Winter Park Ski Shop

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Statehood
Statehood

Colorado was the 38th state admitted to the Union, and is known as the “Centennial State” because of its entrance into the union in 1876, one hundred years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The Colorado River was named earlier, and is Spanish for “red“, the color of the water that the Spanish explorers observed.

People have been living in Colorado at least 9,000 years. Spanish explorers were here in 1540, but the discovery of gold caused a major population explosion in 1859.

The state consists of 3 topographic zones: plains, mountains, and plateaus. The Continental Divide bisects the state, north to south and there are 54 peaks above 14,000 feet.

Denver is the State Capitol at 5,280 feet, one mile above sea level. Colorado is noted for its waterways and is the only state in the U.S. from which all water courses flow out of the state. Rivers that have their origins in Colorado include the North Platte, South Platte, Arkansas, Rio Grande, and the Colorado with its headwaters in Grand County.

Articles to Browse

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.

Topic:

Irving Hale's Adventures in Grand County

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

At the age of 17, Irving Hale was the first graduate of the Denver Hugh School in 1878. That summer, he and his younger brother decided to go to Grand Lake to catch trout with the plan to sell the fish in Central City and make a tidy profit.

 

On July 5th, they camped atop of Berthoud Pass, building a "roaring fire to keep mosquitoes away".  The next day, they reached Cozens Ranch (stage stop in what is now Winter Park) but their jackass, carrying much of their supplies, had wandered off.  They feared that he had returned to Georgetown, where they had purchased him earlier in the week, but they found him grazing in a nearby pasture.

 

They almost drowned attempting to cross the Fraser River but finally found their way to Grand Lake on July 9th.  There, they camped and fished and collected enough trout for their return trip to Central City.  On the way back, the fish started to smell so they found some ice and started over the Continental Divide.  They realized they wouldn't make much money so were happy to sell their rotting trout for 25 cents per 10 pounds.  On July 25th they shot a deer and had a terrible time trying to skin it and cut up the meat.  Discouraged, they finally returned home to Central City.

 

Irving Hale was given an appointment to West Point and during his career he rose to the rank of Brigadier General. He was given command of troops in combat in the Philippines following the Spanish-American War. As Colorado's first combat general, he retired to Denver in 1906, and published his experiences as a youth in  "A Tramp Through Middle Park".

 

When the World War II cold weather camp was established near Leadville Colorado, it was named after Irving Hale. Many of the ski and mountaineering troops, the Tenth Mountain Division, became the founders of many of the modern ski areas of Colorado.  

 

Sources:

Rocky Mountain News, April 15, 1888

Sons of Colorado, Vol. I, 3&, 1906

Fay, Abbott; A History of Skiing in Colorado; Ouray, CO; 2002

 

Topic: Water

A Dream Smashed in Gore Canyon

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

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

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

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

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

Topic: Libraries

Grand Lake Library

The Grand Lake Library was originally sponsored by the Women's Club of Grand Lake.  In January of 1933, the club voted to sponsor a town library to collect sufficient number of books may be obtained to open the in October.  A newspaper article from December 13, 1933 stated:

"The Grand Lake Woman's Club is glad to announce that its free public library is now open to the public at the home of Mrs. Goldie Hawkins. Books may be exchanged every Thursday from 10 am to 5 pm. There are over 300 volumes of fiction and non-fiction for both adults and children. The Club is grateful to many of our citizens as well as to summer residents who have donated these books. It is by means of their generosity that our library is made possible at this time. Lumber for the shelves was donated by Henry Schnoor, and Preston Hawkins built the shelves without charge." Mary L. Cairns, Chairman Library Board.

The Juniper Women's Club, a junior club of the Grand Lake Women's Club first opened a library in January 1945. It started in a small room in the Community house used for town council meetings. The library was allowed to use the room rent free; however, the library was soon bursting out at the seams and unable to take book donations due to lack of space. When the town council and the firemen decided to build an addition on the firehouse in the winter of 1947, the Juniper Club sought and received permission to have an upstairs room of 16 ft. by 18 ft. for the library. There was a condition; the room was to be finished by the club. A contract was let for the complete finishing of the room with built in shelves on the east and west walls and a sub floor. A wiring contract was also let. To earn the money for the payment the club had bingo, potluck suppers, card parties and food in a basket.

Since January of 1945 836 books were added to the 900 books of the former library. In February of 1948 the books were all moved to the new library, by hand and through the snow, with the assistance of the club members' husbands. In the summer of 1948 these books were all classified according to the Dewey Decimal System by the club members. From the May 1948-May 1949 Juniper Club President's report:

  • Our main project has been and will be our public library. We have approximately 2000 books which are mostly fiction. The first year fifty new books were purchased for $134. There were approximately 200 library cards purchased by our patrons.
  • In May a benefit card party was held and $34 was cleared for the library. Two baskets of food were sent from member to member and $26.25 was raised this way.
  • In July a silver teas was given at the library room. A lovely program of music, pictures of Hawaii, etc. was given. $50.75 was cleared from this tea for the library.
  • During August the club women sold chances on a service for six, sterling silverware set. 330 chances were sold earning $229.73 for the running of the library.
  • New Year's Eve, a dance was given and $29.83 was cleared for the library project.
  • In addition to the 50 books purchased, an oil stove was purchased, curtains were made and the floors were refinished for the library by club members.

 From newspaper articles of 1949:
"The library boasts 1650 volumes, most of them good recent books, and it is open two afternoons a week in winter but three in summer with Mrs. Agnes Gingery as librarian. This year's project for the Juniper Club under the direction of Mrs. Grace Eslick, president, will be the landscaping of the area within the circle drive around the fire house in the Community House block. Last Sunday the first of a series of square dances was held at the Southway Lodge, with a good crowd attending. These dances are put on by the Juniper club and will be for the benefit of the Grand Lake library. They will be held every Sunday night and refreshments are served free. If you do not know how to square dance and would like to learn, we will be glad to teach you. The square dances at Southway's on Sunday evenings are proving very popular as well as lucrative for the library fund."

During the Christmas holidays the new floor was laid and new shelves were built. Materials and labor cost $150 of the club's square dance money. The club spent $650 on the library room. 116 books were added, 75 by donation and 41 were purchased.

The Juniper Club then started a beautification program in the area of the town square and around the fire house and library.

The Juniper Library at Grand Lake became a branch of the Grand County Library System in 1988. In May of 1995 the Juniper Library moved from the Fire Station a location just off the town square.

With increased library use and development of computer information systems the need for a larger space was recognized and a new library was built adjacent to the Town Hall and dedicated in June of 2006.

Origins of the Ute People

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

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

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

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.

Rowley & Just Homesteads

Karl and Adella Just homesteaded on Pole Creek in the Fraser River Valley in 1896.  Della was the daughter of Henry Lehman, who had, himself, homesteaded on the upper Grand River about 1880.  Karl and Della worked hard, adding to their property until by the late twenties, they had the largest holding in the valley. 

This lovely ranch was where Snow Mountain Ranch is now, and their log home still stands there even today.  Their several children homesteaded in their own rights.  Della and her son Alfred had what is known as the Rowley homestead, (now part of the Y-Camp) as well as what currently is the Winter Park Highlands.  Son Rudy and his wife Clarabelle ranched part of the original Just property on Pole Creek where they watched over his mother.  Another daughter married one of the Daxton boys and their spread was on Crooked Creek.

Until the 1950's, just beyond Tabernash on the north side of the highway at the foot of Winter Park Highlands stood one of the original log homes of this family. In fact, this house appeared in a 1952 movie called "On Dangerous Ground", starring Ida Lupino, Robert Ryan, and Ward Bond.  It was torn down some years later and a modern house built there.

Life was hard for ranching pioneers, perhaps hardest of all for the women, for they worked in the fields and of course, did all the work of the house as well as much of the garden work.  Little Della raked hay during the season, hoed gardens, hauled water, fished, sewed, and cooked.  She was tough.  The bright spots were when rare visitors stopped by, or as the population increased, dances were held in one town or another.

It was a given that the Just home, like those of most pioneers, had no indoor plumbing.  Nobody expected it and nobody complained.  However, by 1957, Della Just was in her nineties.  Karl was long gone.  Her children decided that she should have indoor plumbing after all these years, and they heard that young Dwight Miller had a brand new backhoe.   When they called, Dwight was pleased at the thought of doing such a useful job.

He brought his machine out to the ranch and prepared to get to work.  He discovered, however, that there was disagreement on this bright idea.  Della thought the notion was silly.  "I've lived all these years with an outhouse and I don't see any reason at all to change!"  

Back in those days, temperatures were very much colder than those currently expected.  Forty and fifty degrees below zero were not unusual at all.  But that old lady didn't mind this.  (No doubt, there were chamber pots available for the worst weather.)

Della's children, themselves no longer young, won out, and Dwight dug the trenches and the septic tank hole and laid the pipes.  We never heard whether Della got used to such luxury or not, but we know that Rudy and Clarabelle agreed that moving into the modern world was a good idea!

 

 

 

Topic: Biographies
Winter Park Ski Shop, Joyce and George Engel

George & Joyce Engle

Winter Park Ski Shop, Joyce and George Engel

Here is the story of how Joyce and George Engel became legends in Winter Park and Fraser. In 1945, Winter Park Resort hired George Engel as their very first paid ski patroller.  Little could George have known that this job would lead him to his wife, Joyce Hanna, disembarking from a ski train, and together they would call Winter Park and the Fraser Valley their home for life. Along with Joyce and their daughters, the Engel Family would have a lasting influence not only on Winter Park Resort but on the Fraser Valley community as well.

In the year following his hiring as Winter Park’s ski patroller, George Engel took on different responsibilities at the ski area, such as plowing the parking lot and collecting rental fees in the bunkhouse.  Gordy Wren and Frank Bulkley formed Colorado Outings in 1946 and started the ski school at Winter Park.  As director of the ski school, Gordy Wren hired George Engel as a ski instructor. That same year George passed one of the first ski instructor certification exams ever held.  By 1949, the Professional Ski Instructors of America was formed and Engel held pin # 12.

Gordy Wren was busy practicing for the 1948 Olympics and consequently sold his share in Colorado Outings.  This gave George Engel the opportunity to buy into the company and he became director and eventually sole owner of the ski school. George added the Winter Park Ski Shop onto the ski school.  

George met the love of his life, Joyce Hanna in 1951 as she disembarked from the Winter Park Ski Train.  Joyce, with two BA degrees from the University of Colorado, was ready to ski and work.  After dating for three weeks, George proposed to his future bride and business partner. The Winter Park Ski School under George’s leadership, and the Winter Park Ski Shop with Joyce at the helm, became fixtures of the ski area. George and Joyce’s two daughters grew up on the slopes.

Daughters Wendy and Janet tell wonderful stories from when the family lived in an apartment above the Winter Park Ski Shop.  After Winter Park Resort bought the ski school in 1982, they demolished the shop and apartment to make way for the West Portal Station.

Along with skiing, another Engel passion was horses which led to their acquiring 40 acres along County Road 5 where they built Casa de Engel.  From their ranch, the Engels helped to establish the Winter Park Horseman’s Association and the High Country Stampede Rodeo at John Work Arena in Fraser.    Naturally, Janet Engel became a rodeo star. The Engels were also involved with the Middle Park Fair and Rodeo for decades.

As community leaders, the Engels transformed Winter Park Resort and the Fraser Valley. They helped start the Fraser Valley Metropolitan Recreation District, the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce and the Winter Park Sanitation District.  Joyce Engel was a founder of the Grand County Concert Series bringing live classical music to this rural community.  In 1968, George Engel was instrumental in bringing the National Sports Center for the Disabled to Winter Park. The family’s wide-ranging passions enrich all our lives then, now and into the future.   

 

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. 

Topic: Biographies
, Gram Wood on horseback

Lillian Russell Smith Wood - "Gram" Wood

, Gram Wood on horseback

Lillian Russell Smith Wood was born in Dunlap, Kansas, in 1884, she was not a particularly healthy child.  Born just before her and just after her were sets of twins, 2 of the 4 sets born to her parents and the only 2 sets that survived into adulthood.  Lillian spent her adult years on the Williams Fork and then in Parshall. Known as “Gram” Wood to most everyone who knew her, she was grandmother to 39 who bear the names Wood, Noell, Stack, and Black.  And her history in Grand County beginning in 1905 made her one of our pioneers. 

In the fall of 1905, the local newspapers report that Herb Wood had lost a large portion of his right hand in an ore crusher accident.  Herb had come into Summit County originally with a mule team for “Uncle Joe” Coberly, another Williams Fork resident and apparently worked in or around mines and mining equipment while also hauling the timbers for mine use.  Herb needed some round the clock nursing, and in those days, for Gram to take proper care of him and still be in an acceptable position, they needed to be married. One source says the situation was so different that a Denver newspaper picked up the story with a headline of “Loses Three Fingers, Wins a Bride”, indicating that they married 3 days after they met.  Research has never turned up a trace of that story, and it’s unlikely in the mining camps in the area that they hadn’t met until he was injured.  Still, they were married by Judge Swisher, well known area businessman, in short order in the hotel room where Herb was recovering .  A short time later they made a brief wedding trip to Denver and then returned to Argentine.

Before fall set in that year, the newly married couple moved to the Little Muddy.  Herb had been sending money to a partner who was helping him to secure a homestead there not far from where Joe Coberly lived.  It was probably with anticipation of a great future on their own land that sent them into Middle Park to face their first winter as a couple without having had a chance to raise a garden or preserve any winter supplies.  They moved into one end of a two room cabin with a man named Ranger Charlie in the other.  And about that same time, they discovered that Herb’s partner had been drinking the money he’d sent over the years.  What devastation that must have caused!

On the other side of the valley just across the creek was the large  ranching operation known as the Hermosa Ranch, owned by Dr. T. F. DeWitt, a well-to-do doctor from back East.  With the dream of his homestead gone, Herb went to work for DeWitt, eventually becoming one of his foremen.  Gram probably helped out with cooking and cleaning, but within a few months, she went back to Kansas to await the birth of their first child. Over the next 21 years, she raised kids and gardens and developed her love of fishing, which helped feed a family that eventually totaled 13 kids, including a set of twins born 2 weeks before Christmas and delivered by Herb when a doctor couldn’t reach them in time. Pictures of the time show a large family of 9 boys and 4 girls with Gram, all 5’2” and maybe 100 pounds of her on one end, and Herb with a child or two on his lap at the other.  The kids recall Christmases being supplied mostly by Mrs. DeWitt and sometimes being late if the trains got snowed out of the area. All attended one room schools, Hermosa and Columbine, and stories of their lives together can make one wonder why any of them survived.

Life continued  pretty much routinely until 1928.  That summer, the youngest daughter, Marilyn, a premature baby and ailing child caught whooping cough.  She lingered and languished until early October, and then she passed away.  The close-knit family had suffered it’s first loss. Two weeks later, Herb came in from the hayfield complaining of not feeling well.  Gram followed him into the living room and sat down with him on the couch. Minutes later, he collapsed in her arms and died of a cerebral hemorrhage.  They buried him alongside Marilyn in the Hot Sulphur Springs Cemetery.

The boys continued the work for Dr. DeWitt for several years, and in 1932, they built a 2 bedroom house for Gram several miles from where DeWitt had relocated his ranch.  Her sons made sure she had what she needed as she finished raising the youngest ones who had been little more than toddlers when Herb died.

By the time I was old enough to remember much about Gram, she was already a “little old lady” who lived in a small, pink mobile home next to Uncle Kenneth in Parshall. Everyone knew that she was one of the best fishermen in the country, having caught as many as 1200 in a season when she was feeding her family by herself.  She enjoyed creek fishing the most, and even as she got older her ability to maneuver around the biggest holes and catch fish in any small body of water never faltered.   I never saw her get wet.

In the winter, she was totally unafraid getting a couple of her grandkids on a sled and making a run down the hill in Parshall that ended at the store and U.S. 40, which then went through the center of town.  Had her feet not worked so well as brakes, we could have ended up on the pavement.  But we never did.

She must have driven many teams of horses in her day, and I believe she was a good rider. She never drove a car, but unless she needed to go to the doctor in Kremmling, she didn’t need to leave town. Her friends included Doc Ceriani’s mother and fellow fishermen from Hot Sulphur, a couple from Poland with heavy accents.  Somehow, somewhere she had met Ralph Moody, author of the “Little Britches” series. And she, too, had a “fish” experience with warden Henry “Rooster” Wilson.

Only once did I get into trouble because of Gram.  She was fishing one day near where I was getting ready to ride, when she laid down her pole and walked over to me.  After watching me for a minute she said, “Can I ride?”  What do you say to your 80 year old grandmother but, “Of course!”  I saddled up the gentlest mare we had and helped her aboard.  She only made a couple of trips around the small pasture, but as she rode, walking only, I’m sure I saw a young woman next to her husband on horseback in front of one of the Hermosa’s big barns.  It’s one of the pictures you’ll find at the County Museum in Hot Sulphur.  When dad found out what I’d done, he turned deathly white.  “Don’t you know if she’d fallen or been thrown she could have been seriously injured or killed?”  No, I had to admit.  This was one rider’s request to another, with age no consideration .  And to her at that particular moment, had either occurred I believe she would have considered those few moments worth the risk.  When she was finished, she walked back to her fishing pole, satisfied that nowshe was done riding.

Gram introduced me to horehound candy, something I will also think about each time I taste it.  And because she didn’t like my first name, I didn’t even know what it was until I started school.  She taught me that barn cats do fish and that survival in a small living space was possible The one thing she didn’t teach me was anything about her growing up years or about my grandfather.  It seemed like we knew as very young kids that we didn’t ask about him.  I believe that hers was a love so strong that even to the point where her mind grew dim, the pain of losing him was too much to bear.  One regret we all have, however, is that we never asked to her to go with us up to Summit County to show us where she lived and to tell us stories of that life and time.  And unfortunately that’s been lost forever. Gram passed away in 1980, at the age of 97.  She is buried with Marilyn and Herb and their son, Melvin who died during World War II in a family plot in Hot Sulphur with other family and pioneers characters nearby.

She left a true legacy through her kids and grandkids who continue the nostalgic traditions of their beloved Gram.

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