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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.

Articles to Browse

Topic:

Transportation

How did people travel to Grand County?  How did they get around? Click on the drop-down menus and take a little trip through history...
Topic: Towns

Parshall

Parshall was informally laid out by Alonzo Polhamus in about 1905 and is said to have been named for Ralph Parshall, an irrigation engineer at the State College of Agriculture and inventor of the widely used Parshall flume.

The original primitive store operated by Walter Dow was the drawing card for visitors. Parshall was the headquarters of the “Williams Fork Telephone Company,” a highly informal operation that is said to have transmitted its subscribers’ voices along barbed wire fences.

Parshall remained a small town, in part because of its inadequate railroad terminal facilities, but has kept its original charm and is famous for its Gold Medal fishing.

 

McQueary Family of Middle Park

It has been said that if you walk down the streets of Hot Sulphur Springs and call out "Hello McQueary" at any given time, someone will respond.  Certainly one of the most prolific families to pioneer the Middle Park, the McQueary clan consisted of Scotch-Irish descendents of the immigrants who had settled in the mountainous regions of the Ozarks and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Henry McQueary and his brother Humphrey, visited the Middle Park area in 1866 while prospecting for gold on Troublesome Creek.  Henry built a cabin on the creek in 1875 and other relatives came to settle including Walker, James, John and George, along with their families.  The families settled near Hot Sulphur Springs and as far west as Muddy Creek and the Gore Canyon.

In 1875, Henry found a Ute Indian with a broken leg near the Troublesome Creek.  He took the man to his cabin and splinted the leg.  After three weeks, the injury healed enough that the Ute could return to his family and that created a friendship that outlasted the Ute uprisings of 1878-1879.

In 1888, Fount McQuearly established a hotel in Hot Sulphur Springs which included a 45 foot ballroom in the Antlers Saloon.  In his later life, he served as County Commissioner (1924).  Many other McQuearys also went into politics, so much so that they were sometimes referred to as the "McQueary Gang".     

"Uncle Walk" McQueary once said that if Andy Eairheart "ever fell into the river and drowned, we'd have to look for his body upstream 'cause he's too stubborn to float downstream!".

Dick McQueary was quite enterprising, establishing a store in Hot Sulphur Springs (1904) and helping newcomers to the area locate homestead sites.  He once was paid with a barrel of china for his services.  Dick also was a contractor for building and maintenance for Grand County and he led the effort to build a road through Rocky Mountain National Park.  This road was eventually finished in 1920 and is known as the Fall River Road.

At least three McQuearys served their country in World War I and fifteen in World War II.  They were also noted athletes; at the 1924 Hot Sulphur Springs Winter Carnival, Margaret McQueary won first place in girls jumping and ski-joring while Milton won first in boys cross country.  

Eventually the McQuearys had over a dozen ranches in Middle Park.

 

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: Mining

Mining in Grand County

Ghost towns and broken dreams are legacies left by the early miners and prospectors of Grand County.  

Ever since 1879 when the first mines were staked out and claimed on Bowen Mountain near Grand Lake, “gold and silver fever” grew like an epidemic.  Men blinded by greed and prospects of a better tomorrow scrambled to the Kawuneeche Valley with picks and shovels to unearth their fortunes.  

Women worked just as feverishly along side their men and encampments gave way to mining towns almost overnight.  Land offices, eateries, and boarding houses sprouted like wild flowers. Claim jumping became a common practice, resulting in fights and even murders.  Most of these injustices would go unpunished, for no one wanted to risk losing their chance of riches.  

In Grand County the mother load was a false prophecy, as only small quantities of low grade gold, silver, and lead ore were found.  In a few short years, Gaskill, Teller City, and Lulu City, three of the more noted settlements, suffered the same fate as the other boom towns.  By 1885 the mining boom had ended in Grand County and ranching had taken it’s place as a sustaining industry.

Topic: Towns

Hot Sulphur Springs

Hot Sulphur Springs was founded as the first town in Grand County around 1870.  By 1903 it gained incorporation. The hot springs in the area were considered a healing and sacred place by the Ute Indians long before the white man discovered them.

The town site was once owned by William N. Byers, founder of the Denver newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News. Planning to build a town to take advantage of the springs, he first had to construct an enclosure around the main pool to keep the Indian ponies out and the steam in. The white settlers and travellers were drawn to the  springs for their therapeutic value.

During the Christmas season of 1911, Hot Sulphur Springs hosted the first Winter Carnival west of the Mississippi.

Except for a brief period in the early 1880’s, the town has been the county seat.  The Grand County Historical Museum there draws many visitors to its unique displays.

 

Topic: Railroads

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

     

 

Topic: Grand County

Grand County

Grand County was established in 1874 by the Territory of Colorado, thus becoming a county two years before Colorado became a state. It was named for the Grand River, the name by which the Colorado River was known at that time. The headwaters of the today’s Colorado River are in Grand County. The county was formed from a portion of Summit County but acquired its current boundaries in 1877, when part of the Grand County was used to create Routt County. The county seat is Hot Sulphur Springs. The area of 1,854 square miles consists of meadows, river valleys and mountains.

Topic: Biographies

Sir St. George Gore

Sir St. George Gore was born in 1811 in County Donegal, Ireland, heir to an Irish baronetcy and was often referred to as Lord Gore.  He was educated as an aristocrat, never married, and never held public office.

He staged an expensive and expansive “American hunt,” leaving Westport, Missouri on June 6, 1854, with plans to hunt in the southern Rockies.  After spending some time at Fort Laramie, he arrived inMiddle Park. His guides were Joseph Chattillon and Jim Bridger. Gore had a entourage of 40 workers, 25 wagons, 24 mules, 112 horses , 3 milk cows and 14 dogs!

Loving his luxury, he slept in a brass bed, had nightly hot baths, and dines on superb food served on a lace tablecloth set with fine silver and crystal.  He often invited Bridger, who was illiterate, to dinner and awakened in the guide an interest in Shakespeare, which lead to the frontiersman hiring a boy to read the bard's plays to him.  

Described as "a good shot at rest but rather poor offhand" he nevertheless claimed to have killed 2,500 buffalos, 40 grizzly bears and countless deer, elk and antelope.   

Bridger led Gore to West Grand County, to the pass, range, and canyon that now bear his name.  The Indians were shocked at the expedition's wanton slaughter of every game animal in sight.

The expedition did not end until sometime in 1857, when Gore returned to Ireland and relative obscurity.  Not even a portrait remains of the infamous poacher.

Topic: Mountains

Mountains of Grand County

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

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

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

Stone Age People