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Topic: Biographies

William Byers

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

Born in Ohio in 1831, William Byers became a surveyor in Iowa, Nebraska, Oregon and Washington during the 1850's.  He described himself later as "a mountain tramp". In 1859, he hauled a printing press to the new town of Denver, where he founded the Rocky Mountain News. He also served as postmaster of the settlement.

He was enthusiastic about the mining prospects of Colorado, and wrote endless editorials about the wealth to be found in the mountains to the West.  However, many disappointed prospectors took to referring to Byers newspaper as the "Rocky Mountain Liar".  Among his promotions was the idea that the South Platte River could be made navigable. That vision never became reality due to the size of the river. He wrote inflammatory articles against Indians which contributed to the infamous Sand Creek Massacre, a slaughter of peaceful natives by Colorado militia in 1864.

Fascinated by the co-called "boiling springs" in Middle Park, Byers managed to obtain rudimentary land titles from Indian claimants and promoters to establish the town of Hot Sulphur Springs in 1863.

Byers developed Hot Sulphur Springs into what was probably Colorado's first resort town.  He also tried to grow grapes and other commercial garden crops in Grand County, with little or no success.  He invested in sawmills and was part owner with William Cozens of the Hilry Harry & Company "Brand H" ranch.

In 1901, at the age of 70, Byers undertook the ascent of the peak which had been named for him by the official Hayden survey.  The next year he donated land for the Grand County Courthouse in Hot Sulphur Springs

William Byers died in 1903.  His fame is preserved in the names of Byers Canyon, Byers Peak and the town of Byers. He was one of the founders of the Colorado Historical Society, which owns the Byers-Evans House, a historical museum in Denver.  There is a stained glass window of his portrait in the Colorado State Capitol building.

Sources: Don and Jean Griswold, Colorado's Century of Cities, Denver CO 1958.

Thomas J. Noel, The Colorado Almanac, Portland, OR 2001

Samuel Bowles, The Switzerland of America, Springfield, MA, 1869

Robert C. Black, Island in Rockies, Boulder CO, 1968

Lulita Pritchett, Maggie By My Side, Steamboat Springs CO, 1976

Dougall MacDonald, Long's Peak: Colorado's Favorite Fourteener, Englewood CO, 2004

Carl Ubbelokdre, Maxine Benson and Duane Smith, A Colorado History, Boulder CO 1972

Alice Reich and Thomas Steel, Fraser Haps and Mishaps, Denver CO  1990 

 

Christmas in the Mountains 1951

It was my first Christmas in the mountains. Not only that, but it was my first time to be part of a vacation in a cozy ski inn.  This was at Millers Idlewild Inn in Hideaway Park (now the town of Winter Park). I had been married only eight months. Dwight and I had worked hard, getting everything in order: ­clean beds, fresh spreads and curtains, floors shining and bathrooms sparkling.  The woodpile was full and food supplies ready.  Our plans for evenings were laid out too. Dwight would do movies. His brother Woodie would call square dances, with former Moffat Road engineer George Shryer accompanying on the fiddle and his wife, Grace, chording on the piano.  Tom Smith would bring his sled and team of horses, to take happy folks along snow-packed roads for sleigh rides, to the tune of jingling bells. Games were at hand, along with a fine supply of books on the shelves. We expected a wonderfully busy two weeks, which was a good thing, because it had been a long time since our last income, before Labor Day.

Family and friends were coming tomorrow to give a hand over the holiday, and then the fun would begin. As the first guests arrived, I stepped outside, and lifting my nose, I thought, "I smell snow!"  Great!  The area already had a pretty good covering, so that when people called and asked, "Is there snow yet?  Should we come on ahead?" we could gladly say, "Come." That night it snowed,­ 12" of beautiful soft flakes.  Skiers were overjoyed. Dwight got out early to shovel, plow, pull people out of drifts, take others to Winter Park Ski Area, three miles away. That evening we heard that almost no stumps or rocks were evident on the slopes; all had been buried. The next night it snowed again ­ 12" of beautiful white stuff.  We were amazed.  But Dwight got out early to shovel, plow, pull people out if drifts, and take others to the area.  The following night it snowed again, and every night for a week, it snowed, dumping heaps of snow on the whole valley.

Winter Park Ski Area, in those days, wasn't open on Christmas Day; the management wanted to let its employees have the day at home with their families.  So we took our guests to the top of Berthoud Pass; from there they could ski down Seven Mile Trail and we met them at the bottom.  The day after Christmas began the busiest days of all. Back then, many families didn't leave home until the 26th. This was fine, until the passes closed from heavy snows and avalanches. Then visitors, who had to leave, couldn't drive out, but people who were coming by train could still get in!  We had a problem.  The parking lot was jammed with rental cars.  Although some folks went ahead and left by train, many families stayed on.  The rooms were completely full and after all, newcomers were entitled to their reserved space. We had guests stashed all over the lounge, extras in the dorms, and extras in the cabins.  What a crowd it was. I hardly had time to think. 

I cleaned all morning, helped set tables and serve, did dishes, sometimes hauled skiers to or from the area, kept up with the office work, and joined in entertaining folks in the evenings. Thank heaven for family and friends!  There never was such a hectic week. But the Miller hospitality at Idlewild kept our visitors relaxed and happy. Truly, it was a jolly time, with tired skiers loafing in front of the fire, doing puzzles or playing games.  There was always a group playing canasta after dinner, in the dining room, and peals of laughter would pour forth when somebody won a great hand. At last New Year's Eve came and went. The rental cars had gone back to Denver.  The rooms were empty.  We were alone except for a couple of guests.  Making our path through the deep drifts, Dwight and I went home and flopped down on our own sofa.  I heaved a sigh, saying, "Well!  So that's what Christmas in the mountains is like.  I had o idea there would be so much snow."  Little did I know that for Christmas, 1952, we would still have the crowd of guests, but there would be hardly any snow until January!

Topic:

Abbott Fay

History and Philosophy Professor Abbott Eastman Fay was born in Scottsbluff, Nebraska on July 19, 1926. He married Joan D. Richardson November 26, 1953 near the beginning of his teaching career. They had three children: Rand, Diana, and Collin. He obtained his BA at Colorado State College (now the University of Northern Colorado) in Greeley, Colorado.

He taught and was a principal in the  Leadville, Colorado Public Schools  from 1952-54, then moved to Mesa College in Grand Junction, where he taught until 1964.

From 1964-1982 he taught at Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado, retiring as Associate Professor Emeritus and has since taught extensively for Western State and other regional colleges as adjunct professor.

His published works are extensive and include Ski Tracks in the Rockies, Famous Coloradans, I Never Knew That About Colorado, More That I Never Knew About Colorado , Beyond the Great Divide, To Think that This Happened In Grand County!, A History of Skiing in Colorado, The Story of Colorado Wines, and many other books and articles.

Abbott Fay died March 12, 2009 after a brief illness. His biographical website is abbottfay.com.

Topic:

Business and Industry

How did people make a living? What were some of the businesses and industries that brought people to Grand County?  Jut click on the drop-down menus and find out more about it!

Topic: Biographies

Sir St. George Gore

Sir St. George Gore was born in 1811 in County Donegal, Ireland, heir to an Irish baronetcy and was often referred to as Lord Gore.  He was educated as an aristocrat, never married, and never held public office.

He staged an expensive and expansive “American hunt,” leaving Westport, Missouri on June 6, 1854, with plans to hunt in the southern Rockies.  After spending some time at Fort Laramie, he arrived inMiddle Park. His guides were Joseph Chattillon and Jim Bridger. Gore had a entourage of 40 workers, 25 wagons, 24 mules, 112 horses , 3 milk cows and 14 dogs!

Loving his luxury, he slept in a brass bed, had nightly hot baths, and dines on superb food served on a lace tablecloth set with fine silver and crystal.  He often invited Bridger, who was illiterate, to dinner and awakened in the guide an interest in Shakespeare, which lead to the frontiersman hiring a boy to read the bard's plays to him.  

Described as "a good shot at rest but rather poor offhand" he nevertheless claimed to have killed 2,500 buffalos, 40 grizzly bears and countless deer, elk and antelope.   

Bridger led Gore to West Grand County, to the pass, range, and canyon that now bear his name.  The Indians were shocked at the expedition's wanton slaughter of every game animal in sight.

The expedition did not end until sometime in 1857, when Gore returned to Ireland and relative obscurity.  Not even a portrait remains of the infamous poacher.

Topic: Mining
Mount Baker

Gaskill and the Wolverine and Ruby Mines

Mount Baker

The Wolverine Mine was discovered in 1875 by James Bourn and Alexander Campbell. Bourn was the brother-in-law of James Crawford, the founder of Steamboat Springs. James Bourn was the twin brother of Crawford's wife, Maggie.  A Grand County recording error forever changed the name of Bourn in the area to "Bowen".  The mine was located in the Rabbit Ears Range on Bowen Mountain, up Bowen Gulch, approximately 10 miles northwest of Grand Lake.  This discovery sparked additional exploration in the area that lead to a number of new mines. Within a week of the original discovery,  interested parties formed the Campbell Mining District which included Bowen Mountain, Bowen and Baker gulches.  Some of the Middle Park residents who participated in the mining exploration  were John Baker, Charles Royer, Charles Hook, John Stokes and the Redman brothers, William and Mann. The Redman's  eventually  discovered the Sedalia mine. Bourn and Campbell  in less than a year lost the Wolverine mine by not fulfilling a grubstake agreement with the Georgetown grocers, Spruance and Hutchinson.

John Stokes leased the Wolverine Mine from the grocers until Edward Phillip Weber, an agent representing a group of Illinois investors, purchased the Wolverine Mine in the Summer of 1879.  Weber continued purchasing other Campbell Mining District claims which created a great deal of local excitement.  Weber hired Stokes  to assist him and also hired Lewis Dewitt Clinton Gaskill to act as the first foreman for the Wolverine mine.  Gaskill had mine operation experience, having successfully operated the Saco Mine, on Leavenworth Mountain, above Georgetown for several years.  A mining camp was built  below the Wolverine Mine that contained a large bunk house building and a more substantial mine office building.

Gaskill, a Civil War veteran of the 28th  Regiment of the New York Volunteer Infantry,  had come to Colorado in 1868 as a representative of a group of Auburn, New York bankers to invest in mining properties.  He eventually successfully operated the Saco mine in 1873 and 1874.  He invested in the Georgetown, Empire and Middle Park Wagon Road in 1874, which was a toll road that finally made the Berthoud Pass road passable for wagon traffic.  Gaskill also acted as the foreman during the construction of the road. The principal investor in the road was William Cushman of the First National Bank of Georgetown. The bank had a financial collapse in 1877.  At that time, Gaskill was the secretary of the road company and lived with his family in the company house just below the summit of Berthoud Pass on the west side.  William Hamill, a wealthy Georgetown businessman, bought the wagon road in a foreclosure auction in 1881 for $7,000.  Gaskill continued to live with his family in the Berthoud Pass summit house until 1885, when he moved his family into the Fraser Valley and homesteaded 160 acres along Elk Creek.

The settlement of Gaskill began when  in August of 1880,  Al J. Warner built a log cabin store in a meadow below Bowen Gulch on the trail/road that lead to both Bowen Gulch and Baker Gulch.  The settlement was also strategically well placed midway on the trail/road between Grand Lake and Lulu City and the Lead Mountain Mining District.  Another store was built in September by  John K. Mowery.  By that October, Mowery was appointed as the first postmaster of Gaskill.  The following spring E. Snell, opened a large general merchandise store that prompted the original store keeper, Al Warner, to relocate to Grand Lake as Al's Place. The town was named to honor L.D.C. Gaskill, the greatly respected foreman of the Wolverine Mine, the road builder/operator and the Civil War veteran.  By 1882, the town covered 60 acres.  E.P. Weber of the Grand Lake Mining and Smelting Company got involved in the town real estate development by laying out a city grid and offering lots for sale.  Weber's plat renamed the town Auburn after L. D. C. Gaskill's home town of Auburn, New York, but the Gaskill name stuck.  By the close of 1882, there were over 100 residents living in Gaskill.  The most substantial building was the Rogerson House, a well appointed two  story, squared log hostelry, Horatio Bailey Rogerson, proprietor.  Rogerson, would be elected County Commissioner in November of 1882, but would not serve because of a sudden discovery of ineligibility.  Instead, lame duck Colorado Governor Pitkin, appointed E. P. Weber to the post.  Weber was killed in the infamous July 4, 1883 shoot-out at Grand Lake.   

The Bowen Gulch trail lead to many of the  most productive and worked mines in the Campbell Mining District which included the Wolverine, now owned by the Grand Lake Mining and Smelting Company, E. P. Weber superintendent and the Ruby and Cross mines owned by Kentucky and Colorado Mining and Smelting  Company, John Barbee superintendent. Barbee, who lived in Grand Lake,  would go on to serve as superintendent of schools, Justice of the Peace and briefly the editor of the Grand Lake Prospector.  Barbee's partner in many endeavors was Antelope Jack Warren. Warren was as rough as Barbee was refined.  He acted as a foreman and, by one account, a bodyguard for Barbee.  The Bowen Gulch trail continued up the mountain to Bowen Pass and then descended into North Park and the Jack and Park mining districts which were organized by the end of 1880, to the settlement of Teller City.  Passable roads that could handle wagon traffic were needed and often planned but rarely built.  The high cost of building and maintaining  wagon capable roads in Middle Park was a difficult proposition for local governments and private entrepreneurs.  

The Grand County Commissioners in July of 1877 had declared the trail from Grand Lake to the mining gulches of the Rabbit Ears  Range to be a county road.  However there was little county money to pay for improvements to make the trail a road.  Private investors were reluctant to invest in wagon roads when there was the persistent  rumor that railroads were coming spawned by the numerous railroad surveys that were performed in the area.   Albert Selak, a Georgetown brewer, in August of 1878, organized a toll road that would branch off of the Georgetown, Empire, and Middle Park Wagon Road at the Ostrander Ranch on Red Dirt Hill, and proceed to Grand Lake and continue on to the Rabbit Ears Range mines and continue on into North Park and on to the Wyoming territory line.  John Barbee invested in the Middle Park Toll Bridge Company, a toll bridge company that intended  to build a bridge across the Grand River  above the confluence of Willow Creek and the Grand River.  However, this project languished, and was taken over by the county with an expenditure of $150.  

If ore wagons would need to haul ore to the nearest reduction mill which was over 60 miles in Georgetown, the toll road might have been a financial success. However, the lower grade ore from these Rabbit Ears Range mines would not yield a sufficient profit to cover the transportation and processing costs in a market where the market value of silver annually declined.  So the ore piles grew.  What was needed was a nearby reduction mill or cheaper transportation, like a railroad or a higher price for silver.  Weber had  repeatedly promised that a reduction mill was coming, but nothing was ever built.  By April of 1883 with tons of ore piled up and waiting for transport to be processed,  Weber temporarily closed the Wolverine Mine and laid off his miners.  He admitted  in June of 1883 that the ore from the Wolverine was “rather refractory” and that it would not justify shipment without local reduction.  Some hoped the closing was a strategic move by Weber to trigger a sell off of area mining properties  so that he could acquire additional mines before he built the reduction mill, but it was not to be. Weber would soon be shot dead by his political rival, John Gillis Mills.

The favorable newspaper stories of Rabbit Ears Range mining would continue, but for the informed, it had become  clear that without a major investment in improved transportation including a railroad or a major investment in a reduction mill in the area, the mining concerns were doomed to fail.  Mining claims had to be worked in order to be kept.   A minimum of $100 of labor or $500 in improvements had to be expended each year to maintain the claim or else the claim would be deemed abandoned.  Many claim holders leased their claims to miners to work for a percentage of the return.  Without the ability to sell and process the ore for a profit, there was no return.  The speculative mining investment money began to dry up and the miners and their supporting merchants began to leave.  By the end of 1886, the Middle Park mining boom had  ended. To further add to the decline,  a border dispute that arose between Larimer County and Grand County over the taxation and mineral wealth of North Park was finally decided in 1886 by the Colorado Supreme Court in favor of Larimer County.  North Park was part of Larimer County, not part of Grand County.  A lawsuit would follow so that Larimer County could recover the wrongly collected taxes of $20,000 from Grand County.  Grand County's total tax income at the time was less than $3,500 a year.

Stage and Freight Lines

Berthoud Pass Stage Road was built by the extreme efforts of Captain Lewis Gaskill.  It came from the top of the Pass through Spruce Lodge, Idlewild (now Winter Park), the Cozens Ranch (near Fraser) Junction Ranch (Tabernash) and Coulter.  From there once branch lead over Cottonwood Divide to Hot Sulphur Springs (and points west) while the other went to Selak’s and over Coffey Divide to the Lehman Post Office and on to Grand Lake.  

At the summit of Berthoud Pass there was a large house of hewn logs, occupied by Lewis Gaskill and his family.  They collected the tolls for the road and gave welcome shelter to those weathering the variable passage.  The house was located on the West side of current Hwy. 40 but no trace of the building remains.  

At the steepest portion of the west side of Berthoud Pass was the Spruce House rest stop, which by 1900 was a sold structure of two and a half stories.  There the traveler could find a warm meal and corral for livestock.  No trace of it remains today.  

The Idlewild Stage Stop was located in present day Winter Park and was a popular place to change horses before the steep assent up the pass.  Mrs. Ed Evans served a hearty noonday meal there for only 35 cents.

Cozens Ranch was also one of the more popular stops and Fraser Post Office until 1904. Built around 1874 by William Zane Cozens, it remains today, outfitted in period décor and is the home of the Cozens Ranch History Museum.  

The Gaskill House, in Fraser was built by Lewis De Witt Clinton Gaskill, one of the original investors in the road and a prominent Grand County citizen. The house now houses the Hungry Bear Restaurant.

Junction House at Junction Ranch (Tabernash) could accommodate up to fifty travelers and was built by Quincy Adams Rollins, and subsequently leased to Johnson Turner.   

The Coulter Stage Stop was built by John Coulter, an attorney from George town and shareholder in the stage road.  It also served as a Post Office from 1884 to 1905. 

Frank and Fred Selak, sons of a pioneer Georgetown brewer ran the Selak stop which was north of Granby and east of current Hwy. 34.           

Cottonwood Divide (Pass), at 8904 feet above sea level, was laid out by Edward Berthoud and Redwood Fisher in 1861.  The route was used by stagecoaches from 1874 until the railroad arrived at Hot Sulphur Springs in 1905.  The last driver on the route was Charlie Purcell.  Summer travel time between Hot Sulphur Springs and Georgetown was typically twelve hours. Travelers between Hot Sulphur Springs and Kremmling could stop at the Barney Day or King Ranches, both near current Hwy. 40.   The Pinney Ranch House, used by the firm of Whipple and Metcalf for the connecting service to Steamboat Springs, is still standing on Hwy. 134 on the east slope of Gore Pass. There a traveler could pay 50 cents for a meal, 50 cents for a bed and expect a change of horses every ten miles.  It ceased operation in 1908 when the railroad reached Toponas.  

Ninety Four Winters So Far

January, 1911.  Five years ago they were teenagers in Torsby, Sweden, oblivious to the sweeping changes that history and hope would bring to their lives.   Now they’re in a mountain valley halfway around the world from their Scandinavian homeland, marveling at the tiny bundle of flesh and spirit who has just joined their family. It’s the coldest week of the year in one of the coldest spots in America, but there’s a fire crackling in the woodstove, and their hearts are warm with love for each other and their firstborn child.   For the next few days, a parade of fellow Swedes stop by to pay their respects to the newest resident of the town of Fraser: Elsie Josephine Goranson.  

February, 1918.  It’s barely dawn, and a blizzard is howling across the valley, piling snow against the sturdy wooden house.  George Goranson puts on his boots and woolen overcoat and trudges towards the barn.  There are cows to milk and horses to feed.  There are no days off.  Meanwhile, in the house, 7-year old Elsie stokes the perpetual fire in the cook stove, while her mother grinds the beans for a second pot of strong coffee.  Later they will make sour cream cookies.   Her younger brother Hill is sick in bed with influenza.  He will survive.  Many others will not.   

March, 1925.  The logging camps are humming, the Moffat Tunnel is under construction, and the valley is brimming with workers and their hard earned pay.  Fraser merchants and boarding houses are doing a brisk business, as are the local bootleggers.  Elsie is waiting tables at the “Victory Café”, named for its proximity to the new coast-to-coast “Victory Highway” that passes through town, and each morning she serves breakfast to the nice looking (if scantily clad) girls from the corner house of ill repute.  Soon the local vigilante committee will force these ladies of the night to leave town, but for now it’s business as usual, and Fraser is hopping.   In fact, “Russell’s Riot Squad” is playing at a dance tonight at the Thomas Hotel.  

April, 1927.  Sleigh bells jangle as a team of horses pulls four young couples down valley to a dance in Tabernash, the most happening town in the county.  The roundhouse is there, as are the wages of engineers and brakemen who guide the trains over Rollins Pass.  There is even a movie house, where Elsie saw her first moving picture, “Jackie Coogan”. As the sleigh glides across the moonlit snow, Elsie feels a mix of excitement and nervousness.  This is her first date with Chuck Clayton, a hardworking man from Oklahoma. Chuck is handsome as he steals glances through the cold night air, but her Dad doesn’t approve of his drinking and gambling.  Other dates will follow: motor trips in a Model A Roadster to Garden of the Gods, picnics in Rocky Mountain National Park, and plenty of dancing.  “I’ll never marry you,” she tells him everyday.  “Yes you will,” he insists.  

May, 1933.  One child underfoot and another in the belly, and Elsie Clayton is tired.  Chuck bought a house for 20 dollars and used the lumber to build a hamburger stand (soon café and bar) right along the newly paved Highway 40, the main route from Denver to San Francisco.  For the next 38 years, their lives will be a blur of ham and eggs, New Year’s Eve parties, and a long medley of songs on the jukebox.  The school bus will stop there, as will the “Steamboat Stagecoach” bus line, and three generations of folks looking for a home cooked meal or glass of beer.  There will be marathon cribbage games, war stories, and “Friday Night Fights” watched live on the first television in town.  Despite the booze and boxing, Clayton’s Café and Bar will be known as a family establishment, especially compared to the “Fraser Bar”, a.k.a. the “Bloody Bucket”, where a love triangle will one day lead to murder.  

June, 1945.  It’s 4:30 a.m.  Elsie tiptoes downstairs and into the café.  She brews coffee, warms up the grill, then sits and enjoys a rare moment of relaxation before her workday begins.  In the distance, a steam locomotive blows its whistle as it chugs towards town.  Before her life is over, nearly a half million trains will pass through Fraser, an endless stream of rumbling horsepower that conjures up different images as the years pass by: trains bringing home soldiers from the Great War; trains loading up ranchers’ fattened cattle in the fall; trains delivering newspapers and mail; trains colliding head on in the Fraser flats; a train’s whistle frantically blowing to alert sleeping townspeople to a midnight fire; streamlined diesel trains ushering in a new era, and countless coal trains, hauling the carbon wealth of Western Colorado to the factories and power plants of far off cities.  

July, 1950.  Summer’s here, and all are invited to the town picnic down by the Fraser River.  Aging Swedish bachelors will be there, sipping steel cans of Coors and swapping stories of crosscut saws and the rowdy “Lapland” logging camps up St. Louis Creek.  Young men will dance with young women.  Young men will start fistfights with other young men.  Navajo railroad workers will perform a rain dance. Children will play Audie Murphy in the riverside willows and drink Coca Cola from thick glass bottles.  Meanwhile, the deluxe brick barbecue will sizzle as Elsie spreads mayonnaise on buns and Chuck flips burgers and jokes with friends.      

August, 1953.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower is coming to town to fish and relax.  “We come Ike” banners wave in the breeze as the motorcade turns off Highway 40 and onto the dusty gravel of Main Street.  Cheers erupt and flashbulbs pop as a smiling Ike emerges from his limo and waves to the crowd of 300.  It is the biggest day in Fraser history, but Elsie sees none of it, for even as her husband, the Mayor of Fraser, is welcoming the leader of the free world to town, she’s in the cafe tending to the crush of reporters and tourists who’ve come to see an American hero.   Tomorrow, after the excitement dies down, she’ll personally deliver two of her homemade pies to the President, who will rave about the perfect crust.   

September, 1971.  Retired.  Chuck and Elsie sit on the porch of their new home on the edge of town, watching cows graze just beyond the fence, and taking in the unobstructed view of Byers Peak.  Labor Day has come and gone, and now town is peaceful, the highway quiet.  Freed from the busy schedule she’s kept for decades, Elsie will soon embark on a reading frenzy and will begin to keep a modest journal of the days’ events:  A Grandchild born, an illness in the family, an exceptionally cold morning.  Chuck busies himself planting trees, tending a garden, and mowing his spacious lawn.  Tomorrow they will pack a picnic lunch and drive the Denver Water Board roads in search of raspberry bushes.   

October, 1978.  Today is Chuck and Elsie’s 50th wedding anniversary.  It’s a perfect day, sunny and warm, Indian summer if there ever was such a thing.  The mountains shimmer beneath a blanket of fresh snow.  Hay meadows glow golden beneath the cloudless sky.  Family and friends gather in the yard for photos before heading to the Crooked Creek Saloon, formerly Clayton’s Cafe and Bar, for a long afternoon of celebration and reminiscing.   

November, 1999.  After 71 years of marriage, Chuck has passed on, and Elsie is suddenly alone.  She sits at her dining room table, peering out the frost fringed window at the town she was born in, the town she has lived in her whole life.  The ridge she once sledded down is covered with condominiums.  The willowed wetland where her brother trapped muskrats has become a large parking lot.  Her father’s horse pasture is now a shopping center.  Everything has changed, yet memories remain, taking on a life of their own.  Horses still pull wagonloads of hay up the highway.  Loggers come in from the woods every Saturday night for revelry and roulette.  A young couple poses for a photo in front of their new cafe.  A sharp axe splits a chunk of pine.  Life goes on.   

December, 2004.  Christmas Eve.  There is plenty of food, including the homemade potato sausage that’s been served at every family Christmas for centuries, and plenty of gifts stacked beneath the brightly lit tree.  Elsie sits at the head of the table, quietly marveling at this clan she has wrought.  Her surviving children are here, as are her grandchildren, some of who have grandchildren of their own.  Five generations of family pour gravy on potatoes and crack jokes.  As she looks at their faces, she remembers her own parents, her grandparents, and her husband.  Everyone is here.   In a few minutes, in a ritual as old as Elsie can remember, her great-great grandkids will hand out presents, and the house will resound with laughter.  

Winner of  the “One Grand Essay” contest 2005

Topic: Agriculture

Worm Farms and Other Gardens

Have you ever heard of a worm farm? Harry French Sr., who lived for many years at Azure, on the Colorado River, loved to fish, anywhere and anytime.  He had brought the first angleworms into the valley from Iowa.  At his Azure homestead, he made a worm bed and got his worms established. Pretty soon, everybody came by to get some worms for their own needs.  

Worms can’t be found just anywhere in these high mountain valleys. However, at the Arkell place (Diamond Bar T) on Ranch Creek in the east end of the county, luckily someone had planted worms in a corner of the garden plot and this was the only place the Arkells could find worms.  At one point, Gertrude Arkell’s cousin Rose started a small business, digging worms from the garden and selling them to fishermen who happened by.  She even charged the rest of the family if they wanted worms!  

Gertrude described planting their own garden in 1916 after they moved to the ranch.  Papa spread several loads of well-decayed fertilizer from an old corral onto the garden and plowed it, creating a fine base for his vegetables.  Of necessity, pioneers coming into Grand County started immediately to see what would grow here.  They had to eat, and gardens were one of the first items on anyone’s agenda.  Coming over Dice Hill from the Blue and into the Sheephorn area about 1880, Joseph McPhee, a Scot, homesteaded the grass-covered McPhee Flats in Garden Gulch, site of the first garden in the area.  There were only two other homesteads on the Sheephorn at that time.  

Possibly Nancy Veatch Schissler, (Mrs. Henry Roric) planted the first garden on the Williams Fork in 1883.  She asked the men to plow her a bed, but they were positive nothing would grow.  So, undaunted, she planted lettuce, onions, and radishes on her dirt roof and potato peelings along the ditch bank, all of which grew!  Her little daughters fetched pails of water to hand to her up on the roof for irrigation.  

George Henricks, on the farthest reaches of the Troublesome, rarely had access to stores.  His wife, Aurella, bravely started radishes on her sod roof before the ground thawed, later transplanting them to a sheltered spot along with other vegetables.   What were the usual high altitude crops?  Lettuce, green onions, peas, root vegetables, and beans generally grew well.  Willis Call near Kremmling brought the first white potatoes to Grand County. 

Now, the Arkells on Ranch Creek had been told that at 8900 feet altitude, beans would freeze, and they did.  So did the potatoes, except those planted high up the hill in a spot where the soil was deep and black.  An aspen grove had grown there once, maybe for hundreds of years.   The family anticipated a good crop, but in early September or even in late August, a heavy frost completely melted the patch down.  That crop yielded bushels of small potatoes, few larger than golf balls.  Still, the Arkells stored them in their so-called ice-house, because until Papa got a cellar dug, there was nothing else.  They hoped the ice-house would keep the cold out, as it did heat, but the potatoes froze as hard as rocks.  Mama would bring in enough for a meal and immediately put them into a kettle of boiling water.  When done, they tasted like fresh potatoes! 

Before July, the family had early green onions, lettuce, and radishes, since these didn¹t mind the frost.  They froze every night but still lived, grew, and were good.  The white radishes grew long, slender, and crisp.  Head lettuce could be eaten early as leaf lettuce, or later as a fine firm head.  Peas didn’t mind the cold either but grew fast and tall. The package advertised them as “Telephone Pole Peas.”  They bloomed, set on peas ready to pick, and kept right on blooming and growing more peas, producing right up till early frost.  By late July, the Arkells had small rutabagas to eat, a crop new to them.  Turnips in late July were already large, and by fall they were gigantic but still sweet and good to eat raw. Turnips were pulled in the fall and stored in a great pile. Rabbits chewed off the outer skin and ate it but left the rest.  The remaining skinless turnips soon froze and made good cow feed.

Actually, a number of ranchers grew turnips for cattle food, particularly for show cattle.   Over on the Sheephorn, Helen Anghern Curry related that families shipped plenty of potatoes and peas out of Radium to Denver.  Farmers had to get up very early to pick the vegetables in order to get them on the train. That was almost fresh!  

Grain was grown more commonly than one might expect, especially on the west end.  For instance, a young English chap on the Blue River, Tom Pharo, experimented with growing vegetables and grain as early as 1877.  The Company Ranch on the Williams Fork planted many acres in grain.  And Dr. Hoagland, on the Blue, regularly put in oats and barley for two years, before planting seed for hay crops, in order to break up the soil and gradually level the rough ground.  Others raised many grains such as wheat, rye, oats, and barley, as well as hay.   High altitude lettuce became a main crop to be shipped out of Grand County about 1920.  Before this decade, lettuce sent by train was grown, especially on the upper Sheephorn and on the Blacktail. 

Later, centered around Granby, farms spread to the Williams Fork and the Troublesome, as well as Ranch Creek.  Japanese laborers harvested much of the crop.  In 1919, there had not been a single truck farm in the county; in 1929, there were 34.   On the Troublesome, Roy Polhamus was famous for his lettuce.  His daughter, Catherine, lined the crates with heavy paper in the packing shed. After being cut in the fields, trimmed of bad outer leaves and packed, the crop was shipped to Denver by truck. It depended on how big the lettuce was as to how many dozen would fit into the crate.  Roy also grew enough potatoes that he could spare many for Granby stores in the winter.  

Encouraged by Nathan Hurd, a Mr. Henderson, on a little ranch straddling the shoulder between Hamilton Creek and Ranch Creek, tried growing lettuce long before the lettuce craze the west end of the county. Nobody had thought of growing it before and people were quite sure he was crazy.  His lettuce was as sweet as any ever tasted, but when the big craze hit, for some reason he gave it up.  Before he quit, he had some 2000 crates of Los Angeles Head Lettuce to sell and planned for 40 acres the following year.  Everyone laughed at him two years before when he started, but the laugh was on them now.  His 2 1/2 acres of jackpine paid him over $750/acre.   The lettuce was grown on new ground and no water; ­dry land farmed.  He called his place “The Happy Lettuce Farm”. 

In the same area, a group of Basques did all the work.  They irrigated at night, little lights at hand to show them the way.  This local lettuce was stored in Tabernash in a shed, before being put on the train.  This shed was later hauled to Granby and became the Grand Old Inn.   Other crops were raised, too. 

At Radium, sweet corn and strawberries were grown for sale.  Harry French’s wife, Mary, had a very green thumb, and at the 1914 County Fair, special mention was given to “Mrs. French of the Sheephorn area, then age 77, for her splendid display of Brown Australian onions, raised from seed.”  In addition, “she had a very handsome display of crabapples and tomatoes.”  Mike Leroux, also in the Sheephorn area, said that his family almost always won a prize at the county fair in Kremmling, because they had one of the few spots in the county where one could grow apples!   Women and children gathered wild berries for jams and pies.  Wild strawberries, raspberries, and gooseberries went into these treats.  The residents on the Troublesome picked chokecherries, and service berries, currants, in addition.  

Marie Craven George remembers growing rhubarb at their cabin.  Some of it still grows there.  Many years later, after Marie married, she and her husband dug up some of that rhubarb and took it to their own garden in Kremmling.  Marie remembers that, as a little girl, she stuck a gooseberry up her nose once and they had to hang her upside-down and spank her, until she sneezed the berry out.  She decided gooseberries were for pies and jams, not noses!  

Getting off the train, the Arkells often walked from Arrow, to check on the raspberry crop, for great quantities of bushes grew along the tracks.  The wild strawberries, though very small, were so full of unexcelled taste that one cup would be enough to flavor a shortcake for all of them, with whipped cream on top.  Using a kind of rake, they also gathered gooseberries, wild currants, and wild blueberries, which grew everywhere.  Bob Peterson maintains the best berry patch for blackberries or red and black currants was on Cabin Creek a mile of so above Devils Thumb Park.

Ute Legend of the Quaking Aspen

It is amazing to behold the continuous quivering of aspen leaves in groves around Grand County, even when there is no apparent breeze.

According to Ute legend, the reason for this unique aspect of the aspen tree happened during a visit to Erath from the Great Spirit during a special full moon.  All of nature anticipated the Spirit's arrival and trembled to pay homage.  All except the proud and beautiful aspen. The aspens stood still, refusing to pay proper respect. The Great Spirit was furious and decreed that, from that time on, the aspen leaves would tremble whenever anyone looked upon them.

Arrow or Arrowhead