Mountain Men / Trappers

Mountain Men / Trappers Articles

Jim Bridger
Jim Bridger

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

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

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

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

Mountain Men / Trappers
Mountain Men / Trappers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Articles to Browse

Topic: Water

Grand Lake

Grand Lake is Colorado's largest natural lake.  The clear blue waters are surrounded by magnificent mountain scenery and a haunting Indian legend.  

Judge Joseph L. Wescott, an early white settler, wrote a poem about a Ute story he heard from an Indian camping at the lake in 1867.  One summer Utes were camping on the shores of Grand Lake when they were suddenly attacked by an enemy tribe of the Arapahoe.  As the brave Ute warriors began fighting, the squaws and papooses hurried onto a raft for safety, pushing the raft to the middle of the lake. As the battle continued, a treacherous wind overturned the raft and all the women and children drowned.  

It is said that you can see ghostly forms in the morning mist rising from the lake and hear the wailing of the women and children beneath the winter ice.

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

George & Joyce Engle

Winter Park Ski Shop, Joyce and George Engel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Topic: Leisure Time

Grand Lake Yacht Club

Grand County often attracts adventurous spirits who prefer its splendid isolation to Wal-Mart and fast food. Others, who never make the leap of faith to live here, enjoy it as a familiar playground, returning regularly to enjoy its vast mountain ranges and unlimited outdoor opportunities.

It has to come many as a surprise to learn that Grand Lake, Colorado - nestled next the Continental Divide at over 8,300 feet elevation - has had a yacht club for over one hundred years! When this adventure began, back in 1902, there was only a stage road into the southeast corner of Grand County over Berthoud Pass. Grand Lake is situated next to the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park, at the far northeast corner of the county, with the rugged backbone of the continent directly to the north and east. At the turn of the twentieth century, it was a summer vacation spot with few full-time residents. Summer visitors and full-time residents alike recognized the grandeur of the their surroundings, and Grand Lake very early became a summer home to many of Denver's elite, and the summer business they brought helped support the local economy.

It was a few enthusiastic Denverites with a keen interest in Grand Lake and sailing who organized the Grand Lake Yacht Club over 100 years ago. The founders included Richard Crawford Campbell, who married Senator Thomas Patterson's daughter and became the business manager of his father's newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News; William Henry Bryant, a Denver lawyer who was active in both sailing and Colorado politics; J. Fermor Spencer, a close friend of Mr. Bryant and long-time treasurer of the club; and William Bayard Craig, who enjoyed a broad education and had been the Chancellor of Duke University before he became interested in "acquiring land in Colorado."  By the end of 1902, according to Denver papers, "the first bona fide yacht club between the Mississippi river and the Pacific ocean" was in operation.

An atmosphere of excitement and pageantry swept over Grand Lake during the early Regatta weeks, when the Yacht Club held its annual races. In Denver, The Friday Evening Times proclaimed during August of 1904, "Yachting season is here", and went on to describe the "enthusiastic cottagers gathered on shore" around Grand Lake to cheer for the yachts. In 1907, Regatta week included yacht racing as well as foot races, donkey races and bronco busting. When the yacht races ended, the boat captain who won the most races had earned the Colorado Cup.

The Grand Lake Yacht Club's small sailing fleet during Regatta week - three days of racing during mid-August - sometimes included only a handful of boats during its first decade or so. Still, according to one observer, "the organization has more spirit to the square foot than I ever saw exhibited before." Races on the first day of Regatta week, 1905, illustrate the enthusiasm well. In the hotly contested first race of Regatta week, Robert Campbell's Highball, built in Racine, Wisconsin, tossed her two-man crew into the icy waters of Grand Lake when she capsized while running in second place. Shortly after, the third place yacht, Duchess, went over too, leaving the Chicago-built Dorothy II captained by Commodore Bryant the first and only boat to cross the home buoy.

Today, Dorothy O'Donnell O'Ryan, Commodore Bryant's granddaughter, maintains her family's summer home in Grand Lake. In 2002, she published Sailing Above the Clouds: An Early History of the Grand Lake Yacht Club, which chronicles the club's first 50 years. Her Colorado roots go back to Colorado territory's last, and the state of Colorado's first Governor, John Long Routt, who was appointed by President Grant in 1875, the year before Colorado became a state. Knowing the early history as she does, and the difficulties inherit with mountain transportation, O'Ryan marvels at "the logistics" of bringing sailboats built in Racine, Wisconsin or Chicago, Illinois over the Continental Divide into Grand County, Colorado by rail and stage road.

Home-built crafts, both crude and highly crafted, competed as well. Many of the first home-built boats were modified rowboats, "with homemade sails and masts." Observing the annual Regatta week in August of 1904, though, Arthur Johnson called attention to "the Jessica, a 16-foot boat belonging to the vice-commodore and built at Grand Lake" that sported "a sail that would have done credit to a venturesome Lipton on the high seas."

If a sailboat in Grand Lake during 1904 "done credit to a venturesome Lipton," Sir Thomas Lipton himself returned the favor tenfold in 1912. It so happened in 1912 that Lipton was traveling by train across the United States and would pass through Denver on his journey. Probably, Sir Thomas had met the well-traveled and enthusiastic yachtsman, William H. Bryant (Grand Lake Yacht Club Commodore) at the New York Yacht Club. Continued correspondence between the two resulted in the Grand Lake Yacht Club inviting Sir Thomas to the Denver Club for dinner in December of 1912, sponsored, of course, by the Grand Lake Yacht Club. Before he left that evening, flattered by the warm welcome he received, Lipton had proffered a silver cup to the Grand Lake Yacht Club.

Lipton became a yachting icon during the early 20th century. His sportsmanship was nearly unparalleled in the sport and he spent most of 30 years and millions of dollars trying to win the America's Cup. Thoroughly devoted to yachting as a sport and highly capable in the art of advertising, Lipton spread his Lipton Cups "around the globe" to promote the sport and himself.  His gift to the Grand Lake Yacht Club energized the young organization.

Today, the boathouse of the Grand Lake Yacht Club still reminds visitors and members of the organization's heritage. Built in 1912 by Grand County pioneer Preston Smith on land donated by fellow pioneer Jake Pettingell, the lakefront log structure sits in the midst of magnificent mountain scenery, with the dramatic peaks of the Continental Divide to the west and north and the Never Summer mountain range to the west.

As the club matured, it began to offer more races to more members and guests throughout the summer season. The original Regatta week still exists as the most important, and festive, event. Races were added, though, in 1912 with the Adams Cup; in 1914, the Lipton Cup was incorporated; in 1923, the inventor of the Sunshine Lamp (which Coleman Lanterns later bought out) presented the Hoffstot Cup; and in 1925, Dorothy Bryant O'Donnell offered the Bryant Cup in honor of the late first Commodore, W. H. Bryant. Well over 20 cups or trophies now highlight the Grand Lake Yacht Club's season. Throughout its evolution the Club has remained as unique as the dramatic physical environment that surrounds it and the people who envisioned and created it.

Topic:

Sheriff

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

 

One of the oldest brands in Colorado still in use by the same family is the Bar Double S brand of the Sheriff Ranch near Hot Sulphur Springs.  The current owners of the ranch are John Brice and Ida Sheriff.

 

In 1863, Matthew Sheriff of Keithsburg, Illinois came to Colorado to search for gold in the California Gulch, near where Leadville would be established.  Mathew was dismayed by the gray mineral which consistently clogged the gold sluice, and gave up on his dreams of instant wealth to return to Illinois.  Many other miners also gave up mining for this reason, never realizing that the gray mineral was carbonite of lead, which was rich in silver.  Mathew died in 1863 at the age of 40, leaving behind his wife Marietta and their 3 surviving sons, Burt, Glenn and Mark.

 

In 1878, Marietta was inspired to return to Colorado in search of security and stability for her family.  She spent some time in Leadville running a boarding house.  Her sister was the wife of William Byers who was developing the Hot Sulphur Springs area so Marietta moved to the area to settle with her sons.  In 1882 the family homesteaded three ranches of 160 acres each, proving them up and added a preemption right to another 160 acres.

 

Bert later moved to Denver and established a livery stable and Mark and his mother moved into Hot Sulphur Springs, while Glenn continued to work the ranch.  Glenn married Alice Cleora Smith in 1886 and they had two surviving sons, Brice and Glenn Jr.  Glenn Jr. was only 6 weeks old when his father died at the age of 33 of "brain fever" or diphtheria.  Alice took the children back to her family in Iowa to raise them, but the boys returned to their Colorado ranch in 1910. 

 

Brice, who suffered from a back injury as a child, bought an abstract business in Hot Sulphur Springs and lived there with his mother for the rest of their lives.  Glenn Jr. continued to expand and develop the ranch and married Adaline Morgan in 1923.  They had four children; Nona, John, Robert and Catherine.   Glenn Jr. served Grand County as a Commissioner for 24 years and also as the County Assessor for 4 years.

 

Glenn Jr.s, son John, took over the ranch and married Ida Marte in 1949.  Ida's family had homesteaded their own ranch near Cottonwood Pass.  They have two children and continue to work the ranch to this day.        

 

Source:

Interview with John and Ida Sheriff, at the Sheriff Ranch, July 14, 2004

Topic: Railroads

The Train Comes to Fraser

Article contributed by Tim Nicklas
 

A little over a hundred years ago the few residents of Fraser were awakened by a sound new to their town.  The railroad had finally arrived in 1904, just over 30 years after it had first debuted in Denver.  That same blaring horn, followed by the rumble of iron wheels on rails is waking up the good town-folk of the Fraser Valley today.  As the local Manifest has documented recently, many residents have long been annoyed by the noisy disruption the train makes as it announces its passing through town.  Additionally, parents of school children rushing to Fraser Elementary School in the morning can attest to the intrusive obstacle the slow moving behemoth becomes at in the morning.

A hundred years ago, residents of the Fraser Valley complained loudly of the intrusion of the iron horse on the tranquil lifestyle.  It has long been rumored that the course of the railroad was determined by an angry old timer by the name of Billy Cozens.  Cozens was a pioneer of the valley having homesteaded his ranch in the area in the early 1870s.  According to legend, when the engineers were surveying the route of the future Denver, Northwestern, and Pacific Railroad through the valley, Billy Cozens bullied the crewmen into the woods.  As the railmen would lay their flags for the roadbed, Cozens, an expert marksman, would shoot the markers out of the ground.  As the story goes, this was the reason the tracks were laid through the forest, rather than the meadow.

The reality of the chosen route for the D.N.&P. was due to grade and not fear of the rifle.  Whether Cozens despised the railroad is anyone's guess.  According to Robert Black's book, Island in the Rockies, the railroads designing engineers actually consulted Cozens concerning the lack of snow on the continental divide.  Regardless, the rumors have persisted over the years about the "Old Sheriff's" contempt for the railroad.  It has even divulged to me that the ghost of Billy Cozens will not allow anything concerning the railroad in his former home, the Cozens Ranch Museum.  Whenever railroad exhibits have been attempted they have mysteriously vanished and were never seen again.

As far as the townfolk of Fraser were concerned, many of them regarded the railroad as an opportunity that had eluded the region for years.  Unfortunately for Fraserites, their town was to be bypassed as the major hub for the area.  Further down the valley Tabernash was chosen as the location for the workshops and roundhouse for the forthcoming trains.  As a result, the trains would move through Fraser without their engineers paying the town much notice outside of their blowing whistles.  Nonetheless, the people of the valley would embrace the iron horse.  Economic potential in Grand County would erupt due to the advent of relatively efficient transportation.  Specifically, the lumber industry would boom with the outlet that the railroad would provide.  Additionally, people could move between Denver and Grand County easily compared to the wagon roads that formerly provided the only passage to the outside world.  As timber and cattle traveled to the Front Range, mail and hard goods traveled back to the Fraser Valley.

In years past, just like today, it has been easy to forget the benefits that the railroad has brought to our lives.  Certainly, when the train moved into the valley, the people that day realized that their life could slow down a bit.  The reality was that the short inconvenience that the passing train brought with its blaring horn, bringing traffic to a momentary standstill enhanced the life and character of the Fraser Valley.  It provided power, people, and materials in a unique way that simplified life here.  This is as true today as it was in 1905.      

 

Topic: Mountains

Mountains of Grand County

The mountains of Grand County may not boast any of the famous “fourteeners“ (14,000 feet and above), but Middle Park is defined by some of the most majestic ranges in the state. These include parts of the Front Range, Gore Range, Rabbit Ears Range, and the Williams Fork Mountains.

The only range Grand County can call entirely it's own is the Never Summer Range. It's highest point is Mount Richthofen (12,940 feet). Other major peaks include: Mount Howard (12,810 feet), Mount Cirrus (12,797 feet), Mount Nimbus (12,706 feet), and Nokhu Crags (12,485 feet). The name Never Summer is translated from the Arapahoe name, Ni-chebe-chii, which means “the place of No Never Summer“. The cloud names of Cirrus and Nimbus, and Stratus and Cumulus were the idea of James Grafton Rogers, a founder of the Colorado Mountain Club.

The Never Summer Range stretches for ten miles from Cameron Pass to Bowen Mountain. This range is darker and harder due the tremendous heat produced when the peaks were a localized center of volcanic activity.

Topic: Indians

Colorow - Ute Chieftain

Colorow was a Ute Chieftain who was known for profound stubbornness and bitter resentment of the white man's intrusion into the Ute hunting grounds.  

Indian Agent Meeker had ruled that that the Utes must depend on the United States government for food supplies, rather than their traditional hunting. These supplies were sometimes held up for delivery and upon their eventual arrival,contaminated. Colorow thought the white settlers of Middle Park (near Granby) were killing too many of the game animals that had been critical in feeding the Ute people.  

So in the fall of 1878, Colorow started a brush fire high in the Medicine Bow range, planning to drive the deer, elk, and buffalo west to the Ute reservation.  But the winds took an unexpected shift, driving the wild game northward and away from Ute territory.  

The fire drove out the last of the buffalo ever to be seen in the Middle Park region again and it took many years for the forests and ranges to recover from the devastation.

Topic: Ranching

Murphy Family Ranch

Article contributed by Tonya Bina of Sky Hi Daily News, 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."


 

 

Topic: Biographies

Horace Button

Horace Button was 10 years old when he saw the ski jump competition at the 1911 First Annual Hot Sulphur Springs Winter Sports Carnival.  A railway man noticed that Horace was spellbound.  The man asked Horace what he wanted to be when he grew up, to which Horace replied, “I want to be a ski jumper like Carl Howelsen.” The seed had been sown, and Howelsen taught Horace the skills of skiing.

Horace Button became an All-American Skier.  Winning awards over nationally recognized competitive ski racers.  The basic knowledge he learned from Howelsen was passed on which in turn sent Jim Harsh of Grand Lake, to be on the 1932 United States Olympic Nordic Combined team.  The Olympics were held at Lake Placid, New York. 

Barney McLean of Hot Sulphur Springs, also benefitted from Mr. Button, who was waiting at the ski hill every afternoon, when school hours were over.  Barney was a 9-time national champion, and a 3-time Olympian.  In 1948 he was Captain of the men’s alpine ski team that competed at St. Moritz, Switzerland. 

Horace Button continued to advise ski techniques to students of East and West Grand School Districts, helping them compete at the university or Olympic level.  They were; Dale Thompson, Wes Palmer, Zane Palmer, Landis Arnold, Todd Wilson, Kerry Lynch, Tim Flanagan, and many more.  Horace coached 12 national champions. 

Horace also was an accomplished artist. His specialty was carton ski scenes.  Tim Flanagan honored Mr. Button for his work with local youths and created the Horace Button Ski Foundation.

Horace Button, Jim Harsh, Barney McLean, and Carl Howelsen have been inducted into the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame. Barney McLean and Carl Howelsen are honored at The National Ski Hall of Fame.

Topic: Regions

The Muddy

The Muddy Creek Valley, on the western edge of Grand County, has a rich history, mostly based on ranching. It became something of a multi-cultural region, attracting French, Greek, Belgian, British, Dutch, Austrian, Swiss, German and Jewish settlers.  There were also dozens of homesteading families that came from eastern Colorado and Mid-West America.

The known prehistory of the Muddy Creek area extends back 10,000 years at a kill site for bison on Twin Peaks, which separates the Muddy from the Troublesome Creek drainages. 

Among the early settlers in the region were the Ed Pinney family who has a ranch near the summit of Gore Pass.  As the boundary between Grand and Routt County was not well defined, Ed paid his taxes to whichever county had the lowest rate in any given year.  After the railroad arrived at Kremmling, a stage coach route to Topanos, west of Gore Pass, was started.  At first the Pinney Ranch was designated a lunch stop, and then an overnight stop.  In 1906, the Pinneys' built a big house that could accommodate up to 40 people, two to a room.

One of the many notable ranches was that of Fred and Myrtle DeBerard.  Their Park Ranch included 20,000 acres, and they ran over 1600 registered Herefords.  Fred was instrumental in the creation of four reservoirs in the region.

Another prominent early rancher was Frenchman Alfred Argualer, who first came to hunt the region but returned to establish the May-Be-So Ranch.  He continued developing properties from 1880 until 1911 when he sold his ranch on the Muddy to Nick "Turk" Constantine.

A significant rancher of the 20th century was Walter "Wad" Hinnan, who served form 1966-7 as President of the Colorado Cattlemen's Association and as Director of the National Western Stock Show in Denver.  He was instrumental in breaking the barrier between cattlemen and sheep growers by showing that both enterprises could be complimentary and profitable.  Wad also represented Grand County in the Colorado Legislature from 1968 to 1982.

At one time in the early 1920's there was a sanatorium for World War I veterans who had been disabled by mustard gas.  The lower Muddy was the site of an ice house which supplied refrigeration for fruit shipments out of Grand Junction and Palisade, Colorado.  German prisoners of war were used to cut the ice during World War II.

A unique innovation resulted from the widespread ranching families.  In 1935, the schoolhouse was put on sled runners so that it could be taken to which ever ranch had the most children for that season.  It was moved in the winter as the school terms were held during the summer.  It was moved three times between 1931 and 1939 and was probably the only mobile schoolhouse of that era.  

Mountain Men / Trappers