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: Mountains

Mount Craig

The rounded mountain at the head of the East Inlet to Grand Lake has born many names-from Middle Mountain, to Mount Baldy, to Mount Westcott. It's official title, however, is Mount Craig. It's namesake is The Reverend William Bayard Craig, who came to the area in 1882, to be pastor of the Central Christian Church in Denver. He visited Grand Lake occasionally, and completed some real estate dealings there. The town of Craig also bears his name, due to the influence of his friend, David Moffat, of the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad.

Maggie and Jimmy 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.
 

Post Offices

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

Postal routes into Middle Park were first offered for contract to the lowest bidders in 1875.  A once a week route over Rollins Pass was bid at $693 per year but winter was so severe that the service stopped.  The route from Georgetown to Hot Sulphur Springs over Berthoud Pass from July through October was more enduring. 

Later, postmaster appointments were recommended by congressmen, thereby making the the system more variable as political party power shifted at election time.  The great advantage to having a post office was the opportunity to include a retail goods for sale, often in the living room of the postmaster's home.

Post offices were located within 10 miles of the addresses they served.  In those days, a 10 mile round trip would often take a full day of travel by horse or wagon.  Many post offices were simply ranch homes, and there were frequent changes in location due to disabilities or political party changes.

Post offices were closed when there were too few recipients to justify the cost, often caused by consolidation of ranches or mine closures.  As transportation became mechanized, there was no longer the need for a 10 mile radius maximum.     


PO                            Opening Date             First Postmaster

Hot Sulphur Springs     Sept. 10, 1874            Thomas N. Francie

Fraser                        July 20, 1876              William Z. Cozens

Troublesome               March 15, 1878            Henry King

(When Henry King died in 1879, his wife Albina replaced him. The Troublesome office was discontinued on April 19, 1935)                               

Red Mountain             April 8, 1878               William D. Coberly

(Discontinued in September 1878)

Hermitage                  May 17, 1878              George Rand

(Intermittent service.  Discontinued Jan. 10, 1884)

Grand Lake                 Jan. 10, 1879              John Baker

Twelve Mile                 June 1879         Daniel N. Ostrander

(Discontinued Aug. 5, 1880)

Lulu City                    July 20, 1880              D.W. Hassix

(Discontinued Nov. 26, 1883)

Gaskill                       Oct. 22, 1880             John K. Mowrey

(Discontinued Nov. 11, 1886) 

Colorow                     May 24, 1882              Thomas E. Pharo

(Discontinued May 16, 1903)

Selak                         June 11, 1883             Frank J. Selak

(Discontinued Sept. 29, 1893)

Fairfax                       Jan. 14, 1884              John Barber

(Discontinued July 9, 1885) 

Coulter                      Aug. 14, 1884             Fred Halkowiez

(Discontinued Sept. 20, 1905)

Kremmling                 Feb. 12, 1885             Rudolph Kremmling

Kinsey                       Oct. 24, 1891             Rudolph Kremmling

Crescent                    Feb. 14, 1887             Tracy C. Tyler

(Discontinued April 16, 1894) 

Clarkson                    July 28, 1892              William M. Clark

(Discontinued Dec. 8, 1898)

Dexter                       Sept. 21, 1896            Milton G. McQueary

(Discontinued May 20, 1911) 

Martin                        Aug. 24, 1898             Samuel Martin

Discontinued Nov. 3, 1934)

Scholl                        Nov. 27, 1901             Ole Langholm

(Discontinued Jan. 21, 1930)

Lohman                     March 31, 1903           Clyde N. King

(Name changed to Stillwater on Oct. 4, 1911.  Discontinued Oct. 29, 1930) 

Leal                          Sept. 17, 1904            Charles F. Barker

(Discontinued April 30, 1930) 

Arrow                        March 21, 1905           William L. York

(Discontinued March 15, 1915) 

Tabernash                  Sept. 30. 1905            Mary Knight

Granby                       Oct. 26, 1905             Agnes Whited

Radium                      Feb. 9, 1906               O.C. Mugrage

(Discontinued Dec. 6, 1963)

Parshall                     Nov. 17, 1906             G. Walter Dow

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Topic: Indians

Indians

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

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

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

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

Wheatley Family of the Troublesome

Forrest Wheatley was born in Chicago in 1875 and his brother George R. was born 6 years later.  Their parents were English immigrants, William and Mary.  The family moved to Denver in 1887 where William pursued his trade of upholstering carriages.

 After Forrest returned from service in the Spanish American War in 1900, he and George decided to establish homesteads of 160 acres each on the East Fork of Troublesome Creek. When the expansion of the National Forest land limited the growth of their holdings, they moved to Muddy Creek to the west and ran their operation there until 1929.  They continued to purchase additional homesteads on the Troublesome.

 The brothers had a disagreement so Forrest and his wife Ida remained on the Muddy while George moved back to the Troublesome.  He sold the original claims high on the East Fork.  Later he married his neighbor, Bessie Sampson, and they moved back to the Muddy Creek basin and had five children; George, Douglass, Kenneth, Maidie and Gene.  Gene drowned in an irrigation ditch while still a young child.

Through purchases and marriages, the Wheatley descendents eventually owned property throughout western Grand County and as far north as the Yampa River Valley.
 

Topic:

Biographies

From Indians and explorers to doctors and developers, click on the drop-down menus to learn about some of the remarkable people who helped shape Grand County.

Grand Lake's First Fireboat

During the summer of 1960, Jeff E. Fuller and Don Drake formed Mountain Services Inc. to offer Grand Lake shore owners protection by patrolling the properties.  In May of 1961, Don Drake promoted the idea of a fireboat and with donations, a 1960 18 foot Buehler Turbocraft Jet 56 was purchased and equipped to fight fires. Don tested the water jet and found that it would pump enough water to reach the fourth story of the five story-14 bedroom Oscar Malo home. 

Ironically, on September 10, 1961, that very home caught on fire.  The home was completely engulfed by the time Don got the fireboat to the location but, with the help of Elmer Badger and Jerry Gruber, they concentrated on the 4-slip boathouse.  The heat was so intense it melted the plastic trim on the fireboat but the boathouse was saved and still stands today.

 

     

 

 

Topic:

Early Families

While natural events occasionally determine history, it is most often the existence of natural resources that lure humans to a region.  Those who first arrived in Grand County came to mine ore, cut timber and graze cattle and therefore they determined the subsequent history of the region.

The pioneering families of Grand County had exceptional stamina, pride and endurance to survive the grueling winters and isolation.  We have collected the stories of just a few of these families, but will continue expanding this section as information becomes available.  If you know the story of one of the early Grand County families, please contact us so that we may include it in this section

My Granby, Little Old Log Church

Contributed by Vera "Stathos" Shay, Kremmling...Granby resident 1930-1945

From what I hear

It is very near

To be torn away

The little church of my childhood day

The most beautiful to see

That can ever be

Inside and out

Without a doubt

Built of log so fine

In the style of old time

In my own little chair

Every Sunday I was there

The chime of its bell

For miles around

Heard its wonderful sound

For a while our school

We didn't fit

So in our church were classes

For a bit

Beside our church on the hill

We sledded for a thrill

That poor little church

They moved it around

All over town

Proudly it's hung together

In all kinds of weather

Every time I go to Granby town

I look around to find

And have a look

At my log church for my eyes'

Memory book

Now they say it's got to go

Pray it won't be so

All of you Granby folk

Louder you should have spoke

To save that church with its

Memories and history

For there could never be

Anything that would compare

Built or put there

With my magnificent, beautiful

Childhood Granby log church

Find it in your hearts

To never let it be torn apart.

 

April 2005

 

 

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.

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Mountain Men / Trappers