Grand County Colorado

History Article Library

 

Explore the History & Culture of Grand County Colorado

Whether you're just stopping by for a visit and some inspiration from the past or you're doing serious research, we're glad you're here. You'll find over 200 articles on a variety of topics - browse and enjoy!

Have an idea for an article or want to contribute one? Send us a note on the contact form.

This website was initiated by the Community Alliance of Libraries, Museums and Schools (CALM) in 2004 and is currently managed by the Grand County Historical Association for the benefit of the Heritage Coalition of Grand County.  For more information, email Dede Fay at dedefay@hotmail.com.

Articles to Browse

Topic: Mountains

Mount Craig

The rounded mountain at the head of the East Inlet to Grand Lake has born many names-from Middle Mountain, to Mount Baldy, to Mount Westcott. It's official title, however, is Mount Craig. It's namesake is The Reverend William Bayard Craig, who came to the area in 1882, to be pastor of the Central Christian Church in Denver. He visited Grand Lake occasionally, and completed some real estate dealings there. The town of Craig also bears his name, due to the influence of his friend, David Moffat, of the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad.

Topic: Regions

Church Park

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

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

Christmas in the Mountains 1951

It was my first Christmas in the mountains. Not only that, but it was my first time to be part of a vacation in a cozy ski inn.  This was at Millers Idlewild Inn in Hideaway Park (now the town of Winter Park). I had been married only eight months. Dwight and I had worked hard, getting everything in order: ­clean beds, fresh spreads and curtains, floors shining and bathrooms sparkling.  The woodpile was full and food supplies ready.  Our plans for evenings were laid out too. Dwight would do movies. His brother Woodie would call square dances, with former Moffat Road engineer George Shryer accompanying on the fiddle and his wife, Grace, chording on the piano.  Tom Smith would bring his sled and team of horses, to take happy folks along snow-packed roads for sleigh rides, to the tune of jingling bells. Games were at hand, along with a fine supply of books on the shelves. We expected a wonderfully busy two weeks, which was a good thing, because it had been a long time since our last income, before Labor Day.

Family and friends were coming tomorrow to give a hand over the holiday, and then the fun would begin. As the first guests arrived, I stepped outside, and lifting my nose, I thought, "I smell snow!"  Great!  The area already had a pretty good covering, so that when people called and asked, "Is there snow yet?  Should we come on ahead?" we could gladly say, "Come." That night it snowed,­ 12" of beautiful soft flakes.  Skiers were overjoyed. Dwight got out early to shovel, plow, pull people out of drifts, take others to Winter Park Ski Area, three miles away. That evening we heard that almost no stumps or rocks were evident on the slopes; all had been buried. The next night it snowed again ­ 12" of beautiful white stuff.  We were amazed.  But Dwight got out early to shovel, plow, pull people out if drifts, and take others to the area.  The following night it snowed again, and every night for a week, it snowed, dumping heaps of snow on the whole valley.

Winter Park Ski Area, in those days, wasn't open on Christmas Day; the management wanted to let its employees have the day at home with their families.  So we took our guests to the top of Berthoud Pass; from there they could ski down Seven Mile Trail and we met them at the bottom.  The day after Christmas began the busiest days of all. Back then, many families didn't leave home until the 26th. This was fine, until the passes closed from heavy snows and avalanches. Then visitors, who had to leave, couldn't drive out, but people who were coming by train could still get in!  We had a problem.  The parking lot was jammed with rental cars.  Although some folks went ahead and left by train, many families stayed on.  The rooms were completely full and after all, newcomers were entitled to their reserved space. We had guests stashed all over the lounge, extras in the dorms, and extras in the cabins.  What a crowd it was. I hardly had time to think. 

I cleaned all morning, helped set tables and serve, did dishes, sometimes hauled skiers to or from the area, kept up with the office work, and joined in entertaining folks in the evenings. Thank heaven for family and friends!  There never was such a hectic week. But the Miller hospitality at Idlewild kept our visitors relaxed and happy. Truly, it was a jolly time, with tired skiers loafing in front of the fire, doing puzzles or playing games.  There was always a group playing canasta after dinner, in the dining room, and peals of laughter would pour forth when somebody won a great hand. At last New Year's Eve came and went. The rental cars had gone back to Denver.  The rooms were empty.  We were alone except for a couple of guests.  Making our path through the deep drifts, Dwight and I went home and flopped down on our own sofa.  I heaved a sigh, saying, "Well!  So that's what Christmas in the mountains is like.  I had o idea there would be so much snow."  Little did I know that for Christmas, 1952, we would still have the crowd of guests, but there would be hardly any snow until January!

Topic: Libraries

Hot Sulphur Springs Library

The Hot Sulphur Springs Library started on the second floor of the two story white frame courthouse that preceded the current courthouse. In 1942 the library was moved to the old log courthouse that was directly behind the frame courthouse. The books were moved via a rope pulley-like system from the second floor to the log house.

The library remained in the log courthouse until the mid 1970s when it moved into a 19 ft. 9 in. X 8 ft. 6 in. room in the current courthouse. This tiny room had a double-sided bookshelf in the middle, a bookshelf along one wall, a desk and a chair, and a card catalog on top of a small table. There was only a narrow pathway around the center shelving. There was no room to hold story hour for the 10-15 children who came, so story hour was held in the community room upstairs or the county or district courtrooms, the commissioners' room, or once on the stairs in the stairwell between the first and second floors. Much of the year the hallway by the Treasurer's and Assessor's offices was filled with hats, mittens, coats, boots and the noise and chaos of the children enjoying story hour.

Since the jail was also located in the courthouse, the library was used by prisoners. Those who were "trustees" were allowed to visit the library in their neon orange jail suits. One prisoner was permitted to visit the library to paint a delightful mural of a dragon on one wall and a dog on the window in the door. One day a prisoner asked if he could order some Kurt Vonnegut books. The Librarian jumped up so excited that the tiny library had some Vonnegut books, she kneeled and pulled out a Vonnegut book titled Jailbird!!! In 1983 the new jail was built and the Library moved to the old jail area on the second floor. It was a much larger space and had a restroom.

In the late spring of 1990 the Library moved to its present location in the newly-renovated former bunkhouse of the U.S. Forest Service summer personnel. This larger facility brought many windows and space for story hour, and until the year 2000 there was a wonderful yard in back for story hour and summer reading program activities.

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: Skiing

Barney & Margaret McLean

It was the spring of 1924 when an 8-year-old girl from Hot Springs, Ark., arrived in Hot Sulphur Springs by train to spend the summer with her aunt and uncle Hattie and Omar Qualls, homesteaders from Parshall who had recently purchased the Riverside Hotel. It wasn't the first time Margaret Wilson had been to Hot Sulphur. Her father had tuberculosis and was frequently prescribed treatment at the sanatorium on the Front Range. She was 6 years old the first time she made the train trip.

She remembered a boy and girl twin she had befriended on her first visit. When she saw the twins again on this second visit, they told her there was a boy in town who was calling her his girlfriend. His name was Lloyd “Barney” McLean. Margaret made sure to attend the opening of the new school in Hot Sulphur that spring (now the location of Pioneer Village Museum).

When Margaret first laid eyes on her future husband, she wasn't all that impressed. “I immediately knew who he was, and I thought, ‘Ugh.'” He was wearing wool knickers, leather boots, a V-neck sweater and a flat cap. “He had white hair and millions of freckles,” she recalls.

That white-haired boy from Hot Sulphur went on to become one of Grand County's earliest and most heralded Olympic skiers. He and Margaret would eventually travel the world together. They danced with Hollywood stars and shook hands with presidents. But their love story began right there, in a that little neighborhood schoolhouse. “We all had a crush on Barney until Margaret came to town, then it was all over,” one of Margaret's best friends used to say. At some point, she said, the banker's son asked her out, but she found him dull compared to Barney.

Barney was the oldest of 10 children — five boys and five girls. When the family outgrew the house his dad built a tiny shack for Barney in the backyard. Barney was barely big enough to see over the dashboard when he started driving a truck for his father's garage, which was located just up the street from the hotel. He was just 12 years old when he drove a load of dynamite over Trough Road.

There were stories of the brakes overheating on Rabbit Ears Pass and Barney riding down on the fenders in case he had to bail and hairy trips over Berthoud Pass. Margaret said she never realized how good Barney was at skiing. He worked all the time driving the truck (his dad pulled him out of school for good in 10th grade), and he would head straight to the jumping hill in Hot Sulphur after work and wouldn't come home until after dark.

“He didn't have the proper clothing,” Margaret said. “He wouldn't even be able to open the door when he got home and he would stand at the door crying until his mother let him in.” His mother would bring him in, take his boots off and put his feet in a bucket of hot water to thaw them. “For him, it was skiing for the joy of skiing,” Margaret said.

Barney raced on the weekends. Margaret rarely made it out of the restaurant to join him. It never struck her that skiing would someday become her husband's career. “He was never one to blow his own horn,” she said.

He qualified for Nationals in jumping in 1935 at age 17, and his dad gave him a quarter to make the trip. "Here was a kid from a town that nobody had ever heard of who shows up at Nationals and wins it," his only child Melissa McLean Jory said. He qualified for the 1936 Olympics but was badly hurt on a wind-blown landing that winter and missed going.

Margaret returned to Hot Sulphur almost every summer of her life after that, and by the time she was a teenager she was working for her aunt full time. “My friend Telly and I were the best waitresses in the county,” she said.

 

Hot Sulphur had four ski hills back then and Margaret recalls that in February 1936 the Rocky Mountain News sponsored an excursion train to the 25th Annual Winter Carnival in Hot Sulphur. More than 2,000 passengers arrived on three trains that weekend. (That same train later became the official ski train.
“There were no restrooms and no restaurants except for the hotel,” Margaret said. The Riverside was inundated. It was shoulder-to-shoulder people, she recalls.

There wasn't much to do for fun in Hot Sulphur back then, like now, so the young couple would drive up to Grand Lake — to the Pine Cone Inn — on summer nights to dance. It cost 10 cents per dance, and since they didn't have much money, they would have just three dances ... “Oh, Barney could dance,” ... drink a Coke and then drive home. Margaret would wait by the front window of the hotel to watch for Barney, who she knew would be going to meet the train at 11 a.m.

One time, she was out there waiting, the snow was still piled high, and Barney got so caught up looking for Margaret in the window that he nearly ran the truck off the bridge. The only thing that saved him from plummeting into the river was the dual wheel that got stuck in the steel girder.

Barney was 19 in 1937 when the couple married, not old enough for a marriage license and barely able to afford the suit he bought to get married (the first suit he ever owned) not to mention a big wedding. The couple eloped in Denver. Shortly after they married the couple started traveling the country for ski races and Barney switched from ski jumping to slalom. He was named as an alternate for the 1940 Olympic squad after skiing alpine for only two years.

But, then the war came and everybody was signing up. Barney, with his skiing experience, would have been a perfect candidate for the 10th Mountain Division, but another Hot Sulphur friend who had already joined wrote and said, “Don't join this outfit. It's a mess.” So he signed up for the Air Force instead. As luck would have it, somebody recognized his name as it came across his desk, and Barney was assigned to the Army Air Force Arctic Survival School in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, where he was in charge of teaching pilots how to survive in snowy conditions should their planes go down.

Margaret came back to Hot Sulphur during the war and worked in the county courthouse. After the war, Barney earned a spot on the 1948 Olympic team. After that, he went on to work for the Groswold ski factory in Denver, losing his amateur status and disqualifying him from FIS ski racing. He was inducted into the US National Ski Hall of Fame in 1959 and the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame in 1978.

Barney had spent his whole life on the snow. He skied all over the world, from Europe to South America. "But Hot Sulphur Springs was always home to him," his daughter said. "He was an ambassador from Hot Sulphur wherever he went."

Barney was 3 years old the first time he skied and he skied the spring before he died — at Mary Jane in 2005 — in a foot of new snow. His grandsons skied down with him, wing men on either side. His health was bad that last time he skied, and he had a hard time walking from the car to the chairlift. But as soon as he hit the top of Mary Jane Trail, everything eased, Melissa said: "He could ski better than he could walk." It was the things that made Barney McLean a world class skier that Margaret loved most: He loved speed. Bumps didn't bother him. And, when faced with a challenge he just picked a line and was gone.

Topic: Towns

Kremmling

Kremmling started as a general mechandise store, owned by Rudolph (or Kare) Kremmling, on the ranch of Dr. Harris, located on the north bank of the Muddy River. In 1888, John and Aaron Kinsey had part of their ranch platted, calling the site Kinsey City. Kremmling moved his store across the river from the new site and the town that subsequently developed became known as Kremmling. There was a post office established at Kremmling as early as 1885 and the town was incorporated in 1904. 

The Middle Park Fair was established here in 1912. Famous Western Novelist Zane Grey spent time in Kremmling and, as a result, wrote "Mysterious Rider" in which the area is shown as a classic Western setting.

During World War II the town was the location of a prisoner of war camp where German prisoners cut ice that was shipped by rail to other locations.

The local ranching industry, the presence of the railroad and its strategic location at the confluence of the Colorado River, the Blue River, and Muddy Creek made Kremmling a natural location for a town, which still retains the “Old West“ atmosphere.

Topic:

Abbott Fay

History and Philosophy Professor Abbott Eastman Fay was born in Scottsbluff, Nebraska on July 19, 1926. He married Joan D. Richardson November 26, 1953 near the beginning of his teaching career. They had three children: Rand, Diana, and Collin. He obtained his BA at Colorado State College (now the University of Northern Colorado) in Greeley, Colorado.

He taught and was a principal in the  Leadville, Colorado Public Schools  from 1952-54, then moved to Mesa College in Grand Junction, where he taught until 1964.

From 1964-1982 he taught at Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado, retiring as Associate Professor Emeritus and has since taught extensively for Western State and other regional colleges as adjunct professor.

His published works are extensive and include Ski Tracks in the Rockies, Famous Coloradans, I Never Knew That About Colorado, More That I Never Knew About Colorado , Beyond the Great Divide, To Think that This Happened In Grand County!, A History of Skiing in Colorado, The Story of Colorado Wines, and many other books and articles.

Abbott Fay died March 12, 2009 after a brief illness. His biographical website is abbottfay.com.

Topic: Biographies

Ute Bill Thompson and His Memorial Marker

Dark clouds covered the Continental Divide as we looked east from the ridge leading toward Elk Mountain's remarkable view. Cool winds and spitting snow followed us. We weren't seeking the height of Elk Mountain, but instead, were tracking the historic path of Grand County Pioneer William Jefferson "Ute Bill" Thompson. Specifically, we wanted to locate the memorial marker for Ute Bill that Henry Grafke and Otto Schott placed along this ridge after Ute Bill died in 1926. 

Tracking Thompson requires divergent paths. On one hand, Ute Bill's early presence in Middle Park places him in an era when mountain men and Ute Indians shared the vast herds of elk and deer. Only a handful of hardy souls called Middle Park home when Bill Thompson arrived in the late 1860s or early 70s. On another hand, Thompson settled just east of Hot Sulphur Springs as a young man, where he carved out a cattle ranch that remains in his family today.  

Records prove he owned and operated a billiard hall, drove stagecoaches and established a homestead along the Colorado (then, the Grand) River. But tall tales and oral legends abound too, capturing hair-breath escapes, harrowing western adventures and the mischievous nature of a 19th century westerner. Looking through the numerous historic photos of Ute Bill at the Pioneer Village Museum in Hot Sulphur Springs leaves an impression of a capable trapper, businessman and rancher who textured his image with stories of western adventure. 

With Don Dailey - fellow historic trekker and great grandson of Ute Bill - along, I hoped to pursue the fact and folklore of Ute Bill. As Don pointed out an isolated cabin in the valley below, a Ute Bill tale from the Georgetown Arbitrator of September 1886, "as narrated at the time by one of the participants," captured my imagination.  

Bill Thompson breathed a sigh of relief. The rugged, hungry band of Ute in front of him smiled approvingly as his long black hair fell from his broad-brimmed black hat. A tense moment before, he'd worried about his future as the small band of Ute Indians led by Yarmony came upon his isolated cabin in Middle Park. Fact is, Bill Thompson's hair had just saved his life. Not bein' cut since the Sioux captured him as a child, it hung nearly to his waist.  

Bill was all set up for a Middle Park Winter, with supplies to last through the toughest stretch, when Yarmony and his band came along. Thompson cursed softly at himself for not payin' closer heed to their approach. "Figured they'd be out west by now," Bill muttered as he squared up to his guests. 

Speakin' through a mix of hand signs, broken Ute and English that most fellers in the mountain parks west of the divide understood well enough for basic communication, Bill impressed the band with his manly firmness and calm self-confidence. Then Yarmony spoke, "Beescits," was all he said. Bill hesitated to open his cabin supplies. "Why, them folks are so hungry," he thought to himself, "they're near certain to go mad if they laid eyes on my bacon and flour." At best he'd be without supplies at a risky time of year. "No biscuits, fellers," Bill said with as much certainty as he could muster, "barely enough food fer myself. There's still a shaggy buffalo er two fer the takin' and every feller's got the same chance." When Bill finished talkin' he looked Yarmony square in the eyes. He watched the headman's leathered face swing toward his rough-sawn cabin door thoughtfully. "Beescits," he repeated. 

Yarmony's band, snuggled in their elk skins and trade blankets, looked stoically at Bill. "Well," Bill said, throwing down his last ace, "seems you're intent on havin' my grub and I'm intent you ain't." Then, regrettin' it before he finished sayin' it, Bill raised the stakes, "Why don't we have us a shootin' contest fer it?" No immediate reaction caused Bill to wonder if he'd communicated clearly. Slowly, though, excitement spread through the crowd of Ute, as the entire band - from the pretty young girls to the big-bellies - looked to one feller. In front of Bill stepped a mountain-sized-Ute feller, creating a shadow as he approached. "Piah," the Ute whispered, breaking into a quiet chaos of conversations. Movin' quick and hopin' for some break, Bill scooped up his improved Winchester rifle as he threw off his broad-brimmed black hat so nothin' could obstruct his shootin' eye. Just as soon as his long black hair fell near his waist, the tense moment ended with a gasp from the Ute, followed by a welcome reception that meant more to Bill than any he recollected! Bill determined then and thar on never cuttin' his hair again! 

As he eased down the gun smilin', all them pretty Ute girls began paintin' his face and braidin' his locks. Bill was feelin' positively giddy about his good fortune. Decidin' he just might owe these hungry Utes a favor fer endin' a potentially tragic shootin', he led 'em to a nearby ravine where he'd been watchin' a small herd of shaggy buffalo. Now Bill Thompson figured he'd repay 'em with meat, and still keep his own supplies. Leavin' the Ute on a rise above the ravine, he sauntered down to the fresh buffalo trail just as he heard the thunder of hooves around the ravine's bend to the south. Settlin' into a remote stand of lodge pole pines, he sat right along the path of the rumblin' bison. Pickin' out his choices as they rounded the bend, Bill's Winchester boomed repeatedly, each shot bringin' down a fat cow or a young bull.          

Swaggering toward his kills, Bill was suddenly confronted by Sandy Mellon and Len Pollard, sneakin' along that ravine behind the buffalo. Not recognizin' Bill through all the paint and braids, Sandy thundered to Len that this Ute feller must "a stole Bill Thompon's gun," because there weren't many repeaters like his. Both their guns were trained on Bill.   Calmly, Bill broke the silence. "Don't over-reach yourself, Sandy." Yes sir, Sandy knew from the voice that this-here Ute feller in front of him was really Bill Thompson. That day, he became Ute Bill.  

Breathing hard to make the final incline, Don and I reached the point along the ridge of Elk Mountain where we expected to find the memorial. There it was, as we had hoped. After a hurrah for our success, we slowly read the plaque: "Hunting Grounds of "Ute Bill.'" As we snapped photos and drank water from our packs, I decided that where historic fact and local folklore meet, an authentic western tale begins.

Topic: Biographies

Redwood Fisher

Article contributed by Corinne Lively

There were two Redwood Fishers, grandfather and grandson, who made significant contributions to the development of the Grand Lake area. 

One of the earliest pioneers was the senior Redwood “Woody” Fisher, born in Urbana, IL in 1839.  He learned surveying skills in New Jersey, and received a degree in Civil Engineering in New York City, where he met his future wife, Louise Perrenoud.  He arrived in Denver in June 1860 and borrowed money to purchase his first surveying instruments.  His bride to be, her two sisters and widowed father arrived in Denver in July 1862 in a mule drawn ambulance. They had traveled for six weeks from Omaha to deliver the vehicle which was used as an ambulance and hearse.  The first marriage license in Denver was issued to Woody and Louise, and their wedding took place May 6, 1865. 

The day after his marriage to Louise, Woody joined General Hughes and E.L. Berthoud as Chief Surveyor in building the wagon road from Denver to Provo, Utah over Berthoud Pass.  The expedition followed a route laid out by Jim Bridger. 

Woody held the offices of Denver city and county surveyor and county commissioner.  He was foreman of Hook and Ladder Co. #1, and helped fight many Denver fires. 

In May 1870, Woody was killed attempting to stop a runaway team of horses at the corner of California and 14th Streets.  While trying to save the lives of several children, he fell and the wagon wheels ran over him.  Woody left his wife with three children, Louise, Charles and Ella.  He is buried in Riverside Cemetery.

Redwood must have spoken in glowing terms about his time in Grand County since his son Charles, only two when his father was killed, spent most of his life near Grand Lake, built a summer home on the North Inlet below the Rapids Lodge, purchased 160 acres on the east side of the Colorado River from the Fred Selak estate.  He died here in August 1945.  Charles and his wife Sara had a son in May 1907, whom they named Redwood.

The junior Redwood “Red” Fisher also spent most of his life in the Grand Lake area.  He was an early Park ranger and helped stock many of the high lakes on horseback.  After his marriage to Helen Schultz in 1928 he started ranching below the present Shadow Mountain dam on land purchased from Mrs. Cairns.  He later acquired the 7V/ on Stillwater Creek.  He was President of the Colorado Dude Ranch Association in 1947 and traveled to conventions in Chicago and elsewhere promoting Colorado’s guest ranches with displays of fancy roping and riding.  His own dude ranch, Fisherancho, was on the land below Shadow Mountain Dam and served guests until the 1950s.  The barn still stands, and is now part of the Arapahoe Recreation Area. 

Sources:
Lela McQueary, Widening Trails, World Press, 1962
Middle Park Times, August 12, 1945 and May 6, 1993
Colorado Families: A Territorial Heritage, CO Geneological Society, 1981
Brand Book, Middle Park Stock Growers Assn.
BLM General Land Office Records
Conversations with local decendant Toots Cherrington