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Barger Gulch - Archaelogical site
Barger Gulch - Archaelogical site

The prospect of discovering a remnant from a 10,000-year-old stone age society that inhabited Colorado's Middle Park so long ago seemed remote at best - while the suggestion that a prized Folsom point could somehow materialize before our very eyes appeared all but impossible.  For one thing, it was the last day of excavating for the summer at the Barger Gulch archaeological site and the ten member scientific team would soon be packing up and heading back to their ivory towers at the University of Wyoming and the University of Arizona.

Barger Gulch is a desolate spot that the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversees. It is hard, parched dirt dabbled with sagebrush as far as your eyes can see across the flat valley - a haven for all manner of bugs and other forms of native wildlife. In winter, the place turns to the opposite extreme as temperatures plunge to minus 40-degrees and howling winds whip up ghostly images of snow that swirl eerily across the land. This is Middle Park, a high mountain basin with roughly the same geo-political boundaries as Grand County. It encompasses some 1,100 square miles of unforgiving territory flanked on three sides by the formidable wall of the Continental Divide and its terrain soars high over the Great Plains into the thin, alpine air up to altitudes of 13,000 feet above sea level. What would induce these primitive Americans to trek all the way up here without so much as horses for transportation? How would they have survived the brutal winters with only primitive tools and clothing?  And why in the world would they ever want to settle in such a barren, god-forsaken place as Barger Gulch? 

This site could well prove to be one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of its kind in North America, according to BLM officials who oversee the project here. In just three years of work in a relatively small excavation area, investigators unearthed more than 18,000 artifacts - a staggering number ten times that discovered at typical Folsom sites. And this is only one of four sites in the same vicinity.  In addition to Barger Gulch and Upper Twin Mountain, discoveries include the Jerry Craig and Yarmony Pit House sites. Most of these were occupied by peoples described by archaeologists as Paleo-Indians, a catchall term for ancient humans that inhabited North America; Yarmony Pit House post dated Paleo-Indians by about 3,000 years.

But long before Paleo-Indians ever set foot on the Continent, Middle Park was a prehistoric menagerie; 20-million years ago, it was the stomping grounds for prehistoric rhinoceros, three-toed horses, camels, giant beavers, and even small horses. Creatures known as oreodonts also romped across the mountainous terrain. These vegetarians, ranging in size from small dogs to large pigs, fed on grasses and green, leafy plants. In fact, the skull of one of these animals was discovered recently in the vicinity of Barger Gulch. These long extinct, hoofed animals resembled sheep, but were actually closer to camels, and were common in the western U.S. This latest discovery is remarkably well preserved; while the bones have turned to stone, the smooth, hard enamel that encased the animal's teeth is still intact. 

Humans arrived in North America much later - about 12,000 years ago - as the last Ice Age of the Pleistocene Epoch made its exit. These first Americans crossed a land bridge from Siberia to Alaska and began populating the entire Continent; experts believe it is possible they also arrived on boats following the Continental Shelf into North America. Folsom people are best known as nomadic, big game hunters who chiseled out their spear points and finished them off with a distinctive, artistic flourish - a unique groove, or flute, that runs lengthwise along the face that has become the symbol of this Paleo-Indian culture. They honed the tips of these primitive weapons surprisingly sharp for killing frenzies that were necessarily up close and personal: they herded their prey into traps before launching their spears - and archaeologists suspect there was just such a bison ambush site near Barger Gulch. The quarry just over the rise is a gold mine of raw materials, including fine-grained Kremmling chert and abundant Windy Ridge quartzite, which provided a never-ending supply of top grade stone. "It makes sense," explains Todd Surovell. "You would want to camp where you could get as many raw materials as possible within a short distance. That's where you're going to park yourself for awhile."

The bulk of these tools originated with local material, but investigators have found some 200  "exotic" items noticeably out of place at Barger Gulch. One is a distinctive piece of yellow, petrified wood that came from 93 miles away as the crow flies, near the town of Castle Rock on the Colorado plains. Another is a large biface that was brought up from the Arkansas Valley, some 60 miles south. "They worked on it up here in one place and turned it into two, maybe three projectile points," notes Surovell. "One of them broke during manufacture and we have two pieces that fit exactly together."

Fitting these and thousands of other pieces together is what archaeologists do when they get back to the lab. The process begins on site where investigators photograph each find and record its exact location within the excavation block. This gives the team a visual reference to help recognize activity patterns - a way to connect the dots of Folsom society.  But the specks come to an abrupt stop, as if they suddenly run into a solid wall. "If we could figure out that this represented the wall of a structure, that would be really special," he explains. "Nobody's even been able to do that before in a site of this age in North America." Just then, a graduate student pops his head inside the door. "You want to be a camera man?" he asks Surrovell. "What do you got?" "A Folsom point," he replies with a broad grin. We rush over to the site where Waguespack has dug a narrow shaft down the north wall of the excavation pit and hit pay dirt - a Folsom point that remains half buried in the stratum of rich soil.

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Origins of the Ute People

Before there were any people anywhere, the Creator, "Sinawaf", cut sticks and placed them in a large sack.  After many days, this aroused the curiosity of the coyote.  When Sinewaf was away, the coyote could no longer control himself and opened the sack.

Out came many people who scattered in all directions.  Each spoke a difference language from the others.  When Sinewaf returned, there were only a few people remaining in the sack.  He was furious with the coyote, as he had planned to distribute the people equally in various parts of the land.  As there could now be no such equity, there would be wars among the different people, who would fight for the best locations.

Of the small group left in the sack, Sinawaf called them Ute or Nuche, which meant "the people".  They would be a very brave and strong tribe.

Topic: Towns

Kremmling

Kremmling started as a general mechandise store, owned by Rudolph (or Kare) Kremmling, on the ranch of Dr. Harris, located on the north bank of the Muddy River. In 1888, John and Aaron Kinsey had part of their ranch platted, calling the site Kinsey City. Kremmling moved his store across the river from the new site and the town that subsequently developed became known as Kremmling. There was a post office established at Kremmling as early as 1885 and the town was incorporated in 1904. 

The Middle Park Fair was established here in 1912. Famous Western Novelist Zane Grey spent time in Kremmling and, as a result, wrote "Mysterious Rider" in which the area is shown as a classic Western setting.

During World War II the town was the location of a prisoner of war camp where German prisoners cut ice that was shipped by rail to other locations.

The local ranching industry, the presence of the railroad and its strategic location at the confluence of the Colorado River, the Blue River, and Muddy Creek made Kremmling a natural location for a town, which still retains the “Old West“ atmosphere.

Topic: Libraries

Hot Sulphur Springs Library

The Hot Sulphur Springs Library started on the second floor of the two story white frame courthouse that preceded the current courthouse. In 1942 the library was moved to the old log courthouse that was directly behind the frame courthouse. The books were moved via a rope pulley-like system from the second floor to the log house.

The library remained in the log courthouse until the mid 1970s when it moved into a 19 ft. 9 in. X 8 ft. 6 in. room in the current courthouse. This tiny room had a double-sided bookshelf in the middle, a bookshelf along one wall, a desk and a chair, and a card catalog on top of a small table. There was only a narrow pathway around the center shelving. There was no room to hold story hour for the 10-15 children who came, so story hour was held in the community room upstairs or the county or district courtrooms, the commissioners' room, or once on the stairs in the stairwell between the first and second floors. Much of the year the hallway by the Treasurer's and Assessor's offices was filled with hats, mittens, coats, boots and the noise and chaos of the children enjoying story hour.

Since the jail was also located in the courthouse, the library was used by prisoners. Those who were "trustees" were allowed to visit the library in their neon orange jail suits. One prisoner was permitted to visit the library to paint a delightful mural of a dragon on one wall and a dog on the window in the door. One day a prisoner asked if he could order some Kurt Vonnegut books. The Librarian jumped up so excited that the tiny library had some Vonnegut books, she kneeled and pulled out a Vonnegut book titled Jailbird!!! In 1983 the new jail was built and the Library moved to the old jail area on the second floor. It was a much larger space and had a restroom.

In the late spring of 1990 the Library moved to its present location in the newly-renovated former bunkhouse of the U.S. Forest Service summer personnel. This larger facility brought many windows and space for story hour, and until the year 2000 there was a wonderful yard in back for story hour and summer reading program activities.

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

John Wesley Powell

John Wesley Powell was a Civil War veteran who had lost part of one arm as a result of combat.  He was a professor of natural history at Illinois Wesleyan Collage, who took field trips with his students to the Rockies.

He came to the Grand County region looking for a vantage point to conduct an exploration of the Colorado (the Grand) River. With six local men he made the first recorded ascent of Long's Peak, the 14,255 foot landmark of the Front Range, on August 23, 1868.  From that summit he could view much of the headwaters area of the river.

Descending back into Middle Park, he ventured to Gore Canyon where he decided the turbulent rapids were too dangerous for his boats.  He decided to take an exploratory  party of students to the Green River in Wyoming, a tributary of the Colorado.  Losing one boat in that expedition, the party made the first known trip through the Grand Canyon in 1869.

He later became leader of the first U.S. Geological Survey, and because of his study of Indian tribes, the first head of the U.S. Bureau of Ethnology.

Wheatley Family of the Troublesome

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

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

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

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

Smiths of the Blue River

Frank John Smith was born October 5, 1852 in Granby, New York.  He married Elizabeth Olive Sanders, who was born in 1860 in Hannibal, New York.  They were married in 1878 in Hannibal and had two children Albert and Lelah.  Albert died as an infant in 1881.  In 1880 Frank homesteaded his ranch close to the Blue River and sent for his wife and baby daughter who came West by train to Dillon in the spring of 1883.

They had 10 more children, all born at the Smith Ranch, between 1884 and 1907.  As the boys grew into young men, they homesteaded additional acreage around the ranch.  The youngest son, Earl, operated the Smith Ranch until 1958, when it was sold to Ted Orr Sr. His son, Ted Orr Jr. and his wife, Virginia Smith (granddaughter of Frank and Elizabeth) operated the ranch until 1967, when it was sold to the Berger brothers.    

My Granby, Little Old Log Church

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

From what I hear

It is very near

To be torn away

The little church of my childhood day

The most beautiful to see

That can ever be

Inside and out

Without a doubt

Built of log so fine

In the style of old time

In my own little chair

Every Sunday I was there

The chime of its bell

For miles around

Heard its wonderful sound

For a while our school

We didn't fit

So in our church were classes

For a bit

Beside our church on the hill

We sledded for a thrill

That poor little church

They moved it around

All over town

Proudly it's hung together

In all kinds of weather

Every time I go to Granby town

I look around to find

And have a look

At my log church for my eyes'

Memory book

Now they say it's got to go

Pray it won't be so

All of you Granby folk

Louder you should have spoke

To save that church with its

Memories and history

For there could never be

Anything that would compare

Built or put there

With my magnificent, beautiful

Childhood Granby log church

Find it in your hearts

To never let it be torn apart.

 

April 2005

 

 

Topic: 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: Mining

Dutch Town

When two Germans, having imbibed too liberally shot up the mining town of Lulu City, they were run out of town.  They went higher and established camp, on the side of Red Mountain near timberline.  There they found a lode of low grade gold, silver and lead.

While it lasted only two years, this encampment came to be called "Dutch Town".  Gradually the fierce winters and lower quality of ore drove the settlers out, leaving only a few empty cabins about a mile west of Lulu City. 

 

 

 

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