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: Water

A Dream Smashed in Gore Canyon

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

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

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

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

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

Topic: 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: Ranching

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.

 

Topic: Indians

Bear Dance Ceremony

The unrest and hard feelings between the Indians and settlers in Middle Park gave rise to an inevitable conflict the last week of August, 1878. About forty Utes, led by Piah and Washington, started to set up camp in William Cozens’ meadow, near Fraser, taking fence poles to make fires. Cozens drove them off, telling them to replace the poles and leave. The Utes moved down valley about five miles to a spring not far from Junction Ranch (named for the junction of the Rollins Pass and Berthoud Pass wagon roads).

There, Johnson Turner, who leased that land, became increasingly uneasy as the Indians were drinking heavily and expressing anger that Ouray given away their land in treaties with the white man. They wanted Turner to pay them for the hay he was cutting. They tore down his fences for firewood, turned their 100 horses into his meadow, and set up camp. They also laid out a race track on drier ground about a mile way.

Turner complained to the sheriff, Eugene Marker, who rounded up a posse of men, intending to remove the Indians or at least convince them to move on. Accompanying him, on September 1, were Frank Addison, a transient prospector, John Stokes, T.D. Livingston, and Frank Byers.  The posse found only women and children at the camp, since the Ute men were at the race course. Marker, the sheriff, ordered the encampment searched for firearms and when the Ute men returned, an angry confrontation ensued. 

Tabernash and Frank Addison exchanged threats, and Tabernash jumped from his horse and snatched one of the guns piled on the ground. Frank Addison immediately shot him. Tabernash tried to pull his rifle from its scabbard, but that it became entangled, and Addison then fired twice more. Tabernash slumped over the neck of his pony, which ran away through the willows. Apparently Addison recognized Tabernash as the Indian responsible for the killing several of his companions while trapping furs on Grizzly Fork in North Park six years earlier.

After this bloodshed, the posse persuaded the rest of the Utes to leave, after they buried Tabernash’s body in a shallow grave. No one was ever sure where Tabernash was buried. There was a rumor that the slain Tabernash was buried in a draw not far from Junction Ranch, but when the Grand County Historical Association excavated the site, nothing was found.

A day later, September 3, on a Ranch near Kremmling, Abraham Elliott was shot while cutting wood, and his horses stolen.  In response, the posse moved north in the direction of the White River Reservation. 60 Utes met the posse, and explained that the culprits were Piah and Washington, neither of whom was a part of the White River band.  Ultimately, the Utes signed a council report, returned horses stolen from the Elliott ranch, while the  ranchers returned guns confiscated from the Utes at Junction Ranch.  The matter was considered legally settled, but outrage and fear continued among the settlers and the Utes of the area.

In 1902, E.A. Meredith, chief engineer for the Denver & Salt Lake Railroad, named the town that had grown up with the building of the railroad, after the slain Ute, Tabernash.

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:

Transportation

How did people travel to Grand County?  How did they get around? Click on the drop-down menus and take a little trip through history...
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.

The Ute Legend of Grand Lake

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

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

Topic: Mountains

Mountains of Grand County

The mountains of Grand County may not boast any of the famous “fourteeners“ (14,000 feet and above), but Middle Park is defined by some of the most majestic ranges in the state. These include parts of the Front Range, Gore Range, Rabbit Ears Range, and the Williams Fork Mountains.

The only range Grand County can call entirely it's own is the Never Summer Range. It's highest point is Mount Richthofen (12,940 feet). Other major peaks include: Mount Howard (12,810 feet), Mount Cirrus (12,797 feet), Mount Nimbus (12,706 feet), and Nokhu Crags (12,485 feet). The name Never Summer is translated from the Arapahoe name, Ni-chebe-chii, which means “the place of No Never Summer“. The cloud names of Cirrus and Nimbus, and Stratus and Cumulus were the idea of James Grafton Rogers, a founder of the Colorado Mountain Club.

The Never Summer Range stretches for ten miles from Cameron Pass to Bowen Mountain. This range is darker and harder due the tremendous heat produced when the peaks were a localized center of volcanic activity.

Topic: True Crime

Spider House Tragedy

Nestled on a quiet lane in Old Grand Lake City sits the intricately crafted home of Warren C. and Mary O’Brien Gregg, known today as the Spider House – a testament to a remarkable woodcraftsman and his tormented wife.

Warren (Watt to his friends) was a dreamer and in the 1870s he left his first wife and a young son in Wisconsin and headed for the Colorado Territory seeking his fortune in the mines of Gilpin County.  Upon returning to Wisconsin his first wife died of fever, leaving Warren a widower with a small son.  Holding tight to his dreams of the west, Warren eventually ended up in his native Indiana where he met and married 20 year-old Mary O’Brien, in 1884.   By 1888 Warren packed his new family into a prairie schooner and headed west.  Like so many other pioneer women before her, Mary bore a child along the trail, a second son whose short life would send Mary down a dark and tortured path. 

The family arrived in Middle Park late in the summer of 1888, built a small homestead on the eastern slope of the Stillwater drainage and the newborn died shortly thereafter.  Though the years would bring more children, Mary would never quite recover from the loss of her second son. They continued to scratch out a living in this harsh and isolated land, where winters were long and supplies were meager. 

Warren spent much of his time searching for game and exploring this new country. The Gregg’s moved numerous times, finally purchasing a plot of land from Old Judge Wescott on the west side of the lake.  Warren built his family an admirable house, with intricate detail and spider-like webs of wooden elements.  Despite the warmth and comfort of this new home, and the close proximity of neighbors, Mary’s depression deepened. 

Then on a sunny Sunday in 1904, while Warren was working in his woodshop and oldest son Lloyd was having Sunday dinner at Judge Westcott’s, Mary took a gun to her four remaining children and then turned the weapon on herself.  The children died instantly while Mary lingered on for four days.  The five victims of this tragedy, one girl, three boys and Mary herself are buried together in one grave in the Grand Lake Cemetery.

Warren lived in the Spider House for another 29 years. With his son Lloyd, he continued building homes and stone fireplaces.  He succumbed to heart failure in 1933.  Mary O’Brien Gregg finally found peace in the quiet grace of the little town cemetery surrounded by her children.  Almost a century later, as the tall pines whisper their mournful winter song, the Spider House still sits nestled on that quiet little lane.