Chauncey Thomas memorial

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: Railroads

Train Legends of the Moffat Road

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

The railroaders graded and bridged the trails originally made by the Indians and expanded by the trappers, prospector and stage road builders that following in rapid succession. The

Moffat Road
train track has an almost endless series of wreck stories and legends.  In one, a "green clerk" was said to have piled all the mail order catalogs on the same side of a car, causing the train to leave the tracks and roll down the mountainside into Yankee Doodle Lake.

 

In another lost train story, the No. 3 westbound was seven hours late out of Denver because of a severe winter blizzard.  It crept out of the Fraser Canyon and whistled for the Granby Crossing.  The engineer parked the train intending to wait till daylight to continue on.  In the meantime, the No. 2 eastbound, 2 days late out of Craig reached Corona without passing the No. 3. In the morning, all were amazed to find the train parked "plumb center" of Granby's main street. Later investigation showed that the No. 3 train left the train tracks just east of Granby and traveled almost a mile over frozen highway.  The next day a Chinook wind came up and melted the frozen soil, sinking the train to it's axles in mud. It required the building of 1500 feet of special track to salvage the train. However, some longtime Granby residents say the locale of this incident was the Kremmling flats.

 

Sources: Roland L. Ives, Folklore of Middle Park Colorado,Journal of American Folklore, Vol. XXXIV, Nos. 211, 212, 1941; Levette J. Davidson & Forrester Blake, Rocky Mountain Tales, University of Oklahoma Press, 1947

     

 

Topic: Biographies

William Byers

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

Born in Ohio in 1831, William Byers became a surveyor in Iowa, Nebraska, Oregon and Washington during the 1850's.  He described himself later as "a mountain tramp". In 1859, he hauled a printing press to the new town of Denver, where he founded the Rocky Mountain News. He also served as postmaster of the settlement.

He was enthusiastic about the mining prospects of Colorado, and wrote endless editorials about the wealth to be found in the mountains to the West.  However, many disappointed prospectors took to referring to Byers newspaper as the "Rocky Mountain Liar".  Among his promotions was the idea that the South Platte River could be made navigable. That vision never became reality due to the size of the river. He wrote inflammatory articles against Indians which contributed to the infamous Sand Creek Massacre, a slaughter of peaceful natives by Colorado militia in 1864.

Fascinated by the co-called "boiling springs" in Middle Park, Byers managed to obtain rudimentary land titles from Indian claimants and promoters to establish the town of Hot Sulphur Springs in 1863.

Byers developed Hot Sulphur Springs into what was probably Colorado's first resort town.  He also tried to grow grapes and other commercial garden crops in Grand County, with little or no success.  He invested in sawmills and was part owner with William Cozens of the Hilry Harry & Company "Brand H" ranch.

In 1901, at the age of 70, Byers undertook the ascent of the peak which had been named for him by the official Hayden survey.  The next year he donated land for the Grand County Courthouse in Hot Sulphur Springs

William Byers died in 1903.  His fame is preserved in the names of Byers Canyon, Byers Peak and the town of Byers. He was one of the founders of the Colorado Historical Society, which owns the Byers-Evans House, a historical museum in Denver.  There is a stained glass window of his portrait in the Colorado State Capitol building.

Sources: Don and Jean Griswold, Colorado's Century of Cities, Denver CO 1958.

Thomas J. Noel, The Colorado Almanac, Portland, OR 2001

Samuel Bowles, The Switzerland of America, Springfield, MA, 1869

Robert C. Black, Island in Rockies, Boulder CO, 1968

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

Dougall MacDonald, Long's Peak: Colorado's Favorite Fourteener, Englewood CO, 2004

Carl Ubbelokdre, Maxine Benson and Duane Smith, A Colorado History, Boulder CO 1972

Alice Reich and Thomas Steel, Fraser Haps and Mishaps, Denver CO  1990 

 

Topic: Agriculture

Agriculture of Grand County

The first settlers in Granby realized the sunny days and cool nights were perfect for growing one crop in particular, lettuce. Lettuce farming boomed in the 1920's and a new industry was born. Granby had become an important railway center as tracks were laid over the Divide at Rollins Pass,giving the Moffat Railroad access to Salt Lake City.

Granby produced some of the best-known lettuce in America. There are even tales that New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bragged of their “Granby Lettuce” on the menu. Then a blight settled into the soil, probably brought in by the wooden crates used for shipping, and the lettuce business was ruined. Since then, ranching has replaced agriculture as Granby's major industry.

Topic: Health Care
Doc Susie

Doc Susie - Mountain Pioneer Woman Doctor

Doc Susie

Susan Anderson was born on January 31, 1870, in Nevada Mills, Indiana. Her parents, William and Mary Anderson, were divorced in 1875. Four-year old Susan never forgot her parents arguing and her mother crying before her father literally grabbed Susan and her brother John, who was three years old, from their mother at a railroad depot. He jumped on the train as it was leaving the station and took them to Wichita, Kansas, where he homesteaded with Susan’s grandparents.

Susan’s father, Pa Anderson, had always wanted to be a doctor, and he vowed that one of his children would fulfill that role, which he had been unable to accomplish. John, however, was more interested in roping cattle and playing than becoming a doctor. Contrary to John, Susie watched her father, a self-taught veterinarian, as he worked on animals. She absorbed important knowledge for her future as a physician. Susie was less interested in the lessons that her grandmother taught her: manners, housework, crocheting and cooking. 

Shortly after Susan and John graduated from High School in 1891, Pa Anderson remarried and became very domineering, insisting that everything be exactly as he demanded. At about the same time, the gold strike in Cripple Creek, Colorado, caught William Anderson’s attention, causing him to sell his homestead in Wichita and move the entire family to Anaconda, CO, which was about one mile south of Cripple Creek. Very rare for the time, Susan pursued an education in medicine and graduated from the University of Michigan and started practicing in the mining towns of the area. 

In her 30's Susan contracted tubuculosis and came to the Fraser Valley in hopes of a cure in the clear mountain air.  Not only did she regain her health, but she he practiced medicine from 1909 to 1956 in Grand County, a total of forty-seven years.  

People in the area were very poor and seldom paid in cash. They usually gave her meals for payment. This suited her fine because she did not like to cook or keep house, which was always messy. Because the railroad ran beside her shack, she often would be called to various parts of the county, even at night. Doc. Susie would flag down a train and ride wher ever she needed to go, free of charge. She also treated the men working on the railroad and their families in Fraser and Tabernash, which was about three miles northwest of Fraser. Around 1926 Susan became the Coroner for Grand County. 

One time she hiked eight miles on snowshoes to a ranch because she was con cerned about a woman who was due to deliver her baby soon. That night the mother gave birth to a baby girl. While there, the four-year-old son had an appendicitis at- tack. Neither of the parents could take the boy to Denver for surgery. Doc Susie took him by train. A blizzard hit, blocking Corona Pass. The men passengers were called out to help clear the track It wasn't until the next morning the train arrived in Denver Doc Susie had no money for a taxi fare. The passengers gave her the taxi fare to get from the depot to Colorado General Hospital. Doc Susie stayed with the boy during the surgery from which he fully recovered. 

Another time Doc Susie rented a horse drawn sleigh to go as far as she could, then snow shoed into a ranch in a storm to treat a child with pneumonia. She had the rancher heat his home as warm as he could, heat water and then put the child in a tub of steaming hot water and open the door to make more steam. By morning the child had recovered.   SDoc Susie lived to be ninety years old. The last two years of her life she was cared for in a rest home by the doctors for the Colorado General Hospital out of respect and love. 

Susie wanted to be buried beside her brother in Cripple Creek, but because of bad record keeping, no one could find his grave until later. She was buried in a new section of the cemetery. When the residents of Grand County learned there was no head stone, they took up a collection and erected a headstone. 

Susan Anderson never married, but she said she had delivered more children than any one and claimed them as her children. Her family was everyone in Grand County. Her home still stands in Fraser and the Cozens Ranch Museum has a display of her life and medical tools. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Topic: Mining

Lulu City

A popular hiking trail in Rocky Mountain National Park leads to the site of the historic mining town of Lulu City.  When precious metals were discovered there in 1879, as many as 500 prospectors showed up.  When the mines played out four years later, they departed in haste for other promising boom towns.

Lulu City was named for the daughter of Benjamin Franklin Burnett, one of the town founders. At its height, the town had a hotel, post office, and a justice of the peace.  It was served three times a week by a state coach from Fort Collins, on the other side of the Continental Divide.

There were probably ten saloons which drew customers from various mines in the area, such as the Rustic, Friday Nite, Tiger, Carbonate and Southern Cross.  These yielded low grade gold, silver and lead but the remote location of the Lulu made the cost to process the metals so high that efforts were soon abandoned.  The closest smelters were probably well over 100 wagon miles away.

One of the more remarkable characters of Lulu was "Squeaky Bob" Wheeler.  His high pitched voice was unique.  He was subject to drinking bouts, but was usually a likeable, well-behaved citizen.

After working in the mines, Squeaky Bob saved enough money to purchase a ranch south of Lulu. There he established a guest house and became famous for his cooking skills and colorful hospitality.  The current Lulu City trail runs through the site of his property, which was named the Phantom Valley Ranch.  He sold the ranch in 1926, but it continued to be a popular tourist stop until it was included in the National Park boundaries. 

The Daily Life of Mountain Men

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Topic: Towns

Grand Lake

Grand Lake was established in 1879 and incorporated in 1944. It is named for the largest natural body of water in Colorado.

In 1867, when only a few people resided near the lake, Major John Wesley Powell (the man whose group first rafted the Grand Canyon) came to explore the possibility of floating down the Grand (now Colorado) River. That summer, Powell, local resident Jack Sumner, and William Byers, founder of the Rocky Mountain News, made the first recorded ascent of Longs Peak from Grand Lake.

In the early 1900’s a Yacht Club was formed by enthusiasts who were attracted by the demands of attentive seamanship the lake demanded. In 1912, Sir Thomas Lipton contributed an impressive cup to be presented annually to the winner of the annual August Regatta. This event still draws skilled sailors to the challenging competition. 

The town was founded during a very brief mining boom, but because of it's natural beauty, tourism has long been the sustaining feature of it's economy.

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.

Topic:

Places in Grand County

Click on the drop-down menus and discover the history behind some of the everyday places you visit in 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.

Sources:
R.C. Black,
Island in the Rockies. Pruett Publishing Company, 1969
William Bright,

Colorado Place
Names. Johnson Publishing Company, 1993
Hafen and Hafen, Our State:
Colorado. Old West Publishing Company, 1971