John Wesley Powell about the time of his Longs Peak ascent

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: Towns

Radium

The settlement of Radium, on the north bank of the Colorado River in Gore Canyon, was established in 1906, when railroad construction of the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad brought in foreign workers, typically Swedes, Greeks, and Italians. After the rail lines were built, livestock was shipped out and vegetables such as potatoes, peas, and lettuce were grown and picked at the last minute so they could be shipped while still fresh.

Originally the land was homesteaded by the Murgrage and Hoyt ranch families. Railroad passenger service during the winter months was scheduled only three times a week each way but even then, couldn’t always get through. Nonetheless, the “Try Weakly Railroad” service was better transportation than anything residents had ever had before.

The name of Radium was suggested by Harry S. Porter because of the radioactivity found in his mine. The nearby Radium Copper Mine was a large copper producer at one time.

Maintainance workers for Union Pacific, current owners of the railroad, are still based at Radium.

Topic: Towns

Tabernash

The town of Tabernash was established in 1905 on the location of the old Junction Ranch. The name came from the Ute Indian, Tabernash, who was killed here in 1878 during a confrontation with a posse sent to stop the Indians from tearing down fences and racing their horses on the white mans newly "private" property.

In 1913 the locomotive terminal was relocated from Fraser to Tabernash by the Denver and Salt Lake railroad. When the Moffat Tunnel was completed, the need for the terminal diminished, but the community persisted with a ranching economy.

 

Topic: People

The Knight Ranch and Charles Lindbergh

In Grand County during the 1920's, you might have been lucky enough to have taken a plane ride over Grand Lake with Charles Lindbergh.  It may sound preposterous, but Gordon Spitzmiller and his father, Gus, were two of the many fortunate people who got private sightseeing tours over the Grand Lake area with Charles A. Lindbergh as tour guide.

In the early 1920's, the aviation industry was a brand new field open to the adventurers, the thrill seekers and the adventurous.  Charles Lindbergh was one of those men.  In the spring of 1926, Lindbergh had the dream of flying solo over the Atlantic Ocean, from New York to Paris nonstop.  He was a determined man and was resolved to be the first man to cross the Atlantic and win the Orteig Prize.

On May 22, 1919, Raymond Orteig of New York City offered a prize of $25,000 "to be awarded to the first aviator who shall cross the Atlantic in a land or water aircraft (heavier-than-air) from Paris or the shores of France to New York, or from New York to Paris or the shores of France, without stop."

Besides Lindbergh, there were four serious contenders for the Orteig prize, one of which was Commander Richard Byrd, the first man to reach the South Pole.  Lindbergh's courage and enthusiasm for such a flight were not enough; he needed financial backing.  Lindbergh found his financial answer in Harry H. Knight, a young aviator who could usually be found bumming around the Lambert Field in St. Louis.  This was the beginning of the Knight-Lindbergh partnership that would soon change the course of aviation history. 

After being denied any financial assistance by several of St. Louis's businessmen, Lindbergh made an appointment with knight at his brokerage office.  Knight, the president of the St. Louis Air Club, was fascinated with Lindbergh's plan and called his friend, Harold M. Bixby, president of the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce.  Bixby also displayed a strong interest in the obscure stunt flyer and mail pilot.  Together Knight and Bixby formed an organization called "the Spirit of St. Louis", which was dedicated to gathering funds for the flight.  More than $10,000 was needed in order to build a single engine plane and acquire the proper equipment.

Knight went to his father, Harry F. Knight, who was a major power in the realm of finance and an equal partner in the firm Dysart, Gamble & Knight Brokerage Company.  Like his son, the senior Knight was interested in the aviation field and backed every effort to make America conscious of airplane transportation.

Without the financial aid and moral support offered by the Knight family, Charles Lindbergh may not have been able to cross the Atlantic in 1927.  Lindbergh's gratitude to these two men never ebbed.  Lindbergh and, his famous wife Ann Morrow, came often to Grand County as guests of Harry F. Knight whose ranch encompassed 1,500 acres on the South Fork of the Colorado River.  The ranch today is covered by the waters of the Granby Reservoir.

Knight, a nature lover, spent much of his time at this ranch.  It was a haven for sportsmen and adventure seekers, and Lindbergh was a natural for these two categories.  One of the largest and best airstrips in the west was added to the Knight Ranch in order to accommodate the owner and his guests.  Besides the airstrip, the ranch boasted a miniature golf course, a 28 room estate, a private guest "cabin", a good selection of livestock and an array of entertainment that would suit all.  It was a sanctuary for the affluent.

Local people were so enthused about the handsome aviator that they named a 12,000 ft. peak in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area (east of Granby) "Lindbergh Peak". However, during the 1930's the hero was honored by Adolph Hitler and Lindbergh made a speech favoring Nazism.  This lead to a fall from grace in the eyes of the public.  Even though Lindbergh changed his mind as World War II began, it was too late to regain his former popularity. The peak was renamed "Lone Eagle Peak" which was a nickname for the famous aviator.

After Harry F. Knight died of coronary thrombosis in 1933, his son, along with ranch manager Harry Morris, turned the ranch into a major breeding and beef cattle operation.  It continued as such until 1948, when the Knights were asked to sell it to the federal government or have it condemned to make way for the reservoir.  Moss bought out the cattle operation and most of the buildings were sold, but the colorful memories of the Knight ranch were buried in the depths of Granby Reservoir.

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...

John & Ida and the Sheriff Ranch

Sheriff Ranch lies in a valley just below Highway 40, 2 miles east of the Town of Hot Sulphur Springs. It's the serene world of John & Ida Sheriff. Old cabins with outhouses align themselves against the riverbank of the Colorado River. They tell a story of the fishermen who once rented the cabins for just a dollar a day-a long time ago.

It's a quiet Sunday morning and only the sound of geese flying overhead can be heard. The cattle are quiet in the meadow as the sun begins to rise and feeding time comes close. They sense the presence of this stranger. The air is cool and damp as Ida comes to greet me. John is not far behind. Looking across the meadow, a calf seems to have caught herself in a fence and to my surprise, the entire herd rushed off to help her. Suddenly she's free and the cattle slow to a stop. The cows quiet down as John throws hay from the pickup. The calves are more curious and come right up to us. One mother cow took off with her young one and Ida called her by name, "Oh, Spook, why are you running off?-she's always taking off! She's afraid you're here to brand her!"

John & Ida begin this morning just as they have for the past 57 years, checking on momma cows ready to give birth and carefully watching the newborn calves. They all have a name, just like children. Two calves, not quite awake, lie together on the hay while chewing on the tender hay. The sound of the cows chewing is soothing to the ear.

A story of the ranch heritage unfolds while we sit at the kitchen table enjoying a cup of tea and fresh baked date-nut bread.

Marietta Sumner Sheriff and her sons came to Leadville, Colorado from a farm in Keithsburg, Illinois, in search of mining claims recorded by her deceased husband, Matthew. (Many farmers and ranchers moved to Colorado ? the promise land of gold). Some years later, Marietta and her sons moved to Hot Sulphur Springs where her sister, Mrs. William Byers lived (1859 Rocky Mountain News founder, William F. Byers).

The ranch has been passed down from generation to generation since then. John Sheriff was the eldest son of Glenn and Adaline Sheriff (Glenn Sheriff was County Commissioner for 21 years, County Assessor, Director of the State Welfare Board for 13 years, and President of the Board of the Middle Park Union High School). He attended the Hot Sulphur Springs Public School through the 12 th grade. Everyone had to share in working the ranch and John was no stranger to peddling milk door to door for 10 cents a quart before he went to school.

Harsh winters closed off travel over Corona Pass (Top of the World) and the only way into the County was on snowshoes. Middle Park was a tough place to live with 50 degrees below freezing for weeks on end. Many people stocked up on flour and sugar and other supplies for the winter because they couldn't get into town for supplies. The Sheriffs were more fortunate and would use a horse and sled and follow the river into the town of Hot Sulphur for supplies.

Ranch life was not a wealthy profession as many may have thought. The Sheriffs know how hard it was to keep the family ranch. In the 1930's, Roosevelt's New Deal (Agriculture Adjustment Administration-AAA) forced ranchers and farmers to kill off half of their herd to level out the economy. Cow hides were sold for 5 cents a hide. Ida recalls, "Everyone in agriculture had to start over. Everyone was in the same boat. Some people couldn't take the stress and just moved off their ranches-- just leaving them!" The Sheriff ranch was in debt following the depression era. Ranches were up for foreclosure everywhere; banks didn't want them. The family just hung in there until they could get a herd of cattle going again.

Joining the Navy, John served in the South Pacific during World War II, and returned home to attend Colorado State University where he studied general agriculture. He met and married Ida Marte in 1949, daughter to early Grand County pioneers, Liberat and Bertha Marte. Ida is known over the years for her involvement with historical societies, documenting the history of the County, and maintaining original cemetery plots for the Hot Sulphur Springs Cemetery.

The years after the war were a struggle. With not enough hay to put up and only a handful of cattle, ranchers turned to raising sheep and harvesting crops of lettuce. Japanese prisoners of war were sent here from California to work on ranches.

"We always had to have an outside income ?cabin rentals, John's dad, Glenn was commissioner, and Mom worked at the library to help pay expenses. Once in a while we would have enough cows or lambs to go to market. The Federal Land Bank saved a lot of ranches allowing us to borrow money to get going. We were all afraid of another recession after the war," Ida said.

In the first 30 years of their marriage, John & Ida did not see much of each other. John traveled back and forth taking cattle to auction. When they got married, the ranch was so much in debt that they were "darn lucky that we didn't loose it".

The Sheriff homestead was registered in 1881 with 1350 acres and had as many as 250 head of high grade Herefords by 1975. Pure-bred bulls were purchased from neighboring ranches (Taussig Brothers, Hermosa Ranch, and Lawson Ranch) improving the quality of the herd. Sheriff ranch's registered brand-Bar Double S---is still known to be the oldest registered brand in the County.

In 1984 a large portion of ranch acreage was sold to Chimney Rock Ranch Company and the remaining acreage is where Ida and John live today, raising a small herd of cattle. They no longer make trips to auction. Today, a buyer comes to the ranch.

With no electricity in the early years, trudging through deep snow to the barn's generator was a morning ritual to power the lights in the house. In later years, electricity allowed the Sheriffs to start the generator with a flick of the switch from within the main residence.

The years of struggle and hardship, hard work and the desire to keep the family ranch has been a great sense of pride for the Sheriff family today. John and Ida, their ancestors and their family are a living example of family ranches surviving today. Not many remain, but this ranch, with a great family history, has a river of life flowing through it.

Topic: Agriculture

Timothy & Clover at Hurd Creek Ranch

Before the invention of seeding machines, a farmer or rancher would walk across his field in a straight line carrying a bucket or sack of seed with one hand. With his other hand he would fling fistfuls of fertile grain in a wide arc in front of his path. On reaching the end of the field, he would refill his bag, move over a few yards and repeat the process on the way back. After hours of walking and the casting of numerous sacks of seed, one handful at a time, the field would be planted.

I guess I was about 13 or maybe 14 when my father decided to plant timothy and clover on the east half of the meadow on the mesa. The area to be planted was probably forty acres or more that the ranch had leased to a Hindu man to grow lettuce and other truck crops. For several years we had gotten free lettuce for our table and our milk cows had loved the turnips from his harvest that were either too big or too small to be sold. I guess the profits from his work weren’t very good and the risk of growing lettuce in the rainy valley was too high. The Hindu had abandoned his lease and we would now put the water and the land to our own good use. Since we had no seeding equipment, we would broadcast the seed by hand. It would take hundreds of pounds of it to do the forty acres.

I was eager to help. Dad looked skeptical but finally agreed to let me try. After a bit of instruction he sent me off across the field. “Remember,” he had said. “You have to spread it even and don’t miss any spots.” I soon developed some regrets about volunteering. Not only did we have to plant the field once, but we had to plant it a second time as well. It seems that a planting of timothy and clover grows only a few inches high the first year and doesn’t produce a harvest. In order to avoid losing an entire season, it was customary to plant a second crop on top of it. In our case, Dad had chosen oats for the second planting. This choice would produce lots of feed right away even though the growing season in the Fraser Valley was too short to yield any grain. We planted the hay crop on one day and the oats the next.

I was exhausted by the time we had finished. In fact, if memory serves me right, Dad did the last five or ten acres by himself. When fall came, we had oats four feet high. They were cut, stacked like hay and fed out the following winter. The year after, there was beautiful timothy and clover that has continued to produce a fine crop for more than 60 years. When I visit friends on Ranch Creek every August, I drive by our field both coming and going.

Each time I see it, I remember my work and experience a sense of joy and accomplishment. All the things I produced over a professional career of nearly 40 years are now obsolete but the timothy and clover seeds planted so long ago are still growing. They will continue to do so until the Hurd Creek Ranch sells its water right and the field dries up. In our modern world, a 40-acre field of timothy and clover isn’t much. But how often, today, does a teen-ager have the opportunity to do work that will serve for a lifetime?

The above material is copyrighted by the author, Robert K. Peterson. Reproduction is any form is limited to the personal use of the view and/or to educational purposes. Neither the sale of nor any other commercial use of the text or illustrations is authorized.

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:

Community Life

What was it like to live in Grand County in the 1800's or the early 1900's?  Click on the drop down menus and find out about community life in the “olden days.“

National Sports Center for the Disabled

May 8, 2010 Sky-Hi News

In January 1970, Gerald Groswold, then chairman of the board of Winter Park Ski Area, received a call from the Children's Hospital of Denver about program they'd been running at Arapahoe Basin for amputee children. A-Basin wasn't going to continue the program, and the hospital wanted to bring it to Winter Park.

In his morning meeting a few days later, George Engel, who ran Winter Park Ski School at the time, announced that this group was coming up in a week's time and asked for volunteers. Of the 40 or so ski instructors standing there that day, only one raised his hand to volunteer. Later, at lunch, Engel walked by the lone volunteer and threw a note in front of him. "Call this number. You're in charge," Engel said.

The 32-year-old Montreal-born ski instructor stared at the note while he finished eating his lunch. He had no way of knowing that by raising his hand he had just shifted the entire course his life as well as the lives of tens of thousands of others. That ski patroller was Hal O'Leary.

O'Leary went on to found the National Sports Center for the Disabled. Today, the NSCD is one of the largest outdoor therapeutic recreation agencies in the world. Each year, thousands of children and adults with disabilities take to the ski slopes, mountain trails and golf courses to learn more about sports, and themselves.

From the get-go, O'Leary had obstacles to overcome, starting with the fact that he'd never even known an amputee, not to mention seeing one ski. The day after he raised his hand, O'Leary got himself a set of outriggers and went about teaching himself to ski on one leg. Being schooled in the Professional Ski Instructions of America technique, he used all the same concepts as he would use for a conventional skier, sliding between turns.

On Jan. 22, 1970, 23 amputee children arrived at Winter Park with equipment borrowed from Children's Hospital. It was a cold day, as O'Leary recalls, and he pushed the kids hard, making them climb up the bunny slope to turn around and practice making runs back down. Some of the kids who had participated in the program at A-Basin had been taught to jump turn the ski rather than sliding it. So they were hopping around like kangaroos, hopping three times to make each turn, O'Leary said. By 11 a.m., kids were collapsed on slope, crying. One screamed: "I hate your guts," O'Leary recalled.

Feeling that he had failed them, he took them over to the lift on Practice Slope after lunch and put them on the chairlift. A few bailed out, and O'Leary thought: ?Oh my God, I'm going to kill them,' he said: "I worried they'd end up in the tunnel." By the end of the day, however, the kids were flying down the hill, coats flapping in the wind and smiles on their faces. O'Leary was hooked.

For eight weeks the program continued. Before long, the television stations caught wind of what was going on at Winter Park. One day O'Leary got a call from the Today Show, which wanted to feature his program. No sooner had he hung up the phone then it rang again, and Good Morning America was on the line wanting an interview. "It really put Winter Park on the map in those days," he said.  As word got out, people with different disabilities started calling O'Leary to set up lessons, from the visually impaired to the paraplegic.

For each new challenge a skier presented, O'Leary needed a new adaptation to the traditional ski equipment. He spent nights at the ski shop working on modifications and pouring over medical books. Improving the design of the outrigger was O'Leary's first challenge. O'Leary made a lot of phone calls back and forth with George Engel (who also owned Winter Park Ski Shop) and other product manufactures, explaining the design he needed, then they would build it.

Another early invention was the "ski bra." Originally made of metal, the contraption slid over the tip of the skis, holding them in place and preventing them from crossing. "The ski still had freedom, but it helped people that lack lateral control of their bodies," O'Leary said. Sit skis hadn't been invented either. So when a paraplegic wanted to ski, O'Leary modified a cross-country ski item out of Norway. "It reminded me of a little bathtub," he said. "It didn't have any runners. It made me nervous. But, people could use it in a seated position, and it got people who couldn't stand out on the hill."

One of the more peculiar adaptive designs that O'Leary saw over the years was a space suit worn by a paraplegic man. The man filled the suit with enough air that he could stand upright, which worked well, O'Leary said, until he sprang a leak and had to be rushed back down the hill. "In 40 years, it's amazing what has happened to the gear," O'Leary said.

If equipment is the backbone of the program, volunteers are its heart. "We couldn't do this without our volunteers," O'Leary said. More than 800 people volunteer every year with the NSCD. It's a dedicated group of people - the average volunteer has been involved with the program for more than eight years, O'Leary said. Just about anyone who can ski can volunteer. NSCD provides the training and, soon, the volunteers are teaching the lessons. Thanks to the volunteer program, a NSCD participant in 2010 can get a full day lesson with a private instructor, plus a lift ticket and adaptive equipment for $100. Scholarships help people who can't afford the price tag. Raising money to help offset costs and provide these scholarships is key for the program's success. The NSCD holds more than a dozen fund raisers each year, although the Wells Fargo Cup and the Hal O'Leary Golf Classic are two of the biggest and most well-known.

O'Leary built the adaptive skiing program for 10 years before it began to develop into something permanent. In the early years, he was challenged a lot by the ski area, he said. Lift ops had concern about people riding the chairs with different apparatus. The ski patrol was concerned about people with various abilities getting on slope. "There was opposition from different parts of the mountain," O'Leary said. But the program's champion - Gerry Groswold, who served as the ski area's president for 22 years, from 1974 to 1996 - held strong to his conviction that the mountain should make room for skiers of all abilities, O'Leary said.

While the majority of those other ski instructors - the ones that didn't raise their hands that day - moved on to other pursuits, O'Leary had found his life's purpose. "It was seeing smiles on people's faces," he said. "I never realized what it would mean, giving these people movement they did not have in a wheelchair or walking. It changed their life. It helped them in many ways with their challenges. They did better in school. They started focusing more. After several years, wanting to give back what they took, many of them became instructors themselves."

For the first four years, O'Leary still had to wait tables in the summer to survive. Finally, in 1974, O'Leary parted ways from Winter Park Ski School, and Winter Park Ski Area brought the disabled skier program under its wings with O'Leary at its helm. That year, O'Leary introduced summer activities to the program, including whitewater rafting and horseback riding. "That first summer went extremely well," he said. "The turnout was huge."

Today, the summer program has expanded to include almost any recreational activity imaginable, including rock climbing, biking, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, camping and fishing. Programs are designed for individuals, families and groups and are available for all levels of ability, from beginner to advanced. "What we offer now parallels what any tourist would want to do on a vacation in Colorado," O'Leary said.

O'Leary has spent the past 14 years traveling to other countries, lecturing, writing books and working with ski areas to set up programs and introduce adaptive equipment. "It's not easy to create a program at a ski area," he said. "Space is limited. You have to raise money to finance it. But the point is to create choices for people who have disabilities, choices like everyone else has."

In the United States, the sporting opportunities for disabled people have exploded in the past few decades, thanks, in large part to the early efforts of folks like O'Leary. Disabled Sports USA now recognizes 13 disabled sports programs in Colorado, far more than any other state. Although O'Leary, now 72, handed over the day-to-day operations of NSCD more than eight years ago, he still works daily. He's traveled to 13 different countries helping to create NSCD-style program. He's written the book, literally, on adaptive skiing techniques (Bold Tracks: Skiing for the Disabled).

Looking back on that January day 40 years ago when he innocently raised his hand, O'Leary said he'd do it all again: "I've gotten more out of it than I put into it," he said. "I've worked with fabulous people. I've had great opportunities. It's been a good life. It really has."

Topic: Grand County

Grand County Trivia

After 1879 there were no Native Americans in Grand County.

In the 1800, the leading cause of death in Grand County was accidents followed by pneumonia.

Between 1887 and 1902, Grand County had no divorces.

The total resident population of Grand County in 1900 was 741.  The average life expectancy was 47 years.

Winters in Grand County often were severe, but nothing as terrible as the winter of 1898-1899.  Warm weather preceded the storm which began on February 2nd.  Four feet of snow fell by that first evening and the residents did not see the sun for the rest of the month as the snow continued to fall.  The snow continued into March and April and while few residents died, but the loss of livestock was tremendous.