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) 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

Topic: Regions

Three Lakes

The Three Lakes area encompasses the north-east corner of Grand County and is so named because of the three connected lakes of Grand Lake, Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Granby Reservoir. 

The two reservoirs were formed as a part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which takes water from Grand Lake on the western side of the Continental Divide to the Big Thompson River on the east.  Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Granby Reservoir. connected by a   unique pumping plant, assure that the Grand Lake water level remains consistent. Further reservoirs were added in the Three Lakes area, including the Willow Creek and Windy Gap Reservoirs.

Topic: Biographies

Ellen E. Crabb, Parshall Postmaster

Ellen Elaine Engelhaupt was the first of nine children and was born in Chambers, Neb., on July 13, 1912, to Michael and Ollie Engelhaupt. She attended schools in Sterling and Crook, Colo., driving a pony trap to school when the distance was too far to walk. She graduated from Sterling High School at age 20, as one high school year was spent recovering at home from rheumatic fever. In 1919, she also missed her first grade year recovering from the Spanish Flu.

She met James Samuel Crabb, a resident of Crook and they eloped on Jan. 29, 1934. They farmed outside of Crook until 1941 when they joined partnership with Joe Spacek, growing winter wheat at the Company Ranch on the Williams Fork.

After building a house in Parshall, Ellen was commissioned in 1948 as Post Master. The Post Office was operated out of the Crabb's house. Being the Post Master, Ellen was in the position to be the contact person for needs and emergencies in the community. As she approached retirement, Ellen worked diligently to obtain another Post Office site in Parshall, which would guarantee continuous service to the town and surrounding community residents' emergencies in the community.

Ellen was known for her green thumb and her sewing arts.  Throughout the summer months, her yard was in constant bloom and a source of pride for her and her family. She sewed clothes for her daughters, knitted or crocheted gifts for family and friends, and in her retirement years, designed and made quilts as a hobby. She won numerous ribbons for her craft at the Middle Park Fair.

She was member of the Williams Fork Demonstration Club, a past Worthy Matron of Eastern Star Starlight Chapter 129, and in retirement worked with Grand County Social Services on behalf of the senior citizens. She worked diligently for low-income senior housing including development of the Silver Spruce Senior Apartments in Kremmling.

Ellen and Jim had in common their love of music and dancing. Often at local dances others would step aside to watch Ellen and Jim. They would dance at the Trocadero Ballroom in the old Denver Elitch Gardens where other dancers would also create a circle around them to watch their foxtrot. Ellen and her husband of 58 years, Jim had three daughters: Frances, Leota and Margaret.

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: Regions

Fraser Valley

The principal population centers in the Fraser River Valley are Winter Park, Fraser and Tabernash.  When the early stage coaches came over Berthoud pass into the Fraser Valley, the most popular stop was at the Cozens Ranch, which now houses a historical museum in Winter Park. The valley is now bisected by U.S. Highway 40, which was designated the "Victory Highway" in 1931.  The new route of the highway leads through the main streets in both Fraser and Tabernash and the backdoors of some business became front doors because of the new highway alignment.   

Tabernash was the name given to a railroad siding, named for the Ute leader who was killed during a confrontation with local ranchers.  The town became a key station on the railroad line, and included a roundhouse, and a supply of helper engines for the steep climb over Rollins Pass.  When the Moffatt Tunnel was opened in 1928, the railroad no longer needed service there and the town lost its' main economic support.

George Easton founded the town site of Fraser in 1905.  The rest of the country became familiar with Fraser when the winter temperatures were often the lowest recorded in the U.S. and Fraser was know by the nickname "Icebox of the Nation".   Lumbering was one of the prime industries in the region until World War II.  During the war, the military built a Prisoner of War camp at Fraser to help lumber for the mills in the area.

The current area of Winter Park has had many names over the years.  First it was called simply "Old Town" or "Vasquez", named after the fur trader Louis Vasquez.  "Woodspur" or "Woodstock" referred to Billy Wood's lumber mill in the area, which furnished ties for the railroad while it was being built over Rollins Pass. During the construction of the Moffatt Tunnel, the name "West Portal" came into usage.  Rail workers also called the community "Little Chicago" as it was as it was a favorite gambling, saloon, and brothel site.  As tourists began to arrive it was known as "Idlewild" and also "Hideaway Park".  Finally, the name "Winter Park" was settled upon to correspond with the adjacent ski area of the same name.

The area population declined from 1232 people in the 1920's to only 373 people by 1930.  The Great Depression ended the construction boom and the price of beef became too low for ranches to turn a profit.  However, since that time, the area has thrived, mostly based on a tourism economy.  The valley's main source of income is now recreation and second home construction. 

Topic: True Crime

Granby Rampage

On June 4th, 2004 an armored D-9 Caterpillar was used by disgruntled Granby businessman Marv Heemeyer in a rampage that caused an estimated $5 million in damage and left part of the town of Granby in rubble. Heemeyer's slow-moving, 90 minute demolition, fueled by his anger at local officials and business owners who supported construction of a cement batch plant, left 13 buildings demolished or damaged and ended when he committed suicide inside the cab that he had welded shut. The buildings targeted included the town hall, the library, the electric company, a bank, the newspaper and the home of the former mayor. The town of Granby was spared any human injuries or loss because of the complete evacuation of the town through the reverse 911 system and many local law enforcement officers who went door to door to warn the townspeople. The town of Granby immediately launched fundraising efforts to offset the losses suffered by targeted businesses and citizens and the destroyed buildings were mostly rebuilt by the following year.

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.

Smiths of the Blue River

Frank John Smith was born October 5, 1852 in Granby, New York.  He married Elizabeth Olive Sanders, who was born in 1860 in Hannibal, New York.  They were married in 1878 in Hannibal and had two children Albert and Lelah.  Albert died as an infant in 1881.  In 1880 Frank homesteaded his ranch close to the Blue River and sent for his wife and baby daughter who came West by train to Dillon in the spring of 1883.

They had 10 more children, all born at the Smith Ranch, between 1884 and 1907.  As the boys grew into young men, they homesteaded additional acreage around the ranch.  The youngest son, Earl, operated the Smith Ranch until 1958, when it was sold to Ted Orr Sr. His son, Ted Orr Jr. and his wife, Virginia Smith (granddaughter of Frank and Elizabeth) operated the ranch until 1967, when it was sold to the Berger brothers.    

Topic:

Leisure Time

Article contributed by Scott Rethi

Of all the leisure time activities available to the pioneers, dancing
was the favorite.  Dances were held in grand hotels that remained from the mining boom, such as the Fairview House and The Garrison House in Grand Lake.  

Quadrilles, a type of square dance, were popular at the time.  A
fiddler would provide the music and serve as the caller.  These parties would start in the evening and last all night.  The formidable temperatures and great traveling distances were incentive for getting the most out of every gathering.  

Winter Sports have also always been a popular pastime.  Skiing was introduced to the region during the winter of 1883. Snowshoeing and sleigh rides were also enjoyed.  

1882 officially brought the arts to the Grand Lake area when the Dramatic Society was organized.  A production of the
well-known comedy "Our Boys" was the premiere performance.

Sources:
Mary Lyons Cairns, Grand Lake: The Pioneers & The Olden Days, Renaissance House Publishers, 1971

Topic: Water

Water

Grand County is home to the headwaters of the famed Colorado River — the river that brings water to five other arid Western states. Water is the lifeblood of semi-arid Colorado and Grand County is one of the most water-rich areas of Colorado, and yet faces a shortage due to historical water agreements, written long before population pressures and the environmental awareness of the current age.

On average, the water diversion projects in the county move a whopping 305,000 acre-feet per year from the Fraser, Colorado and Williams Fork rivers — all headwaters of the Colorado's main stem. 60 percent of the water in Grand County is diverted elsewhere and there are plans underway, mostly from Front Range communities, to divert as much as 80 percent of the county's headwaters by the year 2010.

Two of the main water utilities, Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District face a quandary: how to take the water from Grand County without further damaging the delicate environment and the region's economy, which is fueled by tourists who expect to play in the very water the Front Range wants to take.

Topic:

Dude Ranches

Article contributed by Gretchen Bergen

 

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.

Sources:
A Dude Ranch Is... 1874-1986.
Grand County Historical Association Journal, Volume VI, Number 1. June 1986. Grand County Historical Association