Ute Bill Thompson

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

Rundell & French - Two families of the Sheephorn

October 2009

Here we have a story of two families, who became intertwined in a far away place where there weren't too many people. In fact, there was only a handful.  Three young fellows, the Rundell boys, came from Wisconsin about 1880, to settle on the Sheephorn, an area in the very southwest corner of Grand County.

Al, the oldest brother, chose land on the Upper Sheephorn.  While he was at it, he established a much-needed ferry across the Grand River at today's Rancho Del Rio.  His brother Clarence homesteaded land on the same stream some two miles above the Midland Trail, known to us as the Trough Road. The only home he could afford for a couple of years was a dugout under the creek bank.  That tended to be damp and dingy, but Clarence hung in.  Finally he was able to build a cabin uphill from the stream. Newspapers used as insulation on his cabin walls show the year to be 1882.  Clarence was pleased with his house.  "Now I feel I've really put down roots and am here to stay!" he exclaimed.

Their young brother, Ernest, was frail, for he had suffered all his life from lung trouble.   Still, he loved working with Clarence.  One summer, they were digging a water ditch near Azure, on the Grand, above Radium; Ernest caught pneumonia and died. The poor boy was only about sixteen. Clarence never got over his brother's death and he gave land for a cemetery, where he buried Ernest, the first person there.

The second family were the Rundell boys' neighbors, Charlie French and his older brother, Harry, Jr. who had "hit town" from Iowa just about the same time.  Harry homesteaded upstream from Clarence and anticipated ranching.  By and by, though, Harry remarked to Charlie, "I've discovered I'm not much of a hand at ranching and besides, my land isn't very fertile.  I think I'll sell it and become a U.S. Forest Ranger instead.  If they'll have me." He easily passed the test and soon transferred to the little community of Azure.

Now, Charlie French was a wonderful musician, a whiz at playing the fiddle.  He missed making music with their sister Phoebe.  "You know, Harry," he said one day.  "I'd really like Phoebe to come out and see this country. I'm sure she'd like it.  And besides, we could play together again."

He urged her several times to come visit.  At last she agreed, traveling by train to Leadville, then to Wolcott.  About then, Charlie started to worry.   "Phoebe's only 18," he thought, "and she's such a lady. Is it proper to expect her to ride sidesaddle all the way in from Wolcott?"  He stopped by to see Clarence Rundell.  "Clarence, do you suppose you could take your buggy to Wolcott and pick up our Phoebe?"  He explained the circumstances. "Why, I'd be delighted," answered his friend.

It was a happy development.  At the station Clarence saw a lovely young woman, tall and slender, obviously well-educated.  He soon found she had a beautiful soprano voice and was an accomplished musician who could play both piano and organ.  He took to Phoebe right away, and she, to him.  It wasn't long before the two decided to marry.

Now the French boys' parents, Harry, Sr. and Mary, sold their Iowa farm about now and homesteaded at Azure, to be near their boys, even though Charlie left the country soon after.  Here the old folks remained for many years.  They also had some land up the Little Sheephorn, which they gave Phoebe as a dowry, when Clarence and Phoebe decided to wed.  Shortly after, the happy young couple married and made the little cabin their home.

Their three children were born here, Ernest, named after the brother who died, Marie, and Helen.  Clarence worked very hard, ranching in the summer and cutting logs in the winter.  The young folks were thrifty.  In 1908, Clarence sold his homestead to a Swiss newcomer and bought land above his original site. By 1912, Clarence and Phoebe built a fine three-story house, complete with beautiful hardwood floors.  It was wonderful place to raise the children.  "This will surely be our home forever!"

Harry French, Sr., died in 1924.   "Mother," invited Phoebe, "move in with us, since you're alone now." Mary did this, but then she returned to Iowa to stay with her sister, until her death.  The French name continues on, however, for there are two French Creeks in the Sheephorn area.

Finally, the Rundells decided to buy a home in north Denver and to invest in an apartment house.  All went well until 1928, when everything fell apart at the beginning of the Depression.   Clarence lost nearly everything. "Let's go back to the ranch, Phoebe," he said.  "I still have my 300-400 head of cattle; I know ranching and love it.  Let's go."  Thus they left city life and returned to their ranching roots.

Crawford

Maggie and Jimmy Crawford came to Middle Park in the summer of 1874 with their three children. They were given a piece of property and built a one room sod roofed cabin in Hot Sulphur Springs. They were probably the first family to stay the winter in Middle Park.

As they settled in for a long hard winter, Jimmy continued exploring lands to the west. He found prime land near a spring that made a unique chugging noise. That sound reminded him of the steamboats on the Missouri River back home. After that winter, Maggie returned to Missouri with her family, while Jimmy built a cabin on the new filing, which would later become known as Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

By 1876, Maggie and the children were back in Colorado, and the family became founding members of that new community.
 

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

Ute Bill Thompson and His Memorial Marker

Dark clouds covered the Continental Divide as we looked east from the ridge leading toward Elk Mountain's remarkable view. Cool winds and spitting snow followed us. We weren't seeking the height of Elk Mountain, but instead, were tracking the historic path of Grand County Pioneer William Jefferson "Ute Bill" Thompson. Specifically, we wanted to locate the memorial marker for Ute Bill that Henry Grafke and Otto Schott placed along this ridge after Ute Bill died in 1926. 

Tracking Thompson requires divergent paths. On one hand, Ute Bill's early presence in Middle Park places him in an era when mountain men and Ute Indians shared the vast herds of elk and deer. Only a handful of hardy souls called Middle Park home when Bill Thompson arrived in the late 1860s or early 70s. On another hand, Thompson settled just east of Hot Sulphur Springs as a young man, where he carved out a cattle ranch that remains in his family today.  

Records prove he owned and operated a billiard hall, drove stagecoaches and established a homestead along the Colorado (then, the Grand) River. But tall tales and oral legends abound too, capturing hair-breath escapes, harrowing western adventures and the mischievous nature of a 19th century westerner. Looking through the numerous historic photos of Ute Bill at the Pioneer Village Museum in Hot Sulphur Springs leaves an impression of a capable trapper, businessman and rancher who textured his image with stories of western adventure. 

With Don Dailey - fellow historic trekker and great grandson of Ute Bill - along, I hoped to pursue the fact and folklore of Ute Bill. As Don pointed out an isolated cabin in the valley below, a Ute Bill tale from the Georgetown Arbitrator of September 1886, "as narrated at the time by one of the participants," captured my imagination.  

Bill Thompson breathed a sigh of relief. The rugged, hungry band of Ute in front of him smiled approvingly as his long black hair fell from his broad-brimmed black hat. A tense moment before, he'd worried about his future as the small band of Ute Indians led by Yarmony came upon his isolated cabin in Middle Park. Fact is, Bill Thompson's hair had just saved his life. Not bein' cut since the Sioux captured him as a child, it hung nearly to his waist.  

Bill was all set up for a Middle Park Winter, with supplies to last through the toughest stretch, when Yarmony and his band came along. Thompson cursed softly at himself for not payin' closer heed to their approach. "Figured they'd be out west by now," Bill muttered as he squared up to his guests. 

Speakin' through a mix of hand signs, broken Ute and English that most fellers in the mountain parks west of the divide understood well enough for basic communication, Bill impressed the band with his manly firmness and calm self-confidence. Then Yarmony spoke, "Beescits," was all he said. Bill hesitated to open his cabin supplies. "Why, them folks are so hungry," he thought to himself, "they're near certain to go mad if they laid eyes on my bacon and flour." At best he'd be without supplies at a risky time of year. "No biscuits, fellers," Bill said with as much certainty as he could muster, "barely enough food fer myself. There's still a shaggy buffalo er two fer the takin' and every feller's got the same chance." When Bill finished talkin' he looked Yarmony square in the eyes. He watched the headman's leathered face swing toward his rough-sawn cabin door thoughtfully. "Beescits," he repeated. 

Yarmony's band, snuggled in their elk skins and trade blankets, looked stoically at Bill. "Well," Bill said, throwing down his last ace, "seems you're intent on havin' my grub and I'm intent you ain't." Then, regrettin' it before he finished sayin' it, Bill raised the stakes, "Why don't we have us a shootin' contest fer it?" No immediate reaction caused Bill to wonder if he'd communicated clearly. Slowly, though, excitement spread through the crowd of Ute, as the entire band - from the pretty young girls to the big-bellies - looked to one feller. In front of Bill stepped a mountain-sized-Ute feller, creating a shadow as he approached. "Piah," the Ute whispered, breaking into a quiet chaos of conversations. Movin' quick and hopin' for some break, Bill scooped up his improved Winchester rifle as he threw off his broad-brimmed black hat so nothin' could obstruct his shootin' eye. Just as soon as his long black hair fell near his waist, the tense moment ended with a gasp from the Ute, followed by a welcome reception that meant more to Bill than any he recollected! Bill determined then and thar on never cuttin' his hair again! 

As he eased down the gun smilin', all them pretty Ute girls began paintin' his face and braidin' his locks. Bill was feelin' positively giddy about his good fortune. Decidin' he just might owe these hungry Utes a favor fer endin' a potentially tragic shootin', he led 'em to a nearby ravine where he'd been watchin' a small herd of shaggy buffalo. Now Bill Thompson figured he'd repay 'em with meat, and still keep his own supplies. Leavin' the Ute on a rise above the ravine, he sauntered down to the fresh buffalo trail just as he heard the thunder of hooves around the ravine's bend to the south. Settlin' into a remote stand of lodge pole pines, he sat right along the path of the rumblin' bison. Pickin' out his choices as they rounded the bend, Bill's Winchester boomed repeatedly, each shot bringin' down a fat cow or a young bull.          

Swaggering toward his kills, Bill was suddenly confronted by Sandy Mellon and Len Pollard, sneakin' along that ravine behind the buffalo. Not recognizin' Bill through all the paint and braids, Sandy thundered to Len that this Ute feller must "a stole Bill Thompon's gun," because there weren't many repeaters like his. Both their guns were trained on Bill.   Calmly, Bill broke the silence. "Don't over-reach yourself, Sandy." Yes sir, Sandy knew from the voice that this-here Ute feller in front of him was really Bill Thompson. That day, he became Ute Bill.  

Breathing hard to make the final incline, Don and I reached the point along the ridge of Elk Mountain where we expected to find the memorial. There it was, as we had hoped. After a hurrah for our success, we slowly read the plaque: "Hunting Grounds of "Ute Bill.'" As we snapped photos and drank water from our packs, I decided that where historic fact and local folklore meet, an authentic western tale begins.

Topic: Towns

Grand Lake

Grand Lake was established in 1879 and incorporated in 1944. It is named for the largest natural body of water in Colorado.

In 1867, when only a few people resided near the lake, Major John Wesley Powell (the man whose group first rafted the Grand Canyon) came to explore the possibility of floating down the Grand (now Colorado) River. That summer, Powell, local resident Jack Sumner, and William Byers, founder of the Rocky Mountain News, made the first recorded ascent of Longs Peak from Grand Lake.

In the early 1900’s a Yacht Club was formed by enthusiasts who were attracted by the demands of attentive seamanship the lake demanded. In 1912, Sir Thomas Lipton contributed an impressive cup to be presented annually to the winner of the annual August Regatta. This event still draws skilled sailors to the challenging competition. 

The town was founded during a very brief mining boom, but because of it's natural beauty, tourism has long been the sustaining feature of it's economy.

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.

The Norton Family

From his earliest memories, Mike Norton recalls playing with model ships and submarines with his older brother. His older brother had a ship, and he had the sub. The small pond on the Circle H ranch where he spent his early life before Lake Granby filled up gave little boys' imaginations an ocean. Marbles gave them depth charges. "But I could never find a way to shoot marbles from the sub," Norton laughingly remembers. As the water literally rose above his home, it shaped his life.

The history of Lake Granby and the Norton Marina goes as deep as the water, literally. Grand County's pioneer ranching history lurks at the lake's bottom, sharing its place with rainbow trout amid the vast water supply for eastern Colorado and beyond. Before the lake filled up as part of the Colorado Big Thompson project, ranches like the Lehmans, Knights and Harveys had been stage stops, cattle and dude ranches and even an airstrip used by Charles Lindbergh.

Mike's dad Frank came to Grand County to ranch. "All I ever really wanted to do  first was to be a rancher here," Frank Norton told the Sky-Hi News back in 1997. At fifteen or sixteen years old, Frank Norton in a Model T Roadster traveled from Okmulgee, Oklahoma to Grand County, where he "fell in love" with the ranch that his mother and step-father started around 1930. The Circle H, started by his step-father Jim Harvey in the valley that is now Lake Granby, became his summer home.

By all accounts, Frank Norton loved ranching. The Circle H "was a working ranch and a dude ranch." Harvey's ranch provided a spectacular backdrop highlighted by the Indian Peaks, reaching 13,000 ft high along the Continental Divide. The Circle H offered a caricature map for tourists looking for a real western experience. It led them over Berthoud Pass along hwy 40 to hwy 34 and then right at the Circle H sign to the Ranch. Leaving on horses from the Circle H, Frank Norton and Jim Harvey took them into a vast and remarkable country that, for the most part, can only be reached on foot today.

In those days, the area now protected as the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area faced less threats from overuse. Ranchers hunted the region to supplement the sometimes skinny winter rations. "Jim Harvey shot two elk from his saddle," Mike Norton proudly recalls of his grandfather as we look at a romantic image of Harvey on horseback. Nowadays, quotas limit use through the peak season. The National Park and Forest Service restrict horse traffic and campfires as well. Early Harvey and Norton history highlight a different time and place, when the remote reaches of Indian Peaks could still be reached by trusting a cowboy with a Winchester rifle to get you there and back safely.

For Mike Norton, the water that drowned out his family's ranching history also floated Norton Marina. Going from ranching to the marina business may seem an odd transition, but Mike's family history shows how flexible they were! Frank Norton spent his early youth traveling with his father's tent show, Norton's comedians. "Dad had such funny stories about that," Mike says. When the traveling troupe era ended (talkies and the Great Depression meant "they didn't eat too well sometimes"), Frank Norton moved to Oklahoma with his father before finally joining his mother and Jim Harvey in Grand County.  

Regardless of his occupation, Frank Norton was a showman. Remarkable old photos save the rich history of pack trips into the Indian Peaks area, camp sites on the shores Lake Monarch and rich harvests of rainbow trout. But Frank Norton and his horse Oak rearing high like the lone ranger really show Frank Norton's flare and charisma.

In many ways, Norton Marina continued the Circle H's heritage. Frank's marina included the Gangplank, a restaurant and dancehall that looked like a boat, with porthole windows and originally a rainbow trout aquarium for the bar. His admiral's hat, which Mike still has today, replaced his cowboy hat and a 25 foot Chris Craft named the Bonnie B replaced old Oak as his ride. More or less, this is the world in which Mike Norton grew up.

Growing up Frank's son meant work too. "I was 8 or 10 years old" when we started "Norton's Ark," Mike smiles, referring to the Gangplank restaurant. It was the early fifties in Grand County. "What backhoe?"

No bailouts either! "Those first few years, I nearly starved to death," Frank Norton once told a reporter. "But," he added, "every year the business kept growing and before I knew it we had a good marina going." Before it was over, Norton Marina fulfilled Frank's dream of a family business, only in "boating recreation" instead of ranching!

"It wasn't all roses," Mike agrees. As a boy, Frank Norton went to military school. "They disciplined him and he used the same technique on his kids." Frank expected his kids to help and to obey his commands, without question. Using Tide and a G.I. scrub brush, Mike Norton recalls scrubbing lower units. They painted wooden boats in the wintertime in the shop. The kids came in from school, changed clothes and started working. "Dad and mom had a lot of kids cause they needed a crew!"

Maybe his most memorable job was cleaning out the septic tanks for the cabins that his dad built to help offset the lack of income at a Rocky Mountain marina during winter. After digging up the lids, "dad would put a ladder into the septic tanks." Then, Mike crawled in and shoveled out the waste while his dad hoisted the buckets out. "I was so glad when Ernie Seipps started his septic clean out business," Mike says as we motor along beside Grand Elk Marina's covered docks on a pontoon boat.

The hard work and experience at the marina paid off when Mike joined the military. Like so many of his generation, Mike received his notice to join ground forces in Vietnam. Luckily, about that time, Navy recruiters were in Granby. They showed a strong interest in a National Honors Society student who lived a life on water! The pieces of the puzzle fit, and "that got me in the Navy," says Mike with real appreciation.

In 1973, the family tradition passed on to Mike and his brother Frank when they bought the marina business from their dad. A lifetime of experience came with them. But it took more than dock maintenance, boat service and customer service to run Norton Marina. And, as the brothers took over, the old Admiral Frank Norton stayed in the house he had built next door to the gangplank, insuring that his strong personality was never far away.

Lots of obstacles exist for a marina on public lands. As Mike took over sole ownership from his brother, he also fought to bring the marina under the National Forest Service instead of the National Park Service, which effectively removed the "power of condemnation." "We had to fight for our livelihood," Mike explained when he sold the Marina in January of 1997.

Mother Nature challenged the marina too. Ice might remain on the water for half of May. June snowstorms blow in monster clouds, as awe-inspiring as the calm sunsets. Freezing rain rips into all but the best prepared boaters nearly any time of year, and hailstorms can hit in a heartbeat. "We're like farmers in that way," Mike recalled. "Drought, winters, high water, low water, you can't really help, we understand that."

On the other hand, the glassy waters of Lake Granby reflect the awe-inspiring Indian Peaks along the Continental Divide on calm, sunny days. Tourists and locals try their luck catching the Mackinaw that makes it attractive to sportsmen and women. Intrepid wake boarders mix with sweet sailboats against a beautiful background of rugged peaks that reach high above tree line. On those days, it's hard to think of a more spectacular place.

Through it all, Mike Norton clearly enjoyed his life at Norton Marina. "I liked being out in the elements with the boating public."  He also counts the independence of self-employment and the uniqueness of the marina as blessings in his "good life."

Grand Elk runs the marina today (2009). Its operation rents out slips and moorings, daily pontoon boats and other related services. It's as beautiful as ever to peer across the lake at sunrise in August, and it's as cold and forbidding as ever when the winter winds whip across the thick ice an snow of the lake in January. Few wooden hulls appear during summer season as in the old days, but beautiful boats, both motor and sail, still surround the Marina.

Yes, its original character remains, not far from the surface. The Gangplank changed its name to Mackinaws, where customers in the main room still look out portholes across the lake to the rugged outline of Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, although there is no longer as much space on the dance floor. Those familiar with Indian Peaks recognize old Abe Lincoln lying in his grave along the Continental divide, where Mike's early ranching family led pack trips and today can still be reached, albeit under more controlled circumstances. Today's anchored concrete docks and gas dock continue the process that started with Frank Norton using finger docks that Mike staked in the ground and an old chicken coup from the Circle H to fuel boats.

And in all of Grand Elk Marina's features and history, Frank Norton and his family exist. In the house that they built on site where all of his children were photographed as they grew up and as they graduated from Middle Park High School. In the restaurant where Mike remembers finding the nerve to ask pretty young gals to dance. And, in the numerous family photos that show a smiling, handsome Frank Norton and his attractive family surrounded by high mountains, wooden Chris Craft and a sense of high expectations.

Mike remembers his dad as the "greatest storyteller I've ever known," which he used to his advantage in all occupations. In 2001, I met Frank Norton, only once before he died the next year. He told us about the time Jim Harvey knocked the federal agent who came to tell take their land away to the floor, placed a foot on his chest and said, "If you get up, I'll knock you down again." We could see it happening as he told the story more than 50 years later.

But the story continues beyond Frank Norton. From traveling tents shows to dude ranches to a forty-plus year family run marina, the Nortons made one of Grand County's most enduring "institutions." Entertaining, industrious, and life-loving, Mike simply says, "It's been a really good life." And that's a family tradition.

Topic: Places

Place Names of Grand County

Because Grand County has such a rich history, many names reflect that important heritage. Traveling East to West from town-to-town, here are a few historical tidbits to think about.  

Winter Park came into being around 1923. Several names to identify the place were used over the years, including West Portal, Hideaway Park, Vasquez, Woodstock, and even "Little Chicago" because of gambling and other activities. The City of Denver bought land in 1939. Winter Park officially opened in 1940. According to "Colorado Place Names" by George R. Eichler, with the assistance of Denver Mayor, Benjamin F. Stapleton, the town changed its name to "Winter Park" to publicize the establishment of the city's winter sports centers.

Iron Horse Resort and Zephyr Mountain Lodge reflect the importance of the railroad in the development of Grand County. Newer condominiums also reflect the heritage of the area. Sawmill Station, Teller City and more recently, Telemark, are a few examples. "Telemark is named after the traditional method of skiing," said a Telemark Townhomes representative. Red Quill townhomes, according to broker and owner Mike Ray of Century 21 Real Estate in Winter Park, are named after President Eisenhower's favorite fishing fly lure. "He found the Red Quill pattern particularly effective on St. Louis Creek while visiting and fishing with Axel Neilsen at the Byers Peak Ranch." Van Anderson Drive, according to Jan Smith, a Realtor at Century 21 of Winter Park and longtime local, is named after the first mayor of Winter Park. He developed the Hideaway Village, including the condos, Filings 1 and 2 and Hideaway Village South.  


Vasquez Road, according to well-known historian, Abbott Fay, is named after Louis Vasquez, an early fur trader. Woodspur and even Woodstock, one of the early names attributed to the town of Winter Park, referred to Billy Wood's lumber mill which furnished Rollins Pass railroad ties.

Fraser was originally spelled "Frazier" for Reuben Frazier, an early Grand County Settler. Postal authorities adopted the simpler spelling when the post office was established. Doc Susie Avenue is named for Susan Anderson, M.D. "Doc Susie," a pioneer physician who came to the area in 1907. She served the citizens of Grand County faithfully until she died in Fraser at the age of 90. Fraser's Eastom Avenue is named after George Eastom, who founded the town. The Eastom family from Ohio built an important lumber mill. Mill Avenue also reflects those early lumber days. Eisenhower Drive is named after President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who enjoyed visiting the area especially for fishing. Ptarmigan is a grouse with feathered feet particularly found in the cold, mountainous regions. And, for Wapiti Drive/Lane, Wapiti is an elk. Zerex Street, according to Susan Stone of the Fraser Visitor Center, is named after the antifreeze product which was tested at "the Icebox of the Nation."

Tabernash is on the homestead of 1882 pioneer Edward J. Vulgamott. By 1905, the enclave came into existence because of its location during the building of the Denver & Salt Lake Railroad. E.A. Meredith, chief engineer, named the town after the Ute Native American called Tabernash who was killed earlier by a white man named "Big Frank." Junction Ranch, built by Quincy Adams Rollins, according to noted historian Abbott Fay, was an important stop on the Idlewild Stage line which could accommodate up to 50 travelers.

Granby was founded in 1905, named after attorney Granby Hillyer, who assisted David Moffat and Frontier Land and Investment Company with the incorporation. Granby landmark, Kaibab Park was donated by the Kaibab Company. According to former local postmistress Carole Clark, during the 1940s, Broderick Wood Products Company had a large sawmill with housing for their workers where the current ball fields are now located. Selak Drive is named after the Selak family, who ran a large Granby Merchantile. Before Granby, the Selak post office and general store provided service from June 1883 to September 1893 on the nearby Selak Ranch.
Ouray Ranch, a residential community located off US. Highway 34, was the original home of the YMCA Camp Chief Ouray until the early 1980s when the YMCA sold the land and relocated to Snow Mountain Ranch outside of Granby on US Highway 40. Chief of the Ute Indians, Ouray was born in Colorado in 1820. He was noted for his friendship with the white settlers.

Grand Lake was established by hardy pioneers in 1879. Joseph L. Wescott, was the first white settler-prospector. Grand Lake was founded as a mining settlement by the Grand Lake Town & Improvement Company. As the mines played out, tourism and focus on Grand Lake, Colorado's largest natural body of water, took center stage. Cairns Avenue, according to Jane Kemp, granddaughter of James Cairns, is named for him. In 1881, he ran a general store. He extended credit for supplies to many of the miners who left town without paying him. With unpaid bills and depleted stock, Cairns then homesteaded a ranch to sell hay to freighters for their horses. He trapped bears for their shaggy skins to sell. All the while he kept his store open. A mountain peak bears his name, also.  

Columbine Lake is named after the Colorado State Flower. Kinnikinnick is a Native American term used to describe mixtures of Indian tobacco.  West Portal Road leads to the west portal of the Alva B. Adams Tunnel, which since 1947 delivers Grand County-Western Slope water to farmers on the Front Range as part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

Hot Sulphur Springs, established in 1860 is named for the famous hot springs in the area. (Colorado Place Names) Ute and Arapaho tribes used the hot springs for their "healing waters." Byers Avenue is named after William N. Byers, founder of the Denver Rocky Mountain News. He wanted to create a spa resort modeled after Saratoga in New York.

Moffat Avenue-Several streets in Grand County are named after David Moffat, the pioneer railroading legend, who started the Moffat tunnel and brought predictable rail service to Grand County with his "true-grit" determination.

Parshall, according to Colorado Place Names, was established in 1907 when a Mr. Dow set up a small store and circulated a petition for a post office. The name "Parshall" honored a local pioneer. Postal authorities accepted it as no other post office had that name in the entire county.

Kremmling established in 1881 according to Colorado Place Names, the town's beginning was a general merchandise store run by Kare Kremmling, (The Chamber of Commerce web site says Mr. Kremmling was named Rudolph and the town was established in 1884) located on a ranch on the north bank of the Muddy River. When Aaron and John Kinsey platted their ranch and called the site Kinsey City, Kremmling moved his store across the river to a new site which soon became known as "Kremmling."

Radium had a post office as early as 1906. Harry S. Porter, a prospector and miner, suggested the name because of the radium content in a mine he owned near the town. The community was settled by Tim Mugrage and his family.

Topic: Biographies

David Moffat and the Railroad Dream

David Moffat was a wealthy Denver businessman who saw the need for a rail link between Denver and Salt Lake City. His vision, a 6.2 mile long tunnel beneath the Continental Divide, made this link possible.

He was born in 1839, the youngest of 8 children. He ran away from home at age of 12, went to New York City and found work as a bank messenger.  He was an assistant teller by the age of 16 and  became a millionaire through real estate by the age of 21. 

Moffat was admired for his qualities of courage, adaptation to the “barbaric” West and his goodness of heart. He married his childhood sweetheart, Francis Buckhout, moved to Denver, and in 1860 opened a bookstore/stationary/drug store with C.C. & S.W. Woolworth on the corner of 11th and Larimer.  

Moffat and others formed the Denver Pacific Railroad to reach Cheyenne. The rail line to the Moffat Tunnel was the highest standard railroad ever built in the U.S. (11,660 ft). It went over the Continental Divide at Rollins Pass and came into the Fraser Valley in 1904. At the time, it was the most difficult railroad engineering and construction project ever undertaken. It involved boring numerous tunnels through solid granite, as well as constructing precarious timbered trestles that bridged deep mountain gorges. 

David Moffat was a multi-millionaire when he started the Moffat Line and was nearly broke when he died in 1911 trying to raise money for the tunnel that would eventually be built and bear his name. It was finally completed in 1928. The west portal of the Moffat Tunnel can be seen from the Winter Park Resort.

 

Murphy Family

October 2009

As late as this summer, John Murphy, 94, mowed ditches on his ranch land and built a new fence. "You got to keep busy doing something," he said. His longevity, he said smiling at wife Carolyn across the table, is owed to "having a good wife to keep you healthy."

And then he added, "and being stubborn and contrary, I guess." But, Carolyn believes John's secret to healthy aging is due to "hard physical labor from an early age," plus the privilege of being raised where there is good air, little junk food, fresh vegetables, fresh milk daily and ranch-harvested meat. Dancing and regular rodeo jaunts also don't hurt.

This week, the Murphys are pausing to acknowledge a 100-year milestone, when John's parents first bought the ranch in greater Granby. John Murphy was born in the family's white two-story ranch house, which still stands on the property, six years after his parents Anna (Rohracher) and James Murphy bought 160 acres from Leopold Mueller in 1909. He had purchased the land from the widow of Edward Weber, who was one of the Grand County commissioners shot in the Grand Lake shoot-out of 1883. Weber's grave is still surrounded by a white-picket fence, located just northwest from the Murphys' newer home.

Mother Anna had crossed the ocean from Austria in 1882 with her family, then in the spring of 1884, they walked over Rollins Pass from Ward to homestead at Eight-Mile Creek south of Granby. The town of Granby didn't sprout until the railroad came through in the early 1900s, so twice a year, the family would travel over Berthoud to Georgetown to buy groceries - a testament to the fortitude people had back then. "How often do you go for groceries now?" John asked. "Twice a day?"

Anna and James married in March of 1907 and had three children: Margaret, James and John. When John was just two years old, his father died and his mother was left to care for the ranch and the three young children. She later married Joseph Reinhardt who had the ranch above theirs.

Upon her death in 1952 at the age of 75, "The Middle Park Times" saluted Anna for having been "a hardy pioneer woman" who prided herself for her ability to horseback ride and milk cows, and called the latter a "fine art rather than a chore."

"It was a pleasure for her to sit down and milk cows," John said. "That's when she could rest. She would milk half of the cows while me and my step-dad milked the other half."

The ranch had about 35 cows, and the cream and milk they produced was shipped to Denver where it was sold. When the lettuce colonies came to the Granby area around the early 1920s, the Murphy ranch prospered selling milk and butter to local settlers.  "Where the airport is now, there was a shack or tent on every 10 acres over there," he said, "and five packing warehouses along the railroad." Even a section of Murphy land was leased to grow lettuce and spinach.

When young boys, John and his brother would sometimes find entertainment riding on the backs of calves in the barn - always out of sight from their mother who would have disapproved, he said. And the younger John would horseback to the Granby schoolhouse located across from the present day Granby Community Center.

Back then, Granby was barely a settlement, and the Murphys' closest neighbor was farther than a mile away. Granby, especially, has grown in the past 20 years, threatening the lifestyle he has known all his life. In the past, ranching families made up the community, and neighbors looked out for one another, he said. "There was kind of a togetherness," he said. "Now we don't have that."

Nodding to the golf courses and newer homes surrounding Granby proper, "We're losing it, losing all the ranchers," he said. "Like any piece of property, I hate to see it change hands, but progress happens and there's nothing you can do about it."

John Murphy began running the ranch in 1934 and his older brother James ran another ranch near Fraser, land the brothers originally had purchased together.
John's first wife Edith died during childbirth, and John became a single dad to a daughter and son who were 2 and 4 years old at the time, running the ranch and raising his children like his own mother did when he was a toddler.

At its height, John Murphy's commercial cattle operation had about 2,000 acres and about 120 pair of cows and calves, with the calves selling at the top of the market in Omaha. John said from working his land for hay through the years, he has found buffalo horns. "There must have been quite a few buffalo here in the 1800s," he said. The land has since been leased, split, and some shared with John's family, including daughter Jennifer Baker and son Steve Murphy.

Although the winters are no longer as harsh as he remembers them - "It would get 30 to 40 below for the whole month," he said - he and wife Carolyn now winter in Arizona. John met Carolyn in the 1970s, and the couple would dance at haunts such as the Circle H and Hazel Mosle's (now Johnson's Landing). "I just held the girls, and they did the dancing," John said. "She complained I held her too tight," he said, of Carolyn. "And she's been suffering every since."

Mountain Men / Trappers