Dude Ranches

Starting in the late 1870s, ranchers took in guests to supplement their income during hard times.

Dude Ranches Articles

Devil's Thumb Ranch
Devil's Thumb Ranch

According to local lore, Native Americans named Devil's Thumb, a rocky outcropping that towers high above the Ranch. As legend goes, after the warring Ute and Arapahoe tribes settled their differences in the Ranch Creek Valley, they buried the devil, but left his thumb exposed to remind them of the evils of war.

Before the Trans-Continental Railroad opened up the area in 1904, a stagecoach route from Idlewild (now
Winter Park) joined the Rollins Pass route. A state station was situated east of what is now our Ranch. The road extended transversely over the Ranch where it followed the course of the existing County Road 83. The land was rich agriculturally, and was used for cattle grazing in the early 1900s.

After the railroad was introduced, settlers began moving west in search of wealth and opportunity. Many ended their journeys in the
Rocky Mountains. During this time, there were more people living in the Fraser Valley than there are today. One favorite hangout of the railroad workers was a dance hall on Black Ranch, located immediately north of Devil's Thumb Ranch.

In the 1930s, Margaret Radcliff built the original Ranch homestead and operated it as a dairy. However, it was brothers Dan, Louis, and George Yager who started Devil's Thumb Ranch as a vacation property in 1946. The Yagers incorporated the Radcliff homestead in to the Ranch facilities and the original building exists today as the Ranch House Saloon.

The Yagers operated Devil's Thumb Ranch as both a working ranch and dude ranch until 1972. They introduced cross-country skiing in the winter of 1975-1976. Dick Taylor, a 1964 Olympic cross-country team member, designed 35 kilometers of the area's Nordic trails.

The Ranch was well known as a Nordic destination, but one without many amenities or niceties. The current owners purchased it in 2001, saving it from a group of developers who planned to fill the valley with residences and a golf course. They immediately began making improvements to the facilities, all the while impacting the land as little as possible.

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.

Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Western White House
Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Western White House

Dwight D. Eisenhower met and married Mamie Geneva Doud of Denver on July 1, 1916. Carl Norgren, a Doud family friend, had started spending time in the Fraser area and was enchanted by the beauty of the area and especially the Byers Peak Ranch for Boys.

By the late 1930s, Norgren partnered with Aksel Nielsen to purchase the Byers Peak Ranch.  During Eisenhower's presidency, the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, the Byers Peak Ranch, and Lowry AFB were all known as "Western White Houses" or "Summer White Houses." There is a well known photo published in Life Magazine of Eisenhower fishing in the Fraser River with his grandson, David.

Eisenhower used his time at the Byers Peak Ranch to rest and recompose himself in the face of difficult political times. As President, Eisenhower dealt with the threats of the Cold War, a truce in Korea, the desegregation of public schools (Little Rock, AK), and the development of the "Eisenhower Doctrine" to bolster the Middle East against the threat of communism. On the domestic front, he was faced with the difficulties of dealing with the Republican Old Guard, including Senator Joseph McCarthy, who headed a subcommittee charged with the finding of communists within the government.  

Eisenhower enjoyed cooking for guests at the Ranch, fishing St. Louis Creek and having "brookies" (brook trout) for breakfast, painting, and playing golf.  On September 24, 1955 while at the Ranch, Eisenhower suffered a coronary thrombosis (heart attack) and was hospitalized at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Denver until November 11, 1955.  His hospital suite has now been restored and is open for limited tours.

The bulk of information about Eisenhower and the Byers Peak Ranch comes from the personal papers of Carl Norgren, which are housed at the Eisenhower Museum and Library in Abilene, KS.  The collection of correspondence from 1948-1964 covered a broad variety of topics: fishing, recreation, taxes, health matters, food, communism, reorganization of the Department of Defense, federal spending, etc. The Norgren collection valued for the details it provides concerning the hobbies and recreational pursuits of the President during his visits to Grand County between 1952 and 1957.

Squeaky Bob's Hotel de Hardscrabble
Squeaky Bob's Hotel de Hardscrabble

Robert L. "Squeaky Bob" Wheeler homesteaded the northern end of the Kawuneeche Valley in 1907, setting up his tent camp at the base of Shipler Mountain.  He called his accommodations Squeaky Bob's Hotel de Hardscrabble.  He was one of many guest lodge operators who catered to the leisure traveler seeking relaxation through recreation.  These vacations were quite rustic, especially by today's standards. At least two guests at a time were asked to share lumpy beds. The sheets were said to be "refreshed" with talcum powder rather than changed and laundered.  The outhouses were stocked with mail order catalogs rather than toilet paper.

Despite these conditions, Squeaky Bob was very successful and his hotel hosted famous travelers from all over, including President Theodore Roosevelt. Squeaky Bob was known for entertaining his visitors with amazing tales and witty yarns.

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Murphy Family

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."

Sheriff

One of the oldest brands in Colorado still in use by the same family is the Bar Double S brand of the Sheriff Ranch near Hot Sulphur Springs. The current owners of the ranch are John Brice and Ida Sheriff. In 1863, Matthew Sheriff of Keithsburg, Illinois came to Colorado to search for gold in the California Gulch, near where Leadville would be established. Mathew was dismayed by the gray mineral which consistently clogged the gold sluice, and gave up on his dreams of instant wealth to return to Illinois.

Many other miners also gave up mining for this reason, never realizing that the gray mineral was carbonite of lead, which was rich in silver. Mathew died in 1863 at the age of 40, leaving behind his wife Marietta and their 3 surviving sons, Burt, Glenn and Mark. In 1878, Marietta was inspired to return to Colorado in search of security and stability for her family. She spent some time in Leadville running a boarding house. Her sister was the wife of William Byers who was developing the Hot Sulphur Springs area so Marietta moved to the area to settle with her sons. In 1882 the family homesteaded three ranches of 160 acres each, proving them up and added a preemption right to another 160 acres.

Bert later moved to Denver and established a livery stable and Mark and his mother moved into Hot Sulphur Springs, while Glenn continued to work the ranch. Glenn married Alice Cleora Smith in 1886 and they had two surviving sons, Brice and Glenn Jr. Glenn Jr. was only 6 weeks old when his father died at the age of 33 of “brain fever” or diphtheria. Alice took the children back to her family in Iowa to raise them, but the boys returned to their Colorado ranch in 1910. Brice, who suffered from a back injury as a child, bought an abstract business in Hot Sulphur Springs and lived there with his mother for the rest of their lives.

Glenn Jr. continued to expand and develop the ranch and married Adaline Morgan in 1923. They had four children; Nona, John, Robert and Catherine. Glenn Jr. served Grand County as a Commissioner for 24 years and also as the County Assessor for 4 years. Glenn Jr.s, son John, took over the ranch and married Ida Marte in 1949. Ida’s family had homesteaded their own ranch near Cottonwood Pass. They have two children and continue to work the ranch to this day.

Topic: Biographies

William H. Kimball

The span crossing the Colorado River on State Highway 9 southeast of Kremmling is known as the Kimball Bridge.  It honors the memory of William H. Kimball who carried the mail over Berthoud Pass from Empire to Hot Sulphur Springs by foot, winter and summer.  Kimball was born in Maine and accepted the Middle Park mail contract in 1875.  Although reportedly nearly blind, Kimball traveled on snowshoes all winter carrying a backpack of mail weighing 70-105 pounds, day and night, at least once a week.

In  1884, Kimball established a flat bottom ferry over the Colorado River near the spot where the bridge now stands.  Before that time, no wagons could cross at that area.  With the addition of the ferry, load of game meat and fish could be taken up the Blue River to be traded for much needed staples. 

Kimball never married and lived at a nearby ranch until his death in 1909.

Wheatley Family of the Troublesome

Forrest Wheatley was born in Chicago in 1875 and his brother George R. was born 6 years later.  Their parents were English immigrants, William and Mary.  The family moved to Denver in 1887 where William pursued his trade of upholstering carriages.

 After Forrest returned from service in the Spanish American War in 1900, he and George decided to establish homesteads of 160 acres each on the East Fork of Troublesome Creek. When the expansion of the National Forest land limited the growth of their holdings, they moved to Muddy Creek to the west and ran their operation there until 1929.  They continued to purchase additional homesteads on the Troublesome.

 The brothers had a disagreement so Forrest and his wife Ida remained on the Muddy while George moved back to the Troublesome.  He sold the original claims high on the East Fork.  Later he married his neighbor, Bessie Sampson, and they moved back to the Muddy Creek basin and had five children; George, Douglass, Kenneth, Maidie and Gene.  Gene drowned in an irrigation ditch while still a young child.

Through purchases and marriages, the Wheatley descendents eventually owned property throughout western Grand County and as far north as the Yampa River Valley.
 

Topic: Water

Grand Lake

Grand Lake is Colorado's largest natural lake.  The clear blue waters are surrounded by magnificent mountain scenery and a haunting Indian legend.  

Judge Joseph L. Wescott, an early white settler, wrote a poem about a Ute story he heard from an Indian camping at the lake in 1867.  One summer Utes were camping on the shores of Grand Lake when they were suddenly attacked by an enemy tribe of the Arapahoe.  As the brave Ute warriors began fighting, the squaws and papooses hurried onto a raft for safety, pushing the raft to the middle of the lake. As the battle continued, a treacherous wind overturned the raft and all the women and children drowned.  

It is said that you can see ghostly forms in the morning mist rising from the lake and hear the wailing of the women and children beneath the winter ice.

Topic: Mountains
John Wesley Powell about the time of his Longs Peak ascent

The First Recorded Ascent of Long’s Peak

John Wesley Powell about the time of his Longs Peak ascent

After his discharge from the Union Army in 1865, a veteran who lost his right arm at the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee as a commander of a field artillery battery, John Wesley Powell was appointed curator of the Illinois Natural History Society’s Museum located at Illinois State University-Normal. Later, he was a Professor of Natural Science at Illinois Wesleyan University-Bloomington. 

In the summer of 1867, Professor Powell and his wife Emma, brought five students of the two university’s and six educators at other Illinois schools to Colorado Territory. Two peaks over 14,000 feet were climbed. Pike’s Peak (Emma was the 4thwoman to do so), and Mt. Lincoln. The expedition combined exploration and higher education of large scale student field trips was the first of its kind in American college history. 

In the autumn, the Powell’s visited the natural Middle Park hot springs (the heart of Hot Sulphur Springs) owned by William N. Byers editor of the Rocky Mountain News. The caretaker of the springs introduced himself as Jack Sumner, also a Union Army veteran, and Byers’ brother-in-law. Near the springs was the Grand River as the headwaters of the Colorado River were called. Around a campfire Powell and Sumner made plans for a Colorado River Exploring Expedition. Looming over this decision on the eastern horizon was Long’s Peak.  In November, Wes and Emma Powell departed for Illinois filled with fortitude to return to Colorado. 

John Wesley Powell sought financing for an 1868 expedition from the museum and university’s boards of education, being happy to oblige. However, his request to draw supplies from U.S. Army western warehouses took an Act of Congress to approve. The Smithsonian Institute donated scientific materials. The expeditions purpose was to stock the natural history museum with large collections of specimens representing different sciences and illustrating the resources of the country. Before leaving Illinois for Colorado, it was understood that the ascent of Long’s Peak would be attempted. 

At Chicago on June 29th, a special Pullman car of the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad arrived with a banner lettered “Colorado Scientific Exploring Expedition”. At 3 p.m. Professor and Mrs. Powell, with 19 others were taken to Omaha, Nebraska traveling all night. In the morning they rode a Union Pacific train to Cheyenne, Wyoming. They were organized into messes of four and drew supplies from the army warehouse. Each man had to break his own bronco for the pack train ride to Denver. One man was bucked into a cactus. A Reverend was thrown with his foot hung in a stirrup. While being dragged he said, “take hold of her boy’s. Whoa!  Sweet little angel you.” They arrived and camped at Denver on July 14th. Then proceeded to Empire where they were greeted by mountain man and guide Jack Sumner,  William Byers, and Ned Farrell.  

So much was untouched to be plucked in the names of anthropology to zoology. A week was spent on Berthoud Pass. One young scientist shot a jack rabbit thinking it an antelope. Jack Sumner was used to dudes. Finally, the expedition arrived at Mr. Byers’ resort where headquarters and the Reverend’s “Preaching Tent” was set up. Rest and relaxation were enjoyed by soaking in the hot springs. 

Professor Powell used his military rank Major. He never let the loss of his right arm hinder him. The Major took a trip to the Rabbit Ears and Gore Range where the highest peak is named Mt. Powell. When he returned the Major selected his student squad for the ascent of Long’s Peak. Chosen were L.W. Keplinger, and Sam Garman. One old mountaineer told the two that nothing could get them there that didn’t have wings. The idea of tenderfeet trying the ascent was ridiculous!

August 20th-22nd -The Major, his brother Walter Powell, Jack Sumner, William Byers, Ned Farrell, and the squad, departed headquarters mounted on horses, and one pack mule with 10 days rations. Each carried a pistol or rifle. The squad had weather equipment. They camped at Grand Lake. In the morning the party of seven rode up a steep rock ridge almost impassable by fallen timber. They corralled the equines at Mt. McHenry elevation 13,327 feet and camped for the night. At 7 a.m. the Major made bacon and biscuits. The men stuffed their pockets with a two day’s allotment. Leaving their firearms behind Sumner and Keplinger led the way to Wild Basin over tortuous terrain. All arrived exhausted at 2 p.m. except for Keplinger who volunteered to find a route to Long’s Peak. Keplinger went through the notch and was within 200 feet of the crown. Turning to enjoy the view he almost became an eternal resident of Estes Park. Nightfall was setting in and he had to return to Wild Basin. To his amazement Sumner was hollering and had lit beacon fires. At 10 p.m. Keplinger and Sumner were in camp. 

At 6 a.m. on August 23rd, Keplinger led the way. Required of each was caution, coolness, and intense labor; life depending on the grasp of fingers in a crevice that would hardly admit them. Moving up in order were Keplinger, the Major, Sumner, Byers, and the others. Before 10 a.m. the entire party stood on Long’s Peak summit, elevation 14,255 feet. “Glory to God!” shouted the Major. For three hours they remained enjoying the spectacular views. North, south, east, and west. They counted 32 alpine lakes. An American flag was flown and left. A monument was built, and a baking soda can was used as a time capsule. Placed in the capsule were each member’s names, and the temperature. A biscuit was going into the capsule but the Major objected as he wanted fame as a mountain climber and not a biscuit maker. The capsule was sealed for the next climbers to find. Wine was sprinkled on the monument and disposed of in the usual manner. Two members abstained. 

The descent route went towards the branches of the St. Vrain River. Noticed on the snowbanks were two bears feasting on grasshoppers numbed by the cold. On the western branch of the St. Vrain the party was out of grub and they rested for the night. The men hiked to Mt. McHenry where a hearty breakfast was made. The two Powell’s, Sumner, Byers, and Farrell, returned to the springs on August 25th. Keplinger and Garman remained to record high altitude weather. Submitting the first mountain climate observations to the Smithsonian Institute. 

The First Recorded Ascent of Long’s Peak (with a lengthy caption) was published in the Rocky Mountain News by William N. Byers on September 1, 1868. Proud of the fact, “that all were eminently successful and satisfied; the more so because the mountain had always before been pronounced inaccessible, and ours was the first party that had set foot on its summit.” 

   

 

Topic: Mountains

Mountains of Grand County

The mountains of Grand County may not boast any of the famous “fourteeners“ (14,000 feet and above), but Middle Park is defined by some of the most majestic ranges in the state. These include parts of the Front Range, Gore Range, Rabbit Ears Range, and the Williams Fork Mountains.

The only range Grand County can call entirely it's own is the Never Summer Range. It's highest point is Mount Richthofen (12,940 feet). Other major peaks include: Mount Howard (12,810 feet), Mount Cirrus (12,797 feet), Mount Nimbus (12,706 feet), and Nokhu Crags (12,485 feet). The name Never Summer is translated from the Arapahoe name, Ni-chebe-chii, which means “the place of No Never Summer“. The cloud names of Cirrus and Nimbus, and Stratus and Cumulus were the idea of James Grafton Rogers, a founder of the Colorado Mountain Club.

The Never Summer Range stretches for ten miles from Cameron Pass to Bowen Mountain. This range is darker and harder due the tremendous heat produced when the peaks were a localized center of volcanic activity.

Topic: Mountains

Rollins or Corona - What shall it be called?

Travel across various passes of the Continental Divide occurred long before white men showed up. Indeed, as anthropologist James Benedict wrote c. 1975, some 10,000 years ago, prehistoric Indians camped, hunted, and built hunting walls on the upper reaches of Rollins Pass, as well as moving in and out of Middle Park for the warm summer months.

Historic Indians followed the same paths. In the earliest days of non-Indian access, a particular pass at the head of Boulder Creek was dubbed Boulder Pass. Capt. Jacob Bonesteel, including wagons, made the first recorded crossing by a white man at this point in April 1862. Three years later, a group of Mormons brought wagons over this route and a year later, promoters of new roads into Middle Park brought in many wagons and livestock.

In fact, tourists were starting to enter the park by a number of routes, and one of them, Samuel Bowles, who wrote a fascinating account of his trip, including his return to Denver via Boulder Pass. Interest was growing rapidly for a road over the Divide, into Hot Sulphur Springs, and on into Utah. One promoter, John Quincy Adams Rollins, from New Hampshire, teamed up with William N. Byers and Porter M. Smart to carry this project through. Rollins was interested in crossing the Divide; Byers was promoting the Springs; Porter wanted to develop the valley of the Middle Yampa. All three were pushing to have Middle Park officially named as Grand County, a challenge finally accomplished in 1874. So Rollins and associates started his road, reaching the top in 1873.

That next winter, they publicized this access and in June, Jimmy Crawford brought his family and wagons to Rollinsville and thence to Yankee Doodle Lake, ready to cross the pass now named Rollins Pass by the developer. But the road ended, and they found Rollins' men still hacking the road out of the granite! Jimmy and his crew found it necessary to leave their wagons and help. Finally, on June 10th, the family was able to head for the top. Jimmy borrowed two yokes of oxen, hitching them to mules, and then to his horse. The road was so rough that the procession could proceed but a few feet before having to rest. The family itself climbed on foot. At the summit, they discovered only a rough swath cut down through the trees on the western side. The "road" dropped down between the lakes and followed Ranch Creek to its junction with the Fraser River.

Rollins quickly realized that Berthoud Pass, which also opened in 1874, was superior to his own pass for wheeled vehicles, so he determined to hedge his bets. He initiated the first mail service into the county in 1873. He also built a commodious hotel where his road joined the Berthoud Pass road at the confluence of Crooked Creek and the Fraser. He called it the Junction House. Next, he proposed to the builders of Berthoud Pass that they form a joint ownership of the two roads between Junction Ranch and the Springs. Tickets would be issued for both routes and revenues would be shared. The two companies would build a bridge over the Grand at Hot Sulphur Springs. He even buttered up his rivals by complementing their work. All this was accomplished, although the mail route soon moved to Berthoud Pass, because of the severe winters on Rollins Pass.

The bridge was started in November 1874. From the beginning, Rollins' road was preferred for trailing livestock, because there were fewer problems with heavy timber and bogs. For years, the Church brothers, George and John, who introduced the Hereford breed into the county, trailed their cattle for summering in what became known as Church Park. However, tourists such as Irving Hale still drove wagons over Rollins Pass in 1878. About 1880, interest burgeoned for bringing a railroad up South Boulder Canyon and through a tunnel near Rollins Pass. Numerous surveys were completed all along the area. David Moffat settled on Rollins Pass for the tunnel site but decided first to put a temporary line over the top.

Thus, in the summer of 1903, a formal contract was let for work up and over the Pass itself. By 1904, the workers reached Arrowhead and they also built a work station on top, called Corona Station, or "crown of the mountain." This railroad construction town of Corona, located at over 11,600 feet at the top of Rollins Pass (first called Boulder Pass) along the Continental Divide was the highest railroad station in the world. It became obvious by 1905 that the Corona area would require snowsheds if trains were to travel, even irregularly, during the winter. Still, word got out of the spectacular splendor of Rollins Pass and tourists flocked in on summer train excursions, sometimes stopping on top, sometimes going as far as Arrow.

In 1913, a fine hotel was built next to the rail facilities. Because Rollins Pass was right in the middle of severe weather patterns, a weather station was built on top, as well as one down at Sunnyside. In 1915, Rollins Pass was actually proposed to be the south boundary of a proposed "Estes National Park." Later, on the National Historic Register, the district was listed in 1997 as the Denver, Northwestern and Pacific Railway Historic District--Rollinsville & Middle Park Wagon Road. It was also identified as the Rollinsville and Middle Park Wagon Road; Boulder Wagon Road, Rollins Pass, and Rollinsville area. In 1956, Governor Steve McNichols had presided at the official re-opening of the four percent grade to vehicle traffic over Corona Pass, expressing the hope that the route would someday be paved. The Colorado Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Forest Service made additional improvements, and the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests put out a 24-page booklet titled "The Moffat Road: A Self-Guiding Auto Tour."

The road crossed two of the original railroad trestles near Corona but those trestles, even if reached by 4-wheel vehicles, were crumbling and could no longer even be crossed safely on foot. The current self-guided auto tour refers to Rollins Pass, as well as the Moffat Road and the Boulder Wagon Road. Corona Station and Hotel are discussed. In 1979, a portion of the auto road over Corona Pass was permanently closed because of a cave-in of the "Needle's Eye," a tunnel located before the trestles heading west from the Moffat Tunnel's East Portal. The tunnel reopened on July 3, 1988, thanks to efforts of the Rollins Pass Restoration Association on both sides of the Divide, with the cooperation of the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado History Society, and Boulder, Grand, and Gilpin Counties. It then closed once more when another rockfall hit the tunnel on July 15, 1990. The RPRA is continuing its efforts for re-opening. The noted photographer, Charles McClure, took many outstanding photos of the Rollins Pass road.

One, titled "Group on Rollins Pass, shows well-dressed men and women stand on a snowfield making snowballs on Rollins Pass, Moffat Road, Boulder or Grand County, Colorado; probably on Denver, Northwestern and Pacific excursion train. Date: between 1904 and 1913 near Corona Station." Another photo shows a "30 ft. snowcut on Rollins Pass, Moffat Road photo. Denver and Salt Lake Arrow passenger car is parked east of Corona snowshed by the thirty foot snowbank cut, Rollins Pass, Colorado; it shows men, women and railroad employees posed behind train, on the roof and on the snowbank and a standard gauge track. Date: between 1904 and 1915." A sign at the highway turn onto the Moffat roadbed says: The Moffat Road "Hill Route" Also called "Corona Pass Road", this road over the Continental Divide was the original "Hill Route" of the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific Railway built by David H. Moffat in 1903. It crosses Rollins Pass at 11,666 feet elevation. On top of Rollins Pass, a sign says: Elevation 11, 660 feet, John Quincy Adams Rollins established a toll wagon road through this pass in the mid 1870's. David H. Moffat's Denver, Northwestern & Pacific Railway crossed the Continental Divide at this point in 1903.

First known as Boulder Pass, then Rollins Pass, the railroad workers dubbed it "Corona", the crown of the "Top of the world." A railroad station, hotel, restaurant and workers' quarters existed here until 1928 when the railroad was abandoned due to the building of the Moffat Tunnel. Identifications in various trail and geographical guides say: Rollins Pass (el. 11,680 ft) is a high mountain pass in the Rocky Mountains of north-central Colorado in the United States. The pass is located on the continental divide at the crest of the Front Range southwest of Boulder, at the boundary of Grand County, Colorado and Boulder County, Colorado. Rollins Pass (a.k.a. Corona Pass) sits approximately 5 miles east and above the popular ski areas around Winter Park, between Winter Park and Rollinsville. The pass is traversed by an unpaved road, mostly the former roadbed of the Denver and Salt Lake Railway which abandoned the route in 1928 when the Moffat Tunnel opened to replace it. Railroad advertising called this the "Top O' the World" and it referred to the Moffat Route over the continental divide and the Rocky Mountains. Rollins Pass was the primary travel route west from Denver until an easier road over Berthoud Pass was constructed. The Denver, Northwestern and Pacific railroad laid its tracks across the pass in 1903-1904 and established a Depot at Corona on the crest. It can be noted that in R.C. Black's Island in the Rockies, the term "Corona Pass" was mentioned one time, on p. 351; the terms "Corona Station" or "Corona Snowsheds were used. In Dismantling the Rails That Climbed, Rollins Pass was used, the Corona hotel, and just once, Corona Pass; 1936.

In Maggie By My Side, it was Boulder Pass and Rollins Pass. In Rails that Climbed, Rollins Pass, the Corona shed, weather at Corona, Rollins Pass Snow Shed, other references to Corona as a site. In Guide to the Colorado Mountains (Orme) , they speak of the Corona Trail to Rollins Pass. High Country Names (Ward) used Rollins Pass entirely. Only Hiking Grand County, Colorado, published 2002 by Carr speaks of Corona Pass, with reference to Rollins Pass (near the town of Corona), Moffat Road. The term "town" might be questionable; there was only a small restaurant, workers quarters, railroad offices, and in 1913, the hotel. Current maps, USFS and the Grand County Trail Map, show Rollins Pass, with Corona at the side as being a site. The use of "Corona Pass' seems to be a rather recent innovation that has come into being with tourism efforts in the upper Fraser Valley. Rollins Pass From Island in the Rockies p. 45 Rollins Pass was originally known as Boulder Pass, first recorded being crossed by whites, by Capt. Jacob Bonesteel in April 1862. Their supplies were carried in wagons. A second organized party went over the same pass in 1865. In 1866, promoters of access into Grand County brought many wagons and livestock over Boulder Pass.In 1867, Samuel Bowles and a group returned home to Denver via Boulder Pass. In 1873-74, two roads were proposed into the county, one of Berthouds pass and one over Boulder Pass. This was the same time that the county was named "Grand". J..A Rollins and his associates started the road and reached the top of the pass in 1873, at which time they envisaged a road from HSS into Utah. The first wagons went over in June 1874. The western descent was so bad that it never was much patronized by wheeled vehicles, instead becoming primarily used for trailing of cattle. At this time the name Boulder Pass disappeared from maps and Rollins Pass became the official name. p. 85. p. 80 Lots of schemes to build roads into GC, but of all the schemes for transport, only one, the Rollinsville and Middle Park Wagon Road showed any promise. T

hat was designed by John Quincy Adams Rollins, from NH, a gifted promoter, a son of a clergyman, second of 19 children. He was a farmer, miner, freighter, road bulder, and platter of towns. He was perhaps the most accomplished billiard player west of the Mississippi. He was a Colorado resident at least by 1866. His finances were up and down, but he was tremendously strong. In December 1884, when he was 68, he thought nothing of a 3-day snow-clogged crossing of the Continental Divide. p. 85 Rollins was interested in MP as an investor and he was interested in extending his road into Utah.. At the same time, a Porter M. Smart was likewise excited about speculating in frontier projects and was working at developing the valley of the Middle Yampa. William N. Byers was busy planning for HSS. These three men launched at least two petitions, with more than 80 "residents" for creating GC. Grand County was created that year, 1874. p. 89 With the creation of GC, people began to consider the area more seriously. p. 92 There was no official mail into the county until 1873 when Rollins brought in the first US pouch over his pass. In May 1874, he built a commodious hotel at the confluence of Crooked Creek and the Fraser, known as the Junction House. p. 94 Rollins knew that the road over Berthoud Pass was superior to Rollins Pass; his main advantage was the railhead at Blackhawk.

So Rollins proposed a joint ownership and operation of the two roads for the line between Junction Ranch and HSS. Tickets would be issued for both routes and revenues would be shared. The two companies would build a bridge across the Grand at HSS. Rollins even complimented the Berthoud work. This merger was completed soon. p. 104 This bridge was started in November 1874. p. 108 A mail contract was made in July 1875 for once a week delivery over Rollins Pass, but conditions were so severe that the route was changed to Berthoud Pass. p. 110 From the beginning, Rollins Pass was used in preference to Berthoud Pass for trailing livestock, because there were fewer problems with timber and bogs. However, late spring snowdrifts were a problem, so 20-30 horses were often brought along to break trail. The Church brothers, ?George and John, summered their cattle in what became known as Church Park and dug the Church Ditch. They also introduced the celebrated Hereford breed into GC. p. 170-171 As interest in bringing a railroad into and through GC developed, about 1880, various stockholders proposed to build up South Boulder Canyon to Yankee Doodle Lake and start a tunnel near Rollins Pass. Nothing came of the first attempts but by the end of July 1881, numerous surveys had been made for that tunnel. p. 238 Cattle was still being trailed out via Rollins Pass up to the turn of the century. p. 258 David Moffat and Horace Sumner, his chief engineer, in the fall of 1903, were planning the tunnel for future excavation; but in the meantime a temporary line was planned for crissing Rollins Pass, at 11,640 feet. p. 264 A formal contract was let for the work over Rollins Pass in August 1903. The loftiest sections were started first, and the first cuts at the top were nearly finished by the 26th of October and tunneling started at Riflesight Notch. As snow came, work slowed to a standstill. p. 265 Work in 1904 was extremely slow until the end of August.

An encampment was built at Arrowhead and a station at the crest of the Divide was named Corona Station, where long snow sheds were built almost immediately. p. 267 Arrowhead was soon shortened to Arrow, when a post office was opened there in 1905. Travel on the grades, at 4-5% grades up over Rollins Pass was exceedingly difficult. p. 270 In 1908, word of the scenic splendor of Rollins Pass was becoming known world wide. Also, Rollins Pass and its "Corona station" were attracting the attention fo the US Weather Bureau, for the pass lay squarely in the center of the region of heaviest snowfall on the entire Colorado Continental Divide. p. 344 A terrible winter in 1909 made people think that Rollins Pass was never going to be practical for the long term. Time and again freight and passengers were stuck on top at the Corona facility. In 1913, a $10,000 hotel was built at Corona next to the rail facilities. From Dismantling the Rails That Climbed p. 6 The railroad went from Denver to the top of Rollins Pass. p. 8 Snowsheds were built over the tracks at Corona and other strategic places in 1905. p. 12 The top was referred to as "Corona Pass" 1936. p. 16 Crews who were to removed tails and ties reached Corona at the top of Rollins Pass 1936. p. 20 Reference to the Corona hotel From Maggie By My Side p. 1 Jimmy Crawford heard that a man named John Quincy Adams Rollins was building a road over the range at a place called Boulder Pass. 1873 p. 9-14 June 1874 The Crawford family traveled to Rollinsville and then to Yankee Doodle Lake, where the road ended. Rollins' men were still hacking the road out of the granite. Jimmy and his crew helped. On the morning of June 10, the family started out to go over the rocks and up the mountain. Then he borrowed two yokes of oxen to his wagon, then mules, then his horse. The animals had to rest every few feet; the family climbed on foot. There was no shelter at the top. Rollins' men had done no work yet on the west side of the pass except to cut a rough swath down through the trees. The road dropped down along Ranch Creek. From Rails That Climb published 1950 p. 43 Leyden Junction to Tolland to Rollins Pass. P. 63-64 Many references to Tunnels as identifiers of location. p. 76-77, 78 reference to the old Rollins Pass toll road; first mention of the place called Corona- crown of the mountain. Most references are to Rollins Pass. The Corona shed is mentioned, p. 82. p. 83 Sunnyside water stop, Loop Trestle and Tunnel, Ranch Creek Trestle and water stop, Arrow. p. 95, 100- 101 It is eleven miles from Arrowhead to Rollins Pass. Rollins Pass-Boulder wagon road; other references p. 107 - 112 reference to Corona shed. Reference to pipe line to Corona; a number of comments to Rollins Pass p. 119 weather at Corona p. 120-121 Rollins Pass p. 151 Rollins Pass p. 182 photo of "Rollins Pass Snow Shed" "This Corona station burned one night." p. 188 photo of June at Rollins Pass p. 192-194 photos of Corona shed and other buildings; Rollins Pass p. 252 walking on top of snow shed at Corona p. 271- 272. 1910 Snowshed at Corona p. 312-314 Rollins Pass; Rollins Pass snowshed; Corona; Corona siding p. 324 Corona; Sunnyside weather report station p. 326 Corona sheds p. 333-335 Corona shed; references to "Corona" as a place From Guide to the Colorado Mountains published 1974 p. 54-55 Corona Trail, going from East Portal to Rollins Pass From High Country Names published 1972 p. 105 Irving Hale in 1878 drove his wagon over Rollins Pass, now nearly abandoned as a wagon road. p. 131 David Moffat decides to build a temporary line over Rollins Pass. p. 165 In 1915, Rollins Pass was proposed to be the south boundary of a proposed "Estes National Park". From Hiking Grand County, Colorado published 2002 p. 52 Trailhead on the "Moffat Road to Corona Pass". In same paragraph, it becomes Rollins Pass (near the town of Corona). On p. 54, reference to the Corona Road. On p. 57, map shows Rollins Pass with Corona marked as a "site." p. 56, reference to the old railroad bed used crossing the Divide at Rollins Pass, near the town of Corona.

Sometimes called Corona Pass. p. 60-61 Rollins Pass Wagon Road historical notes on JQA Rollins and how to find his wagon road over Rollins Pass, following Ranch Creek to Tabernash. p. 66 Rollins Pass (Corona) to Devil's Thumb From GCHA Journal The Journey p. 6 Rollins Pass used by Indians; comment in 1981 From GCHA Journal Middle Park Indians to 1881 p. 8 Archaic hunters camped in the Rollins Pass area; written mid-1970's The current maps, USFS and Grand County Trail Map, show Rollins Pass with Corona at the side as being a site. The Rollins Pass Restoration Association for many years, and currently, has been trying to open the road and Needles Eye Tunnel. The self-guided auto tour refers to Rollins Pass, as well as the Moffat Road and the Boulder Wagon Road. Corona Station and Hotel are discussed. On the National Historic Register Denver, Northwestern and Pacific Railway Historic District--Rollinsville & Middle Park Wagon Road (Boundary Increase) ** (added 1997 - District - #97001114) Also known as Rollinsville and Middle Park Wagon Road;Boulder Wagon Road;R Rollins Pass, Rollinsville Corona Station and Hotel The railroad construction town of Corona, Colorado, located at over 11,600 feet at the top Corona Pass (first called Boulder Pass) along the Continental Divide was the highest railroad station in the world. It was situated on an old Native American trail, the same trail it is believed the Mormons traveled on their way to Utah. The road was improved by the U.S. Army, then further improved in 1866 by General John Q. Rollins, for whom the pass and the town of Rollinsville were officially named. Because of the high drifts of snow, the pass was only open from around July to the first big snowstorm two or three months later. In 1956, Governor Steve McNichols presided at the official re-opening of the four percent grade to vehicle traffic over Corona Pass, expressing the hope that the route would someday be paved. The Colorado Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Forest Service made additional improvements, and the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests put out a 24-page booklet titled "The Moffat Road: A Self-Guiding Auto Tour."

The road crossed two of the original railroad trestles near Corona but those trestles, even if reached by 4-wheel vehicles, are crumbling and can no longer even be crossed safely on foot. In 1979, a portion of the auto road over Corona Pass was permanently closed because of a cave-in of the "Needle's Eye," a tunnel that came before the trestles on a westward drive from the Moffat Tunnel's East Portal area. The tunnel reopened on July 3, 1988, thanks to the efforts of the Rollins Pass Restoration Association with the cooperation of the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado History Society, and Boulder, Grand, and Gilpin Counties. It was then closed once more when another rockfall hit the tunnel on July 15, 1990. John K. Aldrich is a geologist, lecturer, and author whose "Ghosts of . . . " books and accompanying topo maps are a boon to hobbyists, explorers, and those interested in Colorado mining history. Date: 02/04/08 05:13 Rollins Pass Milepost 16 Corona Station. Picture 6 below, is DPL photo X-7388. "Title: Corona, Colorado, interior of snowshed. Summary: Passengers stand next to the covered train depot at Rollins Pass, in Corona (Grand County), Colorado. The tracks of the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific Railway are in the foreground. The depot is constructed of logs, and the roof of the snowshed is upheld by timbers. Sunlight streams through the opening at the end of the snowshed. Date: (between 1904 and 1913). Source: E. T. Bollinger from W. I. Hoklas." Picture 7 below, is DPL photo MCC-454A. "Title: Group on Rollins Pass. Summary: Well dressed men and women stand on a snowfield making snowballs, Rollins Pass, Moffat Road, Boulder or Grand County, Colorado; probably on Denver, Northwestern and Pacific excursion train. Date: (between 1904 and 1913). Creator: Louis Charles McClure 1867-1957. Picture 8 below, is DPL photo MCC-624. "Title: 30 ft. snowcut, Rollins Pass, Moffat Road photo. Summary: Denver and Salt Lake Arrow Turn (passenger car) parked east of Corona snowshed by thirty foot snowbank cut, Rollins Pass, Colorado; shows men, women and railroad employees posed behind train, on roof and on snowbank and standard gauge track. Date: (between 1904 and 1915 The highway sign says The Moffat Road "Hill Route" Also called "Corona Pass Road", this road over the Continental Divide was the original "Hill Route" of the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific Railway built by David H. Moffat in 1903. It crosses Rollins Pass at 11,666 feet elevation. On top of Rollins Pass, a sign says: Rollins Pass Elevation 11, 660 feet John Quincy Adams Rollins established a toll wagon road through this pass in the mid 1860-s. David H. Moffat's Denver, Northwestern & Pacific Railway crossed the Continental Divide at this point in 1903. First known as Boulder Pass, then Rollins Pass, the railroad workers dubbed it "Corona", the crown of the "Top of the world." A railroad station, hotel, restaurant and workers' quarters existed here until 1928 when the railroad was abandoned due to the building of the Moffat Tunnel. Rollins Pass Elevation 11,680 ft (3,560.1 m) Traversed by Unpaved road Location Boulder_County,_Colorado / Grand,Colorado Rollins Pass (el. 11,680 ft) is a high mountain pass in the Rocky Mountains of north-central Colorado in the United States. The pass is located on the continental divide at the crest of the Front Range southwest of Boulder at the boundary of Grand_County,_Colorado and Boulder County. Sign that sits on top of Rollins Pass Rollins Pass (a.k.a. Corona Pass) sits approximately 5 miles east and above the popular ski areas around Winter Park, between Winter Park and Rollinsville. The pass is traversed by an unpaved road, mostly the former roadbed of the Denver and Salt Lake RailwayDenver_and_Salt_Lake_Railway which abandoned the route in 1928 when the Moffat Tunnel opened to replace it. Rollins Pass Railroad advertising called this the "Top 'O the World" and it referred to the Moffat Route over the continental divide and the Rocky Mountains. Rollins Pass was the primary travel route west from Denver until an easier road over Berthoud Pass was constructed. The Denver, Northwestern and Pacific railroad laid its tracks across the pass in 1903-1904 and established a Depot at Corona on the crest. David Moffat planned to replace the "Hill Line" with a tunnel through James Peak within a few years of the railroad construction. However, he never could obtain financing for the tunnel due to the inability of the railroad to make a profit and opposition from competing railroads such as the Denver and Rio Grande. The D&RG saw the line as a threat. But, in the far future the construction of Moffat Tunnel would turn out to be the D&RG's saving grace.

The trip up Rollins Pass was a favorite of summer tourists looking to enjoy the mountain scenery. It was heavily promoted by the railroad with picnic and wildflower picking excursions. Sights along the line were made famous by postcards containing the photos of L. C. McClure. At last the route surmounts the crest of the Continental Divide and takes quick refuge on the top at Corona. At elevation 11, 660 this is truly the famous Top O' the World and one of the highest railroad passes in the world. Due to the great height and nature of the Rocky Mountains, the entire railroad complex was completely enclosed in giant covered snow sheds.

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Community Life

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

Topic: Biographies

Lewis D.C. Gaskill

Lewis DeWitt Clinton Gaskill came to Colorado as a polished young mining promoter from upstate New York, where he was born in 1840. He married Miss Nellie C. Rogers in 1865, and raised three daughters born to the marriage.

By 1874 he partnered with William Cushman to build the Georgetown, Empire and Middle Park Wagon Road, which opened in November of that year, to the great surprise of locals and professionals alike.  He and his family lived at the summit of Berthoud Pass into the mid-1880s, when they built the Gaskill House in what became Fraser, CO.   For a short time he was employed as mine foreman at the Wolverine Mine in Bowen Gulch, outside of Grand Lake.  One of the mining camps, in fact, came to be known as Gaskill. Over the years there was significant competition between the different camps, and mercantiles associated with them.  Gaskill's was one of the biggest and best.  Gaskill, the camp, survived for about six years, before falling victim to the end of the mining boom.  In 1896, a county-wide passion for William Jennings Bryan and his Democratic-Populist party, helped to seat Gaskill as democratic chairman of the Board of County Commissioners for Grand County. By 1903, Gaskill came into conflict with D.H. Moffat and the Denver, Northwestern, and Pacific Railway, over property and right-of-way purchases. He, along with Nathan S. Hurd, ended up settling their dispute over property values in County Court. In 1904, upon the death of Fraser postmaster, William Z. Cozens, the Fraser post office was moved to the Gaskill House in Fraser, and L.D.C. Gaskill was appointed postmaster.  Soon after, the townsite was platted and development undertaken under the name of Eastom, but that name was soon forgotten and the area continued to be known as Fraser.

"[Gaskill] was one of those quiet, easy-tempered, efficient persons who can always be depended upon.'" Captain Gaskill (his rank came from service in the Civil War) became "a major Grand County personality."

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