Railroads

Construction on the railroad line from Denver to Grand County began in July 1902.

Railroads Articles

Moffat Road
Moffat Road

 

"I shall never forget it as long as I live. Nor do I ever expect to experience anything comparable to it again. Civilization had found its way across the mountains into Middle Park," reflected Mrs. Josephine Button in 1955 on her 91st birthday, as she recalled seeing smoke from the first Denver Northwestern and Pacific work-train on Rollins Pass, high above the Fraser Valley and Middle Park. Once those rails made it over the Continental Divide all the way to Hot Sulphur Springs, "changes came thick and fast." Many men, many dollars, many routes and many dreams tried to bring a railroad over the Continental Divide into Northwest Colorado, and the "Hill Route" over Rollins Pass that finally accomplished it a century ago has retained its allure ever since.

The Moffat Railroad built a cafeteria, telegraph station, living quarters for Moffat's "Hill Men" (as the railroad crews up there were known) and a fine hotel - all collectively called Corona Station. Soot-filled snow sheds protected over a mile of this windblown section of track. And where today silence is the most powerful sense, colorful locomotives pulled passenger and freight cars, filling the rare atmosphere with black smoke and mechanical clatter.

Decades of men's dreams lay behind the once massive snow shed that cut the bitter winds from the north and west, behind that fine hotel that offered some of the most spectacular scenery in America, behind the hopeful Town of Arrow nestled below tree-line ten or twelve miles west of Rollins Pass, and behind that first work-train that Josephine Button watched from her hay ranch along the Cottonwood Pass Wagon Road to Hot Sulphur Springs. Competent, often powerful, men in the 1860's through the 1890's filed surveys, graded road beds, and even began drilling before being stopped by severe storms that foiled the best laid plans or their inability to fund the ambitious projects.

Dreams to penetrate the high mountains along the Divide in central Colorado began when the Front Range was flooded with miners during the Gold Rush of 1859. Even before Colorado became a territory in 1861, Golden City, just west of Denver along Clear Creek, recognized its potential as a gateway to the rich mineral resources of mountain towns like Central City, Black Hawk, and Georgetown. Golden City's ambitions went beyond becoming a mountain transportation hub, believing that with the right incentives, enthusiasms, and leadership, its location supported a future as a national commerce center. 

Golden City certainly had men of vision, ambition, and wealth among its ranks. William Loveland and George Vest, both young and feverishly ambitious to see Golden City reach its potential, vigorously pursued their dreams for a powerful commercial center in Golden City. From Missouri River towns like Leavenworth in Eastern Kansas, leading town founders also recognized the benefits of linking their water and rail routes to the east with the resources of the west. Finally, as if destiny had demanded it, Edward L. Berthoud, a young civil engineer and surveyor with energy and ability, arrived in Golden City from Leavenworth in April of 1860 to unite the similar passions of leading citizens from both locations.

From 1861 until 1866, Berthoud, Loveland and Vest focused on bringing a direct transcontinental railroad route through Golden City. First, Edward Berthoud, along with Jim Bridger and a capable young cartographer named Redwood Fisher, blazed a trail across Berthoud Pass through Middle Park all the way to Salt Lake City. Returning to Golden City on May 28, 1861, Berthoud reported "a good wagon road could be ?quickly' built" from Denver to Salt Lake City over Berthoud Pass for about $100,000.00. According to the local hyperbole, a railroad would surely follow.

In spite of considerable enthusiasm, disappointment plagued early efforts to put a rail line over the mountains in Colorado Territory. In 1862, Territorial Governor John Evans sent the Surveyor General for Colorado and Territories along Berthoud's route and others to confirm or deny the potential of a railroad line. About the same time, the Union Pacific Railroad Company sent an independent reconnaissance to examine potential routes over the divide that included Berthoud and Boulder Passes (Boulder Pass became Rollins Pass in the early 1870's, when John Quincy Adams Rollins built a toll road over it, and then Corona Pass when the Railroad crossed it). Surveyor General Case and the UP agreed that neither route offered much hope for a standard gauge railroad. The dream of a transcontinental line over the Continental Divide through central Colorado seemed to die with the UP surveyor's words, "I learned enough to satisfy myself that no railroad would - at least in our day - cross the mountains south of the Cache la Poudre..." 

Multiple failed attempts to bring a rail line over the Divide through Middle Park during the following decades strengthened the UP's "death sentence." Against the odds, Berthoud and Loveland continued to solicit support for a railroad west over or through the Continental Divide, using improved surveys and maps to support their requests. In the 1880's, survey crews from a variety of railway incorporations were scattered over the high country on or near Rollins Pass. Over Berthoud, Rollins and other passes, they marked potential railroad lines with their wooden stakes. It was during this stretch of strenuous surveying activity that David Moffat, a highly successful Denver capitalist, got involved with an unsuccessful effort to bring through the mountains instead of over the top. 

 In the early 1880's, Mr. Moffat invested in the Denver, Utah and Pacific Railroad, which intended to tunnel through the mountains near Rollins Pass. Like the other efforts, though, the Denver, Utah and Pacific vanished in a few short years. Unlike many other lines that accomplished little more than surveys and maps, the DU&PRR completed significant grading and began tunneling before reaching the "end of its resources."

Money, power and success supported Moffat's dream to put Denver on a direct transcontinental railroad line. Doctor Robert C. Black, III, wrote that David Moffat's failed efforts in the early 1880's converted him to the idea that Denver needed to be on a direct transcontinental rail line. Moffat considered the route over Rollins Pass valuable enough to have surveying and grading crews working on it throughout the winter in 1902. The Denver Rocky Mountain News claimed that Moffat's route through Northwestern Colorado included "the largest strip of fertile land as yet undeveloped in the United States..." With his Denver, Northwestern and Pacific Railroad, David Moffat planned to make good his intentions to put Denver on direct transcontinental railroad line.

Moffat's original plan called for the "Hill Route" over Corona Pass ? the name changed from Rollins Pass in honor of Corona Station at the top ? to last for only a few short years. While the "temporary" route over the top generated resources by extracting the resources of Northwestern Colorado, a tunnel was to be bored through the Continental Divide. Even the wealth and power of Moffat, though, failed to adequately finance the tunnel before he died in 1911. The temporary line, therefore, lasted for nearly of a quarter century, from 1904 until 1928.

Its obstacles proved as enormous as the mountains it crossed. Work crews had to cease operations because of snow for most of April in 1920. The road was closed from late January until May in 1921. In December of 1924, engine number 210 busted "a main reservoir pipe," causing the train to fly down the hill out of control until it jumped the tracks and crashed into the valley below. Clearly, the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad, which took over Moffat's DNW&P after his death, needed a tunnel to replace the expensive effort over the "Devil's Backbone."

 As Denver and Salt Lake Locomotive Number 120 came through the tunnel in early 1928, it represented the culmination of a massive undertaking through wet, unstable rocks which required considerable engineering ingenuity and caused six deaths in a 1926 cave-in. It also took an enormous amount of coordination and effort to secure the necessary funding. Through local bond issues, private investors and other means, the project was completed. And through a connection at Dotsero, a railroad station less than 30 minutes west of Vail on I-70, freight and passengers could make a direct Pacific connection from Denver. Posthumously, David Moffat's dream became a reality.

For significant periods of time since the trains stopped operations over Rollins Pass in the late 1920's with the opening of the Moffat Tunnel, on-road vehicles crept along its relatively easy grades and wide curves from Rollinsville on the east slope to Winter Park on the west side of the Divide. Like now, the road ran through an area attractive to backcountry campers and sport enthusiasts. On September 1, 1956, local officials and private citizens met on Rollins Pass to celebrate a "joint state-federal-county project to convert the old D. & S. L. railroad right of way over Corona Pass into an access road for sportsmen." According to the Denver Post, the game and fish department's construction division reconstructed the road during the summer of 1955 for about $20,000. The following year, the road became a scenic route over the Continental Divide for family cars and jeep caravans alike. And after it was built, or at least reconstructed, they did come. Intrepid tourists into Middle Park.

Railroads
Railroads

Construction on the railroad line from Denver to Grand County began in July 1902.

The project, called the Moffat road (officially the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific), was the seemingly impossible dream of David H. Moffat, who spent much of his personal fortune building the tracks over the Continental Divide.

The rails pushed higher and higher up the mountains until they reached a station named Corona, meaning the crown of the continent.

Corona was the highest point in the world with a standard gauge railroad and the journey from Denver in the winter was perilous at best.

Huge snowplows were required on either side of the Divide to keep the tracks clear.

Eventually, in the late 1920s, a tunnel was dug through the range, eliminating 22.84 miles of track and the breathtaking journey over Rollins Pass.

The railroad reached Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs in 1905 and Kremmling in 1906, and played a significant role in building the population of Grand County.

In 1900 the total resident population of Grand County was only 741, but grew to 1,862 in 1910.

The flood that built the Moffat Tunnel
The flood that built the Moffat Tunnel

Article contributed by Tim Nicklas

 

For many years Denver longed for its own direct line through the continental divide, linking the city to the west coast.  In the 1860s, Denver was slighted by the Union Pacific(UP), when the company chose Cheyenne as the major hub for the prized Transcontinental Railroad, before it snaked through the Rockies.  Fortunately, the city fathers of Denver did not give up on making their city the center of the Rocky Mountain Empire, as they risked financial disaster by bankrolling a spur line to the main route in Cheyenne.  Denver may not have had their direct route to the west and the fortunes that lay on the other side of the divide, but the city was not dead. 

 

For Grand County, the U.P.'s decision not to penetrate the formidable barrier of Colorado's mountains had a much greater impact.  As it stood Grand County had no for seeable future of gaining a rail line.  This meant that the only means of transportation into or out of the county was by pack animal or foot.  Furthermore, without a line to Denver, there was virtually no practical way for industry to develop in Grand County.

 

In 1904, Denver and Grand County's long awaited dream of a direct line through the mountains and on to Salt Lake City began to materialize.  The Moffat Railroad had risen over Corona Pass and descended into the Fraser Valley.  At the time Corona Pass was the highest rail pass in the world.  Along with this fact came the troubles of maintaining such a wonder.  The route was challenging to keep open in the summer with the violent storms that are prone at such a location.  In the winter the line would close all together.  Adding to the trouble of the unpredictable route was the fact that Colorado's economy of the 1870s was not the same in the early 20th century.

 

In the 1870s, much of Colorado's mineral wealth was centered directly west of Denver in Central City and Georgetown.  By 1880 many of those mines began to play out.  Furthermore, production shifted to the silver mines of Leadville and the Arkansas Valley.  As a result, rail traffic favored Pueblo over Denver.  Pueblo was situated on the plains as the Arkansas River exits from the mountains, eliminating the need for boring tunnels or climbing over arduous mountain passes.  In addition, Pueblo was close to the coalfields that were essential to power the locomotives.  Also, the city was the site of the largest steel mill west of the Mississippi, which supplied rails for the sprawling network.  Finally, Pueblo's smelters boomed when many others withered after the "Silver Panic" of 1893.  At the same time that depression gripped Colorado and silver was devalued, gold was discovered in Cripple Creek.  Within a few short years the new gold camp would become the world's largest producer.  As a result, nearby Pueblo would reap the benefits by converting from silver to gold, to become the smelting capitol of the nation.

 

By the early 20th century, Pueblo's status as an industrial powerhouse and rail center threatened Denver's status as Colorado's "first city."  This was even further evidenced by the "powers-that-be" in the northern part of the state being unable to convince the rest of Colorado to finance a tunnel under the continental divide west of Denver.  Time and again legislation that would fund the missing link between Denver and the western slope was defeated in the statehouse by those in southern Colorado who were content with their established web-link.  Barring a miracle, it looked as if Denver and Grand County would have to settle for the unreliable Moffat line over Corona Pass.  In 1921 that miracle would rush in, due to un-for-seen misfortune upon Colorado's "second city" in the south of the state. 

 

The spring of 1921 started as many do in Colorado, with a drought.  By June 1st the many farmers downstream in the Arkansas Valley feared disaster as crops withered with thirst.  On the 2nd day of June, the farmers got the relief of rain they eagerly wanted.  Unfortunately, the downpour continued until the formerly parched earth became like a sponge and the Arkansas River swelled.  The streets of Pueblo were ankle deep with water by nighttime.  Suddenly, with little warning, a torrent of water rushed from the upper Arkansas Valley toward the helpless "Steel City."  Pueblo's streets filled with water up to rooftops.  The unified rail-yard was ripped instantly.   Unfortunate train passengers were tossed unaware into the maddening grip of the Arkansas, unable to escape the iron coffins in which they were riding.  Families were stranded on roofs as row boats desperately searched for stranded victims.  As pungent water filled the business area with filth and debris, fires broke out.  Unable to do anything, citizens watched helplessly as fire and water consumed their city.  As the flood receded the Rocky Mountain News headline proclaimed "201 Bodies Found, Scores Lost, Pueblo Death Total, 500 To 1,500."  The Rocky Mountain News goes on to describe the scene from June 4th:

"All day long refugees, dazed, not knowing what to do, straggled

about the streets.  Mothers with babes in their arms, mothers

whose arms were empty, old men and women and people of every

description wandered about until gathered up and taken to Red

 Cross headquarters, where they were fed and allowed to rest."

The scene in Pueblo was like those witnessed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina or the notorious San Francisco Earthquake in 1906.

 

As Pueblo dried out in the days that followed, plans were immediately being drafted in the statehouse to assure that the devastated city would not befall a future wrath from the Arkansas River.  Seizing upon the opportunity presented by Pueblo's misery, interests in Denver, Grand County, and others in northern Colorado saw fit to take advantage.  As the discussion of flood control in the south dominated state legislation the notion of a tunnel under the continental divide west of Denver resurfaced.  According to Ubbelohde, Benson, and Smith's book, A Colorado History 8th Ed., a "special legislative session made history."  Attached to the act that created the Pueblo Conservancy District, northern lawmakers added the Moffat Tunnel Improvement District.  As a result of the passage of these two distinctly different special tax districts in a single signing by Governor Shoup, the long sought after western passage would be built.  With the tunnel Grand County would finally be open to the outside world by a year round and reliable link.

 

The building of the Moffat Tunnel was an enormous undertaking that cost several lives and injured even more workers.  Nonetheless, the tunnel from its inception has remained of vital importance to the Fraser Va

The Train Comes to Fraser
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.      

 

Train Legends of the Moffat Road
Train Legends of the Moffat Road

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

The railroaders graded and bridged the trails originally made by the Indians and expanded by the trappers, prospector and stage road builders that following in rapid succession. The

Moffat Road
train track has an almost endless series of wreck stories and legends.  In one, a "green clerk" was said to have piled all the mail order catalogs on the same side of a car, causing the train to leave the tracks and roll down the mountainside into Yankee Doodle Lake.

 

In another lost train story, the No. 3 westbound was seven hours late out of Denver because of a severe winter blizzard.  It crept out of the Fraser Canyon and whistled for the Granby Crossing.  The engineer parked the train intending to wait till daylight to continue on.  In the meantime, the No. 2 eastbound, 2 days late out of Craig reached Corona without passing the No. 3. In the morning, all were amazed to find the train parked "plumb center" of Granby's main street. Later investigation showed that the No. 3 train left the train tracks just east of Granby and traveled almost a mile over frozen highway.  The next day a Chinook wind came up and melted the frozen soil, sinking the train to it's axles in mud. It required the building of 1500 feet of special track to salvage the train. However, some longtime Granby residents say the locale of this incident was the Kremmling flats.

 

Sources: Roland L. Ives, Folklore of Middle Park Colorado,Journal of American Folklore, Vol. XXXIV, Nos. 211, 212, 1941; Levette J. Davidson & Forrester Blake, Rocky Mountain Tales, University of Oklahoma Press, 1947

     

 

Articles to Browse

Topic: True Crime

Granby Rampage

On June 4th, 2004 an armored D-9 Caterpillar was used by disgruntled Granby businessman Marv Heemeyer in a rampage that caused an estimated $5 million in damage and left part of the town of Granby in rubble. Heemeyer's slow-moving, 90 minute demolition, fueled by his anger at local officials and business owners who supported construction of a cement batch plant, left 13 buildings demolished or damaged and ended when he committed suicide inside the cab that he had welded shut. The buildings targeted included the town hall, the library, the electric company, a bank, the newspaper and the home of the former mayor. The town of Granby was spared any human injuries or loss because of the complete evacuation of the town through the reverse 911 system and many local law enforcement officers who went door to door to warn the townspeople. The town of Granby immediately launched fundraising efforts to offset the losses suffered by targeted businesses and citizens and the destroyed buildings were mostly rebuilt by the following year.

Topic: Regions

The Blue

Because gold had been found at the headwaters of the Blue River at Breckenridge, hopes were high among prospectors who worked the downstream tributaries in Grand County.  However, this lower section of the Blue contained no mineral wealth. 

The Denver and Rio Grand Railroad planned to run a route through the valley and began constructing grades, but the tracks were never laid because Moffatt's railroad crossed the county first.

An enterprising Canadian, 25 year old Willis Charles Call, had been employed as a cook for the grading company in 1881.  When the railroad abandoned the project, Call became a registrar of voters, and in 1886, the county assessor.  By 1890, he had a choice ranch near Kremmling.  His Austrian wife, Mary Rohrocher, was a very popular hostess.  It is believed that they owned the first automobile in the county.

The conflicts between the white settles and Ute Indians came to a climax in 1878 when the Ute leader Tabernash was killed by a posse and the very next day, Abraham Elliott a homesteader on the Blue, was killed in retaliation.  The remains of his ranch can be seen on Highway 9 at mile marker 135. 

Across the river was the ranch of Henry Yust, who settled there in 1885.  Another early ranching family was that of Thomas Pharo, An Englishman from Franham in Surry, near London.  Settling there in 1880, he developed a major cattle and horse ranch. 

The Blue River area was connected with a route west in 1913, when the co-called Trough Road was constructed, beside the Gore Canyon to State Bridge.

Topic: Biographies

Lewis D.C. Gaskill

Lewis DeWitt Clinton Gaskill came to Colorado as a polished young mining promoter from upstate New York, where he was born in 1840. He married Miss Nellie C. Rogers in 1865, and raised three daughters born to the marriage.

By 1874 he partnered with William Cushman to build the Georgetown, Empire and Middle Park Wagon Road, which opened in November of that year, to the great surprise of locals and professionals alike.  He and his family lived at the summit of Berthoud Pass into the mid-1880s, when they built the Gaskill House in what became Fraser, CO.   For a short time he was employed as mine foreman at the Wolverine Mine in Bowen Gulch, outside of Grand Lake.  One of the mining camps, in fact, came to be known as Gaskill. Over the years there was significant competition between the different camps, and mercantiles associated with them.  Gaskill's was one of the biggest and best.  Gaskill, the camp, survived for about six years, before falling victim to the end of the mining boom.  In 1896, a county-wide passion for William Jennings Bryan and his Democratic-Populist party, helped to seat Gaskill as democratic chairman of the Board of County Commissioners for Grand County. By 1903, Gaskill came into conflict with D.H. Moffat and the Denver, Northwestern, and Pacific Railway, over property and right-of-way purchases. He, along with Nathan S. Hurd, ended up settling their dispute over property values in County Court. In 1904, upon the death of Fraser postmaster, William Z. Cozens, the Fraser post office was moved to the Gaskill House in Fraser, and L.D.C. Gaskill was appointed postmaster.  Soon after, the townsite was platted and development undertaken under the name of Eastom, but that name was soon forgotten and the area continued to be known as Fraser.

"[Gaskill] was one of those quiet, easy-tempered, efficient persons who can always be depended upon.'" Captain Gaskill (his rank came from service in the Civil War) became "a major Grand County personality."

Topic: 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.
 

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.

Topic:

Zane Grey

Article contributed by students of Joe Kelly's Senior History Class

 

Zane Grey was one of, if not the most famous western writer of his time. He spent his life traveling the world and writing until his death. Some of his midlife years were spent in Kremmling, Colorado, and other parts of Grand County, where it is said he produced his best-known book Riders of the Purple Sage. His adventures and experiences shaped his literature into the wonderful western classics that we still enjoy today.

 

Pearl John Gray was born to Lewis M. Gray, a dentist, and his wife, Alice Josephine Zane, on October 1872 in Zanesville, Ohio. Pearl changed his name to Zane soon after his family changed the spelling of their last name. During his childhood, Zane bore much interest in baseball, fishing, and writing, as well as taking part in a few violent brawls. A severe financial setback caused Grey's father to start a new dentistry in Columbus, Ohio in 1889. While helping his father, Zane, who had learned basic dental procedures, made rural house calls as an unlicensed teenage dentist.

 

Grey attended the University of Pennsylvania on a baseball scholarship, where he studied dentistry practices. The Ivy League was an excellent training ground for future pro baseball players. Zane was a solid hitter and a pitcher with a deadly curveball, but when the distance from mound to plate was lengthened in 1894, his pitching suffered and he was sent to the outfield, dabbling in all three positions. Grey eventually went on to play minor league baseball, even without his pitching.

 

Grey got his first taste of the West while on his honeymoon, and although amazed, he felt unready to use it in his novels. Grey later took a mountain lion hunting trip on the rim of the Grand Canyon. There, Grey gained the confidence and authenticity to write convincingly about the West, its characters, and its landscape. Treacherous river crossings, unpredictable beasts, bone chilling cold, searing heat, parching thirst, bad water, irascible tempers, and heroic cooperation all became very real to him throughout his travels.

 

Zane wrote his first western just after the birth of his first child. Soon after, Grey produced his best-known book, Riders of the Purple Sage. These two books sent his career into the western genre, writing classic tales of "conquering the Wild West". Zane Grey was the author of over 90 books and many of them became bestsellers.

 

Zane Grey made a comfortable fortune through the sale of his novels. Almost all of his books were based on his own experiences and travels. Around half of the year was used for traveling, and the second half of the year was used to put this valuable time and experiences into his next novel. Some of that time was spent in Grand County and Grey owned a home in Kremmling.

 

Grey indulged his interest in fishing with visits to Australia and New Zealand. He first visited in 1926 and caught several large fish, with the most impressive being a mako shark. Grey established a base at Otehei Bay Lodge on Urupukapuka Island. This hotspot became a magnet for the rich and famous, as well as avid fishermen. He held numerous world records during this time and invented the teaser, a hookless bait that is still used today to attract fish.

 

Zane Grey lived a wonderful life full of very real and fictitious adventures. While enjoying his later years, he died of heart failure on October 23, 1939 at his home in Altadena, California.

 

References:  Thomas H. Pauley, Zane Grey: His Life His Adventures His Women, 2005, Chicago, University of Illinois Press; http://www.zanegreyinc.com/; http://www.zgws.org/; http://www.zanegreyinc.com/zgworks.html

 

Topic: True Crime

Spider House Tragedy

Nestled on a quiet lane in Old Grand Lake City sits the intricately crafted home of Warren C. and Mary O’Brien Gregg, known today as the Spider House – a testament to a remarkable woodcraftsman and his tormented wife.

Warren (Watt to his friends) was a dreamer and in the 1870s he left his first wife and a young son in Wisconsin and headed for the Colorado Territory seeking his fortune in the mines of Gilpin County.  Upon returning to Wisconsin his first wife died of fever, leaving Warren a widower with a small son.  Holding tight to his dreams of the west, Warren eventually ended up in his native Indiana where he met and married 20 year-old Mary O’Brien, in 1884.   By 1888 Warren packed his new family into a prairie schooner and headed west.  Like so many other pioneer women before her, Mary bore a child along the trail, a second son whose short life would send Mary down a dark and tortured path. 

The family arrived in Middle Park late in the summer of 1888, built a small homestead on the eastern slope of the Stillwater drainage and the newborn died shortly thereafter.  Though the years would bring more children, Mary would never quite recover from the loss of her second son. They continued to scratch out a living in this harsh and isolated land, where winters were long and supplies were meager. 

Warren spent much of his time searching for game and exploring this new country. The Gregg’s moved numerous times, finally purchasing a plot of land from Old Judge Wescott on the west side of the lake.  Warren built his family an admirable house, with intricate detail and spider-like webs of wooden elements.  Despite the warmth and comfort of this new home, and the close proximity of neighbors, Mary’s depression deepened. 

Then on a sunny Sunday in 1904, while Warren was working in his woodshop and oldest son Lloyd was having Sunday dinner at Judge Westcott’s, Mary took a gun to her four remaining children and then turned the weapon on herself.  The children died instantly while Mary lingered on for four days.  The five victims of this tragedy, one girl, three boys and Mary herself are buried together in one grave in the Grand Lake Cemetery.

Warren lived in the Spider House for another 29 years. With his son Lloyd, he continued building homes and stone fireplaces.  He succumbed to heart failure in 1933.  Mary O’Brien Gregg finally found peace in the quiet grace of the little town cemetery surrounded by her children.  Almost a century later, as the tall pines whisper their mournful winter song, the Spider House still sits nestled on that quiet little lane.

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: Biographies

Elenor and George Smith

"You have tuberculosis." Frightening words to be sure, especially in times when the life expectancy rate for such a disease was slim. Tuberculosis, or consumption as it was commonly called, is a disease that primarily affects the lungs. Something as simple as the common cold quickly develops until the patient is suffering from severe chest pain. Soon they are coughing up blood. For most diagnosed, the result was eventual death. As a last hope, many people fled westward, desperately seeking the arid climate that would dry up the fluid in their lungs. Little did they know that while the west would cure them, it would by no means make their lives easier.

Elenor Smith, a woman in her early thirties living in Wisconsin, was one of the many so diagnosed. The doctor who examined her did not have much hope for her survival. He ominously predicted she would live no more that a few years longer and she would be unable to bear any more children. With this devastating prognosis ringing in her ears, Elenor, along with her husband George and their five children, packed up and headed west. Their long journey brought them to Fraser, Colorado, where they ended up settling in 1910.

The Smiths soon became an important part of the community. They built a log cabin in what is now "Olde Town Fraser' and, like everyone else, allowed their cattle to roam freely. George, affectionately called "Whispering George" by those who knew him well, owned the only livery stable in town. He could regularly be found escorting "Doc Susie" to her patients, be they man or beast.

 

The climate seemed to have been the perfect cure for Elenor. She lived a hardy and wholesome life, and went on to have four more children. Being the hard worker she was, she would often cook for the men working in the nearby logging camps. When she wasn't cooking, she was washing laundry. She was known by many and loved by all.

 

However, things were rough all over and all too soon the Smith family learned how harsh life could be. In 1921, their second eldest son, Oliver, at the age of twenty, was killed while working at Virgil Linnegar's sawmill. Then in 1944, things again took a turn for the worst. Her youngest daughter's (Georgene) two children contracted polio, a contagious disease that causes muscle paralysis and stunted limb growth, while their father was away in World War II.

 

As the story goes, the eldest of the two children, Sherry, showed signs of polio first, so she was rushed to the hospital in Denver. Not thinking George, the youngest at the time, had also contracted it, his mother left him with his Grandma Elenor, so that she could be with her ailing daughter. However, one day Elenor found him hiding under the table crying. Knowing immediately the two-year-old wasn't just throwing a fit, she scooped him up in her arms and rushed to get help.

 

Polio had been going around for a few years now, leaving a swath of deaths in its wake. People were doing everything they could to prevent bringing the disease upon themselves and their families, which was why the woman working in the telephone office locked the door when she saw them coming. Not knowing what else to do, Elenor searched frantically for someone, anyone, to help her. She even began knocking on house doors. Finally one brave man offered to help. He took her and little George to Denver in his car. Luckily, both children survived, though they would carry the repercussions of the disease for the rest of their lives.

 

Having conquered tuberculosis, polio, and everyday hardships, Elenor Smith died in 1974 at the ripe age of 93.

Ute Legend of the Quaking Aspen

It is amazing to behold the continuous quivering of aspen leaves in groves around Grand County, even when there is no apparent breeze.

According to Ute legend, the reason for this unique aspect of the aspen tree happened during a visit to Erath from the Great Spirit during a special full moon.  All of nature anticipated the Spirit's arrival and trembled to pay homage.  All except the proud and beautiful aspen. The aspens stood still, refusing to pay proper respect. The Great Spirit was furious and decreed that, from that time on, the aspen leaves would tremble whenever anyone looked upon them.

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