lake in 1867.  One summer Utes were camping on the shores of Grand Lake when they were suddenly attacked by an enemy tribe of the Arapahoe.  As the brave Ute warriors began fighting, the squaws and papooses hurried onto a raft for safety, pushing the raft to the middle of the lake. As the battle continued, a treacherous wind overturned the raft and all the women and children drowned.  

It is said that you can see ghostly forms in the morning mist rising from the lake and hear the wailing of the women and children beneath the winter ice.

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

John Charles Fremont

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

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

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

Crawford

Maggie and Jimmy Crawford came to Middle Park in the summer of 1874 with their three children. They were given a piece of property and built a one room sod roofed cabin in Hot Sulphur Springs. They were probably the first family to stay the winter in Middle Park.

As they settled in for a long hard winter, Jimmy continued exploring lands to the west. He found prime land near a spring that made a unique chugging noise. That sound reminded him of the steamboats on the Missouri River back home. After that winter, Maggie returned to Missouri with her family, while Jimmy built a cabin on the new filing, which would later become known as Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

By 1876, Maggie and the children were back in Colorado, and the family became founding members of that new community.
 

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.

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.

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: Places

Grand County

Grand County was established in 1874 by the Territory of Colorado, thus becoming a county two years before Colorado became a state. It was named for the Grand River, the name by which the Colorado River was known at that time. The headwaters of the today’s Colorado River are in Grand County. The county was formed from a portion of Summit County but acquired its current boundaries in 1877, when part of the Grand County was used to create Routt County. The county seat is Hot Sulphur Springs. The area of 1,854 square miles (larger than Rhode Island) consists of meadows, river valleys and mountains.
 

Ranching