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:

Mountain Men and Trappers

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

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 to trade with the Utes.  A pass east of Berthoud Pass is named for him and his trading post was located at the site of modern Winter Park.  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.      

Sources:
Carl Ubbulode, Maxine Benson & Duane Smith, A Colorado History, Pruett Press, 1972
Agnes Spring Wright, Colorado Charlie, Wild Bill's Partner, Pruett Press, 1968
Hazel Gresham, North Park, Self Published, 1975
R.C. Black, Island in the Rockies, Pruett Publishing Co., 1969
Abbott Fay, To Think That This Happened In Grand County, Grand County Historical Association, 1999

 

Topic: Water

Water from the Mountains - The Grand Ditch

 Though few, high altitude water ditches have had a major impact on Grand County's history and economy, there were many early valley ditches transporting this precious commodity from water-right sources to the owner's ranch. However, the threat of transporting great volumes of water from our county to Boulder County via high altitude ditches appeared back in 1889.  Certain interests east of the Divide talked the Legislature into appropriating $25,000, for surveying and developing a 20-mile-long canal over South Boulder Pass to South Boulder Creek.  Amazingly, neither Grand County residents nor very many others opposed this notion.  Luckily the state engineer found the terrain so difficult that not even $2000 was ever spent on the project.


The next effort occurred also in 1889.  This privately financed plan was to develop a two-branched canal system that would move 700 second feet of water to a half-mile tunnel just beneath Berthoud Pass at over 11,000 feet, thence down to Clear Creek and on to the Golden area.  Initial surveys were begun that fall and roads laid out the following year.  The effort bogged down but was resurrected in 1900 under the Agricultural Ditch Co., supplemented in 1902 with the Berthoud Canal Co.  The canal was partially completed by the Frank Church family ranching interests of Jefferson County by 1906.  The ditch, which can be walked today, runs from Second Creek to Berthoud Pass, though it no longer carries much water.  However, the Church Ditch water rights coming from Clear Creek still exist and today are owned by Northglenn.

Proposed in 1890 by the Water Supply and Storage Company of Fort Collins, a greater canal was to be built 1000 feet above the Kawuneeche Valley, that would tap the high tributaries of the North Fork of the Grand River, sending the water over Poudre Pass to a reservoir and then into the Cache La Poudre River and on to agricultural areas east of the Front Range.  The water company, later known as the Grand River Ditch Company, appropriated 525 second feet at the time of the initial diversion in 1892.  (When the Grand River was renamed the Colorado River in 1921, the company was changed to the Grand Valley Irrigation Company.)  The ditch was dug by hand, primarily by Japanese and Mexican laborers.  By 1900, water was flowing eastward.  

By 1906, this major canal, known as the Grand Ditch, and draining water from the Never Summer Range, had a capacity of nearly 358 second feet with 12 headgates within 8 miles, running from Baker Creek to the pass at 10,179 feet, plus a smaller canal carrying 183 second feet within 11 miles, coming from Specimen Mountain.  In 1936, using machinery, the ditch was lengthened to 14 miles.  The Grand Ditch is about 20 feet wide and 6 feet deep, though the water is rarely more than 3 feet deep, and this water irrigates some 40,000 acres in Weld and Larimer counties.&gt>

The National Park Service has argued against the allocation of all this water to the canal as it is needed to support plant life and animal habitat.  Becuase river water flow was cut in half, the immediate effect was a reduction in the fish population in the Colorado River.  More recently, a major washout in the ditch caused devastating damage to the slopes below the ditch and to the Colorado River itself.  Hikers climbing up from the valley use the Grand Ditch as a route to the high peaks and lake.  But as viewed from below, the Grand Ditch is often considered an ugly scar on the landscape.

Topic: Water

A Dream Smashed in Gore Canyon

The idea of a water passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean had long captivated the imagination of early explorers.  Soon after the Territory of Colorado was established, the United States government made a standing offer of $3,750 to anyone who could demonstrate such a route.

In 1869 a dreamer named Sam Adams convinced some people in the town of Breckenridge that goods could be sent upriver via the Mississippi, Missouri, Platte and South Platte Rivers to South Park.  Then, with a short portage over Boreas pass, they could continue down the Blue River to the Grand (Colorado) River and then through Gore Canyon the Sea of Cortez.

Volunteers were told they would share in the prize, and they built four boats of green lumber for the voyage.  The flotilla was launched with great celebration, the lead boat bearing a banner proclaiming "Western Colorado to California ? Greetings!"  A little dog was given to the crew to keep up morale.

As the boats went down the Blue River, the waters were a bit rougher than expected. When the men arrived at the Grand (Colorado) River, the crew set up camp. However several of the "sailors" declared they had had enough and began a trek, via dry land back home to Breckenridge.

When the boats reached Gore Canyon, they encountered violent upsurges and dramatic drops.  The wild waters smashed all four of the vessels on dangerous rocks.  Fortunately, all members made it to dry land, even the little dog.  No reward was ever given for the attempt.

Topic: Libraries

Hot Sulphur Springs Library

The Hot Sulphur Springs Library started on the second floor of the two story white frame courthouse that preceded the current courthouse. In 1942 the library was moved to the old log courthouse that was directly behind the frame courthouse. The books were moved via a rope pulley-like system from the second floor to the log house.

The library remained in the log courthouse until the mid 1970s when it moved into a 19 ft. 9 in. X 8 ft. 6 in. room in the current courthouse. This tiny room had a double-sided bookshelf in the middle, a bookshelf along one wall, a desk and a chair, and a card catalog on top of a small table. There was only a narrow pathway around the center shelving. There was no room to hold story hour for the 10-15 children who came, so story hour was held in the community room upstairs or the county or district courtrooms, the commissioners' room, or once on the stairs in the stairwell between the first and second floors. Much of the year the hallway by the Treasurer's and Assessor's offices was filled with hats, mittens, coats, boots and the noise and chaos of the children enjoying story hour.

Since the jail was also located in the courthouse, the library was used by prisoners. Those who were "trustees" were allowed to visit the library in their neon orange jail suits. One prisoner was permitted to visit the library to paint a delightful mural of a dragon on one wall and a dog on the window in the door. One day a prisoner asked if he could order some Kurt Vonnegut books. The Librarian jumped up so excited that the tiny library had some Vonnegut books, she kneeled and pulled out a Vonnegut book titled Jailbird!!! In 1983 the new jail was built and the Library moved to the old jail area on the second floor. It was a much larger space and had a restroom.

In the late spring of 1990 the Library moved to its present location in the newly-renovated former bunkhouse of the U.S. Forest Service summer personnel. This larger facility brought many windows and space for story hour, and until the year 2000 there was a wonderful yard in back for story hour and summer reading program activities.

Topic: Railroads

Moffat Road

 

"I shall never forget it as long as I live. Nor do I ever expect to experience anything comparable to it again. Civilization had found its way across the mountains into Middle Park," reflected Mrs. Josephine Button in 1955 on her 91st birthday, as she recalled seeing smoke from the first Denver Northwestern and Pacific work-train on Rollins Pass, high above the Fraser Valley and Middle Park. Once those rails made it over the Continental Divide all the way to Hot Sulphur Springs, "changes came thick and fast." Many men, many dollars, many routes and many dreams tried to bring a railroad over the Continental Divide into Northwest Colorado, and the "Hill Route" over Rollins Pass that finally accomplished it a century ago has retained its allure ever since.

The Moffat Railroad built a cafeteria, telegraph station, living quarters for Moffat's "Hill Men" (as the railroad crews up there were known) and a fine hotel - all collectively called Corona Station. Soot-filled snow sheds protected over a mile of this windblown section of track. And where today silence is the most powerful sense, colorful locomotives pulled passenger and freight cars, filling the rare atmosphere with black smoke and mechanical clatter.

Decades of men's dreams lay behind the once massive snow shed that cut the bitter winds from the north and west, behind that fine hotel that offered some of the most spectacular scenery in America, behind the hopeful Town of Arrow nestled below tree-line ten or twelve miles west of Rollins Pass, and behind that first work-train that Josephine Button watched from her hay ranch along the Cottonwood Pass Wagon Road to Hot Sulphur Springs. Competent, often powerful, men in the 1860's through the 1890's filed surveys, graded road beds, and even began drilling before being stopped by severe storms that foiled the best laid plans or their inability to fund the ambitious projects.

Dreams to penetrate the high mountains along the Divide in central Colorado began when the Front Range was flooded with miners during the Gold Rush of 1859. Even before Colorado became a territory in 1861, Golden City, just west of Denver along Clear Creek, recognized its potential as a gateway to the rich mineral resources of mountain towns like Central City, Black Hawk, and Georgetown. Golden City's ambitions went beyond becoming a mountain transportation hub, believing that with the right incentives, enthusiasms, and leadership, its location supported a future as a national commerce center. 

Golden City certainly had men of vision, ambition, and wealth among its ranks. William Loveland and George Vest, both young and feverishly ambitious to see Golden City reach its potential, vigorously pursued their dreams for a powerful commercial center in Golden City. From Missouri River towns like Leavenworth in Eastern Kansas, leading town founders also recognized the benefits of linking their water and rail routes to the east with the resources of the west. Finally, as if destiny had demanded it, Edward L. Berthoud, a young civil engineer and surveyor with energy and ability, arrived in Golden City from Leavenworth in April of 1860 to unite the similar passions of leading citizens from both locations.

From 1861 until 1866, Berthoud, Loveland and Vest focused on bringing a direct transcontinental railroad route through Golden City. First, Edward Berthoud, along with Jim Bridger and a capable young cartographer named Redwood Fisher, blazed a trail across Berthoud Pass through Middle Park all the way to Salt Lake City. Returning to Golden City on May 28, 1861, Berthoud reported "a good wagon road could be ?quickly' built" from Denver to Salt Lake City over Berthoud Pass for about $100,000.00. According to the local hyperbole, a railroad would surely follow.

In spite of considerable enthusiasm, disappointment plagued early efforts to put a rail line over the mountains in Colorado Territory. In 1862, Territorial Governor John Evans sent the Surveyor General for Colorado and Territories along Berthoud's route and others to confirm or deny the potential of a railroad line. About the same time, the Union Pacific Railroad Company sent an independent reconnaissance to examine potential routes over the divide that included Berthoud and Boulder Passes (Boulder Pass became Rollins Pass in the early 1870's, when John Quincy Adams Rollins built a toll road over it, and then Corona Pass when the Railroad crossed it). Surveyor General Case and the UP agreed that neither route offered much hope for a standard gauge railroad. The dream of a transcontinental line over the Continental Divide through central Colorado seemed to die with the UP surveyor's words, "I learned enough to satisfy myself that no railroad would - at least in our day - cross the mountains south of the Cache la Poudre..." 

Multiple failed attempts to bring a rail line over the Divide through Middle Park during the following decades strengthened the UP's "death sentence." Against the odds, Berthoud and Loveland continued to solicit support for a railroad west over or through the Continental Divide, using improved surveys and maps to support their requests. In the 1880's, survey crews from a variety of railway incorporations were scattered over the high country on or near Rollins Pass. Over Berthoud, Rollins and other passes, they marked potential railroad lines with their wooden stakes. It was during this stretch of strenuous surveying activity that David Moffat, a highly successful Denver capitalist, got involved with an unsuccessful effort to bring through the mountains instead of over the top. 

 In the early 1880's, Mr. Moffat invested in the Denver, Utah and Pacific Railroad, which intended to tunnel through the mountains near Rollins Pass. Like the other efforts, though, the Denver, Utah and Pacific vanished in a few short years. Unlike many other lines that accomplished little more than surveys and maps, the DU&PRR completed significant grading and began tunneling before reaching the "end of its resources."

Money, power and success supported Moffat's dream to put Denver on a direct transcontinental railroad line. Doctor Robert C. Black, III, wrote that David Moffat's failed efforts in the early 1880's converted him to the idea that Denver needed to be on a direct transcontinental rail line. Moffat considered the route over Rollins Pass valuable enough to have surveying and grading crews working on it throughout the winter in 1902. The Denver Rocky Mountain News claimed that Moffat's route through Northwestern Colorado included "the largest strip of fertile land as yet undeveloped in the United States..." With his Denver, Northwestern and Pacific Railroad, David Moffat planned to make good his intentions to put Denver on direct transcontinental railroad line.

Moffat's original plan called for the "Hill Route" over Corona Pass ? the name changed from Rollins Pass in honor of Corona Station at the top ? to last for only a few short years. While the "temporary" route over the top generated resources by extracting the resources of Northwestern Colorado, a tunnel was to be bored through the Continental Divide. Even the wealth and power of Moffat, though, failed to adequately finance the tunnel before he died in 1911. The temporary line, therefore, lasted for nearly of a quarter century, from 1904 until 1928.

Its obstacles proved as enormous as the mountains it crossed. Work crews had to cease operations because of snow for most of April in 1920. The road was closed from late January until May in 1921. In December of 1924, engine number 210 busted "a main reservoir pipe," causing the train to fly down the hill out of control until it jumped the tracks and crashed into the valley below. Clearly, the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad, which took over Moffat's DNW&P after his death, needed a tunnel to replace the expensive effort over the "Devil's Backbone."

 As Denver and Salt Lake Locomotive Number 120 came through the tunnel in early 1928, it represented the culmination of a massive undertaking through wet, unstable rocks which required considerable engineering ingenuity and caused six deaths in a 1926 cave-in. It also took an enormous amount of coordination and effort to secure the necessary funding. Through local bond issues, private investors and other means, the project was completed. And through a connection at Dotsero, a railroad station less than 30 minutes west of Vail on I-70, freight and passengers could make a direct Pacific connection from Denver. Posthumously, David Moffat's dream became a reality.

For significant periods of time since the trains stopped operations over Rollins Pass in the late 1920's with the opening of the Moffat Tunnel, on-road vehicles crept along its relatively easy grades and wide curves from Rollinsville on the east slope to Winter Park on the west side of the Divide. Like now, the road ran through an area attractive to backcountry campers and sport enthusiasts. On September 1, 1956, local officials and private citizens met on Rollins Pass to celebrate a "joint state-federal-county project to convert the old D. & S. L. railroad right of way over Corona Pass into an access road for sportsmen." According to the Denver Post, the game and fish department's construction division reconstructed the road during the summer of 1955 for about $20,000. The following year, the road became a scenic route over the Continental Divide for family cars and jeep caravans alike. And after it was built, or at least reconstructed, they did come. Intrepid tourists into Middle Park.

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.

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: Biographies

Horace Button

Horace Button was 10 years old when he saw the ski jump competition at the 1911 First Annual Hot Sulphur Springs Winter Sports Carnival.  A railway man noticed that Horace was spellbound.  The man asked Horace what he wanted to be when he grew up, to which Horace replied, “I want to be a ski jumper like Carl Howelsen.” The seed had been sown, and Howelsen taught Horace the skills of skiing.

Horace Button became an All-American Skier.  Winning awards over nationally recognized competitive ski racers.  The basic knowledge he learned from Howelsen was passed on which in turn sent Jim Harsh of Grand Lake, to be on the 1932 United States Olympic Nordic Combined team.  The Olympics were held at Lake Placid, New York. 

Barney McLean of Hot Sulphur Springs, also benefitted from Mr. Button, who was waiting at the ski hill every afternoon, when school hours were over.  Barney was a 9-time national champion, and a 3-time Olympian.  In 1948 he was Captain of the men’s alpine ski team that competed at St. Moritz, Switzerland. 

Horace Button continued to advise ski techniques to students of East and West Grand School Districts, helping them compete at the university or Olympic level.  They were; Dale Thompson, Wes Palmer, Zane Palmer, Landis Arnold, Todd Wilson, Kerry Lynch, Tim Flanagan, and many more.  Horace coached 12 national champions. 

Horace also was an accomplished artist. His specialty was carton ski scenes.  Tim Flanagan honored Mr. Button for his work with local youths and created the Horace Button Ski Foundation.

Horace Button, Jim Harsh, Barney McLean, and Carl Howelsen have been inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame. Barney McLean and Carl Howelsen are honored at The National Ski Hall of Fame.

Colorado Mountain Wild Flowers

A sight to behold
Not just a story to be told
A beauty of our own Grand County things
of the past of here and now

A sight that will forever last
Field, and fields everywhere down low
More growing the higher we go

Our beautiful Colorado mountain flowers
The prettiest of anywhere
All of those colors

Scattered among the trees
Swaying in the breeze
Yellow, purple, blue, pink and red

Tiny little heads
Names of them all I do not know
Just that here they grow
Making a wonderful show!

Oct 2006

Topic: Indians

Indians

There is a great deal of evidence of primitive cultures in what is now Grand County, but all seems to have been transient until the modern tribes arrived, probably around 1450. The Arapaho Tribe claimed the northern part of this region and were in frequent territorial dispute with the Ute Tribe, who were dominate in the Colorado Rockies. The Utes did not have “chiefs” in the sense of the organized Plains Indians.

There were five different tribal groupings in Colorado, and those in the Grand County area were known as the “White River Utes”. The Uncompahgre Utes lived in the southern area of the state, near the San Juan Mountains. Their spokesman to the white man was Ouray, and because of his knowledge of Spanish and some English, the federal negotiators designated him “Chief of All Utes”. Thus it was he, who in 1868 agreed that most of the land west of the 107th degree longitude (about one third of Colorado) would be a Ute Reservation “for all time”.

Ouray probably never knew the Utes of the northern region and they were never notified officially of this treaty. Suddenly, their favored hunting grounds of Middle Park, the healing waters of Hot Sulphur Springs, and much of the Front Range and Gore Range were opened to white settlement. Naturally there were tensions between the Utes and the white settlers and there are several well documented accounts of disputes in the area, including the killing of Tabernash, retaliatory strikes by the Utes, and the supposedly intentional burning of Middle Park by Colorow. Finally, there was an uprising in 1879, known as the Thornburg and White River Massacres, and the result was that the Utes were evacuated from almost all of their former reservation and driven to the Utah area in 1882.

Though much of the culture, knowledge and influence of the original Indian people has been lost to time, Ute and Arapaho names still grace many landmarks in Grand County.