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Early Families Articles

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: 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."

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: Mining

Lulu City

A popular hiking trail in Rocky Mountain National Park leads to the site of the historic mining town of Lulu City.  When precious metals were discovered there in 1879, as many as 500 prospectors showed up.  When the mines played out four years later, they departed in haste for other promising boom towns.

Lulu City was named for the daughter of Benjamin Franklin Burnett, one of the town founders. At its height, the town had a hotel, post office, and a justice of the peace.  It was served three times a week by a state coach from Fort Collins, on the other side of the Continental Divide.

There were probably ten saloons which drew customers from various mines in the area, such as the Rustic, Friday Nite, Tiger, Carbonate and Southern Cross.  These yielded low grade gold, silver and lead but the remote location of the Lulu made the cost to process the metals so high that efforts were soon abandoned.  The closest smelters were probably well over 100 wagon miles away.

One of the more remarkable characters of Lulu was "Squeaky Bob" Wheeler.  His high pitched voice was unique.  He was subject to drinking bouts, but was usually a likeable, well-behaved citizen.

After working in the mines, Squeaky Bob saved enough money to purchase a ranch south of Lulu. There he established a guest house and became famous for his cooking skills and colorful hospitality.  The current Lulu City trail runs through the site of his property, which was named the Phantom Valley Ranch.  He sold the ranch in 1926, but it continued to be a popular tourist stop until it was included in the National Park boundaries. 

Topic: Agriculture

Timothy & Clover at Hurd Creek Ranch

Before the invention of seeding machines, a farmer or rancher would walk across his field in a straight line carrying a bucket or sack of seed with one hand. With his other hand he would fling fistfuls of fertile grain in a wide arc in front of his path. On reaching the end of the field, he would refill his bag, move over a few yards and repeat the process on the way back. After hours of walking and the casting of numerous sacks of seed, one handful at a time, the field would be planted.

I guess I was about 13 or maybe 14 when my father decided to plant timothy and clover on the east half of the meadow on the mesa. The area to be planted was probably forty acres or more that the ranch had leased to a Hindu man to grow lettuce and other truck crops. For several years we had gotten free lettuce for our table and our milk cows had loved the turnips from his harvest that were either too big or too small to be sold. I guess the profits from his work weren’t very good and the risk of growing lettuce in the rainy valley was too high. The Hindu had abandoned his lease and we would now put the water and the land to our own good use. Since we had no seeding equipment, we would broadcast the seed by hand. It would take hundreds of pounds of it to do the forty acres.

I was eager to help. Dad looked skeptical but finally agreed to let me try. After a bit of instruction he sent me off across the field. “Remember,” he had said. “You have to spread it even and don’t miss any spots.” I soon developed some regrets about volunteering. Not only did we have to plant the field once, but we had to plant it a second time as well. It seems that a planting of timothy and clover grows only a few inches high the first year and doesn’t produce a harvest. In order to avoid losing an entire season, it was customary to plant a second crop on top of it. In our case, Dad had chosen oats for the second planting. This choice would produce lots of feed right away even though the growing season in the Fraser Valley was too short to yield any grain. We planted the hay crop on one day and the oats the next.

I was exhausted by the time we had finished. In fact, if memory serves me right, Dad did the last five or ten acres by himself. When fall came, we had oats four feet high. They were cut, stacked like hay and fed out the following winter. The year after, there was beautiful timothy and clover that has continued to produce a fine crop for more than 60 years. When I visit friends on Ranch Creek every August, I drive by our field both coming and going.

Each time I see it, I remember my work and experience a sense of joy and accomplishment. All the things I produced over a professional career of nearly 40 years are now obsolete but the timothy and clover seeds planted so long ago are still growing. They will continue to do so until the Hurd Creek Ranch sells its water right and the field dries up. In our modern world, a 40-acre field of timothy and clover isn’t much. But how often, today, does a teen-ager have the opportunity to do work that will serve for a lifetime?

The above material is copyrighted by the author, Robert K. Peterson. Reproduction is any form is limited to the personal use of the view and/or to educational purposes. Neither the sale of nor any other commercial use of the text or illustrations is authorized.

Topic: Dude Ranches

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.

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.

Topic:

Agriculture

Article contributed by Scott Rethi

The first settlers in Granby realized the sunny days and cool nights were perfect for growing one crop in particular, lettuce.  Lettuce farming boomed in the 1920's and a new industry was born.

Granby had become an important railway center as tracks were laid over the Divide at Rollins Pass,giving the Moffat Railroad access to Salt Lake City. Granby produced some of the best-known lettuce
in America.  There are even tales that New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bragged of their “Granby Lettuce” on the menu.  

Then a blight settled into the soil, probably brought in by the wooden crates used for shipping, and the lettuce business was ruined. Since then, ranching has replaced agriculture as Granby's major industry.

Sources:
www.byways.org, national scenic byways online, 2003
www.grandcountynews.com, Johnson Media, Inc., 2000-2002
www.djhome.net, 2002

Topic: Towns

Hot Sulphur Springs

Hot Sulphur Springs was founded as the first town in Grand County around 1870.  By 1903 it gained incorporation. The hot springs in the area were considered a healing and sacred place by the Ute Indians long before the white man discovered them.

The town site was once owned by William N. Byers, founder of the Denver newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News. Planning to build a town to take advantage of the springs, he first had to construct an enclosure around the main pool to keep the Indian ponies out and the steam in. The white settlers and travellers were drawn to the  springs for their therapeutic value.

During the Christmas season of 1911, Hot Sulphur Springs hosted the first Winter Carnival west of the Mississippi.

Except for a brief period in the early 1880’s, the town has been the county seat.  The Grand County Historical Museum there draws many visitors to its unique displays.

 

Topic: Libraries

Grand County Libraries

In 1938, Grand County decided to establish a library to act as a central reservoir of knowledge for its citizens. The community realized that few people can purchase all of the books and other materials which they may need, and so they agreed to pool their money in the library to build its central collection. At the same time they wanted to be sure that their interests would always be represented in the operations of the library, and so they formed a board of trustees from among themselves.

At about the same time, the federated women's clubs in Granby and Grand Lake, for the same reasons, set up lending libraries in those two communities. Run by the clubs for many years, both were eventually incorporated into the County Library.

In 1994, the Committee to Protect the Library was established to petition the Board of Commissioners to increase funding for the library to set aside a completely separate library fund, which would be administered as a Library District. The voters approved the move on November 8, 1994, and Grand County Library District was formed on January 1, 1995.

Today, the library still serves that same basic function for the community as well as new roles acquired in the intervening years.

Rocky Mountain National Park

In 1915, thanks to the efforts of visionary Enos Mills, Rocky Mountain National Park became the 10th national park. The concept was then, and still is, conservation of natural lands and wildlife. No commercial enterprises which consume resources operate within its boundaries--no logging, grazing, farming, mining, hunting or trapping.

Almost all private property in-holdings have been bought by the National Park Service and the buildings destroyed. Located within park boundaries, Longs Peak, at an altitude of 14,256 feet, named for explorer Stephen Long, is visible from both sides of the Continental Divide. Indeed, one can look northwest along 17th Street in Denver, to see one of the area’s best known peaks.

Trail Ridge Road, which runs through the park, was completed in 1932 and is the highest continuous highway in the United States. It is open only in the summer. Dignitaries from the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake celebrate the opening each year, often but not always by Memorial Day, with a ceremony at the top called “Hands Across the Nation.”

Early Families