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!

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This website was initiated by the Community Alliance of Libraries, Museums and Schools (CALM) and is managed by the Grand County Historical Association for the benefit of the Heritage Coalition of Grand County.  For more information, call Tim Nicklas at 970-725-3939 or Dede Fay at 970-531-7020.

Articles to Browse

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: Dude Ranches

Dude Ranches

Starting in the late 1870s, ranchers took in guests to supplement their income during hard times. Early adventure-seekers from the East made the long rail journey to the wilds of Middle Park in search of big game and unspoiled mountain scenery. With few accommodations available, travelers looked to frontier families for room and board. Ranchers soon discovered guests, or “dudes” as they came to be known, would pay to fix fences, ride horses, work cattle and sleep in tents....sometimes for an entire summer! Entertainment was eventually incorporated into the guest experience.

Located on the stage stop between Georgetown and Hot Sulphur Springs, William Z. Cozens was the first rancher in Grand County to provide room and board to travelers starting as early as 1874. The Lehman and Sheriff families also ran well-known turn of the century dude ranches. The years following World War I were the height of the dude ranch era. By the late 1950s, Granby had as many as ten guest ranches between Granby and Grand Lake with others scattered throughout the county. Today Grand County is still home to six dude ranches, which attract visitors from all over the world for their western charm, high-quality accommodations, horseback riding programs and superb fly fishing.

Topic: Leisure Time

Picnics, Games and Socials

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

 

There were many games and leisure time activities enjoyed by the early settlers in Middle Park.  Among the most common adult games were gambling games such as crap-shooting.  Poker in almost all its forms was also very popular. Some saloon poker sessions would go on for entire weekends.  Parlor games often included Blind Mans Bluff, which has a history dating from ancient times.  Charades, dating from the 1770's was recorded in at least one pioneer diary.  Marbles and Jacks were common children's games. 

 

Some of the more athletic pursuits included swimming, which was very popular in the summer and during winter at the Hot Sulphur Springs.  Contests of croquet and horseshoes were played at almost all the resorts and dude ranches.  Several times, the Middle Park Fair Horseshoe Champion went on to compete at the Colorado State Fair, and in 1920, a local winner went on to the World Championships held in Minnesota.

 

All sorts of tag games were invented, including a version called "Fox and Geese" played in the snow fields of winter.  A variation which is rarely seen today was called "Statues".  In this game, "it" would whirl each player around and then release him or her.  However the released one landed, that position had to be held totally motionless (as a statue).  After all the players had been cast off into statues, "it" would pass among them looking for even the slightest motion, even to the blink of an eye.  As "it" caught a victim in movement, the victim then had to join "it" to pass among the statues, often taunting and teasing to elicit a movement, until only one statue remained.  The final statue became "it" for the next round.  

 

Rope jumping, hop scotch, sleigh riding, skiing and ski-jouring have all been mentioned in letters, diaries and newspaper accounts. Potluck picnics were frequent in the summers.  Ranch families would meet on Saturday nights in the school house for dancing.   At church celebrations there was almost always a cake-walk and donated box lunches were auctioned off.

 

In additional to fishing and hunting, rodeos gradually replaced informal races and other private ranch contests.  One of the first rodeos in the nation was held at Deer Trail in Colorado in 1869.  By the end of the century, almost every ranching area in the state had at least one rodeo a year. 

 

As for musical entertainment in those days before phonographs or radios, many people would perform at public and private gatherings.  Violinist, often self-taught, would play with other instrumentalists in what were called "hoe downs".  Mountain men often carried mouth harps for self-entertainment or impromptu performances for other trappers and Indians.  Accordianists were very popular at polka dances and the Jew harp was another common musical instrument.

 

On long lonely treks, some travelers would sing, not only for pleasure, but to scare away predatory animals.  Some ladies cultivated excellent singing voices and were often accompanied by piano music.  Pianos were more common in homes a century ago than they are today.  For households without a capable musician, there were player pianos, which made music from rolls of perforated paper to reproduce popular and classic tunes.

 

Story-telling was an art for some talented individuals, who were the highlight feature at many gatherings.  Some stories ended on a humorous note; other were mysterious or even scary.  Conversation was also considered a form of entertainment.  Women's sewing bees were welcomed for the gossip opportunities as well as the craftsmanship. 

 

Essentially, there was much more individual participation and carefully planned intermingling in those days than the more passive entertainment (TV, video games, movies, etc.) of today.   

 

Sources: Merlyn Simmonds Mohr, The New Games Treasury, Boston, 1997

Gertrude Hollingsworth, I Rember Fraser, Fraser, CO

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

Candy Moulton, A Writers Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1999

Robert C. Black, Island In the Rockies, Boulder, CO 1969

Topic: Places

Place Names

Article contributed by Kathy Zeigler

The County of Grand was established in 1874, taking its name from the Grand River which has its headwaters in the county, and from Grand Lake, the largest natural body of water in the state of Colorado.  The county seat is Hot Sulphur Springs.  The area of the county is 1854 sq. mi., making it larger than the state of Rhode Island.

Fraser was established in 1871 as the town of Eastom.  Its name changed to Fraser, after the river that flows through the town, though it was originally spelled Frazier, for Reuben Frazier. The Post Office adopted the simpler spelling at the establishment of the Post Office.  The town bore the distinction of being the "icebox of the nation" for many years, losing that title in a legal battle with a town in Minnesota.

Granby was established in 1904, taking its name from Granby Hillyer, a Denver attorney who may have been associated with the founding of the town.

Grand Lake was established in 1881 as a mining settlement by the Grand Lake Town and Improvement Company, taking its name from Grand Lake.

Hideaway Park was established approximately 1905, and named for its hidden location with the trees screening it from the road. It may have been earlier known as Woodstock, Vasquez and Little Chicago. Max Kortz, owner of a dance hall in the village is said to have provided the moniker. 

Hot Sulphur Springs was established in 1860 and named for the hot springs.  It may have been refered to as Sulphur Springs in its earliest days, and as Sulphur by the workers and management of the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad when it came through in 1904.

Kremmling was established in 1881 as a general merchandise store, owned by 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 to the new site; eventually the town came to be known as Kremmling.  (Note the two different first names-Reuben Kremmling and Kare Kremmling.  I'll keep working on that discrepancy.)

Radium's name was suggested by Harry S. Porter, prospector and miner, in reference to the radium content in one of his mines.

Winter Park was first known as West Portal, a settlement that grew up during the construction of the Moffat Tunnel in the 1920s.  Postal authorities agreed to the name change to Winter Park, after a request was made by Denver mayor Benjamin F. Stapleton and many sport enthusiasts to publicize the establishment of a top winter sports area.

Berthoud Pass, el. 11314, was named for Capt. Edward L. Berthoud. Berthoud discovered the pass in 1861. He was also chief engineer on the Colorado Central Railroad.

Gore Pass, el. 9524, was named for Sir Charles Gore, who mounted a monumental "hunt" to the American West during the 1850s. Gore spent considerable time in the area, and gave his name to the Pass, a mountain range, and a canyon.

Milner Pass, el. 10759, was named for T.J. Milner, and accomplished civil engineer for railroads and street car lines.

Muddy Pass, el. 8772, bears the name of Big Muddy Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River, with reference to the muddy appearance of the waters during the spring runoff and storms.

Rabbit Ears Pass, el. 9426, refers to Rabbit Ears Peak, whose outcroppings somewhat resemble a rabbit's ears.

Willow Creek Pass, el 10850, is named for the stream, and almost certainly for the willow bushes that line the banks of the stream. The pass was a well known Indian trail, and became a road in the early 1900s.

Source: Eichler, George R. Colorado Place Names. Boulder: Johnson Publishing, 1977.

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).

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: 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: Regions

Church Park

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

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

Topic: Biographies

Isabella Bird

In Yorkshire, England on October 15th 1831, a clergyman and the daughter of a clergyman gave birth to small, sickly girl who would grow up to be one of the most well known travel writers of her time, an exceptional accomplishment in an era when women rarely ventured far from home unescorted. In 1850, after a childhood full of ailments, Isabella had an only partially successful operation to remove a tumor from her spine. Following the surgery, Isabella suffered greatly from depression and insomnia; it was then that her doctor recommended that she travel.  Isabella's father, becoming increasingly worried about his daughter, gave her a hundred pounds and sent her off to see the world.

Ms. Bird traveled throughout the world including Canada, Hawaii, Australia, China, Tibet and Morocco.  She came to Colorado right after the territory had officially been become a state. Isabella loved it in the mountains, so much so that she wrote many letters home to her sister which eventually came to become her third and most famous book, A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains. In this document, Isabella wrote of her adoration of the area saying, "I have found a dream of beauty at which one might look all one's life and sigh."

Upon her arrival to Colorado, she traveled into the mountains west of Estes Park. She wrote about adventures and challenges and of her romance with Jim Nugent, or "Rocky Mountain Jim" a one eyed outlaw with an attraction to violence and poetry. He was shot and killed a year after Isabella left Colorado.

Throughout the letters, Isabella mentions the wonderful sights of the lands she explored near current day Grand County.  In one of her letters, Isabella wrote of the time she rode a horse through a blizzard with her eyes frozen shut.  She found herself in another adventure when she was snowed in a cabin with two young men for several months.

Isabella grew eventually grew homesick and headed back to Edinburgh Scotland where she married a doctor. After five years of marriage, her husband died and Isabella returned to travelling. When Isabella returned to Edinburgh in 1904, she grew very ill and died while planning another trip to China.

Logging

In the early decades of Grand County, lumbering was a key contributor to the local economy.  Logging was necessary as the principal source of building construction and also as the only available fuel.  When the railroad first made its way over Rollins Pass, the production of railroad ties became an important industry.  In the Grand Lake area, the brief mining boom of the 1880s created a steady demand for timber.

Some remains of log structures from abandoned logging camps were still evident late in to the 20th century. These include the Middle Park Lumber Company on St. Louis Creek (southwest of Fraser), an operation that had it's own railroad line into town.  In the same area, the independent logging settlements of Lapland and Stockholm date back to 1915. 

Above Tabernash was located the Deiler Mill, ten miles up Hurd Creek.  In 1910, the Western Box Company bought the mill and moved it to the head of Meadow Creek.  A box factory was located in Tabernash and the logs were floated down in a flume, thirteen miles long.  Mrs. Braddock was the "flume lady" at one time and would balance on a log while breaking up log jams on the trip downstream.....a task that required "great skill and derring-do". 

Other operations included Koppers Camp up Pole Creek (above Tabernash), Mr. Daves Mill at Hideaway Park and Bob Morrow's camp on Byers Peak.  Broderick Wood Products Company of Denver was a major purchaser of Grand County timber starting in 1930.  In 1939, Smokey Harrison founded the Timberline Sawmill at Kremmling.

A huge box making plant was built on a site now covered by Granby reservoir.  Its main supply point was a logging camp at southwest corner of Monarch Lake.  You can still see remnants of the logging machinery along the shore of the lake.  For a short time there was a branch railroad from Granby to the box factory, which later burned to the ground, In 1949, American Timber built a sawmill and log pond at Granby, west of the Highway 40 overpass.  The west end of the county was logged by the Kremmling Division of the Edward Hines Lumber Company.  Later, Louisiana Pacific built a wafer board plant in Kremmling but it closed in the 1980's.

The short growing and harvesting season created many challenges for the loggers.  According to Ed. "Jr." O'Neil, it takes over 100 years in Grand County to grow a tree big enough got a 35 foot telephone pole.  In contrast, it would only take 30 years to grow a similar tree in warmer climes.  There is still private logging activity in Grand County, most of it for the construction of luxury log homes.