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

Moving Water from Point A to Point B

Most serious ranchers had more than one ditch and most built one or more reservoirs. Hilry Harris, Munroe C. Wythe, Samuel H. Burghard, and John A. Coulter entered the first water claim in the county on September 20, 1874. This came out of Sheep Creek above the head of Gore Canyon.

There usually was some natural irrigation; but the challenge of getting the water from the creek required laborious construction of diversion dams, headgates, and ditches, the earliest ditches being dug by hand and often taking up to four years to complete. Later, ditches were dug using teams and scrapers. The grade was figured out initially by simple gravity flow, letting a trickle of water move down the ditch. Soon ranchers refined the process, using a 16’ long board placed with a 1/8" slope, determined by a carpenter’s level. A.F. and Roy Polhamus surveyed a great many of the water ditches, especially those impressive ones in West Grand County, some of which even had tunnels involved. Most small ditches supplied just one ranch, but if a ditch had to cross another ranch, that rancher usually got a share. And some of these ditches were long!

For instance, Dr. Henry Hoagland, on the Blue River, anticipated getting water close at hand from Spruce Creek. Instead, he discovered an old timer had previous rights that forced him to go back into the mountains and build a 13-mile long ditch. Hoagland had figured on spending about $7000; in the end, the actual cost was $26,000! His crew dug the ditch around side hills and across valleys using flumes and siphons. Then his real troubles began. Terrible leaks and washouts occurred everywhere. Finally he hauled in adobe and put this in the bottom of the ditch, rented sheep, and drove them day after day up and down the ditch to pack it. After a couple of years of using this tamping process, the ditch held. Other ditches were even longer. The Church Ditch at Willow Creek and the Wheatley Ditch on the back Troublesome were both 16 miles long.

The Company Ditch (aka the Williams Fork Ditch), eight feet wide on the bottom, was another long one. Built between 1903 and 1907, it cost $44,000 and had a decree for 150 cubic feet / second. The ditch went uphill and down, requiring many flumes and bridges. One flume was actually 1200 feet long! Subsequent breakdowns, leaks, and slides were so frequent and repairs so extremely costly that old-timers have said the reason the Company Ranch went broke about 1920 was the expense of The Ditch. The Lyman Ditch (or the Curtis), started about 1891, was just as complicated as the Company Ditch. Crossing high above the Williams Fork River, the ditch eventually needed cement piers to carry the pipe (1928). This ditch had so many slides, leaks, and washouts, that it had to be inspected once or twice daily! Siphons were required over draws. Flumes, sometimes ¼ mile long, might be 25-30 feet high, and one flume was actually 177 feet high; but these heights were necessary to maintain the elevation.

Flumes, being of wood, rotted and were guaranteed to leak. Sometimes wind blew a portion of the flume down. Finally the county put in big pipes to help the ditches across the Williams Fork. It might be noted that, when water leaked out of ditches, a side benefit was that ranchers along the way could use the "lost" water. Along with the ditches came reservoirs.

Fred DeBerard had four reservoirs on the Muddy: the Albert, the Binco, Milk Creek, and a low one that flooded the Jones place near Kremmling. All were dirt, of course. The Hermosa Ranch on the Little Muddy had water rights through the Sylvan Ditch and Reservoir Company and they built the Sylvan Reservoir dam and the Hermosa Ditch starting in 1911 and completing it by the spring of 1916. The Stein Ditch, started in 1897, was another large ditch, this one later purchased by the Taussig family. These ditches were all built originally to provide water to meadows and fields for ranching purposes. For years, people hauled in water for baths and household use, but that gradually changed. Leon Almirall, near the Horseshoe Ranger Station on the Williams Fork, decided that he wanted water for his home, so he built a 1700’ pipeline to his house, added an inside bathroom, and was shocked when the line froze the first winter – it was only three feet deep. He called in workers who dug down and insulated the line with manure and straw. It froze again. Finally, Almirall gave up and buried the line six feet deep. Now he had his water!

On Ranch Creek in the east end of the county, E.D. Shew cut a ditch upstream from his house, placing it along the edge of the creek, but directing the water back into the main channel near his house. At that point, he put a little water wheel that pushed the water up the hill to his cabins -- and furnished electricity besides. Eventually he replaced the water wheel with a gas engine. There was a similar water wheel, used for the same purpose, up in Hideaway Park.

Water was used to transport lumber as well. A flume ran down the mountain into Monarch Lake, in the days when the Monarch Company was timbering there. There was a flume along St. Louis Creek, carrying lumber from the camps upstream. Perhaps the most ambitious flume ran from Western Box Sawmill. This area is now under Meadow Creek Reservoir. In 1906, the Deisher Lumber Company paid Nathan Hurd for a right of way through his land and built a flume with a 2% grade down Hurd Creek. Logs were placed in the flume and a horse harnessed to the last log. The horse then pushed the logs down the flume with the help of the water. Three years later, the mill was moved to "Sawmill Meadow" on Meadow Creek.

In 1911 construction on the seven-mile-long Vaver Flume began, with 117 cubic inches of water allotment. This flume ran down Meadow Creek and over to Tabernash, carrying partially processed logs for further manufacture. A flume rider checked along the way, making sure there were no jams, and phone line allowed the rider to report troubles. Hikers can see remnants of both the St. Louis Creek flume and that one coming down Meadow Creek today.

Topic: Granby

The Naming of Granby

Granby Hillyer was born in Cartersville, Georgia on July 7, 1874. The third of six children, born of Shaler Granby Jr. and Lelia (Holloway) Hillyer, and the grandson of the Rev. Shaler Granby Hillyer, Sr. who was born in Granby, Hartford County, Connecticut. When Granby was 13 years old the Hillyer family moved to Washington, D.C. where Granby graduated from public high school. He then entered government service and at the same time studied at George Washington University, receiving a Bachelors of Law Degree. A postgraduate law degree was awarded in 1896 from Columbia University School of Law. He moved to Colorado in 1898 settling at Lamar (Prowers  County) launching a 40+ year legal career. On June 16, 1900 he married Miss Annie Creaghe, from a prominent southern Colorado pioneer family, and a daughter of an Apache County, Arizona sheriff. To this union were born 3 children St. George Creaghe, Granby Francis Ridgeway Jr., and Helen Edna Dolorine (Jane) later Mrs. Albert Hunt of Boston, Massachusetts.

Granby Hillyer was a member of the Republican Party. He served as Lamar City Attorney, Prowers County Attorney, and Deputy District Attorney. He was also affiliated with the Elks, Masons, Sons of the American Revolution, and Woodmen of the World fraternal organizations.

At 28 years of age, the citizens of Prowers, Baca and Las Animas Counties, elected Granby Hillyer to serve in the 14th Colorado General Assembly, House of Representatives, making him one of the youngest elected officials in state legislature history. He served one term from 1903-1905. During this tenure he plotted the streets at no cost for the Frontier Land and Investment Companies newest town on the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific Railroad (The Moffat Road). In doing so, Mr. Hillyer was honored by having the Town of Granby, Grand County, Colorado named for him.

Governor Carlson appointed Mr. Hillyer as the Third Judicial District Court Judge, at Trinidad, Colorado from 1914-1916. Her served as the United States Attorney for Colorado from 1922-1925. Afterwards he enjoyed a large private law practice in Lamar and Denver.

In 1928 at Lamar, Granby Hillyer was a speical prosecutor in the "Fleagle Gang Case".  On May 23rd, the First National Bank was robbed, resulting in the loss of four lives.  The case has been credited by the F.B.I. as the first robbery solved from a single fingerprint.

The Denver Post on July 21, 1931 page 9, reported "Granby Hillyer Is Disbarred By Federal Courts." In a decision reached by the United States Circuit Court of Appeals, predicated by a Colorado Supreme Court tribunal, of neglecting the interests of his clients in a number of cases.

Tragedy then struck the Hillyer family twice with the loss of St. George Creaghe in June 1932 and October 1933, Granby Jr. was killed in an automobile accident near Lamar. They both were attorneys. St. George and Granby Jr. were born 16 months apart and passed away 17 months apart. Both funeral services were held at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Denver, with the same set of pallbearers for both young men. They were laid to rest at Denver's Fairmount Cemetery. Their father Granby Hillyer, joined his sons on January 2, 1942, passing away at Denver Mercy Hospital, after suffering a heart attack at age 68.

The name Granby also comes from Great Britain, one of the original references was for the "Marquis of Granby," John Manners. A Member of Parliament from 1754 until his death in 1770, he also was a popular army officer and hero of the Seven-Year War 1756-1763, obtaining the rank of Lieutenant General. In 1766, he was named British Commander-in-Chief of the Army. John Manners once had his hat and wig shot off during a cavalry charge, thus leading to the British expression, "to go baldheaded at something." He had his office attacked by the pseudonymous political writer "Junius." The Marquis of Granby resigned most of his offices and died in debt.

Curiously, Granby Hillyer had an uncle and a brother named Junius.

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:

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

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.

Mountain Men / Trappers

Many noted fur trappers and traders are reported to have been familiar with the headwaters of the Grand (Colorado) River as early as the 1820s. Among them were Thomas Fitzpatrick, Jim Beckwurth, Christopher “Kit “Carson, Henry Fraeb and Peter Sarpy. Louis Vasquez built a trading fort on the South Platte River and ventured into what is now Grand County, where a pass east of Berthoud Pass is named for him.

His partner, Andrew Sublette, also came across the Divide to trade in Grand County, as well as Ceran St. Vrain, whose fort was near modern Platteville. 26 year old Tom Smith was with a group of trappers who entered the northern part of Grand County in 1827, where they were attacked by either Ute or Arapahoe Indians. Tom was hit in the leg by an arrow, splitting the bone and creating a life threatening infection. Amputation was needed but none of the party had the nerve to perform the operation. So Tom took a butcher knife and amputated his own leg. As “Pegleg Smith” Tom later became noted as one of the greatest horse thieves in the West, but was never prosecuted.

The beaver trade was essentially over by the 1840s as silk replaced beaver pelt as the stylish material for top hats. In 1842, famed traveler Rufus Sage came over Muddy Pass into Middle Park, but recorded almost no hunting activity there. On the other hand …fishing was great! His party caught over 50 pounds of trout in one morning. Noted mountain man Jim Bridger and another guide, Joseph Chatillon, let the infamous Sir George Gore on an extravagant hunting expedition in Middle Park. Despite the senseless slaughter of thousands of game animals, Gore has been immortalized with a mountain range, canyon and pass named for him.

One of the earliest of the mountain men to discover what was to become Grand County arrived in the Fraser Valley as early as 1860, soon after gold was discovered in Colorado. Charley Utter, known as “Colorado Charley”, was considered the prototype of rough trappers and traders. He was unique, though, in that he insisted on taking a bath every day, whether in the hot springs or beneath frigid waterfalls. In 1864, Charley was one of the first to make use of Berthoud Pass driving cattle that he raised at Troublesome Creek. His home was host to various adventurers who came to explore the prospects of Middle Park. He would eventually work with the famous Buffalo Bill Cody, appearing in “Wild West” shows.

When Kentuckian Beverly D. William spent some time in Grand County, he realized the Grand River was originally named the Colorado. As a Washington delegate from the newly organized “Jefferson Territory” (as this area was known at the time), he was instrumental in getting the named changed to the “Colorado Territory”, although the river was called Grand River until 1921.

Grand Lake's First Fireboat

During the summer of 1960, Jeff E. Fuller and Don Drake formed Mountain Services Inc. to offer Grand Lake shore owners protection by patrolling the properties.  In May of 1961, Don Drake promoted the idea of a fireboat and with donations, a 1960 18 foot Buehler Turbocraft Jet 56 was purchased and equipped to fight fires. Don tested the water jet and found that it would pump enough water to reach the fourth story of the five story-14 bedroom Oscar Malo home. 

Ironically, on September 10, 1961, that very home caught on fire.  The home was completely engulfed by the time Don got the fireboat to the location but, with the help of Elmer Badger and Jerry Gruber, they concentrated on the 4-slip boathouse.  The heat was so intense it melted the plastic trim on the fireboat but the boathouse was saved and still stands today.

 

     

 

 

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: Railroads

Railroads

Construction on the railroad line from Denver to Grand County began in July 1902.

The project, called the Moffat road (officially the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific), was the seemingly impossible dream of David H. Moffat, who spent much of his personal fortune building the tracks over the Continental Divide.

The rails pushed higher and higher up the mountains until they reached a station named Corona, meaning the crown of the continent.

Corona was the highest point in the world with a standard gauge railroad and the journey from Denver in the winter was perilous at best.

Huge snowplows were required on either side of the Divide to keep the tracks clear.

Eventually, in the late 1920s, a tunnel was dug through the range, eliminating 22.84 miles of track and the breathtaking journey over Rollins Pass.

The railroad reached Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs in 1905 and Kremmling in 1906, and played a significant role in building the population of Grand County.

In 1900 the total resident population of Grand County was only 741, but grew to 1,862 in 1910.

Topic: True Crime

The Selak Hanging

Fred Selak was a descendant of early settlers in Grand County.  He built a cabin three miles south of Grand Lake where he lived alone.  He helped his brothers in various enterprises including mining, a general store and a sawmill.  Selak was known to be a prosperous citizen who lent money to others and there were rumors of hidden cash and gold in his cabin.  He was also known to be an avid coin collector. 

When Selak failed to pick up his mail for several weeks, the postmaster visited his cabin July 26, 1926. After not getting a response to his knocks, the postmaster summoned an employee of Selak's with a key.  When they opened the door, they discovered the cabin in shambles and Selak missing.  Sheriff Make Fletcher was notified and a nephew of Selak's called in the Denver Police Department. 

As the investigation progressed, a .22 caliber slug was extracted from the wall and blood was found on an easy chair, but further investigation ruled these clues inconsequential as they were dated to many years prior. Sheriff Fletcher conducted a massive manhunt on August 16th and the body of Fred Selak was found on the second day by a deputy's dog.  The body was hanging from a tree and evidence showed that, because of a sloppy knot, Selak did not die quickly of a broken neck but rather suffered a slow strangulation.  The murder had taken place a month earlier and the body had stretched until the feet were touching the ground. 

Arthur Osborn, 22, and his cousin Roy Noakes, 21, became prime suspects after showing off old coins and trying to spend them for minor purchases around Grand Lake.  After interrogation by the Denver Police, both confessed to robbing and killing Selak.  Later, Noakes claimed that the confessions were coerced by the police. 

The suspects were kept in the Denver jail until their trial on March 7, 1927 and Sheriff Fletcher had to take great precautions against a possible lynching.  The only motive for the murder seems to be based on a land dispute years earlier in which Osborn was arrested for a violating fence line.  Both suspects were found guilty and sentenced to death.  After many appeals, the convicted murderers were hung in Canon City on March 30, 1928.