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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.

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Topic: Regions

Three Lakes

The Three Lakes area encompasses the north-east corner of Grand County and is so named because of the three connected lakes of Grand Lake, Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Granby Reservoir. 

The two reservoirs were formed as a part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, which takes water from Grand Lake on the western side of the Continental Divide to the Big Thompson River on the east.  Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Granby Reservoir. connected by a   unique pumping plant, assure that the Grand Lake water level remains consistent. Further reservoirs were added in the Three Lakes area, including the Willow Creek and Windy Gap Reservoirs.

Topic:

Biographies

From Indians and explorers to doctors and developers, click on the drop-down menus to learn about some of the remarkable people who helped shape Grand County.

The Daily Life of Mountain Men

Washington Irving wrote "There is, perhaps, no class of men on the face of the Earth who lead a life of more continued exertion, peril and excitement, and who are more enamored of their occupations, than the free trappers of the West".

The diet of the mountain men at times consisted of nothing more than meat. When possible. wild plants and berries supplemented needed vitamins.  Pemmican, a meat pounded with fruits and dried in flakes, was convenient to carry and lasted a long time. Mountain men made boudins, sausage made from the intestines of newly killed animals.  These sausages were packed full of undigested grasses which probably protected the mountain men from the illness of scurvy.  The mountain men also chewed on leaves and wild grasses to supplement their vitamin needs.  Potatoes soaked in vinegar supplied further balance to the diet.  Jams and orange marmalade were highly valued whenever they could be obtained. Bread consisted almost entirely of hardtack, a touch cracker usually unsalted, which would not spoil and sturdy enough not to crumble.

Beaver tail soup was considered a delicacy by most mountain men.  Another treat was called "French dumplings", made by mincing buffalo hump with marrow, rolling it into balls, and covering with flour dough and boiled.  Coffee was popular, but limited for transport.  Tea from China came in solid blocks which could be shaved off as needed. 

Normally, mountain men could not carry whiskey on the move but at rendezvous or during visits to forts, they were known as fabulous drinkers.  The most common intoxicant in those days was "Taos Lightening", a strong whiskey manufactured by Simeon Truly of Taos New Mexico.  Various writers have portrayed these men as brutes who lived from one drunken episode to the next, but the facts, and common sense contradict that image.  They could not achieve much in either trapping or trading if they did not stay focused on their outdoor skills and survival. 

Smoking pipes was a luxury, mostly at nights as only a limited amount of tobacco could be obtained.  The mountain men would stretch their tobacco supplies by mixing it with kinnick-kinnick and other plants.

While many traders and trappers dressed in buckskin shirts and trousers, wool garments were even more common and needed to be shrunk to fit.  Probably every mountain man carried what was called a "possibilities bag" that contained personal items such as a pipe, tobacco, soap, needles, and small keepsakes such as mouth-harps.

Before the Sharps "Big 50" rifle was invented, it was necessary to carry a waterproof powder horn and a bag of rifle balls weighing fifty to a pound.  A good knife was essential.  The most sought after of these was the Bowie Knife, invented by Rezin Bowie, but made famous by his brother Jim, who was adept at its use.  Jim was one of the heros killed at the Battle of the Alamo in Texas.

Some mountain men simply loved the lifestyle and had no reason to return to their original homes.  Some had wives back in St. Louis and made an annual trek there every year.  Others had Indian wives or female companions.  Some men claimed to have a wife in every tribe they visited.  Divorce within many tribes was often simple, a matter of putting one's belongings outside the lodge.

As journeys by foot or horse were lonely, mountain men were known to play their mouth harps or sing songs along the trail.  The use of profanity was common, except in the presence of white ladies.  One writer claimed the Indians called white men "Godams" because that swear word was used so frequently by the mountain men, ranch hands and mule skinners.     

Topic: Water

Onahu Creek

Onahu Creek was called Fish Creek and is a tributary of the North Fork of the Colorado River. The name refers to one of the Indian race horses who came up to a campfire to warm himself, and the name means “warms himself“.  The horse ultimately died on Fish Creek and gave his name to the waterway.

Barger Gulch - Archaelogical site

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Topic: Agriculture

Agriculture of Grand County

The first settlers in Granby realized the sunny days and cool nights were perfect for growing one crop in particular, lettuce. Lettuce farming boomed in the 1920's and a new industry was born. Granby had become an important railway center as tracks were laid over the Divide at Rollins Pass,giving the Moffat Railroad access to Salt Lake City.

Granby produced some of the best-known lettuce in America. There are even tales that New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel bragged of their “Granby Lettuce” on the menu. Then a blight settled into the soil, probably brought in by the wooden crates used for shipping, and the lettuce business was ruined. Since then, ranching has replaced agriculture as Granby's major industry.

Topic: Dude Ranches

Devil's Thumb Ranch

According to local lore, Native Americans named Devil's Thumb, a rocky outcropping that towers high above the Ranch. As legend goes, after the warring Ute and Arapahoe tribes settled their differences in the Ranch Creek Valley, they buried the devil, but left his thumb exposed to remind them of the evils of war.

Before the Trans-Continental Railroad opened up the area in 1904, a stagecoach route from Idlewild (now
Winter Park) joined the Rollins Pass route. A state station was situated east of what is now our Ranch. The road extended transversely over the Ranch where it followed the course of the existing County Road 83. The land was rich agriculturally, and was used for cattle grazing in the early 1900s.

After the railroad was introduced, settlers began moving west in search of wealth and opportunity. Many ended their journeys in the
Rocky Mountains. During this time, there were more people living in the Fraser Valley than there are today. One favorite hangout of the railroad workers was a dance hall on Black Ranch, located immediately north of Devil's Thumb Ranch.

In the 1930s, Margaret Radcliff built the original Ranch homestead and operated it as a dairy. However, it was brothers Dan, Louis, and George Yager who started Devil's Thumb Ranch as a vacation property in 1946. The Yagers incorporated the Radcliff homestead in to the Ranch facilities and the original building exists today as the Ranch House Saloon.

The Yagers operated Devil's Thumb Ranch as both a working ranch and dude ranch until 1972. They introduced cross-country skiing in the winter of 1975-1976. Dick Taylor, a 1964 Olympic cross-country team member, designed 35 kilometers of the area's Nordic trails.

The Ranch was well known as a Nordic destination, but one without many amenities or niceties. The current owners purchased it in 2001, saving it from a group of developers who planned to fill the valley with residences and a golf course. They immediately began making improvements to the facilities, all the while impacting the land as little as possible.

Rundell & French - Two families of the Sheephorn

October 2009

Here we have a story of two families, who became intertwined in a far away place where there weren't too many people. In fact, there was only a handful.  Three young fellows, the Rundell boys, came from Wisconsin about 1880, to settle on the Sheephorn, an area in the very southwest corner of Grand County.

Al, the oldest brother, chose land on the Upper Sheephorn.  While he was at it, he established a much-needed ferry across the Grand River at today's Rancho Del Rio.  His brother Clarence homesteaded land on the same stream some two miles above the Midland Trail, known to us as the Trough Road. The only home he could afford for a couple of years was a dugout under the creek bank.  That tended to be damp and dingy, but Clarence hung in.  Finally he was able to build a cabin uphill from the stream. Newspapers used as insulation on his cabin walls show the year to be 1882.  Clarence was pleased with his house.  "Now I feel I've really put down roots and am here to stay!" he exclaimed.

Their young brother, Ernest, was frail, for he had suffered all his life from lung trouble.   Still, he loved working with Clarence.  One summer, they were digging a water ditch near Azure, on the Grand, above Radium; Ernest caught pneumonia and died. The poor boy was only about sixteen. Clarence never got over his brother's death and he gave land for a cemetery, where he buried Ernest, the first person there.

The second family were the Rundell boys' neighbors, Charlie French and his older brother, Harry, Jr. who had "hit town" from Iowa just about the same time.  Harry homesteaded upstream from Clarence and anticipated ranching.  By and by, though, Harry remarked to Charlie, "I've discovered I'm not much of a hand at ranching and besides, my land isn't very fertile.  I think I'll sell it and become a U.S. Forest Ranger instead.  If they'll have me." He easily passed the test and soon transferred to the little community of Azure.

Now, Charlie French was a wonderful musician, a whiz at playing the fiddle.  He missed making music with their sister Phoebe.  "You know, Harry," he said one day.  "I'd really like Phoebe to come out and see this country. I'm sure she'd like it.  And besides, we could play together again."

He urged her several times to come visit.  At last she agreed, traveling by train to Leadville, then to Wolcott.  About then, Charlie started to worry.   "Phoebe's only 18," he thought, "and she's such a lady. Is it proper to expect her to ride sidesaddle all the way in from Wolcott?"  He stopped by to see Clarence Rundell.  "Clarence, do you suppose you could take your buggy to Wolcott and pick up our Phoebe?"  He explained the circumstances. "Why, I'd be delighted," answered his friend.

It was a happy development.  At the station Clarence saw a lovely young woman, tall and slender, obviously well-educated.  He soon found she had a beautiful soprano voice and was an accomplished musician who could play both piano and organ.  He took to Phoebe right away, and she, to him.  It wasn't long before the two decided to marry.

Now the French boys' parents, Harry, Sr. and Mary, sold their Iowa farm about now and homesteaded at Azure, to be near their boys, even though Charlie left the country soon after.  Here the old folks remained for many years.  They also had some land up the Little Sheephorn, which they gave Phoebe as a dowry, when Clarence and Phoebe decided to wed.  Shortly after, the happy young couple married and made the little cabin their home.

Their three children were born here, Ernest, named after the brother who died, Marie, and Helen.  Clarence worked very hard, ranching in the summer and cutting logs in the winter.  The young folks were thrifty.  In 1908, Clarence sold his homestead to a Swiss newcomer and bought land above his original site. By 1912, Clarence and Phoebe built a fine three-story house, complete with beautiful hardwood floors.  It was wonderful place to raise the children.  "This will surely be our home forever!"

Harry French, Sr., died in 1924.   "Mother," invited Phoebe, "move in with us, since you're alone now." Mary did this, but then she returned to Iowa to stay with her sister, until her death.  The French name continues on, however, for there are two French Creeks in the Sheephorn area.

Finally, the Rundells decided to buy a home in north Denver and to invest in an apartment house.  All went well until 1928, when everything fell apart at the beginning of the Depression.   Clarence lost nearly everything. "Let's go back to the ranch, Phoebe," he said.  "I still have my 300-400 head of cattle; I know ranching and love it.  Let's go."  Thus they left city life and returned to their ranching roots.

Topic: Water

Water

Grand County is home to the headwaters of the famed Colorado River — the river that brings water to five other arid Western states. Water is the lifeblood of semi-arid Colorado and Grand County is one of the most water-rich areas of Colorado, and yet faces a shortage due to historical water agreements, written long before population pressures and the environmental awareness of the current age.

On average, the water diversion projects in the county move a whopping 305,000 acre-feet per year from the Fraser, Colorado and Williams Fork rivers — all headwaters of the Colorado's main stem. 60 percent of the water in Grand County is diverted elsewhere and there are plans underway, mostly from Front Range communities, to divert as much as 80 percent of the county's headwaters by the year 2010.

Two of the main water utilities, Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District face a quandary: how to take the water from Grand County without further damaging the delicate environment and the region's economy, which is fueled by tourists who expect to play in the very water the Front Range wants to take.

Topic: Towns

Grand Lake

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

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

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