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