Stories and Poems of Past Memories

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Stories and Poems of Past Memories Articles

2006-100 Year is Here
2006-100 Year is Here

Poem, contributed by Vera Shay, August 2006

 

Since the railroad tracks

Were all laid down

Trains coming into Kremmling town

Only books, left to tell and say

Of the excitement that day

Of the thirties and the forties

It is so

Of the railroad tracks and trains

I do know

I rode on them everywhere

Here and there

During those years in my mind

I owned them all you see

That I would have told you

Had you asked me.

Todays trains all have a brand new look

Inside and out

Riding on the trains from them till now

There is no doubt

The train crew and passengers of today

Still just as fun and great

Though they seem to always be running late

Lots of folks think they're just too slow

For me they've always been

A wonderful way to go

Trains, trains

Let there always be trains

 

A Story from Big Horn Park
A Story from Big Horn Park

And Then There Was Light

They were perched on the side of the road in Big Horn Park peering out the window at twilight as their eyes moved across the Troublesome Valley below and then up to the high mountains of the Gore Range. From this distance it was obvious why early settlers, having trouble forging the creek, had appropriately chosen that name for the valley. Paul pointed out the window to the right and said, "That is where my great-grandparents lived." His ancestors had first homesteaded in Wray, Colorado before moving to Grand County around the year nineteen hundred and eighteen to ranch up on the Gore Range.

They headed down the gravel road to the ten acres of land just purchased not far from his grandparent's property. "Legend has it," Paul continued, "that on a bright, summer morning, Henry rode up to the timberline above his cabin to cut down the last load of trees needed to build a barn.

"Clara, his wife, called after him, ?I will bring your lunch when the sun is high in the sky.'

"Early in the morning", Paul explained, "she cleaned the tiny cabin and prepared food by the light of a kerosene lamp. When the sun was almost straight above the cabin,

she dressed and left by horseback with lunch for her husband. When Clara reached the top of the ridge, she could see Henry preparing to fell the last tree. Excitedly she headed up a final hill and dismounted with the lunch in her right hand. Climbing quickly, Clara called to Henry distracting him from his chore.

 "Then suddenly from high atop the ridge above him," Paul added, "Henry heard the terrifying cry of a lone, grey wolf. The scream was shrill to his ears, and his heart stopped beating for a moment before he looked around to see that the tree had crashed instantly to the ground. All was silent on the mountain as he descended to find Clara dead beneath the branches of the tree with the lunch still in her right hand. It had happened so quickly that Henry never heard one sound escape from Clara's mouth. And even today as the morning sunlight outlines the evergreen trees on Elk Mountain, you can see the silhouette of a woman's face with her hair flying wild and free in the wind and her mouth open wide, crying out for help.

"They called him O'Grey", he added, "but they never saw or heard from that wolf again."

Life in Big Horn Park in the nineteen-eighties when they bought the land was still challenging; no electricity or running water was available to provide creature comforts to local inhabitants. Over the years, while a house was being built, they washed in a small stream of water that trickled down across the property from Monument Creek. Neighbors used kerosene lanterns to illuminate the night and gasoline generators to pump water from wells. Bears often tried to enter basements for food, and mountain lions crawled onto decks to devour small dogs or cats. Only one or two hardy families lived in Big Horn Park in those days through the long winters. Skis provided a way of escape in the event of a winter blizzard that often dumped snow deep enough to cover the tops of the three-wire fences.

          And then there was light. Paul flicked on a switch in the house and radiance encircled them, startling the cats and engulfing the room. That marked the beginning and the end of time; old ways faded and new, exciting possibilities emerged. It was almost Christmas of the year two thousand and two, and the first holiday up in Big Horn Park was beckoning. If not for the electric heat installed during the summer, the trip would have had to be postponed for another year. Only by chance can the mournful howl of a lone, grey wolf be heard today, but the cat cries of the fox emerging from a den can still awaken a soul at midnight in the summer or the yipping coyotes can be heard as they call to one another in the silent, winter night.  And the tracks of a lonely, mountain lion lopping across the hillside beside the cabin can occasionally be found in the snow. 

The experience quickens the heart and revives the spirit as the Jeep is loaded with suitcases and cats, and a turkey with all the trimmings. From Utah across the high, barren desert and up the winding Trough Road the old Jeep transports the family to fulfill the dreams of a lifetime. A slender sled is removed from the Jeep as the attached silver bells jingle. Supporting their bodies against the door, the man and woman grab their snowshoes to slip them on and tie the leather straps securely. Cats and turkey dinner are hauled through the pristine snow like times of old to the garage door. A blast of bitter cold air escapes from the house when the door is opened, chilling the bones, but the electric heat will melt away the cold air while they climb the low hill to inspect tracks left in the snow by tiny creatures.

Soon flickering lights from a fresh, Christmas tree on the second floor loft cast playful shadows across the living room below. In a small room above, two single beds snuggled against the outer walls are spread with warm comforters. All manner of toys, games, and bright objects decorate the room, awaiting a grandson's arrival. For the adults, the smell of the turkey and the taste of pumpkin pie revive childhood dreams of holiday celebrations of long ago. Laughter and pleasure emerges from the snug cabin and records are played on the old turntable chanting, "Silver bells, silver bells, soon it will be Christmas day".

        Thus begins a new life for them; not only can the family survive "up on the Troublesome" again like their ancestors from the shadowy past, but a livelihood can be earned. As summer arrives a light will flash, a screen will brighten, and online learning will occur as distance education courses will be provided to students in Maine and other states from a small cabin located over eight thousand feet above sea level in a remote, northern corner of Colorado.

A Walk's Excitement - Anniversary of September 1945
A Walk's Excitement - Anniversary of September 1945

Contributed by Vera "Stathos" Shay, Kremmling

Granby resident 1930-1945

I walk, walk here there and everywhere;

I walk alone down the hill

I see our beautiful red, white and blue

High on poles waving, waving proudly over town.

No, what is this!

Daddy's with me.  He said to me wait, wait I'm going with you.

This must be important.

Daddy never joins crowds and there is a big crowd.

It seems the whole town is gathering.

Everyone is so happy and excited

Some people are waving American flags.

There is music, cheering, singing and dancing.

Daddy has brought along with us one of his track railroad flares.

He is lighting it.

He before has only lit one of them for our family to celebrate on Fourth of July.

What is going on?

Now everything is quiet.

Then someone is shouting.

Japan has surrendered.  Japan has surrendered.

Now I know.

Hurray!  Hurry!  The war is over.

 

Christmas at Fraser
Christmas at Fraser

The lights dimmed; mothers had already found their seats after coming from the classrooms where they had put makeup on little children’s faces and checked their costumes to make sure angel wings and halos were secure and costumes were on right side round.  I was at the piano, music and script lined out. The gym was full to the brim, every seat taken, with folks lining the sides and back walls, for the whole town had turned out.  Early birds got the seats!  Christmas wasn’t Christmas in the Fraser Valley unless it included the program at Fraser School (now the Town Hall).   I began the overture and chatter stopped.   I had played for this event for ages, starting in 1958.  High school students were gone by then, moved to the new Union High School in Granby, but 7th and 8th graders were still there.  And in 1958, the first kindergartens in the district were established.   It was a time of excitement and anticipation, of fun, and of panic? Well, no, not panic, for the teachers were beautifully organized. 

The program was chosen during October. Each teacher had a specific job. For instance, Martha Vernon, the art teacher, did sets.  Helen Hurtgen was responsible for dialog.  Edith Hill did costumes.  Nancy Bowlby was in charge of the music.  Others coordinated the whole.  And I played the piano, with Nancy sometimes accompanying me on her violin.  

Mothers were asked to contribute sheets and any fabric they could spare.  Patterns and material for costumes went home to be sewn into various sizes and shapes -- angels, gingerbread men, knights or royalty.  In the gym, we stitched on finishing touches, bright patches to decorate jester outfits, townspeople, and such, while watching various groups practice. Bits of tinsel became crowns, tinfoil turned into wands, cheesecloth into wings.  Lace scraps and sequins added color and “class.”   The budget was extremely minimal at first, but over the years, more money was directed to Christmas programs.  Instead of old sheets, we could buy cotton fabrics, velveteens, sometimes satin.  One year I even stopped by a furrier’s in Denver and begged some fur scraps.  Were we uptown then!  We had fur trim around the necks, cuffs, and hems of the costumes for the prince, queen, and king.  

The day before the play, PTA mothers gathered in the gym to fill brown paper sacks with an apple, orange, nuts, and candies, provided by R. L. Cogdell from his grocery store.  

Every single child in school took part in the play, as a class, except for those with speaking parts, of course.  Fraser grew and grew, then as now. Soon the 7th and 8th grades moved to Granby.  Then the 6th graders went, but the 4th and 5th graders handled the leads neatly.  Our stories were usually simple Christmas tales, but sometimes we tackled ambitious efforts such as the Nutcracker Suite or a version of Gilbert and Sullivan.   The only children not included were the Jehovah Witness youngsters.  They couldn’t be in the play and they couldn’t come watch it either.  We all felt very sorry for them, because everyone had such a wonderful time.  Their teachers tried to give them special projects to entertain and interest them while they sat off in a corner or in their classrooms.   The plays always went well.  Tiny kindergartners came out onto the stage, to stand behind the colored lights.  They knew their song perfectly in practices, but I have to admit that a number of them usually stood silent, stunned by that mass of faces looking up at them.  No matter.  They were darling. “Hi, Mom,” some were sure to call. “Mom” beamed.  

There might be a glitch or two every year. For instance, little Diane was chosen to do the Arabian dance in Nutcracker Suite.  Her parents were dark, as she was, and she was slender as a dancer. Trouble was, she didn’t have an ounce of grace in her body at that stage of her life.  I thought Nancy Bowlby was going to have grey hair before she got that child moving properly.  But the night of the program, Diane looked like Anitra herself, doing her exotic dance.   One year the king jumped his cue and entered on stage.  His first words were, “Did I miss anything?”  The prince muttered, in an aside, “Yes, three pages!”  But the cast went on as if nothing had happened, while down at the piano I sat, flipping pages rapidly, trying to figure out where the dialog was now.  

Another year, our son James was to take part in a minuet.  “Uck!  I have to touch a girl?”  By the greatest good fortune, he broke his leg and got to be a guard at the palace door, standing at attention on crutches, while another boy took his place.  (I think he did that on purpose.)   Songs and parts were adapted to the talents of the students.  We had five boys once, who couldn’t talk, dance, sing -- anything.  So they wore monks’ costumes and filed on stage, supposedly singing a Christmas carol, but supported strongly by the cast present.   Another time, Twyla’s parents couldn’t come, so Miss Vernon took her home to get ready. Now, Twyla usually looked like a dirty ragamuffin, but after a bath and hair wash, she truly looked like the angel she portrayed.   For the finale, the entire school came on stage to sing a last carol, with the audience joining in.  Then Santa showed up to distribute the goodie sacks, and the great night was over.  Coming out into the quiet night was a wonderful feeling.  Sometimes we moved through drifts of new falling snow; sometimes the sky was filled with icy stars.  Gay lights showed in windows throughout town. 

We never talked much on the way home, as we thought of the play, the success of everyone¹s efforts, and how happy the children had made their parents and families.   My last program was the first year after the new school was built.  It was fun still, but the school population had grown enough that it was impossible for whole classes to participate as one. Things weren’t the same as they were in the little old school.

Christmas in the Mountains 1951
Christmas in the Mountains 1951

It was my first Christmas in the mountains. Not only that, but it was my first time to be part of a vacation in a cozy ski inn.  This was at Millers Idlewild Inn in Hideaway Park (now the town of Winter Park). I had been married only eight months. Dwight and I had worked hard, getting everything in order: ­clean beds, fresh spreads and curtains, floors shining and bathrooms sparkling.  The woodpile was full and food supplies ready.  Our plans for evenings were laid out too. Dwight would do movies. His brother Woodie would call square dances, with former Moffat Road engineer George Shryer accompanying on the fiddle and his wife, Grace, chording on the piano.  Tom Smith would bring his sled and team of horses, to take happy folks along snow-packed roads for sleigh rides, to the tune of jingling bells. Games were at hand, along with a fine supply of books on the shelves. We expected a wonderfully busy two weeks, which was a good thing, because it had been a long time since our last income, before Labor Day.

Family and friends were coming tomorrow to give a hand over the holiday, and then the fun would begin. As the first guests arrived, I stepped outside, and lifting my nose, I thought, "I smell snow!"  Great!  The area already had a pretty good covering, so that when people called and asked, "Is there snow yet?  Should we come on ahead?" we could gladly say, "Come." That night it snowed,­ 12" of beautiful soft flakes.  Skiers were overjoyed. Dwight got out early to shovel, plow, pull people out of drifts, take others to Winter Park Ski Area, three miles away. That evening we heard that almost no stumps or rocks were evident on the slopes; all had been buried. The next night it snowed again ­ 12" of beautiful white stuff.  We were amazed.  But Dwight got out early to shovel, plow, pull people out if drifts, and take others to the area.  The following night it snowed again, and every night for a week, it snowed, dumping heaps of snow on the whole valley.

Winter Park Ski Area, in those days, wasn't open on Christmas Day; the management wanted to let its employees have the day at home with their families.  So we took our guests to the top of Berthoud Pass; from there they could ski down Seven Mile Trail and we met them at the bottom.  The day after Christmas began the busiest days of all. Back then, many families didn't leave home until the 26th. This was fine, until the passes closed from heavy snows and avalanches. Then visitors, who had to leave, couldn't drive out, but people who were coming by train could still get in!  We had a problem.  The parking lot was jammed with rental cars.  Although some folks went ahead and left by train, many families stayed on.  The rooms were completely full and after all, newcomers were entitled to their reserved space. We had guests stashed all over the lounge, extras in the dorms, and extras in the cabins.  What a crowd it was. I hardly had time to think. 

I cleaned all morning, helped set tables and serve, did dishes, sometimes hauled skiers to or from the area, kept up with the office work, and joined in entertaining folks in the evenings. Thank heaven for family and friends!  There never was such a hectic week. But the Miller hospitality at Idlewild kept our visitors relaxed and happy. Truly, it was a jolly time, with tired skiers loafing in front of the fire, doing puzzles or playing games.  There was always a group playing canasta after dinner, in the dining room, and peals of laughter would pour forth when somebody won a great hand. At last New Year's Eve came and went. The rental cars had gone back to Denver.  The rooms were empty.  We were alone except for a couple of guests.  Making our path through the deep drifts, Dwight and I went home and flopped down on our own sofa.  I heaved a sigh, saying, "Well!  So that's what Christmas in the mountains is like.  I had o idea there would be so much snow."  Little did I know that for Christmas, 1952, we would still have the crowd of guests, but there would be hardly any snow until January!

Colorado Mountain Wild Flowers
Colorado Mountain Wild Flowers

A sight to behold
Not just a story to be told
A beauty of our own Grand County things
of the past of here and now

A sight that will forever last
Field, and fields everywhere down low
More growing the higher we go

Our beautiful Colorado mountain flowers
The prettiest of anywhere
All of those colors

Scattered among the trees
Swaying in the breeze
Yellow, purple, blue, pink and red

Tiny little heads
Names of them all I do not know
Just that here they grow
Making a wonderful show!

Oct 2006

Granby Then and Now
Granby Then and Now

Contributed by Vera "Stathos" Shay, Kremmling

Granby resident 1930-1945

 

I've just read

"Granby Then and Now"

What a great history

My little town, of way long ago

A tiny bit of that time

Was a part of mine

With me forever

Forget you never

I've kept up

I've kept in tact

This little girl that

Lived across the track

That railroader's little brat

I'm proud and happy to say

Was my home, in my childhood day.

 

Ida Laverne
Ida Laverne

"Ida Laverne: My Baby Sister" contributed by Vera Shay

One Grand Essay Contest, 2005

 

 

I didn't remember it at all

I was pretty small

It was the sixth of November

this I do remember

Daddy went a-far

traveling on his railroad motor-car

all the way to Fraser

and in good measure

Dr. Susie he brought back

riding down the railroad track

I think with them, that maybe

they brought us our baby

And that was you Ida LaVerne

now it's my turn

to say

Happy Birthday

 

John the Cat Man
John the Cat Man

Old John, the Cat Man, lived just below the red brick railroad station at Winter Park, in a small log cabin, perhaps 10’ x 12’.  He was Swedish, or maybe Norwegian.  His last name might have been Peterson or Pederson, Swenson or Svenson or Swanson, Larson, Olson, Wilson, or Erickson; all that is lost to history. John surely came into the country first, to work on the Moffat Tunnel.  Now, two decades later after the opening of the tunnel, he was mostly retired.  However, he was the official deliverer of the U.S. Mail to the Winter Park Post Office.  This was in the years between 1945 and 1949 or 1950.  

Each day, after the Yampa Valley Mail went through, John would trudge slowly up to the depot, pulling his toboggan behind him.  Entering the bare waiting room, he¹d stick his grey head and long grizzled beard in at the office window to say hello to Mr. Schaeffer, known as “Schaef” to everyone.

Sometimes Schaef was too busy to talk as he tap tap tapped out a message on the telegraph key.  Or he might be expecting one in; when he was ready to receive, he’d cry into the radio to the man on the other end, “Fire, Gridley!”  But if all was quiet, John and Schaef would talk about “³way back when,” their favorite subject. Soon the two of them would be laughing and cackling at incidents long gone.  Schaef was considered by many residents to be grouchy, but he wasn’t really; he was just old and tired.  He and his wife lived in a little apartment at the back of the station.  In the fall he put his car up on blocks and didn¹t take it down until spring. 

If they needed to go any place, they rode the train. The station was bare; only benches lined around the edges of the room, a schedule nailed to the wall, but it was warm, for there was a coal furnace in the basement below.  John liked to feel that nice heat coming out of the vent while he visited.   After loading the sacks of mail, John hauled the sled down the road, past the Ranger Station, to the Post Office, a small building placed between Adolph¹s Bar and the Idlewild Stage Stop.  Now came the opportunity for another visit, this time with the postmaster, Gertrude Allison, aka “Allie”. Allie ran the post office for years, long before and after there was a post office in Hideaway Park.  She knew everything that went on, and what she didn’t know, she made up. It was considered something of a sport by the locals to start a rumor at her post office one day and see how it had developed a few days later.  

John then moved slowly home, his body bent over with the weight of his years and hard work, to greet his cats.  Long ago, John had gotten a cat; well, two cats.  Then he had four, five, seven, ten.  His tiny home was chock full of cats!  And oh, did it stink.  The place reeked, inside and out.  Dwight asked him one time, “John, why do you have so many cats?”  And John answered, “Well, I yust don’t have the heart to kill them, and they yust keep coming!”    And that’s how John came to be known as “The Cat Man.”

Like Father Like Son
Like Father Like Son

The Wichita Millers lived in one of those lovely old homes, blessed with fine trees lining the streets, large shady yards, and an easy arrangement within, that made family or visitors feel welcome. Three stories and a basement allowed plenty of space for a family of six.  The roomy dining area looked out onto the grassy backyard and flower garden, but the windows were rather small.

About this time, the notion of picture windows came into being. C.D. thought about this for a spell; good idea!  I want more light and a view.  Following through on the idea, he fetched his sledge hammer one afternoon and with a mighty wallop, he broke through the dining room wall! Presto....a larger scene. It took a while to trim out the whole, but the end result was totally satisfying.

This "grab the bull by the horns" attitude was passed through to Dwight.  We had moved into a nice modular home in December 1979.  A few years later, we decided we needed a garage; the solution was to lift the house and build a lower floor beneath it.

Dwight, his Uncle Ed, and I drove to the ski area where some used oak railroad ties had been cast aside.  We gathered a large number of these (Have you ever tried hefting a tie?) and we hauled them home.  Dwight had four extra-powerful jacks that he'd used previously to lift houseboats down at Lake Powell.  After undoing all the foundation bolts, we started lifting, first one end, then another, building increasingly high cross-hatch type supports near each corner as we raised the house higher and higher.

We lived there the entire time this was going on and the house shook with our every step. By the grace of God, no huge winds came up during the whole process.  Each morning, Dwight disconnected the water and the sewer lines. Each evening, he reconnected everything.

When we were up about eight feet, Dwight and his uncle built stud walls and stood the first wall beneath one side of the house.  Would you believe that, thanks to the irregular ties, the house was skewed about six inches out of alignment?  Troubles.  Now what?

Dwight decided that he would take his CAT and carefully push the house back into line, readjusting the braces as he went.  That was the day I chose to go to Denver for supplies, knowing full well that when I returned, my piano and good china would be sitting in Ranch Creek.  But no.  When I got back, all four stud walls were securely in place and the upper floor was resting safely on top.  Was it the luck of dumb dumbs? Brilliance?  Who knows?

Well, in order to go downstairs, we had a fairly steep stairway.  We had looked at our various options for less steep stairs, but one would have ended up in the middle of the garage and the other would have had to start in our bedroom.  Not good choices.  Thus it was steep.  Somebody accused us of having the only carpeted ladder in the county.  It was also rather dark.

One Thanksgiving Day when the family was gathered round, Dwight got the brilliant idea to cut an opening in the upper section of the wall at the top of the stairs, to make it lighter.  The family agreed that this was a great idea and they were excited to see how this was accomplished.

Out came the skill saw, bursts of sawdust flew into my nice clean living room and onto my counters where I was trying to prepare a festive dinner.  I tried to shield the food from sawdust.  I tripped over the cord while setting the table. I scrambled over scrap wood trying to reach pans and dishes.

But the family loved it.  By supper time, a rough hole definitely brought more light, and amazingly, we were still married!

Articles to Browse

Topic: Ranching

Murphy Family Ranch

Article contributed by Tonya Bina of Sky Hi Daily News, October 2009

 

As late as this summer, John Murphy, 94, mowed ditches on his ranch land and built a new fence. "You got to keep busy doing something," he said.
His longevity, he said smiling at wife Carolyn across the table, is owed to "having a good wife to keep you healthy."

And then he added, "and being stubborn and contrary, I guess." But, Carolyn believes John's secret to healthy aging is due to "hard physical labor from an early age," plus the privilege of being raised where there is good air, little junk food, fresh vegetables, fresh milk daily and ranch-harvested meat. Dancing and regular rodeo jaunts also don't hurt.

This week, the Murphys are pausing to acknowledge a 100-year milestone, when John's parents first bought the ranch in greater Granby. John Murphy was born in the family's white two-story ranch house, which still stands on the property, six years after his parents Anna (Rohracher) and James Murphy bought 160 acres from Leopold Mueller in 1909. He had purchased the land from the widow of Edward Weber, who was one of the Grand County commissioners shot in the Grand Lake shoot-out of 1883. Weber's grave is still surrounded by a white-picket fence, located just northwest from the Murphys' newer home.

Mother Anna had crossed the ocean from Austria in 1882 with her family, then in the spring of 1884, they walked over Rollins Pass from Ward to homestead at Eight-Mile Creek south of Granby. The town of Granby didn't sprout until the railroad came through in the early 1900s, so twice a year, the family would travel over Berthoud to Georgetown to buy groceries - a testament to the fortitude people had back then. "How often do you go for groceries now?" John asked. "Twice a day?"

Anna and James married in March of 1907 and had three children: Margaret, James and John. When John was just two years old, his father died and his mother was left to care for the ranch and the three young children. She later married Joseph Reinhardt who had the ranch above theirs.

Upon her death in 1952 at the age of 75, "The Middle Park Times" saluted Anna for having been "a hardy pioneer woman" who prided herself for her ability to horseback ride and milk cows, and called the latter a "fine art rather than a chore."

"It was a pleasure for her to sit down and milk cows," John said. "That's when she could rest. She would milk half of the cows while me and my step-dad milked the other half."

The ranch had about 35 cows, and the cream and milk they produced was shipped to Denver where it was sold. When the lettuce colonies came to the Granby area around the early 1920s, the Murphy ranch prospered selling milk and butter to local settlers.  "Where the airport is now, there was a shack or tent on every 10 acres over there," he said, "and five packing warehouses along the railroad." Even a section of Murphy land was leased to grow lettuce and spinach.

When young boys, John and his brother would sometimes find entertainment riding on the backs of calves in the barn - always out of sight from their mother who would have disapproved, he said. And the younger John would horseback to the Granby schoolhouse located across from the present day Granby Community Center.

Back then, Granby was barely a settlement, and the Murphys' closest neighbor was farther than a mile away. Granby, especially, has grown in the past 20 years, threatening the lifestyle he has known all his life. In the past, ranching families made up the community, and neighbors looked out for one another, he said. "There was kind of a togetherness," he said. "Now we don't have that."

Nodding to the golf courses and newer homes surrounding Granby proper, "We're losing it, losing all the ranchers," he said. "Like any piece of property, I hate to see it change hands, but progress happens and there's nothing you can do about it."

John Murphy began running the ranch in 1934 and his older brother James ran another ranch near Fraser, land the brothers originally had purchased together.
John's first wife Edith died during childbirth, and John became a single dad to a daughter and son who were 2 and 4 years old at the time, running the ranch and raising his children like his own mother did when he was a toddler.

At its height, John Murphy's commercial cattle operation had about 2,000 acres and about 120 pair of cows and calves, with the calves selling at the top of the market in Omaha. John said from working his land for hay through the years, he has found buffalo horns. "There must have been quite a few buffalo here in the 1800s," he said. The land has since been leased, split, and some shared with John's family, including daughter Jennifer Baker and son Steve Murphy.

Although the winters are no longer as harsh as he remembers them - "It would get 30 to 40 below for the whole month," he said - he and wife Carolyn now winter in Arizona. John met Carolyn in the 1970s, and the couple would dance at haunts such as the Circle H and Hazel Mosle's (now Johnson's Landing). "I just held the girls, and they did the dancing," John said. "She complained I held her too tight," he said, of Carolyn. "And she's been suffering every since."


 

 

Topic: Biographies
Ute Bill Thompson, Ute Chief Piah

Ute Bill Thompson

Ute Bill Thompson, Ute Chief Piah

William Jefferson (Wm./W.J./Bill) Thompson was born on March 26, 1849 in Aurora Township, Preston County, Virginia (1863-West Virginia). The 8th child of 9 children of Wm. & Mary Anne (Wotring) Thompson. His father was a shoemaker at the Wotring Tannery and died in 1853. Mrs. Thompson left Preston County in September 1859 with her children on a covered wagon for Oregon. They arrived at St. Charles, Iowa around Christmas, settling at New Virginia, joining other relatives.

Wm. may have been taken captive by Native Americans prior to entering Colorado Territory. Via ox cart he came to Central City to start mining in 1865. He ventured into adjacent Middle Park, seeking gold in the Troublesome Valley, supplied with 1 ton of flour. He spent four years as a postal carrier from Hot Sulphur Springs to Steamboat Springs, using the Gore Pass route.

Once, the Ute Indians saw him baking biscuits and they enjoyed the “beescuts” until the flour ran out. An altercation left Wm. severely beaten. He made his way to Georgetown and the miners denied him entry, thinking he was a crazy man. One kind miner gave Wm. canvas for clothing, and took him to Idaho Springs. He recovered and was employed as a shoemaker.

Wm. re-entered Middle Park, built a hunting cabin on Muddy Creek ready for the 1867 winter. Chief Yarmonite led 40 Ute men, women and children to Wm’s cabin explaining to him that the Gore Range was covered with snow, and they were in need of food. This time Wm. refused. A rifle match was agreed upon with the loser put to death. Wm. threw his sombrero to the ground as his hair fell to his shoulders. A cry of the Ute went up as they recognized Wm. from the Troublesome. Sub-chief Piah told Wm. they could not fight a Ute brother, and braided Wm’s hair and applied face paint as they were at war with the Arapahoes. A hunt for bison began. Shooting was heard with the thought the Arapahoes arrived. Len Pollard & Sandy Mellon were chasing buffalo, which Wm. shot and killed. Len & Sandy confronted the supposed Ute with Len asking, “Where did you get Bill Thompson’s Winchester rifle?” Wm. played along until Sandy aimed his rifle on Wm. who wisely said, “Don’t over reach yourself, Sandy.” Sandy demanded, “Who in the hell are you!” Bill laughed and told them he was Bill Thompson. The sobriquet of “Ute Bill” was given. Wm. preferred his nick name over his legal name.

Ute Bill carried on as a mountaineer. Hunting and trapping, taking wild game to the Georgetown & Denver markets selling the meat, until laws prohibited the practice. A new career began of driving stagecoaches and freight wagons for the Colorado Stage Company on the Georgetown, Empire & Middle Park Wagon Road, over Berthoud Pass to Grand Lake, Hot Sulphur Springs, Gore Pass, and occasionally Steamboat Springs. One day on Cottonwood Pass, Ute Bill stopped and hiked over a ridge to find 400 Ute tipis on a meadow, imaging this could be a ranch. He homesteaded acreage, bought the home ranch from Al Honscome, and through marriage owned 4000 acres.

The T Lazy S brand was patented. The Thompson Ranch was the 1st in Middle Park allowed to receive water from the Grand (Colorado) River for irrigation. Ute Bill Creek and Ute Bill Ditch 1 & 2 were also patented. Middle Park became Grand County of February 2, 1874. Ute Bill was on the first jury, appointed Road Supervisor, and a delegate to the state Democrat Party Convention. In 1879 he owned Thompson’s Billiard Hall, bought a store from John Kinsey and expanded it into Ute Bill’s Saloon in Hot Sulphur Springs. He also had a game park of tame antelope, deer, and elk.

The “Texas Charley” incident of December 5, 1884 began at the saloon when Texas Charley forced Ute Bill to hand over his prized Winchester rifle. His future father in law played a role in the coroner’s inquest. January 30, 1889 The Middle Park Times listed the sale of the saloon to Billy Pharo with the quote of, “We don’t reach Denver yet but were getting there you see.” An ad in Hot Sulphur Springs complemented the sale.

On December 25, 1893 Ute Bill Tompson was united in marriage to Mabel Smith. The first recorded marriage in the Hot Sulphur Springs Congregational Community Church. Mabel was the eldest daughter of Preston Henry & the late Mary Smith. Ute Bill & Mabel had 6 children Fred Charles, William Preston, John Henry, Otto Woodring, Marion Loman, and Mary Ellen. W.J. Thompson advertised in the Grand County News, January 8, 1904 Sulphur Springs and Kremmling Stage Carries Mail & Express Stage Fare, One Way $1.50 Round Trip, $2.75 In 1903-1904 The Denver, Northwestern & Pacific Railroad (D.N.P.R.R.) was buying ranchers land. Ute Bill refused to sell his for $500 and lost on appeal in District Court receiving $300. However, it was “matter of principal” that he won on, as E.A. Meredith the railroad surveyor diverted the rail bed to be placed on the other side of the Colorado River below the cliffs.

As the excursion trains were passing by the Thompson Ranch on their way to the Railroad Days celebration in Hot Sulphur Springs on September 15, 1905 Ute Bill danced with joy knowing that the “Iron Horse” was NOT allowed to disturb the sacred tipi grounds of the Utes! Ute Bill forgot his grievances and presided over a vast fish fry and barbeque of elk on July 4, 1906. The last cattle trail drive out of Grand County was conducted by 2 aged pioneers, Sam Martin of Muddy Creek, and Ute Bill in 1923. Another matter of principal to avoid paying railroad costs, but of great sentimental value of all the past cattle trail drives. Ute Bill & Mabel both entered St. Luke’s Hospital in Denver for surgery in late February 1926. Ute Bill’s first surgery went well, the second did not. Mabel was not able to be with him as she was recovering from her own.

Many Middle Park pioneers visited them to wish them well. Old friend Charles Nines Sr. who retired in Denver from Pine Ridge Agency, South Dakota a Sioux language interpreter and Trading Post owner was with Ute Bill when he passed away on March 19, 1926, one week shy of his 77th birthday. William Jefferson “Ute Bill” Thompson is buried in the Hot Sulphur Springs Cemetery off of Cottonwood Pass, Looking at Elk Mountain and the original homestead.

This article is dedicated to Lorna Marie Gowen; September 6, 1954-April 14, 2006

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:

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: Regions

Fraser Valley

The principal population centers in the Fraser River Valley are Winter Park, Fraser and Tabernash.  When the early stage coaches came over Berthoud pass into the Fraser Valley, the most popular stop was at the Cozens Ranch, which now houses a historical museum in Winter Park. The valley is now bisected by U.S. Highway 40, which was designated the "Victory Highway" in 1931.  The new route of the highway leads through the main streets in both Fraser and Tabernash and the backdoors of some business became front doors because of the new highway alignment.   

Tabernash was the name given to a railroad siding, named for the Ute leader who was killed during a confrontation with local ranchers.  The town became a key station on the railroad line, and included a roundhouse, and a supply of helper engines for the steep climb over Rollins Pass.  When the Moffatt Tunnel was opened in 1928, the railroad no longer needed service there and the town lost its' main economic support.

George Easton founded the town site of Fraser in 1905.  The rest of the country became familiar with Fraser when the winter temperatures were often the lowest recorded in the U.S. and Fraser was know by the nickname "Icebox of the Nation".   Lumbering was one of the prime industries in the region until World War II.  During the war, the military built a Prisoner of War camp at Fraser to help lumber for the mills in the area.

The current area of Winter Park has had many names over the years.  First it was called simply "Old Town" or "Vasquez", named after the fur trader Louis Vasquez.  "Woodspur" or "Woodstock" referred to Billy Wood's lumber mill in the area, which furnished ties for the railroad while it was being built over Rollins Pass. During the construction of the Moffatt Tunnel, the name "West Portal" came into usage.  Rail workers also called the community "Little Chicago" as it was as it was a favorite gambling, saloon, and brothel site.  As tourists began to arrive it was known as "Idlewild" and also "Hideaway Park".  Finally, the name "Winter Park" was settled upon to correspond with the adjacent ski area of the same name.

The area population declined from 1232 people in the 1920's to only 373 people by 1930.  The Great Depression ended the construction boom and the price of beef became too low for ranches to turn a profit.  However, since that time, the area has thrived, mostly based on a tourism economy.  The valley's main source of income is now recreation and second home construction. 

Post Offices

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

Postal routes into Middle Park were first offered for contract to the lowest bidders in 1875.  A once a week route over Rollins Pass was bid at $693 per year but winter was so severe that the service stopped.  The route from Georgetown to Hot Sulphur Springs over Berthoud Pass from July through October was more enduring. 

Later, postmaster appointments were recommended by congressmen, thereby making the the system more variable as political party power shifted at election time.  The great advantage to having a post office was the opportunity to include a retail goods for sale, often in the living room of the postmaster's home.

Post offices were located within 10 miles of the addresses they served.  In those days, a 10 mile round trip would often take a full day of travel by horse or wagon.  Many post offices were simply ranch homes, and there were frequent changes in location due to disabilities or political party changes.

Post offices were closed when there were too few recipients to justify the cost, often caused by consolidation of ranches or mine closures.  As transportation became mechanized, there was no longer the need for a 10 mile radius maximum.     


PO                            Opening Date             First Postmaster

Hot Sulphur Springs     Sept. 10, 1874            Thomas N. Francie

Fraser                        July 20, 1876              William Z. Cozens

Troublesome               March 15, 1878            Henry King

(When Henry King died in 1879, his wife Albina replaced him. The Troublesome office was discontinued on April 19, 1935)                               

Red Mountain             April 8, 1878               William D. Coberly

(Discontinued in September 1878)

Hermitage                  May 17, 1878              George Rand

(Intermittent service.  Discontinued Jan. 10, 1884)

Grand Lake                 Jan. 10, 1879              John Baker

Twelve Mile                 June 1879         Daniel N. Ostrander

(Discontinued Aug. 5, 1880)

Lulu City                    July 20, 1880              D.W. Hassix

(Discontinued Nov. 26, 1883)

Gaskill                       Oct. 22, 1880             John K. Mowrey

(Discontinued Nov. 11, 1886) 

Colorow                     May 24, 1882              Thomas E. Pharo

(Discontinued May 16, 1903)

Selak                         June 11, 1883             Frank J. Selak

(Discontinued Sept. 29, 1893)

Fairfax                       Jan. 14, 1884              John Barber

(Discontinued July 9, 1885) 

Coulter                      Aug. 14, 1884             Fred Halkowiez

(Discontinued Sept. 20, 1905)

Kremmling                 Feb. 12, 1885             Rudolph Kremmling

Kinsey                       Oct. 24, 1891             Rudolph Kremmling

Crescent                    Feb. 14, 1887             Tracy C. Tyler

(Discontinued April 16, 1894) 

Clarkson                    July 28, 1892              William M. Clark

(Discontinued Dec. 8, 1898)

Dexter                       Sept. 21, 1896            Milton G. McQueary

(Discontinued May 20, 1911) 

Martin                        Aug. 24, 1898             Samuel Martin

Discontinued Nov. 3, 1934)

Scholl                        Nov. 27, 1901             Ole Langholm

(Discontinued Jan. 21, 1930)

Lohman                     March 31, 1903           Clyde N. King

(Name changed to Stillwater on Oct. 4, 1911.  Discontinued Oct. 29, 1930) 

Leal                          Sept. 17, 1904            Charles F. Barker

(Discontinued April 30, 1930) 

Arrow                        March 21, 1905           William L. York

(Discontinued March 15, 1915) 

Tabernash                  Sept. 30. 1905            Mary Knight

Granby                       Oct. 26, 1905             Agnes Whited

Radium                      Feb. 9, 1906               O.C. Mugrage

(Discontinued Dec. 6, 1963)

Parshall                     Nov. 17, 1906             G. Walter Dow

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Topic: True Crime

The face of the 1883 Grand Lake Commissioner Shooting

By Amy Ackman Project Archaeologist - 2018

I work in Cultural Resource Management (CRM), which means I document any man-made occurrence that is 50 years or older. I’ve recorded anything from prehistoric stone tools to 1940’s cans and glass. As a CRM archaeologist, I’m a data collector. Our job is to protect the archaeological record by gathering data and determining the significance of it.  In 2011, I worked on a project near Jensen, Utah, just across the border from Colorado. During this project, I came across an unmarked grave. There was a headstone, but no name. I eventually found from historical documentation that the grave was that of a man named William Redman.

Redman was the undersheriff who took part in the Grand County Shooting of 1883 that involved three county commissioners, a county clerk, and the sheriff. Three men died during the shootout, two men died of their injuries after the fact, and the sheriff committed suicide out of guilt. Two weeks after the incident, Redman was the only living participant. He was on the run from the law and actively hunted by the Rocky Mountain Detective Association. A full month after the shootout, Redman was found dead in Utah at the side of a road with a bullet in his head.   

I knew Redman was part of the Grand County Shooting and poured over any sources I could get my hands on; books, websites, newspaper articles; any tidbits of information that might answer questions. Like a detective, I wanted to understand how Bill Redman was involved in the gunfight and how he ended up in Utah.  I found the story and a picture of William Redman and I was ecstatic that a site I had recorded was associated with such a tale.

William Redman was ruggedly handsome with high cheek bones and pronounced jaw; the clothes and countenance of a miner. The more I learned about him, the more questions I had. How old was he when the photo was taken? At a time when it was such a privilege to have a photo taken, why is there a photo of him and not other prominent men in the county? I wondered about his motivations. Was he the ruffian newspaper articles touted him to be?  Archaeology is about understanding the past. Most of the time we are forced to interpret the past with only a few pieces of material that are left behind. The more material and data we have, the more we can understand.

In the case of William Redman, there are questions surrounding his death that give rise to the possibility that the man in the grave is not Redman at all. If the opportunity arises to excavate the grave, his photograph will assist in his identification.  Archaeology not only studies the past but works to preserve the past for the future. Now, I hope that a family member of yours is never being researched by an archaeologist for being a ruffian and a murderer. But, like an archaeologist, I would encourage you to preserve as much as possible for those in the future who would care to learn about the past.

Fire Engine No 1 - Hideaway Park Fire Department

"What Hideaway Park needs is a fire engine!  No way can we fight fires without more water; all we can do is watch some building burn!"  The half dozen volunteer firefighters were seated around the table in Hildebrand's little grocery store on Highway 40. "I agree," said Ray.  "We've talked long enough!  Who's got the want ads?"

Claude pulled out the latest Denver Post want ads.   "I don't see any fire engines.  I looked up fire fighting equipment too.  Nothing there.  But here's a 1940 Chevy truck for $400.00.  That's just eight years old; maybe it would do."

"We could mount a tank and a pump on the back," said Dwight.  "Do we have enough money to pay for it?" Claude pulled out their account book.  " We've $550.00.  That would pay for the truck and we volunteers could use the rest to put up a shed.  We can always have more Bingo nights.

"Dwight, you're the Fire Chief.  Why don't you and Ray go down and look at it.  We'll give you a blank check so you can bring it home if it looks good." The men agreed.  At last they were getting started.

The following week Dwight and Ray drove to Denver to the car lot and took a look.  The truck wasn't much, but the engine worked and the tires weren't too bad.  Ray commented, "I know a fellow who has a galvanized tank.  We can buy some 2" hose and a pump from American LaFrance.

"Okay," said Dwight.  "Let's take it."   He brought out the check Claude had sent along and signed it.  The used truck salesman looked at it and looked at Dwight.    "How old are you, Mr. Miller?"

"I'm 20 years old," he answered.  "What's the problem?  I'm Fire Chief."

"Hmph, you look more like sixteen!  We're not supposed to take checks from anybody younger than 21.  Let me go talk to the bookkeeper."   It took a long time and Dwight and Ray were getting nervous.  At last the salesman returned.  They'd accept the check.

And so Hideaway Park got its very first fire truck.  The men in town finally got the tank and pump put together and started in on a wooden building, along the main road off Highway 40 where Cooper Creek is now.  Winter came early that year, and the fellows didn't have time to get the roof completed.  The rafters and sheeting were up, but the 90# roofing material had to wait; so snow drifted in with every storm, and ice built up, to melt and leak later onto the truck.  But the men knew they could finish up the following year.   Periodically they got together to try out the pump and drive up and down through town, with their new siren wailing.  Everything seemed to work.

A few years passed.  When fires occurred, however, the buildings still usually burned to the ground. One winter in 1952, Dwight was wakened before midnight.  "The Spot is burning.  Let's go!  Let's go!"  Ray's voice broke with excitement.  Dwight jumped from bed and threw on his clothes.  He could see the flames down on the highway leaping above the trees.

Men were gathering at the firehouse. Dwight ran through the door and clambered up on the fire truck.   He tried to start the engine.  R-r-r-r --.  Nothing happened.  R-r-r-r.   "The battery is dead," he cried. 

Ray and Wally were struggling to get the overhead door open and the miserable thing was frozen shut!  They took a hammer to the base, but the frost wasn't about to give way and let door move.  Finally Dwight cried, "Let's slip a cable under the door and hook it to the truck.  We can pull the truck out and on down to Vasquez, to fill the tank." 

The cable was soon in place and Claude jumped into his truck and started pulling.  With the fire truck in gear, it moved forward, hit the double garage door, and continued on.  With a groan and a jerk, the engine and siren  finally started.  Dwight guided the rig onto the road with the door riding on top of it, blinding him.  At last, the door fell to the ground.

At the creek, the fellows pulled the hose down to the water and chopped a hole in the ice.  Another started to hook the hose onto the pump.  "The hose has shrunk!  It won't fit!"

 "What?  It did the last time we practiced!"  The volunteers looked at each other and threw up their hands in disgust. The Spot to Stop was burning fiercely by this time, but Ray said, "Let me string my garden hose across the highway.  I think it's long enough, and maybe it will do some good."  This is what he did, but it was too late.  That building was a goner. 

The townspeople stood around until there was nothing left but ashes; then they went home to bed.  The firemen met the next morning to decide what to do about the truck.  They eventually chose just to leave it there all winter.  It sure wasn't going to do anybody any good.  The next winter, that fire truck had a new hose!

Some years later, Dwight and Jean Miller gave land for a volunteer fire building, which was made of metal and which had a heater.  And over the years, better trucks were purchased and the men received some proper training.  The early volunteers had a perfect record ? they never saved a building.

Some of the volunteers in 1947-48; there may be others.  
Dwight Miller
Ray Hildebrand
Claude Brock
Bill Polk
Jim Quinn
Wally Tunstead
Easy Butler
Leroy Hauptman
Dick Mulligan, Jr.

The Norton Family

From his earliest memories, Mike Norton recalls playing with model ships and submarines with his older brother. His older brother had a ship, and he had the sub. The small pond on the Circle H ranch where he spent his early life before Lake Granby filled up gave little boys' imaginations an ocean. Marbles gave them depth charges. "But I could never find a way to shoot marbles from the sub," Norton laughingly remembers. As the water literally rose above his home, it shaped his life.

The history of Lake Granby and the Norton Marina goes as deep as the water, literally. Grand County's pioneer ranching history lurks at the lake's bottom, sharing its place with rainbow trout amid the vast water supply for eastern Colorado and beyond. Before the lake filled up as part of the Colorado Big Thompson project, ranches like the Lehmans, Knights and Harveys had been stage stops, cattle and dude ranches and even an airstrip used by Charles Lindbergh.

Mike's dad Frank came to Grand County to ranch. "All I ever really wanted to do  first was to be a rancher here," Frank Norton told the Sky-Hi News back in 1997. At fifteen or sixteen years old, Frank Norton in a Model T Roadster traveled from Okmulgee, Oklahoma to Grand County, where he "fell in love" with the ranch that his mother and step-father started around 1930. The Circle H, started by his step-father Jim Harvey in the valley that is now Lake Granby, became his summer home.

By all accounts, Frank Norton loved ranching. The Circle H "was a working ranch and a dude ranch." Harvey's ranch provided a spectacular backdrop highlighted by the Indian Peaks, reaching 13,000 ft high along the Continental Divide. The Circle H offered a caricature map for tourists looking for a real western experience. It led them over Berthoud Pass along hwy 40 to hwy 34 and then right at the Circle H sign to the Ranch. Leaving on horses from the Circle H, Frank Norton and Jim Harvey took them into a vast and remarkable country that, for the most part, can only be reached on foot today.

In those days, the area now protected as the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area faced less threats from overuse. Ranchers hunted the region to supplement the sometimes skinny winter rations. "Jim Harvey shot two elk from his saddle," Mike Norton proudly recalls of his grandfather as we look at a romantic image of Harvey on horseback. Nowadays, quotas limit use through the peak season. The National Park and Forest Service restrict horse traffic and campfires as well. Early Harvey and Norton history highlight a different time and place, when the remote reaches of Indian Peaks could still be reached by trusting a cowboy with a Winchester rifle to get you there and back safely.

For Mike Norton, the water that drowned out his family's ranching history also floated Norton Marina. Going from ranching to the marina business may seem an odd transition, but Mike's family history shows how flexible they were! Frank Norton spent his early youth traveling with his father's tent show, Norton's comedians. "Dad had such funny stories about that," Mike says. When the traveling troupe era ended (talkies and the Great Depression meant "they didn't eat too well sometimes"), Frank Norton moved to Oklahoma with his father before finally joining his mother and Jim Harvey in Grand County.  

Regardless of his occupation, Frank Norton was a showman. Remarkable old photos save the rich history of pack trips into the Indian Peaks area, camp sites on the shores Lake Monarch and rich harvests of rainbow trout. But Frank Norton and his horse Oak rearing high like the lone ranger really show Frank Norton's flare and charisma.

In many ways, Norton Marina continued the Circle H's heritage. Frank's marina included the Gangplank, a restaurant and dancehall that looked like a boat, with porthole windows and originally a rainbow trout aquarium for the bar. His admiral's hat, which Mike still has today, replaced his cowboy hat and a 25 foot Chris Craft named the Bonnie B replaced old Oak as his ride. More or less, this is the world in which Mike Norton grew up.

Growing up Frank's son meant work too. "I was 8 or 10 years old" when we started "Norton's Ark," Mike smiles, referring to the Gangplank restaurant. It was the early fifties in Grand County. "What backhoe?"

No bailouts either! "Those first few years, I nearly starved to death," Frank Norton once told a reporter. "But," he added, "every year the business kept growing and before I knew it we had a good marina going." Before it was over, Norton Marina fulfilled Frank's dream of a family business, only in "boating recreation" instead of ranching!

"It wasn't all roses," Mike agrees. As a boy, Frank Norton went to military school. "They disciplined him and he used the same technique on his kids." Frank expected his kids to help and to obey his commands, without question. Using Tide and a G.I. scrub brush, Mike Norton recalls scrubbing lower units. They painted wooden boats in the wintertime in the shop. The kids came in from school, changed clothes and started working. "Dad and mom had a lot of kids cause they needed a crew!"

Maybe his most memorable job was cleaning out the septic tanks for the cabins that his dad built to help offset the lack of income at a Rocky Mountain marina during winter. After digging up the lids, "dad would put a ladder into the septic tanks." Then, Mike crawled in and shoveled out the waste while his dad hoisted the buckets out. "I was so glad when Ernie Seipps started his septic clean out business," Mike says as we motor along beside Grand Elk Marina's covered docks on a pontoon boat.

The hard work and experience at the marina paid off when Mike joined the military. Like so many of his generation, Mike received his notice to join ground forces in Vietnam. Luckily, about that time, Navy recruiters were in Granby. They showed a strong interest in a National Honors Society student who lived a life on water! The pieces of the puzzle fit, and "that got me in the Navy," says Mike with real appreciation.

In 1973, the family tradition passed on to Mike and his brother Frank when they bought the marina business from their dad. A lifetime of experience came with them. But it took more than dock maintenance, boat service and customer service to run Norton Marina. And, as the brothers took over, the old Admiral Frank Norton stayed in the house he had built next door to the gangplank, insuring that his strong personality was never far away.

Lots of obstacles exist for a marina on public lands. As Mike took over sole ownership from his brother, he also fought to bring the marina under the National Forest Service instead of the National Park Service, which effectively removed the "power of condemnation." "We had to fight for our livelihood," Mike explained when he sold the Marina in January of 1997.

Mother Nature challenged the marina too. Ice might remain on the water for half of May. June snowstorms blow in monster clouds, as awe-inspiring as the calm sunsets. Freezing rain rips into all but the best prepared boaters nearly any time of year, and hailstorms can hit in a heartbeat. "We're like farmers in that way," Mike recalled. "Drought, winters, high water, low water, you can't really help, we understand that."

On the other hand, the glassy waters of Lake Granby reflect the awe-inspiring Indian Peaks along the Continental Divide on calm, sunny days. Tourists and locals try their luck catching the Mackinaw that makes it attractive to sportsmen and women. Intrepid wake boarders mix with sweet sailboats against a beautiful background of rugged peaks that reach high above tree line. On those days, it's hard to think of a more spectacular place.

Through it all, Mike Norton clearly enjoyed his life at Norton Marina. "I liked being out in the elements with the boating public."  He also counts the independence of self-employment and the uniqueness of the marina as blessings in his "good life."

Grand Elk runs the marina today (2009). Its operation rents out slips and moorings, daily pontoon boats and other related services. It's as beautiful as ever to peer across the lake at sunrise in August, and it's as cold and forbidding as ever when the winter winds whip across the thick ice an snow of the lake in January. Few wooden hulls appear during summer season as in the old days, but beautiful boats, both motor and sail, still surround the Marina.

Yes, its original character remains, not far from the surface. The Gangplank changed its name to Mackinaws, where customers in the main room still look out portholes across the lake to the rugged outline of Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, although there is no longer as much space on the dance floor. Those familiar with Indian Peaks recognize old Abe Lincoln lying in his grave along the Continental divide, where Mike's early ranching family led pack trips and today can still be reached, albeit under more controlled circumstances. Today's anchored concrete docks and gas dock continue the process that started with Frank Norton using finger docks that Mike staked in the ground and an old chicken coup from the Circle H to fuel boats.

And in all of Grand Elk Marina's features and history, Frank Norton and his family exist. In the house that they built on site where all of his children were photographed as they grew up and as they graduated from Middle Park High School. In the restaurant where Mike remembers finding the nerve to ask pretty young gals to dance. And, in the numerous family photos that show a smiling, handsome Frank Norton and his attractive family surrounded by high mountains, wooden Chris Craft and a sense of high expectations.

Mike remembers his dad as the "greatest storyteller I've ever known," which he used to his advantage in all occupations. In 2001, I met Frank Norton, only once before he died the next year. He told us about the time Jim Harvey knocked the federal agent who came to tell take their land away to the floor, placed a foot on his chest and said, "If you get up, I'll knock you down again." We could see it happening as he told the story more than 50 years later.

But the story continues beyond Frank Norton. From traveling tents shows to dude ranches to a forty-plus year family run marina, the Nortons made one of Grand County's most enduring "institutions." Entertaining, industrious, and life-loving, Mike simply says, "It's been a really good life." And that's a family tradition.

Topic: Towns

Monarch & KaRose

Once upon a time on the land that lies beneath Lake Granby and Shadow Mountain Lake there were ranches, pastures and an almost forgotten town, Monarch.  It is a story that goes back 100 years to the Summer of 1905, and the arrival of train service in Middle Park and promoters who were "honest men, but too visionary and lacking in experience", according to Frank H. Wolcott, a brother of one of the founders.

The Monarch Consolidated Gold and Copper Mining and Smelting Company owned the King and Queen copper mines on Arapahoe Range above the South Fork of the Colorado River.  They felt their assays indicated ore worthy of a mill and arranged to haul in the heavy machinery and proceeded to build a town with cottages, a small hotel, stores, a bowling alley, theater and dance hall.  By 1907 Monarch had a school and post office.  However, records indicate only about $150 worth of copper per year was ever produced.    

Soon the promoters realized a sawmill was needed to provide both timber and cash to support the mine operation. A dam was built creating Monarch Lake at the junction of Arapahoe Creek and the South Fork of the Colorado, and a canal was built to float logs cut near Strawberry Lake to Monarch Lake.  A stern wheel steamer bunted rafts of logs into flumes and canals towards the sawmill downstream in Monarch.

In the spring of 1906, Monarch management obtained a charter to build the Rocky Mountain Railway, a standard gauge, for lumber and passengers, from the Moffat tracks in Granby to Grand Lake, with a spur over an unspecified pass to Walden, in North Park.  The track was laid following the river from Granby to the sawmill, by Japanese and eastern European laborers.  Ranchers along the route, excepting Fred and Frank Selak, quietly granted rights-of way. The only rolling stock owned by the railroad was a small, ancient locomotive and a caboose.  The night before Thanksgiving 1906 the first train rolled into Monarch, and the rails never extended any farther.  There was daily service, and local ranchers could flag a ride or have their packages dropped off.  There were no cattle guards, so the fireman would step off the locomotive, open a ranch gate, and close the gate and hop back on after the train passed through. 

During the winter of 1905-06 a box factory was started. It operated briefly before it was destroyed by fire in the fall of 1908.  The fire forced the mill and railroad into receivership.  Visitors, particularly former stockholders, helped themselves to equipment and entire buildings, but Monarch's core was preserved and developed by Harry L. Dierks of Kansas City into KaRose.  This summer resort was named in honor of Dierks' daughter Katharine Rose.  Other Monarch buildings went to neighboring dude ranches and the bowling alley went to Granby.  

To hold the railroad right-of-way, Ernest Behr restored the locomotive in 1912 to carry parties of fishermen along the river from one pool to another.  Ed McDonald, a dude rancher, ran a Cadillac touring car on flanged wheels on the rails to carry mail, supplies, and passengers to the valley ranches.  Just before World War I the engine and rails were sold for scrap. 

Frank H. Wolcott wrote, "In September 1954 my wife and I drove over the site to discover any signs of Monarch or the railroad...It gave us a queer feeling to realize that substantial things like railroads and buildings that we helped build have vanished.  Was it all a dream?"

Stories and Poems of Past Memories