Mountain Men / Trappers

Mountain Men / Trappers Articles

Jim Bridger
Jim Bridger

Jim Bridger spent quite a bit of time in Grand County and has been cited as "one of the three or four most able, influential, and best known mountain men' according to historian Dan Thrapp.  Born in Virginia in 1804, he was apprenticed to a blacksmith in St Louis at the age of fourteen, and in 1822, left to join Ashley's fur trading operation in the Yellowstone area of Wyoming. He claimed to have discovered the Great Salt Lake in 1824, believing it to be an arm of the Pacific Ocean.  He was a co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, along with Tom Fitzpatrick and Milton Sublette. 

While Bridger was illiterate, he was noted for both his intimate knowledge of the Rocky Mountains and his prevarications to impress newcomers.  He was engaged in some battles with Indians, but was married to two Indian women; a Ute woman who died in childbirth, and then Shoshone women who bore him two children.

Jim's friendship with Louis Vasquez led to construction of a fort named Fort. Bridger on the Green River in Wyoming.  As a guide, he led the infamous expedition of Sir George Gore through Grand County in 1855, in which Gore killed many thousands of animals and birds.  During the excursion, he would join Gore for luxurious dinners with fine table service and discussions of Shakespeare.  Bridger hired a teenaged boy to read him some of Shakespeare's plays but thought that many of the story lines were just "too vicious or ridiculous". 

He was one of the most sought after guides of the West during his lifetime and guided American troops in the so called Mormon War of 1857-8.  In his later years, Bridger acquired a farm near Westport Missouri, gradually became blind and died in 1873.  His two sons buried him in the present Kansas City, but in 1904, his remains were moved to Mountain Washington Cemetery in Independence Missouri.    Jim Bridger is immortalized with his name being given to many places in the West.

Mountain Men / Trappers
Mountain Men / Trappers

Many noted fur trappers and traders are reported to have been familiar with the headwaters of the Grand (Colorado) River as early as the 1820s. Among them were Thomas Fitzpatrick, Jim Beckwurth, Christopher “Kit “Carson, Henry Fraeb and Peter Sarpy. Louis Vasquez built a trading fort on the South Platte River and ventured into what is now Grand County, where a pass east of Berthoud Pass is named for him.

His partner, Andrew Sublette, also came across the Divide to trade in Grand County, as well as Ceran St. Vrain, whose fort was near modern Platteville. 26 year old Tom Smith was with a group of trappers who entered the northern part of Grand County in 1827, where they were attacked by either Ute or Arapahoe Indians. Tom was hit in the leg by an arrow, splitting the bone and creating a life threatening infection. Amputation was needed but none of the party had the nerve to perform the operation. So Tom took a butcher knife and amputated his own leg. As “Pegleg Smith” Tom later became noted as one of the greatest horse thieves in the West, but was never prosecuted.

The beaver trade was essentially over by the 1840s as silk replaced beaver pelt as the stylish material for top hats. In 1842, famed traveler Rufus Sage came over Muddy Pass into Middle Park, but recorded almost no hunting activity there. On the other hand …fishing was great! His party caught over 50 pounds of trout in one morning. Noted mountain man Jim Bridger and another guide, Joseph Chatillon, let the infamous Sir George Gore on an extravagant hunting expedition in Middle Park. Despite the senseless slaughter of thousands of game animals, Gore has been immortalized with a mountain range, canyon and pass named for him.

One of the earliest of the mountain men to discover what was to become Grand County arrived in the Fraser Valley as early as 1860, soon after gold was discovered in Colorado. Charley Utter, known as “Colorado Charley”, was considered the prototype of rough trappers and traders. He was unique, though, in that he insisted on taking a bath every day, whether in the hot springs or beneath frigid waterfalls. In 1864, Charley was one of the first to make use of Berthoud Pass driving cattle that he raised at Troublesome Creek. His home was host to various adventurers who came to explore the prospects of Middle Park. He would eventually work with the famous Buffalo Bill Cody, appearing in “Wild West” shows.

When Kentuckian Beverly D. William spent some time in Grand County, he realized the Grand River was originally named the Colorado. As a Washington delegate from the newly organized “Jefferson Territory” (as this area was known at the time), he was instrumental in getting the named changed to the “Colorado Territory”, although the river was called Grand River until 1921.

Ranger Stories - Wildlife in Middle Park
Ranger Stories - Wildlife in Middle Park

“He spent the winter of 1886-87 in Middle Park, Colorado … and succeeded in killing three grizzlies, two mountain lions, and a large number of elk, deer, sheep, wolves, beavers and many other animals.” The above is one of the earliest reports of wildlife in Middle Park. It comes from John Wesley Powell in his book The Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons, where he describes local trading post owner Jack Sumner, who accompanied him on their 1869 trip through the Grand Canyon. Forest Service wildlife reports date back at least to 1913. At the end of each year rangers and forest supervisors were required to submit a report on the status of wildlife in their districts and forests. Thanks to the diligence of Sulphur Ranger District wildlife biologist Doreen Sumerlin and her predecessors, those original reports dating from 1913 to 1939 have been retained and protected. They were scanned by the Grand County Historical Association and added to the permanent collection of historic documents in the Pioneer Village Museum. These reports provide fascinating insight into the perceived issues and approach to wildlife management practiced by wildlife managers in previous decades as contrasted with wildlife management today. In the early days of the Forest Service and state wildlife agencies the focus was on providing game for hunters – elk, deer, grouse – and removing any predators perceived to be a threat to those species and to ranchers’ livestock. The following excerpts from ranger reports exemplify this approach. 

 

Ranger Stories: Wildlife in Middle Park Wolves October 29, 1913, Only three wolves have been reported on the Forest …. An especial effort will be made by the Forest Hunter to exterminate these three and it is hoped that losses to the stockmen in North Park from this source will cease. Wolves are on the decrease and it is felt that the total extermination will occur within a few years. -Alva Simpson, Forest Supervisor October 23, 1914, Only one wolf is now reported – the famous “Three Toes” upon whose head an enormous bounty is placed. Being a male, no increase will result unless he finds a mate. The loss from this one wolf is enormous, one cattleman losing last winter eleven head of blooded stock valued at $1,000 or more. Although very wise, the end will come and it will be a pleasure to report his death. -Alva A. Simpson, Forest Supervisor

 

October 29, 1913, Only three wolves have been reported on the Forest …. An especial effort will be made by the Forest Hunter to exterminate these three and it is hoped that losses to the stockmen in North Park from this source will cease. Wolves are on the decrease and it is felt that the total extermination will occur within a few years. -Alva Simpson, Forest Supervisor October 23, 1914, Only one wolf is now reported – the famous “Three Toes” upon whose head an enormous bounty is placed. Being a male, no increase will result unless he finds a mate. The loss from this one wolf is enormous, one cattleman losing last winter eleven head of blooded stock valued at $1,000 or more. Although very wise, the end will come and it will be a pleasure to report his death. -Alva A. Simpson, Forest Supervisor

 

October 12, 1914, Horseshoe Ranger Station, Scholl, CO, There are a few lynx on the district. Gus Champier told me that he trapped three last winter. One was seen this fall near the head of Lost Creek and I also saw tracks in the snow last week where three had gone along the Williams Peak trail where it crosses Lost Creek. -Lewis G. Davis, Asst. Forest Ranger Magpies November 13, 1917, Hot Sulphur Springs, Another menace to them (grouse) and to all song birds is the magpie. In June of this year I noticed four magpies drive a grouse hen from her nest then peck and eat the eggs. If the coyotes and magpies could be exterminated it would help to increase game birds of all kinds. Magpies, hawks, and eagles should be killed whenever the chance comes. -No name, Forest Ranger Bears October 13, 1915, Scholl, CO, The bear are getting to be quite a common thing in this part of the country. I have seen four myself this year, 1 black and 3 brown, besides those trapped by Almirall and his hired help. They got 2, 1 black and 1 brown. Will Darling also trapped a silver tip last spring in Darling Creek. Henry Wilson roped a small brown bear last week and he has seen several on the Muddy while riding for cattle this summer. -Lewis G. Davis, Asst. Forest Ranger

 

Coyotes October 15, 1915, Hot Sulphur Springs, A substantial bounty should be placed on coyotes. As it is now, everyone kills them when the opportunity occurs, but a substantial bounty would make it worthwhile for a man to carry a gun on his saddle always, thus being prepared to kill them at all times. The extermination of this, our most destructive predatory animal, would soon result in a great increase of game. -Bertram A. Goodman, Assistant Forest Ranger Fish October 23, 1914, All the streams have been stocked in the past but even with the heavy stocking most of the streams are fished out. This is the direct result of the tourist industry and the continuance of the industry requires the constant stocking of the streams. -Alva A. Simpson, Forest Supervisor Game Wardens As is the case today, the State of Colorado is responsible for managing the wildlife while the Forest Service is responsible for managing the habitat – the land – on national forests. Apparently, there were issues! October 29, 1913, Effective game protection cannot be had under the present system of enforcement of the law. …The average settler is in favor of game protection, but will not exert himself to see that protection is given when the men paid by the State to protect the game show no other interest than to draw their salaries: I understand that in the City of Denver there are five paid, year-long game wardens. It is obvious that game animals will be not be found in the City unless they appear on the table at a banquet. -Alva Simpson, Forest Supervisor October 15, 1913, The present game laws in my opinion do not protect the game. A person can go in almost any portion of the state and ask for the game warden either deputy or special, and nine cases out of ten if you should ask him the road to some place off the main traveled road, he does not know, he has never been off the main road. -W. M. Leahy, Asst. Forest Ranger October 23, 1914 A yearlong Game Warden has been appointed but his effectiveness is in doubt. Take fifty years, 200 pounds and a 650-pound buckskin pony and you have our representative of the Game Laws. What is needed is a young live man used to the trails and forest byways—endured to the hardships— and with Civil Service standing and a chance for promotion ahead of him. Then our law would be respected, not as a bound volume for winter reading but through the arm as typified by its successful enforcement. -Alva A. Simpson, Forest Supervisor Today, due to requirements of important laws such as the 1973 Endangered Species Act and the 1976 National Forest Management Act, the Forest Service and other land management agencies recognize the value of all wildlife, fish and plant species and work cooperatively to carry out management practices to sustain them.

By Dan Nolan

Coyote hunters Chet McQueary and Pom Ainsley


 

Coyote hunters Chet McQueary and Pom Ainsley

 
The Daily Life of Mountain Men
The Daily Life of Mountain Men

Washington Irving wrote "There is, perhaps, no class of men on the face of the Earth who lead a life of more continued exertion, peril and excitement, and who are more enamored of their occupations, than the free trappers of the West".

The diet of the mountain men at times consisted of nothing more than meat. When possible. wild plants and berries supplemented needed vitamins.  Pemmican, a meat pounded with fruits and dried in flakes, was convenient to carry and lasted a long time. Mountain men made boudins, sausage made from the intestines of newly killed animals.  These sausages were packed full of undigested grasses which probably protected the mountain men from the illness of scurvy.  The mountain men also chewed on leaves and wild grasses to supplement their vitamin needs.  Potatoes soaked in vinegar supplied further balance to the diet.  Jams and orange marmalade were highly valued whenever they could be obtained. Bread consisted almost entirely of hardtack, a touch cracker usually unsalted, which would not spoil and sturdy enough not to crumble.

Beaver tail soup was considered a delicacy by most mountain men.  Another treat was called "French dumplings", made by mincing buffalo hump with marrow, rolling it into balls, and covering with flour dough and boiled.  Coffee was popular, but limited for transport.  Tea from China came in solid blocks which could be shaved off as needed. 

Normally, mountain men could not carry whiskey on the move but at rendezvous or during visits to forts, they were known as fabulous drinkers.  The most common intoxicant in those days was "Taos Lightening", a strong whiskey manufactured by Simeon Truly of Taos New Mexico.  Various writers have portrayed these men as brutes who lived from one drunken episode to the next, but the facts, and common sense contradict that image.  They could not achieve much in either trapping or trading if they did not stay focused on their outdoor skills and survival. 

Smoking pipes was a luxury, mostly at nights as only a limited amount of tobacco could be obtained.  The mountain men would stretch their tobacco supplies by mixing it with kinnick-kinnick and other plants.

While many traders and trappers dressed in buckskin shirts and trousers, wool garments were even more common and needed to be shrunk to fit.  Probably every mountain man carried what was called a "possibilities bag" that contained personal items such as a pipe, tobacco, soap, needles, and small keepsakes such as mouth-harps.

Before the Sharps "Big 50" rifle was invented, it was necessary to carry a waterproof powder horn and a bag of rifle balls weighing fifty to a pound.  A good knife was essential.  The most sought after of these was the Bowie Knife, invented by Rezin Bowie, but made famous by his brother Jim, who was adept at its use.  Jim was one of the heros killed at the Battle of the Alamo in Texas.

Some mountain men simply loved the lifestyle and had no reason to return to their original homes.  Some had wives back in St. Louis and made an annual trek there every year.  Others had Indian wives or female companions.  Some men claimed to have a wife in every tribe they visited.  Divorce within many tribes was often simple, a matter of putting one's belongings outside the lodge.

As journeys by foot or horse were lonely, mountain men were known to play their mouth harps or sing songs along the trail.  The use of profanity was common, except in the presence of white ladies.  One writer claimed the Indians called white men "Godams" because that swear word was used so frequently by the mountain men, ranch hands and mule skinners.     

Articles to Browse

Topic: Grand County

Grand County

Grand County was established in 1874 by the Territory of Colorado, thus becoming a county two years before Colorado became a state. It was named for the Grand River, the name by which the Colorado River was known at that time. The headwaters of the today’s Colorado River are in Grand County. The county was formed from a portion of Summit County but acquired its current boundaries in 1877, when part of the Grand County was used to create Routt County. The county seat is Hot Sulphur Springs. The area of 1,854 square miles consists of meadows, river valleys and mountains.

Topic: Mining

Teller City, Crescent City and Tyner

The original Grand County contained North Park as well as Middle Park, and during the mining boom of the early 1880's there were several mining camps east of the modern town of Rand. It was several years after the mining boom northern area of Jackson County was created.

Teller City was founded in 1879 and named for Colorado's famous Senator Henry M. Teller, who later became U.S. Secretary of the Interior.  By 1882, the population of Teller City was about 1200.  It had a fine hotel with 40 rooms, a newspaper and two steam saw mills.  It was a lively Old West town with twenty seven saloons and a number of "houses of ill repute".

Some high quality ore assayed at Teller City was as much as $3000 a ton, but most of that soon ran out and by 1884, the high shipping costs to far away smelters dropped the price per ton dropped to $20. The best mine, Endomile, was three miles from town.

Crescent City, southwest of Teller City had an even more brief existence, but there was population enough for a U.S. Post Office in 1880. 

Rumors of valuable silver three miles sough of Teller City drew a number of prospectors to found the camp known as Tyner.  John Noble Tyner was the First Assistant Postmaster General of the United States and visited the mining camp so named in 1879.  He promised the miners a weekly mail delivery if at least 2 miners mined through the winter.  Tyner had been a special agent for the Post Office from 1861 thru 1868, at which time he was appointed to serve in an open seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for Indiana.  He ran for election win the appointed term ended and was elected and continued to be reelected and serve as a Representative until 1875 when President Grant appointed him Second Assistant Postmaster General.  Grant would later appoint him to the "big job" of Postmaster General in 1876. 

Tyner worked to elect Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 and after Hayes was elected and took office in March of 1877, Hayes appointed a new Postmaster General, but gave the second spot, First Assistant to the Postmaster General to Tyner.  Historians suggest that Tyner's demotion angered him to the point that he allowed wide spread corruption in the day to day operation of the Postal Service which was his responsibility to over see. He resigned in 1881 under great public pressure from what became known as the "Star Route Fraud scandal".  He would remain a political figure  being appointed  various positions  with the U. S. Postal Service until shortly before his death in 1904.  Although indited three times for corruption in his Post Office management, he was never convicted.  The "Star Route Fraud scandal", may have local implications.  It had to do with over charging and providing needless postal routes, roads and post offices and kick backs to politicians from contractors .

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

Redwood Fisher

Article contributed by Corinne Lively

There were two Redwood Fishers, grandfather and grandson, who made significant contributions to the development of the Grand Lake area. 

One of the earliest pioneers was the senior Redwood “Woody” Fisher, born in Urbana, IL in 1839.  He learned surveying skills in New Jersey, and received a degree in Civil Engineering in New York City, where he met his future wife, Louise Perrenoud.  He arrived in Denver in June 1860 and borrowed money to purchase his first surveying instruments.  His bride to be, her two sisters and widowed father arrived in Denver in July 1862 in a mule drawn ambulance. They had traveled for six weeks from Omaha to deliver the vehicle which was used as an ambulance and hearse.  The first marriage license in Denver was issued to Woody and Louise, and their wedding took place May 6, 1865. 

The day after his marriage to Louise, Woody joined General Hughes and E.L. Berthoud as Chief Surveyor in building the wagon road from Denver to Provo, Utah over Berthoud Pass.  The expedition followed a route laid out by Jim Bridger. 

Woody held the offices of Denver city and county surveyor and county commissioner.  He was foreman of Hook and Ladder Co. #1, and helped fight many Denver fires. 

In May 1870, Woody was killed attempting to stop a runaway team of horses at the corner of California and 14th Streets.  While trying to save the lives of several children, he fell and the wagon wheels ran over him.  Woody left his wife with three children, Louise, Charles and Ella.  He is buried in Riverside Cemetery.

Redwood must have spoken in glowing terms about his time in Grand County since his son Charles, only two when his father was killed, spent most of his life near Grand Lake, built a summer home on the North Inlet below the Rapids Lodge, purchased 160 acres on the east side of the Colorado River from the Fred Selak estate.  He died here in August 1945.  Charles and his wife Sara had a son in May 1907, whom they named Redwood.

The junior Redwood “Red” Fisher also spent most of his life in the Grand Lake area.  He was an early Park ranger and helped stock many of the high lakes on horseback.  After his marriage to Helen Schultz in 1928 he started ranching below the present Shadow Mountain dam on land purchased from Mrs. Cairns.  He later acquired the 7V/ on Stillwater Creek.  He was President of the Colorado Dude Ranch Association in 1947 and traveled to conventions in Chicago and elsewhere promoting Colorado’s guest ranches with displays of fancy roping and riding.  His own dude ranch, Fisherancho, was on the land below Shadow Mountain Dam and served guests until the 1950s.  The barn still stands, and is now part of the Arapahoe Recreation Area. 

Sources:
Lela McQueary, Widening Trails, World Press, 1962
Middle Park Times, August 12, 1945 and May 6, 1993
Colorado Families: A Territorial Heritage, CO Geneological Society, 1981
Brand Book, Middle Park Stock Growers Assn.
BLM General Land Office Records
Conversations with local decendant Toots Cherrington


Ninety Four Winters So Far

January, 1911.  Five years ago they were teenagers in Torsby, Sweden, oblivious to the sweeping changes that history and hope would bring to their lives.   Now they’re in a mountain valley halfway around the world from their Scandinavian homeland, marveling at the tiny bundle of flesh and spirit who has just joined their family. It’s the coldest week of the year in one of the coldest spots in America, but there’s a fire crackling in the woodstove, and their hearts are warm with love for each other and their firstborn child.   For the next few days, a parade of fellow Swedes stop by to pay their respects to the newest resident of the town of Fraser: Elsie Josephine Goranson.  

February, 1918.  It’s barely dawn, and a blizzard is howling across the valley, piling snow against the sturdy wooden house.  George Goranson puts on his boots and woolen overcoat and trudges towards the barn.  There are cows to milk and horses to feed.  There are no days off.  Meanwhile, in the house, 7-year old Elsie stokes the perpetual fire in the cook stove, while her mother grinds the beans for a second pot of strong coffee.  Later they will make sour cream cookies.   Her younger brother Hill is sick in bed with influenza.  He will survive.  Many others will not.   

March, 1925.  The logging camps are humming, the Moffat Tunnel is under construction, and the valley is brimming with workers and their hard earned pay.  Fraser merchants and boarding houses are doing a brisk business, as are the local bootleggers.  Elsie is waiting tables at the “Victory Café”, named for its proximity to the new coast-to-coast “Victory Highway” that passes through town, and each morning she serves breakfast to the nice looking (if scantily clad) girls from the corner house of ill repute.  Soon the local vigilante committee will force these ladies of the night to leave town, but for now it’s business as usual, and Fraser is hopping.   In fact, “Russell’s Riot Squad” is playing at a dance tonight at the Thomas Hotel.  

April, 1927.  Sleigh bells jangle as a team of horses pulls four young couples down valley to a dance in Tabernash, the most happening town in the county.  The roundhouse is there, as are the wages of engineers and brakemen who guide the trains over Rollins Pass.  There is even a movie house, where Elsie saw her first moving picture, “Jackie Coogan”. As the sleigh glides across the moonlit snow, Elsie feels a mix of excitement and nervousness.  This is her first date with Chuck Clayton, a hardworking man from Oklahoma. Chuck is handsome as he steals glances through the cold night air, but her Dad doesn’t approve of his drinking and gambling.  Other dates will follow: motor trips in a Model A Roadster to Garden of the Gods, picnics in Rocky Mountain National Park, and plenty of dancing.  “I’ll never marry you,” she tells him everyday.  “Yes you will,” he insists.  

May, 1933.  One child underfoot and another in the belly, and Elsie Clayton is tired.  Chuck bought a house for 20 dollars and used the lumber to build a hamburger stand (soon café and bar) right along the newly paved Highway 40, the main route from Denver to San Francisco.  For the next 38 years, their lives will be a blur of ham and eggs, New Year’s Eve parties, and a long medley of songs on the jukebox.  The school bus will stop there, as will the “Steamboat Stagecoach” bus line, and three generations of folks looking for a home cooked meal or glass of beer.  There will be marathon cribbage games, war stories, and “Friday Night Fights” watched live on the first television in town.  Despite the booze and boxing, Clayton’s Café and Bar will be known as a family establishment, especially compared to the “Fraser Bar”, a.k.a. the “Bloody Bucket”, where a love triangle will one day lead to murder.  

June, 1945.  It’s 4:30 a.m.  Elsie tiptoes downstairs and into the café.  She brews coffee, warms up the grill, then sits and enjoys a rare moment of relaxation before her workday begins.  In the distance, a steam locomotive blows its whistle as it chugs towards town.  Before her life is over, nearly a half million trains will pass through Fraser, an endless stream of rumbling horsepower that conjures up different images as the years pass by: trains bringing home soldiers from the Great War; trains loading up ranchers’ fattened cattle in the fall; trains delivering newspapers and mail; trains colliding head on in the Fraser flats; a train’s whistle frantically blowing to alert sleeping townspeople to a midnight fire; streamlined diesel trains ushering in a new era, and countless coal trains, hauling the carbon wealth of Western Colorado to the factories and power plants of far off cities.  

July, 1950.  Summer’s here, and all are invited to the town picnic down by the Fraser River.  Aging Swedish bachelors will be there, sipping steel cans of Coors and swapping stories of crosscut saws and the rowdy “Lapland” logging camps up St. Louis Creek.  Young men will dance with young women.  Young men will start fistfights with other young men.  Navajo railroad workers will perform a rain dance. Children will play Audie Murphy in the riverside willows and drink Coca Cola from thick glass bottles.  Meanwhile, the deluxe brick barbecue will sizzle as Elsie spreads mayonnaise on buns and Chuck flips burgers and jokes with friends.      

August, 1953.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower is coming to town to fish and relax.  “We come Ike” banners wave in the breeze as the motorcade turns off Highway 40 and onto the dusty gravel of Main Street.  Cheers erupt and flashbulbs pop as a smiling Ike emerges from his limo and waves to the crowd of 300.  It is the biggest day in Fraser history, but Elsie sees none of it, for even as her husband, the Mayor of Fraser, is welcoming the leader of the free world to town, she’s in the cafe tending to the crush of reporters and tourists who’ve come to see an American hero.   Tomorrow, after the excitement dies down, she’ll personally deliver two of her homemade pies to the President, who will rave about the perfect crust.   

September, 1971.  Retired.  Chuck and Elsie sit on the porch of their new home on the edge of town, watching cows graze just beyond the fence, and taking in the unobstructed view of Byers Peak.  Labor Day has come and gone, and now town is peaceful, the highway quiet.  Freed from the busy schedule she’s kept for decades, Elsie will soon embark on a reading frenzy and will begin to keep a modest journal of the days’ events:  A Grandchild born, an illness in the family, an exceptionally cold morning.  Chuck busies himself planting trees, tending a garden, and mowing his spacious lawn.  Tomorrow they will pack a picnic lunch and drive the Denver Water Board roads in search of raspberry bushes.   

October, 1978.  Today is Chuck and Elsie’s 50th wedding anniversary.  It’s a perfect day, sunny and warm, Indian summer if there ever was such a thing.  The mountains shimmer beneath a blanket of fresh snow.  Hay meadows glow golden beneath the cloudless sky.  Family and friends gather in the yard for photos before heading to the Crooked Creek Saloon, formerly Clayton’s Cafe and Bar, for a long afternoon of celebration and reminiscing.   

November, 1999.  After 71 years of marriage, Chuck has passed on, and Elsie is suddenly alone.  She sits at her dining room table, peering out the frost fringed window at the town she was born in, the town she has lived in her whole life.  The ridge she once sledded down is covered with condominiums.  The willowed wetland where her brother trapped muskrats has become a large parking lot.  Her father’s horse pasture is now a shopping center.  Everything has changed, yet memories remain, taking on a life of their own.  Horses still pull wagonloads of hay up the highway.  Loggers come in from the woods every Saturday night for revelry and roulette.  A young couple poses for a photo in front of their new cafe.  A sharp axe splits a chunk of pine.  Life goes on.   

December, 2004.  Christmas Eve.  There is plenty of food, including the homemade potato sausage that’s been served at every family Christmas for centuries, and plenty of gifts stacked beneath the brightly lit tree.  Elsie sits at the head of the table, quietly marveling at this clan she has wrought.  Her surviving children are here, as are her grandchildren, some of who have grandchildren of their own.  Five generations of family pour gravy on potatoes and crack jokes.  As she looks at their faces, she remembers her own parents, her grandparents, and her husband.  Everyone is here.   In a few minutes, in a ritual as old as Elsie can remember, her great-great grandkids will hand out presents, and the house will resound with laughter.  

Winner of  the “One Grand Essay” contest 2005

Topic: Libraries

Grand Lake Library

The Grand Lake Library was originally sponsored by the Women's Club of Grand Lake.  In January of 1933, the club voted to sponsor a town library to collect sufficient number of books may be obtained to open the in October.  A newspaper article from December 13, 1933 stated:

"The Grand Lake Woman's Club is glad to announce that its free public library is now open to the public at the home of Mrs. Goldie Hawkins. Books may be exchanged every Thursday from 10 am to 5 pm. There are over 300 volumes of fiction and non-fiction for both adults and children. The Club is grateful to many of our citizens as well as to summer residents who have donated these books. It is by means of their generosity that our library is made possible at this time. Lumber for the shelves was donated by Henry Schnoor, and Preston Hawkins built the shelves without charge." Mary L. Cairns, Chairman Library Board.

The Juniper Women's Club, a junior club of the Grand Lake Women's Club first opened a library in January 1945. It started in a small room in the Community house used for town council meetings. The library was allowed to use the room rent free; however, the library was soon bursting out at the seams and unable to take book donations due to lack of space. When the town council and the firemen decided to build an addition on the firehouse in the winter of 1947, the Juniper Club sought and received permission to have an upstairs room of 16 ft. by 18 ft. for the library. There was a condition; the room was to be finished by the club. A contract was let for the complete finishing of the room with built in shelves on the east and west walls and a sub floor. A wiring contract was also let. To earn the money for the payment the club had bingo, potluck suppers, card parties and food in a basket.

Since January of 1945 836 books were added to the 900 books of the former library. In February of 1948 the books were all moved to the new library, by hand and through the snow, with the assistance of the club members' husbands. In the summer of 1948 these books were all classified according to the Dewey Decimal System by the club members. From the May 1948-May 1949 Juniper Club President's report:

  • Our main project has been and will be our public library. We have approximately 2000 books which are mostly fiction. The first year fifty new books were purchased for $134. There were approximately 200 library cards purchased by our patrons.
  • In May a benefit card party was held and $34 was cleared for the library. Two baskets of food were sent from member to member and $26.25 was raised this way.
  • In July a silver teas was given at the library room. A lovely program of music, pictures of Hawaii, etc. was given. $50.75 was cleared from this tea for the library.
  • During August the club women sold chances on a service for six, sterling silverware set. 330 chances were sold earning $229.73 for the running of the library.
  • New Year's Eve, a dance was given and $29.83 was cleared for the library project.
  • In addition to the 50 books purchased, an oil stove was purchased, curtains were made and the floors were refinished for the library by club members.

 From newspaper articles of 1949:
"The library boasts 1650 volumes, most of them good recent books, and it is open two afternoons a week in winter but three in summer with Mrs. Agnes Gingery as librarian. This year's project for the Juniper Club under the direction of Mrs. Grace Eslick, president, will be the landscaping of the area within the circle drive around the fire house in the Community House block. Last Sunday the first of a series of square dances was held at the Southway Lodge, with a good crowd attending. These dances are put on by the Juniper club and will be for the benefit of the Grand Lake library. They will be held every Sunday night and refreshments are served free. If you do not know how to square dance and would like to learn, we will be glad to teach you. The square dances at Southway's on Sunday evenings are proving very popular as well as lucrative for the library fund."

During the Christmas holidays the new floor was laid and new shelves were built. Materials and labor cost $150 of the club's square dance money. The club spent $650 on the library room. 116 books were added, 75 by donation and 41 were purchased.

The Juniper Club then started a beautification program in the area of the town square and around the fire house and library.

The Juniper Library at Grand Lake became a branch of the Grand County Library System in 1988. In May of 1995 the Juniper Library moved from the Fire Station a location just off the town square.

With increased library use and development of computer information systems the need for a larger space was recognized and a new library was built adjacent to the Town Hall and dedicated in June of 2006.

Topic: Towns

Radium

The settlement of Radium, on the north bank of the Colorado River in Gore Canyon, was established in 1906, when railroad construction of the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad brought in foreign workers, typically Swedes, Greeks, and Italians. After the rail lines were built, livestock was shipped out and vegetables such as potatoes, peas, and lettuce were grown and picked at the last minute so they could be shipped while still fresh.

Originally the land was homesteaded by the Murgrage and Hoyt ranch families. Railroad passenger service during the winter months was scheduled only three times a week each way but even then, couldn’t always get through. Nonetheless, the “Try Weakly Railroad” service was better transportation than anything residents had ever had before.

The name of Radium was suggested by Harry S. Porter because of the radioactivity found in his mine. The nearby Radium Copper Mine was a large copper producer at one time.

Maintainance workers for Union Pacific, current owners of the railroad, are still based at Radium.

Topic: Biographies
Winter Park Ski Shop, Joyce and George Engel

George & Joyce Engle

Winter Park Ski Shop, Joyce and George Engel

Here is the story of how Joyce and George Engel became legends in Winter Park and Fraser. In 1945, Winter Park Resort hired George Engel as their very first paid ski patroller.  Little could George have known that this job would lead him to his wife, Joyce Hanna, disembarking from a ski train, and together they would call Winter Park and the Fraser Valley their home for life. Along with Joyce and their daughters, the Engel Family would have a lasting influence not only on Winter Park Resort but on the Fraser Valley community as well.

In the year following his hiring as Winter Park’s ski patroller, George Engel took on different responsibilities at the ski area, such as plowing the parking lot and collecting rental fees in the bunkhouse.  Gordy Wren and Frank Bulkley formed Colorado Outings in 1946 and started the ski school at Winter Park.  As director of the ski school, Gordy Wren hired George Engel as a ski instructor. That same year George passed one of the first ski instructor certification exams ever held.  By 1949, the Professional Ski Instructors of America was formed and Engel held pin # 12.

Gordy Wren was busy practicing for the 1948 Olympics and consequently sold his share in Colorado Outings.  This gave George Engel the opportunity to buy into the company and he became director and eventually sole owner of the ski school. George added the Winter Park Ski Shop onto the ski school.  

George met the love of his life, Joyce Hanna in 1951 as she disembarked from the Winter Park Ski Train.  Joyce, with two BA degrees from the University of Colorado, was ready to ski and work.  After dating for three weeks, George proposed to his future bride and business partner. The Winter Park Ski School under George’s leadership, and the Winter Park Ski Shop with Joyce at the helm, became fixtures of the ski area. George and Joyce’s two daughters grew up on the slopes.

Daughters Wendy and Janet tell wonderful stories from when the family lived in an apartment above the Winter Park Ski Shop.  After Winter Park Resort bought the ski school in 1982, they demolished the shop and apartment to make way for the West Portal Station.

Along with skiing, another Engel passion was horses which led to their acquiring 40 acres along County Road 5 where they built Casa de Engel.  From their ranch, the Engels helped to establish the Winter Park Horseman’s Association and the High Country Stampede Rodeo at John Work Arena in Fraser.    Naturally, Janet Engel became a rodeo star. The Engels were also involved with the Middle Park Fair and Rodeo for decades.

As community leaders, the Engels transformed Winter Park Resort and the Fraser Valley. They helped start the Fraser Valley Metropolitan Recreation District, the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce and the Winter Park Sanitation District.  Joyce Engel was a founder of the Grand County Concert Series bringing live classical music to this rural community.  In 1968, George Engel was instrumental in bringing the National Sports Center for the Disabled to Winter Park. The family’s wide-ranging passions enrich all our lives then, now and into the future.   

 

Topic: Indians

Indians

There is a great deal of evidence of primitive cultures in what is now Grand County, but all seems to have been transient until the modern tribes arrived, probably around 1450. The Arapaho Tribe claimed the northern part of this region and were in frequent territorial dispute with the Ute Tribe, who were dominate in the Colorado Rockies. The Utes did not have “chiefs” in the sense of the organized Plains Indians.

There were five different tribal groupings in Colorado, and those in the Grand County area were known as the “White River Utes”. The Uncompahgre Utes lived in the southern area of the state, near the San Juan Mountains. Their spokesman to the white man was Ouray, and because of his knowledge of Spanish and some English, the federal negotiators designated him “Chief of All Utes”. Thus it was he, who in 1868 agreed that most of the land west of the 107th degree longitude (about one third of Colorado) would be a Ute Reservation “for all time”.

Ouray probably never knew the Utes of the northern region and they were never notified officially of this treaty. Suddenly, their favored hunting grounds of Middle Park, the healing waters of Hot Sulphur Springs, and much of the Front Range and Gore Range were opened to white settlement. Naturally there were tensions between the Utes and the white settlers and there are several well documented accounts of disputes in the area, including the killing of Tabernash, retaliatory strikes by the Utes, and the supposedly intentional burning of Middle Park by Colorow. Finally, there was an uprising in 1879, known as the Thornburg and White River Massacres, and the result was that the Utes were evacuated from almost all of their former reservation and driven to the Utah area in 1882.

Though much of the culture, knowledge and influence of the original Indian people has been lost to time, Ute and Arapaho names still grace many landmarks in Grand County.
 

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.
 

Mountain Men / Trappers