Grand County Colorado

History Article Library

 

Explore the History & Culture of Grand County Colorado

Welcome to the Grand County Historical Association (GCHA) stories page!

 

GCHA operates four museums located in Grand County, Colorado: the Cozens Ranch Museum, the Emily Warner Field and Aviation Museum, Heritage Park, and Pioneer Village. Visit https://grandcountyhistory.org.

 

GCHA hosts a variety of events throughout the year, from exhibit openings, author talks, history treks, kids programs, special museum events and fundraisers such as the annual Taste of History. Be sure to subscribe to our Email Newsletter to get the latest updates about what’s happening. Visit the Events page for a complete listing of scheduled events.

 

You'll find over 200 stories to explore for research and inspiration. Let us know if you have an idea or a comment on any of the articles written by over 30 volunteers. Send us a note on the contact form.

 

This website is managed by the Grand County Historical Association. For more information, contact Dede Fay at dedefay@hotmail.com.

 

Articles to Browse

Topic: Biographies

Ute Bill Thompson

William Jefferson (Wm./W.J./Bill) Thompson was born on March 26, 1849 in Aurora Township, Preston County, Virginia (1863-West Virginia). The 8th child of 9 children of Wm. & Mary Anne (Wotring) Thompson. His father was a shoemaker at the Wotring Tannery and died in 1853. Mrs. Thompson left Preston County in September 1859 with her children on a covered wagon for Oregon. They arrived at St. Charles, Iowa around Christmas, settling at New Virginia, joining other relatives.

Wm. may have been taken captive by Native Americans prior to entering Colorado Territory. Via ox cart he came to Central City to start mining in 1865. He ventured into adjacent Middle Park, seeking gold in the Troublesome Valley, supplied with 1 ton of flour. He spent four years as a postal carrier from Hot Sulphur Springs to Steamboat Springs, using the Gore Pass route.

Once, the Ute Indians saw him baking biscuits and they enjoyed the “beescuts” until the flour ran out. An altercation left Wm. severely beaten. He made his way to Georgetown and the miners denied him entry, thinking he was a crazy man. One kind miner gave Wm. canvas for clothing, and took him to Idaho Springs. He recovered and was employed as a shoemaker.

Wm. re-entered Middle Park, built a hunting cabin on Muddy Creek ready for the 1867 winter. Chief Yarmonite led 40 Ute men, women and children to Wm’s cabin explaining to him that the Gore Range was covered with snow, and they were in need of food. This time Wm. refused. A rifle match was agreed upon with the loser put to death. Wm. threw his sombrero to the ground as his hair fell to his shoulders. A cry of the Ute went up as they recognized Wm. from the Troublesome. Sub-chief Piah told Wm. they could not fight a Ute brother, and braided Wm’s hair and applied face paint as they were at war with the Arapahoes. A hunt for bison began. Shooting was heard with the thought the Arapahoes arrived. Len Pollard & Sandy Mellon were chasing buffalo, which Wm. shot and killed. Len & Sandy confronted the supposed Ute with Len asking, “Where did you get Bill Thompson’s Winchester rifle?” Wm. played along until Sandy aimed his rifle on Wm. who wisely said, “Don’t over reach yourself, Sandy.” Sandy demanded, “Who in the hell are you!” Bill laughed and told them he was Bill Thompson. The sobriquet of “Ute Bill” was given. Wm. preferred his nick name over his legal name.

Ute Bill carried on as a mountaineer. Hunting and trapping, taking wild game to the Georgetown & Denver markets selling the meat, until laws prohibited the practice. A new career began of driving stagecoaches and freight wagons for the Colorado Stage Company on the Georgetown, Empire & Middle Park Wagon Road, over Berthoud Pass to Grand Lake, Hot Sulphur Springs, Gore Pass, and occasionally Steamboat Springs. One day on Cottonwood Pass, Ute Bill stopped and hiked over a ridge to find 400 Ute tipis on a meadow, imaging this could be a ranch. He homesteaded acreage, bought the home ranch from Al Honscome, and through marriage owned 4000 acres.

The T Lazy S brand was patented. The Thompson Ranch was the 1st in Middle Park allowed to receive water from the Grand (Colorado) River for irrigation. Ute Bill Creek and Ute Bill Ditch 1 & 2 were also patented. Middle Park became Grand County of February 2, 1874. Ute Bill was on the first jury, appointed Road Supervisor, and a delegate to the state Democrat Party Convention. In 1879 he owned Thompson’s Billiard Hall, bought a store from John Kinsey and expanded it into Ute Bill’s Saloon in Hot Sulphur Springs. He also had a game park of tame antelope, deer, and elk.

The “Texas Charley” incident of December 5, 1884 began at the saloon when Texas Charley forced Ute Bill to hand over his prized Winchester rifle. His future father in law played a role in the coroner’s inquest. January 30, 1889 The Middle Park Times listed the sale of the saloon to Billy Pharo with the quote of, “We don’t reach Denver yet but were getting there you see.” An ad in Hot Sulphur Springs complemented the sale.

On December 25, 1893 Ute Bill Tompson was united in marriage to Mabel Smith. The first recorded marriage in the Hot Sulphur Springs Congregational Community Church. Mabel was the eldest daughter of Preston Henry & the late Mary Smith. Ute Bill & Mabel had 6 children Fred Charles, William Preston, John Henry, Otto Woodring, Marion Loman, and Mary Ellen. W.J. Thompson advertised in the Grand County News, January 8, 1904 Sulphur Springs and Kremmling Stage Carries Mail & Express Stage Fare, One Way $1.50 Round Trip, $2.75 In 1903-1904 The Denver, Northwestern & Pacific Railroad (D.N.P.R.R.) was buying ranchers land. Ute Bill refused to sell his for $500 and lost on appeal in District Court receiving $300. However, it was “matter of principal” that he won on, as E.A. Meredith the railroad surveyor diverted the rail bed to be placed on the other side of the Colorado River below the cliffs.

As the excursion trains were passing by the Thompson Ranch on their way to the Railroad Days celebration in Hot Sulphur Springs on September 15, 1905 Ute Bill danced with joy knowing that the “Iron Horse” was NOT allowed to disturb the sacred tipi grounds of the Utes! Ute Bill forgot his grievances and presided over a vast fish fry and barbeque of elk on July 4, 1906. The last cattle trail drive out of Grand County was conducted by 2 aged pioneers, Sam Martin of Muddy Creek, and Ute Bill in 1923. Another matter of principal to avoid paying railroad costs, but of great sentimental value of all the past cattle trail drives. Ute Bill & Mabel both entered St. Luke’s Hospital in Denver for surgery in late February 1926. Ute Bill’s first surgery went well, the second did not. Mabel was not able to be with him as she was recovering from her own.

Many Middle Park pioneers visited them to wish them well. Old friend Charles Nines Sr. who retired in Denver from Pine Ridge Agency, South Dakota a Sioux language interpreter and Trading Post owner was with Ute Bill when he passed away on March 19, 1926, one week shy of his 77th birthday. William Jefferson “Ute Bill” Thompson is buried in the Hot Sulphur Springs Cemetery off of Cottonwood Pass, Looking at Elk Mountain and the original homestead.

This article is dedicated to Lorna Marie Gowen; September 6, 1954-April 14, 2006

Stafford Family

James "Jimmy" M. Stafford was born in 1849 in Wexford Ireland. Jimmy immigrated to Leadville in the 1870's to work in the booming silver mines. In Leadville, he met and married  Deborah Helen Acey (born 1846 in Trenton New Jersey) in 1880.  In the 1880's the couple moved to Dillon and then homesteaded the Stafford Ranch on the Blue River at Spring Creek Road. Jimmy built their home by hand carrying logs from Green Mountain.  They had one son, Frank Elmer Stafford, born in 1886. Jimmy and Deborah also operated the stage stop, boarding house and saloon called the "Halfway House" between Kremmling and Dillon on Highway 9.  It remained in operation until the stage lines ceased in the early 1900's and the buildings were dismantled in the 1940's.  

Frank went on to marry Alice Smith in 1909 and they had six children, including their first, a son, James Elmer, who died at age 8 in the worldwide flu epidemic of 1918. Frank and Alice built the Stafford General Store, directly across from the "Halfway House".  Frank was instrumental in installing the first telephone lines in the area and served as Grand County Commissioner from 1928 to 1936 and as County Commissioner from 1948 until his death from injuries in a car wreck in 1950.  Alice was called the "Blue River Belle" and kept the general store until 1960.  Alice lived in Kremmling until her death in 1969.  

 

Topic: Ranching

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."


 

 

Topic:

Business and Industry

How did people make a living? What were some of the businesses and industries that brought people to Grand County?  Jut click on the drop-down menus and find out more about it!

Rocky Mountain National Park

In 1915, thanks to the efforts of visionary Enos Mills, Rocky Mountain National Park became the 10th national park. The concept was then, and still is, conservation of natural lands and wildlife. No commercial enterprises which consume resources operate within its boundaries--no logging, grazing, farming, mining, hunting or trapping.

Almost all private property in-holdings have been bought by the National Park Service and the buildings destroyed. Located within park boundaries, Longs Peak, at an altitude of 14,256 feet, named for explorer Stephen Long, is visible from both sides of the Continental Divide. Indeed, one can look northwest along 17th Street in Denver, to see one of the area’s best known peaks.

Trail Ridge Road, which runs through the park, was completed in 1932 and is the highest continuous highway in the United States. It is open only in the summer. Dignitaries from the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake celebrate the opening each year, often but not always by Memorial Day, with a ceremony at the top called “Hands Across the Nation.”

Topic: Mining

Dutch Town

When two Germans, having imbibed too liberally shot up the mining town of Lulu City, they were run out of town.  They went higher and established camp, on the side of Red Mountain near timberline.  There they found a lode of low grade gold, silver and lead.

While it lasted only two years, this encampment came to be called "Dutch Town".  Gradually the fierce winters and lower quality of ore drove the settlers out, leaving only a few empty cabins about a mile west of Lulu City. 

 

 

 

Topic: Dude Ranches

Devil's Thumb Ranch

According to local lore, Native Americans named Devil's Thumb, a rocky outcropping that towers high above the Ranch. As legend goes, after the warring Ute and Arapahoe tribes settled their differences in the Ranch Creek Valley, they buried the devil, but left his thumb exposed to remind them of the evils of war.

Before the Trans-Continental Railroad opened up the area in 1904, a stagecoach route from Idlewild (now
Winter Park) joined the Rollins Pass route. A state station was situated east of what is now our Ranch. The road extended transversely over the Ranch where it followed the course of the existing County Road 83. The land was rich agriculturally, and was used for cattle grazing in the early 1900s.

After the railroad was introduced, settlers began moving west in search of wealth and opportunity. Many ended their journeys in the
Rocky Mountains. During this time, there were more people living in the Fraser Valley than there are today. One favorite hangout of the railroad workers was a dance hall on Black Ranch, located immediately north of Devil's Thumb Ranch.

In the 1930s, Margaret Radcliff built the original Ranch homestead and operated it as a dairy. However, it was brothers Dan, Louis, and George Yager who started Devil's Thumb Ranch as a vacation property in 1946. The Yagers incorporated the Radcliff homestead in to the Ranch facilities and the original building exists today as the Ranch House Saloon.

The Yagers operated Devil's Thumb Ranch as both a working ranch and dude ranch until 1972. They introduced cross-country skiing in the winter of 1975-1976. Dick Taylor, a 1964 Olympic cross-country team member, designed 35 kilometers of the area's Nordic trails.

The Ranch was well known as a Nordic destination, but one without many amenities or niceties. The current owners purchased it in 2001, saving it from a group of developers who planned to fill the valley with residences and a golf course. They immediately began making improvements to the facilities, all the while impacting the land as little as possible.

Maggie and Jimmy 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.
 

Topic: Dude Ranches

Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Western White House

Dwight D. Eisenhower met and married Mamie Geneva Doud of Denver on July 1, 1916. Carl Norgren, a Doud family friend, had started spending time in the Fraser area and was enchanted by the beauty of the area and especially the Byers Peak Ranch for Boys.

By the late 1930s, Norgren partnered with Aksel Nielsen to purchase the Byers Peak Ranch.  During Eisenhower's presidency, the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, the Byers Peak Ranch, and Lowry AFB were all known as "Western White Houses" or "Summer White Houses." There is a well known photo published in Life Magazine of Eisenhower fishing in the Fraser River with his grandson, David.

Eisenhower used his time at the Byers Peak Ranch to rest and recompose himself in the face of difficult political times. As President, Eisenhower dealt with the threats of the Cold War, a truce in Korea, the desegregation of public schools (Little Rock, AK), and the development of the "Eisenhower Doctrine" to bolster the Middle East against the threat of communism. On the domestic front, he was faced with the difficulties of dealing with the Republican Old Guard, including Senator Joseph McCarthy, who headed a subcommittee charged with the finding of communists within the government.  

Eisenhower enjoyed cooking for guests at the Ranch, fishing St. Louis Creek and having "brookies" (brook trout) for breakfast, painting, and playing golf.  On September 24, 1955 while at the Ranch, Eisenhower suffered a coronary thrombosis (heart attack) and was hospitalized at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Denver until November 11, 1955.  His hospital suite has now been restored and is open for limited tours.

The bulk of information about Eisenhower and the Byers Peak Ranch comes from the personal papers of Carl Norgren, which are housed at the Eisenhower Museum and Library in Abilene, KS.  The collection of correspondence from 1948-1964 covered a broad variety of topics: fishing, recreation, taxes, health matters, food, communism, reorganization of the Department of Defense, federal spending, etc. The Norgren collection valued for the details it provides concerning the hobbies and recreational pursuits of the President during his visits to Grand County between 1952 and 1957.

Schools

Article contributed by Betty Jo Woods

The first official school in Grand County was founded in 1875 in Hot Sulphur Springs in a crude dugout. The school met for twenty days and a painting of the classroom shows nine students in attendance. Typically the woman teachers of that era would have earned about $25 per month. 

One report to the Colorado State Department of Education said, “The school secretary left during the Indian uprising and no school records are available.” This school was presumed to be at Hot Sulphur Springs.

In the 1890s school was not held every year in Grand Lake because not enough taxes were raised to pay for a teacher. The school year was generally April through October and classes were held in various vacant buildings for many years. The first schoolhouse in Grand Lake was built in 1910 and remained a one-teacher school until 1935. 

A notice published in the Middle Park Times on january 31, 1889 annouce that a masquerade ball and supper of "beef steer and chickens" would be held on February 14th to raise money to build a school.    

In 1898, the offerings were expanded to include the first experimental high school curriculum to be offered in the county. As towns were developed, several rural one-room schools also came into existence. Many schools were taught only during the summer because winter travel was too difficult.

At one time there were nineteen school districts. In 1958 the County was reorganized into two school districts, with the result that today there are two high schools, two middle schools, four elementary schools, one charter school, one alternative school, and one private Christian school in Grand County.

Sources:
R.C. Black, Island in The Rockies. Pruett Publishing Company, 1969
Colorado State Department of Education, First Formal Biennial Report of Superintendent of Public Instruction for State of Colorado. Denver, Colorado: Daily Times Printing House, 1879