Ute Bill Thompson

Grand County Colorado

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Explore the History & Culture of Grand County Colorado

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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.

 

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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: Grand County

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 consists of meadows, river valleys and mountains.

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.

Rowley & Just Homesteads

Karl and Adella Just homesteaded on Pole Creek in the Fraser River Valley in 1896.  Della was the daughter of Henry Lehman, who had, himself, homesteaded on the upper Grand River about 1880.  Karl and Della worked hard, adding to their property until by the late twenties, they had the largest holding in the valley. 

This lovely ranch was where Snow Mountain Ranch is now, and their log home still stands there even today.  Their several children homesteaded in their own rights.  Della and her son Alfred had what is known as the Rowley homestead, (now part of the Y-Camp) as well as what currently is the Winter Park Highlands.  Son Rudy and his wife Clarabelle ranched part of the original Just property on Pole Creek where they watched over his mother.  Another daughter married one of the Daxton boys and their spread was on Crooked Creek.

Until the 1950's, just beyond Tabernash on the north side of the highway at the foot of Winter Park Highlands stood one of the original log homes of this family. In fact, this house appeared in a 1952 movie called "On Dangerous Ground", starring Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan, and Ward Bond.  It was torn down some years later and a modern house built there.

Life was hard for ranching pioneers, perhaps hardest of all for the women, for they worked in the fields and of course, did all the work of the house as well as much of the garden work.  Little Della raked hay during the season, hoed gardens, hauled water, fished, sewed, and cooked.  She was tough.  The bright spots were when rare visitors stopped by, or as the population increased, dances were held in one town or another.

It was a given that the Just home, like those of most pioneers, had no indoor plumbing.  Nobody expected it and nobody complained.  However, by 1957, Della Just was in her nineties.  Karl was long gone.  Her children decided that she should have indoor plumbing after all these years, and they heard that young Dwight Miller had a brand new backhoe.   When they called, Dwight was pleased at the thought of doing such a useful job.

He brought his machine out to the ranch and prepared to get to work.  He discovered, however, that there was disagreement on this bright idea.  Della thought the notion was silly.  "I've lived all these years with an outhouse and I don't see any reason at all to change!"  

Back in those days, temperatures were very much colder than those currently expected.  Forty and fifty degrees below zero were not unusual at all.  But that old lady didn't mind this.  (No doubt, there were chamber pots available for the worst weather.)

Della's children, themselves no longer young, won out, and Dwight dug the trenches and the septic tank hole and laid the pipes.  We never heard whether Della got used to such luxury or not, but we know that Rudy and Clarabelle agreed that moving into the modern world was a good idea!

 

 

 

Topic: Skiing

Winter Carnivals

Carl Howelsen, a ski jumping champion in his native Norway, came to Denver to pursue a career as a stonemason in the early years of the 20th Century.  He amused himself and others by demonstrating ski-jumping in the foothills of Denver. 

In 1911, Howelson went to Hot Sulphur Springs, where he taught locals such as Horace Button the art of jumping.  Under Howelson's leadership, the first winter carnival west of the Mississippi Rover was held there on February 10-12.  According to the Middle Park Times, "Never before in the history of the Territory and State of Colorado has such an event even been contemplated, much less held!".

Norwegian immigrants Howelson, Angell Schmidt of Denver and Gunnar Dahles of Williams Fork (Grand County) all staged jumping competitions during the carnival.  There were also skating and tobogganing events and a Grand Ball.  Hot Sulphur Springs continued holding Winter Carnivals annually until World War II, when they were discontinued until the 100th anniversary celebration, called the Grand Winter Sports Carnival scheduled for December 30, 2011-February 11, 2012.

Joe on Melody, Joe and Dad in 4th of July Parade, Joe and Howard 4th of July Parade

4th of July Parades in Granby

Joe on Melody, Joe and Dad in 4th of July Parade, Joe and Howard 4th of July Parade

In 1947 my family moved to Granby, Colorado; I was 5 years old. My Mom (Eloise) and Dad (Howard, “RED”) Beakey, ran the Texaco gas station where the Chamber of Commerce parking lot now sits. I have a sister named Sandra Sue, who was 3 at the time.

In 1948 Mom and Dad bought me a mare named Midge, and that is the beginning of my joy of growing up in Granby. I rode Midge all over Granby and surrounding area. In the winter I would pull kids on their sleds and skis with a rope tied to the saddle horn. In the spring of 1949 Midge produced a filly foal that we named “Lady Blaze.” The following 4th of July Rodeo Parade, 1949, I rode on Midge and my friend, Howard Ferguson, rode behind me and led Lady Blaze in the parade. A local farrier had made lace up booties with metal bottoms for Lady Blaze so she wouldn’t damage her hooves while being led in the parade. You can imagine the sound of those booties hitting the pavement as we rode down Agate Ave., and the enjoyment of the crowd lining the parade route. At that time the rodeo grounds were in the area of N Ranch Road. The Granby Fire Department awarded me with a $3.00 check for being “The Most Typical Cowboy Under 12.”  I was totally amazed and still, at the age of 79, have that check!  I did give Howard $1.50 in cash, though, that day for his part.

The following year, 1950, Mom and Dad bought a Pinto filly from Tex Hill, the Foreman of the Little HO Ranch east of Granby. Tex rode the Pinto into the gas station office one day and asked my Dad if she was gentle enough for me. Dad said yes, and I became the proud owner of my second horse, which I named Melody. That year (1950) my sister, Sandra, rode Midge and my Dad rode his hunting horse, Spike, and I rode Melody in the Rodeo Parade. Prior to the rodeo Dad (who hadn’t ridden Spike in a long time) got bucked off into a pile of rocks and got pretty banged up. Sis rode up and asked Dad (who was laying on the rocks) “are you dead Daddy”?

Sis and I rode all over Grand County, riding along US 40 to 10 Mile Creek to fish the beaver ponds; we would be stopped several times to have our photos taken by the tourists. Tourists always seemed amazed to see little kids riding on horseback way out in the country.  We always brought home from our outings some nice Brookie trout. Sometimes we would ride out to The Little HO Ranch and spend a few days there with playing real live cowboys with Tex, while Sis would help his wife around the house.

In 1951 Tex Hill brought a full sister to Melody, named Patches, for Sis to ride in the parade, so, we rode side by side. That same year Eddie Linke Jr. asked me to ride his racehorse in the rodeo race. We went to the rodeo grounds several days for me to get used to the horse. Of course, the horse was not as gentle as Melody, so I fell off several times before getting use to him. The best part is that I did win the race, and was happy and proud riding Eddie’s horse.

In 1952 I once again rode Melody in the Rodeo Parade, which was sad for me as it was the last one, I attended before we moved away from Granby to Arvada.  Mom and Dad sold both the horses. I guarantee several tears flowed because of that.

One of the other great things I enjoyed was going to a cow camp in the summer. A friend of my parents, Rocky Garber took me to cow camp that was behind Trails End Ranch on Willow Creek Pass. We packed our supplies in on pack horses to a small log cabin. I was so excited to be a cowboy, moving cattle from one grazing spot to another, even getting covered with mud pulling a heifer out of a mud bog. The second time I went to cow camp was with my Dad’s cousin Louis “Newt” Culver, who in my mind was the greatest cowboy ever. The cow camp was below “Devils Thumb” east of Tabernash. It was a log cabin next to a creek and had corrals to keep horses. Once again, I loved the excitement of being a cowboy. We would go to the high meadows checking on the cattle and occasionally have to chase an ornery bull back to the herd. In the evenings Newt would train horses to be good cow ponies. When they were gentle enough, he would let me ride one while he rode another that he was training.

So, some of my greatest memories of my life are the years I spent in Granby and Grand County, not a better place for a kid to grow up! I graduated from Salida High School in 1961 and our family moved back to Granby. Mom and Dad had the Texaco Station in Fraser. I joined the Air Force in 1962 and retired after serving 26 Years.

By Joe Beakey - Poncha Springs April 2022

Topic: Dude Ranches

Dude Ranches

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.

Topic: Biographies
, Gram Wood on horseback

Lillian Russell Smith Wood - "Gram" Wood

, Gram Wood on horseback

Lillian Russell Smith Wood was born in Dunlap, Kansas, in 1884, she was not a particularly healthy child.  Born just before her and just after her were sets of twins, 2 of the 4 sets born to her parents and the only 2 sets that survived into adulthood.  Lillian spent her adult years on the Williams Fork and then in Parshall. Known as “Gram” Wood to most everyone who knew her, she was grandmother to 39 who bear the names Wood, Noell, Stack, and Black.  And her history in Grand County beginning in 1905 made her one of our pioneers. 

In the fall of 1905, the local newspapers report that Herb Wood had lost a large portion of his right hand in an ore crusher accident.  Herb had come into Summit County originally with a mule team for “Uncle Joe” Coberly, another Williams Fork resident and apparently worked in or around mines and mining equipment while also hauling the timbers for mine use.  Herb needed some round the clock nursing, and in those days, for Gram to take proper care of him and still be in an acceptable position, they needed to be married. One source says the situation was so different that a Denver newspaper picked up the story with a headline of “Loses Three Fingers, Wins a Bride”, indicating that they married 3 days after they met.  Research has never turned up a trace of that story, and it’s unlikely in the mining camps in the area that they hadn’t met until he was injured.  Still, they were married by Judge Swisher, well known area businessman, in short order in the hotel room where Herb was recovering .  A short time later they made a brief wedding trip to Denver and then returned to Argentine.

Before fall set in that year, the newly married couple moved to the Little Muddy.  Herb had been sending money to a partner who was helping him to secure a homestead there not far from where Joe Coberly lived.  It was probably with anticipation of a great future on their own land that sent them into Middle Park to face their first winter as a couple without having had a chance to raise a garden or preserve any winter supplies.  They moved into one end of a two room cabin with a man named Ranger Charlie in the other.  And about that same time, they discovered that Herb’s partner had been drinking the money he’d sent over the years.  What devastation that must have caused!

On the other side of the valley just across the creek was the large  ranching operation known as the Hermosa Ranch, owned by Dr. T. F. DeWitt, a well-to-do doctor from back East.  With the dream of his homestead gone, Herb went to work for DeWitt, eventually becoming one of his foremen.  Gram probably helped out with cooking and cleaning, but within a few months, she went back to Kansas to await the birth of their first child. Over the next 21 years, she raised kids and gardens and developed her love of fishing, which helped feed a family that eventually totaled 13 kids, including a set of twins born 2 weeks before Christmas and delivered by Herb when a doctor couldn’t reach them in time. Pictures of the time show a large family of 9 boys and 4 girls with Gram, all 5’2” and maybe 100 pounds of her on one end, and Herb with a child or two on his lap at the other.  The kids recall Christmases being supplied mostly by Mrs. DeWitt and sometimes being late if the trains got snowed out of the area. All attended one room schools, Hermosa and Columbine, and stories of their lives together can make one wonder why any of them survived.

Life continued  pretty much routinely until 1928.  That summer, the youngest daughter, Marilyn, a premature baby and ailing child caught whooping cough.  She lingered and languished until early October, and then she passed away.  The close-knit family had suffered it’s first loss. Two weeks later, Herb came in from the hayfield complaining of not feeling well.  Gram followed him into the living room and sat down with him on the couch. Minutes later, he collapsed in her arms and died of a cerebral hemorrhage.  They buried him alongside Marilyn in the Hot Sulphur Springs Cemetery.

The boys continued the work for Dr. DeWitt for several years, and in 1932, they built a 2 bedroom house for Gram several miles from where DeWitt had relocated his ranch.  Her sons made sure she had what she needed as she finished raising the youngest ones who had been little more than toddlers when Herb died.

By the time I was old enough to remember much about Gram, she was already a “little old lady” who lived in a small, pink mobile home next to Uncle Kenneth in Parshall. Everyone knew that she was one of the best fishermen in the country, having caught as many as 1200 in a season when she was feeding her family by herself.  She enjoyed creek fishing the most, and even as she got older her ability to maneuver around the biggest holes and catch fish in any small body of water never faltered.   I never saw her get wet.

In the winter, she was totally unafraid getting a couple of her grandkids on a sled and making a run down the hill in Parshall that ended at the store and U.S. 40, which then went through the center of town.  Had her feet not worked so well as brakes, we could have ended up on the pavement.  But we never did.

She must have driven many teams of horses in her day, and I believe she was a good rider. She never drove a car, but unless she needed to go to the doctor in Kremmling, she didn’t need to leave town. Her friends included Doc Ceriani’s mother and fellow fishermen from Hot Sulphur, a couple from Poland with heavy accents.  Somehow, somewhere she had met Ralph Moody, author of the “Little Britches” series. And she, too, had a “fish” experience with warden Henry “Rooster” Wilson.

Only once did I get into trouble because of Gram.  She was fishing one day near where I was getting ready to ride, when she laid down her pole and walked over to me.  After watching me for a minute she said, “Can I ride?”  What do you say to your 80 year old grandmother but, “Of course!”  I saddled up the gentlest mare we had and helped her aboard.  She only made a couple of trips around the small pasture, but as she rode, walking only, I’m sure I saw a young woman next to her husband on horseback in front of one of the Hermosa’s big barns.  It’s one of the pictures you’ll find at the County Museum in Hot Sulphur.  When dad found out what I’d done, he turned deathly white.  “Don’t you know if she’d fallen or been thrown she could have been seriously injured or killed?”  No, I had to admit.  This was one rider’s request to another, with age no consideration .  And to her at that particular moment, had either occurred I believe she would have considered those few moments worth the risk.  When she was finished, she walked back to her fishing pole, satisfied that nowshe was done riding.

Gram introduced me to horehound candy, something I will also think about each time I taste it.  And because she didn’t like my first name, I didn’t even know what it was until I started school.  She taught me that barn cats do fish and that survival in a small living space was possible The one thing she didn’t teach me was anything about her growing up years or about my grandfather.  It seemed like we knew as very young kids that we didn’t ask about him.  I believe that hers was a love so strong that even to the point where her mind grew dim, the pain of losing him was too much to bear.  One regret we all have, however, is that we never asked to her to go with us up to Summit County to show us where she lived and to tell us stories of that life and time.  And unfortunately that’s been lost forever. Gram passed away in 1980, at the age of 97.  She is buried with Marilyn and Herb and their son, Melvin who died during World War II in a family plot in Hot Sulphur with other family and pioneers characters nearby.

She left a true legacy through her kids and grandkids who continue the nostalgic traditions of their beloved Gram.

Topic: Towns

Granby

Granby was settled in 1904 and incorporated the next year. The town was created along the railroad line being built by Denver, Northwestern & Pacific, and was a connection with the stage route to Grand Lake. The Granby site was also chosen because of the dry ground and and good view of the surrounding mountains.

The town was named in appreciation of the services of Denver attorney Granby Hillyer, who worked to lay out the town site. Its central location makes it a natural trade center for east Grand County. Specialty truck farming, principally lettuce, became a major crop for Granby. At the peak of the market, the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City proudly advertised Granby Head Lettuce on its menus. Later, after WW II, Granby was called the “Dude Ranch Capital of the World.” Today the town offers a mix of recreational amenities and residential charm.

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: Biographies
Ute Bill Thompson, Ute Chief Piah

Ute Bill Thompson

Ute Bill Thompson, Ute Chief Piah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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