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: Water

Water from the Mountains - The Grand Ditch

 Though few, high altitude water ditches have had a major impact on Grand County's history and economy, there were many early valley ditches transporting this precious commodity from water-right sources to the owner's ranch. However, the threat of transporting great volumes of water from our county to Boulder County via high altitude ditches appeared back in 1889.  Certain interests east of the Divide talked the Legislature into appropriating $25,000, for surveying and developing a 20-mile-long canal over South Boulder Pass to South Boulder Creek.  Amazingly, neither Grand County residents nor very many others opposed this notion.  Luckily the state engineer found the terrain so difficult that not even $2000 was ever spent on the project.


The next effort occurred also in 1889.  This privately financed plan was to develop a two-branched canal system that would move 700 second feet of water to a half-mile tunnel just beneath Berthoud Pass at over 11,000 feet, thence down to Clear Creek and on to the Golden area.  Initial surveys were begun that fall and roads laid out the following year.  The effort bogged down but was resurrected in 1900 under the Agricultural Ditch Co., supplemented in 1902 with the Berthoud Canal Co.  The canal was partially completed by the Frank Church family ranching interests of Jefferson County by 1906.  The ditch, which can be walked today, runs from Second Creek to Berthoud Pass, though it no longer carries much water.  However, the Church Ditch water rights coming from Clear Creek still exist and today are owned by Northglenn.

Proposed in 1890 by the Water Supply and Storage Company of Fort Collins, a greater canal was to be built 1000 feet above the Kawuneeche Valley, that would tap the high tributaries of the North Fork of the Grand River, sending the water over Poudre Pass to a reservoir and then into the Cache La Poudre River and on to agricultural areas east of the Front Range.  The water company, later known as the Grand River Ditch Company, appropriated 525 second feet at the time of the initial diversion in 1892.  (When the Grand River was renamed the Colorado River in 1921, the company was changed to the Grand Valley Irrigation Company.)  The ditch was dug by hand, primarily by Japanese and Mexican laborers.  By 1900, water was flowing eastward.  

By 1906, this major canal, known as the Grand Ditch, and draining water from the Never Summer Range, had a capacity of nearly 358 second feet with 12 headgates within 8 miles, running from Baker Creek to the pass at 10,179 feet, plus a smaller canal carrying 183 second feet within 11 miles, coming from Specimen Mountain.  In 1936, using machinery, the ditch was lengthened to 14 miles.  The Grand Ditch is about 20 feet wide and 6 feet deep, though the water is rarely more than 3 feet deep, and this water irrigates some 40,000 acres in Weld and Larimer counties.&gt>

The National Park Service has argued against the allocation of all this water to the canal as it is needed to support plant life and animal habitat.  Becuase river water flow was cut in half, the immediate effect was a reduction in the fish population in the Colorado River.  More recently, a major washout in the ditch caused devastating damage to the slopes below the ditch and to the Colorado River itself.  Hikers climbing up from the valley use the Grand Ditch as a route to the high peaks and lake.  But as viewed from below, the Grand Ditch is often considered an ugly scar on the landscape.

Origins of the Ute People

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

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

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

Topic: Regions

Church Park

George Henry Church and his brother John had a substantial ranch in Jefferson Country, prior to Colorado Statehood.  When the Timber and Stone Act of 1878 was passed, it permitted the purchase of land unfit for agriculture for $2.50 an acre.  Thus the Church brothers obtained land in Middle Park for summer grazing.  They would move their cattle into the Park by driving them over the Rollins Pass.   The area they used is just west of the town of Fraser and became known as Church Park.

In 1910, the Church Ditch was created to divert water across the Continental Divide for irrigation.  The remains of this early trans-mountain project can still be seen today at mile marker 241.5 on U.S. Highway 40.

Topic: People

The Knight Ranch and Charles Lindbergh

In Grand County during the 1920's, you might have been lucky enough to have taken a plane ride over Grand Lake with Charles Lindbergh.  It may sound preposterous, but Gordon Spitzmiller and his father, Gus, were two of the many fortunate people who got private sightseeing tours over the Grand Lake area with Charles A. Lindbergh as tour guide.

In the early 1920's, the aviation industry was a brand new field open to the adventurers, the thrill seekers and the adventurous.  Charles Lindbergh was one of those men.  In the spring of 1926, Lindbergh had the dream of flying solo over the Atlantic Ocean, from New York to Paris nonstop.  He was a determined man and was resolved to be the first man to cross the Atlantic and win the Orteig Prize.

On May 22, 1919, Raymond Orteig of New York City offered a prize of $25,000 "to be awarded to the first aviator who shall cross the Atlantic in a land or water aircraft (heavier-than-air) from Paris or the shores of France to New York, or from New York to Paris or the shores of France, without stop."

Besides Lindbergh, there were four serious contenders for the Orteig prize, one of which was Commander Richard Byrd, the first man to reach the South Pole.  Lindbergh's courage and enthusiasm for such a flight were not enough; he needed financial backing.  Lindbergh found his financial answer in Harry H. Knight, a young aviator who could usually be found bumming around the Lambert Field in St. Louis.  This was the beginning of the Knight-Lindbergh partnership that would soon change the course of aviation history. 

After being denied any financial assistance by several of St. Louis's businessmen, Lindbergh made an appointment with knight at his brokerage office.  Knight, the president of the St. Louis Air Club, was fascinated with Lindbergh's plan and called his friend, Harold M. Bixby, president of the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce.  Bixby also displayed a strong interest in the obscure stunt flyer and mail pilot.  Together Knight and Bixby formed an organization called "the Spirit of St. Louis", which was dedicated to gathering funds for the flight.  More than $10,000 was needed in order to build a single engine plane and acquire the proper equipment.

Knight went to his father, Harry F. Knight, who was a major power in the realm of finance and an equal partner in the firm Dysart, Gamble & Knight Brokerage Company.  Like his son, the senior Knight was interested in the aviation field and backed every effort to make America conscious of airplane transportation.

Without the financial aid and moral support offered by the Knight family, Charles Lindbergh may not have been able to cross the Atlantic in 1927.  Lindbergh's gratitude to these two men never ebbed.  Lindbergh and, his famous wife Ann Morrow, came often to Grand County as guests of Harry F. Knight whose ranch encompassed 1,500 acres on the South Fork of the Colorado River.  The ranch today is covered by the waters of the Granby Reservoir.

Knight, a nature lover, spent much of his time at this ranch.  It was a haven for sportsmen and adventure seekers, and Lindbergh was a natural for these two categories.  One of the largest and best airstrips in the west was added to the Knight Ranch in order to accommodate the owner and his guests.  Besides the airstrip, the ranch boasted a miniature golf course, a 28 room estate, a private guest "cabin", a good selection of livestock and an array of entertainment that would suit all.  It was a sanctuary for the affluent.

Local people were so enthused about the handsome aviator that they named a 12,000 ft. peak in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area (east of Granby) "Lindbergh Peak". However, during the 1930's the hero was honored by Adolph Hitler and Lindbergh made a speech favoring Nazism.  This lead to a fall from grace in the eyes of the public.  Even though Lindbergh changed his mind as World War II began, it was too late to regain his former popularity. The peak was renamed "Lone Eagle Peak" which was a nickname for the famous aviator.

After Harry F. Knight died of coronary thrombosis in 1933, his son, along with ranch manager Harry Morris, turned the ranch into a major breeding and beef cattle operation.  It continued as such until 1948, when the Knights were asked to sell it to the federal government or have it condemned to make way for the reservoir.  Moss bought out the cattle operation and most of the buildings were sold, but the colorful memories of the Knight ranch were buried in the depths of Granby Reservoir.

Topic: Regions

The Troublesome

Tradition holds that an army party led by one Lt. Col Johns gave the name of Troublesome to what had sometimes been called Oties Creek.  The Army was plotting a road in 1865 and had to go north to the forks of the East and West Troublesome in order to cross it, because of the soft soil, thereby being a “troublesome” creek.  Some historians claim that mountain man “Colorado Charley” Utter had built a cabin on the creek in 1861, which became a popular stopping place for early hunters and trappers in the region.  Another report credits John S. Jones of Empire with a cabin near the mouth of the Blue River, a few miles away, that same year.

Among the earliest settlers on the Troublesome were Barney Day, Henry King and Martin “Dock” McQueary, who had a cabin there in 1871.  In 1878, a post office was established at the King home. 

By the end of the century, many ranches had been established at on Troublesome Creek.  Farthest upstream was the remote George Hendricks ranch, difficult to reach year round and totally cut off from the rest of the world during winter snow.  Mrs. Hendricks had a large library and gave her children a sound education prior to their high school years in Kremmling. 

Among the most prominent ranches were those of George and Forrest Wheatly.  Probably the largest ranch (3000 acres) was that of the family of Con Ritschard, lying just north of current day U.S. Highway 40 east of Troublesome Creek.

Life was hard for the settlers in the area.  Like much of Grand County, the soil was frozen as deep as eight feet in the winter.  One memoir noted that when there was a death in the winter, the corpse was placed in the roof of a cabin, well swathed, until the spring thaw allowed for permanent burial.

There was a six year school (second to seventh grade) and a post office established at Pearmont about half way up the Troublesome, in the 1920s.  This area was named for local settler Gus Pearson.

Ranching was not the only pursuit along the Troublesome Creek.  Settler Roy Polhamos grew lettuce and shipped it through the Granby Cooperative to Denver.  He also had a potato contract with one of the Denver grocers.  Other growers contributed to the 125 refrigerated train carloads of lettuce that were shipped from Granby in 1924.  By 1929, 34 farmed from Granby to Troublesome netted $46,000, a highly respectable profit in those days.

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."

Smiths of the Blue River

Frank John Smith was born October 5, 1852 in Granby, New York.  He married Elizabeth Olive Sanders, who was born in 1860 in Hannibal, New York.  They were married in 1878 in Hannibal and had two children Albert and Lelah.  Albert died as an infant in 1881.  In 1880 Frank homesteaded his ranch close to the Blue River and sent for his wife and baby daughter who came West by train to Dillon in the spring of 1883.

They had 10 more children, all born at the Smith Ranch, between 1884 and 1907.  As the boys grew into young men, they homesteaded additional acreage around the ranch.  The youngest son, Earl, operated the Smith Ranch until 1958, when it was sold to Ted Orr Sr. His son, Ted Orr Jr. and his wife, Virginia Smith (granddaughter of Frank and Elizabeth) operated the ranch until 1967, when it was sold to the Berger brothers.    

Topic: Libraries

Grand County Libraries

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

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

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

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

Topic:

Mountain Men and Trappers

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

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 to trade with the Utes.  A pass east of Berthoud Pass is named for him and his trading post was located at the site of modern Winter Park.  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.      

Sources:
Carl Ubbulode, Maxine Benson & Duane Smith, A Colorado History, Pruett Press, 1972
Agnes Spring Wright, Colorado Charlie, Wild Bill's Partner, Pruett Press, 1968
Hazel Gresham, North Park, Self Published, 1975
R.C. Black, Island in the Rockies, Pruett Publishing Co., 1969
Abbott Fay, To Think That This Happened In Grand County, Grand County Historical Association, 1999

 

Topic: True Crime

Sudden Death in Old Arrow

A shooting in the Old West I know was not much like the shootings on television today.  There was no glorification of the bad man. Killings were usually like the fatal shooting of Indian Tom on that 6th of September, 1906, in old Arrowhead (or Arrow).  Nobody called anybody out.  Nobody told anybody to draw or asked him if he was wearing a gun.  It wasn’t a fight. It was a killing.  

1906 Arrow had six saloons, a grocery store, one small hotel and a livery stable.  But two thousand people picked up their mail there.  The woods were full of tie-hacks: the three sawmills hired may lumberjacks and teamsters, most of them Swedes, who seemed to make the best lumbermen.   I had arrived in Arrow the 18th of April that year to work as a teamster for my brother Virgil, who had been operating a sawmill there for about a year.  I was just sixteen. 

My brother Dick, the tallest Lininger, had been Virgil’s foreman.  Virgil had also bought the only hotel in Arrow.  My mother, two sisters and my little brother Gilbert and I came from our farm in Osawatomie, Kansas, so that my mother could run the hotel. My brother Wesley came at that time too: he planned to buy a lot and build a café.  Whole families often followed the first member who had come to these early Colorado towns.   I soon discovered that driving logging horses needed a lot more technique than driving a small farm team, but Virgil was patient, and I soon received a raise to $2.75 a day as top teamster.  

 The town was a wide open as it could get.  My first introduction to the violence was the day my brother Dick fired three drunken lumberjacks.  They drew their pay and went to Graham’s saloon to get drunker. As dick passed the saloon later, one of the men grabbed a quart whiskey bottle, and ran out and struck Dick behind the ear, knocking him cold.  The three then proceeded to kick him around.  Dick’s roommate Charley came to my brother’s rescue.  When Dick came to, he started for the hotel.  Charley guessed what he was after and beat him to the six-shooter. “I’ll make sure you can taken them one at a time” Charley promised him.   I came along just as my brother knocked the pick from the pick handle.  Something was up! In less time than it takes to tell it, Dick had three drunks out cold. 

Mother patched Dick up.  I think this was her introduction, too.  A man couldn’t stay boss long if stayed whipped.   Every other Sunday was a holiday for me although I always saw to it that I put in enough overtime to bring my monthly paycheck to $75. That September Sunday I was dressed in my holiday garb – tan peg-top dress corduroys, light blue wool shirt, Western hat, and high-laces boots as befitting a teamster who drove four or six horses hauling logs from timber country to the saw mill.  When I drove six horses, I rode one of the wheel-team horses and held the lines over four.  If I drove four horses, I rode the wagon and sat on a sack of hay.  

About noon, I stopped in front of the MacDonald saloon to talk to Ed MacDonald, one of the few saloon men my mother didn’t disapprove of.  After all, Ed had come to Colorado as a TB and couldn’t do heavy work; filling glasses over a bar was about the only light work in those old mountain towns.  Later Ed owned the famous MacDonald Ranch on the South Fork of the Grand Rover – now Colorado River- and managed boats on Monarch Lake just above his ranch.  He always served great dinners and good food.   While Ed and I were talking, Indian Tom rode up.  He was a flashy cowboy of the old school, a very good looking man with predominantly Indian features although he was only half Cherokee. When riding, Tom always wore leather chaps, spurs, and a big Stetson.  As wagon foreman for Orman and Crook, contractors for building the Moffat Road, he was a very important figure, for he had charge of all their wagons and teamsters.   The greeting between Ed and Tom was cordial. 

Everyone liked Indian Tom.  When Tom learned I was a teamster for my brother Virgil, Tom showed a much keener interest and invited me in to MacDonald’s for a drink.  Ed rescued me.  “Oh the kids doesn’t drink; but he might like a cigar”.   As they ordered drinks, I puffed away in my best imitation of a Kentucky colonel; however I soon excused myself, saying that I had to target my 30-30 rifle for the upcoming deer season. I puffed until I was out of sight. The corn silk I had scorched behind the barn paid off. I didn’t disgrace myself, nor had I broken my pledge to my mother not to gamble, use profanity, drink, or perform any act inconsistent with the conduct of a gentleman.   I took my rifle northwest of Arrow to Fawn Creek. 

It was a beautiful fall day.  The aspen were just beginning to turn.  Fawn Creek Gulch had been burned over many years before by the Indians who hoped in this way to discourage settlers, and the aspen were all young, straight and shimmering in the way that has never ceased to delight me.  The fire thirty years before had made the gulch an excellent place for deer hunting because the new growth gave the deer some inviting protection, but the terrain was open enough for a hunter to locate his game.   I figured I’d have to shoot from at least 200 yards, so I planned to target for that distance.  I tacked a piece of cardboard I’d cut from my brother’s Stetson hat box (he never took off his Stetson off anyway) to a tree and stepped off the 200 yards.  That 6-inch target looked pretty small but after each three shots, I’d examine the target.  Finally satisfied, I took a long walk looking for deer sign, tracks, or droppings.  I found good sign but no droppings.   About feeding time for the horses, I went back to the barn in town to feed the four, Cap, the big bay, Bird, the glossy black (those were my two wheel horses- t e ones next to the wheel); Kate, the little lead horse; and Bud, her mate.  

Virgil had bought Kate, a grey mare weighing about 1400 pounds, at a very reasonable price from the Adams Express Company because she had run away at every opportunity and had destroyed several wagons.  He couldn’t run away now pulling Cap, Bird and a load of lumber with her, but her high spirits made her an excellent leader. The heavier team, always used as the wheel team, weighed about 1700 pounds each.   I was very proud of this unusually fine team.  Virgil had trained Cap and Bird so that after they were harnessed in the barn, they could be turned loose to go to the watering trough, drink long and thirstily, then walk out to the wagon, back into position by the tongue, and stand ready to have the breast straps snapped in place and the tongue attached.     When tourists trains stopped and hundreds of passengers stood around the eating places looking the town over, I’d drive slowly by, and then stop to rest the team a minute, to give the dudes a chance to see a good, four-horse team. Then with a single “Yup!” I’d pull all the lines tight, and they’d start as one horse while the tourists explained and pointed.  

That Sunday after I put a gallon of oats in their food box and shook some hay into their manger, I left the barn and started up the steps alongside the depot.  It was still light; the sky hadn’t even begun to color.   Time to head home for supper.  I’d have to be up, hitched and pulled by seven the next morning. We’d probably have roast beef or roast chicken with noodles, since it was Sunday.  Mother would be cooking on the big wood-burning stove at the hotel, and my sisters would be taking the heaping platters to the tables where everyone would pass them around.  Probably there would be hot biscuits.  

Suddenly a shot cracked just above me and across the street.  I knew instantly it had come from the Wolf Saloon ahead.  It wasn’t common to hear shots in those days.  You hear more in a 20-minute Western on TV than you heard in a couple of years unless a few boys rode into town on a Saturday night to shoot up the air.   I broke into a run and could see a man lying on the board walk in front of the saloon.  As I got to him, one of the ladies I wasn’t permitted to mention came out and fell to her knees beside him. Raising the man’s head, she tried to pour whiskey down his throat.  With a queer, paralyzed feeling, I realized it was Indian Tom.  I reached for his wrist.  His hand was warm as life, but there was no pulse. Several men ran our.  “Ragland got him!” one of them shouted.  

We carried Tom’s body into MacDonald’s and laid him on a roulette table that was in the back room for repair.  Somebody went to wire for the sheriff at Hot Sulphur Springs.  Word soon reached Orman and Crook’s, and the Indian’s many friends began to jam into Arrow.    Indian Tom and Ragland had evidently had words during the afternoon and had quarrels once more before at a rodeo.  The women from the saloon said that when Indian Tom left after the quarrel, Ragland had stationed himself, gun in hand, inside the saloon door.  Everyone agreed that Ragland knew he wouldn’t have had a chance in a fair fight with Tom.  The moment they heard Tom’s spurs outside , Ragland pushed the door slightly open and shot point blank through the aperture along the hinge.  The he ran out the back door.   We searched the town inside and out for Ragland. The sheriff joined is in the search late that night, but we found no trace of him.  Just after midnight a wire came for the sheriff. Ragland had turned himself in at Hot Sulphur.  We learned later he had run to a ranch down below, borrowed a horse and ridden for his life.   A coroner’s jury was called. 

My brother Virgil, named foreman, took a firm stand.  The only verdict he intended to take out of that room was murder, and, after only a few hours, that was their verdict.  After three days, Ragland was released on $3,000 bond posted by his father, but you may be sure he didn’t show himself around Arrow.  His attorney, John A. DeWeese, got a change of venue from Grand County to Jefferson County at Golden, claiming an article in the Middle Park Times of September 7, 1906, reporting the verdict of the coroner’s jury, made it impossible for Ragland to get a fair trial in Hot Sulphur.  The article said in part: Four witnesses for the prosecution, and seven for the Defendant were examined, making eleven in all.  The testimony of the witnesses on both sides failed to show that the shooting was justifiable.  According to the testimony, the fatal shot was fired when Reynolds (Tom) had his revolver in his scabbard and when he did not even see Ragland who was standing opposite the cut-off. (As told to Donna Geyer by A.W. Lininger)                     

Mountain Men / Trappers