Transportation

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

Browse Subtopics

Transportation Articles

Getting Around in North Park
Getting Around in North Park

United States Geologist F.V. Hayden visited North Park briefly in August, 1868 in company of a small party of Army officers from Fort Saunders.  The campsite he described on the Big Laramie River is where the Boswell Ranch was later established.  They crossed the river at that point and entered North Park after following the Cherokee Trail twenty-five miles.  The trail from Boswell angled across Beaver Creek and Bear Creek to Chimney Park and then turned southwest to the neck of the Park.  It became North Park's main connection to the outside world.

In 1879, the year of the great fires, naturalist George Grinnell hired a teamster with a stout team and a Studebaker wagon to take him to North Park from Laramie.  By then wagon trails were numerous in the Park, probably created by market hunters who, in turn, likely followed travois-trails made by Indians.

Stagecoach service between Laramie and North Park started in May, 1881 with tri-weekly trips by Concord coach to mining community of Teller City.  The scheduled time for the trip was fifteen hours without any stoppage except for meals and to change horses.

After the mining activity at Teller slowed down the stages ran from Laramie to Walden.  Travel time was about twelve hours with three drivers on the route and five changes of horses, coming and going.

The Laramie-Walden stage had the best record for continuous service of any in the west in 1907.  At that time the mail had been carried six days each week for more than six years without missing a trip, although weather and roads had sometimes delayed the arrival of the stage until 2 or 3 in the morning.

That is a remarkable record considering the weather conditions the stage traveled in.  The editor of the Walden newspaper once described the Laramie Plains as a place "where the wind blows 400 days out of the year--sometimes with a speed and force that turns over wagons and miles of barbed wire fence."  During the winter months the stage would typically start from Laramie with a coach with wheels, transfer to a coach with sled runners at a point above Boswell when the snow got deep, and then transfer back to a coach with wheels when the snow ran out in North Park.

North Park had a public transportation system a century ago.  From Walden local stages carried the mail to the various post offices scattered around the Park.  Passengers could ride on the mail stages, so a traveler could get off the train in Laramie or Granby, take the stage to Walden and the next day catch a ride with the local mail stage to any place in the Park mail was delivered.

During the winter months local travel was by team and sled, skis or snowshoes. Willow Creek Pass became an important travel route for North Park after the Moffat Railroad reached Hot Sulphur Springs in the fall of 1905.  Dave Gresham established a road ranch for travelers near the top of the Pass.  J.W. Welch, the Rand merchant, soon had two freight outfits running between Rand and Granby and tri-weekly stagecoach service between Walden and Granby started in the spring of 1908.  Passengers left Walden at 6 a.m., spent the night at the Nixon cabins on Willow Creek Pass, and arrived in Granby at 11 a.m. the next morning.

Wagon loads of oats from the Yampa Valley were freighted into the Park over Buffalo Pass.  Construction of a road over Rabbit Ears Pass was still several years away.  Cameron Pass was a major transportation route in the days when Teller City was booming.  By 1879 it was obvious that the Park would soon be settled and Fort Collins businessmen were urging that a road to North Park be built to secure the travel and trade of the region before a trade route developed through Laramie.  A toll road was completed over Cameron Pass by 1881.  There was a charge of $2 for each vehicle drawn by one horse, ox or mule passing through the toll gate at Rustic.  A single span was $3 and any additional horses $1 each.  Business was brisk for only a few years and the road was opened to free public travel in 1902, but by then the public was using the road over Ute Pass and the road over Cameron Pass soon fell into a state of disrepair.

While a few automobiles ventured into North Park each summer, there is no mention in the early newspapers of anyone in North Park owning one of the contraptions by the spring of 1909.  There was one steam tractor in the Park and bicycles were popular.

Moffat Road
Moffat Road

 

"I shall never forget it as long as I live. Nor do I ever expect to experience anything comparable to it again. Civilization had found its way across the mountains into Middle Park," reflected Mrs. Josephine Button in 1955 on her 91st birthday, as she recalled seeing smoke from the first Denver Northwestern and Pacific work-train on Rollins Pass, high above the Fraser Valley and Middle Park. Once those rails made it over the Continental Divide all the way to Hot Sulphur Springs, "changes came thick and fast." Many men, many dollars, many routes and many dreams tried to bring a railroad over the Continental Divide into Northwest Colorado, and the "Hill Route" over Rollins Pass that finally accomplished it a century ago has retained its allure ever since.

The Moffat Railroad built a cafeteria, telegraph station, living quarters for Moffat's "Hill Men" (as the railroad crews up there were known) and a fine hotel - all collectively called Corona Station. Soot-filled snow sheds protected over a mile of this windblown section of track. And where today silence is the most powerful sense, colorful locomotives pulled passenger and freight cars, filling the rare atmosphere with black smoke and mechanical clatter.

Decades of men's dreams lay behind the once massive snow shed that cut the bitter winds from the north and west, behind that fine hotel that offered some of the most spectacular scenery in America, behind the hopeful Town of Arrow nestled below tree-line ten or twelve miles west of Rollins Pass, and behind that first work-train that Josephine Button watched from her hay ranch along the Cottonwood Pass Wagon Road to Hot Sulphur Springs. Competent, often powerful, men in the 1860's through the 1890's filed surveys, graded road beds, and even began drilling before being stopped by severe storms that foiled the best laid plans or their inability to fund the ambitious projects.

Dreams to penetrate the high mountains along the Divide in central Colorado began when the Front Range was flooded with miners during the Gold Rush of 1859. Even before Colorado became a territory in 1861, Golden City, just west of Denver along Clear Creek, recognized its potential as a gateway to the rich mineral resources of mountain towns like Central City, Black Hawk, and Georgetown. Golden City's ambitions went beyond becoming a mountain transportation hub, believing that with the right incentives, enthusiasms, and leadership, its location supported a future as a national commerce center. 

Golden City certainly had men of vision, ambition, and wealth among its ranks. William Loveland and George Vest, both young and feverishly ambitious to see Golden City reach its potential, vigorously pursued their dreams for a powerful commercial center in Golden City. From Missouri River towns like Leavenworth in Eastern Kansas, leading town founders also recognized the benefits of linking their water and rail routes to the east with the resources of the west. Finally, as if destiny had demanded it, Edward L. Berthoud, a young civil engineer and surveyor with energy and ability, arrived in Golden City from Leavenworth in April of 1860 to unite the similar passions of leading citizens from both locations.

From 1861 until 1866, Berthoud, Loveland and Vest focused on bringing a direct transcontinental railroad route through Golden City. First, Edward Berthoud, along with Jim Bridger and a capable young cartographer named Redwood Fisher, blazed a trail across Berthoud Pass through Middle Park all the way to Salt Lake City. Returning to Golden City on May 28, 1861, Berthoud reported "a good wagon road could be ?quickly' built" from Denver to Salt Lake City over Berthoud Pass for about $100,000.00. According to the local hyperbole, a railroad would surely follow.

In spite of considerable enthusiasm, disappointment plagued early efforts to put a rail line over the mountains in Colorado Territory. In 1862, Territorial Governor John Evans sent the Surveyor General for Colorado and Territories along Berthoud's route and others to confirm or deny the potential of a railroad line. About the same time, the Union Pacific Railroad Company sent an independent reconnaissance to examine potential routes over the divide that included Berthoud and Boulder Passes (Boulder Pass became Rollins Pass in the early 1870's, when John Quincy Adams Rollins built a toll road over it, and then Corona Pass when the Railroad crossed it). Surveyor General Case and the UP agreed that neither route offered much hope for a standard gauge railroad. The dream of a transcontinental line over the Continental Divide through central Colorado seemed to die with the UP surveyor's words, "I learned enough to satisfy myself that no railroad would - at least in our day - cross the mountains south of the Cache la Poudre..." 

Multiple failed attempts to bring a rail line over the Divide through Middle Park during the following decades strengthened the UP's "death sentence." Against the odds, Berthoud and Loveland continued to solicit support for a railroad west over or through the Continental Divide, using improved surveys and maps to support their requests. In the 1880's, survey crews from a variety of railway incorporations were scattered over the high country on or near Rollins Pass. Over Berthoud, Rollins and other passes, they marked potential railroad lines with their wooden stakes. It was during this stretch of strenuous surveying activity that David Moffat, a highly successful Denver capitalist, got involved with an unsuccessful effort to bring through the mountains instead of over the top. 

 In the early 1880's, Mr. Moffat invested in the Denver, Utah and Pacific Railroad, which intended to tunnel through the mountains near Rollins Pass. Like the other efforts, though, the Denver, Utah and Pacific vanished in a few short years. Unlike many other lines that accomplished little more than surveys and maps, the DU&PRR completed significant grading and began tunneling before reaching the "end of its resources."

Money, power and success supported Moffat's dream to put Denver on a direct transcontinental railroad line. Doctor Robert C. Black, III, wrote that David Moffat's failed efforts in the early 1880's converted him to the idea that Denver needed to be on a direct transcontinental rail line. Moffat considered the route over Rollins Pass valuable enough to have surveying and grading crews working on it throughout the winter in 1902. The Denver Rocky Mountain News claimed that Moffat's route through Northwestern Colorado included "the largest strip of fertile land as yet undeveloped in the United States..." With his Denver, Northwestern and Pacific Railroad, David Moffat planned to make good his intentions to put Denver on direct transcontinental railroad line.

Moffat's original plan called for the "Hill Route" over Corona Pass ? the name changed from Rollins Pass in honor of Corona Station at the top ? to last for only a few short years. While the "temporary" route over the top generated resources by extracting the resources of Northwestern Colorado, a tunnel was to be bored through the Continental Divide. Even the wealth and power of Moffat, though, failed to adequately finance the tunnel before he died in 1911. The temporary line, therefore, lasted for nearly of a quarter century, from 1904 until 1928.

Its obstacles proved as enormous as the mountains it crossed. Work crews had to cease operations because of snow for most of April in 1920. The road was closed from late January until May in 1921. In December of 1924, engine number 210 busted "a main reservoir pipe," causing the train to fly down the hill out of control until it jumped the tracks and crashed into the valley below. Clearly, the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad, which took over Moffat's DNW&P after his death, needed a tunnel to replace the expensive effort over the "Devil's Backbone."

 As Denver and Salt Lake Locomotive Number 120 came through the tunnel in early 1928, it represented the culmination of a massive undertaking through wet, unstable rocks which required considerable engineering ingenuity and caused six deaths in a 1926 cave-in. It also took an enormous amount of coordination and effort to secure the necessary funding. Through local bond issues, private investors and other means, the project was completed. And through a connection at Dotsero, a railroad station less than 30 minutes west of Vail on I-70, freight and passengers could make a direct Pacific connection from Denver. Posthumously, David Moffat's dream became a reality.

For significant periods of time since the trains stopped operations over Rollins Pass in the late 1920's with the opening of the Moffat Tunnel, on-road vehicles crept along its relatively easy grades and wide curves from Rollinsville on the east slope to Winter Park on the west side of the Divide. Like now, the road ran through an area attractive to backcountry campers and sport enthusiasts. On September 1, 1956, local officials and private citizens met on Rollins Pass to celebrate a "joint state-federal-county project to convert the old D. & S. L. railroad right of way over Corona Pass into an access road for sportsmen." According to the Denver Post, the game and fish department's construction division reconstructed the road during the summer of 1955 for about $20,000. The following year, the road became a scenic route over the Continental Divide for family cars and jeep caravans alike. And after it was built, or at least reconstructed, they did come. Intrepid tourists into Middle Park.

Railroads
Railroads

Construction on the railroad line from Denver to Grand County began in July 1902.

The project, called the Moffat road (officially the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific), was the seemingly impossible dream of David H. Moffat, who spent much of his personal fortune building the tracks over the Continental Divide.

The rails pushed higher and higher up the mountains until they reached a station named Corona, meaning the crown of the continent.

Corona was the highest point in the world with a standard gauge railroad and the journey from Denver in the winter was perilous at best.

Huge snowplows were required on either side of the Divide to keep the tracks clear.

Eventually, in the late 1920s, a tunnel was dug through the range, eliminating 22.84 miles of track and the breathtaking journey over Rollins Pass.

The railroad reached Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs in 1905 and Kremmling in 1906, and played a significant role in building the population of Grand County.

In 1900 the total resident population of Grand County was only 741, but grew to 1,862 in 1910.

Stage and Freight Lines
Stage and Freight Lines

Berthoud Pass Stage Road was built by the extreme efforts of Captain Lewis Gaskill.  It came from the top of the Pass through Spruce Lodge, Idlewild (now Winter Park), the Cozens Ranch (near Fraser) Junction Ranch (Tabernash) and Coulter.  From there once branch lead over Cottonwood Divide to Hot Sulphur Springs (and points west) while the other went to Selak’s and over Coffey Divide to the Lehman Post Office and on to Grand Lake.  

At the summit of Berthoud Pass there was a large house of hewn logs, occupied by Lewis Gaskill and his family.  They collected the tolls for the road and gave welcome shelter to those weathering the variable passage.  The house was located on the West side of current Hwy. 40 but no trace of the building remains.  

At the steepest portion of the west side of Berthoud Pass was the Spruce House rest stop, which by 1900 was a sold structure of two and a half stories.  There the traveler could find a warm meal and corral for livestock.  No trace of it remains today.  

The Idlewild Stage Stop was located in present day Winter Park and was a popular place to change horses before the steep assent up the pass.  Mrs. Ed Evans served a hearty noonday meal there for only 35 cents.

Cozens Ranch was also one of the more popular stops and Fraser Post Office until 1904. Built around 1874 by William Zane Cozens, it remains today, outfitted in period décor and is the home of the Cozens Ranch History Museum.  

The Gaskill House, in Fraser was built by Lewis De Witt Clinton Gaskill, one of the original investors in the road and a prominent Grand County citizen. The house now houses the Hungry Bear Restaurant.

Junction House at Junction Ranch (Tabernash) could accommodate up to fifty travelers and was built by Quincy Adams Rollins, and subsequently leased to Johnson Turner.   

The Coulter Stage Stop was built by John Coulter, an attorney from George town and shareholder in the stage road.  It also served as a Post Office from 1884 to 1905. 

Frank and Fred Selak, sons of a pioneer Georgetown brewer ran the Selak stop which was north of Granby and east of current Hwy. 34.           

Cottonwood Divide (Pass), at 8904 feet above sea level, was laid out by Edward Berthoud and Redwood Fisher in 1861.  The route was used by stagecoaches from 1874 until the railroad arrived at Hot Sulphur Springs in 1905.  The last driver on the route was Charlie Purcell.  Summer travel time between Hot Sulphur Springs and Georgetown was typically twelve hours. Travelers between Hot Sulphur Springs and Kremmling could stop at the Barney Day or King Ranches, both near current Hwy. 40.   The Pinney Ranch House, used by the firm of Whipple and Metcalf for the connecting service to Steamboat Springs, is still standing on Hwy. 134 on the east slope of Gore Pass. There a traveler could pay 50 cents for a meal, 50 cents for a bed and expect a change of horses every ten miles.  It ceased operation in 1908 when the railroad reached Toponas.  

The flood that built the Moffat Tunnel
The flood that built the Moffat Tunnel

Article contributed by Tim Nicklas

 

For many years Denver longed for its own direct line through the continental divide, linking the city to the west coast.  In the 1860s, Denver was slighted by the Union Pacific(UP), when the company chose Cheyenne as the major hub for the prized Transcontinental Railroad, before it snaked through the Rockies.  Fortunately, the city fathers of Denver did not give up on making their city the center of the Rocky Mountain Empire, as they risked financial disaster by bankrolling a spur line to the main route in Cheyenne.  Denver may not have had their direct route to the west and the fortunes that lay on the other side of the divide, but the city was not dead. 

 

For Grand County, the U.P.'s decision not to penetrate the formidable barrier of Colorado's mountains had a much greater impact.  As it stood Grand County had no for seeable future of gaining a rail line.  This meant that the only means of transportation into or out of the county was by pack animal or foot.  Furthermore, without a line to Denver, there was virtually no practical way for industry to develop in Grand County.

 

In 1904, Denver and Grand County's long awaited dream of a direct line through the mountains and on to Salt Lake City began to materialize.  The Moffat Railroad had risen over Corona Pass and descended into the Fraser Valley.  At the time Corona Pass was the highest rail pass in the world.  Along with this fact came the troubles of maintaining such a wonder.  The route was challenging to keep open in the summer with the violent storms that are prone at such a location.  In the winter the line would close all together.  Adding to the trouble of the unpredictable route was the fact that Colorado's economy of the 1870s was not the same in the early 20th century.

 

In the 1870s, much of Colorado's mineral wealth was centered directly west of Denver in Central City and Georgetown.  By 1880 many of those mines began to play out.  Furthermore, production shifted to the silver mines of Leadville and the Arkansas Valley.  As a result, rail traffic favored Pueblo over Denver.  Pueblo was situated on the plains as the Arkansas River exits from the mountains, eliminating the need for boring tunnels or climbing over arduous mountain passes.  In addition, Pueblo was close to the coalfields that were essential to power the locomotives.  Also, the city was the site of the largest steel mill west of the Mississippi, which supplied rails for the sprawling network.  Finally, Pueblo's smelters boomed when many others withered after the "Silver Panic" of 1893.  At the same time that depression gripped Colorado and silver was devalued, gold was discovered in Cripple Creek.  Within a few short years the new gold camp would become the world's largest producer.  As a result, nearby Pueblo would reap the benefits by converting from silver to gold, to become the smelting capitol of the nation.

 

By the early 20th century, Pueblo's status as an industrial powerhouse and rail center threatened Denver's status as Colorado's "first city."  This was even further evidenced by the "powers-that-be" in the northern part of the state being unable to convince the rest of Colorado to finance a tunnel under the continental divide west of Denver.  Time and again legislation that would fund the missing link between Denver and the western slope was defeated in the statehouse by those in southern Colorado who were content with their established web-link.  Barring a miracle, it looked as if Denver and Grand County would have to settle for the unreliable Moffat line over Corona Pass.  In 1921 that miracle would rush in, due to un-for-seen misfortune upon Colorado's "second city" in the south of the state. 

 

The spring of 1921 started as many do in Colorado, with a drought.  By June 1st the many farmers downstream in the Arkansas Valley feared disaster as crops withered with thirst.  On the 2nd day of June, the farmers got the relief of rain they eagerly wanted.  Unfortunately, the downpour continued until the formerly parched earth became like a sponge and the Arkansas River swelled.  The streets of Pueblo were ankle deep with water by nighttime.  Suddenly, with little warning, a torrent of water rushed from the upper Arkansas Valley toward the helpless "Steel City."  Pueblo's streets filled with water up to rooftops.  The unified rail-yard was ripped instantly.   Unfortunate train passengers were tossed unaware into the maddening grip of the Arkansas, unable to escape the iron coffins in which they were riding.  Families were stranded on roofs as row boats desperately searched for stranded victims.  As pungent water filled the business area with filth and debris, fires broke out.  Unable to do anything, citizens watched helplessly as fire and water consumed their city.  As the flood receded the Rocky Mountain News headline proclaimed "201 Bodies Found, Scores Lost, Pueblo Death Total, 500 To 1,500."  The Rocky Mountain News goes on to describe the scene from June 4th:

"All day long refugees, dazed, not knowing what to do, straggled

about the streets.  Mothers with babes in their arms, mothers

whose arms were empty, old men and women and people of every

description wandered about until gathered up and taken to Red

 Cross headquarters, where they were fed and allowed to rest."

The scene in Pueblo was like those witnessed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina or the notorious San Francisco Earthquake in 1906.

 

As Pueblo dried out in the days that followed, plans were immediately being drafted in the statehouse to assure that the devastated city would not befall a future wrath from the Arkansas River.  Seizing upon the opportunity presented by Pueblo's misery, interests in Denver, Grand County, and others in northern Colorado saw fit to take advantage.  As the discussion of flood control in the south dominated state legislation the notion of a tunnel under the continental divide west of Denver resurfaced.  According to Ubbelohde, Benson, and Smith's book, A Colorado History 8th Ed., a "special legislative session made history."  Attached to the act that created the Pueblo Conservancy District, northern lawmakers added the Moffat Tunnel Improvement District.  As a result of the passage of these two distinctly different special tax districts in a single signing by Governor Shoup, the long sought after western passage would be built.  With the tunnel Grand County would finally be open to the outside world by a year round and reliable link.

 

The building of the Moffat Tunnel was an enormous undertaking that cost several lives and injured even more workers.  Nonetheless, the tunnel from its inception has remained of vital importance to the Fraser Va

The Train Comes to Fraser
The Train Comes to Fraser

Article contributed by Tim Nicklas
 

A little over a hundred years ago the few residents of Fraser were awakened by a sound new to their town.  The railroad had finally arrived in 1904, just over 30 years after it had first debuted in Denver.  That same blaring horn, followed by the rumble of iron wheels on rails is waking up the good town-folk of the Fraser Valley today.  As the local Manifest has documented recently, many residents have long been annoyed by the noisy disruption the train makes as it announces its passing through town.  Additionally, parents of school children rushing to Fraser Elementary School in the morning can attest to the intrusive obstacle the slow moving behemoth becomes at in the morning.

A hundred years ago, residents of the Fraser Valley complained loudly of the intrusion of the iron horse on the tranquil lifestyle.  It has long been rumored that the course of the railroad was determined by an angry old timer by the name of Billy Cozens.  Cozens was a pioneer of the valley having homesteaded his ranch in the area in the early 1870s.  According to legend, when the engineers were surveying the route of the future Denver, Northwestern, and Pacific Railroad through the valley, Billy Cozens bullied the crewmen into the woods.  As the railmen would lay their flags for the roadbed, Cozens, an expert marksman, would shoot the markers out of the ground.  As the story goes, this was the reason the tracks were laid through the forest, rather than the meadow.

The reality of the chosen route for the D.N.&P. was due to grade and not fear of the rifle.  Whether Cozens despised the railroad is anyone's guess.  According to Robert Black's book, Island in the Rockies, the railroads designing engineers actually consulted Cozens concerning the lack of snow on the continental divide.  Regardless, the rumors have persisted over the years about the "Old Sheriff's" contempt for the railroad.  It has even divulged to me that the ghost of Billy Cozens will not allow anything concerning the railroad in his former home, the Cozens Ranch Museum.  Whenever railroad exhibits have been attempted they have mysteriously vanished and were never seen again.

As far as the townfolk of Fraser were concerned, many of them regarded the railroad as an opportunity that had eluded the region for years.  Unfortunately for Fraserites, their town was to be bypassed as the major hub for the area.  Further down the valley Tabernash was chosen as the location for the workshops and roundhouse for the forthcoming trains.  As a result, the trains would move through Fraser without their engineers paying the town much notice outside of their blowing whistles.  Nonetheless, the people of the valley would embrace the iron horse.  Economic potential in Grand County would erupt due to the advent of relatively efficient transportation.  Specifically, the lumber industry would boom with the outlet that the railroad would provide.  Additionally, people could move between Denver and Grand County easily compared to the wagon roads that formerly provided the only passage to the outside world.  As timber and cattle traveled to the Front Range, mail and hard goods traveled back to the Fraser Valley.

In years past, just like today, it has been easy to forget the benefits that the railroad has brought to our lives.  Certainly, when the train moved into the valley, the people that day realized that their life could slow down a bit.  The reality was that the short inconvenience that the passing train brought with its blaring horn, bringing traffic to a momentary standstill enhanced the life and character of the Fraser Valley.  It provided power, people, and materials in a unique way that simplified life here.  This is as true today as it was in 1905.      

 

Train Legends of the Moffat Road
Train Legends of the Moffat Road

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

The railroaders graded and bridged the trails originally made by the Indians and expanded by the trappers, prospector and stage road builders that following in rapid succession. The

Moffat Road
train track has an almost endless series of wreck stories and legends.  In one, a "green clerk" was said to have piled all the mail order catalogs on the same side of a car, causing the train to leave the tracks and roll down the mountainside into Yankee Doodle Lake.

 

In another lost train story, the No. 3 westbound was seven hours late out of Denver because of a severe winter blizzard.  It crept out of the Fraser Canyon and whistled for the Granby Crossing.  The engineer parked the train intending to wait till daylight to continue on.  In the meantime, the No. 2 eastbound, 2 days late out of Craig reached Corona without passing the No. 3. In the morning, all were amazed to find the train parked "plumb center" of Granby's main street. Later investigation showed that the No. 3 train left the train tracks just east of Granby and traveled almost a mile over frozen highway.  The next day a Chinook wind came up and melted the frozen soil, sinking the train to it's axles in mud. It required the building of 1500 feet of special track to salvage the train. However, some longtime Granby residents say the locale of this incident was the Kremmling flats.

 

Sources: Roland L. Ives, Folklore of Middle Park Colorado,Journal of American Folklore, Vol. XXXIV, Nos. 211, 212, 1941; Levette J. Davidson & Forrester Blake, Rocky Mountain Tales, University of Oklahoma Press, 1947

     

 

Wagons of the West
Wagons of the West

Transportation into Grand County in the late 1800's was one of the more difficult tasks. Stage coaches were used to carry the many people to and from the county.

The first stagecoach into Grand County was a Concord. The Concord stagecoach was a luxury wagon weighing around 2,200 lbs. It cost around $1,050 and was beautifully painted. No two Concord luxury coach paint jobs were the same. The wheels were made of white oak and would not shrink in the cold or expand in hot weather, and made very reliable, durable wheels. The body was iron barred and was easier for the horses to pull than some of the other standard stagecoaches of its time. The mountain conditions caused different rules and a different coach then the stereotypical Concord.

The inside of a Concord was four feet wide, and four and one half feet tall. The coach had leather curtains, but they did little to keep the dust, wind, snow, and rain out. Three benches lined the inside, and held nine passengers. The coach was often known to hold up to six people on the roof as well. Luggage was held in the "boot", a metal box on the back of the coach. Mail was often put in the "boot" for transportation, or kept right behind the driver.

The average speed for the Concord was around fifteen miles an hour. The braking system was sand bags placed over the brake pads, so that sand could be released on rugged hills. The Concord was only used for one year because of its weight and bulkiness it did not make for a good coach in the mountains. The weight, price, and bulkiness caused this stagecoach to be produced for one year before another one came into play.

At one third of the cost, the Dearborn took over after the Concord. These were known as Mud Wagons because of their easy travel in the mud and tricky terrain. The Mud Wagon weighed around 1,600 lbs. and was much more efficient. It had the standard four wheels, but was only pulled by one to two horses, and could hold around one to three people. However it was not as luxurious as the Concord. They often  did not have side curtains, and the seats were not as nice. The cabin sat on wooden springs. The Mud Wagon was used by farmers, peddlers, emigrants, and pleasure travelers as it was affordable and decent in appearance.

The weary traveler who took the stagecoaches soon learned the rules of the road. The best seat was next to the driver where there were less bumps. Never ride in cold weather with tight boots or shoes, or tight gloves. If one is asked to walk, do so without grumbling as the driver would not ask unless truly necessary. Don't jump from the moving wagon, as nine out of ten times you will get badly hurt. Do not drink alcohol in cold weather as it can cause hypothermia. In warm weather it is okay to drink as long as you are willing to share. Eat what is available, no one wants to hear you whine. Do not smoke, or spit on the leeward side. Never swear, and don't fall asleep on your neighbor. Do not ask how much longer, you will get there when you get there. Never fire a gun as it will scare the horses. Never grease your hair because of dust and most important - remember mountain traveling is hard.The first stagecoach into Grand County was a Concord. The Concord stagecoach was a luxury wagon weighing around 2,200 lbs. It cost around $1,050 and was beautifully painted. No two Concord luxury coach paint jobs were the same. The wheels were made of white oak and would not shrink in the cold or expand in hot weather, and made very reliable, durable wheels. The body was iron barred and was easier for the horses to pull than some of the other standard stagecoaches of its time. The mountain conditions caused different rules and a different coach then the stereotypical Concord.

The inside of a Concord was four feet wide, and four and one half feet tall. The coach had leather curtains, but they did little to keep the dust, wind, snow, and rain out. Three benches lined the inside, and held nine passengers. The coach was often known to hold up to six people on the roof as well. Luggage was held in the "boot", a metal box on the back of the coach. Mail was often put in the "boot" for transportation, or kept right behind the driver.

The average speed for the Concord was around fifteen miles an hour. The braking system was sand bags placed over the brake pads, so that sand could be released on rugged hills. The Concord was only used for one year because of its weight and bulkiness it did not make for a good coach in the mountains. The weight, price, and bulkiness caused this stagecoach to be produced for one year before another one came into play.

At one third of the cost, the Dearborn took over after the Concord. These were known as Mud Wagons because of their easy travel in the mud and tricky terrain. The Mud Wagon weighed around 1,600 lbs. and was much more efficient. It had the standard four wheels, but was only pulled by one to two horses, and could hold around one to three people. However it was not as luxurious as the Concord. They often  did not have side curtains, and the seats were not as nice. The cabin sat on wooden springs. The Mud Wagon was used by farmers, peddlers, emigrants, and pleasure travelers as it was affordable and decent in appearance.

The weary traveler who took the stagecoaches soon learned the rules of the road. The best seat was next to the driver where there were less bumps. Never ride in cold weather with tight boots or shoes, or tight gloves. If one is asked to walk, do so without grumbling as the driver would not ask unless truly necessary. Don't jump from the moving wagon, as nine out of ten times you will get badly hurt. Do not drink alcohol in cold weather as it can cause hypothermia. In warm weather it is okay to drink as long as you are willing to share. Eat what is available, no one wants to hear you whine. Do not smoke, or spit on the leeward side. Never swear, and don't fall asleep on your neighbor. Do not ask how much longer, you will get there when you get there. Never fire a gun as it will scare the horses. Never grease your hair because of dust and most important - remember mountain traveling is hard.

Articles to Browse

Topic: Places
Spruce Lodge

The search for Spruce Lodge

Spruce Lodge

 You gotta love a mystery! My curiosity rose, my anticipation of being the one with the real story was more than my appetite could stand. I looked at pictures, figured angles, mused at what other people said, reviewed topographic maps and finally said to myself “it just can’t be.” The terrain doesn’t look like that. It isn’t two miles from the last switchback on Hwy 40. I don’t care what the writing on the back of the pictures say. 

I want to know once and for all, where is the real location of Spruce Lodge? How can it be located so everyone will agree. I’ve got it, find an expert wilderness person with my same curiosity. As fate would have it, entered Debora Carr, author of Hiking Grand County Colorado, complete with pictures, maps, GPS coordinates and trail narratives. Her coauthor Lou Ladrigan also caught the bug. “We can find it.” 

Exploration began early in the spring but the snow was just a little too deep to find any artifacts. Failed attempt, but the appetite was there. Wait till the snow melts in the trees. Again, as fate would have it, entered Carol Hunter. Carol has been instrumental in the efforts to resore the Berthoud Pass wagon road. Carol has lots of maps and pictures of the development of the wagon road and just happened to have an original U.S. Bureau of Public Roads 1920 survey map for the construction of Hwy 40 from Empire to Fraser. I loaded it into the computer, expanded the image and found lots of strange numbers. Almost like mile markers. Carol said they were numbers used by the work parties. They seemed evenly spaced and the map had a distance legend. It even had a marked location for Spruce Lodge. I couldn’t wait to add this map to Deborah and Lou’s reference material.

Armed with new references, Debora and Lou hiked both sides of Hwy 40 from the switchback to the entrance to Mary Jane. Looking for artifacts, existence of remnants of the old wagon road, foundations and terrain that matched the photos in the GCHA collection. A couple places looked promising, but not quite. Finally, a white station post number 390 was found lying on the ground on the west side of today’s Hwy 40. Then another white station post was found to the south, number 380. That was a match! Just what we needed. That confirmed the surveyor L.J. Young’s map. To the south of 390 a flat part of ground revealed what looked like part of a foundation and surrounding the location were remnants of discarded cans and possible buildings. A two holer! Now check the terrain with the pictures. Well maybe. Don’t forget that Hwy 40 didn’t exist. Step back and look from the east side of the existing Hwy. A great match with the slope and tree line. This was it! Just .9 miles North of the last switchback.

                      

                       

Topic:

Community Life

What was it like to live in Grand County in the 1800's or the early 1900's?  Click on the drop down menus and find out about community life in the “olden days.“

Topic: Biographies

Ute Bill Thompson

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

Topic: Biographies

R.W. "Dick" McQueary

R.W. (Dick) McQueary was born May 9, 1868, in the San Luis Valley near what is now Del Norte. Dick moved to Grand County in 1876. In 1892, Dick, newly married, began freighting between Hot Sulphur Springs and George Town's railroad terminal.

He moved boxes of merchandise for the general store, barrels of whiskey for saloons and machinery for sawmills. On one of these trips he decided to build cabins closer to Berthoud Pass. His crew built several log buildings 6 miles from the top of the pass and named it "Spruce Lodge".

In the spring of 1893, Dick contracted to open snowbound Berthoud Pass by middle June. He moved his wife Jessie and three-months old son to Spruce Lodge. Snow was shoveled from the roofs and trails to the buildings. Heat from stoves thawed the frozen dirt roofs and water entered the cabins. Pans were placed under the leaks to catch snow water. Work was completed 2 weeks later. On June 14, snow began to fall and canvas was placed over stove pipes to keep water from putting out the fires. Four feet of snow fell and the only dry place in the cabins was the pallet with the baby on it under the table.

1895 saw Dick Mcqueary homestead 320 acres between Pole and Crooked Creeks The ranch was named "Four-Bar-Four" after Dick's cattle brand. It became a well-known travel stop and is a point of interest to this day. By 1909 R.W. was freighting the Grand Lake area and became involved with building a road between the foot of Milner Pass to Pouder Lake at the summit. Dick bid $49,000 to build the road. Three years later, completion of a rough outline of the entire road through Rocky Mtn.National Park. M cqueary completed the west side and Jacobson the east side. Dick prepared festival grounds west of Grand Lake and a large crowd enjoyed the road opening celebration.

Topic: Indians

Colorow - Ute Chieftain

Colorow was a Ute Chieftain who was known for profound stubbornness and bitter resentment of the white man's intrusion into the Ute hunting grounds.  

Indian Agent Meeker had ruled that that the Utes must depend on the United States government for food supplies, rather than their traditional hunting. These supplies were sometimes held up for delivery and upon their eventual arrival,contaminated. Colorow thought the white settlers of Middle Park (near Granby) were killing too many of the game animals that had been critical in feeding the Ute people.  

So in the fall of 1878, Colorow started a brush fire high in the Medicine Bow range, planning to drive the deer, elk, and buffalo west to the Ute reservation.  But the winds took an unexpected shift, driving the wild game northward and away from Ute territory.  

The fire drove out the last of the buffalo ever to be seen in the Middle Park region again and it took many years for the forests and ranges to recover from the devastation.

Topic: Mining

Lulu City

A popular hiking trail in Rocky Mountain National Park leads to the site of the historic mining town of Lulu City.  When precious metals were discovered there in 1879, as many as 500 prospectors showed up.  When the mines played out four years later, they departed in haste for other promising boom towns.

Lulu City was named for the daughter of Benjamin Franklin Burnett, one of the town founders. At its height, the town had a hotel, post office, and a justice of the peace.  It was served three times a week by a state coach from Fort Collins, on the other side of the Continental Divide.

There were probably ten saloons which drew customers from various mines in the area, such as the Rustic, Friday Nite, Tiger, Carbonate and Southern Cross.  These yielded low grade gold, silver and lead but the remote location of the Lulu made the cost to process the metals so high that efforts were soon abandoned.  The closest smelters were probably well over 100 wagon miles away.

One of the more remarkable characters of Lulu was "Squeaky Bob" Wheeler.  His high pitched voice was unique.  He was subject to drinking bouts, but was usually a likeable, well-behaved citizen.

After working in the mines, Squeaky Bob saved enough money to purchase a ranch south of Lulu. There he established a guest house and became famous for his cooking skills and colorful hospitality.  The current Lulu City trail runs through the site of his property, which was named the Phantom Valley Ranch.  He sold the ranch in 1926, but it continued to be a popular tourist stop until it was included in the National Park boundaries. 

Topic: Biographies

Ellen E. Crabb, Parshall Postmaster

Ellen Elaine Engelhaupt was the first of nine children and was born in Chambers, Neb., on July 13, 1912, to Michael and Ollie Engelhaupt. She attended schools in Sterling and Crook, Colo., driving a pony trap to school when the distance was too far to walk. She graduated from Sterling High School at age 20, as one high school year was spent recovering at home from rheumatic fever. In 1919, she also missed her first grade year recovering from the Spanish Flu.

She met James Samuel Crabb, a resident of Crook and they eloped on Jan. 29, 1934. They farmed outside of Crook until 1941 when they joined partnership with Joe Spacek, growing winter wheat at the Company Ranch on the Williams Fork.

After building a house in Parshall, Ellen was commissioned in 1948 as Post Master. The Post Office was operated out of the Crabb's house. Being the Post Master, Ellen was in the position to be the contact person for needs and emergencies in the community. As she approached retirement, Ellen worked diligently to obtain another Post Office site in Parshall, which would guarantee continuous service to the town and surrounding community residents' emergencies in the community.

Ellen was known for her green thumb and her sewing arts.  Throughout the summer months, her yard was in constant bloom and a source of pride for her and her family. She sewed clothes for her daughters, knitted or crocheted gifts for family and friends, and in her retirement years, designed and made quilts as a hobby. She won numerous ribbons for her craft at the Middle Park Fair.

She was member of the Williams Fork Demonstration Club, a past Worthy Matron of Eastern Star Starlight Chapter 129, and in retirement worked with Grand County Social Services on behalf of the senior citizens. She worked diligently for low-income senior housing including development of the Silver Spruce Senior Apartments in Kremmling.

Ellen and Jim had in common their love of music and dancing. Often at local dances others would step aside to watch Ellen and Jim. They would dance at the Trocadero Ballroom in the old Denver Elitch Gardens where other dancers would also create a circle around them to watch their foxtrot. Ellen and her husband of 58 years, Jim had three daughters: Frances, Leota and Margaret.

Topic: Water

Colorado-Big Thompson Project

The idea of diverting water from the Colorado River on the Western Slope of the Continental Divide to the productive farmlands of the eastern plains had been a dream of planners as early as 1929.  Subsequently,  a long period of drought and the sagging economy of the “Great Depression” whetted demands for what became the largest trans-mountain diversion project ever built.

The Colorado-Big Thompson Project takes water from Grand Lake on the western side of the Continental Divide to the Big Thompson River on the east.  The water flows through a 13 mile tunnel beneath Rocky Mountain National Park.  In order to supply the residential and farming needs of Northeastern Colorado, the project was begun in 1938 and continued through the years of World War II.  The first water flowed though the tunnel, named for Senator Alva B. Adams, on June 23, 1947.

In order to assure an adequate supply from Grand Lake, a dam was built creating Shadow Mountain Reservoir.  A larger lake, Granby Reservoir was then built below, with a unique pumping plant that forces water into Shadow Mountain.  The Farr Pumping Plant cost over $9 million and provides an additional 700,000 of irrigated land to northeastern Colorado.  Further reservoirs were added, both to supplement the diversion and to compensate the water needs of Western Colorado.  These include Willow Creek and Windy Gap Reservoirs in Grand County.

While most legislators were enthusiastic about the project, U.S. Representative Edward Taylor was vehemently opposed to the reduction of water flowing down the Colorado River.  A compromise was reached in the creation of Green Mountain Reservoir (on the Blue River), which reserves water to replenish the Colorado River.   The city of Denver later claimed upstream water on the Blue River for the massive diversion project of Dillon Reservoir

Claims on the water of the Colorado River range from the fruit and wine regions of the Grand Valley in Colorado all the way to Los Angeles and Mexico.  It can be said that every snowflake which falls in Western Colorado had already been over-appropriated, especially during drought periods in the arid West.

Topic: Ranching

The Davison Ranch

* Copyright 2006.
No portion of this story or photos may be reproduced without the written permission of Gary or Sue Hodgson (www.hodsonmedia.com)  

Early morning, mid January in Colorado's Middle Park is not for the faint of heart. It's forty below zero. Six inches of new snow have fallen over night, adding to the three feet that have been building since early November. Ranchers in the area don't even bother to look at the breath taking beauty of the Gore Range to the West as they trudge to the barn. Their minds are focused on hope the big diesel tractors will start. Snow has to be moved and cattle fed. Life in these parts revolves around "feeding". Soon, ranch yards will be full of diesel engines belching black smoke clouds. Up and down U.S. Highway 40, this scene is repeated on ranch after ranch ... except for one. 

Just south of mile marker 169, a landmark rendered meaningless by snow much taller than the signpost, sets the Davison Ranch. Several hundred cattle wait semi-patiently to be fed in the surrounding meadows, yet there are no black smoke clouds or clattering engines. One might think the ranch deserted were it not for muffled sounds creeping through the huge log walls of the old tin roofed barn. Inside, a crew of five are performing a morning ritual that began in late November and will be repeated, regardless of the weather, seven days a week until mid May.  Mark, Molly, Dolly, Nip and Tuck are getting ready to feed.  

A crew this small is rather unusual for a ranch that encompasses over 6,000 acres. More notable, only one member is a man. The other four are horses, big, stout, work hardened draft horses. Standing on the wooden planked floor, side by side, surrounded by logs a man could hardly put his arms around, are four beautiful black and white Spotted Draft Horses. While not rare, the National Spotted Draft Horse Association celebrated it's tenth anniversary in 2005, the spotted giants are not a common sight. It is fitting such unusual horses would be found on this ranch. The big black and whites fit right into a program in place nearly fifty years. Mark Davison relates the Davison Ranch history as he harnesses the big "Spots." 

Mark's father, Charles Edward "Tommy" Davison, had been saving to buy a ranch since he was six years old. When the old place north of Kremmling came up for sale, the young bachelor fulfilled his life long dream. Tommy made a few observations. The ranch did not produce gasoline for the old tractors that came with the ranch. It did grow grass to power the two long ignored draft horses, also included. Then, there was the snow to deal with. It seemed easier for horses to pull a sled full of hay on top of the snow than trying to drive a tractor through it. The ranch was strewn with old harness and equipment including an ancient hay sled and various hitch components. He was single with an old house to spend the winter nights in. Why not spend a little more time outside with the animals he so loved.  

Not all of Tommy's plans went according to schedule. The hay laddened sled required more horsepower than his two horses. Two more "kinda" draft horses joined them. The old log house burned to the ground in December that first year. Hurriedly, he built a small cabin to live in until another house could be constructed. In 1958 he met and married Laurayne Brown. The Kremmling native beauty was used to the harsh winters and loved the big horses. Tommy and Laurayne made as good a team as Nip and Beauty, one of the better teams they would own in those days. As the ranch grew they realized they needed more help. New Year's Day 1960 they interviewed a likely prospect. Jerry Nauta sat at the Davison kitchen table as they talked. Finally, he uttered memorable words. "If you treat me right," he said, "I will never leave this ranch." Addressing Laurayne he went on, "I will probably eat more meals at this dinner table than you will." 

Although the ranch owned several tractors as much work as possible was done with the horses. The ranch's hay crop, wonderful sweet smelling Meadow Brome, Timothy and Red Top was put into giant loose hay stacks. No need for big gas guzzling tractors pulling expensive balers on this ranch. A few other ranches also kept draft horses in those days. A big attraction at Kremmling's Middle Park Fair was the draft horse pull. Ranchers from neighboring North Park descended on the event with their horses, toughened by a summer of harvesting the Park's huge hay meadows. Most years they returned to their home valley with the Middle Park trophy. Tommy decided enough was enough. Even though he had never competed before, his team of the skittish Nip and gentle Beauty who scarcely knew a day out of harness, left the "invaders from the north" in their dust. The trio returned several more years, winning every single time. Finally, a bad referee's call moved another team into first place. Tommy, Nip and Beauty never entered again. It wasn't necessary. They had proven their point. 

During those years, money would sometimes be so tight the loyal employee Jerry couldn't be paid. Tommy would sign a promissory note to him for wages. He was always repaid, with interest. Tommy told friends, "Jerry is my banker!" Jerry became a third parent to the three boys born to Tommy and Laurayne, Matt, Mark and Cal. They joined the early morning harnessing ritual, standing on a milk stool to reach the big horses under this watchful eye. When their father suffered a broken leg followed by a ruptured appendix, the boys, averaging ten years old, stepped into rolls as hired men. They calved cows, lambed the ewes in residence on the ranch in those years and, of course, harnessed and drove the teams to feed. If harnessing and driving a four horse hitch wasn't enough of a challenge, the feeding process creates men as tough as the animals pulling the heavy sled. Up to three tons of long stemmed loose hay have to be pitched onto the sled. Once the feed grounds were reached, every single blade is forked onto the ground as the patient team slowly moves ahead of the hungry cattle. Most days three or more loads were required to complete the task.           

Tommy Davison fell ill in 2000. Mark who had remained involved in ranch operations while establishing another ranch in Wyoming, returned to the Kremmling ranch full time to oversee operations there. When Charles Edward Davison passed away in 2001, Mark leased the ranch from his family. Just as his father had done nearly fifty years ago, Mark took stock of what he had to work with. The harness, some nearly 100 years old purchased here and there over the years was in pretty good shape. The horses, however, had grown too old to be worked every day. He needed two more to complete his four horse hitch. Harley Troyer?s well known Colorado Draft Horse and Equipment Auction was coming up in Brighton, Colorado. Mark traveled to the "flat lands" and returned with two roan Belgium geldings. Sadly, one died within a year. He tried a "unicorn hitch" placing a single lead in front of the wheel team. It was not practical for the loads and trails they encountered. Mark headed back to Troyer's Auction once again. A novelty of the upcoming event was a pair of black and white Spotted Draft horses originating from Canada. When he arrived at the auction Davison found not two, but four of the Spots, two geldings and two mares. All were only two years old. To most, the big youngsters would need years of seasoning before they would be dependable. A lifetime spent around draft horses gave Mark Davison a different view.. He noticed how much time previous owners seemed to have spent with them. It showed in their responsiveness and manners. Auction owner Troyer remembers them as "A nice four up." When his gavel fell, all four were headed to Kremmling.

Today, as nearly every day of the year, the wheel team of Nip on the left and Tuck to the right of the wooden tongue, follow the lead team of Molly and Dolly, left and right respectively. They begin pulling when Mark softly commands "gitup" and stop when told to "whoa-a." Armed with an antique True Temper three tine pitch fork (this model is no longer made according to Mark) he hardly notices their direction as he pitches hay to the trailing cattle. The scene is spell binding to anyone fortunate enough to see it. Soft commands, creaking leather and steel clad wooden sled runners gliding over the snow summon long forgotten instincts. 

Though Mark describes himself as a "Dinosaur," all that happens on the Davison Ranch is part of a plan that arose from necessity. He points out that when hitched to the sled, only the wheel team is attached to the tongue. The lead team's evener, an antique itself, is attached to a log chain r nning back to the front of the sled, not attached to the tongue in anyway.  Tight corners the team must navigate winding into the mountains to feed the cow herd make a conventional arrangement dangerous. If the wheel team follows the lead teams tracks too closely, the sled would cut the corner and plunge off the precarious road. The loose chain arrangement allows both sets of horses freedom to follow their own path. The horses, sensing their safety as the reason for the odd arrangement, work quietly beside the chain. If one happens to step over it, the next step will be back into place without so much as a twitch of an ear.  

Feeding begins around 8:00 a.m. The teams are usually back in their stalls eating "lunch" by 2:00 p.m.  Six hours, eight tons of hay and nearly ten miles every single day make the horses tough and strong. They symbolize the word that describes life on the Davison Ranch. Harmony. The horses work in harmony with each other and their care taker. Horses and man work in harmony with nature. There is a strong respect for tradition on the Davison Ranch. The old ways made sense then and now. There is no need for electric engine heaters or big diesel engines on this ranch. The beautiful black and white horses seem to be thankful for the chance to live the life for which they were bred. They express their gratitude with loyalty to Mark Davison.  

Loyalty might also be used to describe the Davison Ranch business plan. Remember Jerry Nauta's pledge to never leave the ranch if they treated him right?  Jerry lived in the small cabin Tommy Davison built when the ranch house burned down from January 1, 1960 until a few months before his death in July 2005. He was 92 years old.

Life is different on the Davison Ranch. Old fashioned values reign amidst modern Spotted versions of man's first and perhaps best machinery, the draft horse. Men and horses are a lot alike, you know. Treat 'em right and they'll reward you with loyalty.

Topic: Regions

North Park & Middle Park - Politics and Whiskey

The Territorial legislature defined the boundaries and county seats for the West Slope in 1861.  Geographic knowledge of the Colorado mountains was somewhat limited at that time.  North Park (a name now synonymous with Jackson County) was an Indian hunting ground and little was known about it.

A boom started with the discovery of gold and silver at Teller City in 1879.  North Park was considered to be part of Grand County, and now there was property to assess and tax.  The Grand County road tax in North Park for 1881 applied only to males between the ages of 21 and 45.  They had to either pay $3 in cash or do two day's work on the roads. John Mills, a Teller City resident who acted as an attorney for mine owners, served as a Grand County commissioner and was one of the commissioners killed in the July 4, 1883 gun battle at Grand Lake.

As ranches became established and more mineral deposits were discovered, the Larimer County commissioners began to speculate that the "Snowy Range" that defined the western boundary of Larimer County was the Park Range on the west side of North Park rather than the Medicine Bow Range.  This opinion soon degenerated into a dispute between Grand and Larimer counties, ultimately ending up in court. In 1886 the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that North Park was part of Larimer County.

A trip to the county seat in Fort Collins was a considerable undertaking.  If everything ran on schedule it was possible for travelers to leave Walden on the morning stage, catch a train from Laramie to Cheyenne, another train from Cheyenne to Greeley, still another from Greeley to Fort Collins, and arrive at the county seat before closing hours the following day.  The fares amounted to a significant expense.  It was probably more common for a North Parker to travel to Fort Collins in his wagon, take care of business, and come home with a wagonload of provisions.  The trip by wagon took three to four days each way.

As the population of North Park grew, so did the desire to split from Larimer County.  In 1908 the Loveland newspaper stated that Larimer County was too big and advocated a new county with Loveland as the county seat.  The Walden newspaper agreed that the county was too big but felt the wrong division line had been picked, pointing out that "A Loveland man can get to the county seat in three hours anytime, but it takes a North Park man three days most of the time."

Ranchers resisted early efforts to set off the area west of the Medicine Bow Range into a county of its own as they carried the largest part of the tax burden and felt their taxes would increase if a new county was established.  But by 1908 there was general agreement within the Park that it was time for court and administrative offices to be more conveniently located.

The total valuation assessed in 1908 of North Park property by Larimer County was $771,776, which generated $16,979 of revenue.  The salaries of some of the paid officers of the new county was estimated as follows:

     Assessor                                                    $800

     County School Superintendent                   $800

     Water Commissioner, 2 districts                $1000

     County Commissioners                             $1000

Even adding in salaries for the sheriff and county clerk it appeared quite likely that the new county could be operated efficiently without a tax increase and the proposal to create "North Park County" had nearly unanimous support from North Parkers.  The bill passed the legislature easily in April 1909, with a name change to Jackson, and was quickly signed into law on May 5 by Governor Shafroth.

While North Parkers were eager to sever their legal ties to Larimer County in 1909, they clearly weren't ready to give up the pleasures of offered by a nip of the bottle.  Like most frontier areas, North Park had a significant number of single men who liked to occasionally get together and enjoy a few drinks with their friends.  Walden was the center of socialization.  According to an 1899 newspaper article, Walden residents worried about the "toughs" who came to town to "drink barbed-wire bitters and then shoot up the place."

In addition, local married men sometimes frequented the bars when they could have been spending more time at home helping out with domestic chores.  As a result, a strong temperance movement soon divided the community.  One of the two local newspapers, the North Park Union, endorsed the temperance movement in early 1902 and soon found itself the target of a boycott by both advertisers and subscribers.  Although the editor declared it a "boycott of no great magnitude", the paper had a new owner/editor within a month.  The issue of whether Walden should be wet or dry was on the 1902 ballot.  By a very decisive majority, voters decided Walden would continue to be wet.

Just before the 1906 election, the Walden newspaper criticized the local Republican Party bosses for providing a lot of free whiskey in every North Park precinct on election day, and urged North Parkers not to sell their vote for a drink.  The temperance movement enjoyed its first victory when it combined forces with the local church and convinced the businessmen of Walden to close their stores on Sundays.  The closing did not stand in high favor with ranchers.  "When a man can't buy axle grease for his wagon when it runs dry and something else for himself when he runs dry, it is time to call a halt," they declared.  Quite a number of the ranchers started going through to Laramie for their provisions, and the Sunday closing rule was abandoned six weeks after it was implemented.

When news reached Walden in early 1909 that the bill creating Jackson County had cleared the legislature, the newspaper reported that the town was moved to the point of a merry celebration.  The brass band marched, guns were fired, and at daybreak "the women, as becomes their sex, were among the few who were sober."  A few weeks later news that the Governor had signed the bill was cause for another celebration.  The newspaper reported that, "the air about town clouded up and filled with burnt powder and raucous vocalizations.  The festivities continued in the evening with flying anvils propelled by stick powder . . ." The first hundred years of Jackson County had commenced.

Transportation