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Stafford Family
Stafford Family

James "Jimmy" M. Stafford was born in 1849 in Wexford Ireland. Jimmy immigrated to Leadville in the 1870's to work in the booming silver mines. In Leadville, he met and married  Deborah Helen Acey (born 1846 in Trenton New Jersey) in 1880.  In the 1880's the couple moved to Dillon and then homesteaded the Stafford Ranch on the Blue River at Spring Creek Road. Jimmy built their home by hand carrying logs from Green Mountain.  They had one son, Frank Elmer Stafford, born in 1886. Jimmy and Deborah also operated the stage stop, boarding house and saloon called the "Halfway House" between Kremmling and Dillon on Highway 9.  It remained in operation until the stage lines ceased in the early 1900's and the buildings were dismantled in the 1940's.  

Frank went on to marry Alice Smith in 1909 and they had six children, including their first, a son, James Elmer, who died at age 8 in the worldwide flu epidemic of 1918. Frank and Alice built the Stafford General Store, directly across from the "Halfway House".  Frank was instrumental in installing the first telephone lines in the area and served as Grand County Commissioner from 1928 to 1936 and as County Commissioner from 1948 until his death from injuries in a car wreck in 1950.  Alice was called the "Blue River Belle" and kept the general store until 1960.  Alice lived in Kremmling until her death in 1969.  

 

The Ish Family
The Ish Family

The prosperous John Lapsley (Laps) Ish family are an example of very successful settlers and entrepreneurs in early Grand County. The Ish family, with eleven children, came by covered wagon to Colorado from Missouri 1863 and settled on a farm outside of Denver.

18-year-old Laps Ish came to Grand County in 1881 to attempt his luck at the short lived mining boom outside of Teller, north of Grand Lake.  He tried his luck at mining for 4 years and also carried the mail between Teller and Grand Lake, on skis or snowshoes in the winter and by foot in the summer. 

Laps Ish married Alice Shearer and homesteaded near Rand (in present day Jackson County). They had two sons, Lesley John Ish and Guy Lapsley Ish. Laps and Alice built the Rand Hotel and operated it until 1910.  The family then moved to Granby and built the Middle Park Auto Company garage and ran a stage line to Grand Lake. They built the Rapids Lodge by operating a sawmill on the Tonahutu River in Grand Lake and opened for business in 1915  They also built the Pine Cone Inn in Grand Lake and Leslie managed it for many years. Laps Ish died in 1943.

The Norton Family
The Norton Family

From his earliest memories, Mike Norton recalls playing with model ships and submarines with his older brother. His older brother had a ship, and he had the sub. The small pond on the Circle H ranch where he spent his early life before Lake Granby filled up gave little boys' imaginations an ocean. Marbles gave them depth charges. "But I could never find a way to shoot marbles from the sub," Norton laughingly remembers. As the water literally rose above his home, it shaped his life.

The history of Lake Granby and the Norton Marina goes as deep as the water, literally. Grand County's pioneer ranching history lurks at the lake's bottom, sharing its place with rainbow trout amid the vast water supply for eastern Colorado and beyond. Before the lake filled up as part of the Colorado Big Thompson project, ranches like the Lehmans, Knights and Harveys had been stage stops, cattle and dude ranches and even an airstrip used by Charles Lindbergh.

Mike's dad Frank came to Grand County to ranch. "All I ever really wanted to do  first was to be a rancher here," Frank Norton told the Sky-Hi News back in 1997. At fifteen or sixteen years old, Frank Norton in a Model T Roadster traveled from Okmulgee, Oklahoma to Grand County, where he "fell in love" with the ranch that his mother and step-father started around 1930. The Circle H, started by his step-father Jim Harvey in the valley that is now Lake Granby, became his summer home.

By all accounts, Frank Norton loved ranching. The Circle H "was a working ranch and a dude ranch." Harvey's ranch provided a spectacular backdrop highlighted by the Indian Peaks, reaching 13,000 ft high along the Continental Divide. The Circle H offered a caricature map for tourists looking for a real western experience. It led them over Berthoud Pass along hwy 40 to hwy 34 and then right at the Circle H sign to the Ranch. Leaving on horses from the Circle H, Frank Norton and Jim Harvey took them into a vast and remarkable country that, for the most part, can only be reached on foot today.

In those days, the area now protected as the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area faced less threats from overuse. Ranchers hunted the region to supplement the sometimes skinny winter rations. "Jim Harvey shot two elk from his saddle," Mike Norton proudly recalls of his grandfather as we look at a romantic image of Harvey on horseback. Nowadays, quotas limit use through the peak season. The National Park and Forest Service restrict horse traffic and campfires as well. Early Harvey and Norton history highlight a different time and place, when the remote reaches of Indian Peaks could still be reached by trusting a cowboy with a Winchester rifle to get you there and back safely.

For Mike Norton, the water that drowned out his family's ranching history also floated Norton Marina. Going from ranching to the marina business may seem an odd transition, but Mike's family history shows how flexible they were! Frank Norton spent his early youth traveling with his father's tent show, Norton's comedians. "Dad had such funny stories about that," Mike says. When the traveling troupe era ended (talkies and the Great Depression meant "they didn't eat too well sometimes"), Frank Norton moved to Oklahoma with his father before finally joining his mother and Jim Harvey in Grand County.  

Regardless of his occupation, Frank Norton was a showman. Remarkable old photos save the rich history of pack trips into the Indian Peaks area, camp sites on the shores Lake Monarch and rich harvests of rainbow trout. But Frank Norton and his horse Oak rearing high like the lone ranger really show Frank Norton's flare and charisma.

In many ways, Norton Marina continued the Circle H's heritage. Frank's marina included the Gangplank, a restaurant and dancehall that looked like a boat, with porthole windows and originally a rainbow trout aquarium for the bar. His admiral's hat, which Mike still has today, replaced his cowboy hat and a 25 foot Chris Craft named the Bonnie B replaced old Oak as his ride. More or less, this is the world in which Mike Norton grew up.

Growing up Frank's son meant work too. "I was 8 or 10 years old" when we started "Norton's Ark," Mike smiles, referring to the Gangplank restaurant. It was the early fifties in Grand County. "What backhoe?"

No bailouts either! "Those first few years, I nearly starved to death," Frank Norton once told a reporter. "But," he added, "every year the business kept growing and before I knew it we had a good marina going." Before it was over, Norton Marina fulfilled Frank's dream of a family business, only in "boating recreation" instead of ranching!

"It wasn't all roses," Mike agrees. As a boy, Frank Norton went to military school. "They disciplined him and he used the same technique on his kids." Frank expected his kids to help and to obey his commands, without question. Using Tide and a G.I. scrub brush, Mike Norton recalls scrubbing lower units. They painted wooden boats in the wintertime in the shop. The kids came in from school, changed clothes and started working. "Dad and mom had a lot of kids cause they needed a crew!"

Maybe his most memorable job was cleaning out the septic tanks for the cabins that his dad built to help offset the lack of income at a Rocky Mountain marina during winter. After digging up the lids, "dad would put a ladder into the septic tanks." Then, Mike crawled in and shoveled out the waste while his dad hoisted the buckets out. "I was so glad when Ernie Seipps started his septic clean out business," Mike says as we motor along beside Grand Elk Marina's covered docks on a pontoon boat.

The hard work and experience at the marina paid off when Mike joined the military. Like so many of his generation, Mike received his notice to join ground forces in Vietnam. Luckily, about that time, Navy recruiters were in Granby. They showed a strong interest in a National Honors Society student who lived a life on water! The pieces of the puzzle fit, and "that got me in the Navy," says Mike with real appreciation.

In 1973, the family tradition passed on to Mike and his brother Frank when they bought the marina business from their dad. A lifetime of experience came with them. But it took more than dock maintenance, boat service and customer service to run Norton Marina. And, as the brothers took over, the old Admiral Frank Norton stayed in the house he had built next door to the gangplank, insuring that his strong personality was never far away.

Lots of obstacles exist for a marina on public lands. As Mike took over sole ownership from his brother, he also fought to bring the marina under the National Forest Service instead of the National Park Service, which effectively removed the "power of condemnation." "We had to fight for our livelihood," Mike explained when he sold the Marina in January of 1997.

Mother Nature challenged the marina too. Ice might remain on the water for half of May. June snowstorms blow in monster clouds, as awe-inspiring as the calm sunsets. Freezing rain rips into all but the best prepared boaters nearly any time of year, and hailstorms can hit in a heartbeat. "We're like farmers in that way," Mike recalled. "Drought, winters, high water, low water, you can't really help, we understand that."

On the other hand, the glassy waters of Lake Granby reflect the awe-inspiring Indian Peaks along the Continental Divide on calm, sunny days. Tourists and locals try their luck catching the Mackinaw that makes it attractive to sportsmen and women. Intrepid wake boarders mix with sweet sailboats against a beautiful background of rugged peaks that reach high above tree line. On those days, it's hard to think of a more spectacular place.

Through it all, Mike Norton clearly enjoyed his life at Norton Marina. "I liked being out in the elements with the boating public."  He also counts the independence of self-employment and the uniqueness of the marina as blessings in his "good life."

Grand Elk runs the marina today (2009). Its operation rents out slips and moorings, daily pontoon boats and other related services. It's as beautiful as ever to peer across the lake at sunrise in August, and it's as cold and forbidding as ever when the winter winds whip across the thick ice an snow of the lake in January. Few wooden hulls appear during summer season as in the old days, but beautiful boats, both motor and sail, still surround the Marina.

Yes, its original character remains, not far from the surface. The Gangplank changed its name to Mackinaws, where customers in the main room still look out portholes across the lake to the rugged outline of Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, although there is no longer as much space on the dance floor. Those familiar with Indian Peaks recognize old Abe Lincoln lying in his grave along the Continental divide, where Mike's early ranching family led pack trips and today can still be reached, albeit under more controlled circumstances. Today's anchored concrete docks and gas dock continue the process that started with Frank Norton using finger docks that Mike staked in the ground and an old chicken coup from the Circle H to fuel boats.

And in all of Grand Elk Marina's features and history, Frank Norton and his family exist. In the house that they built on site where all of his children were photographed as they grew up and as they graduated from Middle Park High School. In the restaurant where Mike remembers finding the nerve to ask pretty young gals to dance. And, in the numerous family photos that show a smiling, handsome Frank Norton and his attractive family surrounded by high mountains, wooden Chris Craft and a sense of high expectations.

Mike remembers his dad as the "greatest storyteller I've ever known," which he used to his advantage in all occupations. In 2001, I met Frank Norton, only once before he died the next year. He told us about the time Jim Harvey knocked the federal agent who came to tell take their land away to the floor, placed a foot on his chest and said, "If you get up, I'll knock you down again." We could see it happening as he told the story more than 50 years later.

But the story continues beyond Frank Norton. From traveling tents shows to dude ranches to a forty-plus year family run marina, the Nortons made one of Grand County's most enduring "institutions." Entertaining, industrious, and life-loving, Mike simply says, "It's been a really good life." And that's a family tradition.

Wheatley Family of the Troublesome
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.
 

Articles to Browse

Topic: Water

Early Water Disagreements

As fast as settlers arrived in the county, conflicts arose over water use.  George T. Bell, an early rancher on the Blue River in the 1890's, had water rights coming out of Deep Creek, Spring Creek, and Soda and Iron Springs.  Daughter Maud Bell had married James Mugrage and when her father died in 1925, she and James stayed on the ranch of about 800 acres, to operate it.  She reported years later that when Noonen, a large rancher also on the Blue, built his ditch, he took much of the Bell water and used it for his own benefit.  Many years later, Maud discovered that although her father was long dead, those early water rights still belonged to the Bells, not the Noonens. 

Another family, that of George Henricks, settled far up the Troublesome Valley, about 1900, in what was truly an inaccessible spot.  What possessed him to pick such a remote area for his ranch?  Because when he and his wife Aurille lived in Nebraska and tried to make a living on their farm, farmers upstream stole their water to the point that they couldn't keep their crops alive.  Aurille actually had to use the same batch of water for two or three purposes!  As water fights escalated, George vowed to find a place where nobody could be above him and his water source. Rancher Will Call took him far up the Troublesome valley to a large meadow, reachable only by foot or horseback.  Life wasn't easy, for George and Aurille had to do everything from scratch, and they lived in a cabin with a dirt floor for many years.  But nobody took his water! 

Even more recently there was a case on Crooked Creek, where a ranching family that owned quite a good spring and used it to water their hay, discovered that a new neighbor was diverting the water from the spring over onto his own land, to water his own hay!  The rancher protested and diverted the water back where it belonged.  The newcomer turned around and stole it again.  This situation went on for many years without good satisfaction.

The Kirtz Ditch development on the Troublesome began about 1890.  In 1911, an Elias T. Copelin homesteaded land, later adjacent to the Alexander and George Murray Baker ranches.  One day Copelin and Murray Baker, one of the brothers, got into an argument over water rights in the Kirtz Ditch, each accusing the other of stealing his water.  Murray, who was a little guy with a fierce temper, picked up a shovel and gave Copelin a mighty whack with it.  Copelin fell to the ground but after a bit picked himself up, climbed on his horse, and headed toward his home.  However, the blow must have damaged his brain because he was found the next day, dead on the ground at his own gate

High on Meadow Creek, in the early 1900's, lumber activity began in the area later known as Sawmill Meadow.  About 1910, the Western Land and Flume Co. put in a little dam near what is now the trailhead to Columbine Lake.  The resulting lake, today filled with water lilies, was used as a holding pond for logs that would be moved by flume to the main mill downstream in Tabernash.  This lumber company sold to Western Box & Lumber Company in 1912.  Business flourished.  There was even a short railroad going into the woods, with the tracks made of logs about 6" to 8" in diameter.  Prospects looked good.  However, from the beginning water rights were an issue. Some people say it was Nathan Hurd who broke the company.  Western Box had lost some of its water to the Strawberry Ditch (going to Granby) in 1914.  More trouble was looming.  Hurd wanted to keep the water from the little reservoir for the ranchers and lettuce farmers below.  The timber folks wanted to use the water during the summer months to keep the flume going.  Nobody was willing to give up anything, so in 1915, the big mill closed.   Still, efforts continued.

Then in 1919, the planing mill at Tabernash burned.  In the early twenties, further contention led to the withholding of more water from the lumber companies who wanted permission to ditch Trail Creek water across into Meadow Creek, replacing water taken higher up for the flume and Strawberry Ditch.  This would have been quite easy because, about seven miles out of Tabernash is a nearly flat saddle that exists between the two creeks.   Nevertheless the Hurds wouldn't hear of it.

Then one Henry Jarvis showed up on the scene.  He was known to all the timber men.  In 1923, Jarvis, using a box of TNT, "blew the dam" of the irrigation reservoir at Western Box.  People suspected that he did it for T.S. Huston, one of the big lumber powers of the area.  The feeling was that "if the lumbermen couldn't have the water, neither could the ranchers and the Granby farmers."  In any case, that basically was the end of Western Box Company. 

Topic: Water

A Dream Smashed in Gore Canyon

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

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

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

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

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

Topic: Biographies

Elenor and George Smith

"You have tuberculosis." Frightening words to be sure, especially in times when the life expectancy rate for such a disease was slim. Tuberculosis, or consumption as it was commonly called, is a disease that primarily affects the lungs. Something as simple as the common cold quickly develops until the patient is suffering from severe chest pain. Soon they are coughing up blood. For most diagnosed, the result was eventual death. As a last hope, many people fled westward, desperately seeking the arid climate that would dry up the fluid in their lungs. Little did they know that while the west would cure them, it would by no means make their lives easier.

Elenor Smith, a woman in her early thirties living in Wisconsin, was one of the many so diagnosed. The doctor who examined her did not have much hope for her survival. He ominously predicted she would live no more that a few years longer and she would be unable to bear any more children. With this devastating prognosis ringing in her ears, Elenor, along with her husband George and their five children, packed up and headed west. Their long journey brought them to Fraser, Colorado, where they ended up settling in 1910.

The Smiths soon became an important part of the community. They built a log cabin in what is now "Olde Town Fraser' and, like everyone else, allowed their cattle to roam freely. George, affectionately called "Whispering George" by those who knew him well, owned the only livery stable in town. He could regularly be found escorting "Doc Susie" to her patients, be they man or beast.

 

The climate seemed to have been the perfect cure for Elenor. She lived a hardy and wholesome life, and went on to have four more children. Being the hard worker she was, she would often cook for the men working in the nearby logging camps. When she wasn't cooking, she was washing laundry. She was known by many and loved by all.

 

However, things were rough all over and all too soon the Smith family learned how harsh life could be. In 1921, their second eldest son, Oliver, at the age of twenty, was killed while working at Virgil Linnegar's sawmill. Then in 1944, things again took a turn for the worst. Her youngest daughter's (Georgene) two children contracted polio, a contagious disease that causes muscle paralysis and stunted limb growth, while their father was away in World War II.

 

As the story goes, the eldest of the two children, Sherry, showed signs of polio first, so she was rushed to the hospital in Denver. Not thinking George, the youngest at the time, had also contracted it, his mother left him with his Grandma Elenor, so that she could be with her ailing daughter. However, one day Elenor found him hiding under the table crying. Knowing immediately the two-year-old wasn't just throwing a fit, she scooped him up in her arms and rushed to get help.

 

Polio had been going around for a few years now, leaving a swath of deaths in its wake. People were doing everything they could to prevent bringing the disease upon themselves and their families, which was why the woman working in the telephone office locked the door when she saw them coming. Not knowing what else to do, Elenor searched frantically for someone, anyone, to help her. She even began knocking on house doors. Finally one brave man offered to help. He took her and little George to Denver in his car. Luckily, both children survived, though they would carry the repercussions of the disease for the rest of their lives.

 

Having conquered tuberculosis, polio, and everyday hardships, Elenor Smith died in 1974 at the ripe age of 93.

Topic: Biographies
, Gram Wood on horseback

Lillian Russell Smith Wood - "Gram" Wood

, Gram Wood on horseback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Topic: Leisure Time

Leisure Time

Of all the leisure time activities available to the pioneers, dancing was the favorite. Dances were held in grand hotels that remained from the mining boom, such as the Fairview House and The Garrison House in Grand Lake. Quadrilles, a type of square dance, were popular at the time. A fiddler would provide the music and serve as the caller. These parties would start in the evening and last all night.

The formidable temperatures and great traveling distances were incentive for getting the most out of every gathering. Winter Sports have also always been a popular pastime. Skiing was introduced to the region during the winter of 1883. Snowshoeing and sleigh rides were also enjoyed. 1882 officially brought the arts to the Grand Lake area when the Dramatic Society was organized. A production of the well-known comedy "Our Boys" was the premiere performance.

Topic: Dude Ranches

Dude Ranches

Starting in the late 1870s, ranchers took in guests to supplement their income during hard times. Early adventure-seekers from the East made the long rail journey to the wilds of Middle Park in search of big game and unspoiled mountain scenery. With few accommodations available, travelers looked to frontier families for room and board. Ranchers soon discovered guests, or “dudes” as they came to be known, would pay to fix fences, ride horses, work cattle and sleep in tents....sometimes for an entire summer! Entertainment was eventually incorporated into the guest experience.

Located on the stage stop between Georgetown and Hot Sulphur Springs, William Z. Cozens was the first rancher in Grand County to provide room and board to travelers starting as early as 1874. The Lehman and Sheriff families also ran well-known turn of the century dude ranches. The years following World War I were the height of the dude ranch era. By the late 1950s, Granby had as many as ten guest ranches between Granby and Grand Lake with others scattered throughout the county. Today Grand County is still home to six dude ranches, which attract visitors from all over the world for their western charm, high-quality accommodations, horseback riding programs and superb fly fishing.

Topic: 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:

Early Families

While natural events occasionally determine history, it is most often the existence of natural resources that lure humans to a region.  Those who first arrived in Grand County came to mine ore, cut timber and graze cattle and therefore they determined the subsequent history of the region.

The pioneering families of Grand County had exceptional stamina, pride and endurance to survive the grueling winters and isolation.  We have collected the stories of just a few of these families, but will continue expanding this section as information becomes available.  If you know the story of one of the early Grand County families, please contact us so that we may include it in this section

Ute Legend of Canyons

Major John Wesley Powell was in the first party to make a recorded climb of Pikes Peak in 1868.  Later, he would lead the first expedition of the Green and Colorado (Grand) Rivers. He was very interested in the Indian tribes that he encountered and later became head of the new U.S. Bureau of Ethnology.  He recorded this legend as told by the Utes on his first visit to the Colorado mountains, during his Pikes Peak climb.

A chief of the Utes mourned the death of his beloved wife, and his grief was so deep, that no one could console him.  Then the Great Spirit, Ta-Vwoats, appeared to him and promised to take him southwest to where he could see where his wife had gone, if he would promise to grieve no more.

Ta-Vwoats rolled a magical ball before him and it crushed mountains, earth and rocks, making a trail to the land of the afterlife.  Following the ball was a rolling globe of fire which the Great Spirit and the chief followed.  At last they were in the happy land where all was blessed with plenty and joy.  This was where the chief's wife had gone and he was glad to see it.

When they returned, Ta-Vwoats told the chief that he must never travel that trail again during life and warned all the people against it.  Knowing that those who had lost their loved ones would be tempted to make the journey, Ta-Vwoats rolled a river into the canyons so that no one could enter.

Topic: True Crime

The Selak Hanging

Fred Selak was a descendant of early settlers in Grand County.  He built a cabin three miles south of Grand Lake where he lived alone.  He helped his brothers in various enterprises including mining, a general store and a sawmill.  Selak was known to be a prosperous citizen who lent money to others and there were rumors of hidden cash and gold in his cabin.  He was also known to be an avid coin collector. 

When Selak failed to pick up his mail for several weeks, the postmaster visited his cabin July 26, 1926. After not getting a response to his knocks, the postmaster summoned an employee of Selak's with a key.  When they opened the door, they discovered the cabin in shambles and Selak missing.  Sheriff Make Fletcher was notified and a nephew of Selak's called in the Denver Police Department. 

As the investigation progressed, a .22 caliber slug was extracted from the wall and blood was found on an easy chair, but further investigation ruled these clues inconsequential as they were dated to many years prior. Sheriff Fletcher conducted a massive manhunt on August 16th and the body of Fred Selak was found on the second day by a deputy's dog.  The body was hanging from a tree and evidence showed that, because of a sloppy knot, Selak did not die quickly of a broken neck but rather suffered a slow strangulation.  The murder had taken place a month earlier and the body had stretched until the feet were touching the ground. 

Arthur Osborn, 22, and his cousin Roy Noakes, 21, became prime suspects after showing off old coins and trying to spend them for minor purchases around Grand Lake.  After interrogation by the Denver Police, both confessed to robbing and killing Selak.  Later, Noakes claimed that the confessions were coerced by the police. 

The suspects were kept in the Denver jail until their trial on March 7, 1927 and Sheriff Fletcher had to take great precautions against a possible lynching.  The only motive for the murder seems to be based on a land dispute years earlier in which Osborn was arrested for a violating fence line.  Both suspects were found guilty and sentenced to death.  After many appeals, the convicted murderers were hung in Canon City on March 30, 1928.  

Early Families