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.

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: Ranching

The Davison Ranch

* Copyright 2006.
No portion of this story or photos may be reproduced without the written permission of Gary or Sue Hodgson (www.hodsonmedia.com)  

Early morning, mid January in Colorado's Middle Park is not for the faint of heart. It's forty below zero. Six inches of new snow have fallen over night, adding to the three feet that have been building since early November. Ranchers in the area don't even bother to look at the breath taking beauty of the Gore Range to the West as they trudge to the barn. Their minds are focused on hope the big diesel tractors will start. Snow has to be moved and cattle fed. Life in these parts revolves around "feeding". Soon, ranch yards will be full of diesel engines belching black smoke clouds. Up and down U.S. Highway 40, this scene is repeated on ranch after ranch ... except for one. 

Just south of mile marker 169, a landmark rendered meaningless by snow much taller than the signpost, sets the Davison Ranch. Several hundred cattle wait semi-patiently to be fed in the surrounding meadows, yet there are no black smoke clouds or clattering engines. One might think the ranch deserted were it not for muffled sounds creeping through the huge log walls of the old tin roofed barn. Inside, a crew of five are performing a morning ritual that began in late November and will be repeated, regardless of the weather, seven days a week until mid May.  Mark, Molly, Dolly, Nip and Tuck are getting ready to feed.  

A crew this small is rather unusual for a ranch that encompasses over 6,000 acres. More notable, only one member is a man. The other four are horses, big, stout, work hardened draft horses. Standing on the wooden planked floor, side by side, surrounded by logs a man could hardly put his arms around, are four beautiful black and white Spotted Draft Horses. While not rare, the National Spotted Draft Horse Association celebrated it's tenth anniversary in 2005, the spotted giants are not a common sight. It is fitting such unusual horses would be found on this ranch. The big black and whites fit right into a program in place nearly fifty years. Mark Davison relates the Davison Ranch history as he harnesses the big "Spots." 

Mark's father, Charles Edward "Tommy" Davison, had been saving to buy a ranch since he was six years old. When the old place north of Kremmling came up for sale, the young bachelor fulfilled his life long dream. Tommy made a few observations. The ranch did not produce gasoline for the old tractors that came with the ranch. It did grow grass to power the two long ignored draft horses, also included. Then, there was the snow to deal with. It seemed easier for horses to pull a sled full of hay on top of the snow than trying to drive a tractor through it. The ranch was strewn with old harness and equipment including an ancient hay sled and various hitch components. He was single with an old house to spend the winter nights in. Why not spend a little more time outside with the animals he so loved.  

Not all of Tommy's plans went according to schedule. The hay laddened sled required more horsepower than his two horses. Two more "kinda" draft horses joined them. The old log house burned to the ground in December that first year. Hurriedly, he built a small cabin to live in until another house could be constructed. In 1958 he met and married Laurayne Brown. The Kremmling native beauty was used to the harsh winters and loved the big horses. Tommy and Laurayne made as good a team as Nip and Beauty, one of the better teams they would own in those days. As the ranch grew they realized they needed more help. New Year's Day 1960 they interviewed a likely prospect. Jerry Nauta sat at the Davison kitchen table as they talked. Finally, he uttered memorable words. "If you treat me right," he said, "I will never leave this ranch." Addressing Laurayne he went on, "I will probably eat more meals at this dinner table than you will." 

Although the ranch owned several tractors as much work as possible was done with the horses. The ranch's hay crop, wonderful sweet smelling Meadow Brome, Timothy and Red Top was put into giant loose hay stacks. No need for big gas guzzling tractors pulling expensive balers on this ranch. A few other ranches also kept draft horses in those days. A big attraction at Kremmling's Middle Park Fair was the draft horse pull. Ranchers from neighboring North Park descended on the event with their horses, toughened by a summer of harvesting the Park's huge hay meadows. Most years they returned to their home valley with the Middle Park trophy. Tommy decided enough was enough. Even though he had never competed before, his team of the skittish Nip and gentle Beauty who scarcely knew a day out of harness, left the "invaders from the north" in their dust. The trio returned several more years, winning every single time. Finally, a bad referee's call moved another team into first place. Tommy, Nip and Beauty never entered again. It wasn't necessary. They had proven their point. 

During those years, money would sometimes be so tight the loyal employee Jerry couldn't be paid. Tommy would sign a promissory note to him for wages. He was always repaid, with interest. Tommy told friends, "Jerry is my banker!" Jerry became a third parent to the three boys born to Tommy and Laurayne, Matt, Mark and Cal. They joined the early morning harnessing ritual, standing on a milk stool to reach the big horses under this watchful eye. When their father suffered a broken leg followed by a ruptured appendix, the boys, averaging ten years old, stepped into rolls as hired men. They calved cows, lambed the ewes in residence on the ranch in those years and, of course, harnessed and drove the teams to feed. If harnessing and driving a four horse hitch wasn't enough of a challenge, the feeding process creates men as tough as the animals pulling the heavy sled. Up to three tons of long stemmed loose hay have to be pitched onto the sled. Once the feed grounds were reached, every single blade is forked onto the ground as the patient team slowly moves ahead of the hungry cattle. Most days three or more loads were required to complete the task.           

Tommy Davison fell ill in 2000. Mark who had remained involved in ranch operations while establishing another ranch in Wyoming, returned to the Kremmling ranch full time to oversee operations there. When Charles Edward Davison passed away in 2001, Mark leased the ranch from his family. Just as his father had done nearly fifty years ago, Mark took stock of what he had to work with. The harness, some nearly 100 years old purchased here and there over the years was in pretty good shape. The horses, however, had grown too old to be worked every day. He needed two more to complete his four horse hitch. Harley Troyer?s well known Colorado Draft Horse and Equipment Auction was coming up in Brighton, Colorado. Mark traveled to the "flat lands" and returned with two roan Belgium geldings. Sadly, one died within a year. He tried a "unicorn hitch" placing a single lead in front of the wheel team. It was not practical for the loads and trails they encountered. Mark headed back to Troyer's Auction once again. A novelty of the upcoming event was a pair of black and white Spotted Draft horses originating from Canada. When he arrived at the auction Davison found not two, but four of the Spots, two geldings and two mares. All were only two years old. To most, the big youngsters would need years of seasoning before they would be dependable. A lifetime spent around draft horses gave Mark Davison a different view.. He noticed how much time previous owners seemed to have spent with them. It showed in their responsiveness and manners. Auction owner Troyer remembers them as "A nice four up." When his gavel fell, all four were headed to Kremmling.

Today, as nearly every day of the year, the wheel team of Nip on the left and Tuck to the right of the wooden tongue, follow the lead team of Molly and Dolly, left and right respectively. They begin pulling when Mark softly commands "gitup" and stop when told to "whoa-a." Armed with an antique True Temper three tine pitch fork (this model is no longer made according to Mark) he hardly notices their direction as he pitches hay to the trailing cattle. The scene is spell binding to anyone fortunate enough to see it. Soft commands, creaking leather and steel clad wooden sled runners gliding over the snow summon long forgotten instincts. 

Though Mark describes himself as a "Dinosaur," all that happens on the Davison Ranch is part of a plan that arose from necessity. He points out that when hitched to the sled, only the wheel team is attached to the tongue. The lead team's evener, an antique itself, is attached to a log chain r nning back to the front of the sled, not attached to the tongue in anyway.  Tight corners the team must navigate winding into the mountains to feed the cow herd make a conventional arrangement dangerous. If the wheel team follows the lead teams tracks too closely, the sled would cut the corner and plunge off the precarious road. The loose chain arrangement allows both sets of horses freedom to follow their own path. The horses, sensing their safety as the reason for the odd arrangement, work quietly beside the chain. If one happens to step over it, the next step will be back into place without so much as a twitch of an ear.  

Feeding begins around 8:00 a.m. The teams are usually back in their stalls eating "lunch" by 2:00 p.m.  Six hours, eight tons of hay and nearly ten miles every single day make the horses tough and strong. They symbolize the word that describes life on the Davison Ranch. Harmony. The horses work in harmony with each other and their care taker. Horses and man work in harmony with nature. There is a strong respect for tradition on the Davison Ranch. The old ways made sense then and now. There is no need for electric engine heaters or big diesel engines on this ranch. The beautiful black and white horses seem to be thankful for the chance to live the life for which they were bred. They express their gratitude with loyalty to Mark Davison.  

Loyalty might also be used to describe the Davison Ranch business plan. Remember Jerry Nauta's pledge to never leave the ranch if they treated him right?  Jerry lived in the small cabin Tommy Davison built when the ranch house burned down from January 1, 1960 until a few months before his death in July 2005. He was 92 years old.

Life is different on the Davison Ranch. Old fashioned values reign amidst modern Spotted versions of man's first and perhaps best machinery, the draft horse. Men and horses are a lot alike, you know. Treat 'em right and they'll reward you with loyalty.

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: Mountains

Mountain Names

While the origin of the names of many mountains in Grand County has been lost to history, we do know the source of many of the more notable mountains.  The name originations of some mountains of Grand County are as follows:   Adams Peak – Named for either Jay E. Adams who owned a cottage in Grand Lake or Alexander and Louise Adams, original owners of the Grand Lake Lodge.  

Mount Alice – 13,110 ft. – Named in 1911 by request of geologist Dr. William S. Cooper.  Who “Alice” was, was not explained.   Arapaho Peak – Named for the Arapaho Indian tribe who frequented Grand County during hunting season.   Arikaree Peak – Named for the Arikaree Indian tribe by James Grafton Rogers in 1955.   Baker Mountain – Named for John Baker from Indiana, a well known prospector and hunter of the 1850’s and 1860’s.  

Bills Peak – Named after an early settler in the area whose last name was not known.   Bottle Mountain – Named for the bottle shape of the mountain, three miles north of Byers Peak.   Byers Peak – 12,790 ft. – Named for William N. Byers, publisher and editor of the Rocky Mountain News and early promoter of Hot Sulphur Springs.   Mountain Cairns – 10,800 ft. – Named for James Cairns, first storekeeper at Grand Lake.   West Carter Peak and North Carter Peak– Believed to have been named for a member of the original U.S. Geological Survey team.   Cascade Mountain – Also known as Loder Mountain, popularly named for cascading stream.  

The Cleaver – Believed named by early settlers for location between two other peaks.   Coal Mountain – Named for visible coal seam.   Mount Cumulus – 12,725 ft. – Named for cloud formation resemblance.  One of three “cloud” peaks.   Diamond Mountain – Named for rumors of diamonds found there or its shape.  Located four miles East of Muddy Pass.   Mount Epworth – Believed named for a Methodist youth group founded in 1889.  Located east of Rollins Pass.  

Fairview Mountain – Named for scenic view.  Located ½ mile south of Parika Peak.   Mount Flora – Named for fields of flowers on mountain.   Mount George – 12,876 – Named for Dr. R.D. George, a geologist.  Its north spur is Lone Eagle Peak.   Green Mountain – Named for the green trees covering the mountain.   Grouse Mountain – Named for the grouse that inhabit the area.   Hallett Park – 12,713 – Named for William H. Hallett who lived from 1851 to 1947.  The mountain was named in 1887.  

Howard Mountain – Named for John Howard, a prospector.  The mountain was named in 1880.   Mount Irving Hale – Named for Brigadier General Hale who lead Colorado troops in the Philippines during the Spanish American War.  Hale was a member of the first graduating class at Denver High School and won an appointment to West Point.  Camp Hale, near Leadville, was a training site for World War II ski troops and was also named for him.

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

Early Water Disagreements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Topic: Dude Ranches

Dude Ranches

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

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

Topic: Biographies

Betty Cramner

November 2007

 

Betty Cramner, a longtime Granby resident, says she doesn't like to be in the spotlight. Her modest home with brown siding and roof, tucked into a hill behind a stately spruce tree, reflects nothing of her and her family's past.  Betty's story - full of heartache and triumph - deserves recognition.

She is a World War II veteran, a cancer-survivor, and the mother of five children (her sixth son, Forrest, died when he was 33.) She is the wife of the late Chappell Cramner, whose father, George Cramner, is the Cramner the ski run at Winter Park Resort is named after.  At 86 years old, Betty has lived a fuller life than many - and she shows no signs of slowing down.

 She was born in England on Aug. 29, 1921. When she was 18, she joined the Women's Royal Air Force and was stationed at a burn and plastic surgery hospital, later named Queen Victoria Cottage Hospital. Deep down, she had wanted to be stationed at a fighter station instead - closer to "where the action was" - because she had just lost her first love, an Australian man, who was shot down by enemy fire.  "My job was to clean up burns, which were very bad," Betty said. "A lot of them didn't have eyelids, or their noses were burned off."

Betty was fascinated by the way the doctors would build up the soldier's faces by skin grafting, she said.  "It was very interesting, once you get over the smell of burns, and get into the feeling you're doing a service for those people," she said.
Betty served at the hospital for four-and-a-half years. Her home was in a small town in
Sussex, 30 miles from the south coast of England. The town was sometimes known as "bomb alley" during the war. Because of the town's proximity to London, German planes would often drop their bombs on her town on their way to London, she said.

She recalled pilotless planes - "big bombs with wings, nothing else" - and running for cover, although there wasn't any. She recalled the Battle of Britain, and how the sky was "almost black" with hundreds of German planes. One night, as she was working at the hospital, a young pilot from Denver was brought in. He was a member of the Canadian Air Force who had crashed in the North Sea, and spent 14 days on a dingey with no food or water. When he was finally found, semi-conscious, he was brought to a nearby hospital. "When they took his boots off, his toes came off, because they'd been immersed in water and cold for so long," Betty said. "So they sent him down to our hospital to see if we could do some grafting on his feet."

After a year of treatment, however, there was nothing the hospital could do for the young pilot; to save his life, they amputated his legs, and he was forced to use a wheelchair.  He and Betty struck up a friendship, and she would often take him to town where they'd visit the cinema or local pub. Eventually, they fell in love.

One day after leaving the cinema early because Betty had to return to work, they were heading down a hill toward the hospital when a German plane flew over them. Both of them were in uniform.  "I said, "My goodnesss!? There were no sirens, nothing ."  The plane circled and opened fire.    "I was so frightened, I let go of his (wheel)chair. Thankfully he grabbed the front wheels and was able to stop himself."

Betty and the young man returned to the hospital safely, but the attack had brought in many casualties. Eighty people were killed and 250 were wounded. The cinema they attended was destroyed by a single bomb. Betty's eyes glaze over as she remembers how lucky they had been to survive that day.  "I wasn't a believer ... I didn't know there was a God in those days, because when you're in a war, well ... But I think then, by the grace of God, we got out of that."   Betty and the pilot were married in the mid-1940s, and had a daughter named Susan after the war ended. Although the war was over, life wasn't any easier, Betty said.  "It's hard for people who were in the war in
England to describe rationing to people in this country. ... We had two ounces of meat per week, per person. You could not buy anything in the shops at all without giving up coupons. Two ounces of butter, four ounces of sugar."

Betty was pregnant with her second child when her husband died suddenly due to complications. Before his death, he told her to move to Denver where his father lived. It was 1946, and America offered a better life. Betty took Susan and all that they had and moved to Denver; she first set foot on American soil in May 1946, where she eventually had her second child, Holbrook.

Two years later, she met Chappell Cramner, who was an investor at the time. They were married and had four children: Allen, Bruce, Genie and Forrest, and lived in Denver for 25 years. In 1969, her husband decided to move to Granby.  "He attended seminary school and was ordained as a priest," Betty explained. "The Bishop said, ?I want you to move to Granby.' "Betty joined her husband one year later, and they bought a home she would continue to live in the next 37 years.

Chappell, or "Chap," started a church in 1981 called St. Columba Chapel - later named Cramner Chapel - that is located behind the Silver Screen Cinema in downtown Winter Park. It is there to this day and is a vital part of the local community. Betty and her husband continued to visit England every two years to see her parents, but in 1994 she was diagnosed with cancer in her abdomen. Betty beat the cancer - despite a doctor's prognosis that she had three weeks to live - and would go on to fight and survive two more major bouts of cancer.

Chap died in 2000, two years after Betty fought off colon cancer. She continues to travel, and has just returned from a trip to England and Spain with her son.  As she sits in her couch chair, her white and gray hair framed by the sun peeking through her window, one can't help but be in awe of Betty Cramner. Her home is immaculate but cozy and inviting, and the rooms are filled with photographs of children and grandchildren. She loves living in Granby, she said, where everything is close by.
"I'm very independent. I don't like driving in big blizzards and stuff like that, so I can walk to the library, the post office, the church every Sunday. ... So I like living here. I couldn't live in a big city anymore."

Betty knows she has led an amazing life, but her humbleness is what makes her unique. As she rattles off her daily routine - snowshoeing, walking, swimming, attending four different Bible studies - she mentions she is a volunteer at Cold Springs, a local greenhouse just up the road. "I love flowers," she said, as she turns and faces her bay window full of geraniums and different types of plants. "Would you like one? I have plenty."

Topic: Biographies

Stephen Bradley

 

Article contributed by Karen Wischnack

 

Born to a Wisconsin doctor in Chicago November 12, 1916 was one of seven skiing sons by the name of Stephen J. Bradley.  His talents in skiing showed up at a very early age.  By the time he was attending Dartmouth College his talents were apparent and was a top competitive skier.  He skied in the slalom, downhill, jumping and langlauf while on the college's team.  Steve then was called to serve his country during the World War II Army service.  After his discharge he then attended and coached skiing at Colorado University. 

 

In 1950 Steve became Winter Park's executive director.  During his employment at Winter Park he guided it from a four rope tow/three T-bar local ski area to a major resort of 770 acres with 13 chair lifts.  His brilliance in design led to the Balcony House, the Base Lodge which was one of the first ski area structures to utilize solar heating, the restaurant in the midway proved to be a model for the "scramble" system of food service and then there's the Mary Jane section of Winter Park which was another one of his talents.

 

Stephen was given the name "Father of Slope Grooming" in 1952 when he then invented the famous Bradley Packer-Grader when experimenting with slope grooming.  The invention was a one man gravity-powered slope grooming device which revolutionized the ski maintenance industry.  Nick-named "the Purple People Eater".  This machine was a mogul-cutting snow groomer that was 5-foot-wide corrugated culvert that a skier would drag down hill or as they said " A hardy mountain crewman" who risked his life by being devoured by the spinning rotor.  As skiing became more popular, skiers started demanding that the slopes be groomed.  Nature was no problem but not everyone wanted to ski moguls.  This Bradley Packer was a way to reduce the mogul's and keep snow on the trails by flattening the snow.  "It was a pretty scary thing" supervisors claimed.  Grooming was soon transferred to a line of tracked vehicles now known a "Snowcats". 

 

Stephen served as President of the NSAA (National Ski Areas Association) and helped organize Colorado Ski Country USA and the Colorado Passenger Tramway Safety Board before his death in Longmont November 13, 2002.  You can find him as an honored member of the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame and in the National Ski Hall of Fame.

 

Fire Engine No 1 - Hideaway Park Fire Department

"What Hideaway Park needs is a fire engine!  No way can we fight fires without more water; all we can do is watch some building burn!"  The half dozen volunteer firefighters were seated around the table in Hildebrand's little grocery store on Highway 40. "I agree," said Ray.  "We've talked long enough!  Who's got the want ads?"

Claude pulled out the latest Denver Post want ads.   "I don't see any fire engines.  I looked up fire fighting equipment too.  Nothing there.  But here's a 1940 Chevy truck for $400.00.  That's just eight years old; maybe it would do."

"We could mount a tank and a pump on the back," said Dwight.  "Do we have enough money to pay for it?" Claude pulled out their account book.  " We've $550.00.  That would pay for the truck and we volunteers could use the rest to put up a shed.  We can always have more Bingo nights.

"Dwight, you're the Fire Chief.  Why don't you and Ray go down and look at it.  We'll give you a blank check so you can bring it home if it looks good." The men agreed.  At last they were getting started.

The following week Dwight and Ray drove to Denver to the car lot and took a look.  The truck wasn't much, but the engine worked and the tires weren't too bad.  Ray commented, "I know a fellow who has a galvanized tank.  We can buy some 2" hose and a pump from American LaFrance.

"Okay," said Dwight.  "Let's take it."   He brought out the check Claude had sent along and signed it.  The used truck salesman looked at it and looked at Dwight.    "How old are you, Mr. Miller?"

"I'm 20 years old," he answered.  "What's the problem?  I'm Fire Chief."

"Hmph, you look more like sixteen!  We're not supposed to take checks from anybody younger than 21.  Let me go talk to the bookkeeper."   It took a long time and Dwight and Ray were getting nervous.  At last the salesman returned.  They'd accept the check.

And so Hideaway Park got its very first fire truck.  The men in town finally got the tank and pump put together and started in on a wooden building, along the main road off Highway 40 where Cooper Creek is now.  Winter came early that year, and the fellows didn't have time to get the roof completed.  The rafters and sheeting were up, but the 90# roofing material had to wait; so snow drifted in with every storm, and ice built up, to melt and leak later onto the truck.  But the men knew they could finish up the following year.   Periodically they got together to try out the pump and drive up and down through town, with their new siren wailing.  Everything seemed to work.

A few years passed.  When fires occurred, however, the buildings still usually burned to the ground. One winter in 1952, Dwight was wakened before midnight.  "The Spot is burning.  Let's go!  Let's go!"  Ray's voice broke with excitement.  Dwight jumped from bed and threw on his clothes.  He could see the flames down on the highway leaping above the trees.

Men were gathering at the firehouse. Dwight ran through the door and clambered up on the fire truck.   He tried to start the engine.  R-r-r-r --.  Nothing happened.  R-r-r-r.   "The battery is dead," he cried. 

Ray and Wally were struggling to get the overhead door open and the miserable thing was frozen shut!  They took a hammer to the base, but the frost wasn't about to give way and let door move.  Finally Dwight cried, "Let's slip a cable under the door and hook it to the truck.  We can pull the truck out and on down to Vasquez, to fill the tank." 

The cable was soon in place and Claude jumped into his truck and started pulling.  With the fire truck in gear, it moved forward, hit the double garage door, and continued on.  With a groan and a jerk, the engine and siren  finally started.  Dwight guided the rig onto the road with the door riding on top of it, blinding him.  At last, the door fell to the ground.

At the creek, the fellows pulled the hose down to the water and chopped a hole in the ice.  Another started to hook the hose onto the pump.  "The hose has shrunk!  It won't fit!"

 "What?  It did the last time we practiced!"  The volunteers looked at each other and threw up their hands in disgust. The Spot to Stop was burning fiercely by this time, but Ray said, "Let me string my garden hose across the highway.  I think it's long enough, and maybe it will do some good."  This is what he did, but it was too late.  That building was a goner. 

The townspeople stood around until there was nothing left but ashes; then they went home to bed.  The firemen met the next morning to decide what to do about the truck.  They eventually chose just to leave it there all winter.  It sure wasn't going to do anybody any good.  The next winter, that fire truck had a new hose!

Some years later, Dwight and Jean Miller gave land for a volunteer fire building, which was made of metal and which had a heater.  And over the years, better trucks were purchased and the men received some proper training.  The early volunteers had a perfect record ? they never saved a building.

Some of the volunteers in 1947-48; there may be others.  
Dwight Miller
Ray Hildebrand
Claude Brock
Bill Polk
Jim Quinn
Wally Tunstead
Easy Butler
Leroy Hauptman
Dick Mulligan, Jr.

Topic: Towns

Winter Park

The town of Winter Park was first settled in 1923 and incorporated in 1978. It came into existence as a construction camp during the building of the Moffat Tunnel. The west portal is located here, hence the original name of West Portal.

As early as 1929 hearty winter sports enthusiasts were getting off the regularly scheduled trains there to ski the trails that were being developed. Regular weekend service on a special ski train began in January 1938. That same year, the U.S. Forest Service gave permission to the City and County of Denver to develop land near West Portal for winter sports, constructing ski-tows and trails. Winter Park ski area was formally opened in 1940.

With the consent of postal authorities, West Portal’s name was changed to Winter Park to publicize the ski area.  Benjamin F. Stapleton, the mayor of Denver at the time, championed the cause of the name change to help publicize the winter sports of the area. The town has now grown into a classic resort town and the ski area management has been recently turned over to the Intrawest Corporation by the City and County of Denver.

Mountain Men / Trappers