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Berthoud Pass Stage Road was built by the extreme efforts of Captain Lewis Gaskill.

Stage & Freight Lines Articles

Stage and Freight Lines
Stage and Freight Lines

Berthoud Pass Stage Road was built by the extreme efforts of Captain Lewis Gaskill.  It came from the top of the Pass through Spruce Lodge, Idlewild (now Winter Park), the Cozens Ranch (near Fraser) Junction Ranch (Tabernash) and Coulter.  From there once branch lead over Cottonwood Divide to Hot Sulphur Springs (and points west) while the other went to Selak’s and over Coffey Divide to the Lehman Post Office and on to Grand Lake.  

At the summit of Berthoud Pass there was a large house of hewn logs, occupied by Lewis Gaskill and his family.  They collected the tolls for the road and gave welcome shelter to those weathering the variable passage.  The house was located on the West side of current Hwy. 40 but no trace of the building remains.  

At the steepest portion of the west side of Berthoud Pass was the Spruce House rest stop, which by 1900 was a sold structure of two and a half stories.  There the traveler could find a warm meal and corral for livestock.  No trace of it remains today.  

The Idlewild Stage Stop was located in present day Winter Park and was a popular place to change horses before the steep assent up the pass.  Mrs. Ed Evans served a hearty noonday meal there for only 35 cents.

Cozens Ranch was also one of the more popular stops and Fraser Post Office until 1904. Built around 1874 by William Zane Cozens, it remains today, outfitted in period décor and is the home of the Cozens Ranch History Museum.  

The Gaskill House, in Fraser was built by Lewis De Witt Clinton Gaskill, one of the original investors in the road and a prominent Grand County citizen. The house now houses the Hungry Bear Restaurant.

Junction House at Junction Ranch (Tabernash) could accommodate up to fifty travelers and was built by Quincy Adams Rollins, and subsequently leased to Johnson Turner.   

The Coulter Stage Stop was built by John Coulter, an attorney from George town and shareholder in the stage road.  It also served as a Post Office from 1884 to 1905. 

Frank and Fred Selak, sons of a pioneer Georgetown brewer ran the Selak stop which was north of Granby and east of current Hwy. 34.           

Cottonwood Divide (Pass), at 8904 feet above sea level, was laid out by Edward Berthoud and Redwood Fisher in 1861.  The route was used by stagecoaches from 1874 until the railroad arrived at Hot Sulphur Springs in 1905.  The last driver on the route was Charlie Purcell.  Summer travel time between Hot Sulphur Springs and Georgetown was typically twelve hours. Travelers between Hot Sulphur Springs and Kremmling could stop at the Barney Day or King Ranches, both near current Hwy. 40.   The Pinney Ranch House, used by the firm of Whipple and Metcalf for the connecting service to Steamboat Springs, is still standing on Hwy. 134 on the east slope of Gore Pass. There a traveler could pay 50 cents for a meal, 50 cents for a bed and expect a change of horses every ten miles.  It ceased operation in 1908 when the railroad reached Toponas.  

Wagons of the West
Wagons of the West

Transportation into Grand County in the late 1800's was one of the more difficult tasks. Stage coaches were used to carry the many people to and from the county.

The first stagecoach into Grand County was a Concord. The Concord stagecoach was a luxury wagon weighing around 2,200 lbs. It cost around $1,050 and was beautifully painted. No two Concord luxury coach paint jobs were the same. The wheels were made of white oak and would not shrink in the cold or expand in hot weather, and made very reliable, durable wheels. The body was iron barred and was easier for the horses to pull than some of the other standard stagecoaches of its time. The mountain conditions caused different rules and a different coach then the stereotypical Concord.

The inside of a Concord was four feet wide, and four and one half feet tall. The coach had leather curtains, but they did little to keep the dust, wind, snow, and rain out. Three benches lined the inside, and held nine passengers. The coach was often known to hold up to six people on the roof as well. Luggage was held in the "boot", a metal box on the back of the coach. Mail was often put in the "boot" for transportation, or kept right behind the driver.

The average speed for the Concord was around fifteen miles an hour. The braking system was sand bags placed over the brake pads, so that sand could be released on rugged hills. The Concord was only used for one year because of its weight and bulkiness it did not make for a good coach in the mountains. The weight, price, and bulkiness caused this stagecoach to be produced for one year before another one came into play.

At one third of the cost, the Dearborn took over after the Concord. These were known as Mud Wagons because of their easy travel in the mud and tricky terrain. The Mud Wagon weighed around 1,600 lbs. and was much more efficient. It had the standard four wheels, but was only pulled by one to two horses, and could hold around one to three people. However it was not as luxurious as the Concord. They often  did not have side curtains, and the seats were not as nice. The cabin sat on wooden springs. The Mud Wagon was used by farmers, peddlers, emigrants, and pleasure travelers as it was affordable and decent in appearance.

The weary traveler who took the stagecoaches soon learned the rules of the road. The best seat was next to the driver where there were less bumps. Never ride in cold weather with tight boots or shoes, or tight gloves. If one is asked to walk, do so without grumbling as the driver would not ask unless truly necessary. Don't jump from the moving wagon, as nine out of ten times you will get badly hurt. Do not drink alcohol in cold weather as it can cause hypothermia. In warm weather it is okay to drink as long as you are willing to share. Eat what is available, no one wants to hear you whine. Do not smoke, or spit on the leeward side. Never swear, and don't fall asleep on your neighbor. Do not ask how much longer, you will get there when you get there. Never fire a gun as it will scare the horses. Never grease your hair because of dust and most important - remember mountain traveling is hard.The first stagecoach into Grand County was a Concord. The Concord stagecoach was a luxury wagon weighing around 2,200 lbs. It cost around $1,050 and was beautifully painted. No two Concord luxury coach paint jobs were the same. The wheels were made of white oak and would not shrink in the cold or expand in hot weather, and made very reliable, durable wheels. The body was iron barred and was easier for the horses to pull than some of the other standard stagecoaches of its time. The mountain conditions caused different rules and a different coach then the stereotypical Concord.

The inside of a Concord was four feet wide, and four and one half feet tall. The coach had leather curtains, but they did little to keep the dust, wind, snow, and rain out. Three benches lined the inside, and held nine passengers. The coach was often known to hold up to six people on the roof as well. Luggage was held in the "boot", a metal box on the back of the coach. Mail was often put in the "boot" for transportation, or kept right behind the driver.

The average speed for the Concord was around fifteen miles an hour. The braking system was sand bags placed over the brake pads, so that sand could be released on rugged hills. The Concord was only used for one year because of its weight and bulkiness it did not make for a good coach in the mountains. The weight, price, and bulkiness caused this stagecoach to be produced for one year before another one came into play.

At one third of the cost, the Dearborn took over after the Concord. These were known as Mud Wagons because of their easy travel in the mud and tricky terrain. The Mud Wagon weighed around 1,600 lbs. and was much more efficient. It had the standard four wheels, but was only pulled by one to two horses, and could hold around one to three people. However it was not as luxurious as the Concord. They often  did not have side curtains, and the seats were not as nice. The cabin sat on wooden springs. The Mud Wagon was used by farmers, peddlers, emigrants, and pleasure travelers as it was affordable and decent in appearance.

The weary traveler who took the stagecoaches soon learned the rules of the road. The best seat was next to the driver where there were less bumps. Never ride in cold weather with tight boots or shoes, or tight gloves. If one is asked to walk, do so without grumbling as the driver would not ask unless truly necessary. Don't jump from the moving wagon, as nine out of ten times you will get badly hurt. Do not drink alcohol in cold weather as it can cause hypothermia. In warm weather it is okay to drink as long as you are willing to share. Eat what is available, no one wants to hear you whine. Do not smoke, or spit on the leeward side. Never swear, and don't fall asleep on your neighbor. Do not ask how much longer, you will get there when you get there. Never fire a gun as it will scare the horses. Never grease your hair because of dust and most important - remember mountain traveling is hard.

Articles to Browse

Topic: Grand County

Grand County Time Line

Prehistoric
7000 BCE to 900 BCE: Paleo Indians  (Yarmony, Rollins Pass, Windy Gap) use Middle Park as summer hunting area

1819 – 1860
1819:Adams-Onis Treaty – Middle Park partitioned – Sites of Granby, Fraser, Grand Lake and Hot Sulphur are in the U.S, Kremmling still part of Spain

Middle Park well known to “Mountain Men” by 1820

1828: Kremmling becomes part of Texas

1837: T.J. Farnham’s expedition crosses the Blue at Grand River

1839: Grand River named on a semi-official map

1842: Rufus B. Sage visit

1844: Captain John C. Fremont’s second expedition, accompanied by Kit Carson, enters Middle Park over Muddy Pass and exits up the Blue River

1854: Sir St. George Gore, an Englishmen, accompanied by Jim Bridger enters Middle Park for hunting expedition

1859: First appearance of prospectors; interest in Hot Sulphur Springs

1861 – 1874
1861: Berthoud crosses Berthoud Pass and traverses Middle Park

1861: Middle Park becomes part of Summit County

1863: Trouble begins between the Utes and white men

1864-1868: Wm. N. Byers acquires Hot Sulphur Springs

1866: Gov. Cummings signs Treaty of Middle Park

1868: John Wesley Powell visits Grand Lake, makes first recorded ascent of Longs Peak

1867: Joseph Westcott settles at Grand Lake

1871-1872: Clarence King surveys area

1873-1874:  F.V. Hayden surveys area

1874: Creation of Grand County (two years before Colorado became a state)

1874: Toll roads opens over Rollins and Berthoud Passes

1874: William H. Jackson, renowned photographer, takes first photographs of Middle Park

1875 – 1888
1875: First mail routes to Hot Sulphur Springs

1875: Silver ore indications in Never Summer Range

1875: First school opens in Hot Sulphur Springs with 12 students, (school “year” was 20 days)

1877: Routt County detached from Grand County

1877: Stokes-Dean political crisis

1878: Tabernash and Abraham Elliott killed

1879: Ute Indian War produces excitement, anxiety

1879: Lulu City & Teller City formed

1880: Gaskill City formed

1881: Four railroad projects frustrated

1881: County Seat moves to Grand Lake, height of mining boom,   Grand Lake Prospector is launched

1883: Commissioner shootings at Grand Lake

1884: Shooting of Texas Charlie in Hot Sulphur Springs

1884: Kremmling formed

1885: Kremmling Post Office opens

1885-1886: Collapse of mining, North Park separates from Grand County

1888: County Seat moves back to Hot Sulphur Springs

1889 – 1904
Expansion of ranching

Development of public education

1890: Grand Ditch construction begins... carries water from Grand Lake mountains to the front range

1891: First platting of Kremmling

1891: Berthoud Pass route becomes state road

1893: Construction begins on Byers Canyon road

1896 et seq.: Organized religious congregations develop

1892: First diversion of water to eastern slope

1898: First high school opens in Kremmling

1902-1904:  Moffat – Harriman struggle

1903: Hot Sulphur Springs incorporates

1904: Kremmling incorporates

1904: Moffat Road crosses Rollins Pass

1904: First motor car arrives Grand County

1904: First telephones installed

1905 – 1914
1905: First Forest Reserves

1905: Fraser develops, Granby is founded

1905: Moffat Road reaches Hot Sulphur Springs

1905: Parshall is founded

1906: Moffat Road reaches Kremmling

Proliferation of competitive newspapers

1905-1908: Heyday of Monarch

1908: Arapaho National Forest established

1911: First Hot Sulphur Springs Winter Carnival

1912: First Middle Park Fair

1913: Eleven motor vehicles are registered in Grand County

1913: Tabernash established as railroad division point

1915 – 1930
1915: Rocky Mountain National Park founded

1917-1918: Participation in World War I by 151 Grand County residents

1918-1919: Influenza epidemic

1919: Grand County Pioneer Society founded

1919: Fall River Road completed

1921: Grand River name changed to Colorado River by U.S. Congress

1922: First radio receiver

1923: Gore Pass opens to motor vehicles

1923: Improved Berthoud Pass road opens

1923-1928: Moffat Tunnel built

1926: Fred Selak murder

1929-1941: The Great Depression

1930-1932: Berthoud kept open all winter

1932: Trail Ridge Road completed

Since 1930
1938: Colorado-Big Thompson irrigation and power project begins

1940: Winter Park Ski Area opens

1941-1945: Participation in WWII

Late 1940s – early 1950s: Construction of Colorado– Big Thompson Project

1947: Adams Tunnel in operation

Growth, then boom, of winter sports

 

Crawford

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

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

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

Topic: Water

A Dream Smashed in Gore Canyon

The idea of a water passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean had long captivated the imagination of early explorers.  Soon after the Territory of Colorado was established, the United States government made a standing offer of $3,750 to anyone who could demonstrate such a route.

In 1869 a dreamer named Sam Adams convinced some people in the town of Breckenridge that goods could be sent upriver via the Mississippi, Missouri, Platte and South Platte Rivers to South Park.  Then, with a short portage over Boreas pass, they could continue down the Blue River to the Grand (Colorado) River and then through Gore Canyon the Sea of Cortez.

Volunteers were told they would share in the prize, and they built four boats of green lumber for the voyage.  The flotilla was launched with great celebration, the lead boat bearing a banner proclaiming "Western Colorado to California ? Greetings!"  A little dog was given to the crew to keep up morale.

As the boats went down the Blue River, the waters were a bit rougher than expected. When the men arrived at the Grand (Colorado) River, the crew set up camp. However several of the "sailors" declared they had had enough and began a trek, via dry land back home to Breckenridge.

When the boats reached Gore Canyon, they encountered violent upsurges and dramatic drops.  The wild waters smashed all four of the vessels on dangerous rocks.  Fortunately, all members made it to dry land, even the little dog.  No reward was ever given for the attempt.

Topic: Leisure Time

Picnics, Games and Socials

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

 

There were many games and leisure time activities enjoyed by the early settlers in Middle Park.  Among the most common adult games were gambling games such as crap-shooting.  Poker in almost all its forms was also very popular. Some saloon poker sessions would go on for entire weekends.  Parlor games often included Blind Mans Bluff, which has a history dating from ancient times.  Charades, dating from the 1770's was recorded in at least one pioneer diary.  Marbles and Jacks were common children's games. 

 

Some of the more athletic pursuits included swimming, which was very popular in the summer and during winter at the Hot Sulphur Springs.  Contests of croquet and horseshoes were played at almost all the resorts and dude ranches.  Several times, the Middle Park Fair Horseshoe Champion went on to compete at the Colorado State Fair, and in 1920, a local winner went on to the World Championships held in Minnesota.

 

All sorts of tag games were invented, including a version called "Fox and Geese" played in the snow fields of winter.  A variation which is rarely seen today was called "Statues".  In this game, "it" would whirl each player around and then release him or her.  However the released one landed, that position had to be held totally motionless (as a statue).  After all the players had been cast off into statues, "it" would pass among them looking for even the slightest motion, even to the blink of an eye.  As "it" caught a victim in movement, the victim then had to join "it" to pass among the statues, often taunting and teasing to elicit a movement, until only one statue remained.  The final statue became "it" for the next round.  

 

Rope jumping, hop scotch, sleigh riding, skiing and ski-jouring have all been mentioned in letters, diaries and newspaper accounts. Potluck picnics were frequent in the summers.  Ranch families would meet on Saturday nights in the school house for dancing.   At church celebrations there was almost always a cake-walk and donated box lunches were auctioned off.

 

In additional to fishing and hunting, rodeos gradually replaced informal races and other private ranch contests.  One of the first rodeos in the nation was held at Deer Trail in Colorado in 1869.  By the end of the century, almost every ranching area in the state had at least one rodeo a year. 

 

As for musical entertainment in those days before phonographs or radios, many people would perform at public and private gatherings.  Violinist, often self-taught, would play with other instrumentalists in what were called "hoe downs".  Mountain men often carried mouth harps for self-entertainment or impromptu performances for other trappers and Indians.  Accordianists were very popular at polka dances and the Jew harp was another common musical instrument.

 

On long lonely treks, some travelers would sing, not only for pleasure, but to scare away predatory animals.  Some ladies cultivated excellent singing voices and were often accompanied by piano music.  Pianos were more common in homes a century ago than they are today.  For households without a capable musician, there were player pianos, which made music from rolls of perforated paper to reproduce popular and classic tunes.

 

Story-telling was an art for some talented individuals, who were the highlight feature at many gatherings.  Some stories ended on a humorous note; other were mysterious or even scary.  Conversation was also considered a form of entertainment.  Women's sewing bees were welcomed for the gossip opportunities as well as the craftsmanship. 

 

Essentially, there was much more individual participation and carefully planned intermingling in those days than the more passive entertainment (TV, video games, movies, etc.) of today.   

 

Sources: Merlyn Simmonds Mohr, The New Games Treasury, Boston, 1997

Gertrude Hollingsworth, I Rember Fraser, Fraser, CO

Luela Pritchett, Maggie By My Side, Steamboat Springs, CO 1976

Candy Moulton, A Writers Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1999

Robert C. Black, Island In the Rockies, Boulder, CO 1969

Topic: Towns

Grand Lake

Grand Lake was established in 1879 and incorporated in 1944. It is named for the largest natural body of water in Colorado. In 1867, when only a few people resided near the lake, Major John Wesley Powell (the man whose group first rafted the Grand Canyon) came to explore the possibility of floating down the Grand (now Colorado) River. That summer, Powell, local resident Jack Sumner, and William Byers, founder of the Rocky Mountain News, made the first recorded ascent of Longs Peak from Grand Lake. In the early 1900’s a Yacht Club was formed by enthusiasts who were attracted by the demands of attentive seamanship the lake demanded.

In 1912, Sir Thomas Lipton contributed an impressive cup to be presented annually to the winner of the annual August Regatta. This event still draws skilled sailors to the challenging competition. The town was founded during a very brief mining boom, but because of it's natural beauty, tourism has long been the sustaining feature of it's economy.

Topic:

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

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.

Topic: Regions

The Troublesome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Topic: Skiing

Skiing

Grand County was one of the first areas in Colorado to enjoy sport skiing.  While mail carriers, loggers and other workers used the "Norwegian Snowshoes" as necessary winter transportation, it was a natural progression to begin racing down the slopes for fun.

An 1883 newspaper noted that in Grand Lake "Coasting on snowshoes has taken the place of dancing parties.   Quite a number of ladies are becoming adept at the art.  First class snowshoers, B.W. Tower and Max James are the best; or at least they can fall more gracefully then the rest".

According to famous Hot Sulphur Springs champion Barney McLean, that town had three jumping hills in the 1920s and held the first Winter Carnival in the West there in 1911.  By 1925, Denver sent special "snow trains" there for the recreating tourists.  Skiers such as Bob McQueary and Jim Harsh competed in statewide events along with skiing "veterans" Horace Button and McLean.  Grand Lake's Jim Harsh became the first Coloradoan to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team.

In 1932, the Grand Lake Ski Club held its first winter sports week on Denver 25-January 1st.  Featured was a motor sled with an airplane engine which pulled skiers over the frozen lake are speeds of 90 miles per hour.

Colorado's first ski tow was opened at the summit of Berthoud Pass in 1936.  Berthoud Pass operated on and off throughout the next 60+ years but was finally closed and the lifts dismantled in 2002.  

What became the resort of Winter Park featured skiing at the West Portal of the Moffatt Tunnel and the Winter Park Ski Area opened as a result of efforts by Denver Parks & Recreation Director George Cranmer. Early lodging resorts in the area, then known as Hideaway Park (now Winter Park), included Sportland Valley, Timberhaus Lodge, and Millers Idlewild Inn.  Eventually trains made daily runs to Winter Park, loaded with intrepid skiers.  Steve Bradley invented the first effective snow packer on the slopes of Winter Park.

With a strong record of winning high school ski teams, Grand County accounted for a remarkable number of skiers who later took park in FIS (International Federation of Skiers) meets and U.S. Olympic teams.

A later ski area, now know as Sol Vista Ski Basin (formerly Silver Creek Resort) opened in Granby in the 1980's.  World class cross country ski areas in Grand County include Snow Mountain Ranch and Devil's Thumb Ranch.

Topic: People

The Knight Ranch and Charles Lindbergh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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