Chauncey Thomas memorial
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Indian Legends

Indian Legends Articles

Origins of the Ute People
Origins of the Ute People

Before there were any people anywhere, the Creator, "Sinawaf", cut sticks and placed them in a large sack.  After many days, this aroused the curiosity of the coyote.  When Sinewaf was away, the coyote could no longer control himself and opened the sack.

Out came many people who scattered in all directions.  Each spoke a difference language from the others.  When Sinewaf returned, there were only a few people remaining in the sack.  He was furious with the coyote, as he had planned to distribute the people equally in various parts of the land.  As there could now be no such equity, there would be wars among the different people, who would fight for the best locations.

Of the small group left in the sack, Sinawaf called them Ute or Nuche, which meant "the people".  They would be a very brave and strong tribe.

The Ute Legend of Grand Lake
The Ute Legend of Grand Lake

A group of Utes were camping on the shores of Grand Lake when they were suddenly attacked by an enemy tribe of the Arapaho (and in some versions the Cheyenne as well).  As the brave Ute warriors began fighting, the women and children were hurried onto a large raft for safety and pushed to the middle of the lake.  As the battle continued, a treacherous wind overturned the raft and all the women and children were drowned. Many Ute warriors were also killed during the fighting. 

The legend holds that you can still see ghostly forms in the morning mist rising from the lake and hear the wailing of the lost women and children beneath the winter ice.  The Utes avoided the lake for many years because of these tragic events and evil spirits.

Ute Legend of Canyons
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.

Ute Legend of the Quaking Aspen
Ute Legend of the Quaking Aspen

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

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

Ute Legends of Hot Sulphur Springs
Ute Legends of Hot Sulphur Springs

Ages ago, there were many Ute Indians who enjoyed life in Middle Park with its plentiful game and lush meadows.  They lived in peace and harmony for "as many years as there are hairs on the head."

In spite of this idyllic life, there was one young brave who yearned for more adventure and material goods.  He proposed that the Utes attack the Sioux, who lived beyond the mountains on the plains of the rising sun.  As victors, they would return in glory with much wealth and many captives.

Spiquet Pah (Smoking Water) was an elderly medicine man who foresaw only grief in the prospect of such a war.  He spoke before a council meeting, warning of the devastation that such an action would bring upon the tribe.  He foretold " As the North Wind soon brings the snows and death of winter, so will he bring sorrow and death to our own people.....if you do this, strength and peace and plenty will be but for a few; joy will be seen no more."

Disregarding his warning, most of the young men were tantalized with the temptation of the grand adventure of such a conquest.  In the autumn of the year, when they usually did their hunting, the young men rallied behind the young brave and followed him over the Great Divide into combat with the plains people.  As the fighters departed, a saddened Spiquet Pah went into the heart of the mountain "and pulled the hole in after him."

The young Ute men found the enemy better armed and organized than they expected. Many Ute braves were killed and others were taken as slaves. The prophecy had come true as starvation and disease plagued the tribe as there were too few men to hunt for food. The old man sat on his haunches beside his subterranean fire which he heated water from an underground stream.  From the mountain at Hot Sulphur Springs, water flows even today as a reminder of the rash behavior of so long ago.

Another legend holds simply that the Hot Sulphur Springs water acquired medicinal qualities in answer to the prayers of an old chief who has be left by his tribe to die.  The old man built fires within the mountain, and after drinking the water and bathing in them, we was restored to health and rejoined his people.

Articles to Browse

Topic: Grand County

Grand County Trivia

After 1879 there were no Native Americans in Grand County.

In the 1800, the leading cause of death in Grand County was accidents followed by pneumonia.

Between 1887 and 1902, Grand County had no divorces.

The total resident population of Grand County in 1900 was 741.  The average life expectancy was 47 years.

Winters in Grand County often were severe, but nothing as terrible as the winter of 1898-1899.  Warm weather preceded the storm which began on February 2nd.  Four feet of snow fell by that first evening and the residents did not see the sun for the rest of the month as the snow continued to fall.  The snow continued into March and April and while few residents died, but the loss of livestock was tremendous.

Topic: Biographies
Chauncey Thomas memorial

Chauncey Thomas: ‘Sage of the Rockies’

Chauncey Thomas memorial

In 1900, while visiting in Washington, D.C., Chauncey Thomas, a nephew of William and Elizabeth Byers, wrote ‘Snow Story, or Why the Hot Sulphur Mail was Late’.  When the great British author, Rudyard Kipling, read the piece, he pronounced it the ‘best short story by an American’.

The opening paragraph of the ‘Snow Story’ reads as follows:  ‘Berthoud Pass is a mighty pass.  It is the crest of a solid wave of granite two miles high, just at timberline. Berthoud is a vertebra in the backbone of the continent.  It is the gigantic aerial gateway to Middle Park, Colorado - - a park one-fifth as large as all England.  The mail for this empire is carried by one man, my friend Mason.’   The story goes on to describe Mason’s winter trip over Berthoud Pass into Middle Park where he encountered extreme winter blizzard conditions, an avalanche and Salarado.

Chauncey Thomas, a native son of Colorado Pioneers, was born in Denver in 1872 and died there in 1941.  At the age of three, Chauncey suffered his first loss.  ‘The light went out of my left eye forever.  A pair of scissors did it’, he said.  At age nine he received his first weapon, a .22 caliber revolver, and promptly shot himself in the foot.  No matter.  Forever after, firearms fascinated him.

He attended Gilpin and East Denver High School where he was a military cadet, but except for military drill and mathematics, school interested him very little.  After graduation and college attendance at Golden, Colorado and Lake Forest, Illinois, he found his way to New York City. Here, he worked as an editor for well-known magazines - McClure’s, Muncey Publications, and Outdoor Life (among others) and hobnobbed with the likes of Ida B. Tarbell, S. S. McClure, Jack London and Frederic Remington.  He returned to his home town and occupied himself more and more with Denver’s historic past.  

On the night of September 23, 1941, in his garret room at 1340 Grant Street, he took up a scrap of paper and wrote: ‘stroke--agony’.The next morning a neighbor found him, pistol in hand, dead.  Two years later, at Berthoud Pass on a mountain that bore his name, Chauncey Thomas was honored.  Dr. LeRoy Hafen the Colorado State Historical Society’s historian and the Colorado Historical Society dedicated a monument to him on which was inscribed, Chauncey Thomas: Sage of the Rockies.

Excerpts of this article are courtesy of Colorado Historical Society & Grand County Historical Association. The publication ‘Snow Story, or Why the Hot Sulphur Mail was Late’, written by Chauncey Thomas, is available in the History Stores at Cozen’s Ranch Museum and Pioneer  Museum

Ute Legends of Hot Sulphur Springs

Ages ago, there were many Ute Indians who enjoyed life in Middle Park with its plentiful game and lush meadows.  They lived in peace and harmony for "as many years as there are hairs on the head."

In spite of this idyllic life, there was one young brave who yearned for more adventure and material goods.  He proposed that the Utes attack the Sioux, who lived beyond the mountains on the plains of the rising sun.  As victors, they would return in glory with much wealth and many captives.

Spiquet Pah (Smoking Water) was an elderly medicine man who foresaw only grief in the prospect of such a war.  He spoke before a council meeting, warning of the devastation that such an action would bring upon the tribe.  He foretold " As the North Wind soon brings the snows and death of winter, so will he bring sorrow and death to our own people.....if you do this, strength and peace and plenty will be but for a few; joy will be seen no more."

Disregarding his warning, most of the young men were tantalized with the temptation of the grand adventure of such a conquest.  In the autumn of the year, when they usually did their hunting, the young men rallied behind the young brave and followed him over the Great Divide into combat with the plains people.  As the fighters departed, a saddened Spiquet Pah went into the heart of the mountain "and pulled the hole in after him."

The young Ute men found the enemy better armed and organized than they expected. Many Ute braves were killed and others were taken as slaves. The prophecy had come true as starvation and disease plagued the tribe as there were too few men to hunt for food. The old man sat on his haunches beside his subterranean fire which he heated water from an underground stream.  From the mountain at Hot Sulphur Springs, water flows even today as a reminder of the rash behavior of so long ago.

Another legend holds simply that the Hot Sulphur Springs water acquired medicinal qualities in answer to the prayers of an old chief who has be left by his tribe to die.  The old man built fires within the mountain, and after drinking the water and bathing in them, we was restored to health and rejoined his people.

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.

A Man Called Blue

“Blue” should have been a grouch, with a name like that.  Nobody who knew him seems to know why he was called this; his real name was Rudolph O. Cogdell.  If one went into his little grocery store in Fraser, although his voice was gruff, he gave a peasant greeting.  He did possess a temper that could be ignited, and if his blood pressure rose, his face turned a brilliant red. 

However, he was kind to his wife, Gladys (Hunnicutt), a local girl, and loving to their daughter, Mary Ellen, who was a “late-comer” (Gladys was over 40 when the baby was born).   On the store front, the sign read Codgell’s Market, which was located facing the highway near what is now Doc Susie Avenue.  Before Blue bought the store in the mid-1940’s, he worked on the Fraser railroad section, and he also owned the Sinclair gas station at the corner of the highway and the main street, about 1940.  

Codgell’s Market was quite small, and the customer base was likewise, for there weren¹t many people in the valley in those days. Three grocery stores competed: R.L. Cogdell¹s Market, The Fraser Mercantile, owned by Frank Carlson, and the Red & White Store, run by Charles Bridge, Sr. There was also a tiny store by the sawmill near “Old Town” Winter Park; that one was operated by Mr. and Mrs. Green.  The economy struggled for many years after the war, and everyone lived on a shoestring.  Thus, prosperous times for any of the grocery stores had marginal potential.  That should have made Blue grumpy, one might think.   Blue, a short, rather stocky man with dark hair and brown eyes framed in glasses and habitually clad in his grocer’s apron, took care of everything in his mercantile except for the meat counter at the rear of the store.  He would be found arranging the goods on shelves, dry goods on one side, dried food on the other, and fresh food in between.  He stored some of the dried foods in barrels along the aisle. Fresh food was picked up once a week.  It was, of course, very seasonal, with only root vegetables, apples, oranges, and bananas being available year-round.

Granby Dairy delivered dairy products; Rube Strachman in Granby sold him meat.  Nobel Mercantile from Denver serviced the dried foods and produce.   Gladys, even shorter and stockier than Blue, had a fiery temper and she was known on occasion to retaliate if some customer gave her any lip.  She was an expert butcher, and if a person wanted some special roast or other cut of meat, he went to see Gladys.  She was good.  Mary Ellen helped when she could, as she grew older.   When the theater, located on the corner of Highway 40 and St. Louis Ave., or Main Street (now Eisenhower Drive) in Fraser closed its doors, Blue bought the building, doubling his available space.  The layout was the same and Gladys still manned the butcher department at the rear of the store. Walking into the long skinny building always brought to mind the movies of previous days. 

The economy improved as the ski area grew.   It was a fact that Blue, although a hard worker, also loved to gamble, and one report speaks of certain crap games.  It seems that there was a stretch of track inside one of the tunnels in the Fraser Canyon that would rise with the frost every winter.  When this happened, section hands from Fraser and Tabernash, including Blue in those days, had to go into the tunnel, removed the rails, dig out the hump, and replace the rails.  While the men were at it, they would take time for those crap games.  A good deal of gambling occurred at the Red & White Store too. Carlson, Cogdell, and Bridge often had poker games, where the losses were considerable on occasion.  If he lost, did that make Blue blue?  We don’t know.  

In any case, Blue and Gladys took separate vacations.  Perhaps he went to gambling towns like Las Vegas; on the other hand, perhaps one of them just had to stay home and mind the store.   Every Christmas season, Blue wandered over to the Fraser School to find out how many children were enrolled this year.  It was Blue who furnished al the fruits, nuts, and candies for paper sacks to be given out to each child by Santa Claus at the end of the Christmas program.  This was a town affair and nearly every person in town attended, sitting if there was room, standing against the walls of the gym if there wasn’t.  Nobody cared to miss the play and singing performed by every single child in the school.  PTA mothers filled the goody bags.  Few people were aware of Blue’s generosity.

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.

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.

Topic: Regions

Middle Park

Middle Park is one of three big parks in the Colorado Rockies and covers a large portion of Grand County. Like North Park and South Park on either side, Middle Park is a large open area of  meadows, river valleys, woodlands, surrounded by mountains. It is also the headwaters of the mighty Colorado River.

The first printed account of Middle Park was written in 1839 describing abundant antelope, deer, big horn sheep, bears, buffalo and elk. The word “parc” is of French origin and so it is logical to assume that French trappers named this location.

In 1819 the Adams-Onis Treaty partitioned Middle Park so that Fraser, Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs, had they existed, would become part of the United States; however, Kremmling would have belonged to Spain! Later, Kremmling would have been part of Texas.

While political boundaries have changed, the beauty of the park remains the same. As Middle Park is entirely surrounded by mountains, Robert C. Black, who wrote the area’s definitive history, chose to call his book, Island in the Rockies.

Topic: Leisure Time

Picnics, Games and Socials

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

 

There were many games and leisure time activities enjoyed by the early settlers in Middle Park.  Among the most common adult games were gambling games such as crap-shooting.  Poker in almost all its forms was also very popular. Some saloon poker sessions would go on for entire weekends.  Parlor games often included Blind Mans Bluff, which has a history dating from ancient times.  Charades, dating from the 1770's was recorded in at least one pioneer diary.  Marbles and Jacks were common children's games. 

 

Some of the more athletic pursuits included swimming, which was very popular in the summer and during winter at the Hot Sulphur Springs.  Contests of croquet and horseshoes were played at almost all the resorts and dude ranches.  Several times, the Middle Park Fair Horseshoe Champion went on to compete at the Colorado State Fair, and in 1920, a local winner went on to the World Championships held in Minnesota.

 

All sorts of tag games were invented, including a version called "Fox and Geese" played in the snow fields of winter.  A variation which is rarely seen today was called "Statues".  In this game, "it" would whirl each player around and then release him or her.  However the released one landed, that position had to be held totally motionless (as a statue).  After all the players had been cast off into statues, "it" would pass among them looking for even the slightest motion, even to the blink of an eye.  As "it" caught a victim in movement, the victim then had to join "it" to pass among the statues, often taunting and teasing to elicit a movement, until only one statue remained.  The final statue became "it" for the next round.  

 

Rope jumping, hop scotch, sleigh riding, skiing and ski-jouring have all been mentioned in letters, diaries and newspaper accounts. Potluck picnics were frequent in the summers.  Ranch families would meet on Saturday nights in the school house for dancing.   At church celebrations there was almost always a cake-walk and donated box lunches were auctioned off.

 

In additional to fishing and hunting, rodeos gradually replaced informal races and other private ranch contests.  One of the first rodeos in the nation was held at Deer Trail in Colorado in 1869.  By the end of the century, almost every ranching area in the state had at least one rodeo a year. 

 

As for musical entertainment in those days before phonographs or radios, many people would perform at public and private gatherings.  Violinist, often self-taught, would play with other instrumentalists in what were called "hoe downs".  Mountain men often carried mouth harps for self-entertainment or impromptu performances for other trappers and Indians.  Accordianists were very popular at polka dances and the Jew harp was another common musical instrument.

 

On long lonely treks, some travelers would sing, not only for pleasure, but to scare away predatory animals.  Some ladies cultivated excellent singing voices and were often accompanied by piano music.  Pianos were more common in homes a century ago than they are today.  For households without a capable musician, there were player pianos, which made music from rolls of perforated paper to reproduce popular and classic tunes.

 

Story-telling was an art for some talented individuals, who were the highlight feature at many gatherings.  Some stories ended on a humorous note; other were mysterious or even scary.  Conversation was also considered a form of entertainment.  Women's sewing bees were welcomed for the gossip opportunities as well as the craftsmanship. 

 

Essentially, there was much more individual participation and carefully planned intermingling in those days than the more passive entertainment (TV, video games, movies, etc.) of today.   

 

Sources: Merlyn Simmonds Mohr, The New Games Treasury, Boston, 1997

Gertrude Hollingsworth, I Rember Fraser, Fraser, CO

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

Candy Moulton, A Writers Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1999

Robert C. Black, Island In the Rockies, Boulder, CO 1969

Topic: Biographies
Ute Bill Thompson, Ute Chief Piah

Ute Bill Thompson

Ute Bill Thompson, Ute Chief Piah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indian Legends